Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Laurence C. Thorsen


This study of Chinese politics, economics, society and culture is intended to contribute to better understanding of the contemporary reforms in China. This task was not easy due to the facts that China has not been open to direct observation, and its policies were influenced by unpredicted changes.

This thesis is concerned with the reforms and changes that occurred during the years starting 1978 up to the present time. In 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Communist Party of the Chinese Central Committee in Beijing, marked the beginning of the reforms in China. The Chinese leaders made efforts to get the country out of the chaos left by the Cultural Revolution, trying to reach new equilibrium between economic and political development. There are three elements for the new equilibrium: incentives needed for the population to produce goods and services needed by the society, certain new channels through which citizens could express discontent to the government, and social order sufficient to enable the pursuit of production-oriented activities. But accomplishment of such an equilibrium is not easy to achieve.

For the purpose of Chinese economic development, the Chinese Communist Party decided to limit its control over political and economic affairs, granting more power to lower levels of administration. Through the experiment of enterprise autonomy, factory directors were given certain power to decide on their own affairs concerning production; but the experiment is not successful. Chinese traditional ideology and political culture become the major factors preventing the reform success. The political attitude of dependency orientation toward interpersonal relations is deeply rooted among Chinese people. This has been the source of Chinese government. The Lun Yu cites a saying of Confucius which reflects the Chinese philosophy of government. “Govern the people by regulations, keep order among them by chastisement, and they will flee from you, and lose all self-respect. Govern them by moral force, keep order among them by ritual, and they will keep their self-respect and come to you of their own accord.” (Rubin, 1976, p.65)

Political structure and traditional ideology have defined the political behavior in China within a certain pattern. Superior-subordinate relationships have always remained strictly hierarchical. Social problems in China are seen as capable of being resolved within this pattern, which is described as being central to Chinese conceptions of social order. The extent of reforms thus has been limited by the Confucian and Marxist ideologies; both stress the importance of authority by the elites, and respect for authority. Under such circumstances decentralization will be very difficult. The present reforms will continue on the track set by the central government. It is early to evaluate the success or failure of these reforms. The results of economic and political reforms take a long time to materialize.

This study is organized as follows: Chapter One deals with the purpose and scope of the reform. Chapter Two is devoted to the political and economic reforms in China while Chapter Three concentrates on discussing the Chinese political-administrative system and the problem of reforms. Chapter Four discusses dependency versus autonomy and Chapter Five presents conclusions.