Government vs. Middle Class: Understanding the Middle Class’ Political Actions in China and the United States
With China’s recent ascension as a powerhouse on the economic world stage, the social structure of its 1.3 billion people is also changing to reflect this forward momentum. Chinese consumption in the realms of material goods, housing and education has experienced unprecedented growth, an essential characteristic of what many would define as the “middle class” in terms of income level and social statures. This new phenomenon in a supposedly class-less Communist regime is an enigma within itself. This enigma however has presented the Chinese Communist Party with a problem that it did not foresee: How to embrace this new class of intellects, entrepreneurs, and engineers that is single-handedly driving this economic rebirth after denouncing the same practices of the bourgeois middle-class for more than half a century. Years of economic boom have supplied this new social bloc of people with an enormous amount of political, social, and monetary capital, and many Western and Eastern scholars are curious as to whether or not “China’s middle class will become a catalyst for political democratization and social transformation in China” (Xin 2013:3). Currently however, China’s middle class has not followed the trajectory of the modernization theory towards democracy as many modernization theorists believed due to bias associated with the past. The Chinese middle class is highly dependent on the government for much of its economic prosperity and elitist status. This is in stark contrast with the reversal of roles between the American middle class and its subsequent politicization by the government. Modernization Theory
The modernization theory seeks to determine the trajectory of social changes as a country undergoes the transition from “traditional” society to “modern in terms of its economic, political and social advancements. The basic principles of the theory are derived from the Idea of Progress, which first emerged during the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, and the notion that people are capable of developing and transforming their own societies. Economically, modernization brings a “rapid advancement of science and technology, whose achievements are substantively transformed into a more productive and efficient labor forces” (Fungjun 2009:8). Production is altered to better fit the mass demand with the modes of production becoming continuous and standardized. Politically, the modernization theory conjectures that “centralized bureaucratic systems and political powers in many countries see a highly visible change,” and their political systems become more open, leading to an increase in democratic consciousness among the people” (Fungjun 2009:8). This transformative society becomes more aware of the events happening around them, making it more difficult for the authoritarian regime to rein (Tang 2011:1). Socially, society becomes more stratified into classes with population concentrating in cities with a high rate of rural to urban flow. People become more and more defined by their occupation and achievements with a high yearning for success. This new categorization of people into high, middle, and lower classes exposes the inequality that exists and subsequently galvanizes the “have-nots” against the “haves.” This galvanization is often initiated by people in the middle class, people with enough knowledge of what is happening around them and the resources to initiate the change. China has followed this model with distinct variations of its own, but it is the political modernization that has people perplexed. China’s Modernization and Middle Class
China’s age of economic prosperity came at end of the Collectivism Era with the rushing in of Deng Xiao Ping’s post-1978 economic policy of reform and opening after Mao’s death. Under Mao’s policy of equalization through agrarian...
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