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China 2009: A Year of Deepening Crisis

Posted by on 2009/12/10. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing
Dec 10, 2009 – 8:40:12 AM

2009 was a year of accelerated deepening of China’s crises. A clear sign of this was that despite the various measures taken by the authorities to suppress and block expression, it was completely unable to prevent a variety of media, including official ones, from talking in sharper and blunter ways about worsening crises, or criticising the regime’s incompetence. On December 2, Nanfang Zhoumo [Southern Weekend] China’s most influential and obviously liberal journal, published an article by columnist Ma Ke entitled “If the economy needs stimulus, reform needs even more,” which pointedly asked:

“Expanding domestic demand and boosting consumption have been the slogans for 10 years, but China is slipping further and further into the export-oriented and investment-led growth model. Where does the problem lie? In a word, reform is not in place. It isn’t a question of not knowing how to reform, but of knowing how but not doing it.” [1]

The next day, an article entitled “Failing to turn even after hitting the southern wall” was posted on China’s most influential anti-liberal “leftist” website, Wuyou zhi xiang [Utopia] under the by-line “Yingchun.” It sharply criticises the authorities for taking the wrong tack in response to the economic crisis:

“Facing a ‘once in a century’ world economic crisis, a sharp decline in external demand, China still tries to ‘maintain 8 [percent GDP growth],’ and also ‘promote economic growth by government investment and loans.’ Isn’t this a failure to turn even after hitting the southern wall? Boosting production like this is really to ensure the bosses’ profits, or to safeguard the interests of officialdom!” [2]

Utopia’s leading anti-American, Zhang Hongliang 张宏良, recently brought out a barrage of articles fiercely attacking the Hu-Wen administration for shaming the nation and forfeiting its sovereignty, “making 1.3 billion Chinese people into slaves of GDP, into slaves working for Western countries” [3].

More and more writers are expressing their thinking on China’s crisis in literary form. Not long ago, Shanghai’s Woju [蜗居, Humble Abode] TV series drew a great response, with tens of thousands of on-line comments. With its theme of the plight of the white-collar class under pressure of high housing prices, the drama has gained a broad sympathetic response to its unprecedentedly bold and accurate depiction of the struggle to survive and moral dilemmas of common people under the menace and privilege of power elite capital. Clearly transcending simple entertainment, Woju has prompted people in China to think about a major social issue in the current crisis.

Among the migrant workers, situated at the bottom of Chinese society and subject to the greatest harm, writers are emerging who use literature to directly express their emotional lives. On 6 December, Cui Yongyuan, host of the CCTV program Xiao Cui shuoshi [Young Cui speaks], introduced Zhou Shuheng, a migrant worker author with only junior high school education. In his rented room, he wrote a 46,000-word online novel, Zhongguoshi mingong [Chinese-style migrant worker]. With a linguistic facility that scholars find surprising, Zhou expresses the pain the migrant workers feel about the discrimination and humiliation they are subject to. He said, “Everyone has self-esteem,” but in order to survive, migrant workers “almost completely erase theirs.” Zhou’s speeches and writing will be a most powerful indictment of the migrant worker system. [4]

Given the enormous social pressure, even People’s Daily was forced to look into the sensitive issue of income distribution.

On 3 December two articles, “Does working more earn more?” and “Increased ‘reward for labour’ is a must,” [5] revealed the following data: The executive staff of state-owned enterprises and monopoly industries accounting for 8% of the national income account for 55% of the total wages, while incomes of the other 92% of workers account for only 45%; in 2006, 81.8% of people’s wages were below the local social average. For the first time the article compares the ratio of Chinese residents’ consumption to GDP with that of two major powers, America and India. In China it is only 35%, which is half of the United States, while India is more than ten percentage points higher than China. [6]

As a result, Cankao xiaoxi [Reference News] for December 7 also joined in the fun, reproducing Hong Kong Taiyang bao’s comment on the People’s Daily article, which quoted this depiction of the working class by Chinese netizens: “Rising before the roosters, sleeping after the dogs, eating worse than pigs, working harder than donkeys, earning less than poor peasants.” For such a sharp and provocative remarks to appear in one of the CCP’s own newspapers is quite unusual.

Looming in the background of these sharp comments was the pressure of public opinion exerted on the “Economic Work Conference” then under way, which forced Hu and Wen into a greater policy tilt addressing the people’s livelihood and poverty. Judging by what has come out after the meeting, while Hu and Wen would like to make efforts, they have largely been swept along by vested interests and the policies of the past, and no one believes any dramatic changes will be made.

Besieged on all sides, Hu Jintao has recently taken an important step to prevent loss of control. Sources say that the authorities are making direct use of central finances to support rural grassroots party organisations, including subsidising rural party members and trying to set up grass-roots CCP organisations in all private enterprises. Is Hu, after three decades of reform, still dreaming of a return to the era of total CCP control over society? Does he really think he go on like this forever? I doubt that Hu himself believes it: what he is doing is simply exhausting all possible means to prevent crisis breaking out in his term of office.

* Liang Jing, “Zhongguo 2009: weiji jiasu shenhua de yi nian” [China 2009: A year of deepening crisis], Xin shiji xinwen wang, 9 December 2009 [梁京: “中国2009:危机加速深化的一年”, 新世纪新闻网,2009年12月 9日 (<http://www.newcenturynews.com/Article/gd/200912/20091209022042.html>here).].

[1] Ma Ke, “Jingji yao ciji, gaige geng yao ciji” [If the economy needs stimulus, reform needs even more], Nanfang zhoumo, 2 December 2009 [马克: “经济要刺激,改革更要刺激”, 南方周末,2009年12月 2日 (<http://www.infzm.com/content/38276>here).].

[2] Ying Chun, “Zhuangle nan qiang ye bu huitou” [No turning, even if you hit the southern wall], Wuyou zhi xiang, 9 December 2009 [迎春: “撞了南墙也不回头”, 无有之乡,2009年12月 9日 (<http://www.wyzxsx.com/Article/Class4/200912/117241.htm>here).].

[3] Zhang Hongliang, “Wubian liushuide caifu, wubi jingrende daijia” [Infinite loss of wealth, mind-boggling price], Wuyou zhi xiang, 7 December 2009 [张宏良: “无边流失的财富,无比惊人的代价”, 无有之乡,2009年12月 7日 (<http://www.wyzxsx.com/Article/Class16/200912/117962.html>here).

[4] “Mingong xiao Zhou” [Young migrant Zhou], Xiao Cui shuoshi, 6 December 2009 [: “民工小周”, 小崔说事,2009年12月 6日 (<http://space.tv.cctv.com/video/VIDE1260098892940883>here).].

[5] Cui Peng, “Tigao ‘laodong suode’ shizai bixing” [Increased ‘reward for work’ is a must], Renmin ribao, 3 December 2009 [崔鹏:“提高‘劳动所得’势在必行”,人民日报,2009年12月 3日 (<http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2009-12/03/content_12578904.htm%29.>http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2009-12/03/content_12578904.htm).]; “Gande duo, neng zhengde duo ma?” [Does working more earn more?], Renmin ribao, 3 December 2009 [“干得多,能挣得多吗? ”,人民日报,2009年12月 3日 (<http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2009-12/03/content_12580536.htm%29.>http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2009-12/03/content_12580536.htm).].

[6] Sun Tingting, “Renmin ribao guanzhu fenpei bu qunhuo gongming, wangyou wei diaozheng shouru xiance” [People’s Daily joins outcry over unequal distribution, netizens suggest policies to adjust incomes], Renmin wang, 4 December 2009 [孙婷婷: “人民日报关注分配不均获共鸣 网友为调整收入献策”,人民网,2009年12月 4日 (<http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/1026/10507523.html>here).].

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