That’s the suggestion made by the FT’s David Pilling, who views the recent train crash as a watershed moment: “Perhaps not since Tiananmen Square more than 20 years ago has the Communist party looked so naked in the face of public contempt.”The train wreck is different from other deadly disasters in China, like the collapse of poorly constructed schools or tainted baby milk. Those tragedies mainly hit the poor. But tickets on the train that crashed were expensive, and China’s new middle class citizens were the ones killed. The public outcry was tremendous.Pilling astutely concludes:
China’s middle class wants a leadership that can contain corruption, ensure safety and not put pride above engineering principles. It wants, in the arresting words of a commentary in the People’s Daily – of all places – economic growth that is not ‘smeared in blood’.
Maybe fears of a middle class revolt are overblown; then again, perhaps not. As Via Meadia has often had occasion to remark, China’s explosive transformation is the most dramatic explosion of social and economic change the world has ever seen. Nobody, not even the Chinese themselves, know what will come of this.Two things won’t happen: China won’t smoothly and seamlessly transform into a stable parliamentary democracy, and the status quo will not last. Beyond that, it’s all up for grabs. Stay tuned.