30 Years of Reform: What Now? (Updated)

The Washington Post reports on the recent taxi strikes and other signs of increasing dissatisfaction among China’s rising middle class as the economy falters:

From the far western industrial county of Yongdeng to the southern resort city of Sanya and the commercial center of Guangzhou, members of China’s upwardly mobile working class — taxi drivers, teachers, factory workers and even auxiliary police officers — have mounted protests since the Chongqing strike, refusing to work until their demands were met.

China’s government has long feared the rise of labor movements, banning unauthorized unions and arresting those who speak out for workers’ rights. The strikes, driven in part by China’s economic downturn, have caught officials off guard.

Rural protests, often led by impoverished farmers angry over land seizures that leave them unable to feed their families, have occurred sporadically over the past decade. But richer, more educated Chinese are behind the recent strikes, which have disrupted life in China’s cities. The success achieved by the drivers in Chongqing has inspired work stoppages elsewhere.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bruce Gilley discusses the prospects for the Communist Party amid the economic downturn and rising social unrest:

What was once double-digit growth is expected by Goldman Sachs to slow to 6% in 2009, while Moody’s Investors Service warns it could fall as low as 5%. The World Bank says Beijing’s planned fiscal and monetary splurges will be insufficient to restart growth unless accompanied by broader social welfare spending. Consumer spending is in freefall and layoffs in the coastal factory belt are surging. Protests are on the rise. In an unusual act reported by the Hong Kong Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, 500 workers of the struggling Sichuan Zigong Textile Factory blocked a highway on December 8 to press the national government to ameliorate their plight. China’s protestors usually take aim at local governments and officials.

This slowdown will reveal whether it is economic growth that has kept the Party in power since Deng’s 1992 “southern tour,” and if so how this has been achieved. On one view, individual incomes have risen and employment prospects for everyone have brightened, so most people have rewarded the Party with supportive attitudes and obedience to the state. But another view says that the booming economy has allowed the Party to buy off only a narrow group of potential opponents with lavish jobs, safe government contracts and pork-barrel projects, while also rebuilding its ability to silence others through better policing and more effective party discipline. This argument sees economic growth as mainly a tool of narrow Party coalition-building rather than broad popular support.

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor also takes a long-term perspective to look at what the CCP faces as it celebrates 30 years of reform:

Millions, possibly tens of millions, of workers are expected to lose their jobs in the coming months. Incidents of social unrest, while still sporadic, are on the rise. Some observers wonder whether the threat to stability might not frighten the government into abandoning the reformist principles that have guided Beijing for three decades.

“This is a country united and driven by economics, not by ideology,” says Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst. “If the economy fails, so do the reasons for reform.”

The ruling Communist Party, rarely shy to trumpet its achievements, was curiously muted in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the meeting that gave birth to “reform and opening” in December 1978. The only article published by the party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, focused more closely on the policy’s shortcomings – the corruption, weak social services, and widening inequality it has engendered – than on its triumphs.

As part of the Christian Science Monitor coverage, Peter Ford profiled six individuals whose lives have been shaped by 30 years of reform. The articles can be found below:

Pastor’s private worship puts him under public scrutiny
Earnings wither in the Chinese countryside
A Chinese peasant goes to town on capitalism
A Westerner grows up in China
Free expression grows in China (just don’t talk politics)
An entrepreneur agrees: ‘To get rich is glorious’

The CSM also includes a video report.

More on 30 Years of Reform:

– The Guardian has posted a slideshow alternating images of China in 1978 and China now.
– China Media Project translates two articles in the Chinese media about the reforms, one from the liberal journal Yanhuang Chunqiu and a rebuttal to it from the socialist website Utopia.
– “30-year journey from Mao to the market” from the Guardian
– “30 years transform China, but not its politics” from the AP.

Update:
Reuters reports on a “battle” heating up between Party leaders and signatories of Charter 08 to define the country’s future:

Chinese President Hu Jintao told officials on Thursday that Communist Party rule must not waver. But “Charter 08,” a petition campaign launched last week, wants dramatic democratic changes to end decades of uncontested Party control.

There is no doubting the defiant ambition of the fast-growing campaign, said Wang Yi, a law lecturer and rights campaigner who signed its list of 18 demands.

“This marks a shift from the past,” Wang said by phone from his home in Chengdu, in the country’s southwest. “We’re offering not only criticism but also our own quite comprehensive proposal for China’s future … and this includes a whole sweep of people, from former Party officials to dissidents.”

The following video is from Al Jazeera:

Read also: Highlights of President Hu’s Speech At Reform Eulogy Meeting on the People’s Daily.

December 17, 2008 12:57 PM
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Categories: Economy, Society