Fri, Jun 24, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Do happy blossoms mask disquiet?

By Sushil Seth

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has coined and promoted many slogans from Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) time to the present day. A slogan-driven regime treats its people simultaneously as morons and a dangerous rabble.

Mao said that China’s people were “poor and blank” and one could write beautiful things on a blank sheet of paper. In other words, Mao wanted to write his own script on this blank sheet of paper after he prevailed in China’s civil war in 1949. And at times this new script needed to be rendered into easy slogans to follow the supreme leader.

This practice still continues, though not on the same scale. Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) “harmonious society” slogan is a case in point. Like previous CCP slogans, this too is intended to hide a harsh reality. It tends to paper over the reality of multiple contradictions enveloping China, leading to growing social unrest in the country. A slogan is and was also a diversion when things were not going right.

Hu’s “harmonious society,” for instance, is increasingly acrimonious. This is evident from the harsh treatment of dissidents and protesters. The government is worried about a potential popular upsurge against the CCP’s rule on the lines of similar movements in Arab countries against their corrupt and venal rulers.

Even as China’s oligarchs are trying to clamp down on a potential rebellion by targeting artists, human rights activists and others championing democracy, they worry about an economic slowdown, and its social and political consequences.

In the absence of a popular electoral mandate, China’s rulers have sought to cultivate a measure of legitimacy by, first, rapid economic growth in the hope that some of it will trickle down to the masses; and, second, making China into a powerful nation and thereby channel some of their energies into national pride.

Regarding the first: China’s economy is starting to slow down; while inflation, asset bubbles, structural imbalances, the urban-rural divide and the growing income gaps are creating severe social problems.

China’s rulers are, therefore, worried that their main claim to legitimacy — economic growth and social stability — is whittling down. Since high economic growth is no longer sustainable, the CCP needs a new slogan to divert people’s attention. The “harmonious society” is therefore making a detour to become a “happy” society.

It started with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) speech at this year’s National People’s Congress defining the party’s goal to make prosperity more “balanced.” The media and propaganda channels took it from there and started a happiness campaign.

As Keith Richburg reported from Beijing in the Washington Post: “On the May Day holiday in Beijing 17 giant screens and thousands of small televisions on buses and subways and in office buildings showed ‘happy testimonials’ from workers.”

“Beijing Television ran a series of short films called ‘Happy Blossoms’ documenting the apparently contented lives of teachers, factory workers and others,” he wrote.

Not to be left behind, the local and regional governments are said to be “drawing up happiness indexes and competing with one another for the title of ‘China’s happiest city.’”

In other words, “to get rich is glorious” is becoming outdated (at least for the aspirational class, as they cannot reach there), and replaced by “happiness.” And the happiest people apparently are low-paid teachers, factory workers and the like.

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