Are China’s social ills from four decades of rapid economic growth approaching a tipping point?

Author:Karen Yeung, Celia ChenSource:South China Morning Post


China’s left-behind children may suffer psychological problems including juvenile delinquency. Photo: Alamy

China’s economic and technological growth over the past 40 years has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but the rapid development to become the world’s second largest economy has also created new problems in society, which analysts warn may now be reaching dangerous levels.

Emerging social issues from urbanisation, if they remained unresolved, could threaten the stability of society as the country aims to increase its urbanisation rate from the current 59 per cent to 70 per cent by 2030, implicating another few hundred million people, analysts said.

The rising stakes come as the Chinese economy is growing at its slowest pace in nearly three decades. It is facing uncertainties from the prolonged trade war with the United States and domestic structural problems that are biting into people’s incomes and employment.

Social stability is the foremost priority for Chinese leaders, and a measure of the government’s capability in the eyes of the people. President Xi Jinping said that in 2019 China should strengthen its ability to prevent and defuse any major risks to ensure sustained and healthy economic development and social stability. More efforts should be made in areas including employment, education, social security, medicine, and health care to continuously enhance people’s sense of fulfilment, happiness and security, Xi said.

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The Beijing International Institute of Urban Construction in April identified nine factors, including the forced relocation of citizens, conflict between residents and migrants in major cities, adequate medical treatment, and environmental pollution that could spark social unrest.

Wang Chao, professor of management at Peking University’s National Development Research Institute, pointed out that as the consequences of social issues had become increasingly apparent due to China’s economic development, they had also created consumer demand, particularly for services in the education and health sectors, as well as calls for policy reforms to address the problems.


Photos showing smiling faces of Chinese people displayed previously at an exhibition in Beijing to highlight Communist Party achievements. Photo: Simon Song

One issue of constant risk to Chinese society comes from the developmental and emotional damage inflicted on a generation of children who remain in rural areas while their parents have left for the large number of jobs that rapid urbanisation has created for migrant workers.

The poor quality of infrastructure and parental support have led to these children suffering from a host of psychological problems relating to education, social relationships and even juvenile delinquency. It is estimated that there are about 70 million children living away from at least one parent in China.

Although it is difficult to quantify the economic costs of such issues, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court said in a 2017 report that more than 57 per cent of young offenders from the 245 juvenile criminal cases heard between 2009 and June 2017 were children of migrant workers.

“Tremendous and strategic efforts” will be needed for China to shift from a focus on high-speed development to high-quality, sustainable growth, said Angela Bai, secretary general of the China Alliance of Social Value Investment.

“This is something China has to do, as we move towards high-quality [gross domestic product] growth. China is playing catch up [globally]. We need lots of collective efforts and synergy for that … because it means we could lose the future.”

That collective effort has gradually surfaced in the private sector, which could complement efforts from the government.

A number of start-up businesses, investors, and non-governmental organisations had started to jointly tackle the issues, aiming to turn them into sustainable, commercial opportunities – especially in the education and health sectors – and at the same time raise public awareness, Bai said.


Beijing issued the Healthy China Initiative guideline, focusing on disease prevention, chronic disease management and high-quality treatment, this month. Photo: Xinhua

For example, Kang Yu, founder of not-for-profit organisation Shi Guang, designs poetry courses that can be easily adopted by minimally qualified teachers for children in the rural and poorer regions. Kang’s online courses have reached 56,000 children in 609 schools across 21 Chinese provinces including Guangdong in the south, western Xinjiang and Southwestern Yunnan. She aims to increase the number of children the programme reaches ninefold by 2021.

“There is greater meaning about teaching poems because it can solve the needs of children from the mountainous areas, giving them some spiritual companionship by allowing them to express their emotions, where such channels are lacking for them,” Kang said.

Another start-up, Renrenzhuang Technology, aims to target the elderly health care sector. The firm provides smart devices, including electronic medicine boxes and alert watches, and operates a cloud platform for data.

Founder Zeng Jingqiang said the health care technology sector was in the early stages of development as most service operators were more focused on building and running nursing homes.

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“Serving the elderly is a next big thing in the tech industry in China and it is attracting a flow of capital and resources as well as participants,” he said. “We can provide hardware devices and software support to equip the nursing homes with hi-tech.”

Wang from Peking University also stressed the importance of helping these start-ups, as every contribution to address these societal problems counts. The start-ups are typically focused on solving social issues but lack business planning and commercial experience, and so need help generating and sustaining revenue to keep operating.

“China is in a transitional stage that is causing new problems for its society. This is starting to become really serious,” said Wang. “So far, we haven’t had any real successful or sophisticated plans addressing China’s underlying social issues.”

(This article is original from SCMP and repost by CASVI)

Link: South China Morning Post_Are China’s social ills from four decades of rapid economic growth approaching a tipping point?

Article classification: Media Features 媒体曝光

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