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At the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party in 1978, the Communist Party of China

(CPC) initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which led to the gradual implementation of a market economy and some political liberalization that relaxed the system set up by Mao Zedong. The Chinese economic reforms were led by Zhao Ziyang,[13] the Party's General Secretary, and they were generally successful in the early years, particularly in the rural regions.[14] However, since political reforms were neglected, corruption and nepotism pervaded the shift toward a free-market economy. The dual-track system, which was the most characteristic feature of China's initial departure from the planned economy [15] created the coexistence of two coordination mechanisms (state and market). [16] The state-mandated pricing system, in place since the 1950s, had long kept prices stable at artificial, abysmally low levels that had destroyed incentives. The partial reforms created a two-tier system where some prices were forced to be at low levels while others were allowed to fluctuate. In a market with chronic shortages, this allowed people with powerful connections to buy goods at low prices and sell at market prices.[17] Also, money supply had expanded too fast. At least a third of factories were unprofitable, depending on loans and subsidies. The government tightened money supply in 1988, leaving much of the economy without loans.[17] Following the 1988 Beidaihe meeting, word leaked that Zhao Ziyang would listen to those members of the CPC, including Deng Xiaoping, who were urging chuangjiageguan (to get the price right in one shot) by deciding to establish a market-regulated price system in China within five years. [18] Economists recommended faster reforms, for example, renowned economist Milton Friedman gave a speech and met officials in China, recommending them to free rest of the economy, asserting that a market economy would benefit people and it should be made free from corruption, bribes, special influence, and political mechanisms.[19][20] Leaked news that there would be a relaxing of controls triggered waves of panic cash withdrawals, buying and hoarding all over China. Some even bought rooms full of matches.[18] The decision to rescind the price reforms occurred in less than two weeks, but its impact continued to reverberate for a long time...[and] [a]s a consequence, inflation soared. [18] In the late 1980s, inflation was the most pronounced issue facing the Chinese economy, which was at 7.3% in 1987, but jumped to 18.5% in 1988.[18] Compounding this was the loss of job security (the iron rice bowl), which led to a crisis of layoffs and unemployment.

Intellectuals and students were especially disaffected by the reform process, as they were originally envisioned to play a leading role in the springtime of the sciences. [22] Due to the initial stress on educated people to guide development, the number of universities expanded (400 universities in 1977 to 1,975 in 1988), as did student enrollment (625,319 in 1977 to 2,065,923 in 1988).[23] However, the Four Modernizations were gradually dropped , as central planning gave way to a market-economy development strategy being adopted.[24] The reform process would now emphasize the role of the market, agriculture, light industry, the service sector, private initiatives, and foreign investment.[24] This shift in orientation was not received well by the burgeoning student population, who found it difficult to find job placements as the recently prospering industrial sectors, that, is rural collective industries and private businesses, did not really need and could not attract university graduates. [25] Undergraduate students in the social sciences and the humanities, 18.3% of all Beijing undergraduates in 1988, were especially hard hit because their training did not give them an advantage in the new market economy.[23] This problem, growing since the mid1980s, was exacerbated by a reform to the job assignment system in 1988, creating the two-way selection system. This allowed private companies to veto the job placements, instead of accepting students the universities matched them with. The two-way system is referred to by Dingxin Zhao as the backdoor selection system, because it was pervaded by nepotism and favoritism, as employers only took students who had acquaintances in their unit regardless of the students' academic performance. [26] Popular slogans espoused by intellectuals and students during the mid-1980 included, those who hold scalpels earn less than those who hold eel knives and, those who produce missiles earn less than those who sell tea eggs. [27] Facing a dismal job market, due to the economic reforms, and limited chances of going abroad after the mid1980s, Chinese intellectuals and students had a greater vested interest in Chinese domestic political issues. Small-scale study groups began appearing on Beijing university campuses, the most famous being Wang Dan's Democracy Salon and Liu Gang's Caodi Salon (the salon on the lawn).[28] These were attended by students, members of the intellectual elite; even the American ambassador and his wife participated in one meeting.[18] Discussions covered a wide range of issues about politics, which trained many student activists who were the major organizational base for the coming student movement. [18] The worsening economic situation of intellectuals and students, and of the country as a whole led to student protests repeatedly breaking out in universities after 1986 [29] (see 1986-1987 Student Protests, and April June 1988 protests).

Wang Hui, a professor in Beijing, says that, these changes (the economic reforms) were the catalyst for the 1989 social mobilization. [30] Wu Xiuquan, member of the Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Commission, echoed this sentiment at theSecretariat of the Fourth Plenum of the Thirteenth CCP Central Committee on 19 June 1989, two weeks after the repression of the protest, when he said, "China has its own unique national situation and patterns of development; copying others mechanically will lead us straight to disaster. What's more, economics and politics go by different rules. Why did Zhao's shocktherapy price reforms fail last year? Because they were too much; the people panicked."[31] Barry Naughton states that economic causes were an important part of the social crisis leading up to the Tiananmen debacle [14] and he asserts that the reforms during the 1980s were overwhelmingly successful.[32] The social crisis leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests were created by deteriorating cyclical economic conditions.[33] Naughton is in agreement with the reform without losers view of China's economic reforms, and only because anti-reform elements in the Party failed to roll back the reforms and market forces were allowed to correct the economy, did urban inflation decrease.[14] In a general sense, students and intellectuals demanded economic liberalization, political democracy, media freedom, freedom of speech and association, rule of law, and to have the legitimacy of the movement recognized.[34][35] More specific demands opposed official corruption and peculation, opposition to the princely party (elites with special privileges), and called for price stability, social security, and the democratic means to supervise the reform process, and the reorganization of social benefits.[30] Transitioning from a socialist ideology that espoused equality to a new market oriented ideology, the reforms, "Created a crisis of state legitimacy from two different directions: on the one hand, people could rely on the nature of state economic policy to criticize the legitimacy of the state ideology and its method of rule, while on the other they could use the ideology of socialism to take issue with the legitimacy of the new state economic policy."[30] Wang Hui encapsulates the protesters' motivation by stating that, "Regardless of whether we are talking about students, intellectuals, or any others who participated in the movement in support of reform (political or economic) and demands for democracy, their hopes for and understanding of reform were extraordinarily diverse. When looked at from a broader or synthetic perspective, however, the reforms that the greater part of the populace hoped for and their ideals for democracy and rule by law were for the purposes of guaranteeing

social justice and the democratization of economic life through the restructuring of politics and the legal system."[36] In the summer of 1986 astrophysics professor Fang Lizhi, who had returned from Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, United States, began a personal tour around universities in China, giving speeches about subjects such as liberty, human rights, andseparation of powers. He became immensely popular and his recorded speeches were passed from dormitory to dormitory, from campus to campus.[37] Deng Xiaoping paid attention to him and warned that Fang Lizhi was "admiring the Western multi-party system and attempting to undermine the Communist Party leadership; admiring the capitalist economy and attempting to undermine the socialist system; admiring the decadent western lifestyle and attempting to undermine the spiritual health of the Chinese people".[37] In December 1986, student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform. Inspired by Fang Lizhi, who gave speeches criticizing Deng's go slow policies, students took to protest. The students were also disenchanted with the amount of control the government exerted, citing compulsory calisthenics and not being allowed to dance at rock concerts. Students called for campus elections, the chance to study abroad, and greater availability of western pop culture. Hu Yaobang, a protg of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and his resignation from the position of Secretary General of the CPC was announced on 16 January 1987. Included in his resignation was also a "humiliating self-criticism", which the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced him to issue. In the "Anti Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign", further denounced Hu. His forthright calls for "rapid reform" and his almost open contempt of "Maoist excesses" had made him a suitable scapegoat in the eyes of Deng and others, after the pro-democracy student protests of 1986 1987.[38] Hu Yaobang was a popular figure among the student protesters as a figure sympathetic to reform. The impetus for the Tiananmen Square protests was the death of Hu Yaobang,[39] Hu's sudden death, due to heart attack, on 15 April 1989 provided a perfect opportunity for the students to gather once again, not only to mourn the deceased Secretary General, but also to have their voices heard in "demanding a reversal of the verdict against him" and bringing renewed attention to the important issues of the 1986 1987 pro-democracy protests and possibly also to those of the Democracy Wall protests in 1978 1979.[40]