The discussion offered below is in two parts. The first part reproduces parts of an article published in 1981, at the very beginning of the reforms in Chinese socialism under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. This article argued a point that proved to be controversial at the time: that the reforms would inevitably lead to incorporation in a global capitalist economy. Especially important in the discussion was the appearance of new class divisions in Chinese society. The second part of this article reflects on this prognostication from a contemporary perspective. While Chinese society has undergone tremendous changes over the last three decades which are tracked here in broad outline, these changes have confirmed the prognostication of thirty years ago. The People's Republic of China has emerged since the 1990s as one of the cores of the global capitalist economy, and divisions in society (due to class but also urban-rural and regional inequalities, among others) have assumed even greater sharpness. Despite important advances, in other words, serious problems remain—especially given continued claims to socialism. Uncertainty about the future remains as development has added new problems to old ones.
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Arif Dirlik; Back to the Future: Contemporary China in the Perspective of Its Past, circa 1980. boundary 2 1 February 2011; 38 (1): 7–52. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-1262536
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