The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The 99% in China Grow Restless

If there’s one thing the Chinese government fears more than an uncontrollable economic slowdown, it’s that the vast middle class will demand to have their voices heard—all 300 million of them. And just to make things more interesting, there’s a good chance that a slowdown will accelerate the middle class demand for control over their lives.

Over the past few months, a number of sizable protests across China’s heavily populated eastern coast are causing serious alarm among senior officials, according to Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at UC Berkeley. No major moral transgression provoked the most recent public outburst; ordinary people are apparently sick and tired of witnessing just how privileged top party members are. The New York Times reports:

Thousands of people threw water bottles and blocked traffic at a popular nature preserve in northeastern China on Sunday after word spread that the arrival of top Communist Party leaders was causing an hours-long wait to visit a scenic lake…

The infuriated crowd surrounded the vehicles carrying the government entourage and refused to let them pass, according to scores of microblog posts sent out by those waiting to ascend Changbai Mountain in Jilin Province. The three-hour standoff drew police officers and soldiers, some of whom reportedly beat recalcitrant protesters.

The same kind of anger is growing in Beijing: The official death count from the recent flooding in the capital has been raised to 77 after the Chinese public grew progressively more furious with the government’s suspiciously low preliminary tally (37). A rare apology and promises to improve flood protection services soon followed from the city government.

Unlike the Tienanmen protesters, today’s rebels aren’t building a Statue of Liberty or all converging on the same place in downtown Beijing. Today’s protesters are often focused on local, specific grievances; demonstration pop up in city after city, often in response to provocative behavior by local officials.

China has changed since 1989. In 2012, after three decades of economic reforms have brought more than 200 million Chinese out of poverty, people want a more open and just society—something that can’t be measured by GDP. Many average Chinese families now have the 100 yuan to pay the ticket to visit the natural park, but they still don’t want to wait hours for party officials who cut the line.

And with the gloomy economic climate, a steady deluge of 300 million water bottles could wear thin on the Communist Party.

Published on July 26, 2012 1:45 pm
  • JJ
  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    200 million out of poverty? That’s only about 15% of the population. In actuality I think the numbers are far higher if you mean above subsistence, which is where most of them were. But it mostly happened in the 1970′s and 80′s. What we see now is something different: the emergence of the most unequal society on earth, built on the backs of migrant workers, ruled by a Leninist dictatorship that reaps the fruit of corruption and foreign investment.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Our plan is working; we lured the Chinese out of the darkness with the opportunity to cheat the stupid capitalist Yankees, by manipulating their currency to gain a price advantage for their exporters. This uplifted 300 million Chinese out of abject poverty and into the middle class, while at the same time exposing them to the superior American Culture. The Chinese middle class now wants what they have seen American’s have, and the Communist Party is much too inefficient to satisfy their hopes and dreams.

    It starts with local demands which the Officials pay to gain a temporary peace. But the demands will grow and grow until they cannot be appeased, and by that time the mob will have gained so much momentum the failure to meet its demands will infuriate the mob into an uprising. It is said that if even 1% (13 million Chinese) of the population is willing to fight, the central government cannot prevail.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    - Jacksonian Libertarian: “and by that time the mob will have gained so much momentum the failure to meet its demands will infuriate the mob into an uprising.”

    There is a problem with this scenario. The kinds of leaders that emerge out of mob action are not the kind China needs. Somehow they are going to have to engineer a slow revolution. I’d say a purely military coup at the top would be a good place to start. First, you’ve got to take the gun away from the Party.

  • Robert

    I hope it’s evolution, not revolutions because whenever China changes in a hurry, it all gets very bloody.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    A nice quote on China:

    Chen Guangcheng: <a href="http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2012/06/chen-guangcheng-they-are-scared-countryside/”

    Ian Johnson interviews dissident Chen Guangcheng in a New York University classroom. Continuing the transcript style of his Bao Tong interview, Johnson asks Chen many probing questions, from China’s incoming leadership to grassroots political consciousness and spiritual awareness:

    Ian Johnson:How do you account for Chinese officials’ frequent disregard of China’s own laws? Is it a lack of checks and balances—that officials think they can get away with anything so they do anything?

    Chen Guangcheng: It’s also that they don’t dare do the right thing and don’t dare not do the wrong thing. Chinese police and prosecutors, do you think they don’t understand Chinese law? They definitely understand. But these people illegally kept me under detention. They all knew [that what they were doing was illegal] but they didn’t dare take a step to rectify the situation. They weren’t able to. Why is it like this? A Xinhua News Agency journalist came and saw me twice; as a result he lost his job. So you can see that once you enter the system, you need to become bad. If you don’t become bad, you can’t survive.

    Chen also argues that some dissidents and China observers overlook urban-rural differences:

    There’s nothing positive about urbanization?

    I think for those who go to the city and work there’s a benefit. But the current way of villages being turned into towns—I don’t think there’s an advantage to that. People in the village often rely on ordinary kinds of labor to earn a living, like working in the fields, or raising geese or fish and things like that. So now what happens? They turn a village into one high-rise apartment building and that’s all that’s left of the village. Then the land is used for real estate projects controlled by the officials. Where are the people supposed to work? How is that supposed to function?

    People abroad look at China’s human rights situation and they mainly see the situation of better-known people. But they don’t know about all the violations of ordinary people. You know my situation but you don’t know the situation of the huge number of the disabled in China, or the women who are bullied and abused, or the orphans in China. You probably don’t know much about them or just about a few of them. But this is why the officials are so afraid—because they know the true extent of the problem. They are terribly afraid of people organizing. It’s very delicate in the countryside now. This is why they constantly resort to detentions and so on. They don’t even try to find an excuse, they just do it—they are that scared.”

    I find it hard to believe China’s development strategy is that crazy. Check out some of the other links on migrant workers. It is a f*cked up society. No doubt about that.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    [Let's try that link again: They Are Scared of the Countryside