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China: Political Reform
Country Study > Chapter 11 > The Political Process > The Third Wave of Reform, Beginning in 1986 > Political Reform


The August 1980 address on reform made by Deng to the Political Bureau became the basis in 1987 for changes in the party and state leadership systems. In the 1980 speech, Deng had called for strengthening the people's congresses, separating party and government organizations, reforming the cadre system, and establishing an independent judiciary. By 1986 the leadership's apparently overriding interest in Deng's plan was to curtail excessive party interference in governmental and economic decision making, and it was therefore bound eventually to provoke apprehension and resistance. In early 1986, with responsibility for political reform resting in the party Secretariat, several reports were aired concerning party secretaries at lower levels who had refused to relinquish decision-making power to benefit local economic reform management. Many local unit secretaries had succeeded in reclaiming authority previously given up. While Deng and the central reform leaders emphasized that party interference in government affairs actually weakened party leadership, conservative leaders such as Peng Zhen continued to speak about party unity and spirit and about the more gradual means to political change. Gradual means included additional legislation and the proper functioning of democratic centralism.

In addition to the new emphasis on power sharing in economic management, pressures increased to realize the goals of "socialist democracy" by increasing participation in public affairs through direct elections from a field of candidates. In fact, it was a student protest over the local slate of officials for a people's congress election in Anhui Province that sparked the student demonstrations that spread throughout the country in late 1986. In extending the argument for increased freedoms and democratic practices, demonstrators began even to question the presiding role of the party in the political system. Demonstrations in at least seventeen cities, with participants in the tens of thousands, also threatened to disrupt the urban economy and the continuation of the economic reform program. The drive to decentralize power and to separate party from government authority created political strains already apparent from the fact that no authoritative statement on these key issues ensued from the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth Central Committee held in September 1986. The student demonstrations that followed lent credibility to conservative ideologues in the Secretariat, such as Deng Liqun, who argued that continued political relaxation and reform would inevitably lead to social chaos.

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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