Harmonious Families, Different Standards

Adam Minter writes for Bloomberg about the two-pronged criteria established by Beijing’s All-China Women’s Federation for a model family award now known as the “Capital Harmonious Family” award. While the latest evaluation criteria for urban families sparked outrage on the Internet for its materialistic components, Minter says that the separate “condescending” standards for poor families in Beijing’s rural suburbs reveal even more about the economic and cultural gaps in contemporary China:

The first few suburban evaluation criteria, like the urban criteria, are unremarkable: Harmonious families should value family, honor the elderly and seek to increase knowledge. Halfway through the list though, things start to diverge significantly.

Whereas urbanites are encouraged to have a library of 300 books, suburbanites are merely encouraged to have a study space with an undefined collection of books. While urbanites are encouraged to recycle, suburbanites are encouraged to develop good personal hygiene and avoid letting their dogs and cats run loose.

Personal virtue is important to both groups, but whereas urbanites are encouraged to love their neighbors, volunteer and help the elderly, suburbanites are reminded that harmonious families do “not engage in superstitious activities, cults or prostitution, gambling and drug abuse.” Beijing’s urban residents, most of whom live within a brief stroll of opportunities to partake in gambling and prostitution, are not required to meet a similar standard to be judged harmonious. Were such a standard required of them, no doubt online reaction would be strident.

Even if China’s poor had more regular Internet access and the opportunity to complain about the award, Minter questions whether China’s middle class – which he claims “represents the elite class more than their poor country cousins” – would even pay attention.