16 November 2018

In his Washington Post article, What we Really Know About China’s Reform and Opening UpStrauss Distinguished Scholar Joshua Eisenman debunks some of the widely held myths about China’s Reform and Opening Up program begun in 1978. Reform and Opening Up is a “blend of market and socialist policies initiated by Deng Xiaoping” and the communist party has credited growth and prosperity in China to it. State media, schools, and museums have been spreading this message.

The first myth Eisenman refutes is that “low commune productivity led farmers to abandon collective agriculture and return to household farming.” He argues that the decision to move from collective remuneration to household family farming was made by Chinese top leaders, not the farmers. In fact, “just like residents were forced into communes in 1958, they were forced out of them after 1978.” The second myth Eisenman addresses is that “the government allowed rural markets and private enterprises only after Reform and Opening Up.” However, after 1961 the Three Small Freedoms, legalized private household production and rural markets. The last myth Eisenman addressed was that “Reform and Opening Up launched an ethos of development that industrialized rural China.” To the contrary, rural investment, which was 7 billion RMB annually between 1976 and 1979, dropped to 5 billion RMB in 1982. 

Eisenman explains that it is important to debunk the myths because a growing number of “left behind” elderly are abandoned by their kids moving to the cities and are unable to care for themselves. This has led to an increase in elderly suicide. Eisenman also argues that the myths harm foreign relations because  those foreigners interested in China’s development should know they were born of  nationwide investments in agricultural modernization and commitment to education and health care provision. China is not the product of a “Chinese miracle” or “China model” but rather a green revolution that began in the 1970s.