Pew report finds growing worry among Chinese about corruption and income gap

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 16, 2012 

— China’s citizens are increasingly concerned about official corruption and the widening gap between the very rich and nearly everyone else, even as a vast majority say they are better off economically than they were five years ago, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.

The survey’s results, which touch on a wide variety of issues, emphasizes the complexities that the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders face as the country approaches a once-a-decade changeover in leadership next month.

Seventy percent of the survey’s respondents said they were doing better financially than five years ago, the highest rate of all but one out of 21 countries surveyed. But many also indicated resentment at the disparities in wealth and privilege that have accompanied that growth.

Half of those surveyed identified corrupt officials as “a very big problem,” up 11 percent from 2008, and 48 percent said the same about the wealth divide, an increase of seven percent. The jump in worries about food safety, the subject of many recent scandals in China involving alarming details such as recycled ‘gutter oil,’ was larger still – from 12 percent who cited it as a very big problem in 2008 to 41 percent in 2012.

The contrast between such concerns and the nation’s economic gains – the 70 percent here who reportedly said they’re doing better than five years ago dwarfed the 27 percent saying the same in the United States – makes it increasingly difficult to gauge where the nation is headed, and underlines how crucial continued economic growth is for Chinese leaders.

Although 45 percent agreed with the notion that most succeed if they work hard in today’s China, 33 percent said it was not guaranteed, a ratio that may well seem too close for comfort for Beijing.

“While the Chinese have consistently rated their national and personal economic situations positively over the last few years, they are now grappling with the concerns of a modern, increasingly wealthy society,” said the report, which Washington-based Pew derived from data it purchased from an established Chinese research company. The responses were gathered from face-to-face interviews conducted this March and April in three dozen cities, towns and villages across the country.

The report added later: “Roughly eight-in-ten agree with the view that in China the ‘rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ ”

It also, though, listed a statistic that strongly suggested an underlying reason for continued support of the Communist Party here: 92 percent said their standard of living is better than that of their parents at a comparable age.

On global matters, the survey pointed to nuance within souring views of America by Chinese. Those who see the relationship between the two nations as being one of cooperation plummeted from 68 percent in 2010 to 39 percent. And respondents who chose “hostility” to describe the relationship more than tripled from eight percent in 2010 to 26 percent.

But when queried on what was termed “American ideas about democracy,” those who said they liked them had climbed from 48 percent in 2007 to 52 percent in 2012, and those who said they disliked those ideals dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to 29 percent.

It is far from clear what, if any, implications such facts might hold for domestic Chinese politics under the authoritarian Communist Party, though the trend seemed most robust in younger people. The report said that 59 percent of those between 18- and 29-years-old in this survey said they like American ideas about democracy, versus 40 percent for people who are 50 or older.

“Across these various measures of U.S. soft power, there is one constant: richer, younger, more educated, and urban Chinese all express a more positive view of these aspects of America’s image,” said the report.

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