Two years after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, it became
apparent to many of China's leaders that economic reform was
necessary. During his tenure as China's premier, Mao had encouraged
social movements such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural

Revolution which had had as their bases ideologies such as serving the
people and maintaining the class struggle. By 1978 "Chinese leaders
were searching for a solution to serious economic problems produced by

Hua Guofeng, the man who had succeeded Mao Zedong as CCP leader after

Mao's death" (Shirk 35). Hua had demonstrated a desire to continue the
ideologically based movements of Mao. Unfortunately, these movements
had left China in a state where "agriculture was stagnant, industrial
production was low, and the people's living standards had not
increased in twenty years" (Nathan 200). This last area was
particularly troubling. While "the gross output value of industry and
agriculture increased by 810 percent and national income grew by 420
percent [between 1952 and 1980] ... average individual income
increased by only 100 percent" (Ma Hong quoted in Shirk 28). However,
attempts at economic reform in China were introduced not only due to
some kind of generosity on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to
increase the populace's living standards. It had become clear to
members of the CCP that economic reform would fulfill a political
purpose as well since the party felt, properly it would seem, that it
had suffered a loss of support. As Susan L. Shirk describes the
situation in The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China,
restoring the CCP's prestige required improving economic performance
and raising living standards. The traumatic experience of the Cultural

Revolution had eroded popular trust in the moral and political
virtue of the CCP. The party's leaders decided to shift the base of
party legitimacy from virtue to competence, and to do that they had to
demonstrate that they could deliver the goods. (23)

This movement "from virtue to competence" seemed to mark a
serious departure from orthodox Chinese political theory. Confucius
himself had posited in the fifth century BCE that those individuals
who best demonstrated what he referred to as moral force should lead
the nation. Using this principle as a guide, China had for centuries
attempted to choose at least its bureaucratic leaders by administering
a test to determine their moral force. After the Communist takeover of
the country, Mao continued this emphasis on moral force by demanding
that Chinese citizens demonstrate what he referred to as "correct
consciousness." This correct consciousness could be exhibited, Mao
believed, by the way people lived. Needless to say, that which
constituted correct consciousness was often determined and assessed by

Mao. Nevertheless, the ideal of moral force was still a potent one in

China even after the Communist takeover. It is noteworthy that Shirk
feels that the Chinese Communist Party leaders saw economic reform as
a way to regain their and their party's moral virtue even after Mao's
death. Thus, paradoxically, by demonstrating their expertise in a more
practical area of competence, the leaders of the CCP felt they could
demonstrate how they were serving the people. To be sure, the move
toward economic reform came about as a result of a "changed domestic
and international environment, which altered the leadership's
perception of the factors that affect China's national security and
social stability" (Xu 247). But Shirk feels that, in those
pre-Tienenmen days, such a move came about also as a result of an
attempt by CCP leaders to demonstrate, in a more practical and thus
less obviously ideological manner than Mao had done, their moral
force. This is not to say that the idea of economic reform was
embraced enthusiastically by all members of the leadership of the

Chinese Communist Party in 1978. To a great extent, the issue of
economic reform became politicized as the issue was used as a means by

Deng Xiaoping to attain the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao's successor, Hua Guofeng, had "tried to prove himself a worthy
successor to Mao by draping himself in the mantle of Maoist tradition.

His approach to economic development was orthodox Maoism with an
up-to-date, international twist" (Shirk 35). This approach was tied
heavily to the development of China's oil reserves. "[W]hen [in 1978]
estimates of the oil reserves were revised downward[,] commitments to
import plants and expand heavy industry could not be sustained" (Shirk

35). Deng took advantage of this economic crisis to discredit Hua and
aim for leadership of the party. "Reform policies became Deng's
platform against Hua for post-Mao leadership" (Shirk 36).

Given this history of economic reform, it is evident that "under
the present system