Reform is a struggle among interest groups

Updated: 2014-10-15 11:17

By Li Yang(

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Reform is no longer a national consensus in China as it was in the 1980s, but, rather, a fight among different interest groups, says an article on


The National Development and Reform Commission hosted a meeting of economists from Sept 18 to 20 at Moganshan Hill in Zhejiang on reform in memory of a similar gathering at the hill 30 years ago, which is called the Moganshan Meeting. But the two meetings pose a sharp contrast to each other in terms of people’s attitudes toward reform, even among the attendees of the 1984 meeting.

The Moganshan Meeting in 1984 was organized by young economists. The 180 speakers from universities, institutes, enterprises and media had several days of intensive discussions on price reform, financial reform, city reform, village reform and China’s opening-up. The atmosphere was free, democratic and constructive. The meeting’s achievements were sent through two secretaries of state leaders auditing the meeting directly to the decision-makers in the central government.

It is believed the Moganshan Meeting’s discussion had consolidated the authority’s resolve to lift control on some commodities’ prices in the city. The price reform was a difficult and costly breakthrough in reforming the planned economy that had operated in China since 1950s. In fact, the price reform had not been completed until now. Some resources and energy prices are still settled by the state. The dual-track pricing mechanism distorts market laws.

Some of the young economists present at the meeting 30 years ago later took important posts in the Chinese government, including finance minister and central bank president.

But the memorial meeting last month, bureaucratic and pretentious, produced few agreements, except the common memory of the liberal, equal and warm discussions 30 years ago.

When the famous economists repeatedly touted their old ideas and golden memories about the 1980s on the platform, some young listeners simply could not tolerate it. A teacher, Ling Bin from Peking University’s school of law, questioned the self-important speakers on the spot:

``Could you not repeat the point of view that you have repeated for 30 years. You sit high there speaking, and we sit down here listening. Was the Monganshan Meeting then like this?”

The past 30 years’market reform has split society into different interest groups, and the speakers who were on the same stand pro market and rule of law in 1984 now belong to different interest groups. Some of them even do not want to have a single word with one another today, because of their distinct stands and outlooks.

Many of the 180 attendees 30 years ago did not turn up to the gathering because of their busy schedule, a sharp contrast with their passions in 1984 when transportation was poor and asking for leave was a complicated procedure.

It is very difficult to hold constructive discussions on certain topics any more.

As for whether China should care about other countries’ concerns over its peaceful rise, some old speakers attending the 1984 meeting reiterated the judgment that peace and development are two themes of the world. A young listener stood up from the audience and refuted angrily:``It is Sept 18 today”, a painful memorial day that marked Japan’s invasion of China in 1931.

Some critics about the unfairness caused by China’s reform felt they should not be invited to help solve the issue, because they doubted some principles of the reform from the very beginning.

Pan Yi, a professor on labor issues with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told South Review that she felt confused when the host invited her to talk about how to deal with issues on migrant worker and land reform in China. “Were it not for the Moganshan Meeting in 1984, such issues would not have become so serious today,” she noted.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called this year the“first year of reform”in China, showing his ambition to transform China from a big economy to a strong power.

He needs not only to overcome the obstacles and fight the resistance of the vested interests through an iron-hand anti-graft campaign, but also to reform China’s institutional arrangement to impose more restrictions on power, grant more freedom to society, independence to the judicial authority and legislature and promote market competition.

Only when the institutional design, which includes a system needed for good governance and the institutions regulating powers, matches the fast development of Chinese society and economy, can the nation run smoothly and sustainably in the long run.