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Holding high the flag of Reform & Opening-up
[ 2008-12-10 17:17 ]

By Li Hong, chinadaily.com.cn

Twice I have visited the 0.5-hectare museum, a converted shabby tractor factory, in the outskirts of Nanchang, Jiangxi province, in South China. It was there the adored Deng Xiaoping was confined to work on machine tools, together with his wife and children, for 18 months in late 1960s and early 1970s.

Tears welled up each time when I strolled along the 200-meter path, starting from the back door of the factory and ending at a brick wall. I was told the small road, accompanied by wildly growing grass on both sides that zigzagged on a plot of sloppy red soil typical of Jiangxi's landscape, was Deng's making.

I marvel at the resilience of this great man in de facto captivity, and the boundless love he had for his poor country and his fellow countrymen while he waited for his moment and set off his glittering explosion of ideas. It must have been the tens of thousands of walks and deep thinking there that ushered in an epoch of Chinese brilliance, or a revival of a nation many historians extol today.

In a few days, the country will stage a big event to mark the day –- the 30th anniversary of "Reform and Opening-up", the brainchild of Deng. President Hu Jintao will address a large Beijing gathering, with a festival that tens of millions of Chinese will watch and enjoy on the TV, through mobile phones or broadband Internet chat-rooms.

Yes, it is Deng who made all this possible.

Residents in Shenzhen, Shanghai's Pudong, Tianjin's Bohai New Zone, Beijing's Yizhuang and CBD (central business district), and many other regions know full well what reform and opening-up has brought to our lives. Shenzhen, an emblem of the new dawn and now the country's fourth largest city, was built from a small fishing village. Pudong, where stands several of China's landmark buildings, was once the poorest place in Shanghai. The neon lights, pubs and clubs in CBD are what the young, office workers and expats would rather die without in Beijing.

Reform is truly revolutionary. The rigidness of Soviet-style state planning for everything, except married women giving birth, had stifled creativity and productivity, though China's population more than doubled. We look back in sorrow at those difficult years of the Great Leap Forward and natural calamities, as starvation took many of our forefathers' lives. The political struggles and ideologue campaigns, that sent learned men like former Premier Zhu Rongji to raise hogs in outlying farms, were wasted opportunities.

Now, the market system, though not fully in place yet, has set its foothold. A large number of businesses have privatized, and millions of people of all ages with dreams, energy, and free enterprise, have jumped into the entrepreneurial sea seeking their fortunes. Many have succeeded and become better off. More are aspiring to add more digits to their bank accounts, because the revered Deng, the reform architect, once said: "To become rich is glorious".

Despite all of our achievements since 1978, reform and opening-up is not completely accomplished, and I believe, it will never be finished. The epoch initiated by Deng is just the beginning. We have no excuse to take a rest, or call it a day and let it wither. And, we won't have the luxury again to see a retired old man in his late 80s making intermittent but firm sound bites in Shenzhen in 1992 to accelerate his drive.

Happily, rural farmland reform has lately taken on new steam, moving towards agriculture machinery and modernization, and farmers are allowed to lease or contract their plots to corporations. However, I believe that more urgent reforms are needed to improve the rural medical care system, which is now underfunded, and phase in a pension safety net for the most neglected group of our fellow countrymen.

And, there needs to be more government investment into education and bigger grants to rural students especially to put China in a competitive advantage in the 21st century, although heavy investment into infrastructure projects at the present stage will help the country counterattack the impact of a ferocious global economic crisis. Policy-makers should also mete out a system to inspire and reward technological innovations, encourage green energy usage, and widen broadband Internet coverage.

Deng once taught us: No matter if the cat is black or white, it is a good cat if it catches rats. The teaching itself is of the Chinese philosophy of getting things done. It is Deng's doctrine of free enterprise.

Reform must continue. As promising reform strategies feed on free ideas, China needs to keep itself always open to the outside world, keep its nationals informed to the minute, and, most crucially, keep ideas flowing. Reinstituting the sluice to people's ideas is against reform.

An overseas Chinese wrote on the chat-room of this Website: "I hope to see the day that the dusty Gobi Desert will be turned to a green oasis." I also aspire to see that day will come soon. Only reform and opening-up can strengthen the country, and only a strengthened country can do it -– divert water, store rainwater, increase moisture, and make grass and trees grow.

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