March 10th, 2011 | Beijing Review Chasing the Chinese Dream
People’s pursuit of better lives pushes the nation forward
The belief that anyone can live a better life in the United States through hard work is called the American Dream. Many European settlers were drawn to the new continent by the American Dream.
Is there a Chinese dream? Yes, there is one, and there must be one. The Chinese dream is what has propelled more than 1 billion Chinese people to build an independent, prosperous and strong country.
China is transitioning from an agricultural to an industrial society. Hundreds of millions of farmers, middle-aged or seniors, devote all they have to their children’s education so that they will be able to lead better lives, whereas younger ones yearn to live in cities.
Currently, about 200 million rural residents have migrated into cities, and an additional 400 million to 500 million are going to do so. Their dreams are to find well-paid jobs or start up their own businesses. They want to rent a decent place there, and own homes in the city in a few years.
Rural migrants hope to bring their families to cities, and let their children enjoy equal education as urban children. And they hope to be covered by medical insurance and pension programs that are the same as city dwellers.
Middle-aged or senior rural residents staying in their hometowns also dream about a new rural life. They would like to get satisfactory pay for their work, as well as adequate medical and elderly care. They would like to enjoy basic public services and public goods delivered by the government, such as gas, water, electricity, transportation, waste treatment and security.
They would like to be able to chat over the phone with their children living in cities and meet their children every year, and hope to retain some cultural traditions.
Now, 30 percent of China’s population, or about 400 million people, have urban residence status. As more rural residents move to cities, it is predicted that by 2040, urban population may reach 1.2 billion, or 80 percent of the national total.
These people’s efforts to realize their dreams are a strong driving force for China’s economic and social development over the next 30 years.
Owning a cozy and decent home is perhaps the prime dream of every urban household. Currently, there is a gap between the supply and demand for urban housing. In 2010, the total area of urban housing was 11.2 billion square meters, which averages to 17.8 square meters per person, assuming that the urban population reached 640 million at the end of 2010.
If each of the 200 million rural migrants occupies a living space of 20 square meters and each urbanite 30 square meters, they need a total of 17.2 billion square meters. So, housing supply falls short of demand by 6 billion square meters.
The solution for the government is to have the market supply all the housing for high-income people and most of the housing for middle-income people. The government should keep the growth of housing prices below that of income.
The government should also encourage the trading of rural housing, forest and farm land, so that rural residents can make money from their properties, and can use the income to buy homes in cities.
The government should meet the housing demand of the remaining small number of low-income people.
There is a large surplus of labor in the countryside. The labor pool continuously flows into cities. In each of the next five years, it is predicated that about 10 million rural workers will flock to cities.
In addition, about 10 million people are added to the urban labor supply every year. These job seekers include laid-off workers and newcomers to the labor market such as fresh graduates from high schools, colleges and universities and demobilized service people.
In 30 years, the number of working people in cities is expected to grow from approximately 300 million to 700 million, with 13.3 million new workers every year.
China’s current employment structure has the following characteristics.
First, it already has a large number of civil servants and people working in public service units. Their payroll is so large that the government system can no longer afford to hire more people.
Second, in industrial sectors, rising wages and stricter requirements on the provision of social security, pension and medical insurance have increased labor costs, and reduced the sectors’ ability to create employment. In the future, some declining industries will even lay off workers.
Third, agricultural sectors are not able to absorb more of a labor force. Instead, it produces a large number of surplus rural workers for cities every year.
Fourth, due to slow urbanization process, as well as lack of institutional incentives for service industries, China’s tertiary sector’s ability to create jobs is not as strong as that of developed countries.
Fifth, due to a penchant for higher GDP and more tax revenues, local governments are more willing to develop large and super-large enterprises, which are usually weak in generating jobs. They often overlook the development of small and medium-sized enterprises that can hire a large number of workers.
In the meantime, micro and small enterprises face institutional obstacles such as rigid registration and entrance thresholds, heavy taxes, random inspections and fines, as well as financing difficulties.
Historically, there was not a social security system in China. For a rural household, land and sons were their insurance for the future. China did not begin to study and set up a modern urban and rural social security system until the 1990s.
Experts estimate, excluding unemployment insurance, at least 10 trillion yuan ($1.5 trillion) of social security fund is needed. Data from the National Audit Office show as of the end of 2008, the accumulated amount of various social security funds in the country was only 2.5 trillion yuan ($380 billion).
Some people attribute the gap to the previous policy of maintaining low salary and a high employment rate.
There are more reasons for the gap. For instance, social insurance programs have not yet covered all workers and social security funds are sometimes misused for fixed assets investment and production expansion. These are the root causes of the problem.
As China’s economy grows, its fiscal revenues increase and more state-owned assets are allocated to social security programs, the social security shortfall will gradually be patched up and social security level will gradually improve.
Both urban and rural residents have dreams about public services and social security.
Every household wants good and equal education for its children. People expect the government to build more schools, expand compulsory education to preschool and high school students, and lower tuitions in non-compulsory education institutions.
- Medical care
People dream about convenient medical services. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it set up a basic healthcare system characterized by low cost and broad coverage.
After the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, the old medical care system collapsed, whereas the new public medical service system under a market economy was not established.
As a result, many rural areas do not have well-developed medical facilities. Medical facilities in cities are very crowded, and it is less and less convenient, and more and more expensive for urban residents to see a doctor.
A good number of rural and urban residents suffer lower living standards because of illness or even become impoverished.
The dream for a private car has come true for more and more Chinese households in the first decade of the 21st century. Roads and highways have also stretched rapidly in China since the 1990s.
When China’s population reaches 1.55 billion in the future, if every household owns at least one car, plus vehicles owned by government departments, organizations and enterprises, a minimum of 13.3 million hectares of additional land will be needed for road construction.
At least 60 percent of the world’s newly increased oil consumption in the future is to fuel vehicles in China.
Car fumes will cause heavier and heavier pollution, shadowing cities’ skies. In cities with large and dense populations, cars will travel slower than pedestrians. People will spend an average of about two hours daily on commuting.
American-styled car dreams are not feasible for such a populous and oil-poor country as China. The government is expected to energetically develop public transit that will enable people to travel economically and conveniently.
Once Chinese dreamed about modern life, they dreamed of steel factories with tall chimneys, trains belching steam, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as farmlands claimed from grasslands, wetlands, lakes and forests. They dreamed to live in cities with mushrooming steel and concrete block-shaped buildings and asphalt-paved roads.
As the public’s dream about modern life begins to materialize, another dream is born.
People now dream for a beautiful natural environment and a safe social environment. They dream for safe water and food, and for clean air, noise-free nights, unlittered streets, parks, and natural habitats such as wetlands, green mountains and clear rivers.
In the 21st century, Chinese people aspire to be in a free, democratic, equal, just, caring and harmonious society in which they can fully use their wisdom and talent.
China not only needs a free, democratic and dynamic society, but also an orderly society. It needs a strong party and a government that follow scientific and democratic policymaking procedures and are able to implement these policies and solve various problems for the people, in order to create a free, democratic, orderly and stable environment for the people to live in and for the country to develop.
The relationship between individualism and collectivism, between citizens’ rights and national interests, and between market competition and social justice must be handled properly.
A society, a community and an organization must protect an individual’s personal and property rights from infringement, respect personal freedom, encourage entrepreneurship and work initiatives, protect legal income and on the other hand, prevent public interests from being damaged by an individual’s behavior.
China has hundreds of millions of religious followers. Protecting and meeting people’s demand for religion is a responsibility of the government.
In the modernization process, while learning from foreign cultures, we should preserve and pass on China’s cultural traditions.
The author is a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
By ZHOU TIANYONG