Historicizing China’s 1980s Reforms and the Neoliberal Moment
3: The Big Tiger? Historicizing China's 1980s Coastal Development Strategy and the Asia-Pacific
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Andrew B. Liu
Villanova University, United States
In this paper I examine the PRC state’s turn towards a “coastal development strategy” (yanhai fazhan zhanlüe) and reconsiders its historical significance in connections with a burgeoning “Asia-Pacific” economy. From the late 80s onward, the Chinese state gave priority to coastal provinces to produce exports for consumers in Euro-American and, eventually, world markets. The coasts became the country’s “engine of growth” and turned it into “workshop to the world.” At the time, the policy was understood domestically as the abandonment of Mao-era self-reliance in favor of export-led growth and global dependency. I revisit these developments by connecting them to broader trends in the region. First, officials such as Premier Zhao Ziyang modeled the strategy upon the successes of the “Asian Tiger” economies, especially the ethnic Chinese-majority Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. They were shaped by a 1970s discourse about the “miracle” economies of an “Asia-Pacific,” or, “Pacific Rim” network, led by U.S. economists. Many in China sought to optimistically model the Tigers, while pessimists highlighted China’s geographic differences. Second, I connect coastal development to other domestic histories. Labor-intensive industry in southern China, new research shows, was an extension of experiments across Guangdong and Hong Kong in previous decades. By exploring such connections, I hope to complicate the simple idea of China’s subordination to global capitalist markets. Instead, I examine how China drew inspiration from the regional and temporal specificities of the political economy of late-century Asia.