Government for the People in China?
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Government for the People in China?

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An apparent contradiction exists at the heart of political commentary on China. On the one hand, some foreign China watchers frequently discuss how ordinary Chinese citizens are growing increasingly dissatisfied with their government and communist party rule. On the other hand, public opinion polls have shown a high level of popular support for the ruling Chinese Communist Party. 

Indeed, in a major national face-to-face survey we participated in, the results of which we published recently in an article in Political Research Quarterly, we uncovered an extremely high level of public satisfaction with the national government. Based on responses from a national random sample of 3,763 Chinese, we found the average person’s support for the government in Beijing was about 8.0 on a 10-point scale.

This result is consistent with calculations from other recent surveys.  For example, according to the 6th Wave World Values Survey, conducted at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, the average level of support among Chinese respondents was 7.5 on a 0-10 scale. This level of support compares favorably with many democratically elected governments across the world.  From these numbers, then, the Chinese government hardly appears on the verge of collapse, as some commentators would have it.   

Instead, our research shows that, with respect to the political psychology of the Chinese people, political trust – a belief in the legitimacy of the government – appears as the dominant reason for their broad support of the political system.

A number of theories have been advanced to explain the Chinese people’s high level of public trust in government.  One often stated argument is that public opinion polls in China are simply not accurate. According to this view, in a repressive society like China, people are too afraid to tell researchers what they really believe, and instead feign support for the government.

But this argument is belied by the lively online political discussion in China, the frequent protests and petitions, and even everyday conversations with ordinary people on the street, all of which make clear that individual citizens are not bashful about expressing their dissatisfaction with the state, even if they may be more cautious about participating in organized political activities.

These observations also go against another common explanation for China’s high political trust – media censorship. This viewpoint contends that because the government inhibits the free flow of information in Chinese society, only positive news gets aired. As such, the media serves to mobilize public support of the government.  

However, controlling the internet is much more difficult in the information age. It is no longer easy to hide the dark side of government. The role of the media in political mobilization, we believe, has decreased. Profit considerations have further reduced the media’s role in political mobilization. In a market environment, media organizations compete for audience with different political opinions, resulting in media diversification. Also, there are social media sites which increasingly expose government corruption and scandals. Overall, then, claiming that most Chinese are only privy to “good news” about the government is hardly an accurate description of modern China.

Economic performance is another frequently mentioned reason for the Chinese government’s popularity. This view holds that China’s high growth rates and improved living standards have left most Chinese happy with their personal finances and optimistic about their country’s future economic outlook. Because they attribute these economic conditions to government policy, they are by and large satisfied with the government’s performance.

One problem with this economic explanation is that it fails to account for the gap between China and other high growth societies. At similar high levels of economic growth, why is political trust still higher in China than in other societies, such as India and Brazil? Mongolia, for instance, has had one of the highest growth rates in the world over the last few years and yet, in a June 2012 survey, “over 80 percent of respondents believed that government policies were ‘always’ or ‘often’ failing to solve their concerns.” Moreover, many democratic transitions in the Asia-Pacific, such as South Korea and Taiwan, began after the governments had begun improving the economy. Thus, it is hardly the case that economic growth automatically translates into high levels of support for the government.

Comments
36
Dewey Last [formerly But....]
June 22, 2013 at 04:23

@Jack

You changed the subject since you didn't like the conversation. The article is about a survey of what the Chinese people think of the government today.

You can't keep your disdain for the CCP from bubbling over to a different topic entirely. I suggest a sedative and rest. You'll live to write another post another day when that sort of article is put up by The Diplomat.

Jack
June 22, 2013 at 00:45

Shanghai was a wealthy city before the communists took over. China was a prosperous trader. After the communists took over and the cultural revolution hit, famine and tragedy followed. Most of Chinese culture was destroyed. Books with only one hand written copy, lost. Canibalism was rife.  Over 50,000,000 died or were killed.  Then Deng changed his mind and let in the capitalists.  The Americans and Europeans but also the Japanese invested and built China's modern economy. Per capita it is still way below Japan but growing quickly.  To put it simply. No communism until 1949 and China was one of the greatest civilizations ever. Communism takes over. All is lost. Humanity was lost. Brother against brother and father.  Trust evaporated.  Then the communists decided to step aside and the good times return with capitalism and modern medicine and long life spans. If you look at North Korea, you can see China a few years back.  

papa john
June 19, 2013 at 13:47

Whatever you compared America to China, America is thousands of times better than China for sure, Chinese Lee. Just look at the long queue waiting to apply for a visa at any American consulates in China, you get a right answer for your question.

Tom F
June 19, 2013 at 13:11

@TDog – "Or they don't want it removed.  You assume people only act in a manner allowed by law, but if that were the case there would be no need for prisons"

But no more 'want' than a feudal subject wanting his/her master to exist and be in control.

How Chinese act is not an assumption, it's the practical reality for people devoid of self determination. It begins with the law, followed closely by the need to watch their backs, and capped off with  'go with the flow', as to do so otherwise means a constant struggle. When the tone is, if you resist, we'll send in tanks to crush you and mow you down with machine guns, I think most Chinese 'want' to live, no matter how little self determination they'll end up with. 

They need prison it is a part of the administration of law, sedition being one of them.

 

Oro Invictus
June 19, 2013 at 11:03

@ ACT

Unfortunately, it seems people have misinterpreted my post; the wasp and fly bit was simply meant as an analogy, that’s all (I thought it would help people better understand the concept of social conditioning, but apparently it had the opposite effect). Essentially, the point was simply: The CPC provides an imperfect solution to a problem(s), much of which is its own creation, and seeks to suppress the idea of there being any other which will work for their “unique” circumstances. I was not trying to say that everyone is indoctrinated and that there is no resistance to the CPC (I’ve expressed the opposite opinion many times), I was simply trying to explain the phenomenon of (apparently) high CPC approval in the PRC despite the dissatisfaction of the populace there with its policies. That’s why I linked to Chinasmack, because it offered individual examples of these phenomena. Similarly, the conclusion to was more an examination of the CPC than the PRC; I was simply suggesting that, given that the CPC lacks oversight by the public, it has come to see itself as the state, such that it would seek self-preservation over serving the nation.

Does that clarify matters?

Tom F
June 19, 2013 at 10:44

@Game - "Just talk to normal Chinese, and ask what they think about China….Chinese are genetically more optimistic, and good

…as long as they bring prosperity to the masses…. This is unknown in the west"

'Normal' Chinese aside, I have lots of Chinese and Asian friends working in China or have projects in China at the moment. Only a few weeks ago I caught up with an ex-pat working in Beijing, the picture painted is 'sure it is very bright' if you're at or near the pointy end of the CCP membership chart, but 'not particularly bright' and 'particularly dimmed' if you're NOT a card carrying member of the CCP, and even factions of the CCP are fighting (though this is probably to be expected of any regime).

My friend attended a banquet to celebrate the groundbreak of a project with a 'client' whilst a group of just recently made homeless farmers were protesting outside. The client reassured my friend not to worry, they will be dealt with later. You know the rest of the story, two bottles of Moutai to the local official (who was at the table) was all it took. 

BTW, the edict to ban Moutai for official business actually has the opposite effect in that Moutai prices dropped by 50% and ALOT more people can now afford to 'gift' Moutai to local officials, hahaha, shifting benefits down to the foot soldiers.

I fully agree with you re' the Chinese traits, but I also believe the CCP milk it for their own gains. Ask yourself this, the CCP members whose sons and daughters are going to Harvard and Yale at the moment, what are their numbers, then compare this to the number of Chinese youths currently slaving away in factories, isn't this brewing a social catastrophe? Or are you saying it's OK for a socialist regime like the communist China to elevate or deny opportunities to China's youths based purely on political association?

As for prosperity, again, you need to ask, for whom? Homeless people are still homeless. Household size in China remains the same, if not growing, suggesting even more are sharing instead of having their own home, provided they're not evicted. I also have friends who worked on the electrical system for the dam projects who tells me, millions of people had to be 'relocated' (CCP speak), in reality, lost of livelihood, and mostly homeless.

The residential property boom? All about control, the 'real' and realised profits are sitting in CCP developers' banks, the lemmings who bought apartments (to let sit empty), divorcing their partners to qualify for more than one etc, it's a bubble and a mean to ensnare the masses, now they have to prop up the CCP or else, they'd loose all they've worked for. This situation my friend is not unknown in the west, except in the west, the system is allowed to fail and all a buyer have to do is hand in the keys, as you have seen with the sub-prime crisis.

ACT
June 19, 2013 at 10:31

@Oro Invictus

that is an awfully biased post, coming from you, Oro. I would suggest that the people are not so much the fly as they are another creature entirely; while the protests of september-october of last year certainly demonstrated that the CPC has succeded in indoctrinating a section of the PRC public with the belief that Japan's nationalization of the Senkakus somehow threatens the territorial integrity of China, there have also been mounting protests against the CPC in equal measure. I think that the situation is much like here in the U.S; there is a large segment of the population–the silent majority–that only really comments or expresses discontent with both parties in private, while relatively smaller sections of the public are for/against the government.

TDog
June 19, 2013 at 08:16

@Tom F,

Or they don't want it removed.  You assume people only act in a manner allowed by law, but if that were the case there would be no need for prisons.

Oro Invictus
June 19, 2013 at 06:58

@ Davidake

IQ has nothing to do with it; it is a matter of conditioning (i.e. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”).

 

@ OJ Jones

First off, when you’re going to say I’ve made "too many assumptions", you’re actually going to have to point them out; otherwise, what you’re saying has no actual weight, amounting to (hopefully non-intentional) slander.

Also, I never said that the conditioning of the people of the PRC was so complete to prevent upheavals like those at Tiananmen; indeed, I’ve noted elsewhere that such totality in characterizations is a fool’s errand. Similarly, I’ve also noted that great communication and networking is resulting in a manner of a social awakening for much of the PRC (such as here: http://thediplomat.com/2013/06/11/xi-jinpings-chinese-youth-dilemma/)

Finally, if you think I said anything approaching comparing the people of the PRC to “brainwashed goons”, then you didn’t actually read my post; that, or you don’t understand how analogies work. Either way, *I* have no words.

OJ Jones
June 19, 2013 at 03:44

You assume too much. If your thesis is really the case, how can you explain the Tiananmen Protests? If you have to characterize the people of China as a bunch of poisoned, brainwashed goons with refrence to insects, than I have no words.

Game
June 18, 2013 at 17:47

LOL… Just talk to normal Chinese, and ask what they think about China. No survey, just randomly make  Chinese friends, and ask them. The degree of social trust is strong in China, because Chinese are genetically more optimistic, and good. The system is outwardly meritacratic, but there is al obviously a lot of corrupt as well. Yes, another contradiction?

The Chinese both genetics, and culturally believe in a platonic notion that government gets it legitamacy by mendate of heaven( Tien), and they have the medate as long as they bring prosperity to the masses. This is unknown in the west.

Dewey Last [formerly But....]
June 18, 2013 at 17:08

I usually read the 50-cent posters with a sense of glee since they liven up the forum with slapstick, side-splitting humorous replies. The Diplomat can have an article: 5-Year-Old Japanese Lemonade Stand Owner Wins The Local Rotary Club Business Of The Month. 50-cent posters will have this child as a member of an organization bent on making slaves of the Chinese people who will then be forced to crush lemons.

If you don't like what is being said, change the conversation.

The 50-cent posters are adept at doing this.

HOWEVER [excuse the caps], when anti-Chinese posters don't like something wirriten about China, all sorts of reasons are cultivated and digressed. They answer the people are scared of the survey and worried the CCP will take them to a gulag in outer Mongolia if they answer wrong. If the lemonade stand owner happens to be Chinese, then the childs' parents are CCP members, the loan for building the stand is a no-interest loan with the understand the police will have free lemonade. 

If you don't like the conversation, discredit the subject.

China bashers are adept at doing this.

Nowhere has any poster written that they went to the original work. No poster even wrote they went to the website of the survey foundation and looked at their methodology. The reports are inexpensive however no poster saw fit to buy one.

Davidake
June 18, 2013 at 15:56

You have underestimate Chinese IQ.

Tom F
June 18, 2013 at 14:18

@TDog – "Protests rarely call for the removal of the CCP in Beijing"

Because, it's against the law to do so, and in a country where you can be held without trial indefinitely, most Chinese have learnt to avoid making such calls.

Tom F
June 18, 2013 at 14:16

Could the result of the survey realistically go any other way?

When you have CCP card carrying members amongst your midst, when you know the government controls all forms of communication, and a survey means you can go on the record, would you say anything else?

A better survey would have been, do you think there is any risk in participating in this survey?

But, let's entertain the objective nature of the survey. Was there a baseline? What is the trajectory from the baseline?

The baseline was a starving nation devoid of prospects publicly worshipping the chairman with unanimous exuberance. Current trajectory reveal a productive nation, aiming for the title of the biggest economy in the world, yet more and more are (taking risk in) publicly expressing distrust of authorities. This is also despite a firmer grip on communication by the CCP.

IMO, the true gauge of trust and mutual approval between the CCP and the Chinese people is the degree of state control over communication, and free flow of capital. 

Dewey Last [formerly But....]
June 18, 2013 at 09:51

China's population is appr. 1.34 billion people. In the late 1070's the population living in poverty was 1,139 billion. By 2008 the rise in the standard of living dropped the poverty figure to appr. 175 million. I cannot find the latest figures, however we can Reasonably say a billion people are no longer living in extreme poverty. This result has been achieved in our generation. This is quite an achievement. 

I can believe the results of the survey. From near starvation to eating regularly, from rural labor to urban worker, from no school to education for everyone, from bicycles to superhighways: Chinese society has changed remarkably. The question of capitalism doing better is a different topic. Let's look at the reasons why the survey has this result.

Wikipedia: Since the start of far-reaching economic reforms in the late 1970s, growth has fueled a remarkable increase in per capita income and a decline in the poverty rate from 85% in 1981 to 13.1% in 2008.

 

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