Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment

Cracks Appear In China

China’s impressive recent economic growth has slowed, and public attitudes to the authority of the country’s all-powerful ruling communist party are changing. 

In September 2012, a government-run economic planning agency asked prominent scholars for their view of China’s current situation.  What came back must have made uncomfortable reading for the party leadership: many panelists felt that China was “unstable at the grass roots, dejected among the middle strata, and out of control at the top”. 

Until recently, the economic boom unleashed by Deng Xiaoping meant that many Chinese were too busy getting richer to feel much anxiety about personal freedoms or their system of government. But with ten years of double-digit growth becoming an increasingly distant memory, China’s newly-emerged middle class has a growing perception that their lifestyle needs protecting not only from the vagaries of the global economy, but also from rapacious and unprincipled officialdom.  The words ‘transparency’ and  'accountability' are being murmured.

Despite frequent censorship crackdowns by party watchdogs (Twitter and Facebook have both been blocked in China), domestic social media are providing a platform for discontented views.  Local officials’ arrogance, abuses and misdeeds are being exposed by microbloggers, and such local scandals are then finding a wider audience across the country.  Public attitudes to those in power are hardening, with corrupt government appointees finding to their consternation that a hitherto docile populace is developing “a profound distrust of the party and its officials”, and questioning their presumed impunity.  Angst among academics, business owners and the newly-affluent middle class amounts to a growing conviction that China has been heading in the wrong direction. 

A new team took the helm of the ruling politburo this year. China-watchers have already been searching for indications of a new official openness or signs of reform.  So far the main response has been the familiar blanket of official “good news”.  The outgoing leadership congratulated itself fulsomely on “putting people first” and “spreading happiness” – a claim somewhat undermined by officially-promulgated statistics insisting that Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is the happiest place in China.  Yeah, right...

Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: Asia / Pacific Product – Communications