Middle class not always solid buttress of stability

March 04th, 2012 | Global Times

Many scholars, economists and media figures believe that it is China’s middle class that is the backbone of society. While the unbalanced distribution of social resources has resulted in a huge gap between the elite and the lower classes, the role of the middle class is vital. The larger the middle class is, the more reasonable a distribution of resources and less social conflict there will be.

However, in surveys I conducted in recent years, I found that members of the middle class hold a more critical view toward society compared with other social classes. They don’t trust their local governments as much as the lower classes do and are not satisfied with what the governments have been doing. Many of them also believe that the distribution of social resources is unfair.

Those in middle class are a special group. They have a large amount of consumption power both at home and abroad. Many also embrace Western ideas of democracy and freedom.

Middle-class criticism of the government mainly stems from two reasons.

One is their lost financial interests and the other is the chasm of values between themselves and the government. It’s easier for the government to compensate them for lost interests. However, the deeply rooted values of the middle class, once formed, can hardly be changed.

Whether the middle class accepts the rationality and constitutionality of the government’s rule determines the longevity of the regime.

I believe the political attitudes of China’s middle class will have a great influence on future social stability. The middle class may not undertake any organized actions to release their dissatisfaction.

However, they can form a consensus through the media and influence social opinion. They can express their concerns, thus calling for social reforms.

If such reforms are in accordance with government policies, any conflicts raised by the middle class can be a drive for social stability. Otherwise the conflicts will result in the further cleavage of society.

There are some situations under which the middle class can help stabilize society. For example, when the interests of the middle class are in line with the direction of national development, and when the nation’s politics can draw the middle class into participating. The Soviet Union collapsed during the expansion of its middle class. China should prevent itself from falling into the middle-income trap.

The article was compiled from a recent lecture by Zhang Yi, a researcher with the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

By Wang Wenwen

Category: Inside China