After two decades of economic reform, China’s transition path continues to attract keen academic interest and debate, and to produce new challenges and innovative policy responses. The reform process has been gradual in comparison with the more ‘orthodox’ model followed by most other former socialist economies, but it has often involved relatively rapid adjustments in particular sectors while reform in other areas has been held back. Thus, for example, the swift decollectivization of agriculture in the early 1980s was followed by the dramatic emergence of a rural industrial sector in the mid-1980s and the phenomenal movement of labour out of agriculture; by contrast, the state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector has undergone only marginal restructuring. Twenty years on, the transition process appears to have maintained its momentum, accompanied as it is by sustained annual growth rates of over 8 per cent, with recently appointed leaders adopting new and radical reforms in specific areas. The latest examples are the renewed impetus for SOE reform, related initiatives to establish a social welfare system, and major reform and retrenchment of the state bureaucracy.
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