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Self-examination and soul-searching: As long as the economy is doing well… (Part 1)
Wang Hua,

In the past, as soon as we talked about issues such as China needs democracy, human rights and political reform, etc, our parents, relatives and friends would say, “As long as our country’s economy is doing well, it can take its time to deal with other issues. Can’t you see how good our economy is doing right now? Now we have meat on our table every day and can afford to buy new clothes every month. Moreover, many people can afford to buy their personal vehicles and apartments. How come you’re still not satisfied?” Every time I heard that, I would recall how poor we were as I was growing up and thought that they were right.

After I finished reading the “Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party,” I suddenly awakened and realized that I had made several serious mistakes in my previous reasoning. Is China’s economy really doing “well?” Is the leadership of Chinese Communist Party responsible for the economical development in China? I would like to go over a few things in my mind.

1. Is Chinese economy really doing well?

As we all know, in many situations, it is relative whether something is good or bad. If we only compare today’s Chinese economy with the extremely bad conditions during the “Great Cultural Revolution” where millions of people starved to death, it is of course much better now, otherwise the Chinese people would have all died of hunger. But is the Chinese economy really doing well compared to other countries?

According to data published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in year 2003, among 179 countries, China’s annual Gross Domestic Product reached USD $1,087 per person, and it ranked 110th in the world. It is only less than half of the average global GDP per person. Is that a figure worth celebrating?

As we all know, the Chinese people are neither stupid nor lazy. During the vast majority of the last 5,000 years, the Chinese civilization was among the most advanced in the world. Even under the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), which was considered the most corrupt and weakest period during the Qing Dynasty, China still had the largest treasury reserve in the world. In 1793, China’s economy accounted for 40% of the global economy. When the Communists took power in 1949, that figured had dropped to 1%. In 1978, after almost 30 years of the Communist Party’s “wise” leadership, China’s economy still accounted for only 1% of the global economy. Even after 25 years of so-called rapid economic reform and development and the “open door” policy, China’s economy still only accounts for 5% of the global economy. Comparing to where China was in the world before, the figure is still extremely low.

On the other hand, the Chinese people who don’t live under the leadership of the Communist Party, have been faring much better than the people who live in Mainland China. Last year, Hong Kong ranked 21st and Taiwan ranked 35th in the world GDP per person ranking, while Mainland China ranked 110th.

Instead of praising the Chinese Communist Party for the good job it has been doing to develop the Chinese economy, we actually should look at it from the other way. Because of the Communist Party’s leadership during the past 50 years, the Chinese economy has been trailing far behind other countries.

2. Has every Chinese person benefited from the “boom”?

Those Chinese people who can afford to buy their own cars or expensive apartments generally live in major urban centers or wealthy coastal regions. They account for less than 5% of the total population of China. What about the lives of the other 95%?

Let’s talk about the 900 million farmers out of the 1.3 billion people in China. I often hear people say that grain production in China has increased and the farmers have become rich because of it. But in reality the current grain production in China is still much less the Chinese grain production during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), and only 1/3 of the Chinese grain production during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD), which was considered the peak agricultural time in China. The Chinese government proudly declares that China has been supporting 21% of the world’s population with only 7% of the world’s tillable fields. However, we seldom realize that Chinese farmers account for 40% of all farmers in the world, and it is 40% of the world’s farmers that have been supporting 21% of the world’s population. At the minimum, the figure indicates that currently the Chinese agriculture is still in a bad state and the vast majority of Chinese farmers are struggling.

In the early 1980s, after the Chinese government introduced land reform that allowed farmers to work on their own land, Chinese farmers did see significant improvements in their standard of living. But it has not kept up with the improving standard of living in the urban area of China. According to statistics, 45% of farming households have seen zero growth or negative growth in their incomes during the last 10 years.

To make things worse, the Chinese government hasn’t been treating the farmers fairly. Let’s put aside the sharp difference in prices that the Chinese government has set between industrial goods and agricultural products. Let’s just look at the tax structure in China. According to the award-winning documentary, “An Investigation on Chinese Farmers,” a Chinese city dweller whose annual income is USD$1000 per year pays less than USD$5 in taxes per year. On the other hand, after a whole year of toiling in the fields, an average Chinese farmer makes 400 Yuan (less than USD $50) per year and yet has to pay 150 Yuan in various taxes. No wonder Li Changping, a Party Committee Secretary in a small farming township, wrote to Premier Zhu and said, “Farmers are struggling so much, the countryside is so poor, and Chinese agriculture is on the verge of a total collapse!” The authors of the documentary “Investigation to the Chinese Farmers” wrote, “We want to say that we have witnessed poverty beyond one’s imagination, wickedness (of party officials) beyond one’s imagination, misery beyond one’s imagination, helplessness beyond one’s imagination, struggle beyond one’s imagination, silence beyond one’s imagination, being touched beyond one’s imagination, and dignified courage beyond one’s imagination.”

Let’s go back and look at the lives of urban residents. According to official statistics, there are tens of millions of Chinese urban poor whose incomes are less than 1,000 Yuan per year. After all, those who abused their power and became rich first are members of a small group. No matter some scholars say China is “one country, four worlds.” The polarization between the rich and the poor is extremely large. Many social problems lie underneath the surface and could blow up at any moment.

3. Do the Chinese people really have better lives than before?

From the above figures, we can see that 45% of the farmers have not seen their incomes rise in the last ten years. Let’s take a look at the state of education in China. Many farmers can’t afford to send their kids to school. Even in the urban areas in China, the Chinese educational system is in big trouble. Before 1990, parents only needed to pay a nominal fee per year to send their kids to school. Now things have changed a lot. A large number of Chinese families can’t afford to send their kids to even elementary schools. Even though the government says students from grade 1 through 9 are entitled to a free public education, a typical elementary school now charges about 300 Yuan per year in various fees. Farmers whose average income is 400 Yuan per year certainly can’t afford that. Even blue-collar workers in the city find it difficult to come up with the money. And we are just talking about elementary school here. An average university charges at least 3000-4000 Yuan per year in fees, and that is not a small amount for an average family. Many parents can’t afford to send their kids to school. Many Chinese people feel that their lives have become harder and harder. Many people worry about their jobs and live under constant anxiety.

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