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Beijingfuturesdreams, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

China Trend Analysis III: Societal Trends

Part III: Social Unrest

A RAND testimony published in 2005 reported that China had seen a dramatic rise in the number of “mass incidents” from 8,700 in 1993 to over 86,000 in 2005. A ten-fold rise in 12 years outpaces the economic boom, and further research conducted at the University of Chicago has separated these incidents from being strictly economic in nature.

Additional factors thought to be attributing to China’s rise in civil unrest include the burgeoning legal system, environmental issues, and land management rights. The use of litigation and public courts is a noteworthy trend in China’s evolving system of governance. As the nation’s legal system garners strength and legitimacy amongst the population, grievances will have a forum capable of hearing and taking action. This has an empowering effect on the mindset of the greater public, and could be an underlying cause for rising demonstrations.

The social costs of lackluster environmental policy are also beginning to be realized in the form of organized dissent. As communities mobilize to effect planned development projects around the country, the cry out for issues such as dwindling potable water, clean-air, and toxicity levels from industrial operations. This kind of informed dissent may be linked to increased awareness of environmental impact issues, and online information sources.

Closely related to this are groups of people voicing their frustration over the lack of land management rights that is afforded to most Chinese citizens. As land is generally held on 3 year lease agreements, few Chinese have ownership and rights over the land their abodes are constructed on. Rising affluence in many sectors of Chinese society has resulted in the desire to own land and control its future. Long seen as a source of influenced decision making by regional governance, Land management and private property rights has also become a hot point.

There are a number of factors adding to the reported increasing levels of social unrest in the People’s Republic of China. However, it is important to take these reports in the proper scope. While the number of public protests may be high, China’s population is huge and the official definition of a public protest can be as small as 3 people gathered. Also, while issues like the growing wealth gap continue to be hotly debated, it is important to note that long term effects of China’s economic development plan have yet to play out, and as many as 50 million people are pulled out of poverty every year in the PRC. There are very big changes happening in China in a very short amount of time, and while this change may not be without fault, with much change comes peripheral unease.

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