An Alternate China
The obituaries that marked Deng Xiaoping's death on February 19, 1999 were extremely outspoken in their praise of the economic reforms he had unleashed on China. However, while getting rich has been glorious for many Chinese, a much larger number, although enjoying some of the reform's benefits live a less capital existence.
We must start back a few years for a proper analysis. On June 4, 1989, there was a massacre that took place in Tinanmen Square in Beijing. It was a military suppression of students and others of a democracy movement. This happened under the Deng regime. Many foreign observers were in agreement that dire economic consequences would most likely result from this political folly. It was seen as though the Communist Party's "hard-liners" had triumphed and consequently any market reforms would end. Measures already implemented to control inflation combined with the brutal killings were probably going to send China into a deep and prolonged recession.
Something strange happened though. Market reforms, far from being abandoned, were instead deepened. From 1991 to 1994, China's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased even more rapidly than it had in the frantic 1980s when China led the world in annual average growth.
This continuing economic boom brought familiar social consequences. While average living standards continued to rise gradually through the mid-1990s, the rewards of economic progress were distributed in an increasingly unequal fashion. The gap between rich and poor, growing since the decade prior, became more and more visible in the 1990s.
There are no official figures on the number of newly rich. Some estimates have said that there may be as many as 10 million millionaires or so in China. This number is so substantial when you think about how the People's Republic is the world's most rapidly growing market for luxury goods. The significance of these numbers may be interpreted in various ways, but it is strikingly clear that China's socialist market economy has quickly produced a bourgeoisie class. This category of people happens to have a powerful stake in the existing Communist order.
Also visible and way more numerous are the 50 to 150 million peasants from economically depressed rural areas who have migrated to the cities in search of work. Living in shantytowns or simply on the streets, the fortunate ones work as low-paid laborers on round-the-clock construction sites. As most of us have observed on TV, young peasant women labor in sweatshops under oppressive conditions. Some are employed as servants, nannies, and housecleaners in the homes of urban professionals. The migrant workers are somewhat of a functional underclass in that they do the work that permanent residents of the city avoid. Just like their counterparts in other capitalist countries, such as ours, they serve to make life comfortable for the well off. One can easily say that the rapid development...