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The Repercussions of Urban Reform

The party leadership benefited from the success of the rural reform program and the generally enthusiastic public response it generated. The leadership sought to use this success as a basis for tackling reform of the much more complicated and diverse urban sector. The overall goal of the highly experimental urban reform program has been to create a mixed economy in which the market plays a significant role and in which state planning is concerned more with regulating than with directing the economy. This approach, however, has led to tensions both in conceptualization and in the reform's effects of implementation on people.

At the conceptual level, the reform's emphasis on leasing industrial and commercial enterprises to individuals and collectives raised the issue of diversification of ownership and challenged the orthodox concept of state ownership. The introduction of securities markets and stock exchanges raised the question of how many Western-style reforms China could absorb and still call itself a socialist country. The same question applied to the adoption of a controversial bankruptcy law. These emerging problems were bound to be troublesome to party leaders like Chen Yun, who adhered to more orthodox socialist concepts.

At the level of implementation, questions emerged concerning the speculation and exploitation that was believed to accompany the operation of stock exchanges. The introduction of bankruptcy provisions was viewed as contributing to unemployment and hardships for the workers. Also, the introduction of a labor contract system, while providing opportunities to motivated and competent workers, might well threaten the livelihood of the less skilled. Even the new value being placed on entrepreneurship challenged the previous way of life, in which the state made all decisions and provided the means of sustaining life.

Although these challenges were serious, the most important dimension of the reform program was its distribution of power and authority. This function can be viewed as the dominant political role of the urban reform program, affecting the structure and organization of the party itself.

Data as of July 1987