March 1, 2002｜China
Professor, Rikkyo University, College of Law & Politics
An academic report published late last year has been a major focus of discussions, both in China and abroad. This report is the Research Report on Contemporary Social Class, which was compiled principally by the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Until now, it has been said that Chinese society consisted of two classes – workers and farmers – with a higher echelon of intellectual elements. At a time when it was obviously necessary to revise this idea in response to the development of the economy into something more closely resembling a market economy, the report concluded that contemporary Chinese society consists of ten social categories and five social classes. Its conclusions were based on the situation regarding possession of structural resources (political resources), economic resources and cultural resources.
The ten social categories are as follows: state and social managers, upper and middle managers in businesses, private entrepreneurs, technical experts, administrative staff, individual industrialists and businesspeople, tertiary sector employees, industrial workers, agricultural workers, and the unemployed and partially-unemployed. The five social classes are upper class, upper middle class, middle middle class, lower middle class and lower class. Given what one might describe as the common sense of socialist societies, it is most surprising that industrial workers and agricultural workers, who principally carry out physical labour (as well as tertiary sector employees) are classified as lower middle class, placed lower down the hierarchy than private entrepreneurs and managers of businesses.
The political implications of this academic report are clear. In a word, it has set forth the social basis of the Three Representatives political theory, which holds that the Communist Party “must represent the interests of the broadest possible swathe of the population”. The report predicts that the central stratum of society will expand due to the advance of industrialisation, computerisation and urbanisation and that ultimately, this will become the most important and most stable force among all the social classes. Given that entrepreneurs are important and leading stratum in terms of realising a great renaissance among the Chinese people, the Party should expand its political and social base by recognising entrepreneurs’ political and legal constitutional interests, and absorbing advanced elements thereof into the administration.
So, what will happen to the workers and farmers? The report of course outlines the necessity of creating employment opportunities and raising the incomes of farmers. However, the real problem is who will represent their interests in the political process and actually act in their interests.
What is clearly lacking in China’s political system is a mechanism that integrates the interests of farmers and reflects them in the policy process. In Japanese politics, the problem is that farmers have too much political power, but in China it is the opposite. After all, the fact that China can be positive about a free trade agreement while Japan has yet to take the plunge derives from the difference in political power between the farmers of the two countries. For a long time, farmers have been estranged from opportunities to participate in education and politics, and do not have anyone in the current elite who will represent their interests. It may be precisely for this reason that the authors of this report, which was aimed at the elite, had no qualms about placing farmers in almost the lowest category. China’s farmers are alienated politically, economically and culturally. The notion of farming communities as backward and of farmers as uneducated has become fixed in people’s minds. As the situation deteriorates, if channels that reflect their voices in politics are not developed, the options available to downtrodden farmers may well become extremely limited.
[Translated by ERINA]