What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

The Humble Beginnings of China's Economy

January 23, 2012, 12:00 PM

What is the Big Idea?

It turns out that ground zero for China's economic boom was in Xiaogang, a small, rural farming village in the Anhui Province. On the night of Nov. 24, 1978, farmers from 18 households in this village drafted and signed a secret document that changed the way their collective farm operated.

It's a story that China's government likes to brag about. If you haven't heard it before, listen to it here on a recent Planet Money podcast.

China's economic system at the height of communism forbid farmers to keep what they harvested. Instead, crops were collected, redistributed and each person received about 100 pounds of rice each year. The families never had enough to eat, which meant they had to go to neighboring villages to beg for food.

The secret contract changed all this. It stipulated that they divide the land equally and each farmer kept what they harvested. This was controversial because ownership was prohibited at the time. The document, hidden in the roof of a mud hut, posed such a threat that there was a clause in the contract that said if a signer was imprisoned or executed for the plan, the rest of the village would raise their children until 18 years of age.

This system was a huge success. It resulted in more food than the five previous years combined. The farmers brought China to the precipice of economic reform. Xiaogang was China's first capitalist society, one that was replicated by the government in other collectives, and one that led to other modern marvels in China.


What is the Significance?

Not all economic changes have been beneficial for China. Sure, an open market lifted almost 500 million people out of poverty, replaced oil lamps with electricity, dirt roads with highways, and hutongs with skyscrapers. But when the economic growth surpasses infrastructure and policy changes, a new host of social, health and wealth disparities ensue.

Listen to Mark Leonard, Executive Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, weigh in on the issue.

"You’ve had hundreds of millions of people literally move from agricultural backwardness into kind of multi-industrial economy," said Leonard. "And this has generated a vast amount of wealth, and we all know that China’s economy is growing exponentially. But as this economic growth has proceeded, it has also created a whole series of new problems which China didn’t deal with before."

Watch the video here:


Photo credit: shutterstock.com




The Humble Beginnings of Ch...

Newsletter: Share: