UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The porcelain ricebowl : the revival of the urban individual economy in the People's Republic of China, 1978-84 Hershkovitz, Linda


This thesis concerns the rehabilitation of China's urban "individual economy" (small-scale private enterprise) in the transitional years 1978-84. After decades of suppression, the individual economy became an important feature of post-1978 economic policy, creating employment and reviving urban commerce and services. Despite unflagging support from central authorities, however, the growth of the sector was hampered by rigidities in a system designed to eliminate rather than accomodate private enterprise, by negative societal attitudes, and by opposition from basic-level cadres and agencies. All these problems stem from profound ambivalence about the role of private enterprise in what is meant to be a socialist economy. This study uses materials from published Chinese sources to examine the reasons for and manifestations of this problem, and explore its implications for the future of individual enterprise in China's cities. The first chapter defines the terms of reference and issues to be considered, and outlines the dimensions of the sector, including growth patterns, occupational structure, and demographic characteristics. Chapter 2 outlines the evolution of policy toward the individual economy from 1949 to 1976; it also summarizes the economic problems of the late 1970s, the basic features of the post-1978 development strategy, and the place of the individual economy within it. Chapter 3 describes the development of central policy between 1978 and 1984, and Chapter 4 deals with issues of regulation and administration, focusing on discrepancies between central policy and local implementation. Chapter 5 explores the socio-cultural reasons for these discrepancies, including societal attitudes, the interests and concerns of local cadres and agencies, the role of small peddlers in the traditional economy, and early Marxist attitudes toward small private trade. Chapter 6, a case study, shows how these issues converged in the case of one prominent entrepreneur. Chapter 7 examines discussions of the individual economy in the Chinese theoretical literature. The final chapter compares the Chinese experience with that of private trade in other socialist countries, and of small independent operators in other developing economies, and concludes by speculating on the future of small-scale private enterprise in the context of developing "socialism with Chinese features."

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.