Crossing the River by Feeling for Stones
Crossing the river by feeling for stones is a distinctly Chinese approach to reform, one that embodies Chinese wisdom in addressing issues specific to contemporary China. It calls for prudence in feeling our way forward in unfamiliar territory, and testing the waters before a major course of action aiming at achieving breakthroughs is launched. It encourages innovation, exploration, and trailblazing efforts, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of identifying and promoting best practices on the basis of lessons learned. This is how China’s reform and opening up has proceeded in the past three decades. It has been a gradual process, starting with pilot programs, followed by larger campaigns to copy the successful experience to other places after a careful analysis of their outcomes. The process has spread from the countryside to the cities, from coastal areas to the interior, and from localized projects to nationwide implementation. Such an incremental approach could help prevent potential social upheaval that could accompany an inappropriate major move resulting from lack of understanding of its implications. It ensures steady progress in moving ahead with our reform and in achieving our objectives. Not only was this approach applicable to the initial phases of reform and opening up, it is also relevant in today’s context when China is driving the reform to a deeper level. It should be applied judiciously, though. We should pursue our reform by taking into account what we have learnt from our past initiatives, and further deepen our understanding of what works and what does not, and blaze new trails on the basis of our new experience. Instead of simply feeling for stones, we should keep on moving forward to cross the river.