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Ren Zhongyi: Frontline Fighter and Economic Reformer

Retail Price: £15.00/$25

Ren Zhongyi spent most of his career operating at municipal or provincial level – hence the title of this book – Ren Zhongyi: Frontline Fighter and Economic Reformer. Another very apt title for this pictorial biography would have been – Ren Zhongyi: Criticism and Struggle Endurance Champion. Why so?

As described in great detail in Chapter 17, Ren was ʻcriticised and struggled againstʼ no less than 2,300 times in total from the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 onwards at a time when he held senior party positions at the Heilongjiang provincial and Harbin municipal level.

So years of violent attacks against him that were enough to break lesser men or drive them to suicide merely caused Ren to strengthen his resolve and bide his time until the chaos of the Cultural Revolution subsided, and he was able to continue pursuing what he regarded as his mission in life – to modernise the country and make it strong.

He had an unprecedented opportunity to do just that when, in late 1980, he was appointed first secretary of the Guangdong provincial party committee, marking the start of a long association between Ren Zhongyi and the enormous successes of Guangdong in pioneering economic reform and opening the province up to the outside world. Guangdongʼs GDP quickly rose to become number one among all Chinaʼs provinces and has remained so ever since.

Because Ren was so closely involved with the day-to-day business of economic reforms pioneered in Guangdong and its associated special economic zones (SEZs), this book – more than any other in the series – conveys more detail to the reader about how the reforms were conceived and carried out. Of course, by todayʼs standards, the reforms pioneered in Guangdong seem logical and normal. But one forgets how – seen through the prism of the CPC at that time – this was extremely radical stuff that risked, in many party membersʼ eyes, turning back the clock from socialism to capitalism and therefore risked negating everything the party had fought for all those years.

In terms of personality and character, this biography clearly shows how Ren was so often able to balance steely determination to adopt innovative methods to get the job done with a pragmatic willingness not to be so stubborn and unbending as to alienate those who opposed him. What is also very clear from the book is how much he relied on unwavering support from top party leaders in Beijing such as Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Gu Mu to push through controversial, innovative reforms.

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