Chen Yun (1905-1995)
Chen Yun, born into an urban working-class family in 1905 in Qingpu, Shanghai, was a 20th Century Chinese politician who was instrumental in forming economic policy, in which he advocated the introduction of elements of the free market to boost China’s economy. He was also a highly influential leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
During his youth in the 1920s he organised union activities in Shanghai and joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1924. Following the outbreak of hostilities between the Guomindang (KMT) and the CPC in 1927, he moved his political activities in Shanghai underground. Like many of the most influential Chinese politicians of the PRC, he was on the Long March of the mid-1930s.
Chen Yun was instrumental, along with Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) and Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), in shaping China’s economic recovery after the Great Leap Forward. His analogy of balancing the economic system as a ‘bird cage’ is particularly well-known. The bird, representing the economy, was free to fly around within the confines of the cage, representing state control. The important thing was not to have the cage too small so as to choke the bird, but also not to have the cage too large, allowing it too much freedom. This was a liberal idea at the time, and resulted in criticism of Chen during the Cultural Revolution.
Later, during the 1980s and 90s, he was an opponent of economic reform, and was considered relatively conservative compared to the liberal economic ideas of Zhao Ziyang (1919-2005) and Deng Xiaoping.
His legacy is mixed in the minds of Chinese people today. Despite his political leanings, he is highly respected due to the perception that he was not corrupt, and his ideas on the economy shaped policy long after his withdrawal from politics and his death in 1995. This has earned him recognition on a set of modern Chinese commemorative coins. The set, produced in 2005, celebrates the centenary of his birth, and comprises three coins, two silver and one gold.