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'High Tech, Low Life' in Context

Capitalist Dreams and Social Harmony

In the past few years, China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy and the world’s largest exporter. When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, more than four fifths of the employed population of China worked in agriculture. In 2011, slightly less than 35 percent of the workforce had an agricultural occupation.

The opening of the Chinese economy to the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a drastic transition away from agriculture and toward industry. An influx of foreign investors created soaring demand for labor, and millions were lured out of the underdeveloped, western farmland to work in factory towns in the southern coastal regions. China’s newly liberalized economy boomed, which led to a massive migration to city centers. China’s urban population increased from 18 percent in 1978 to 47 percent in 2010.

As the population continues to urbanize, the gap between rural and urban wages is widening. By 2009, the average urban worker earned 3.36 times as much as his or her rural counterpart. China’s focus on industry often marginalizes rural farmers economically and socially, an issue Tiger Temple highlights in his blogs.

The rise of a dominant and growing middle and upper class has also led to a shift in policy focus and increased emphasis on economic stability as the road to political longevity. However, as journalist and Internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2010, "The Chinese Communist Party fully recognizes that it is no longer possible for a nation to be economically competitive without being connected to the global Internet. Rather than try to restrict connectivity, modern authoritarian governments are working aggressively to use Internet and mobile technologies to their own advantage."

Former president Hu Jintao’s approach to rapid technological progress was to create the "harmonious society" doctrine in 2006 in an attempt to create not just a prosperous society but a socially stable one. The doctrine aimed to narrow the wealth gap and reduce social strife. Hu’s vision for a harmonious society imagines every person comfortable and happy and the Chinese government managing that harmony. While positives from the doctrine included a campaign against corporate corruption, many Chinese citizens see the doctrine as another way for the government to control its citizens. The goal of developing a harmonious society ha often been invoked as a justification for an increase in censorship.

» Central Intelligence Agency. "The World Factbook: China."
» Chen, Shirong. "China Rural-Urban Wage Gap Widens." BBC, January 16, 2009.
» Encyclopedia Britannica. "China."
» Fan, Maureen. "China’s Party Leadership Declares New Priority: ‘Harmonious Society.'" The Washington Post, October 12, 2006.
» French, Howard. "Letter from China: A ‘Harmonious Society’ Hearing Different Notes." The New York Times, January 4, 2008.
» MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Global Internet Freedom and the Rule of Law, Part II." Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, March 2, 2010.
» PBS."China from the Inside."

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