Social Scientist. v 15, no. 174-75 (Nov-Dec 1987) p. 28.

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Economic Reform in China Some Observations

THE DRAMATIC shift in Chinese economic policies since the late seventies has rightly attracted a great deal of attention. The official reassessment of the Maoist era has questioned its achievements in respect of eradication of poverty and unemployment, the efficacy of the communes, mass mobilisation, industrialisation in fact practically everything for which China used to be held out as an example for developing countries. Part of this may be deliberate exaggeration to prepare the ground for and justify shifts in policy. It is also not unlikely that the 'achievements' of the new policy suffer from exaggeration for broadly the same reasons. But discounting for all this, the Chinese reform raises a number of very important questions concerning the scope and instruments of planning, which are of much wider interest.

Take for instance land reforms. A key element in the programme for restructuring of the rural economy and policy, they were meant to abolish all forms of landlordism and tenancy, and redistribute land among the peasants. Land was socialised but the right to use land was given to cultivating peasants. The other intention behind the reforms was presumably to secure a more even distribution of land within rural areas. It now turns out that the success in respect of redistribution was considerably less than generally assumed. The territorial unit of the reform seems to have been the village. Within each village, available land was indeed redistributed more or less in an egalitarian fashion. But the problem of dis- ^:

parities in the distribution of land relative to population across space apparently did not receive as much attention. This is clear from the fact that large disparities in both land per capita and production per capita across regions have persisted throughout. The commune system permitted some redistribution of incomes across village boundaries, essentially through collective consumption and investment rather than by shifting labour from villages better endowed with agricultural resources per head to those less well endowed. (How far this degree of redistribution has survived the break-up of the commune system is an interesting question on which little is known.) As a result, while disparities in living standards were

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