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In the last two decades, China has experienced rapid economic growth rates which have brought about many transformations. As a result, the country has become one of the most influential economic and political powers globally.
However, even though economic and social transformations have had a significant impact on the lives of many Chinese citizens, many people have a dissociative attitude towards changes being witnessed due to a variety of reasons. This essay will discuss some of the reasons that have made some people to have dissociative attitudes in China and how this situation will impact on the country in the long term.
China’s Rapid Transformation
In the last twenty years, China made significant strides from a third world economy to a first world economy. At the moment, the country has the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Even though exponential rates of economic growth have made the country to move from an agricultural economy to an industrialized economy, some citizens have not experienced any benefits from these changes.
A study that was conducted in the country between 1990 and 2000 showed that the number of people who considered themselves happy fell from 28 percent to 12 percent.1
This shows that many people in the country feel that they are excluded from the rapid socio-economic changes which the country has experienced in a span of two decades. 2 Therefore, this shows the country may have to contend with different forms of unrest because there are citizens who are forced to contend with low wages and a high cost of living.
In many countries, life satisfaction is one of the measures which are used to estimate the level of happiness in any given society. In many countries, happiness is associated with materialism and social wellness which people in a particular society enjoy. In China’s case, some citizens were not ready for the rapid transition the country made from socialism to capitalism in less than twenty years.
Despite these transformations, the country’s communist political system remains intact and has not adjusted to the current capitalistic economic model that is practiced there.3 Any form of social unrest is not condoned by the Communist Party government, which uses all means at its disposal to crack down on any form of dissent.
Therefore, its main motivation is to eliminate any threat to political stability and long term economic growth in the country. China’s political system is very authoritarian and does not condone democratic ideals such as a free press, freedom of expression and universal suffrage.
In the 1990’s, China began transitioning to an industrial economy. Since many state firms were retrenching their workers, the issue of job security became one of the major concerns for urban residents. At the same time, there was a steady increase in the number of people migrating from rural areas to urban areas.
Therefore, this led to the growth of large cities in the country which did not have enough adequate infrastructures to support large numbers of urban residents.4 Since then, many people have to contend with high levels of pollution, poor housing and low wages leading to a vicious cycle of urban poverty.
In addition, they are unable to access important social services such as quality healthcare, running water and efficient public transport due to overcrowding. Therefore, even though unemployment rates have reduced drastically, many people feel that the jobs they are doing do not add any value to their lives.
Effects of Government Policies
Chinese government policies can be credited for bringing into the country high levels of economic prosperity. In addition, the one child policy which was implemented in the country three decades ago helped the country to control a rapid population growth rate which was threatening to spiral out of control.5
Young people who were born after the 1980’s have different views about happiness and satisfaction and do not share the same dreams with their parents who grew up in a different era. Even though young Chinese citizens are exposed to the internet and other aspects of consumerism culture, they are not satisfied with the levels of progress they are making in their lives.
Media reports reveal that Chinese citizens that belong to older generations consider young adults as lazy, selfish and materialistic.6 However, young people in the country have decried harsh social and economic policies which have led to high levels of economic inequality and general apathy.
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Negative perceptions of equal opportunity make more people to become more resentful towards high levels of income inequality. In the case of China, this situation has made more people to feel that the state does not allocate its resources fairly and it only rewards people who are loyal to the Communist Party.
Some people are not able to access high quality education and this denies them an opportunity to be eligible for career advancement opportunities in the country. Even though the Chinese government has invested heavily in education and other forms of social infrastructure, disparities still exist due to high levels of nepotism and corruption.
Many Chinese citizens consider attending college as one of the most significant steps to upward social mobility in the country. 7 However, students living in areas that have poor educational infrastructure find it difficult to pass college entry exams and this makes them more dissatisfied with their government.
China’s population is currently estimated at more than 1.3 billion people and it is estimated that it will continue to experience a population decline in the next 20 to 30 years. It is estimated that the number of people aged 60 and above will be more than 300 million by the year 2030 and this will require the government to put in place effective measures to address this demographic situation.8
Therefore, the country will not be able to achieve high rates of economic growth it has experienced in the last two decades due to low labor supply. The decline in productivity is likely to affect the country’s long term competitiveness as one of the most preferred investment destinations.
This shows that dissociative attitudes are likely to become stronger in future because the numbers of childless elderly people are likely to rise. Improvements in health infrastructure will make some old people to live longer than their children and this will lead to high levels of general dissatisfaction in the country.
In conclusion, China needs to initiate economic, social and political reforms to change prevailing negative attitudes in the country. This will enable the government to address high levels of income inequalities which have continued to widen in the last two decades.
More importantly, the Chinese government also needs to improve the social welfare of young people living in the country by making it easy for them to get employment opportunities. Lastly, high levels of nepotism and corruption in some government departments should be dealt with urgently to enable the country to realize its objectives in the long run.
Frijters, Paul, Amy Liu, and Xin Meng. “Are optimistic expectations keeping the Chinese happy?” Journal of Economic Organization and Behaviour 81, no. 1 (2012): 159-171.
Knight, John and Ramani Gunatilaka. “Does economic growth raise happiness in China?” Oxford Development Studies, 39, no. 1 (2011): 1-24.
Knight, John, Lina Song and Ramani Gunatilaka. “The determinants of subjective well-being in rural China.” China Economic Review 20, no. 4 (2009): 635-649.
Lu, Xiabo. “Equality of Educational Opportunity and Attitudes toward Income Inequality: Evidence from China.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8, (2013): 271–303.
Shirk, Susan L. China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail its Peaceful Rise. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Whyte, Martin K. Myth of a Social Volcano: Perceptions of Inequality and Distributive Injustice in Contemporary China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.
Wu, Xiaogang, and Jun Li. Economic Growth, Income Inequality and Subjective Well-being: Evidence from China. Hong Kong: Population Research Studies Center, 2013.
Zhao, Wei. “Economic Inequality, Status Perceptions, and Subjective Well-Being in China’s Transitional Economy.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 30, (2012):433-450.
1. Xiaogang Wu, and Jun Li, Economic Growth, Income Inequality and Subjective Well-being: Evidence from China (Hong Kong: Population Research Studies Center, 2013), 4.
2. Martin K. Whyte, Myth of a Social Volcano: Perceptions of Inequality and Distributive Injustice in Contemporary China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 67.
3. John Knight, and Ramani Gunatilaka, “Does economic growth raise happiness in China?” Oxford Development Studies, 39, no. 1 (2011): 14.
4. Susan L Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail its Peaceful Rise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 76.
5. Paul Frijters, Amy Liu, and Xin Meng, “Are optimistic expectations keeping the Chinese happy?,” Journal of Economic Organization and Behaviour 81, no. 1 (2012): 163.
6. Wei Zhao, “Economic Inequality, Status Perceptions, and Subjective Well-Being in China’s Transitional Economy,” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 30, (2012):439.
7. Xiabo Lu, “Equality of Educational Opportunity and Attitudes toward Income Inequality: Evidence from China.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8, (2013): 278.
8. John Knight, Lina Song and Ramani Gunatilaka. “The determinants of subjective well-being in rural China.” China Economic Review 20, no. 4 (2009): 643.