Decades Later, a Fateful Decision
Since 1984, when China made the decision to expand its reform program from rural to urban areas at the Third Plenary Session of the 12th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the country has accelerated its transition to a market-based economy.
Back then, Chinese citizens actively responded to the country's decision. For example, a group of young economists held a meeting on the Mogan Mountain in east China's Zhejiang Province, exchanging views on the country's policies; Lenovo's co-founder and former Chief Executive Liu Chuanzhi, a researcher at the time, gave up his so-called "iron rice bowl" and started a business; writers elected their own chairman of the China Writers Association; and a cultural craze took hold. Citizens from all walks of life were looking for new solutions to the issue of how to enable the country's growth.
Today, 30 years later, China is showing more respect for individual rights and has blended into the greater international society, becoming the second largest economy in the world. The young economists who once held discussions on the Mogan Mountain have become the country's decision makers; entrepreneurs who founded companies have achieved worldwide fame; and literature, too, has paid more attention to the individual and the human condition.
Faced in 2014 with choices as stark as three decades ago, China will still choose reform, this time expanded from the economy to an all-round transformation. Perhaps there are lessons from 1984 that can inspire and promote innovation for the next round of reforms.
Where Is the Baby Boom?
China's stance on family planning was softened half a year ago, allowing a couple to have a second child if either of them is their family's sole offspring.
The strict family-planning policy, in place for over 30 years, has had a visible impact on society and the economy. Facing a continually decreasing fertility rate and working-age population, the government expects this new policy to stimulate the total number of childbirths in the country. It also intends to guard against a possible massive birthrate rebound in a short period of time. In order to avoid a 21st century baby boom, local family-planning departments are continuing to use strict approval procedures to control the speed of second births and trying to persuade qualified couples to delay conceiving a second child.
However, a review of the new policy's implementation across China shows that people's willingness to have a second baby has not been as eager as expected. Instead, challenges have emerged from a large number of as-yet-undefined rights, such as those couples who meet the requirements of the new policy but have already given birth to a second child, and thus face huge fines; unwed mothers whose children are unable to obtain permanent household registrations; and parents who have lost their only child, asking for compensation from the government. Though these families, who are unable to benefit from the new policy, have different appeals, they have one thing in common: demanding equal reproductive rights.
In the past 30 years, the Chinese Government has taken strict measures, including charging high fines for parents violating the family-planning rules and denying their children the right to permanent household registration, in order to control population numbers. As new reforms unfold, the once infallible family-planning policy is being reexamined by the whole of society. Except for those benefiting from the new policy, though, can other groups' demands for relaxation of the childbirth guidelines be satisfied?
Time to Fight Fire With Fire
Within just minutes, the destinies of those riding a bus in the downtown area of Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, on July 5 were irreparably changed when the vehicle caught fire. Thirty-two people inside were injured, 24 among them critically.
Police investigations found that the 34-year-old man responsible for the fire lit flammable liquid and poured it on the bus. His motives remain unclear. He is among those severely injured and is being treated at a local hospital. Though there have been no reported deaths, the injured are destined to suffer huge physical and psychological tolls for the rest of their lives, particularly those suffering serious burns.
A bus arson represents a willful challenge to public security. It is uncertain when and where such a tragedy could occur again. So long as commuters and the public rely on buses, everyone may be a potential victim.
Unlike the subway and planes, which employ strict security measures, a bus driver cannot prevent flammables and explosives from coming on board. However, were bus security measures tightened, these tragedies might occur less frequently. The bus design itself also needs to be upgraded by adding more escape hatches and installing an emergency exit in order to increase the speed of evacuation if or when a fire breaks out.
It is of the utmost importance, too, that the motives of criminals behind bus arsons are carefully studied and treatment measures are put into place to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place in the future.