hon­est ques­tion


The World of Chinese - - Tea Loves - - HAN RUBO (韩儒博)

Hap­pi­ness may be “U-shaped,” but a re­cent sur­vey sug­gests that, de­spite their prob­lems, the Chi­nese may be the world’s lead­ing op­ti­mists. In “What Wor­ries the World,” a study by global mar­ket-re­search firm Ip­sos, 87 per­cent of Chi­nese adults said their coun­try was “head­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” while 60 per­cent of cit­i­zens of 25 other sur­veyed coun­tries con­sid­ered theirs on the wane.

West­ern Europe and other high-in­come na­tions—where con­tent­ment is said to de­cline be­tween ages 18 and 40 be­fore ris­ing in the 50s to peak in one’s 60s—all dis­played signs of se­vere pes­simism (apart from Canada), with main wor­ries be­ing un­em­ploy­ment, crime, ter­ror­ism, and poverty. In China, though, less than five per­cent are wor­ried about is­sues like ter­ror­ism or im­mi­gra­tion. The re­sults won’t sur­prise those fa­mil­iar with the Pew Global At­ti­tudes Project, whose sur­vey in 2015—al­though con­ducted be­fore the dis­as­trous stock-mar­ket crash in Au­gust—found that 77 per­cent of Chi­nese felt bet­ter off fi­nan­cially than five years ago, and 96 per­cent con­sid­ered their stan­dard of liv­ing bet­ter than their par­ents at the same age.

The Ip­sos poll is there­fore con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous find­ings. But there were still sig­nif­i­cant omis­sions and find­ings be­yond the happy head­lines.

De­spite a con­stant stream of sto­ries about pyra­mid gangs, loan sharks, and in­vest­ment scams, and a high-pro­file po­lit­i­cal crack­down that only now, af­ter four years, seems to be wind­ing down, China was the only coun­try out of Ip­sos’ list of 25 that did not rate “fi­nan­cial/ po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion” as one of its top three con­cerns (op­ti­mism might also re­flect the pre­rog­a­tives of a one-party state, where politi­cians don’t have to be­lit­tle each other’s achieve­ments to vie for bal­lots, and state me­dia is com­pli­ant).

In fact, Ip­sos showed no data for cor­rup­tion, so­cial in­equal­ity, taxes, or ex­trem­ism in China (a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Ip­sos told TWOC, “We don’t ask those cat­e­gories in China”); in Pew’s 2015 poll, on the other hand, 84 per­cent of re­spon­dents thought cor­rupt of­fi­cials were a big prob­lem (44 though still said very big), down from 54 per­cent in 2014, though still top­ping the list. But Pew also found that 63 per­cent be­lieved cor­rup­tion “would im­prove in the next five years”—more of that Chi­nese op­ti­mism.

Nei­ther poll’s method­ol­ogy is critic-proof, of course: Pew is based on face-to-face in­ter­views with “a na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 3,649 ran­domly se­lected adults” (a con­di­tion that may pro­duce more fa­vor­able re­sponses), while Ip­sos takes its data from on­line sur­veys, which rep­re­sent a self­s­e­lect­ing and “more af­flu­ent, con­nected pop­u­la­tion.”

On one area they seem to agree: Chi­nese so­ci­ety is un­der threat from within. In 2015, 66 per­cent of re­spon­dents said their tra­di­tional way of life was be­ing eroded by, var­i­ously, con­sumerism, com­mer­cial­ism, and for­eign in­flu­ence (Pew). In 2017, Ip­sos re­spon­dents picked “moral de­cline,” (47 per­cent) fol­lowed by “threats to the en­vi­ron­ment” (40) and “un­em­ploy­ment” (31) from a list of 17 top con­cerns, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional wor­ries like ed­u­ca­tion and health care.

Out of the 26 coun­tries, China was most wor­ried about pub­lic moral­ity (Ja­pan, with 27 per­cent, came sec­ond), a sub­ject which didn’t crack any other’s na­tion’s top three con­cerns. This re­flects a reg­u­lar mid­dle-class gripe—a 2014 Peo­ple’s Tri­bune sur­vey listed lack of morals and a “by­stander” at­ti­tude as so­ci­ety’s worst prob­lems. Whether it’s sto­ries about heart­less strangers, or the ubiq­uity of food scan­dals and smallscale rack­ets, there’s an in­nate lack of trust that’s con­sis­tently dog­ging China’s progress.

And this is a com­mon dy­namic in pub­lic opin­ion. When look­ing out­ward, the Chi­nese are stri­dent, even over­con­fi­dent—most think for­eign­ers view their coun­try fa­vor­ably, al­though, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Pew poll, only 44 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally do, up from 37 per­cent last year. Turned in­ward, though, that sun­ni­ness turns to soul-search­ing and even de­spair: Bullish about China, many lack the same con­fi­dence in other Chi­nese.

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