China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper focuses on the 1980s–1990s to critically investigate how China studied Eastern European reform experiences and their subsequent impact on Chinese economic policy-making. First, it contextualizes the relationship between China and Eastern Europe by comparing their histories beginning in the mid-1940s, when the Iron Curtain opened in Eastern Europe and China was descending into a massive civil war between the ruling Kuomintang Party and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After winning the mainland, Mao Zedong first incrementally and then rapidly introduced the Stalinist system. However, unlike states such as Hungary, the Chinese leadership did not carry out economic reforms after 1956 but instead initiated a series of campaigns against markets, including the People’s Commune Movement in 1958 and the Cultural Revolution during 1966-1976. Therefore, this paper argues that when China opened up and initiated reforms in 1978, it could look to Eastern Europe as a rich source of experience and lessons. Specific examples discussed in the paper include Chinese policymakers' inventing the concept of diversified socialist models after visiting Yugoslavia, debating overall reform strategy after studying Hungary and Janos Kornai's concepts in Economics of Shortage, and suspending some economic and political system reforms after being shocked by Poland’s Solidarity Union news. I also address how Eastern Europe's post-Soviet economic and political transformations affected Chinese leaders' acceptance of the socialist market economy as an objective system. By identifying the crucial role of Eastern Europe in China's early economic reform, this paper highlights the international origins of "socialism with Chinese characteristics."