There is no formal social contract that regulates the relationship between members of this ruling class and the people they rule, but there does seem to be an implicit one. It is roughly this: we (the government) provide you (the citizens) with 8 to10 percent annual GDP growth, 24 million new jobs a year and the chance to win the capitalist lottery of sending your son or daughter off to a prestigious school with the promise of a life of industrialized luxury. In exchange: you don’t question the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party.
This is not the easiest contract for the government to uphold, and it has already shown some signs of fraying. As recently as 2007, there were 80,000 protests a year in China, and the Internet has given a platform to increasingly rambunctious critics of government policies. The most potent issue is corruption, which captured wide public attention in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when many blamed corruption for the fact that school buildings that collapsed had dodged building codes. Several Chinese officials told us corruption was the biggest threat the party faces, the “threat from within,” as one put it. Despite high-profile “crackdowns” (such as a trial currently under way in Chongqing involving 9,000 suspects), a recent China News Agency poll shows that corruption remains the number-one issue on the minds of Chinese citizens.