Economic Growth Doesn’t Bring Happiness to China

Last year, the United Nations World Happiness Report listed China as the 112th happiest country out of 156. (The Ministry of Truth soon banned reporting on this indicator.) Other reports have also found that despite rising incomes and standards of living, Chinese people do not report being happier than their predecessors. An article in Macleans looks at the reasons for this phenomenon:

Last year, a state-owned information portal, China.com.cn, polled 1,350 Chinese and found that only six per cent of respondents described themselves as “very happy,” compared with 48 per cent who were “not happy.” (The results were briefly published online in a story in China Daily, a state-owned newspaper, before censors removed the story from the Internet.) A 2011 Gallup poll ranked China 92nd, near the bottom, on its list of 124 countries where people were asked to assess their well-being. Only 12 per cent of Chinese said they were thriving—the same as in Yemen and Afghanistan.

[...] China’s government has taken note of the people’s melancholy, making happiness a key part of the next five-year development plan and promising to tackle non-economic quality-of-life factors such as health care, education, housing and the environment. “Everything we do is aimed at letting people live more happily and with more dignity,” said Premier Wen Jiabao, in his New Year’s address to the nation. He added that officials would be judged on their ability to make people happy. President Xi Jinping pledged at the 18th Party Congress in November to improve citizens’ lives with “better schooling, more stable jobs, more satisfying incomes, more reliable social security, higher levels of health care, more comfortable housing conditions and a more beautiful environment.”

What officials aren’t talking about, however, is that part of what is fuelling resentment is a widespread belief that government is synonymous with corruption. “Besides income inequality, corruption is the biggest factor” contributing to people’s dissatisfaction, says Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. Hu argues that China has lost its spiritual centre—Confucianism, especially, is a conservative philosophy that guides an individual’s ethical behaviour within a community—and that the quest for wealth has filled the void. “Chinese people don’t believe in anything,” Hu says. “Money worship dominates, and this is the biggest factor contributing to corruption.”

See also reports about recent government efforts to narrow the wealth gap in Chinese society, another key factor in the happiness quotient.

February 6, 2013 11:59 AM
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