China’s social structure in the 21st century: Social structure transformation in China 21 st century

Social structure transformation in China1

The modem history of China after 1840 is a history of the Chinese people’s struggle for modernization. Building a modem society and joining the ranks of the world’s advanced nations is an ideal for several generations in China. Since 1978, our country has implemented the policy of prioritizing economic construction and carried out reform and opening up. As a result, this ideal is gradually becoming a reality. In the early 1980s, China formulated a three-step development strategy for the achievement of modernization. The first step was to double the gross national product (GNP) of 1980 and to solve the problem of food and clothing for the people. This goal was basically achieved in 1987. The second step was to double the GNP again by the end of the 20th century and raise the people’s standard of living to a moderately prosperous level. The third step was to bring the average per capita GNP to the level of moderately developed countries in 30-50 years. People will enjoy a relatively well-off life by then, and a modem society will by and large be built. We are now in the midst of our endeavor to achieve the goal of building a moderately prosperotrs society by the year 2000. The first half of the 21st century' will be a period in history when the construction of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics in our country is brought to its completion.

The reform and opening up since 1978 has brought great progress and profound changes to the Chinese society. China is at present undergoing a period of social transformation, changing from a traditional to a modem society, from an agricultural to an industrial society, from a rural to an urban society, and from a closed and semi-closed society to an open society. Social structural transition in the transformation from a traditional to a modem society is not specific to the social development of socialist societies. It is rather a transitional phase in the process of modernization that all economically developed modernized countries have gone through. But due to China’s special historical, cultural, and economic, as well as resource, backgrounds, the transformation of the social structure has shown a number of characteristics different from those of other countries. An important aspect of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics is that while realizing the transition to a modem society, we need at the same time to bring about the transition fr om a planned economy to a socialist market economy. It is therefore necessary' to first cany' out a series of system reforms.

Such a close link between the transformation of the social structure and the reform of the economic system is rarely seen in the modernization processes of other countries. The transition from a traditional to a modem society, from a planned economy to a socialist market economy, structural transformation, and system reforms proceed simultaneously, together with the interweaving of structural conflicts, institutional frictions, and conflicts of multiple interests, roles, and values that have occurred during the process of transformation have made the situation more complicated and the transformation itself more difficult; not to mention the fact that this reform is taking place in a big country with a population of 1.2 billion and an unbalanced development. Thus, the difficulty, the complexity, and the arduousness involved can be easily imagined. Therefore, special emphasis should be laid on the role of stabilizing, coordinating, and innovative mechanisms in the process of realizing the transformation of the social structure and system reforms. Since 1978, the implementation of the policy of reform and opening up has forcefully propelled the process of this great historical transformation. Our experiences in the past years have proved that reform and opening up is the road we must take not only for the self-improvement of the socialist system, but also for the building of socialism with Chinese characteristics and achieving the modernization of the Chinese society.

The period from 1995-2010 is most critical for building a socialist modem state in China. Since 1978, we have set things right, put the focus of our work nationwide on economic constmction, made the decisions on reform and opening up, formulated and implemented a series of new policies, and carried out fruitful large-scale economic and social undertakings, and in so doing laid a solid political, economic, and social foundation for realizing the social structure transformation as well as the transition of the economic system. By 2000, China will have quadrupled, or even potentially more than quadrupled, the GNP of 1980, but the per capita GNP will only be $800-1,000 US, and we have only established the basic framework for a socialist market system. Therefore, the GNP should be doirbled again by 2010 compared with the year 2000. By then, China’s overall national strength will be considerable. A socialist market system will be built in all respects. The system will be improved, become mature, and be finalized, so that China’s economic and social development will proceed on a more effective systemic foundation. However, during this period, conflicts between the two types of structures, frictions between the two types of systems, conflicts of multiple interests, and between new and old ideas will continue. Unpredictable and sudden international and domestic events will occur. All this will have an impact on our reform and development in the cause of modernization. Twists and turns, opportunities, and risks coexist. This is why we say that the years 1995-2010 constitute the most critical period for China in building a modern state. We have already mounted the steps of all-around economic and social development and are on the verge of crossing the threshold of joining the ranks of modernized countries.

There are a number of factors that are favorable for irs in pushing ahead with our reform. First, our accomplishments since 1978 have laid a good foundation. Deng Xiaoping’s theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics has won the

China’s social structure in the 21st century 3 support of the people. Building a socialist modernized state through reform and opening up has become a shared understanding of the people of all ethnic groups. One may say that our direction is now clear, the road has been opened up, and the Chinese ship heading for modernization is advancing. Second, the international environment is favorable. The Cold War pattern of US and Soviet confrontation has come to an end. A new world order is taking shape. The development of the world has come to a juncture at which the new is replacing the old. At this unusual moment of the Шт of the century, time has moved in Asia’s favor. Many people of insight believe that the 21st century will be the century of Asia-Pacific. China is located at an important position in the Asia-Pacific. Favorable climate, geographical position, and the support of the people, together with geo-political and geo-economic advantages, have given China a chance of a lifetime. Third, China has maintained a good momentum of economic development. Thanks to the reform of the economic system and the goal of realizing the transition to a socialist market economy, China’s comprehensive industrialization is underway. The authority concerned predicts that the period from 1991-2010 will be a golden age of China’s economic growth. In these 20 years, the annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate will be 8.25%. By 2010, the per capita income is expected to enter the ranks of middle-income countries, rtp from low-income countries. Furthermore, ours is a populous country, so the overall scale of the national economy will likely leap to the forefront of the world. Foreign experts have made similar predictions: “If the current momentum of development is maintained, China will become the fourth largest economy after the United States, Europe, and Japan.”

However, there are also unfavorable factors. First, in terms of reform and development as a whole, we have accomplished more in economic development than in reform. Although reform is the forerunner of and spurs development, we have after all implemented a planned economy for almost 30 years. It has penetrated into various economic and social spheres. One can really say that it is deep-seated, complicated, and difficult to deal with. The initial reform in agriculture was relatively smooth and carried out with great efficiency. The victory won at this stage boosted our confidence to push ahead with all-round reform. But when it comes to urban and industrial reform, the problem is more complicated. The original forecast was that urban reform would achieve results in three to five years. But 10 years have passed, and our reform of large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises still hasn’t found a strategy comparable to the recognized effective reform strategy of the household responsibility system, and there are still many difficult problems to solve. Second, comparing social development with the development of the economy, whether it is the social system reform or the development of social undertakings, both are lagging behind the reform of the economic system and economic development. The economic structure has changed though adjustment. But there is no corresponding change in the social structure (for instance, urban and rural structures have not been changed accordingly). The government has made the decision to build a socialist market economic system, but the development of social undertakings and structure reform under such a system is still in the exploratory' and experimental stage. Third, China’s development has sincelong been unbalanced. Over the years, the gap between urban and rural areas, between regions and occupations is not nanowing, but rather widening. For instance, the income difference between urban and rural residents in 1978 was 2.37:1 and narrowed down in 1984 to 1.7:1. The rebound after 1985 resulted in a widening of the difference to 2.55:1 in 1993. The gap between eastern, central, and western regions is also widening. For a country in which most of the residents have always had the traditional idea of “Inequality rather than want is the cause of trouble” ('KBiSffiB'Ft'l). if these gaps continue to expand without our finding a reasonable solution, it will become a latent element of instability. Our present policy is to give proper attention to the principle of fairness under the condition of efficiency first.

Nevertheless, looking at the underlying trend of future development, favorable conditions dominate in comparison to these unfavorable factors. The cunent momentum of development and reform is good, and the international environment favorable. We have also geo-political and geo-economic advantages. More importantly, the immense achievements we have made since the beginning of reform and opening up have laid a political and economic foundation for continued development in the future. The political situation is stable. The masses of the people are highly motivated for reform and opening up and have great potential. We have thus reason to believe that we will continue to deepen the reform, further opening up, overcoming and changing the obstacles and unfavorable factors on our way, and achieve sustained economic growth and the social structure transformation.

Once the goal of economic development and social progress of 1995-2010 has been achieved, the most critical period of building a modem society will be over and the threshold of entering tire ranks of modernized countries crossed. The road to development will be broader and the room for maneuvering greater. We will go into a period of relatively stable development. Along with the rapid economic growth and the adjustment of the economic structure, social structure and social relations will also change. As mentioned earlier, China is in transition from a traditional to a modem society. Reform and opening up since 1978 has greatly accelerated the process. As far as the transition from a traditional to a modem social structure is concerned, some aspects have come close to the breakthrough point, whereas other-aspects need a longer period of change. Our country has a large population, vast territory, and very uneven development; hence, the transition to a modem social structure of provinces, cities, and regions will not proceed at the same pace. Some will take the lead, and the development will be in a gradient manner. By the middle of the 21st century, China will have realized the transition from a traditional social structure to a modem social structure, and a socialist modernized country will be fully built. The following is an analysis and forecast of some important aspects of changes in the process of the social structure transformation.

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