Chinese reflect on reforms ahead of Deng's birthday

Updated: 2014-08-20 21:58


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JI'NAN -- Yang Min, a 53-year-old resident of Jinan in East China's Shandong province, was amazed by the changes in her life in the last 30-odd years.

"Sometimes, when I sit behind the steering wheel, memories of buying a bicycle and riding it 30-plus years ago will creep into my mind," she said.

In 1979, she spent 120 yuan, more than four times her monthly salary, on her first bike.

In the late 1970s, owning a bike was a status symbol in China. The country is now the world's largest auto market. In the first half of this year, the passenger car market grew 11.2 percent year on year to 9.6 million units.

Yang attributed her life betterment to late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who is known to the world for transforming China through historic reforms.

To mark the 110th anniversary of Deng's birth on Friday, China has planned activities around the country to celebrate the late leader's life, including a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing attended by President Xi Jinping and senior leaders on Wednesday.

Deng was born on Aug. 22, 1904 in Southwest China's Sichuan province. He was called "chief architect of China's reform and opening-up," for his painstaking efforts in leading the country's transformation drive.

The drive officially started in late 1978. Since then, China has experienced rapid change, replacing a planned economy with a market-oriented one, and an agricultural society with an urban, industrialized one.

China's rise over the past three decades is widely acknowledged as the most impressive burst of economic development ever seen.

Since 1978, China has lifted more than 440 million people out of poverty. Despite a widening rich-poor and urban-rural wealth gap, China has seen more people out of poverty in this period than at any time in human history.

In 33 years, China's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by an average of 9.8 percent annually, jumping from 364.5 billion yuan (59.2 billion U.S. dollars under the current yuan-USD exchange rate) in 1978 to 51.89 trillion yuan in 2012, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Incomes of ordinary Chinese also jumped in the 1978-2013 period. Per capita disposable income for urban dwellers soared 78 times from 1978 to 26,955 yuan in 2013. That of rural residents rose 66 times from 1978 to reach 8,896 yuan last year.

Growing personal wealth has given tens of millions of Chinese some unforgettable "firsts" -- taking a plane, buying a car, owning a spacious apartment, and traveling abroad.

Yang Min bought a car for the first time in 2007. "The moment when I got into my own car and drove it was sort of thrilling," she recalled. Last year, Yang replaced her economy car with a Volkswagen Passat midsize car.

In 2001, she bought a 100-plus-square-meter apartment in downtown Jinan. It was the first time she had ever bought a house, and it was a lot more spacious than the 10-square-meter room assigned to her in 1986 by her former employer, the local branch of China's government-owned railway operator.

"The house is spacious. Life is increasingly easy. These are the benefits of the reform and opening-up policy. We should be grateful to Deng Xiaoping," she said.

Nian Guangjiu, a self-employed farmer-turned-businessman from impoverished Anhui Province, couldn't agree more.

Deng's policies changed not only his own fate but that of his children and grandchildren as well.

Nian, now 77, started a sunflower seed business in the early 1980s when China was gradually changing its attitude toward the private economy and entrepreneurs and their families were allowed to form "household enterprises."

Nian, the owner of Shazi Guazi ("Fool's sunflower seeds") snack brand, became one of the first of these new businessmen to hire more employees. He employed more than 100 workers, a move that caused controversy and debate until the case was reported to Deng.

Deng stopped the ideological battle by saying, "If we let him go on selling his seeds for a while, will that hurt socialism?"

"Deng Xiaoping mentioned me. Did he stand behind me only? ... He was getting behind millions of 'fools' like me who were participating in the reform and opening-up drive," Nian said.

Nian made a million yuan in 1986, an enormous amount of money in China at that time. It all would have been impossible without reform and opening-up. In 2001, his son Nian Qiang started promoting the brand to more than 2,000 stores and invested 170 million yuan in a production base.

"Without Deng Xiaoping, there wouldn't be someone like me," Nian told Xinhua.

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