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Special> 35 Years of Reform and Opening Up (1978-2013)> People
UPDATED: December 23, 2013 NO. 52 DECEMBER 26, 2013
Reflections on an Epoch
A sociology professor's retrospective look at China's momentous changes
By Yu Yan

"At university, ideological trends overflowed. Teachers and students were extremely active in terms of creative thinking," he said. "At the time, the 'cultural revolution' had just ended. Society was overwhelmed with retrospection on Marxism, socialism, and most other schools of thought. People were suspicious of everything. Most were wondering whether China's practices over the previous three decades had been right and where the country was heading," Li added.

Indeed, 1978 was a turning point for the whole nation. In December, China's reform and opening-up policy was initiated at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee, ushering the country along the path of rapid economic development.

Since then, China has embraced big improvements in social development, people's livelihoods as well as international influence. The economic miracle also stimulated reforms in its political and cultural systems.

"Students organized all kinds of activities, including seminars, debates and parties. My life suddenly became colorful. The atmosphere indicated that all things, neglected or suppressed, had returned," Li said.

In early 1992, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping paid a visit to south China, which turned the country's focus to economic construction and marketization.

"With Deng's visit, society embraced another wave of mental emancipation, albeit in an economically oriented way," Li said.

Having faith

In Li's view, the biggest problem facing Chinese society today relates to the lack of belief.

"Many Chinese people hold on to Confucianism, though it is far too secular; too preoccupied with the temporal world," Li argued.

He thinks that, compared to developed countries, China has no core belief system. In the West, many people are Protestants who emphasize man as created equally by God, just as everyone is equal before the law. Thus, the meaning of a man's life relates to serving God via daily action.

"In China, there are no such rules rooted in ordinary life. On the contrary, a man's values here do not lie with God, but are decided by the views of his peers. Chinese people attach great importance to what others think. This can easily change with both time and environment," Li said.

When asked what he believes, Li answered that, as a member of the Communist Party of China, communism was most important, followed by human rights and personal values.

Having experienced so much social change, Li believes that having one's own ideals is essential.

"A man can't succeed without interests or ideals. He must pursue something, and stick to that pursuit," he said.

Li argues that, far more than just a job, one's profession is akin to a life mission. While a job serves as a means for people to earn money and support themselves, a profession is more than that—it also provides spiritual ballast and serves as a platform for people to discover themselves.

Above all, he loves the study of sociology and his job as a professor. "My proudest achievement is becoming a professor. And I think I am one of the best. I always tell myself, if you can't be among the top 10 or 20, you are either not suitable for the job, or you are not working hard enough," he said.

Email us at: yuyan@bjreview.com

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