“Living standards have improved, but levels are low and not even.” These words are contained in an appraisal by two senior members of the State Statistical Bureau of the People's Republic of China, which seems to be the first detailed account in years, written for the benefit of foreigners who are interested in the well-being of the people of China. Other, briefer statements have been available lately, but none of such authenticity. In this respect, December 1978 can be taken as the point of departure: since then, not only have major political and economic changes occurred, but the non-Chinese world has been allowed to participate in these changes and to take account of their successes and failures. Even the language in which official reports are made astonishes. Admittedly, reforms had preceded the third plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party held in December 1978. The plenum was the occasion when China's policies underwent a dramatic shift from Hua Guofeng's doctrinal concept to a more “pragmatic” approach, with problems being tackled as they arose. Strategy and tactics were revised, following a re-evaluation of major political events, organizational change at the highest political level, a reassessment of Mao's role in the history of the People's Republic and the revision of economic targets. A stable future seemed to be guaranteed by the election of Hu Yaobang to the Politbureau and – a little later – the appointment of Zhao Ziyang as premier in overall charge of modernization, as Deng Xiaoping interpreted this concept. Within a few months Hua Guofeng's modernization projects suffered some drastic amendments and his 10-year Plan in particular was abandoned. In its place, the plenum considered the “eight-character charter” of readjustment, reform, consolidation and improvement. In the countryside, which still provides work and a home for the largest number of men and women, agriculture was given the highest priority - but this time in earnest and not, as during the previous two decades, merely as a slogan.