chapter  2
28 Pages

Legitimacy crisis in China? vivienne shue

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the strenuous conditions of social existence in China offered up plenty of cause for popular protest. The further dismantling of the old socialist system, the deepening marketization of economic relations, and the startling redistributions of property rights were all contributing to social change and disruptions on a grand scale. Tens of thousands of state-sector workers were being laid off from their jobs without adequate benefits and without much prospect of re-employment. Tens of millions of poor migrant laborers, many of them still children, were streaming into the cities from rural areas to compete for jobs, but were left more or less entirely to fend for themselves, and could survive, often, only by enduring appalling living and working conditions. Those who opted to stay on the land, and they amounted still to a majority of the total population, were frequently denied a fair price for their crops even as they were too often subject to brutally inequitable tax assessments and other arbitrary levies by local officials. The poverty became so desperate in some rural areas that medical investigators sent back reports about whole villages full of people, many dying of AIDS, who had become infected with HIV when they had resorted to selling their own blood to survive. Women of childbearing age all over the country lived under relentless, sometimes vicious, official insistence that they limit their pregnancies even as they had to endure, for all that, painful family pressures to produce more sons. Artists and intellectuals, becoming ever more enmeshed in corrosively commodified relations of creative work and production, were at the same time still denied full freedom of expression, and remained subject to the rigors of a system of state censorship which, though it was clearly eroding, could nonetheless exert itself in ways that ranged from risibly obtuse to odiously oppressive. Ethnic minority groups with grievances against the Party and the state were subject to wary official surveillance and were still denied meaningful opportunities to express their views in public. Thus, nearly voiceless, minority peoples in the western regions of the country

looked on in mounting anger and frustration as incoming waves of Han migrant settlers threatened to engulf them in their own homelands. Meanwhile, massive damage to China’s natural environment – to the air, to the water, to the forests, and to the land – the effects of pesticide mismanagement and of over-rapid and under-regulated processes of industrialization and urbanization, literally sickened the brains and bodies of many unwitting victims and threatened the health and safety of millions more.