by MAO Yushi, Honorary President, Unirule Institute of Economics
Translated by MA Junjie, Researcher, Unirule Institute of Economics
China’s reform has achieved much so far. It started with Deng Xiaoping correcting the mistakes of the past, and the shift from class struggles to economic development. China’s image has been greatly changed after over 30 years’ economic construction. There is barely any resemblance between China’s past and its present. It has really become a “New China”.
It is fair to say that China has fulfilled Deng Xiaoping’s shift of goals. However, is there any other goal besides economic construction? It is a question of grave significance. This question concerns all operations of the Chinese people.
Deng’s roadmap of economic construction has neared completion. China has developed rapidly from its past. Before the reform and opening-up, the tallest building in Beijing was the 18-storey Beijing Restaurant, and now there are more than 500 buildings with a story height above twenty floors. There were only two bridges over the Changjiang River, and by the end of last year, there have been 65 bridges. There were barely any highways, and now, China has built over 110,000 kilometres of highways. Overall, China has achieved a lot in terms of economic construction.
What is odd is that although China has made huge progress in construction and wealth creation, the Chinese people feel more and more discontent with their lives. Discontent towards the society and conflicts between people and the government grow everywhere in China. This indicates that the efforts by the government were not made to fulfil the right goals. The issue here is not a matter of construction, but a matter of concern over citizens’ happiness. Therefore, it is necessary for the government to shift its focus from economic construction to the citizens’ happiness.
How to increase people’s happiness, then? To study this issue, many scholars have tried various quantifiable methods to measure happiness by wealth. From the perspective of wealth distribution, the conclusion they normally come to is that unequal distribution of wealth leads to unhappiness. However, this method is controversial.
Apparently, happiness has something to do with material wealth. Nevertheless, there is more to happiness than material wealth, and physical possessions are not even the most important factor to happiness, since they are only the visible part of happiness. Happiness is a feeling, and it is invisible. Due to this very reason, it is very difficult to study happiness. Scholars’ answers to this issue are, therefore, differing.
We might as well consider this issue from the opposite side, and ask what impedes happiness? Instead of pursuing happiness, we might as well eradicate the factors that impede happiness.
According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, security is a fundamental need without which other needs are out of the question. In this regard, security is still an unresolved issue in the Chinese society. For the moment, security is at issue for different groups of people. The haves feel insecure with their life and property, and they are migrating to more secure countries; the have-nots are not able to defend themselves other than with violence when their safety is compromised, which leads to mass incidents. These two social phenomena are unique in China, which clearly highlights that the Chinese society is not safe. In order to make the Chinese people feel safe, more needs to be done to improve the security of the Chinese people’s lives and property. [Page]
How to guarantee the safety of people’s lives and property? We rely on the police, i.e., the public security authority, to guard us against thieves and robbers. Moreover, we should rely on laws, especially the constitution, to defend our life and property against the abuse of power by the government. However, it is in this regard that China needs to take more efforts. The privileged class abuse their power without being punished by law, which is commonly seen in China. For example, Mr. BO Xilai was a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China with many privileges, and his wife committed a felony of murdering a foreigner. This crime was covered up for several months and the final disclosure of this case was not by China’s own procuratorate or police, but by the interference of the US. It can be seen that even foreigners with special identity lack a sense of security in China, let alone common Chinese citizens.
Therefore, after the country has achieved tremendous progress in economic terms, the citizens’ security should be a priority for the government. The key to solving this issue is rule of law and constitutionalism. To our pity, the publicly campaigned goal of the government is still a well-off society, a goal of material wealth, instead of security. It is fair that having a well-off life out of poverty was a priority when the basic need of food and clothing was at issue. However, those who are in extreme poverty now are very few, while the majority of the population is the middle class who cares more about security rather than wealth or income. Therefore, it is time for the Chinese society to strive for security instead of generating more wealth.