Do Chinese citizens want the government to do more to promote equality? martin king whyte
China has sustained an extraordinary growth rate for the three decades since market reforms were launched in 1978, but this record has produced at least one very worrisome consequence. As state employment and bureaucratic allocation have given way to markets and competition, income differences have widened considerably. Although the average standard of living has risen sharply, losses of jobs and benefits have plunged large numbers of Chinese families into poverty even as, at the other end of the social scale, the reforms have produced many new millionaires living in guarded and gated mansion compounds. The research project reported in these pages is devoted to trying to understand how Chinese citizens view the complex inequality trends in their society. Do most Chinese feel gratitude for the general improvements in living standards that have occurred since 1978 and perceive growing income and other gaps as either regrettable but of minor importance, unavoidable, or perhaps even as necessary and desirable? Or is the majority sentiment instead that the switch from socialist to market principles and rising income gaps are signs of a social order that has become fundamentally unjust? Do many Chinese harbor nostalgic feelings for the presumed greater equality of the Mao era and want the government to take more active steps to reduce current inequalities?