Date Presented:Jan 15, 2005
During the period of China's reforms since 1978, the income and consumption levels of the majority of Chinese families have improved considerably. However, it is clear that inequalities in the distribution of incomes in China have increased sharply as well, and that the “rules of the game” that determine how people are paid in their jobs, what benefits they are entitled to, and whether or how they can get ahead (or experience downward mobility) have changed in dramatic fashion as well. On the latter point and oversimplifying things, socialist distribution principles and bureaucratic allocation of income and benefits have been replaced by market distribution and heightened competition and risk. How do ordinary Chinese citizens react to these changes in the pattern of income distribution and social mobility in China? In evaluating the altered terrain of income inequality, how do the laobaixing weigh the “good news” of generally rising incomes against the “bad news” of increased inequality and the at least “problematic news” of having their lives governed by dramatically altered rules about what individuals and families have to do in order to get ahead or simply survive? How common is it for Chinese citizens to feel very angry about heightened inequalities and the altered pattern of who is rich and who is poor, despite awareness of the general increase in living standards in the past generation? How much nostalgia exists for the distribution principles and inequality patterns of the centrally planned socialist era? Is popular anger at inequality in China one of the most important problems that Chinese society and its leaders currently face, as some recent opinion polls suggest? Or on the opposite side of the question, how common is it for Chinese citizens to feel satisfaction or even gratitude for all of these changes, even though they may recognize the problems or even unfairness of the more unequal society in which they now live? How much popular acceptance is there of the current leadership's claims that inequalities are necessary or even desirable as a way to stimulate further economic growth?