Rebellion in China!

Rebellion in China! Featured

THERE is a rebellion brewing in China. No guns, weapons and armaments of war. No actual fighting and skirmishes, and no blood flowing in the streets. There are no leadership structures; no single spokesperson articulating their demands, hopes and aspirations. There are no written manifestos and demands made on government. The rebels are China's youth.

Chinese youth is simply giving up. Their rebellion is unique as it started as gimmickry in social media, an online fad. They even have a name for it — bai lan, or let it rot! It is perceived principally as a rebellion directed at the Chinese Communist Party's (CPP) governance. It has disturbed and worried the CPP that President Xi Jinping had to make a direct and personal appeal to the youth reminding them that they are the hope of the fatherland. And the CPP came out with palliative policies that proved to be just that — ineffective.

But bai lan is basically the youth saying "no" to the system. On a personal level, they are saying, "I will not cooperate. I don't like to try my best. My personal interest and happiness come first." The rest — let it rot — bai lan!

From Mao to Deng

The antecedent is decades in the making, going back to post-World War 2 China: its founder Mao Zedong and his insane idea of catching up with the developed world. He and the CPP fashioned an elaborate tool to forcibly exploit the agricultural and industrial sectors to catapult China to economic growth from 1958 to 1962 with the touted Great Leap Forward. Instead, this resulted in the bankrupting of China, mass starvation and famine. This was followed by his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, from 1966-1976, a 10-year campaign to re-instill revolutionary fervor in the younger generation, purging the CPP of bourgeois elements and capitalist leanings. The rural areas suffered the brunt of this debacle.

Not until the demise of Mao and the emergence of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 did China institute the open-door policy allowing FDIs and launched a series of market reforms transforming China from an isolated impoverished state to what is currently the world's second biggest economy. From 1978 to 2013, the economy grew by an astounding annual rate of 9.5 percent. During these salad days, Deng let loose the Chinese entrepreneurial drive that would later compete with the world's number one — America.

These reforms saw millions of its citizens lifted from poverty and elevated to middle-class status. China became the globe's manufacturing hub. Within the context of a socialist system, an injection of capitalist principles, anathema to Mao's original precepts, China opened to the world and its economy exploded. Deng Xiaoping on the use of capitalist principles within a socialist universe was encapsulated in his quote: "No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat."

Around this time too was the start of the great migration of the youth from the rural areas to the cities in search of good education, higher-paying jobs, and better living conditions, concentrating on the megalopolises of Shanghai, in the eastern coast; Beijing, in the northeastern part; Guangzhou, in southern China; Shenzhen, another port city; and Chongqing in Central China on the Yangtze River, among others.

Policies that backfired

Before the start of China's economic resurgence in 1979, faced with an exploding population — a poor country with 400 million annual births — the CPP instituted drastic measures which could now be seen as a knee-jerk reaction. The One Child Policy in 1980 distorted on a massive scale China's demographics resulting in the population getting older and less productive while birth rates have dangerously plummeted. The average replacement of less than 2.1 kids per family was untenable. "Elders who witness China's exponential growth expect children to continue their high expectation to get good education, high paying jobs and continue building a better life for family and country."

This policy ran counter to the cultural predisposition — Chinese parents preferred boys, thus a mismatch in male to female ensued, producing 70 more men than women. Culturally too, the Chinese dream has always been burdened by the three mountains — education, health care and housing. The third component is critical for making a man more suitable for marriage. Chinese demographics distorted all these.

Real estate prices, a substantial component of marriage desirability, skyrocketed, going beyond individuals' salaries, making it impossible for the youth to buy in. The past years saw a Chinese real estate bubble. Behemoth developer Evergrande Group, the poster child for China's economic calamities, went on a debt frenzy, building more apartments and using unfinished properties as collateral for yet more debt and more empty apartments — in a Ponzi scheme that is just about to fall on itself.

As the situation deteriorated, the CPP didn't do substantially anything to salvage the economy. Chinese youths couldn't get good high-paying jobs and couldn't' afford real estate. A pall of uncertainty has descended. Even among the highly educated youth, where additional income is earned through private online tutoring — the CPP crackdowns in August of 2021 eliminated 3 million tutoring jobs creating a black market in tutoring. These tutoring job options for highly educated graduates benefit wealthy families, giving their children a leg up in Chinese society, pricing out the poor.

Lockdowns, zero Covid protocols

Then the second phase of Covid hits. The CPP instituted a zero-Covid policy. In 2020, when Wuhan occurred, China did well, ahead of the curve in lockdowns and virus-spread mitigations, incurring only less than 150,000 deaths (China's figures are suspect), compared to the US and the world's millions. But 2022 was different. The spike in Covid mutation resurgence and CPP's declaration of a utopian zero-Covid protocol with its brutal lockdowns killed businesses and stifled any economic bounce-back. Reportedly, China's slumps since May 2020 in imports/exports contraction cost $45 billion in GDP monthly.

Bai lan inexorably gained traction among the youth. The CPP understood social immobility and lack of opportunities as causes for a despondent attitude of bai lan. Back in August 2021, Xi launched his "common prosperity campaign," purportedly to level the playing field. Its main objective was to narrow the wealth gap between the rich and poor, making China's progress inclusive.

China should have opened its economy more with policies to attract high-tech foreign companies, to absorb China's highly educated youth with high-paying tech labor. Instead of opening the economy further, it did the opposite. It went into a pissing game with the West for an expanded global trade and looked inward into its inequities. Xi Jinping in an attempt to reel in Chinese billionaires, elites and majority of the tax sector, cracked down on big tech and large companies and monopolies; destroyed Jack Ma as an example and humbled billionaires; putting fear in hordes of foreign companies. Overnight millions more jobs disappeared — feeding into the youths' conception of bai lan.

The perfect ingredients now haunt China, particularly its youth; massive 20 percent unemployment; real estate bubble; disparity in the sexes; a bleak future and overall despair.

So, bai lan! Let it rot!

Read 466 times Last modified on Wednesday, 18 January 2023 11:39
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