In 1978, on the eve of reform and after the long years of revolution and its promises, it was the immediate association of riches with reform that sold the idea of radical and rapid economic transformation and acted as an incentive to those about to adopt such changes. One of the most important questions of the first decade of reform was whether the government could satisfy the rising expectations it had set in motion. In those first years it seemed more than possible, for one of the most important and much-publicised immediate repercussions of reform was the dramatic increase in new economic opportunities, cash incomes and the standards of living of peasant households. Indeed, throughout the countryside a combination of economic reforms and new pricing policies caused the largest overall rise in peasant incomes since the early 1950s. The number of newly rich and in particular ‘ten-thousand-yuan’ households became the chief rationale and criterion for measuring the efficacy of reforms and not only in the popular imagination. Officially too, the association of riches with reform permeated government reports, policy documents and speeches and constituted the overriding criterion of policy success. ‘Get rich quick’, ‘You too can become rich’ and ‘Riches for all’ were slogans and popular sayings which encouraged widespread emulation of the ‘ten-thousand-yuan’ households.
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