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Lu Xueyi, Li Peilin, Chen Guangjin (eds.), 2013 nian Zhongguo shehui xingshi fenxi yu yuce (Analyses and projections for Chinese society in 2013)

Beijing, Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2012, 333 pp.
Aurélien Boucher
Translated by N. Jayaram
p. 94-95

Full text

1This volume is part of a “blue book” (lanpishu) collection. With 19 others published in 2013 – on subjects as diverse as education, the economy, and special economic zones – it must be seen as an official “report” (baogao), meant to make a first assessment of national and/or local public policies. Published since 1993, the blue book on “analyses and projections for Chinese society” is mostly the work of scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). It is one of the missions of the academy, whose role consists of standing alongside the government in the “reform” process. Since early in the last decade, studies compiled by CASS have focused on issues such as the development of a welfare state (health care system, retirement pension, and unemployment insurance), jobs, social mobility, labour relations, and the evolution of rural societies.

2In terms of the themes dealt with, the 2013 edition makes no break with previous ones. It is part of a movement that began in 2009 calling greater attention to university graduates’ professional integration, Internet usage, and food and environmental safety. Five of the 26 articles in the 2013 edition deal with these subjects while the others take up traditional themes. The only notable change is that for the first time, the book has no article specifically devoted to the issue of corruption (fubai).

3On the whole, the writing follows the highly restrained style of previous editions. The authors avoid going into generalities and linking the construction of categories of analyses. They also take little notice of criticisms made by social agents toward Party leaders. Even the article by Zhu Huaxin, Liu Peifeng, and Shan Xuegang on the expression of public opinion on the Internet – discussing among other things the way citizens see national and local officials – is restrained (pp. 193-212). Apart from a passage of ten lines or so addressing comments on corruption and officials’ lifestyles, the authors prefer to tackle this sensitive topic through occasional references to “incidents” (such as torrential rains in Beijing that led to the mayor’s exit, and the “Wang Lijun/Bo Xilai affair”). Authors’ criticisms come through implicitly in the overly politically correct idea that “the Internet represents (for the government) a means of adjusting its relationship with society and pacifying social challenges” (p. 211).

4Whatever the subject, all authors adopt the same strategy. It is as if they had necessarily to stress the presence of “solutions” to “social contradictions” (shehui maodun). In their defence, the authors had little elbow room. They were given guidance reminding them that they were not free to pass judgment (panduan) and that they had to stick to facts and figures. Despite this relative homogeneity in conveying expert opinions to the state, the work remains instructive if one ignores some articles and reads between the lines. Indeed, some articles clearly stand out with their wealth of information and depth of analyses. While an article on migrations by Tian Feng merely describes in words the data contained in the statistical tables and another on agricultural cooperatives is practically devoid of empirical data, Li Chunling’s is a clever one on the problems faced by young university graduates (pp. 164-176).

5In this chapter, the seasoned sociologist accustomed to field studies on social mobility and inequalities in the Chinese education system offers a fine analysis of the way university graduates see politics through their integration into the job market, itself correlated to household resources. It is based on a longitudinal survey of a cohort of 6,000 students who entered universities after 2003, half of them in prestigious institutes of higher learning (six of the 12 institutions belong to the 985 Project – involving the best funded institutions such as Tsinghua University or Peking University). Although no interviews are used, the study does rely on qualitative materials as well.

6Li Chunling notes at the outset that Chinese students have little faith in the future. A mere 26.6% of those polled thought, before graduating, that they would face no difficulty in finding jobs. According to Li, this apprehension explains the importance they attach to joining the Party and to the frenetic acquisition of all sorts of qualifications and degrees (languages or accounting, for instance). No question of joining the Party to serve the nation … The figures and the tone Li employs on the employment situation are equally alarmist. Three years after the end of their studies and after receiving their degrees in 2007, some 10% of the graduates remain unemployed (p. 167). This is similar to the proportion of unemployed French graduates at times of low growth (Bref CEREQ No. 283 March 2011, “Le diplôme: un atout gagnant des jeunes face à la crise” [Degrees: A winning formula for youth during economic crisis], p. 2).

7Furthermore, a third of new entrants to the job market admit to pursuing vocations “with no link to their university study.” In the case of medical students, that proportion reaches five-sixths (p. 169). It is therefore understandable that half of the graduates declare they are “not satisfied with their professional integration.”  Li notes that this dissatisfaction is not only due to the lack of suitable jobs. It is anchored in experiences in the job market where social competition is skewed heavily in favour of those who enjoy “back-door entry.” Citing indigenous expressions such as “having connections” and “backed by family links,” the author airs the anger that rumbles on the Internet. In line with Lian Si’s work on “ant tribes” (yizu), Li highlights the rise of a new politically risky class, stressing that “the graduates who earn paltry amounts and whose work and living conditions are far from stable are also the ones who comment the most on political matters.” She also notes that those left behind in social competition are the ones who earn the least and admire Western societies the most. Analysing their political participation through Internet use, she clearly brings out that students “disinclined towards political education work while in school” regard the “Western democracy model” (xifang shi minzhu zhidu) as a reference point, even though they acknowledge that given “China’s development level and (low) quality of the people” it cannot be envisaged in the near term (p. 173).

8This article thus comes across as a true warning to the new leadership team. It is all the more valuable as it is part of a new generation of studies that gives prime place to one’s relation with politics. It would be desirable for Chinese scholars to keep on this path; why not come up, in a year from now, with some studies on how Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” has been received? In this regard, the recent death of Lu Xueyi – former director of the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and founding father of the blue books on transformations and perspectives on Chinese society – introduces incertitude as regards the continuation of a project that is already much less bold than initially. The charisma and political capital of “Lao Lu” helped open doors for academic publications. There is no guarantee, therefore, that future publications will not amount to a mere avalanche of figures rather than focusing on as yet untouched sensitive issues such as the condition of ethnic minorities, religion, and social movements.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Aurélien Boucher, « Lu Xueyi, Li Peilin, Chen Guangjin (eds.), 2013 nian Zhongguo shehui xingshi fenxi yu yuce (Analyses and projections for Chinese society in 2013) », China Perspectives, 2013/3 | 2013, 94-95.

Electronic reference

Aurélien Boucher, « Lu Xueyi, Li Peilin, Chen Guangjin (eds.), 2013 nian Zhongguo shehui xingshi fenxi yu yuce (Analyses and projections for Chinese society in 2013) », China Perspectives [Online], 2013/3 | 2013, Online since 01 September 2013, connection on 28 July 2017. URL : http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/6295

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About the author

Aurélien Boucher

Aurélien Boucher holds a PhD student from Nantes University, where he is affiliated with the Nantes Centre of Sociology (CENS-EA3260) and project coordinator at the Tsinghua University Sino-French Studies Centre (ouhaiyang@gmail.com).

By this author

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