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Chinese society improving under CPC leadership

ZHANG WENHONG | 2021-07-22 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Consumers buy pork at a supermarket in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province. Photo: CFP

Since its founding in 1921, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has made seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation its aspiration and mission, advancing social development and transformation. Based on its deep understanding of the principal contradiction facing Chinese society, the CPC constantly adjusts policies and guidelines concerning social revolution and construction, thus profoundly altering the direction and course of China’s social development and fundamentally changing the future and destiny of the Chinese people and nation. 
Evolving social contradiction
CPC’s first leadership, with Comrade Mao Zedong at the core, recognized through in-depth social investigations and revolutionary practices that Chinese society at that time was a semi-colonial and semi-feudal one, and the contradictions between imperialism and the Chinese nation, and between feudalism and the masses were prominent. Farmers, landlords, workers, and capitalists were the four major social classes, and the broadest united front was built, led by the working class, and based on the alliance of workers and farmers. 
Through 28 years of arduous fights and struggles, the CPC overthrew the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism, achieving great victory in the New Democratic Revolution. 
After New China was founded, the CPC led the Chinese people to abolish long-standing feudal exploitation and oppression systems through land reforms and socialist reconstructions, and established the basic socialist system. By continuously resolving the principal contradiction between advanced socialist systems and lagging social production, the CPC realized the most extensive and profound social transformation in the history of the Chinese nation, laying an institutional foundation for China to shake off poverty, become strong, and prosper. 
From 1978 to 2012, the CPC united and led the Chinese people to recognize in a timely manner that the principal contradiction facing Chinese society had evolved to one between people’s ever-growing material and cultural needs and outdated social production. By pushing ahead with the social reform from a highly centralized planned economy to a vibrant market economy, it effected another radical change in Chinese society. 
Since 2013, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core deeply realized that the principal social contradiction has changed into that between people’s ever-growing needs for a better life and unbalanced and inadequate development, leading the Chinese people to a new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics and realizing the first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
Rising incomes 
Since the founding of the PRC, particularly since the reform and opening up, China’s social structure has continuously improved under the centralized, unified CPC leadership, due to a series of institutional innovations, with remarkable results achieved in the following five aspects of social transformation. 
The first achievement is manifested through the eradication of absolute poverty, rising residents’ incomes, and expanding middle-income groups. Since 1949, especially 1978, the CPC united and led the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to declare war against poverty, and implement a slew of mid-term and long-term poverty alleviation plans. As a result, a total of more than 950 million rural people in absolute poverty have overcome poverty, ranking China first in the world regarding poverty reduction levels, contributing more than 70% to global poverty reduction, and creating a Chinese miracle in the world history of poverty reduction. 
Particularly since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Party leadership with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core has prioritized poverty alleviation and development in state governance and carried out various targeted poverty alleviation strategies. From late 2012 to late 2019, 93.48 million people were lifted out of poverty, with an average of more than 10 million people eliminating poverty each year. 
Moreover, urban residents’ per capita disposable incomes increased from 99.5 yuan in 1949, 343 yuan in 1978 to 1,701 yuan in 1991, 6,256 yuan in 2000, and 43,834 in 2020, while that of rural residents rose from 44 yuan in 1949, 134 yuan in 1978 to 709 yuan in 1991, 2,282 yuan in 2000, and 17,131 in 2020. 
The average residents’ per capita disposable income across the nation jumped from 49.7 yuan in 1949, 171 yuan in 1978, to 32,189 yuan in 2020. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, which defined the middle-income group as those with an annual household income of 100,000 to 500,000 yuan, the share of middle-income groups in the total population has grown steadily in the last decade, from nearly 13% in 2011 to approaching 30% in 2019, involving more than 400 million people. 
Increasing urbanization rate
Since 1949, China has urbanized at a steady rate with industrialization, modernization, and marketization. The urbanization rate increased from 10.64% in 1949, 18.96% in 1979, to 26.41% in 1990, 52.57% in 2012, and 63.88% in 2020. 
Since the late 1970s, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council unveiled a series of reforms to the household registration, or hukou, system alongside policies to encourage farmers and temporary workers to migrate to cities. In 2016, the General Office of the State Council launched a program to help about 100 million people nationwide without urban registrations to settle in towns and cities by 2020. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016–2020), on average about 13 million people were registered as urban hukou holders annually. 
Based on the general law of urbanization for developed countries, China’s urbanization rate is set to continue growing rapidly. Under the people-centered new urbanization strategy, an “urban China” is in the making to replace the historically established “rural China.”
Improving occupational structure
The allocation of labor forces in contemporary China’s employment structure has broken away from the natural economy (which it followed before the PRC’s founding), the planned economy prior to reform and opening up, and is now subject to the market economy. The bulk of the working population has shifted from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors, and from the tertiary to the secondary industry. 
In 1952, employees in the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors accounted for 83.5%, 7.4%, and 9.1%, respectively, while the figures for 1978 were 70.5%, 17.3%, and 12.2%, and those for 2020 were 23.6%, 28.7%, and 47.7%.
The last four decades saw workers in the primary industry dropping drastically, while those in the secondary industry increased steadily, and employees of the tertiary sector multiplied. The correlated change in employment structure has provided most Chinese laborers, particularly low- and middle-income workers, with opportunities and space for upward mobility.  
Due to the deepening of reform and opening up, China has realized the dual transformation of modernization and marketization. During this process, high-speed economic growth and institutional innovation resulted in major adjustments to the industrial structure, as well as notable changes to the occupational structure. 
Overall, there was a steep rise in the number of jobs. Separately, low-skilled or blue-collar occupations were enriched slowly, while increases in high-tech or white-collar professions accelerated. New social strata and groups comprised of managers and technicians from privately-run or foreign-funded enterprises, agents, freelancers, and individual businesses have emerged as an important force of China’s economic and social development. 
Rationalized consumption pattern 
Since reform and opening up, Chinese residents’ consumption focus has shifted from survival and subsistence, to moderate prosperity and affluence. The force driving consumption pattern changes has evolved substantively, with consumption’s functions diversifying and its roles strengthening. The Engel coefficient of urban residents fell from 57.5% in 1978 to 36.3% in 2007, arriving at the level of relative affluence, whereas that of rural residents decreased from 67.7% to 43.1%, realizing moderate prosperity.
Consumer spending nationwide grew 8% annually on average from 2015 to 2020. In 2019, the national Engel coefficient was 28.2%, down 0.2 percentage points from the previous year and marking the eighth consecutive decline. In the consumption structure, the share of spending for basic living materials fell steadily, while development-oriented expenditures for science, education, culture, and health rose consistently, hinting at upgrades in the pattern of consumption. 
Wider room for upward mobility 
According to previous population censuses, the Chinese General Social Survey, Chinese Social Survey, and Chinese Labor Market Survey, social mobility and population migration rates have continued to rise since reform and opening up, hitting a high in 2013. Chinese society has become increasingly open, with more room for social mobility. The migrant population is still active, as the share of rural-to-urban flows goes further up, and migration from urban to urban areas increases significantly. 
Compared with 2010, the migrant population reached 376 million in 2020, up 155 million in a decade. Currently, internal migrants account for one fourth of the total Chinese population, which indicates that the population flow remained vigorous from 2010 to 2020. The fifth, sixth, and seventh censuses show that rural-to-urban flows accounted for 52.2%, 63.2%, and 66.3% of the migrant population in 2000, 2010, and 2020, respectively, so people moving from rural to urban areas were the key driving force of population flows. 
Industrialization, urbanization, and the popularization of higher education will inevitably bring opportunities for upward mobility, which is the general social mobility trend in industrialized countries. China is unique in that its industrialization drive is accompanied by reforms to economic and political systems. Its social structure will gradually evolve into an olive shape, with the intermediate strata, or middle-income groups, playing the dominant role. 
We can optimistically expect increased urbanization rates, optimized occupational structures, expanded middle-income groups, more reasonable consumption patterns, broader room for upward mobility, and common prosperity by 2035 when socialist modernization is basically realized and by the mid-21st century when China is built into a great modern socialist country. By then, all walks of society will have much deeper trust and confidence in CPC’s long-term rule and much stronger senses of satisfaction, happiness, and gain. 
Zhang Wenhong is a professor and dean of the School of Sociology and Political Science at Shanghai University.