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China Edging Toward Middle Class Revolution?

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.

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  • Ken Moore

    The train crash aftermath is shifting power from the state to citizens. The Chinese premier brought a doctor’s note when he visited Wenzhou to apologize for not coming sooner. 98% of the 60,000 polled thought the government was burying the train wreckage after 48 hours to conceal evidence. Reporting was clamped down with authorities saying that “public opinion inside and outside China has begun to become complex.” In the week after the crash, thirty million messages were “tweeted” on the two main Weibo microblogs. It’s worth googling.

  • Alan Kellogg

    There is one thing that puzzles me. You hear how China’s economy will exceed America some time in the future. I have to ask, when will China’s economy per capita exceed America’s?

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