Middle Class China
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Middle Class China

Identity and Behaviour

Edited by Minglu Chen and David S.G. Goodman

A general expectation has developed that China’s middle class will generate not only social but also political change. This expectation often overlooks the reality that there is no single Chinese middle class with a common identity or will to action. This timely volume examines the behaviour and identity of the different elements of China’s middle class – entrepreneurs, managers, and professionals – in order to understand their centrality to the wider processes of social and political change in China.
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Chapter 5: The socioeconomic status, co-optation and political conservatism of the educated middleclass: a case study of university teachers

Identity and Behaviour

Beibei Tang and Jonathan Unger


In the literature on democratization, the rise of a large middle class is often seen as a prerequisite for the development of civil society and a well-functioning democracy (for example, Moore, 1966; Lipset, 1981). In East Asia, the cases of Taiwan and South Korea have often been cited as examples (Chou and Nathan, 1987; Cheng, 1989; Huntington, 1991; Koo, 1991; Shin, 1994). But China is a counter-example. China is ruled by an authoritarian regime that maintains its rule not so much through blatant force but rather through the legitimacy it enjoys. In particular, the influential urban educated middle class in China has little liking for democracy, as will be seen in these pages. It has been co-opted, and serves as a base of support for the current leadership of China. Contrary to the political science hypothesis that the growth of an educated middle class leads to democratization, China’s middle class backs the status quo. A couple of decades ago, it was argued that one of the salient factors undermining the prospects for Chinese democratization was that its educated middle class was relatively small. But it has grown very rapidly since then, spurred by a very rapid expansion of university and post- graduate education and by the priority placed on expertise by the government and by business. In the major cities of China today, the social influence of the educated middle class is pervasive. Their numbers are large enough that they set the tone and tastes of respectable urban society.

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