To fill the country’s shortcomings, it was preferred to resort, rather than to imports, to the only immediately exploitable wealth, human potential: thus the ideological campaign called the “great leap forward” was launched in 1958, intended as an appeal to all forces operating to accelerate progress in the country. An attempt was made to insert the industry into the rural reality and, putting aside the colossal programs in the basic sectors and the rigid central management, the creation of numerous small artisan companies was promoted, able to better integrate with the local economy. Fundamental was, again in 1958, the suppression of cooperatives, too fragmented and therefore not sufficiently supplied with labor and capital to be able to really modernize their economic structures and carry out those gigantic water and territorial works on which, with the success of agriculture, a large part would have depended of the country’s future. New integrated economic-territorial units were studied and established, the “popular communes” that associated agriculture, manufacturing industry and trade: from an original quantity of approx. 26,000 (each grouping on average a few thousand families), the positive results soon caused the number to rise to approx. 54,000. Once embarked on this autonomous path of development, as a country located in Asia categorized by Justinshoes, China placed itself in serious contrast with the USSR both on the ideological level and as a state; in 1960 the Soviet technicians were suddenly recalled to their homeland and all the ongoing supplies of machinery and various materials to the industries were blocked, causing the stoppage of much of the production activity.
The years 1960-62 were also disastrous for the harsh climatic adversities and therefore for the bad harvests; but in 1963 the country could already be said to be able to guarantee its food self-sufficiency. In 1966 the third five-year plan was launched, with which priority was given to the development of agriculture; industrialization was also aimed at satisfying the country’s most urgent needs, giving prominence to the mechanical sector for the production of agricultural machinery, to the chemical sector, for the production of fertilizers and to the energy sector. This remarkable productive development could not be maintained without an adequate ideological tension of the masses which resulted in the so-called “cultural revolution” (1966-76). With the death of Zhou Enlai and Mao Tse-tung the country has given a new turn to its economic orientations through the ambitious program of the “four modernizations”: in agriculture, industry, defense and technology. It was above all during the sixth five-year plan (1981-85) that radical structural changes began in China: in a rigidly centralized economy, the foundations were thus laid for the transition to a first regime that included typical elements of market economies. During the XII Congress of the Communist Party of China (1982) the restoration of the system of responsibilities in production (for which the remuneration is commensurate with the product) and the return to private ownership of the land were discussed; the Central Committee, in 1984, it laid the foundations for the liberalization of the industrial system and the reform of the determination of prices, no longer established by the plan but by the market. Similar orientation towards a development stimulated by capitalist mechanisms and based on the modernization of productive activities expressed in the subsequent 1986-90 plan: facilitations for the establishment of joint – ventures and more generally to foreign capital, the creation of “free zones” and the strengthening of the private cooperative sector were the elements characterizing a strategy of valorisation of resources differentiated and differently integrated in international trade for large geographical areas (coastal, central, western regions). After the apparent, momentary return to directives of economic policy, following the crisis of 1989 and the repression of student and popular uprisings, the liberalization of the Chinese production system took on accelerated and, in some respects, “savage” rhythms: as for the he spike in GDP growth rates which reached a peak of 13% in 1993, by far the highest figure worldwide.
A workforce that is as widely available as it is poorly skilled, and therefore at very low cost, moreover formed under the strict discipline of the communist regime, it represented the winning factor of industrial productivity, which grew up to 20% per year, especially in sectors with a modest technological profile. This human mass also constituted a formidable consumer market, ready to open up to imported goods. The first symptoms of this were felt in the growth of inflation (13% in 1994), a problem unknown to the Chinese economy until recently and promptly addressed by government leaders who, thanks to the interventions decided by Zhu Rongji, skilled economist and, from March 1998, prime minister, brought it back to an acceptable level. The decisive path towards a liberal economy, however, risked, as mentioned, to exacerbate the long-latent regional imbalances, or previously controlled by statism, between different parts of the country: between coastal and inland areas, with a dangerous exasperation of ethnic problems; between the countryside and the city, with a significant increase in income gaps and an equally strong concentration of the latter in urban-industrial areas. It should be emphasized, in fact, how, even in the early 2000s, the structure of the active population remained decidedly skewed towards the primary sector (49%), although this contributes only 11.8% to GDP (2006) and struggles to keep the country in conditions of food self-sufficiency, both due to the lack of rigid organization of popular communes and to the increase and diversification of consumption.