Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Neo-liberalization and The Restoration of Class Power

The argument placed by David Harvey on the process of neo-liberalization as a restoration of class power couldn’t be more true now than ever. The “Occupy Wall Street” protests in the United States and its subsequent spread to other neoliberal states provides a stamp of approval on Harvey’s argument. Though we did not see the similar protests in China, it may be absolutely wrong to assume the absence of class power.

At present, though China may have one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, it has also become one of the most unequal societies. Urban incomes that averaged just $80 a year in 1985 soared to over $1000 in 2004, while rural incomes rose from around $50 to around $300 in the same period (Harvey, 2005). The differences in incomes over the years provide a good indication on the rapid increase of gap between the rich and the poor. Moreover, the residential permit system ossified the increasing income gap between the urban and the rural. According to the World Bank, as of 2005, the rate at which China’s income gap increased over the last two decades was the fastest in the world (Fan, 2006).

In addition to urban vs. rural, there are income gaps between Eastern China and Western China, and Northern China and Coastal China. The prime indicators of income gaps between Eastern China and Western China may be the race and political instability. The majority Han Chinese generally settled in the Eastern China while ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, Mongolians, and Uighurs (to some extent) generally settled in the Western China.  Moreover, these minorities have incessantly raised their voices against the Chinese government for justice, freedom, and the rule of law. Because of the different race and political instability, businesses and corporations were often reluctant to start business in the Western China.

Though the neo-liberalization of China propelled many Chinese women to unimaginable corporate and government positions, it also brought the sex industry, largely in urban cities. In 2008, Shen studied the transnational intimacy between Taiwanese businessmen/employees and sex workers in Chinese Economic Zones. Though her study interviewed only Taiwanese businessmen/employees, it did help to provide a portrait of Chinese women who were supposedly working in Karaoke bars to entertain the sexual need of these transnational businessmen/employees. Based on her study, a conclusion may be drawn that Deng’s economic reforms in China brought not only wealth and power, but also social problems such as the sex industry and income inequalities.

Despite China’s eleventh and twelfth five-year plans focus on closing the widening gaps between rich and poor, it may not succeed until and unless China takes bold initiatives on reforming its domestic policies such as the residential permit system, taxes on peasants, and its economic policies including the land acquisitions, workers’ right, and subsidies on businesses. If China fails to react soon, the “Occupy Wall Street” protests may soon spiral into Shanghai, Beijing, and other parts of the country.

Neoliberalism as the ruling order in China?

With the collapse of Keynesian market and employment theory during the economic recession of 1970s, economists proposed a new free market theory with emphasis on privatization and deregulation. Though they did not call it neoliberalism, it did give the start that also earned the Washington Consensus.  One of the big changes that came along with neoliberalism was: neoliberalists tend to favor governance by experts and elites while pushing aside the role of government (Harvey, 2005).

With Washington Consensus, neoliberalism received the much-needed support from the economic giant and superpower of the world. Subsequently, changes were made in the laws and regulations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. What does that means – there was no alternative for underdeveloped and third world countries to receive monetary assistance such as loan from these two organizations unless they adhere to the theory of free market, deregulation, and privatization. Thus, neoliberalism as the ruling order was imposed upon by the ruling elites of the world. In 1980s, poor China was no exception.

With neoliberalism as the ruling order, it not only affected the economic realm but also the social and cultural sphere of the Chinese people.  Chinese, particularly youth, started to take interest in Western music, movies, lifestyles, clothing, cultures, and most importantly, ideologies. As Dr. Ning from Shanghai University posited, Chinese youths consider traditional culture as “not cool”. However, Chinese government use the popular culture to press its legitimacy on the people of China.

In the early 1950s and 1960s, Mao used the media to depict the happy China with pictures of happy peasants on huge billboards. Now, with the improved and accessible technologies, Chinese government takes interest in the popular cultures by means of controlling what Chinese should and should not watch, read, or hear. For instance, many movies on China were banned in China; sometimes with the fear of creating instability. However, whether Chinese people had their consensus built on the neo-liberalist reform may be complicated question to answer. Right now, with checks on popular culture, it may seem there are consensus of Chinese people on the neo-liberalist reform because many Chinese only see the opportunity provided by the economic growth of the country.

The check on popular culture may not reap the benefits Chinese government intends to in the long run. For instance, when the Jasmine revolution erupted in the Middle East, many Chinese dissident used social networking sites to show their support via simple gestures such as a picture of the Jasmine flower. Some Chinese even anonymously shouted on the social networking sites to organize similar revolution in China. They did organize in Shanghai but the People Liberation Army quickly controlled the group with arrests. Finally, the popular culture is sometimes defined by public figure such as Ai Wei Wei, one of the designers for Beijing Olympic Bird Nest stadium. His recent arrest (and release) may have triggered dissatisfaction among proponents of popular culture such as art, dance, and music, among others.