Chinese President Xi Jinping extends New Year greetings to all Chinese compatriots and people around the world in his New Year speech in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 31, 2016. (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)
BEIJING, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Yang Yuxiang had planned to leave his job as a rural school teacher in central China's Hunan Province for a position in a city school, but changed his mind after the central government began to implement measures to improve rural education.
"I don't need to look for a new job now because the school will be renovated and rural teachers, like me, now qualify for attractive remuneration packages," Yang said.
Measures have been rolled out across the country to close the gap between rural and urban education, including better pay for rural teachers and better facilities for rural schools.
Education reform is just one element of the country's extensive reform drive. In 2016, 97 key reform tasks were completed, 419 reform plans were made, and frameworks for reform in major sectors were drawn up.
And there is little sign of the reform drive losing steam in the new year. Just days after the start of the Lunar New Year, President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform to chart the course for further reform.
At the meeting, the President said leading Communist Party of China (CPC) and government officials are key to China's reform drive. They must act to "shoulder the heaviest burden, and chew on the hardest bones," he said.
Xi himself has taken the lead to do so. More than four years after taking the helm of China, reform has emerged as a hallmark of Xi's governance.
Comprehensively deepening reform is one of the "Four Comprehensives," a strategic blueprint drawn up by Xi, which creates pathways to realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.
He also went to great lengths to make his vision of reform a reality. Xi's first trip outside Beijing as the leader of the CPC was to Guangdong Province, the forefront of China's decades-long reform and opening-up drive.
"Reforms are always in the present tense, not the past tense," Xi has said.
Last year, he visited Xiaogang Village, often referred to as the birthplace of rural reform, in east China's Anhui Province, where he called for a solid agricultural sector and improved well-being of farmers.
Reform and opening up are key to deciding the fate of modern China, he said in July during an event marking the 95th founding anniversary of the CPC.
Already, measures drafted by the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform have been designed to address issues such as urbanization, poverty alleviation, innovation and the market's role in resource allocation.
"These reform measures are so wide-reaching that they touch on the lives of all Chinese," said Xu Guangjian, vice dean of the School of Public Administration and Policy, Renmin University of China.
"In this sense, China's current reform drive is more than just a venture of the ruling party. It represents the common aspiration of the entire people," he said.
SENSE OF GAIN
Photo taken on Dec. 12, 2015 shows a family of four sitting on a lawn. (Xinhua)
The general objectives for reform are improving socialism with Chinese characteristics and modernizing the state governance system, according to a communique issued after the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013.
Such a vision includes promoting social equity and justice and improving the well-being of the people.
In his latest New Year address, Xi said his top priority was helping the poor.
Xi, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, has presided over a total of 32 meetings of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform since its inception.
Poverty alleviation, health care, employment and education were among the key issues discussed at those meetings, which aimed to improve the lives of the people.
"The ongoing reform drive is not just reform for reform's sake," said Xin Ming, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
Xin said the past more than four years after the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012 marked a new phase in the country's reform as it becomes more systematic, interlinked and coordinated.
"The reform now focuses more on increasing people's sense of gain. It is becoming more solution-based and more law-based," he said.
In President Xi's own words, reform must be focused on issues of public concerns. It must serve to resolve outstanding problems in ordinary people's lives and meet their demands and needs. It should be carried out by the people, and for the people.
Eliminating poverty is the first and key step in improving people's lives.
In 2016, tailored measures were designed for, and implemented in the country's impoverished areas, including a program that allocates profits from local hydropower plants and mining projects to the locals.
Thanks to an array of measures, an additional 10 million people were lifted out of poverty last year, taking the nation one step closer to lifting its remaining 45 million rural poor people out of poverty by 2020.
Along with the poverty relief program, other endeavors to help improve the lives of the population are also taking shape.
More medical resources have been poured in to fill the gap in health services for children, and family doctors are introducing more Chinese to health management. Rural education is also being enhanced to help students compete with their urban peers, while elderly-care services are being better designed to cater to the needs of senior citizens.
At the 14th meeting of the Central Leading Group on Finance and Economic Affairs held last December, Xi was briefed on progress in some major projects, including promoting clean winter heating in northern areas, implementing a waste sorting program in eastern Zhejiang province, disposal and recycling of livestock residue, improving the quality of services in elderly nursing homes, regulating the housing rental market and curbing property bubbles, as well as improving oversight over food safety.
"The fundamental goal of maintaining growth pace and promoting economic development is to seek proper solutions to prominent issues of people's common concerns," said Xi, who heads the central leading group.
Building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way by addressing people's concerns is in line with the need to push forward supply-side structural reform, Xi said, adding this will also help nurture new sources of growth and increase potential for long-term growth.
Photo taken on Sept. 22, 2014 shows high speed trains. (Xinhua)
China embarked on its reform and opening-up drive in the late 1970s, and reform has remained a key theme of the country's development ever since.
But nearly 40 years later, the reform drive is now in a deep-water zone -- many of the easier reforms have been accomplished, leaving difficult tasks.
Efforts have henceforth been made to focus more on top-level design of reforms and on the "key minorities," a term first raised in 2015 referring to the small group of officials at provincial and ministerial levels who have both big power and responsibilities.
According to Xi, leading Party and government officials must practice what they preach firsthand, to make sure that reform measures are fully implemented.
The President has on various occasions highlighted the importance of implementation.
According to Xi, leading officials should be both the promoter and the actual practitioners of reform. With reform may come sharp yet brief pains, but without reform the pains will last much longer.
So far, a wide spectrum of areas have been improved, with notable advances in judicial reform, fiscal and taxation reform, state-owned enterprise reform, and military reform.
In the economic sphere, Xi has promised extensive supply-side structural reform.
The reform, proposed at the end of 2015 to resolve structural imbalances in the Chinese economy, has been focused on five tasks: cutting industrial capacity, reducing the housing inventory, lowering leverage, cutting corporate costs and improving weak economic links.
Efforts in these areas paid off last year. China had met the 2016 target of reducing 45 million tonnes of steel and 250 million tonnes of coal production capacity ahead of schedule, and a large number of zombie enterprises were shut down.
To advance supply-side structural reform, China has to handle well the relationships between government and market, between short term and long term, between addition and subtraction, and between supply and demand, Xi said in January during a group study held by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.
As local legislative and political advisory bodies in 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions convened their annual meetings early this year, supply-side structural reform has again been brought up to the top of local government's policy agenda.
China's supervisory system is another area of political reform that features far-reaching importance. Xi underscored in January last year that China must upgrade the structure of its supervisory organizations and set up a national supervisory system that oversees all state organs and civil servants.
Last month, new supervisory commissions in three localities -- Beijing and the provinces of Shanxi and Zhejiang -- all had their leaderships elected by local legislatures, a huge step in the right direction to curb corruption and underhand behavior.
In addition, the military structure has been overhauled. A tiered command system, including the Central Military Commission (CMC), and five theater commands, replaced the original seven military area commands.
Zhu Lijia, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the country had made remarkable progress, and the experience of the last few years would be invaluable over the next three to five years.
"The results were delivered thanks to a combination of top-level design and down-to-earth work," said Xin Ming.
Zheng Yongnian, professor and director of East Asian Institute at National University of Singapore, agreed.
Noting that China has managed to become the world's second largest economy through decades of reform, Zheng said China's reform drive has been highly consistent in its design and implementation from the beginning.
"Unlike Western countries where political parties work to hold back each other thus stifling key reforms, reform in China is rolled out in a highly consistent manner with a special focus put on its implementation," he said.
"The world could learn from China's reform experiences, particularly those after the CPC's 18th National Congress," Zheng said.