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Zhuozhou is a small city 60 kilometers southwest of Beijing. I learned about the town not because it was home to emperors, or their tombs, but due to a farmer who knocked on my door when I was about 9.
It was a dark afternoon in the early spring of 1975. I opened the door, and found a middle-aged couple outside. The man looked weary but cautious; he asked my father if we could buy the eggs they had brought with them - he was holding a big basket in his left hand.
The man said it had taken them half a day to travel on a bus from Zhuozhou to Beijing, where they were trying to sell the eggs. He said they had 3 kilograms left, and asked if we could take them all because they were trying to catch the return bus.
My father was suspicious. It was very unusual for someone to go door by door peddling eggs in those days. The purchase of all farm produce and supply to urbanites were monopolized by the State under a rigid planned economy. It was illegal for farmers to sneak into cities to hawk their products. It was not a decent thing either to buy from these illicit vendors.
However, eggs were in such short supply that my family of five was rationed to 2.5 kilograms per month. After a long pause, my father made the decision. He gestured the couple inside, so as not to be seen by neighbors. He explained to me later that one should have sympathy to someone who was desperate to go home.
Eggs were not the only food item that was rationed in the 1970s. Almost all products that one could think of, whether food or daily necessities, were apportioned. Coupons were distributed to families as super banknotes for these supplies, and people had hardly any choice but to follow whatever the others did.
Things began to look up toward the end of the 1970s, when the government took a more pragmatic approach toward development. Changes took place across the land at such a dramatic pace that within 10 years, China had largely bid farewell to an age of shortages.
The changes were staggering considering the sheer size of the population. No nation as big as China had managed to solve similar problems within such a short span of time in a peaceful evolution. The world calls it the China miracle.
Miraculous as it may be, it is nothing more than a logical outcome of a conscientious, industrious nation once it drew lessons from the past and embarked on the right track. A combination of a strong desire to seek wealth and painstaking hard work, plus the efficiency unleashed by the introduction of market-oriented reforms, has worked wonders.
"Poverty is not socialism," as Deng Xiaoping rightly put it. Drawing bitter lessons from the past, the government carried out reforms characterized by pragmatism and a wish for the well-being of its citizens.
Thirty years is but a short span for an ancient nation of 5,000 years. But the path we have found will guarantee many more generations of prosperity if we stick to it.
Gao Anming is a member of the editorial board of China Daily.