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Reforms drive revival

By Wang Ru | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-30 08:03

Ancient Chinese insight that extols 'moving with the times' is prompting new state policies to protect businesses from economic slump, Wang Ru reports.

China's ancient wisdom informs its contemporary leadership. In this series, China Daily explores how age-old principles and philosophies continue to steer the nation's governance.

As the founder and CEO of Chongqing Zhubajie Network Technology, Zhu Mingyue has paid close attention to policies related to tax exemption and operational cost reduction for years, especially after COVID-19 struck in 2020.

"Hit hard by the pandemic, many micro, small and medium enterprises have struggled to survive. Slashing taxes and reducing fees have become major ways of helping them increase cash flow and, in turn, encouraging innovation. These moves ensure stability in employment and foreign trade, as well as guaranteeing security of the basic needs and operations of market entities," the 48-year-old says.

In recent years, a series of policies have been drafted to offer declining businesses a fresh lease of life. In the Government Work Report, delivered at the fifth session of the 13th National People's Congress in March, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new package of tax refunds and cuts of 2.5 trillion yuan ($365 billion) this year.

Zhu, also a deputy to the 13th National People's Congress, has submitted motions related to the issue three times, primarily because "it can greatly benefit enterprises".His own company enjoyed a tax exemption of more than 29 million yuan from 2020 to the first half of this year.

Since April, the newly implemented value-added tax credit refund policy has allowed Zhu's company to get a tax refund of 19.7 million yuan. "The monetary aid from the government has provided us timely support," he says.

When President Xi Jinping chaired a symposium with entrepreneurs in Beijing in 2020, he pitched for more cuts to taxes and fees, as well as a reduction of rents and interest rates, to ensure that the relief policies reach the primary level and directly benefit market entities.

Statistics released by the State Administration for Market Regulation show that there were 98 million market entities in China in 2018, and this year, the number has surpassed 150 million.

"Cutting taxes and fees is not just a policy adjustment, but an institutional reform. In other words, it is meant to be long-term and stable," Gao Peiyong, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said at the China Business Annual Meeting Week on Enterprise Competitiveness in 2020.

Only change is constant

Behind the reforms is the spirit of keeping pace with the times, which is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture.

In his keynote address to the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in 2019, President Xi mentioned that changing with the times through reforms and innovation was an abiding commitment for the Chinese.

In another speech in 2013, he stated: "Innovation is the soul of a nation's progress, the inexhaustible force enhancing a country's prosperity, and indeed the profound endowment of the Chinese nation."

According to Li Zhong, a professor at the School of Marxism, Xi'an Jiaotong University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the spirit to move with the times is in the "cultural genes" of China.

"The ancient Chinese believed that the entire universe was prone to endless changes, and that people should be very sensitive to such things. As a result, they valued change and kept pace with the times and environment," says Li.

"It is very different from Western philosophy, which puts more emphasis on space-something still-and valuing the grasp of structures and rules," he adds.

The adaptive Chinese spirit can be traced to I Ching (The Book of Changes), an ancient divination book that is among the oldest classics. "The name of the book, obviously, implies the idea of change. And, the last hexagram suggested in the book is called weiji (not yet completed), which means changes do not end," Li explains.

The Great Learning, one of the Four Books of Confucianism that was believed to have been written during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), mentions that the platitude, "if you can improve yourself in a day, do so each day, forever building on improvement", was engraved on the bathing paraphernalia of Emperor Tang, the first monarch of the Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC).

Some experts say that the feudal dynasties in China had an incredibly stable structure. However, Li points out that, although the general structure remained stable, institutional reforms were constantly being made.

The professor highlights the example of the ancient imperial examination system to choose civil servants, which is believed to have started during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). Before that, government officials were selected by recommendation from local governors.

"The innovation was advanced for that time, because it offered talented people, regardless of their family background, an opportunity to gain high social status. It broke the monopoly on political power and social resources by the aristocracy, thereby promoting social mobility," he says.

In his speech at the conference marking the 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up in 2018, President Xi, too, mentioned that, to keep up with the times, "our best resource is to comply with the trends of history, and to seek and proactively respond to change".

Tradition delivers innovation

Li believes this "adaptive spirit" is of vital importance in present-day China. "We are facing global, once-in-a-century changes. The complicated international situation and the COVID-19 pandemic jointly challenge us and require us to innovate," he says.

"On the other hand, the development path we are walking now has never been explored by any other nation. We need the courage to reform and to innovate in an effort to build a great modern socialist country, and realize the great rejuvenation of our country," he adds.

At the fifth plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee in 2015, President Xi proposed a new growth philosophy. He also mooted the idea of "comprehensively deepening reforms "during the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013.

According to Li, the guiding philosophy behind the proposals is the need to change with the times.

He, however, insists that innovation should be based on tradition. "From a dialectical perspective, tradition and innovation are two sides of the same coin. Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum; tradition provides a foundation. We need to remodel traditions to suit our modern needs."

Bai Ming, a professor at the Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University, sums it up best by saying: "In some way, the best traditions are innovations made in the past."

Tan Yingzi in Chongqing and Shi Baoyin in Zhengzhou contributed to this story.

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