By any measure, China's economic reform is of world-historical significance. While acknowledging the remarkable achievements China has made over the past thirty years, this introductory essay foregrounds some of the major challenges and problems China faces. Since the open-door policy was formally adopted in 1978, the country has been undergoing radical sociohistorical transformations that have created not only unprecedented wealth, new freedoms, and possibilities, but also widespread and significant inconsistencies and discontinuities that characterize the everyday life of China at the present moment. Is China's substantially marketized economy sufficient evidence of its abandonment of socialism? Is it a socialist market economy or marketized socialism? Is it a socialist state with “Chinese characteristics” or one without socialism? Would the continuation of economic reform lead to democratization? Thirty years after the reform, China has emerged as a site of paradoxes and contradictions. Contemporary China cannot be fully understood unless some of its most significant new features are identified, analyzed, and comprehended; but our attempt to understand what is unfolding in China requires an acknowledgment of the inadequacies of the accepted views and formulations about the country. By foregrounding some of those problems that this special issue of boundary 2 seeks to identify, analyze, and understand, the introduction urges for the need to move beyond the existing theoretical paradigms and categorizations for describing China's political and social formations, and to develop a more nuanced critical language for the complexities of contemporary Chinese society.
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