CANTON, China — Motorcycles stacked with caged chickens for market, tourist vans, tractors, trucks, peasants' bicycles and officials' cars jam the highway stretching south and east from this booming commercial city.
The jumble of traffic continues across 100 miles of the countryside in the Pearl River delta area, reflecting the new prosperity that cash crops, rural industries and foreign investment have brought to a region that until recently was mired in poverty.
In 1979, Canton, the capital of Guangdong province, which includes the delta, was still a sleepy and unsophisticated town where groups of tourists drew gawking crowds. Now its streets bustle with activity, and it is the place in China where citizens and visitors from abroad can mix most freely.
For these past eight years, partly on instructions from Beijing and partly through its own initiative, Guangdong has been in the forefront of China's new policies of economic reform and openness to the outside world.
The results have been dramatic and have important implications for China's future.
As conservative and reformist leaders in Beijing jockey for position in preparation for a key Communist Party congress to be held in October, Guangdong's experience provides China's economic reformers with an important weapon in their battle for more market-oriented change.
The province's record "is a force pushing for the reforms to go further and deeper," said Gong Zhijin, director of the economic news department of the Yangcheng Evening News, a major Canton daily.
Guangdong exported $4.3 billion of goods last year, up 41% over the previous year, surpassing Shanghai to become the No. 1 exporter among all China's provinces and cities with provincial status.
During the first half of 1987, while a conservative nationwide ideological campaign against "bourgeois liberalization" raised fears that China's economic reforms might be crippled, Guangdong boosted its exports 56% over the same period of 1986.
One symbol of the province's international economic success is that it is pushing its products at trade talks this week in New York and at an exports exhibition in Boston at the end of the month. Guangdong's Commission of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times last week to promote the two events.
The new prosperity has penetrated much of the countryside, where many peasants are branching out into small businesses. Former peasants have established 968,000 rural enterprises employing 5 million people, according to the official New China News Agency. The province's total population is 63.5 million.
In June, Lin Ruo, head of the Communist Party in Guangdong, wrote an article in People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, praising the reforms and attacking orthodox critics who "are suspicious that our reforms constitute engaging in capitalism."
"Some comrades still cannot see the facts that the economy has been enlivened and productive forces have been developed, and they still question whether reform is right or wrong," Lin wrote.
In Guangdong, Lin said, "continuing with reform and the open policy has become the desire and demand of the masses of people and cadres and cannot be reversed."
Seeks More Changes
Chao Zhenwei, secretary general of the Canton city government, said in a recent interview that his city's experience "proves that the . . . policy of opening to the outside world, reform and invigoration of the economy is correct."
"The experience in Canton and Guangdong is very significant to the hinterland," Chao said.
The province continues to press forward with additional changes.
City officials in Shenzhen, a "special economic zone" that borders the British colony of Hong Kong, announced plans late last month for new market-oriented reforms in state-owned enterprises, land use, housing and insurance.
Some state enterprises "will be transformed into share-control companies in which the state is the principal shareholder," the New China News Agency reported. Some land will be rented out to individuals or work units through public bidding, and housing rents will be raised with "the ultimate aim" of "the commercialization of residential dwellings," according to the agency.
"Shenzhen Vice Mayor Zhou Xiwu said that, in completing these reforms, Shenzhen will play its role as 'a testing ground' for the urban economic reform of the whole country," the agency reported.
Nora Sun, the commercial consul at the U.S. consulate in Canton, commented recently that China still needs to "loosen the shackles of a centrally directed country and, with all the layers of bureaucrats ingrained in the system, it's not easy."
"They can't just jump into a total market system from a centrally planned system," she said. "But Guangdong is in the lead. . . . And with Guangdong bringing in all this precious foreign exchange, it's very difficult for the central government to say, 'You're doing something wrong.' "
Took Advantage of Strengths