The Chinese Dream: Still Dreaming?
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The Chinese Dream: Still Dreaming?


During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s June visit to the United States, he noted that the two nations share many similarities and areas of policy overlap, including the concept of a national dream. Xi had already introduced his “Chinese Dream” after becoming chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as a vision that seems to combine the idea inspired by the American Dream of rising living standards with an undefined “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” apparently combining a stronger military with collective progress in Chinese society.

When visiting recently at the Neusoft Academy of Software and Technology in Dalian, a wealthy port in northeastern China, I saw evidence of this dream at work. Graduating seniors had a 90 percent employment rate at technology companies like Neusoft and IBM, illustrating that education can lead to social mobility. But there is a problem. With increasing levels of income inequality and the vast wealth of the Chinese political elite, is that dream accessible to all – or is it reserved only for the elite?

During the 1980s and 1990s, economic growth in China brought rising incomes for most citizens. Chinese were raised out of poverty at a rate unprecedented in history, with hard work and investment in education serving as paths to career advancement. Since the mid 1990s, however, the Chinese economy has been redirected away from promoting small private and collective enterprises and back toward giving more emphasis to large national state-owned enterprises, or SOEs. The top SOEs dominate the country’s economy and wealth.

One indication is the statistic known as the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality. This measure rose sharply between 2000 and 2012. Another indication is the wealth of members of the legislature, the National People’s Congress: 83 representatives are billionaires according to one report, while many others are the affluent children of senior party officials or SOE executives. This makes clear that political connections can matter more than career success for those who want to get ahead politically and economically. For the more than 155 million rural migrants who work in the cities with neither legal status nor social welfare benefits, does the incredible wealth of these second-generation elites let them believe in the ruling party’s Chinese Dream, or do they feel great resentment because they –  and most citizens – seem excluded?

For the CCP to create a Chinese Dream accessible to all, it must reform the household registration (hukuo) system that allots welfare benefits only to urban residents and not to migrant workers and their families. It must also make land assets available to the rural poor and develop a social safety net to support a consumer-driven service economy intended to employ the rising middle class. These reforms, while technically and politically difficult, would eliminate a great deal of China’s enormous inequality and restore a more level playing field, one that would again let family businesses and the benefits of education bring economic success for those without prior wealth or political connections.

At this time, it is unclear how much of the official talk about a Chinese dream truly resonates with the Chinese public, although the Party may feel rising pressure to deliver on its rhetoric. However, if the mobility the concept promises is to become reality, the Party must make these difficult but necessary policy changes. Whether Xi has the needed political will and drive remains unclear, but they are essential if China is to achieve long-term economic growth by shifting from export-led manufacturing to a consumer-driven service economy.

The Chinese Dream has the potential to justify the reforms needed to make this possible, and raise living standards of the middle class and rural poor. Like the American Dream, the possibility of mobility – that each generation could do better than the one before – helps maintain social stability. For the Communist Party, fulfilling that dream is essential for its own long-term survival.

Jessica Teets is an assistant professor of political science at Middlebury College, specializing in civil society and local government policy innovation in China.

September 15, 2013 at 14:16

Ironically, the biggest opponents of the Hukou reform is not the party or government. It's the residences of the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Similar to the immigration reform in US, the vested interests have too much to loss from the reform.

papa john
September 14, 2013 at 06:51

Mr. Xi and people keep talking about Chinese dream, they don't know for sure what it is. The sure thing for most Chinese I know of is that they are dreaming the American dream now. Ask Mr.Xi's daughter and many of little emperors’ children in Beijing, they have been building Chinese castles right here in America and storing their wealth in the Swiss bank vault . Long live Chinese dream.

September 13, 2013 at 17:44

The US will be next on the Western hitlist.  

Brings into a brand new light the question 'does the West still exist'.

September 13, 2013 at 05:05

The rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been predicated on three major trends.

Western social progress. Opium was imposed on China until WWI and widespread addiction, which had sapped the Chinese nation, was not rectified until the Communist revolt. The West could still be imposing opium into China if there was no social progress in the West, but there was, in a remarkable way.  I regard this trend, better treatment of China motivated by conscience, as permanent.
Chinese mentality Change. Japan also suffered from the West but Japan was much more nimble and humble, and willing to Westernize much earlier than China. China had too much mental inertia to change. The Chinese now may not admit so, but this inertia is gone. The Chinese are willing to change, to modernize (80% or more Westernize). This trend is also permanent.
Global entrenchment in the belief in trade (and technological advancement in the dissemination of information): globalization. Globalization promotes China’s advantage of backwardness; the free flow of information in trade and technology reduces the significance of lesser ability to innovate and rewards eagerness and hard work. The currently firm belief in globalism is more mercuric, I believe, and has to be managed.

I see that as long as China can manage its relations well enough to sustain globalism (and contain domestic problems), its continuing comprehensive national advancement, the Chinese Dream of the rejuvenation of China, will be reality.

September 12, 2013 at 16:31

Many countries followed blindly western path of advancement. They now have consumer driven economy with no jobs, low wages and poor society! Recent generation must face more challenges, since education or government gives them no support.

September 12, 2013 at 16:07

Darn right the "Hukou" system must be gotten rid off!  It's d*mn discriminating and unnecessary. That Mr Wen and gang gotten so obscenely rich during his 10 years of reign speaks much about his legacy. That the Hu-Wen-SC team did nothing to remove that unjust and unequal "Socialism with Chinese characterics" says much about their irresponsibility, vested interests, and opportunism. At least Mr Bo removed the "Hukou" in Chongqing. He was ahead of those braindead, fearful, irresponsible ossified old men in Chongnanhai. Let's hope that Mr Xi and his SC team will continue to remove the debris from Hu-Wen's era and truly sweep the debilitating, discriminating and self humilating left-over relics like the "Hukou" and "Education camps" into the history of dustbin once and for all.

September 12, 2013 at 14:04

Obviously the Gini coefficient is a Western propaganda tool used by imperialists to promote agitation and unrest among the peasants which will lead to a CIA backed rebellion to weaken China.

TV Monitor
September 12, 2013 at 13:47

Chinese dream is about living in a free, democratic country, not about making a few more yuans.

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