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China's economic development since 1978 is indeed an extraordinary accomplishment. It is somewhat misleading, however, to begin the analysis with 1978 or to not address its historical roots or the question of levels of inequality within China. The fact is that China experienced very high growth rates over much of the period from 1949 to 1978 as well, but the benefits of these were distributed in a much more egalitarian fashion, establishing a baseline in terms of nutrition, healthcare and access to education that then enabled China to much more effectively utilize its "human capital" to achieve capitalist take-off after 1978. The tragedy of the post-1978 Chinese miracle is the simultaneous transformation of China from one of the most economically egalitarian societies in the world to one of the least. In any event, the widespread attribution of the post-1978 take-off to the demolition of the Mao-era egalitarianism is ahistorical. One important example of all this that that during the Cultural Revolution, which is widely portrayed as enormously disruptive to education, enrollment at universities actually expanded enormously. The post-1978 expansion would have been inconceivable without the expansion of access to higher ed for working class and peasant youth that was in fact central to the Cultural Revolution. Giving Mao credit for anything is of course anathema to the hegemonic narrative, but there you go.
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Feb 26, 2012