Dismantling a dysfunctional system and replacing it with a effective new one involving 1.2 billion people is a daunting task. China's socialist government began the task 20 years ago, combining tight political controls with liberalizing economic measures. Structural rigidities and functional inefficiencies of the past have yielded to more flexible and dynamic entrepreneurial initiatives of the present. China is on the threshold of developmental success.
Both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping drastically altered the course of contemporary China's economic development using opposing strategies. Mao froze China's economic system in a perennial state of consumer goods shortages and pervasive macro disequilibria. Deng, however, began thawing a rigidly structured system by introducing experimental reform measures. Mao's revolutionary rhetoric brought China's economy to the brink of bankruptcy. Deng's ideological pragmatism netted China glowing successes. Mao closed China to the outside world. Deng engineered China's reintegration into the world economy.
Dismantling a dysfunctional system and replacing it with a dynamic new one involving 1.2 billion people is risk-laden. Reform in China began in 1978. It was tentative and experimental, confining reform to organizational and administrative decentralization on farms. Successes on farms ushered in reform elsewhere in the economy. Over time, market-based coordinating mechanisms progressively began replacing the system's control devices. Results from decentralization internally reinforced those from liberalization externally. This consequently transformed China's stale, distorted system into a more competitive, bustling new one ready for developmental takeoff. Its meteoric rise among the world's leading markets in recent years has thrust China's economy to the forefront of growth and development. Controlled, phased reform is yielding dividends, not only for its own consumers but for international economic cooperation and growth as well.