La seconde longue marche

[Economist] China has been transformed by the changes ushered in by Deng Xiaoping 30 years ago. But the biggest step has yet to be dared

“ENGELS never flew on an aeroplane; Stalin never wore Dacron.” Thus China’s late leader, Deng Xiaoping, to a meeting 30 years ago that is now officially seen as the starting-point of his economic and political reforms. Deng’s words meant Maoist dogma was out and pragmatism was in. A dramatically transformed China is now commemorating the anniversary. But even as officials trot out a litany of achievements they attribute to the country’s “reform and opening” policy—200m fewer citizens living in poverty, a 6% share of global GDP compared with 1.8% in 1978, a nearly 70% increase in grain production—the world’s financial crisis weighs heavily on their minds, and their leaders are struggling with unfinished business.

Vice-President Xi Jinping, heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao, is said to have been appointed chief organiser of the celebration programme. It includes concerts, exhibitions and endless speeches celebrating the “turning point” in China’s history when Deng gained the upper hand over the Maoists. His victory was evident at two meetings held in November and December 1978. The first was a month-long “work conference” of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, probably the liveliest gathering of its kind ever held (it was here, according to some Western scholars, that Deng mentioned Dacron). A more scripted and formal plenum followed it.

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