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Top five problems for the average Chinese   

2012-04-03 10:38:14|  分类: English |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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A friend recently asked about the top five problems in China from the perspective of an average Chinese. And here are a few that I listed as an average Chinese, thinking aloud mainly:

1. Geographic mobility:  China has a rigid residency system called "hukou" which is tied to many things, such as housing,  employment, schooling and social benefits. In the past you had to work where your "hukou" was. Though there is increasing flexibility now (you can work in another place with a temporary "hukou"), the system still restricts people from living and working wherever they want.  Hukou causes an artificial divide among people, which has deep socioeconomical, psychological and political implications.    An overhaul is long overdue, but politicians do not have the guts to fix it for fear that such massive changes will cause things to go out of control. People capable of speaking for change are shortsighted, unwilling to give up what they consider to be advantages they have inherited or "earned", and underestimating the perils of living in a society artificially divided.

Migrant worker phenomenon is a result of such a system.   People who migrate to another city fulfill some job needs, but they do not identify with the city, and that may cause all types of problems. Divide into urban and rural hukou also raises concerns of social equality and systematic prejudice within the nation.

2. Education, especially children's education (K12).   There is a dual anxiety among parents:  dismayed that their child is not learning what he or she is supposed to learn as a developing person, while being fearful of allowing the child to lack behind in the rat race, insane as it is. Though Americans sometimes look to China for experience and expertise in advancing STEM subjects, most Chinese would dismiss such praises. What is the use of excelling in the exams earned with extra effort and training, if schools do not guide students to develop sustainable competencies to face the future?

Higher education is also broken. Programs are measured in terms of "research". Only the young and less experienced faculty do the hard work of teaching. "Research" becomes like the "Great Leap Forward" in the 50s and 60s, creating an illusion of being productive, when most products are shoddy.   In the meantime, students do not get the quality education they paid for.  

Due to the lack of a better educational model, people do not grow up learning to think for themselves and pursue their dreams, as the Chinese educational system is heavily based on norm-referenced tests which you have to excel to beat competitors.   Schools graduate excellent test-takers, but not as many independent thinkers, qualified researchers, responsible citizens, and so on.   

3. Housing:  The price of housing is prohibitively high for young workers.  Young people choose to stay in bigger cities because they think that's where the opportunities are (once again, this ties back to the hukou issue, which causes disparity in resource allocation), so cities like Shanghai and Beijing have soaring housing prices.

4. Healthcare:  The system is problematic in all sorts of ways.  For instance, doctors are poorly paid and some resort to corrupted practices (such as accepting kickbacks and bribes).  Insurance sometimes does not cover critical illnesses that require expensive treatments. A major illness can reduce a family's living standards to ground zero.   People always talk about what "developed countries" are doing, unfortunately America is not much of an example either at this moment.

5.  Pride:  One sad thing that I observed is that many Chinese have lost the pride of belonging to China, which is rather unusual in Chinese history.    Social mobility was seen by some as having deteriorated. There is a sense that the second generations of the poor will stay poor because children of the rich and the powerful has too much of a head start.

The wealth China has accumulated does not have anything to do with the average guy on the street.   The government may spend billions pleasing an European government, but poor kids in the countryside still depend on the good will of charity givers to have a decent schoolhouse.   The average Chinese feel disconnected to the rhetorics the government is promoting on TV.  Except the powerful and the rich, few people have anything to do with the "emerging superpower" construct western media promotes.  

There is much anxiety about the future of the country, developing like this, allowing money to run over every other principle a civil society needs to function.   This is best illustrated by the case of 18 people passing by as a little girl lie on a street dying after a traffic accident last year.  

However, I believe that the pride is still dormant.   Despair and helplessness have dampened everything for the moment.    
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