by Xiaoling Zhang.

Before the week-long holiday with the traditional Mid-autumn Festival on the 30th of September and National Day on the 1st of October happening together, the state Central China Television Station (CCTV) put on a program asking people in the street if they are happy.

This program shows the growing confidence of CCTV, one of the main platforms of the Party-state for the guidance of public opinion, following CCTV’s own survey on “economic lifestyles” conducted in 2010, which shows that almost 45 percent of Chinese people are happy. This survey claims to cover 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, 104 cities and 300 counties). However, some answers point directly to the growing gap between the rising middle class and the rural migrant workers laboring away in cities away from home.

A very typical answer came from a rural migrant worker: “don’t ask me; I am only a migrant labourer”. When pressed again if he is happy (你幸福吗?), he replied, “My surname is Zeng (我姓曾)”. While mandarin teachers can use this interaction as an example to show how a pronunciation of one syllable can lead to many different characters and thus different meanings in mandarin Chinese, Mr Zeng obviously feels an outsider to the city he was labouring in, and does not know what the question exactly means. Or simply put, he does not know what happiness means.

As big-engine-car owners of the rising middle class take advantage of the newly introduced “toll-free” highway policy during national holidays, blocking highways and overwhelming tourist sites, the many others relying on public transport swarm to bus or railway stations.

Ningbo South Bus Station during Chinese National Holiday
Photo taken at the South Bus Station in Ningbo around 2:30pm on 30th of September, 2012

 

Ningbo South Bus Station - getting too busy to move
Photo taken at the South Bus Station in Ningbo around 3:00pm on 30th
of September, 2012, minutes before it became impossible to raise an arm to take more photos.

China has urbanized quickly over the last three decades, reducing the population of farmers in the countryside from more than 80% before its economic reform to the current 50% or so. However, the average annual income of urban residents in 2010 was 3.23 times that of their rural counterparts, according to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2005 showed that in the majority of countries around the world, income disparity ratios between urban and rural were lower than 1.6. As China’s figure was more than double, many farmers choose to continue to leave their home town to work in cities. According to Xinhua news agency, 250 million farmers went to cities to work in 2011.

The two banks of the river with not-so-clean water that runs through the campus of Nottingham University Ningbo China also bespeaks the gap during the holiday: the greens on one side of the river were dotted with a few colourful tents providing shade for toddlers and mothers and one red dinghy, while fathers were fishing. On the other side of the river was a rural couple in their late 50s washing some heavy bedding in the dirty water. The answers would be very different if they were approached with the questions “are you happy?” From the 1980s, mass rural-to-urban migration began, and the barriers between urban and rural society have begun to break down. However, they will take many years to disappear.

Dr Xiaoling Zhang is a Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute and an Associate Professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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