By Richard Baum, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
Hua Guofeng’s role in jump-starting the Chinese economy after Mao’s death has been widely underestimated. Though he wrapped himself in Mao’s mantle in an effort to boost his own legitimacy, he also helped to bring an end to some of the worst radical excesses of the Maoist era.
Raising Academic Standards
Hua Guofeng was on the road to revamping many traditional practices in China. Beginning in 1966, leftists had succeeded in watering down college admission requirements and substituting political criteria for academic criteria. Preference in admissions was given to children from worker, peasant, army, and cadre backgrounds and to those youngsters who proved themselves politically worthy by selflessly “serving the people”. Young rebel people demanded, and were granted, college admission based entirely on political, rather than academic criteria.
However, under Hua Guofeng, educational standards were reinstated, and in 1977, the uniform nationwide college entrance examinations were also reinstated. No longer was preferential treatment to be given to radical activists or students from worker-peasant-soldier backgrounds. Henceforth, academic performance was to be the primary criterion in determining eligibility for college admissions.
Learn more about the rise of Hua Guofeng.
In addition to promoting educational reform, Hua Guofeng was also open to pragmatic economic innovations. With the Chinese economy in a deep stall after almost two decades of leftist domination, he adapted a series of reform proposals that had first been argued by Deng Xiaoping.
Early in 1978, Hua introduced a 10-year plan for national economic development. Designed to comprehensively modernize Chinese industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and technology, Hua’s program was known as the “Four Modernizations”. The term had originally been coined by Zhou Enlai in 1975, but Zhou died before he could give the Four Modernizations specific content or define any specific method of their implementation.
Hua’s Economic and Cultural Openness
Hua’s 10-year plan subtly reversed Mao’s traditional emphasis on the virtues of self-reliance, egalitarianism, and the abolition of material incentives.
In their place, Hua called for such things as accelerated acquisition of the latest foreign industrial technology, the expansion of rural free markets, the use of the economic methods to guide economic activity (rather than administrative methods, top-down control), and the widespread adoption of incentive-based wage systems, including piece rates and bonuses to reward individual performance.
Previously, during the Cultural Revolution, each of these proposals had been denounced as revisionist by leftists.
Equally important, Hua Guofeng advocated a policy of opening wide with respect to China’s oft-maligned intellectuals.
To overcome what he called the “cultural poverty” that stemmed from the “fascist dictatorship” of the radical left, Hua called for a lively intellectual environment marked by “spirited discussions” of science, philosophy, literature, and the arts.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Hao’s Self-contradictory Policies
Although Hua clearly leaned toward greater economic and cultural openness, his willingness to think outside the box was nevertheless clearly limited. He insisted upon preserving traditional Maoist values and norms.
His insistence on employing Maoist labels to sanction reformist policies inevitably lent his economic programs an appearance of being self-contradictory—at times almost schizophrenic.
For example, in one section of his 10-year economic plan, he urged his comrades to “resolutely implement Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line” and to “always act on Chairman Mao’s instructions”. Yet in the very next breath he urged them to “break free from conventions” and “seek truth from facts”. At the very least, Hua was revealing himself to be a rather complex character.
Industrial Projects in Hua’s Economic Plan
At the heart of Hua’s new economic plan was a proposal to accelerate the pace of China’s modernization by constructing 120 major industrial projects, including iron and steel complexes, coal mines, oil and natural gas fields, power stations, railroad lines, and harbors.
To achieve this ambitious objective, Hua called for opening the country to large-scale, modern technology imports from the West and from Japan.
In calling for expanded hi-tech imports, Hua sharply reversed the “nativism” that had been a hallmark of Mao’s post-1957 policies, which stressed the virtues of self-reliance and the superiority of small-scale, indigenous production technologies. Now Hua was opting for the large and the foreign.
To pay for high-priced foreign industrial imports, Hua proposed to export large quantities of petroleum and natural gas, which were to be supplied by China’s newly developed oil fields, which were believed to hold vast quantities of proven and probable underground reserves.
Learn more about China’s domestic policy shifts.
High-tech Industrial Fiascos
In the initial rush to accelerate China’s industrial modernization, a large number of state-of-the-art, “turn-key” factories were imported virtually “out of the box” from the West and Japan. In many cases, the plants were designed and built in great haste, without adequate consideration of technical feasibility, infrastructure requirements, or cost-effectiveness.
As a result of inattention to such things as feasibility studies, cost-benefit analysis and “due diligence”, a series of high-tech industrial fiascos occurred on Hua Guofeng’s watch.
These included, most notably, a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle involving the Baoshan Iron and Steel Works, which was financed through Japanese loans and built using Japanese technology along a bank of the lower Yangzi River, near Shanghai.
In retrospect, it is evident that the very grandiosity of Hua’s 10-year economic plan contributed heavily to its eventual failure—and to Hua’s eventual demise.
Common Questions about the Educational, Cultural, and Economic Reforms of Hua Guofeng
The “Four Modernizations” program was a 10-year plan introduced by Hua Guofeng for national economic development. It was designed to comprehensively modernize the Chinese industry, agriculture, national defense, and science and technology.
Hua Guofeng’s 10-year plan called for such things as accelerated acquisition of the latest foreign industrial technology, the expansion of rural free markets, the use of the economic methods to guide economic activity, and the widespread adoption of incentive-based wage systems.
In the initial rush to accelerate China’s industrial modernization, a large number of state-of-the-art, “turn-key” factories were imported virtually “out of the box” from the West and Japan.