Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Post-materialist politics in China

Edward Wong, writing in The New York Times, makes a good anecdotal case for the emergence of some post-materialist politics in China. Will that change the political culture?

In China, Widening Discontent Among the Communist Party Faithful
Barely two months into their jobs, the Communist Party’s new leaders are being confronted by the challenges posed by a constituency that has generally been one of the party’s most ardent supporters: the middle-class and well-off Chinese who have benefited from a three-decade economic boom…

For years, many China observers have asserted that the party’s authoritarian system endures because ordinary Chinese buy into a grand bargain: the party guarantees economic growth, and in exchange the people do not question the way the party rules. Now, many whose lives improved under the boom are reneging on their end of the deal, and in ways more vocal than ever before…

Few are advocating an overthrow of the party. Many just want the system to provide a more secure life. But in doing so, they are demanding something that challenges the very nature of the party-controlled state: transparency.

More and more Chinese say they distrust the Wizard-of-Oz-style of control the Communist Party has exercised since it seized power in 1949, and they are asking their leaders to disseminate enough information so they can judge whether officials, who are widely believed to be corrupt, are doing their jobs properly…

Some Chinese say that they and their compatriots, especially younger ones, are starting to realize that a secure life is dependent on the defense of certain principles, perhaps most crucially freedom of expression, and not just on the government meeting material needs…

Any official commitment to transparency, though, could be fragile. After Hu Jintao and Mr. Wen took charge of the state in 2003, they opened up reporting on the SARS virus, which raised expectations for a more liberal administration. But the leaders dashed those hopes by enacting conservative policies…

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