Imagine, for a moment, that you’re writing a short history of reform euphoria in China. Your essay would be, well, pretty short.
From my vantage point, at least, in the last decade there have been just two notable moments of exuberance about the prospects for economic reform in China. One was in 2011, when China issued its 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015). This document marked a noteworthy shift in the underlying thinking about China’s growth model and distribution priorities. And it came at an important juncture in China’s post-1978 economic history: Four years earlier, in 2007, then Premier Wen Jiabao had called China’s economy “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable”—a searing indictment of the prevailing growth model that seemed to lay the political groundwork for a much-delayed shift in strategy.
By 2011, that shift seemed finally to have come—at least on paper.