Global Popular Anger Against Rising Inequality: Why is China an Exception?

Seminar/Forum

Global Popular Anger Against Rising Inequality: Why is China an Exception?

In recent years the world has witnessed spreading signs of popular anger against rising income inequality.

Many analysts attribute the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and then the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States at least in substantial part to popular anger against rising inequality. One might have guessed that China would be swept into this populist tide. Most older Chinese grew up under the rule of Mao Zedong, where they were indoctrinated and mobilized to combat any appearance of status gaps based upon income and wealth. But after China’s market reforms were launched starting in 1978, China went from having relatively moderate income gaps nationally to gaps that are as large as, or even larger than, those in the United States, the most unequal of advanced capitalist countries.

From this transformation emerged hundreds of thousands of new millionaires and even several hundred billionaires (in US$ terms), with life styles and privileges far beyond the reach of ordinary Chinese citizens. Yet a series of three high quality China national surveys designed to measure the attitudes of ordinary citizens in that country toward current inequalities, conducted in 2004, 2009, and 2014, doesn’t reveal any sign of widespread or rising anger against current income gaps.

This public lecture will address three themes:
1. What is the evidence that ordinary Chinese citizens are not particularly, or increasingly, angry about rising income gaps?
2. Why is China an exception to this growing global pattern, and what might make Chinese citizens more angry in the future about the income gaps in their society?
3. Why should Chinese leaders nonetheless worry about the prospect that rising popular anger may eventually threaten their rule?

This lecture will be given by Professor Martin King Whyte who is John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Sociology Emeritus and faculty associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University and Asia Scholar at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.

Presenter

  • Professor Martin Whyte
    Professor Martin Whyte, Harvard University