Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015, 8:14 AM CST – China

Commentary

Urbanization should mean more than relocation

China’s urbanization drive should not only aim to move people into cities, but to germinate a genuinely modern society

Amid all the discussion about China’s reform and urbanization, there are few devoted to the reform of the “connections culture” widespread in both rural and urban society. Without tackling this issue, China cannot build a modern society, and the cities it creates through its push toward urbanization will merely be mega-villages.

In China’s traditional society, one’s survival and prosperity depended entirely upon cultivating relationships with others within a social hierarchy in which patriarchal, religious and economic relations were closely intertwined. In a feudal village, the village chief or chiefs often monopolized political and economic power, distributing social resources through the hierarchy. Those at the bottom received next to nothing.

While actual feudalism may be long gone, its social and cultural legacy still lingers in Chinese society, especially in rural villages and small cities. Nepotism dominates the distribution of social resources, as social mobility is determined, not by merit or hard work, but by simple connections.

This nepotist society has been the cause of various social problems. Corruption is the most egregious - public resources are monopolized by local elites, and are distributed through patriarchal relationships rather than through an open and fair system. The result has been increasing number of petitions to provincial and central authorities, filed by people who have reached the end of their rope in dealings with their local officials.

To address this problem, the authorities should endeavor to establish a merit-based system to allow the market to play a major role in allocating social resources, while minimizing the personal influence of officials in distributing welfare, especially in smaller cities. One approach is to establish a comprehensive professional certification system so that residents can depend on their skills rather than their personal connections to prosper.  

Unfortunately, this issue has been largely ignored in the policymaking process regarding urbanization, which has primarily focused on resettling rural residents in cities. However, without addressing widespread nepotism in these growing urban areas, new residents often find themselves marginalized in the cities as they were in the countryside, essentially subsisting on the whims of their social betters. In recent years, many of the riots that the government terms “mass incidents” have involved frustrated new urban residents.

Another characteristic of China’s urbanization is that the country’s megacities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou appear to attract a large number of rural migrants, increasing demographic pressure despite of rocketing housing prices and a spiraling cost living in these cities. A major reason behind this is that the problem of nepotism is much less severe in these mega cities, where the sheer diversity of the populace makes it harder for social networks to gain a decisive foothold.

In pushing forward urbanization, the leadership has repeatedly called for the development of small cities. But they must look beyond demographic stats and seriously tackle the problem of nepotism.

Without modernizing Chinese society, urbanization will only result in ever-larger villages, and ever-greater social inequality.

Tags:

Editor's Picks

Sex for Snacks

In cities like Shanghai and Chongqing, a handful of high school…[More]

Prize Fighter

Elevated into the State-approved pantheon of great Chinese writers thanks to…[More]

TROTSKY IN CHINA

How Communism’s most controversial theorist finally found an audience – in…[More]

What do Chinese People Want?

“I wish I could do what you do.”…[More]

THE HERMIT HUNTER

A student of Buddhism with a keen interest in China’s…[More]

China Legislates Against Terrorism

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s legislative body, passed a new…[More]

Progress or Pornography?

A new sex education primer aimed at elementary school-age children has…[More]

Worked to Death

A growing number of young Chinese white-collar employees are dying of…[More]

From Stall to Mall

Taobao’s shift towards a business-to-consumer model has come at a…[More]

Xinhai Revolution: A Potted History

The Xinhai Revolution is named after the official title of the…[More]

Sex and the Schoolroom

Chinese teachers, parents and legislators weigh in on a familiar debate…[More]

Dams in Distress

In 1975, over 60 dams collapsed after a rainstorm in Zhumadian city, Henan…[More]

The New Class

China’s growing online education market has attracted the attention of…[More]

Pathologically Politicized

Practitioners at all levels concur that “messy” is the word that…[More]

ANGRY

A policeman pulled his gun to dissuade villagers from stealing oranges…[More]

BEWILDERING

A 74-year-old man surnamed Xie from Shenyang, Liaoning Province was duped out of 420,000 yuan (US$69,342), despite bank employees’ efforts to…[More]

Masterful Mock-ups

Counterfeiting, driven by booms in speculation and investment, has now become…[More]

Graft Breeds Graft

The gap between the investigation and prosecution of official corruption cases…[More]

Exam Boot Camp

A middle school in Anhui province has earned a reputation for…[More]

Tradition on Trial

After Confucianism made the maintenance of inequality between the sexes fundamental…[More]

Outsmarted

As China draws towards overtaking the US as the world’s…[More]

Back in Action

After stagnating for 10 years, China’s SOE reform has fired up…[More]

HIVE MINDED

China’s indigenous honey bee is under threat from both environmental…[More]

Who Cares?

A new law decrees that all Chinese citizens are now obliged…[More]

In Whose Court?

The failure of the country’s administrative litigation system has prompted…[More]

ROOTS AND BRANCHES

On reaching adulthood, a generation of Chinese-born adoptees raised in the…[More]

An Avoidable Tragedy

Poor city planning and lax safety regulations turned a minor gas…[More]

Problem Solved?

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s public trial sends mixed messages…[More]

Inevitable Brutality

The vicious murder of a doctor in a Zhejiang hospital shows…[More]

Trust Trip

Embarking on a three-month car journey around China without handing over…[More]