Reform Era

All Grades, Government, History, Society Resource Collection
  • The Beijing Central Business District, or Beijing CBD is the primary area of finance, media, and business services in Beijing, China.


Over the last thirty years, the People’s Republic of China has undergone a series of dramatic economic and social reforms and consequently developed at an unprecedented rate. An estimated 500 million Chinese people have been brought out of poverty during this period, and an increasing number now count themselves among the country’s growing list of millionaires. At the same time, with China’s increasing prominence on the international scene, especially in its relation to its largest trading partner, the United States, the country’s influence on the world is the strongest it has been in over two hundred years. This dynamic promises to be a defining feature for international relations in the 21st century. Examining China’s extraordinary path, by taking into account both changing reform policies and the players behind these reforms, is crucial to understanding contemporary China’s government, culture, and society. This timeline views the reform era (1978-Present) from five different perspectives, placing a wide scope of analysis and reflections on the social impacts this fascinating and critical time period.

Most, if not all, of China’s astonishing successes can be attributed to the complex and penetrating reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping and administered by a loyal team of reform-minded government officials. By the opening day of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, on December 18, 1978, the PRC leadership had already been moving away from the radical ideology of the Cultural Revolution years, which was officially called to an end a few short months before. Mao Zedong had died two years earlier, and Deng Xiaoping, recently reinstated after suffering his second purge, was keen to get the country back on firm ground. A veteran of the Long March and a respected political commander, Deng used his considerable influence to shift the power base away from Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, and bring back innovative and capable cadres who had been dismissed during the political purges of the 1950s and 60s, as well as promote more youthful, progressive government ministers. With this loyal foundation of reformist bureaucrats, including principal players like Zhao Ziyang, the country has marched ahead, rolling out new policies to boost agricultural output, reform education, impact family planning, and provide incentives to people to seek profits. Many pioneering individuals made huge fortunes, inconceivable just a few years earlier, and the national economy has grown by double-digit percentages nearly every year since, surviving relatively unscathed the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the global recession in 2008.

These extraordinary accomplishments have brought with them incredible difficulties that remain a vital but often overlooked feature of China’s rise. An enormous population five times the size of the United States’, overburdened natural resources that could foment environmental catastrophe, corruption within the political system, a widening income gap, and stagnant judicial, political and cultural reforms all pose significant challenges to China’s future social stability and continued prosperity. Runaway inflation in the 1980s largely contributed to fitful national unrest that culminated in the six weeks of protests in Beijing during the spring of 1989. After a period of fiscal stability in the 1990s under the careful watch of Premier Zhu Rongji, inflation continues to be a critical issue today. The conservative backlash following the government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protestors almost derailed the reform period entirely.

How various Chinese citizens, from entrepreneurs to artists to China’s youth, have reacted to these reforms is an equally fascinating subject of inquiry. There is an undeniable resurgence in cultural pride as evidenced by the exuberant 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the same time, many individual citizens have called for increased political reforms to keep pace with the economic and social reforms, often at considerable risk. Others have turned to alternative communities (i.e. religious communities, online social groups, or civil society groups) to make the most of new social opportunities and address some of the challenges that China faces. In comparison with the previous socialist period, China during the reform era has provided citizens with many more options for social and cultural expression, which can often seem either discordant or invigorating depending on one’s perspective.

Taken together, the successes and challenges resulting from the reforms undertaken over the past thirty years provide a comprehensive framework for approaching and understanding contemporary 21st century China.


The struggle to feed and provide enough natural resources such as clean water, timber, and coal to meet the needs of China’s population has agonized leaders and policymakers throughout Chinese history. Farm collectivization and mass campaigns to eliminate pests and reclaim land often met with spectacular failure during Mao Zedong’s tenure, resulting in millions of deaths from famine during the Great Leap Forward. Clearly the old socialist system could not produce enough food to meet the needs of China’s vast population, one of the major issues that Deng Xiaoping sought to address through his reforms. Not only did Deng’s reforms lead to increases in agricultural production and GDP growth, but they brought major shifts in how Chinese interacted with the natural environment.

Farmers began to experiment with private plots and selling their surpluses on the black market as it became clear that collectivized farming could not meet the needs of their families. The success of the re-privatization of these small farms was eventually given official sanction under Deng Xiaoping in 1983 and termed the household responsibility system. Under Deng, the household responsibility system drastically lowered the quota requirement for farms and allowed for the sale of surplus agricultural produce on the free market. The creation of a free market rendered the old system of grain rationing based on an individual’s hùkǒu (household registration) obsolete. Agricultural production soared and previously subsistence level farmers began to accumulate wealth. In turn, rising levels of wealth in the cities increased demand for more expensive vegetables, meat, and fish.

Despite improved economic livelihood in rural areas, foreign investment created even greater opportunities in cities as the demand for cheap labor and service jobs grew following Deng’s reforms. Once draconian controls on movement based on hukou classification were lifted as residency permit checks, arrests, and repatriation became less frequent. What followed has been the greatest human migration in the history of the world as people have increasingly flowed from economically depressed rural areas to booming cities along China’s east coast. A mass exodus of people of working age out of the countryside left grandparents and small children to tend the farms. Rural residents, estimated at about 80% of China’s population at the start of the reform era now account for only about half of China’s population , a dramatic change for a country that staked its revolution on rural peasants.

Until the mid-1980’s growth rates in the agricultural sector achieved significant gains from the increased efficiency of the household responsibility system and rising agricultural prices. During the latter half of the 1980’s agricultural growth began to decline and industry and services became an increasingly important part of the Chinese economy . To stem internal migration, to increase economic growth in rural areas, and to persuade farmers to stay on the land, local and provincial authorities encouraged the creation of township and village enterprises (TVEs). TVEs were typically small-scale private businesses located in rural areas and provided an important alternative source of income that served to cushion farmers in times of low crop yield and fluctuating crop prices as state price controls were lifted.

While contributing to a significant portion of farmers’ incomes and to China’s overall GDP, TVEs are also credited with the loss of agricultural land to industry and the rapid environmental decline of many rural towns. TVEs are notoriously hard to monitor since they are small and decentralized and often have strong support in local government officials who realize their economic importance. The resulting environmental impact on China’s forests, water, and air during the reform period has been devastating. In particular, many TVEs lack advanced equipment for processing waste water and air pollutants, and as a result discharge industrial waste water directly into local streams and groundwater. In prioritizing economic growth over environmental protection, local officials allowed TVEs significant leeway in their negligent environmental practices.

Exact numbers on China’s environmental situation are difficult to come by, but general figures point to a discouraging trend. Since the start of reform and opening, China has lost an estimated 1/5 of its farmland to development and desertification. Pollution and climate change has contributed to crop failures and droughts and turned farmers into environmental refugees. Officials, aware of increasing protests over environmental issues and the historical importance of keeping rural farmers economically secure, have begun to take the pollution situation more seriously since the mid-2000s. Particularly egregious polluters were forced to close and the national government offered subsidies for retrofitting factories with equipment that would reduce the discharge of polluted air and water. Lake Taihu, on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in eastern China is one such notable success. After devastating algae blooms in 2007 left millions in the region without water, officials and residents near the lake embarked on a plan to decrease pollution and nitrogen levels in the lake. Pollution levels in the lake have begun to improve and the lake is once again becoming a popular tourist destination. Even with this one encouraging example, however, the ability to balance continued GDP growth and the environmental impact of such growth on food and water security promises to remain one of the biggest challenges facing contemporary China.


Contemporary China’s incredible path to economic development officially began during the opening meeting of the Communist Party’s (CPC) Central Committee on December 18, 1978. Known as the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, this meeting of the top 300 Communist Party members elected by the Party Congress, was the occasion when Deng Xiaoping consolidated his power against Mao Zedong’s successor, Hua Guofeng, by working to reinstate reform-minded officials and overturning policies that continued the Maoist line. Deng’s considerable political strength allowed him the freedom to carry out his policy of “Reform and Opening Up” (改革开放 gaige kaifang), even in the face of major ideological and political challenges.
Deng, who assumed the role of paramount leader of China despite never holding the official government positions, was anxious to move the country past the tumult of the Cultural Revolution, a period during which he had been twice purged. The country was in dire straits both economically and in agricultural production, and the government lacked the capital to undertake much-needed infrastructure projects. In order to jump-start the economy, Deng’s administration enacted three significant policies: the promotion of the household-responsibility system to the national level, the introduction of dual-track pricing, and the opening of key coastal areas to direct foreign investment. These initiatives generated significant economic activity by putting money into the hands of farmers (in 1978, the majority of the Chinese population lived in rural areas), providing an incentive for agricultural and industrial workers to increase production, and generating foreign capital and business.
The household responsibility system essentially decollectivized agriculture into private plots. Since the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) land use had been distributed collectively as “people’s communes”. This restructuring put the responsibility for production, including the profits and losses, onto “households” (or sets of households in many cases), who leased land from the state. The government, in turn, demanded a reduced quota at a very low fixed rate. For any goods (grain, steel, etc.) beyond this quota, however, farmers or workers were allowed to sell their product on the market at an unregulated price. Production soared, solving any looming food crisis, and people started making money. This combination of fixed state procurement prices and unregulated market pricing became known as dual-track pricing. By establishing a free market system alongside the existing planned economy, the government introduced powerful economic incentives that unleashed a torrent of entrepreneurial activity.
Deng also pushed the opening of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in key coastal locations, for the most part situated in close proximity to Hong Kong and Taiwan. With four original SEZs (Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou & Xiamen) followed by the opening of fourteen more zones a few years later, China provided the arena for foreign companies to take advantage of China’s enormous low-cost workforce and establish manufacturing operations. An era of “Made in China” had begun.
The 1980s were exciting years for China, but the excitement reached a tragic climax with the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. After two months of intense protests and fearing greater instability, Deng authorized the use of the army to clear the streets of protestors. An unknown number (ranging from 300 to 800 people) were killed in the ensuing clash, and countless others were arrested. Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of the CPC and in many ways the director of Deng’s reforms, was stripped of his titles and put under house arrest as part of the conservative backlash within the government.
In the immediate years following the 1989 Tiananment Incident, Deng recognized the risk of economic stagnation and a threat to long-term economic reforms and so undertook a tour of the Special Economic Zones in 1992 during which, in a speech delivered in Shenzhen, he gave his unequivocal support to the SEZs. Deng’s Southern Tour, as the event is commonly known, instilled confidence in the Chinese economic reforms, and sent the message that business was back on the agenda. With renewed vigor and the support of Zhu Rongji as Premier, China entered a new stage of reform, opening greater areas of land to investment. Shanghai’s Pudong district, as the hub for the entire Yangtze River Delta, was redeveloped from farmland to become one of the most striking metropolitan skylines in the world.
Deng Xiaoping died in 1997 at the age of 93, but his passing in no way brought about an end to the reform era; indeed, China saw its strongest growth years between 2003 and 2007 (averaging around 11% each year) and, since 2010, now boasts the second largest economy in the world. But with all these triumphs, the country has a long way to go to completely alleviate poverty and resolve an ever-widening income gap. While the CPC’s 12th Five Year Plan, approved by the National People’s Congress in 2011, reveals the government’s reliance on large-scale infrastructure projects to fuel growth, the government has acknowledged the need to reorient the economy from a lower-value manufacturing based economy to one supported by domestic demand and hi-tech development. Similarly, the environment is high on the agenda, as the industrial free-for-all of the past thirty years has exacerbated an already tenuous ecological situation. China’ s incredible successes during the reform era are unprecedented in human history, but there are enormous challenges that China faces in the coming years.

Culture and People Reform image

Of the various social reforms China has undergone over the past three decades, perhaps none has impacted individual Chinese citizens and families more intimately and with such profound large-scale social consequences than evolving family planning policies designed to dramatically slow China’s population growth. Coinciding with various economic and social reforms, China implemented a controversial fertility policy starting in 1980 that is arguably the largest social experiment in governmental control of human reproduction in world history. The results of this three-decade-long, ongoing experiment have dramatically reshaped China’s demographic make-up, been a critically important contributing factor in China’s economic rise over the past three decades, and presented considerable looming social and economic challenges as a generation born under this policy starts to come into its own.

In a September 25th, 1980 publication put out by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, An Open Letter to Members of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Communist Youth League on Controlling Population Growth, the rationale was provided to the Chinese people for introducing an admittedly unpopular fertility policy that by and large restricted families to having one child. Essentially, the argument was that rapid and unchecked population growth severely hampered society in providing adequate food, clothing, housing, transportation, education, medical care, and employment; unless drastic measures were undertaken, China faced daunting obstacles to increase the standard of living for a rapidly growing population with increased consumption demands for limited resources. Increased population would strain natural resources including water, energy, and arable land, as well as pose real food security issues. Consequently, the Chinese government felt compelled to implement a stringent fertility policy that would limit one child per family.

In order to implement the policy, the Chinese government used both financial incentives for complying with the policy as well as harsh penalties for noncompliance. A veritable army of birth control officials were added to the government bureaucracy in order to implement and monitor the policy throughout the country. In the early stages of this mass campaign, some of these officials used incredibly coercive tactics to meet target birth rate goals, including forced abortions and forced sterilization . As one can imagine, human rights groups (especially some women’s rights groups) loudly condemned the policies. Such measures were deeply resented as well by many in China, especially in the more culturally traditional countryside, and a groundswell of discontent resulted in the government adjusting the policy in 1984 and again in 1986 in order to allow a more diversified approach; consequently, some provinces allowed rural couples to have a second child if the first child was a girl and some areas allowed couples multiple children if one spouse was a single child already.

Indeed, perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions of China’s fertility policies over the past three decades is that it is a one-size-fits-all “one-child” policy; in fact, population control policies are really a multi-policy phenomenon with regulations that change according to the geographic location of a couple, their ethnic make-up, and whether or not they themselves come from a single child family or have siblings. National minorities such as Mongols, Tibetans, and Uighurs are exempt from family planning policies, and different regulations pertain to rural citizens and urban citizens. That being said, most families in China (especially in growing urban and suburban areas) are single child units. In fact, China has not only achieved its goal of reducing the birth rate to “replacement” level (2.1 per woman) but very likely has a below replacement level (estimated between 1.22 to 1.8 per woman – unreliable birth reporting is one negative consequence of the resistance to complying with the policies).

The social and cultural consequences of pursuing this radical population control policy are enormous. For a civilization profoundly shaped by Confucian principles of filial respect for elders, the new status of a single child becoming the focus of familial hopes and aspirations has certainly changed intergenerational relationships. A couple of generations of single child families has resulted in a society of so-called “little emperors and empresses;” that is to say, generations of single children who are often spoiled and indulged by parents and grandparents and with an outsized sense of entitlement. This, of course, is a stereotype that masks other aspects of this generation – a tremendous burden each child carries on his/her shoulder as their parents’ future security (and often two sets of grandparents as well). Many single children feel a sense of loneliness as they compete first for top grades that will ensure placement in key schools and then for securing a well paying job.

Another important consequence of this policy is a gender imbalance that has resulted in a sizable population of bachelors (this group of men are called “bare branches” in Chinese since they have little prospect of being able to carry on their family lineage). Traditionally there was a very practical preference for having sons since they were less likely to move away from a family once they married and were thus a more assured guarantee for taking care of their parents later in life. This preference is reflected in disproportionate birth ratios of male to female births – as high as 121:100 in 2007. While cases of female infanticide are as sensational in China as they would be in any other country, there has been an undeniable trend of sex-selective abortions and reduced infant care for females that has contributed to a slightly higher infant mortality rate for females even as male infant mortality rates have consistently declined. The eventual social consequence of this gender imbalance is a bride shortage once young men and women reach marriageable age. Often those men who remain bachelors are among the poorest and most marginalized in society – a trend that government officials eye nervously since this group of “bare branches” are ripe for either criminal activity or contributing to potential social unrest.

One final consequence of the thirty years of population control policies is that China is a rapidly aging society with a dramatic change in the distribution of population by age. The generation of men and women born around the time when China’s fertility policies were first introduced represent the largest age profile and when they came of age in the 1990s and 2000s they made up a very eager and skilled labor force. As this age cohort starts to get older, the generations born after represent a smaller percentage of the total population; as a consequence, economists and sociologists question what effect this will have on China’s long term economic prospects. Complicating this picture is a health care system that is already strained and a pension care system that is rudimentary at best; suffice it to say that the little emperors will inherit a very complicated situation as they begin to care for their elderly parents and grandparents.

China’s fertility policies are undeniably controversial but have also been praised as necessary measures for the well-being of not only China but the world – at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, vice-minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China deftly argued that stabilizing China’s fertility rate has resulted in significant reduction of CO2 emissions and made the world a safer place. Critics of the policy find such arguments specious, at best, and have urged the government to change course. The original proponents of China’s fertility policies certainly never intended the policy to be implemented in perpetuity; as recently as 2010, the government revisited whether to phase out the policies and cautiously decided to continue with its current policies. To be sure, the policies have been a contributing factor in China’s economic resilience over the past thirty years although it will be curious to see how long the policy and its effects will be considered a beneficial aspect of China’s reform period or whether it will be considered a failure in the aggregate.

When China first began opening its markets to foreign companies in the early 1980s, few would have suspected that in only thirty years, China would become the largest luxury retail market in the world. From Rolls Royce and Maserati to Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, the highest-end brands in the world are witnessing some of their biggest sales in their China stores. In 2010, Chinese consumers became the second-largest buyers of high-end cars, and market reports show similar trends with other luxury products with global brand names, such as Cartier and Armani. What’s more, these expensive buying habits are not limited to major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but are increasingly common in Tier-II and Tier-III cities (as cities in China are commonly classified).

These eye-popping purchases are in stark contrast to the early years of the reforms when few could afford even the most ordinary foreign items, such as a Coke or a McDonald’s meal, which were then seen as luxury items themselves that were reserved only for very special occasions. Nowadays, McDonalds and KFC (and, increasingly Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) are commonly found and purchased in all corners of the country, although their prices are generally much higher than local Chinese restaurants. As foreign products were (and still are, generally) more costly, the most highly purchased foreign products were usually domestic appliances like televisions and refrigerators, which the family could enjoy together. There was a certain amount of prestige to possessing these items, and some households even kept their fridges in the living room to show off to visitors. Cars in those days were also far fewer than today, and Beijing’s countless cyclists made use of the city’s wide avenues almost entirely free of vehicular traffic. These days, however, Beijing’s streets seem to be perpetually clogged with traffic, as nearly 2,000 new cars appear on the streets daily. A car is a prized status symbol among China’s middle class, despite the traffic, and a big part of China’s success story over the past thirty years has been to provide greater access to material wealth, whether foreign or domestic-made, for a growing number of the people.


“Nothing to My Name”
(一无所有), by rocker Cui Jian

In the 1980s, however, the profits from Deng Xiaoping’s reforms had not reached as large a segment of the population as it has today (and there is still a large number of poor people in China, particularly in the western areas of the country); the inability to participate fully in the economic miracle of China’s development contributed to significant social unrest during that decade. One contributing factor to the six weeks of protests in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989 was dissatisfaction at economic inequality in Chinese society at the time. One of the popular anthems during the protests was the hit song, “Nothing to My Name” (一无所有), by rocker Cui Jian. The song captured the mood of students and workers who, in times of 25% inflation, were witnessing party officials pocketing large sums of money in the forms of bribes and kickbacks while their families struggled to put food on the table, let alone purchase those wonderful foreign brands that had appeared on the scene. In a memorable and revealing moment during the documentary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which examines the 1989 protests, one of the student leaders, Wu’er Kaixi, is asked what the student protestors want the most. He responds, “Nike shoes. Lots of free time to take our girlfriends out to a bar. The freedom to discuss an issue with someone.” While the freedom he mentions is a commonly known motive for the protests, his admission that a desire for “Nike shoes” could have fueled such discontent is often surprising.

One of the defining characteristics of the relationship between citizens and the state in China during the era after the Tiananmen protests has been the unspoken agreement that if the people’s lives are materially improving and they can buy more things, both necessities and luxuries, then they will be happier and will not be inclined to organize protests or be critical of their government, such as what happened in 1989. For the post-1989 generation, getting rich was an important part of Chinese society. Not only did wealth provide for a lifestyle largely unavailable to the generations before, but it was also the glue that held Chinese society together through challenging and unpredictable times. Opportunities to travel, own a car and buy an apartment, all generally impossible endeavors in previous times, have become the essence of “the Chinese dream.”

Cui Jian ~ Nothing To My Name (lyrics translation)

How long have I been asking you
When will you come with me?
But you always laugh at me
For I have nothing to my name.

I want to give you my hope
I want to help make you free
But you always laugh at me
For I have nothing to my name.

Oh… when will you come with me?
Oh… when will you come with me?

The earth is turning under your feet
The waters of life are flowing free
But you always laugh at me
For I have nothing to my name.

Why do you laugh at the pack on my back?
Why do I always keep on going?
The old horse stands before you
With nothing to my name.

Oh… when will you come with me?
Oh… when will you come with me?

I tell you I’ve been waiting a long time
I tell you, here’s my final plea
I want to grab you by the hands
And take you away with me.

Your hands, they are trembling
Your eyes, they overflow with tears
Do you really mean to tell me
You love me as I am?

Oh… when will you come with me?
Oh… then you will come with me.

The following are suggested resources where you can explore more about the Reform Era in China.

  • Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics
    From a 1984 speech by Deng Xiaoping to a Japanese delegation in which Deng outlines the ideology for his socialist market economy. Since a capitalist system would be politically unacceptable in a communist government, Deng’s classification was a necessary step to moving ahead with his reforms.
  • Charter 08
    Inspired by the 1977 anti-Soviet Czech initiative, Charter 77, Charter 08 was published on 10 December 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists. Liu Xiaobo, the jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was one of the authors and original signatories. The document calls for constitutional amendment, greater political freedoms, and social reforms, among other actions.
  • Deng Xiaoping Talks on the Southern Tour
    After the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square and in other locations around China, the economic reforms suffered setbacks via conservative resurgence within the government. Deng’s 1992 Southern Tour, an important occasion and a turning point, promoted the special economic zones (SEZs) and inspired greater confidence among investors and entrepreneurs, putting the economy back on the path of development.
  • Shanghai Communique
    Jointly issued on February 27, 1972, by the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, this document was one of the first steps to normalizing relations between the two countries.
  • The Fifth Modernization
    This important document, posted on Beijing’s Democracy Wall by Wei Jingsheng on December 5, 1978, calls for the inclusion of democracy to the list of the Four Modernizations of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense.
  • Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People
    Signed by Deng Xiaoping and President Jimmy Carter and released on January 1, 1979, this joint communique officially established diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. The document also halted official U.S. recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Essential Terms

The Central Committee: This committee of the highest-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has approximately 300 members who are elected by the Party Congress. Members of the Central Committee in turn elect the Politburo, a 25-person body whose nine-member Standing Committee forms the absolute highest level of China’s government.

National People’s Congress: Held every year in the Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square, this legislative body has 2,987 members.

Cultural Revolution: A political movement launched by Mao Zedong and his allies in 1966 intending to abolish the so-called “Four Olds” (old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas) and sideline so-called “capitalist roaders.” Marked by intense class struggle, the most radical phase ended around 1969 when many participating youths were “sent-down” to the countryside, although the campaign didn’t officially end until after Mao’s death in 1976.

Household Responsibility System: Begun in secret in the late 70s, this was a system in which farmers produced enough food to meet state quotas and then sold the excess on private markets. This system was so successful at increasing agricultural production that it was given official recognition by Deng Xiaoping and became a national policy in the early 1980’s.

Great Leap Forward: Social, economic, and political campaign from 1958-1961 that was designed to move the country from an agrarian based society to a communist society by means of rapid industrialization and collectivization. The results were disastrous with estimates of 15 million to upwards to over 40 million people dying of starvation because of this campaign.

Special Economic Zones (SEZs): Areas and cities granted special economic status starting in the late 1970s so as to encourage foreign investment and increase export trade.

Tiananmen Square: the largest public city square in the world, the square gets its name from the Tiananmen Gate “Gate of Heavenly Peace” that lies just north of the square and is an entrance into the imperial complex of the “Forbidden City.” The square was significantly expanded in 1958 and 1959 to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the founding of the PRC and became an important symbol for a new socialist China. It has also been the site of important protest movements, including a protest in 1976 after the death of Zhou Enlai and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Democracy Protests.

Hukou (household registration) – Official residency permit, issued in the form of a booklet to families that includes names, place of residence, and marriage status. Hukou residence can be broadly classified as ‘rural’ or ‘urban.’ While the system has been relaxed since the early 1980’s, officially changing one’s hukou from ‘rural’ to ‘urban’ remains a challenge, particularly for the so-called floating migrant labor population.

Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs): Begun during the Great Leap Forward as a means to increase production of non-agricultural goods in rural collectives. At the beginning of the reform and opening period, TVEs initially became an important supplement to rural income in the area of light manufacturing; in the last decade many TVEs have been privatized or dismantled.

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