Arts & Culture 
 Human Rights 
 U.S. Asian Policy 

Home > East Asia > 

Beijing's think-tanks: China re-enters a period of social instability

Three 40-something scholars with substantial influence over the Chinese leadership have co-authored their newest report on China’s social dilemma. Their recent report entitled “Social Instability behind the Economic Prosperity" appears in the latest edition of Strategy and Management magazine in Beijing, In it, they send their most serious warning yet to the Chinese leadership that its society has entered into a period of instability wherein terrible turmoil and crisis loom. If not handled with care, this dilemma could possibly lead to social turmoil similar to that seen in Indonesia or even to another “June 4th”.

They are Wang Shaoguang, formerly with the Department of Politics at Yale University, Hu Angang, Director of the National Conditions Research Center and confidant to Zhu Rongji, and Ding Yuanzhu from the Macroscopic Economics Research Institute of the Committee on National Development and Planning.

These scholars posit that although China’s continued high-speed economic growth over the last 20 years has led to unprecedented economic prosperity, economic prosperity does not necessarily lead to social stability. Looking back on history, serious social crises often occurred in tandem during times of economic prosperity. Past lessons from many developing countries have shown that unfair and unjust economic growth could very well lead the economy to stagnate, fail, or even collapse due to sudden social crisis.

Unemployment, poverty, and corruption incur dissatisfaction

Mainland China’s re-entrance into a period of social instability is evident in examples such as undergoing the world's largest adjustment of economic structure, suffering the world's largest "coming-off-sentry-duty flood" and "unemployment flood", and experiencing the world's most notable gap between city and countryside as well as between local regions. Other examples include being a country with one of the fastest growing Guinea coefficients, partaking in the world's most serious corruption and its consequent biggest loss in economy, and being responsible for the world's largest scope destruction of environment.

According to the scholars, current residents in cities and towns in Mainland China who are ‘dissatisfied’ with their living conditions number approximately 100 to 200 million, which accounts for 22-45% of the total population in cities and towns; 32 to 36 million, which accounts for 7-8%, label themselves as ‘very dissatisfied.’ The latter group mainly consists of those who have suffered from benefits loss in the process of the economic pattern change and structure adjustment. This includes those who have come off sentry duty or are unemployed: the farmers, the low-income population, those with a decreased income, as well as those suffering from other benefits loss.

This dissatisfaction has become the catalyst that is destroying China's social stability, and its rapid spread may even lead it to become a fuse for social turbulence. Either that or this dissatisfaction may play the role of "adding fuel to the flame" when some sudden negative events occur and cause "the flames to spread far and wide."

The Central Committee underestimates the seriousness of these problems

China’s decision-makers still underestimate all kinds of internal challenges (the Taiwan and international challenges are yet to be included) while they overestimate their abilities to deal with them. In the key literature regarding China’s social issues, estimates on Mainland China's social situation have been superficial and incomplete at best.

"The objective of conducting research on national conditions is to prevent the worst event and result from occurring. Just like scientists, we cannot forecast when these ‘political earthquakes’ and ‘active volcanoes’ will break out, but we can know the zones of their activity and the energy they are accumulating. To prevent another 1989 incident or a second ‘Indonesia social turmoil’ from occurring in China, the authors send out the most serious warning to the decision-makers and relevant departments," stated the three scholars.

© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR