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The Perils of Prosperity in China: New Grapes of Wrath

Poverty in China

The number of middle class and wealthy Chinese is growing in China, but the distribution of wealth is increasingly disproportionate. And the situation is worsening with the nouveau riche paying the government the fines required ( Fines range from under 5,000 yuan ($646) to 200,000 yuan ($25,800) depending on the violators location and income) to raise more than one child. Rural poor, in contrast, are increasingly worried more about basic health care and housing and cannot afford to consider a larger family. According to The Guardian, “…growing numbers of pregnant women are risking their own lives and those of their children by seeking back-alley deliveries to avoid fines for having more than one child, Xinhua quoted Deputy Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun as saying.” A Chinese news source stated that more than half of the maternal deaths in one province were due to illegal abortions.

Several papers reported this week that a new baby boom is likely on the way in China, but will be comprised of well-heeled children. Under current laws the offspring of one-child families can now raise two children of their own. In my last school, made up primarily of rural students, most of them had brothers and sisters. The school where I teach now is populated by the only-children (those born with a “golden” spoon in their mouths) of industry owners and government officials: the Little Emperors often spoken of in Industrialized China.

The consequences of the growing disparities in a country still defining the boundaries of a new social structure are vast and varied, some with devastating outcomes: China Digital Times recently reprinted a story about a farmer in China’s beautiful Yunnan Province. The land owner’s crop of sweet potatoes was destroyed as local leaders, empowered to make decisions about private land holdings, sought to force him to grow tobacco. Rather than yield, Yue Xiaobao detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached officials from his village of Lishan. He killed himself and Lishan village leader Ren Xuecai. Nine others, mostly village cadre, were hospitalized and many were expected to lose their eyesight.

Increasing poverty, lack of health care, greed and the unchecked authority of local government officials has led to more violence and suicide countrywide. There are recurring reports of uninsured rural villagers killing themselves to save their families from the financial burden of a needed medical treatment or hospitalization. Like Liu Xiaobao many have injured or murdered government officials or health care professionals before taking their own lives.

The cultural divide is no longer an issue between western nations and China, but an internal and burgeoning one between classes in a country new to the perils of prosperity. I remember well the stories of civil and criminal disobedience my parents told of life during the Great Depression. It is now China’s turn to grapple with industrialization; there could well (I hope) a Chinese Steinbeck or citizen journalist that chronicles the changes brought on by the nearly twenty thousand concerted annual protests in China and the individual citizen voices now making themselves heard.

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “The Perils of Prosperity in China: New Grapes of Wrath”

  1. 张婧on May 8th 2007 at 12:41 pm

    This is a natural phenomenon, and the rich countries have poor people, no matter how poor areas have rich. Relative to the world that China’s population is still huge, it is the decision of China’s population base, can not change, Currently it implemented others will be brought along the rich

  2. adminon May 8th 2007 at 12:46 pm

    This was not meant to be critical, only expository…

    China is not unlike America was after industrialization….

    You are in for sweeping changes…I am anxious to see how they go…I do hope the government and the private sector starts making provisions for the lower class….

    America needs reform in this area as well…


  3. 张婧on May 9th 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Reform is not an easy task. Every country, the government or the enterprises are not easy to change the system, because the need for reform must repeal some system, then increase some new system, the system may be the original completely different, This will result in a large and unknown, and there is a risk that no one can make sure that what changes good or bad, So to reform, the government may be more cautious. Like China, why go through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution is a case in point. China has been the main agricultural productivity in reform, after opening , china introduces many advanced Western technology, the development of other industrial industries, and therefore during the Great Leap Forward period in the development of production on high-speed pursuit, to achieve industrial and agricultural production targets and requirements of industrial and agricultural output of main products multiply, several times, even several times growth, but they ignored in the domestic production capacity, Some people might even contribute to their own pots to the country as a symbol of the growth of steel production. The time to raise production development is a kind of reform,and i think it is not a bad idea, but the Chinese economy is in recession for 10 years. Of course,the reform of today is not likely to have such a big influence, but the leadership of the Communist Party of China deciding a reform is still a major task.

    This is just my personal point of view.

  4. daveon May 9th 2007 at 3:14 pm

    “Reform is not an easy task.”

    Especially in China.

    Let’s not fool ourselves. Corruption is rampant on every level in China and corruption increases the further one gets from Beijing.

    Village officals regulary take bribes from companies to allow pollution. Mine owners regularly risk the lives of miners for a few more nuggets of coal. Schools push English exams so students can recieve worthless certificates that cost hundreds of Yuan. Doctors are corrupt, lawyers are corrupt, and politicians are corrupt.

    I’m not delusional about the U.S. I remember my history and Tammany Hal. What is happening in China today is on an entirely different level.

    Citizens of China have few rights. You could lose your apartment tomorrow because some speculator bribes the local offical to allow him to build on that land. Try to petition the government to recover losses or argue for new freedoms.

    In China today you need to strap explosives to your body before someone will listen.

    I know no person that is optimistic about China. I have read nothing that says the pollution is going to get better. I’ve seen no proof that programs by the government to stop corruption are effective. No evidence of new freedoms.

    What do I see? A lot of money being made on the backs of migrant workers while the interior of China suffers.

    The Grapes of Wrath is a perfect analogy.

    “And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”

  5. 陈玲莉(CHENG LINGLI)on May 19th 2007 at 2:37 pm

    hi professer,
    Thanks for you teach us so many thing , we can read diffrent and useful thing from your blog .Hope your blog be the the one of your dream blog.

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