40 years of reform and opening up

40 years of reform and opening up

Four decades ago, China began to open up to the world, introducing capitalist reforms to a communist nation. The move transformed China forever.

The reclusive Chinese billionaire whose kidnapping brought unwanted fame
He Xiangjian, the Chinese billionaire who founded the world’s biggest home appliances maker Midea Group and was the victim of a recent botched kidnap attempt, is a man of few words. The man with a $25 billion fortune shares only 26 words with his staff and customers on Midea’s official website. But plenty has been written about He – China’s sixth-richest person, according to Forbes – since June 14, when five kidnappers with explosives held the 77-year-old for ransom after breaking into his luxury villa in Foshan, his and Midea’s birthplace in southern China. Local police arrested the suspects after He’s son – 55-year old He Jianfeng, who sits on the Midea board – sneaked out of the property
When an optimistic China opened itself to the world
The 1980s is known internationally as the decade of MTV, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. But in China, the country was only beginning to open to the outside world. The decade arrived just two years after former leader Deng Xiaoping set China on its course of opening up and economic reforms, dragging the country out of decades of isolation and giving its people their first glimpses of the outside world. There was a new-found sense of optimism, particularly among young people, according to photojournalist Adrian Bradshaw, who has collected a number of his striking images from the decade in the photo book The Door Opened: 1980s China. “The 1980s was when Chinese people could start to t
When Muhammad Ali knocked out China’s boxing ban
“The Greatest” Muhammad Ali was the first athlete invited to China after Beijing and Washington established diplomatic ties four decades ago. The boxing legend arrived in the then-British colony of Hong Kong in December 1979, before heading to Beijing for a day trip. “I’ve wanted to go [to China] since I was 10 years old,” Ali said, according to a South China Morning Post report on December 15, 1979. “Those people are so self-sufficient; they have pulled themselves right up without asking for help from the Western world. I just admire them so much.”  Thousands of Americans, including athletes, artists and journalists visited China in the 1970s as exchanges between US and China ramped up aft
Inside the market that sells everything from knickknacks to knock-offs
With a population of 1.2 million, Yiwu is a small city by Chinese standards. But every year, more than 400,000 foreigners, hailing from everywhere from Russia to Nigeria, fly into this city in eastern China to do business. “There are two places in the world where you can find at least one person from each and every country in the world. One is the United Nations, and the other one is Yiwu,” says Girdhar Jhanwar, an Indian businessman who moved to the eastern Chinese city about two decades ago. The visitors’ destination is the Yiwu Commodity Market. Since it opened in 1982 as China’s first market for small consumer goods, it has become a mecca for traders from around the globe on the hunt for
Who are the Communist Party’s 10 favorite foreigners?
Beijing has honored 10 foreigners for their contribution to China as the Communist Party celebrates 40 years of economic reforms in the country. These foreigners were on Tuesday awarded the China Reform Friendship Medal for having played a key role in propelling China’s economic and diplomatic growth. They may not be the best-known foreigners in China (certainly less famous than LeBron James and Sora Aoi), but they’re certainly the favorites of the Chinese leadership. The selection is also the ruling party’s reminder of how foreign engagement with China has contributed to its rise to become the world’s second-biggest economy, at a time when the country faces mounting skepticism over its glob
Shooting an opening China
Hong Kong photographer Joseph Fung has been at the center of the city’s photographic and arts scene for close to four decades. Currently an associate professor of photography at the Hong Kong School of Design, Fung is exhibiting a retrospective of his works in Hong Kong, titled “Time/Space: Brief as Photos — Dialogue between Joseph Fung and his Contemporaries.” The exhibition encompasses a variety of photos from his career, in particular snapshots taken in China from 1980 to 1989, as the country began to open up to the outside world. Check out our gallery, above, for more. In Hong Kong? See it at the Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre, through December 19.
It takes a village to build a superpower
Before Shenzhen was China’s answer to Silicon Valley, it was a small fishing town in southern China, notable mainly for its proximity to Hong Kong. But today the city is an economic powerhouse of 12 million people, a tech hub home to giants like DJI and Tencent – and with a GDP comparable to that of South Africa. The dramatic transformation happened seemingly overnight, and was made possible in part because of Shenzhen’s so-called urban villages, densely packed low-rise apartments in the city’s downtown. Forty years ago, those urban villages were actual villages populated by Chinese farmers. But then came the economic reforms initiated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s
How China’s military helped the nation open up
When late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping gave the order for more than 300,000 People’s Liberation Army troops to cross from southwest China into Vietnam in February 1979, there was more than regional rivalry at stake. Within a month, the PLA had occupied more than a dozen cities in northern and southern Vietnam, overcoming the heavily outnumbered Vietnamese troops and militia. Then on March 16, China suddenly withdrew all of its troops, declaring that it had “successfully given Vietnam a lesson.” On the surface, Beijing said it was punishing Hanoi for helping Moscow advance its political influence in the region at the expense of China. But a Chinese military historian, who also served as a
China’s first international hotel
In the 40 years since China began the process of reform and opening up, it has developed into a nation with the most skyscrapers in the world. That all started in the southern city of Guangzhou, with a hotel called the White Swan. Standing next to colonial-era buildings on historic Shamian Island in the Pearl River, the five-star White Swan opened in 1983. China’s first 100m (330ft) tall building was built by a Hong Kong developer answering former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s call for high-end hotels. With a location next to the Canton Fair, China’s oldest and largest trade fair, it was an obvious location for visitors to be shown a piece of the new China. The White Swan went on to host ma
How the US helped China catch up
Yan Dachun recalls being beaten around the lower body with iron batons that broke one of his legs. Liu Baicheng was forced into hard labor in a state-owned foundry, and saw his father-in-law driven to suicide. Ji Fusheng was publicly humiliated because he dared to challenge the belief that Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s words were the absolute truth. The decade-long Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 was a living nightmare for millions of Chinese. But these three men lived through one of the darkest eras in China’s modern history, emerging to become some of the first scientists to study in the United States after Sino-US ties were normalized in 1979. Their personal stories are a