From 1978 to 1993, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) transformed the country’s economic system from the planned economy to the ‘socialist market economy’ system. Throughout this reform, there was a political struggle due to the co-existence of two groups within the CCP: the innovationists who promoted marketization and the conservatives who tried to maintain the planned economy. By focusing on the discourse of economic system in important official texts, this study aims to investigate how the trajectory of economic system reform was guided by the political struggle. In the study, Corpus Analysis and Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) are employed. The study analyses 26 documents including 16 Government Work Reports (GWRs, from 1978 to 1993), 6 party documents, 2 pieces of leaders’ talk and 2 newspaper articles. The corpus analysis identified economic development as the main topic of the GWRs during the period indicating how the CCP theorized the relationship between market and development. Also, it demonstrated a trajectory of marketization, which indicated the innovationists’ success, albeit complicated because of the political struggle. With the employment of CDA, we gain a deeper understanding of how the political struggle shaped the discourse of economic system from beginning to end and its influence lasted until today. We find that it shaped the reform in three stages: (1) introduce ‘the law of value’ to guide the plan (1978-1979); (2) weaken the plan by applying market as auxiliary of the planned economy (1980-1987); (3) stagnate but restart the reform as the political struggle became intense (1988-1993). In 1993, the economic system reform ended with the socialist market economy system: the market plays a fundamental role in resource allocation under the socialist national macro-control of the CCP. This macro-control remains a significant policy instrument in today’s China.

Additional Metadata
Keywords China’s economic system reform, socialist market economy system, planned economy, political struggle, Critical Discourse Analysis, corpus analysis, Chinese Communist Party
Thesis Advisor Tankha, Sunil
Persistent URL
Series Governance and Development Policy (GDP)
Yao, Zexin. (2019, December 20). Reform shaped by political struggle: Discourse in China’s economic system reform 1978-1993. Governance and Development Policy (GDP). Retrieved from