Wednesday, 23 February 2011

China: Not too rich for a "Jasmine Revolution"

A lot of people have linking to this excellent article on the Granite Studio blog on the relatively small chances of there being a revolution in China similar to those which have rocked the Arab world in recent weeks. I would certainly advise anyone who's been following this subject to go there and give it a read, but I would also like to highlight one of the reasons given for dismissing the chances of a revolution in China:

"Over the last twenty years, rapid economic growth has raised the standard of living to an unprecedentedly high level. Most families enjoy a life style that previous generations couldn’t have even imagined. For example, my mom could only afford a small piece of sugar for lunch during the Great Famine in 1960, but her daughter traveled in three continents before she turned 25. Few urban Chinese seem eager to trade their chance at prosperity for dreams of revolution."

Whilst it is certainly true that China has seen high economic growth in the past 20 years, and that many have benefitted from this, this is also true to a significant extent in all of the countries which have seen insurrections over the last month:

The above graph has two problems, though. One is unavoidable - the high per-capita GDP of Bahrain makes the Chinese GDP look small and smooths out the rapid growth that country has seen. The other is a bit more troublesome - it only extends to 2008 during the period when economic growth was strong in all of these countries, but all the other countries, except China, experienced some kind of economic slow-down in 2009.

Still, is China "too rich" to experience a revolution, as some have said, and as some might interpret the Granite Studio post as implying? Most definitely not - China is only marginally richer than Tunisia, was poorer than Egypt until 2002-2003, and has about a third and a fifth of Libya and Bahrain's per capita GDP respectively. Nor is there any evidence that China is a more equal country than it's Arab counterparts, with the latest Gini indices being much higher for China than those of Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia.

Instead, I think the point that Ya Jun was trying to make was that it is the promise of future prosperity, rather than the actual state of development in China today (impressive though this is in comparison to previous poverty) that keeps people relatively loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. As with all delayed gratification, once denied the backlash can be intense.

[Edit: A commenter over at The Peking Duck managed to say all of this so much more succinctly in the thread discussing Ya Jun's post, see their comment here]

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