Identity and Behaviour
CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Minglu Chen and David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 1: Sociopolitical attitudes of the middle class and the implications for political transition
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, a social group with higher income, higher education and higher occupational prestige than the majority of the largely rural Chinese population has been emerging in Chinese cities. The media refers to this group as the ‘middle class’. Even though the definition of the middle class is disputed, there is no doubt that it exists in China and that it is expanding quickly (Li, Chunling, 2010). The middle class is gaining attention from the public, the business sector and from policy-makers alike, as well as from sociologists, economists and political scientists. Sociologists in particular have devoted attention to this group, focusing on its sociopolitical functions. Chinese sociologists are debating questions such as: What are the sociopolitical consequences of the emergence of the middle class? Is the middle class a stable or unstable influence with respect to existing authority? Will the middle class promote a democratic transition or preserve the existing political order? Social analysts give two opposing answers to these questions. Some argue that the middle class is a social force that promotes democracy and hence constitutes a destabilizing force for the government. They expect the government will take careful measures to control this group. But others consider the middle class to be a stabilizing force that supports the existing political and social order. Hence, they advise the government to act to enlarge it. This chapter attempts to adjudicate between these contrasting perspectives by examining public opinion data on the socio- political attitudes of the Chinese middle class.
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