Jan 17, 2012 03:52 PM

China: A Country Where No One is Secure

What is the most common feeling in China today? I think many people would say disappointment. This feeling comes from the insufficient improvement in their lives that people are achieving amid rapid economic growth. It also comes from the contrast between the degree to which individual social status is rising and the idea of the "rise of a great and powerful nation."

One phenomenon is a good example of such disappointment: A group of young college graduates "escaping and returning" to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Their reasons for "fleeing" are not difficult to imagine. Work pressure in these extremely large cities is high, competition is intense and the cost of living is high. So the young people chose to move to small and medium-sized cities to start their careers. The reason they returned to the big cities was that in many small and medium-sized cities ability, knowledge or even a diploma are not what open doors. Instead, what are required are networks of relationships. Family background also makes it difficult for young people from common families to better their lives, and they do not see a way out.

The disappointment of being unable to extricate oneself from difficulty is, of course, not restricted to college graduates. In opportunities for education, employment, promotions and overall improvement of their lives, people are discovering that society's resources and opportunities are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. People in the middle and lower strata of society are becoming increasingly marginalized and are finding that improving their lives is getting harder.

The 2004 China Social Mobility Report published by China Academy of Social Sciences said that people whose fathers have power or capital have an easier time becoming party cadres than people in general. Research into the changes in private businesses ownership after 1993 showed that the elite in non-business fields were more likely to own businesses today. Thus, opportunities for common people to start private businesses are fewer and fewer. It is exceedingly difficult for farmers moving to a city to find success. The registered permanent residence system and economic factors conspire to make this move very difficult.

A social trend has been captured by the phrase "returning to the system," which refers to resorting to traditional means of advancement. The number people signing up for the national civil service examination was 600,000 in 2007, 800,000 in 2008, 1.1 million in 2009, and 1.5 million in 2010, a clearly rising trend. "Returning to the system" has become the main method for members of society to climb the social ladder.

Imbalances in social rights, the reduction of social mobility and the hardening of the social structure will inevitably lead to the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, the strong permanently strong and the weak permanently weak.

The stagnation of social mobility will inevitably bring about a series of consequences. The biggest harm may not be in the gap between rich and poor itself, but the deterioration of the overall societal ecosystem and the fall of civilization. The social ecosystem is similar to the natural ecosystem. "Running water doesn't stink" is an old Chinese saying that indicates that a pool of standing water will become putrid. The deterioration of the social ecosystem resulting from stagnating opportunity is evident, and the picture is not pretty.

The lowest rung becomes a jungle. The unending series of malignant incidents in recent years – slave labor at kilns, migrant workers going unpaid, stabbing incidents at schools, the trafficking of children so they can work as crippled beggars, violent demolitions and relocations, a dozen attempted suicides at Foxconn, food safety crises caused by counterfeiting and profit-seeking – are all indicators of the deterioration of the bottom layer of the social ecosystem.

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