The book is prefaced by Li Yining
Time really does fly - 30 years have whizzed by since 1978. The few big events which occurred that long ago, namely the matriculation of the first group of university students after the restoration of the national college entrance examination, the great discussion on practice as the sole criterion for testing truth, the reversal of the verdict on the 1976 Tian'anmen Incident, the fixing of farm output quotas for each household at Xiaogang Village of Fengyang County, Anhui Province, and especially the convening of the Third Plenary Session of the CPC's Eleventh Central Committee, all remain as fresh in my mind as if they had occurred only yesterday.
This has been the most prosperous and vibrant period of Chinese history, during which the Chinese people have gradually expanded their living space, development opportunities and all kinds of rights and benefits. Thanks to the country's opening and reform policies, we have eliminated poverty, begun living a relatively comfortable life and, after decades or even centuries of self-isolation, China has gradually re-merged into the world community.
On the historical stage during that time, dramatic scenes have been acted out one after another which, resounding with pithy maxims and wise apothegms that would enlighten the benighted, have revealed so many people's prowess and sorrows, glories and dreams. Under the overall impact of reform, they have left their indelible marks on history.
History is made by people. The greatest change born of the opening and reform measures is a new system to help people realize their potential and fulfill their ambitions. In practice, everybody makes history and each human life reflects certain fragments of history. With this in mind, the Foreign Languages Press salutes the thirtieth anniversary of opening up and initial reform, along with the sacred Olympic Flame which is now illuminating the Chinese land, with Thirty Years, Thirty Individuals in both the English and Chinese versions (English version is entitled 30 Reflections of China's 30 Years of Reform). This collection of articles unfolds the thirty years of history through the recounting of people's life experiences. I favor this type of narration because it shows our history more vividly and realistically.
After reading the first draft of this book, I have the following few thoughts:
First of all, the book upholds an extraordinary theme. During these past 30 years, China has undergone profound changes in all its areas of endeavor. This book is intended to trace the lives of ordinary Chinese people against the backdrop of the political as well as economic reforms and the sweeping changes in the economic sector of Chinese society. All the transformations are observed from the detailed aspects of personal lives, enabling readers to better understand the achievements and benefits of the reforms. Besides, such details will give them a deeper insight into the considerations that were the foundation for the reform initiatives.
Secondly, the book provides a broad vision. The 30 individuals selected for it include Yuan Geng, one of the earliest contributors to the country's measures of opening and reform; Professor Jiang Ping, who took pains to develop reform theories in cooperation with me; and private entrepreneurs who distinguished themselves in the transformative process and even today remain supportive towards the sound and rapid development of the national economy. Besides, most of the stories are about ordinary people from all walks of life and who live under vastly different circumstances. Readers with firsthand experience of this segment of Chinese history will almost certainly find their own more ambitious, soulful selves in those people.
Thirdly, the book is substantiated by a variety of angles. Whereas the story of one person alone can hardly cover all the social changes brought about during the past 30 years, the life stories of 30 people can reflect far more aspects of social-economic life in China. From the restoration of the national college entrance examination system, the return of educated youths from the countryside and the redressing of mishandled cases, through the implementation of the household contractual responsibility system in rural areas and the reform of the enterprise shareholding system, to the recent medical reform in rural areas, democratic management at the grassroots level, efforts to balance urban and rural development and to build the new socialist countryside, etc., the book tries to answer questions as to the impact of these strategic decisions and measures on ordinary people, not in the form of self-authoritative comments but with concrete, faithful records.
Fourthly, the book probes a number of sensitive issues. It does not blindly sing the praises of past achievements, but rather explores social problems through the grief, sorrow and pain of 30 individuals, including factory layoffs, the Three Gorges migrants, conflicts among different social groups, and the straitened conditions of peasant-turned industrial workers. The book is not for theoretical guidance, so there is no need to track down the causes of these problems or to actually find solutions. That leaves much leeway for further discussion or research.
Some foreign friends often ask me, "What, after all, has opening and reform brought to the Chinese people?" This book, I believe, will help to address those doubts to some extent.
Over recent years, the debate over whether to continue the reforms or not has surfaced from time to time. Some people think that, after thirty years, there is no reason to go much farther, and that any overhaul will mean the bankruptcy of some former policies. However, many who work in the fields of theoretical research, including myself, firmly maintain that the reforms have been very successful on the whole - the changes in the lives of the 30 individuals in the book have already proven this.
Nevertheless, no policy can solve every problem in a single step. Take the main feature of the market economy, the enterprise shareholding system, for example. We used to argue a lot about whether to start that reform but found it somewhat premature to bring the system in line with established international practices, so we chose the "double-track operation system," whereby the incremental assets of state-owned enterprises would go public while their principal assets would remain temporarily out of circulation. Later, as the conditions matured and the disadvantages of the "double-track operation system" became all too apparent, we introduced a second shareholding reform to turn the "double tracks" into a "single track." This is what economists call "the split share structure reform."
It is said that the profound changes to Chinese society resulting from China's economic development during the past 30 years have exceeded those throughout the previous several thousand years. This remark is very interesting. Maybe it is improper to oversimplify the differences between periods of history, but the experiences acquired and accomplishments made in our successful transformation from the socialist planned economic system to the market economic system are evidently unparalleled. In fact, it is a constituent part of history. So long as we continue to be blessed with a broad vision, an open mindset and the entrepreneurial sprit of the past 30 years, China will amaze the world by creating even more miracles during the next 30 years. Despite hardships, we will remain true to our beliefs.
Being part of all that has happened over all these years, I have hardly stopped recollecting, witnessing and pondering. There is, indeed, a reservoir of memorable, soul-stirring tales to share. Although I may not agree with all the authors of this assortment of articles, they arouse a genuine feeling of "returning" to life itself with all its details and "commonplace" occurrences. However, this sort of returning does not make us any less happy or proud to be living in such a great era. I believe that readers will feel the same - you will admit that the book is more than worth reading although you may not agree with some statements and perspectives in it.
Li Yining, economist, Dean and Professor of the Division of Social Sciences of Peking University, Dean Emeritus of Guanghua School of Management, Member of the Standing Committee of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and Deputy Director of the Subcommittee of Economy of the CPPCC National Committee.
About the book: The past 30 years since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy in 1978 have witnessed an outburst of vitality in China, and the gradual extension of the living space, development opportunities, and rights and interests of every individual Chinese citizen. Set against the background of political and economic reforms and the ensuing great changes in the Chinese society, this book has selected 30 representative ordinary Chinese people from all walks of life to help shed light on how the changes have affected all aspects of Chinese society through these people's detailed, multi-faceted accounts of their own lives in the past three epoch-making decades.
To keep these memories alive, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the reforms and opening-up, Foreign Languages Press has compiled and published the book 30 Reflections of China's 30 Years of Reform, which truly and visually reflects the transformation of China's society over the past 30 years.
(China.org.cn October 22, 2008)