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Social change without a theory

I was browsing through academic references when I came across a familiar name. Zhichang Zhu published an article “Reform without a Theory: Why Does it Work in China?”, in Organization Studies, 2007. Here’s the first few sentences from the abstract.

The gradualism–radicalism debate on China’s reform is misleading. The reform can alternatively be seen as one without a theory. The question is why a no-theory “strategy” was “selected” by the Chinese elite, “accepted” by the Chinese people and “worked” in the Chinese context.

Since I’m educated in the west, I realized that it’s wrong for me be thinking about social change in China from a western mindset. I first saw Zhu speak in 1998 on the wuli – shili – renli model, and have seen him now and then at various meetings. I still can’t describe the WSR model unaided, and was struck by various phrases in this 2007 paper. Firstly, wuli.

Wuli: Actual Material-Regulative Resources

[….] Hostile to central planning, Mao Zedong advocated a xiao-tu-qun (smallness, localness, comprehensiveness), wuxiao kaihua (“five small flowers” blooming) policy, encouraged commune-brigade enterprises. [….]

By the time of the reform, 80% of the labour force was outside the state sector, living at near-subsistence levels (CRF 2001). When economic liberalization began, non-state sectors could grow rapidly, relying on the flow of labour from agriculture. [….]

Unlike “abandoning the plan” in a planned economy, which would probably produce great disruption, as happened in EEFSU, “abandoning commands” is more likely to produce positive effects, whether the market mechanism or planned control is subsequently adopted. This was what happened in China. [p. 1507]

Secondly, shili.

I was browsing through academic references when I came across a familiar name. Zhichang Zhu published an article “Reform without a Theory: Why Does it Work in China?”, in Organization Studies, 2007. Here’s the first few sentences from the abstract.

The gradualism–radicalism debate on China’s reform is misleading. The reform can alternatively be seen as one without a theory. The question is why a no-theory “strategy” was “selected” by the Chinese elite, “accepted” by the Chinese people and “worked” in the Chinese context.

Since I’m educated in the west, I realized that it’s wrong for me be thinking about social change in China from a western mindset. I first saw Zhu speak in 1998 on the wuli – shili – renli model, and have seen him now and then at various meetings. I still can’t describe the WSR model unaided, and was struck by various phrases in this 2007 paper. Firstly, wuli.

Wuli: Actual Material-Regulative Resources

[….] Hostile to central planning, Mao Zedong advocated a xiao-tu-qun (smallness, localness, comprehensiveness), wuxiao kaihua (“five small flowers” blooming) policy, encouraged commune-brigade enterprises. [….]

By the time of the reform, 80% of the labour force was outside the state sector, living at near-subsistence levels (CRF 2001). When economic liberalization began, non-state sectors could grow rapidly, relying on the flow of labour from agriculture. [….]

Unlike “abandoning the plan” in a planned economy, which would probably produce great disruption, as happened in EEFSU, “abandoning commands” is more likely to produce positive effects, whether the market mechanism or planned control is subsequently adopted. This was what happened in China. [p. 1507]

Secondly, shili.

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