The Road to Crisis: The Chinese State in the Era of Economic Reform

  • Gordon White
Part of the Studies on the Chinese Economy book series (STCE)


After the Beijing massacre of 4 June 1989, the Chinese state faces a political crisis of a scale and depth unprecedented since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. Though the Communist regime has faced both economic crisis (notably the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward) and political instability (notably during the Hundred Flowers Movement and the Cultural Revolution), it has managed previously to meet the challenge and take action to restore some degree of political ‘normality’, and refurbish the party’s injured prestige. In the late 1980s, however, the Party faces a dual crisis: an economic impasse which has developed as the reform programme ran into increasing difficulties from 1985 onwards, and a political crisis, reflected and intensified by the indiscriminate state violence in Beijing on June 4. This leaves a regime led by ancient revolutionaries without ideological clothes, its legitimacy shredded and lacking a credible programme for solving the nation’s deep economic problems. It is indeed paradoxical that a market-orientated economic reform programme — which was adopted in part to recoup the prestige and legitimacy of the Communist Party-state that had been badly shaken by the Cultural Revolution — should culminate in a set of events further intensifying the crisis of the Chinese state. How could it be that the reforming regime of Deng Xiaoping — which had achieved much in raising popular living standards, energising the economy, allowing greater cultural and intellectual freedom, opening doors to the external world and even achieving marginally greater political freedom and opportunities — had committed an act of state violence unprecedented in the history of the People’s Republic.


Economic Reform Communist Party Economic Power Cultural Revolution State Enterprise 
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© Gordon White 1991

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  • Gordon White

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