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The End of the Chinese Dream

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The End of the Chinese Dream
    Book Description:

    Glossy television images of happy, industrious, and increasingly prosperous workers show a bright view of life in twenty-first-century China. But behind the officially approved story is a different reality. Preparing this book Gerard Lemos asked hundreds of Chinese men and women living in Chongqing, an industrial mega-city, about their wishes and fears. The lives they describe expose the myth of China's harmonious society. Hundreds of millions of everyday people in China are beleaguered by immense social and health problems as well as personal, family, and financial anxieties-while they watch their communities and traditions being destroyed.

    Lemos investigates a China beyond the foreigners' beaten track. This is a revealing account of the thoughts and feelings of Chinese people regarding all facets of their lives, from education to health care, unemployment to old age, politics to wealth. Taken together, the stories of these men and women bring to light a broken society, one whose people are frustrated, angry, sad, and often fearful about the circumstances of their lives. The author considers the implications of these findings and analyzes how China's community and social problems threaten the ambitious nation's hopes for a prosperous and cohesive future. Lemos explains why protests will continue and a divided and self-serving leadership will not make people's dreams come true.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17747-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. MAP
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    This book is about the experiences of ordinary Chinese people mostly living in Chongqing, an unglamorous industrial mega-city with an unforgiving climate. The book recounts how they feel about what is happening to them. In a country where officialdom is keen to control the impressions and information that foreigners receive, the book is also the tale of how I found out what thousands of ordinary Chinese people think about their lives and their futures and how that information was taken out of China. What people told me revealed the larger trends in contemporary China which are generally hidden from the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Getting Nowhere in China
    (pp. 4-15)

    The form is familiar to every official foreign visitor to China. On arrival for a formal meeting the visitors are shown into a VIP suite. Huge identical armchairs are arranged around three sides of a square. At the centre sits the most senior Chinese official next to his illustrious foreign guest. A small coffee table and floral display separate them. The assembled officials and secretaries distribute themselves around the remaining armchairs in order of precedence. The host begins with a long, prepared speech. After his (it’s rarely her) effusive welcome to the visitors his remarks may follow the expected lines,...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Chongqing
    (pp. 16-30)

    Far inland 1,500 kilometres (around 900 miles) to the west of Shanghai at the confluence of the mighty, muddy Yangtze River and its greener tributary, the Jialing, stands Chongqing, a vast, explosively expanding, industrial metropolis in south-west China. Historically Chongqing was a strategically placed river port connecting outward-looking Shanghai to China’s rural, authentic chilli-fuelled Wild West. The Nationalists established their wartime capital in Chongqing when the Japanese occupied Shanghai. For a while it was a cosmopolitan city, but nowadays, with the political centre of gravity back in Beijing and the business capital established in Shanghai, change comes later and slower...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Chaos, Reform and Inequality
    (pp. 31-58)

    In 1974 a new well was being dug in the village of Xiyang in Shaanxi province, a few hours away from Xian. While digging their new well farmers uncovered broken pottery, a common occurrence where so many tributaries of Chinese history converge. Soon the magnitude of their discovery was revealed: a buried terracotta army, built by the first emperor Qin. The enormous site is still not fully excavated after more than thirty years. In the three ‘pits’ thousands of life-size statues of soldiers and horses stand in serried ranks of four stretching back in long columns almost as far as...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Wish Tree
    (pp. 59-81)

    Back in the UK during the winter of 2006 I set about learning Mandarin and reading up on China’s recent much-debated and contested history. I noted the urge to rejoin the mainstream of economic progress and modernity, but also that determined authoritarianism was facing multifarious spirited resistance. I began to think about potential participatory methods that would elicit thoughts and feelings about social and economic transformation from large numbers of Chinese people without falling foul of the authorities whose permission would undoubtedly be needed and no doubt hard to get. My mind went back to the wish trees I had...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Chinese Dream
    (pp. 82-103)

    Under Mao the height of ambition was a bicycle, a radio, a (notoriously unreliable) watch and a sewing machine. When a couple got married these four symbols of optimistic progress were their dowry. In Deng’s time these were replaced by the ‘eight bigs’: colour television, refrigerator, stereo, camera, motorcycle, furniture, washing machine and an electric fan. Wags added that a man who wanted a wife also needed the ‘three highs’: a high salary; a higher education and a height of over 5 feet 6 inches.¹ By 2010, China’sHuman Development Reportnotes that people’s aspirations were for ‘three big things:...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Unhappy Families
    (pp. 104-128)

    Two interlinked principles lie at the heart of Confucian thought. First, those with power should be exemplary in their moral character and personal demeanour and protect those over whom they rule. In return those who are ruled over and protected should be obedient. Second, all types of human relationships must be connected for harmony to prevail. To the Confucian mind people are connected to the world through five cardinal human relationships: ruler and subject; father and son; husband and wife; older brother and younger brother; and friends. Rules of proper conduct were prescribed for each type of relationship by Mencius,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Educational Pressure, Hope and Despair
    (pp. 129-150)

    Established in ad 606 during the Han dynasty, the Imperial examination system in China was the first full system of educational testing in the world, remaining in place until the fall of the Qing dynasty thirteen centuries later. Examination results were the only way of achieving status and wealth, ordaining lifelong position in the social hierarchy. Those with the highest marks could aspire to become a scholar-administrator at the apex of the Confucian social order. The top students were admitted to a government academy from which officials were appointed. During the Imperial heyday in the Ming dynasty between 1368 and...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Failing Health
    (pp. 151-169)

    A letter sent toTimemagazine on 8 April 2003 shook the Chinese leadership to the core. Written by Jiang Yanyong, a 72-year-old retired doctor, Communist Party member and People’s Liberation Army veteran, the letter claimed that health workers in military hospitals in Beijing were, on their superiors’ orders, concealing cases of SARS (a potentially fatal virus with pneumonia-like symptoms). Contrary to the government’s public assurances, the disease was spreading quickly across the capital. More than 100 cases had already been identified.¹ ‘I felt I had to reveal what was happening,’ he said afterwards, ‘not just to save China, but...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Lifelong Financial Insecurity
    (pp. 170-183)

    Like the other laboratory of Marxist economics, the Soviet Union, Mao’s regime comprehensively failed in economics and industry – though it was not evident even to Western critics that failure was inevitable until the late 1970s and early 1980s.¹ Contrary to the propaganda, efforts to build urban industry did not produce anything like the intended economic outcomes, but nevertheless they did cause profound social changes in cities. The organisation of urban society into factory units, though designed for (never achieved) efficiency and productivity, had the semi-intended effects of building social solidarity among the workers and inculcating and embedding expectations of...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Exodus from the Suffering Land
    (pp. 184-195)

    To the Confucian mind the world is governed by a triad of heaven and earth with mankind in the middle. Heaven’s force and creativity is the will that drives the earth and the emperor has the mandate of heaven to guide and rule over mankind. Earth’s role is to bring forth the produce of heaven’s will to support mankind. The emperor’s most important ceremonial function was to perform the yearly harvest rites at the marvellous Temple of Heaven in Beijing. He ploughed a ritual furrow, interceded with heaven for good harvests and made amends for human frailty. The job of...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Losers and their Losses
    (pp. 196-219)

    The agreement I made with the Civil Affairs Bureau when they consented to the undertaking of the Wish Tree was that I would help to train officials in participatory ways of working and methods of community consultation. I returned to Chongqing in October 2007 with two other British experts in community development. The training was arranged at the university, all controversy from earlier in the year had apparently blown over. The idea was that a group of ‘street level’ officials would participate on a pilot basis in a training course the three of us would run. The university could then...

  18. CHAPTER 12 Trauma without Recovery
    (pp. 220-232)

    Saving more, banding closer together with family and friends, reasserting Confucian values and rekindling old religious beliefs while simultaneously espousing newer mystical prophets are all understandable, more or less rational ways for people to respond to anxieties. There are, however, negative ways of responding too. Self-destructiveness is an irrational reaction that turns anxiety into trauma and leads to perverse, incomprehensible behaviour. Self-destruction is, of course, rarely distant from the destruction of others.

    In April 2010 an unemployed 47-year-old man entered a kindergarten in Jiangsu province and stabbed 28 children, two teachers and a security guard. The next morning a 45-year-old...

  19. CHAPTER 13 The Power of the Powerless
    (pp. 233-251)

    The myth of infinite inscrutable Chinese fatalism is challenged by the spread of social problems like mental illness, drugs, prostitution and suicide. Stoical acceptance by Chinese people of political authoritarianism is another fallacy. People do not accept everything that happens in the name of reform as being for the best in the best of all possible worlds. They do not take dissatisfaction with their lot lying down. Instead, they protest continuously and despite the authorities’ best efforts at suppression. The government does not seek to hide either the spreading of protests or their improved organisation. In 2005 the Public Security...

  20. CHAPTER 14 Plutocrats in the Leviathan
    (pp. 252-271)

    The Chinese elite – political, business and military – ignore all the subtleties of symbolism and meaning so richly encountered by ordinary people. The leaders have a vision of modernity that places themselves at the centre, legitimating despotism as well as market reforms. Financial capital is valued over natural wealth, traditions or community and family life. They do, however, bow to one tradition: a self-serving one. In line with ancient Chinese thought leaders take to themselves a special moral and cleansing role.¹ They promulgate the notion of transition and benign progress and advocate themselves as benign, wise guides. If everything...

  21. Afterword: What next for China?
    (pp. 272-274)

    People who claim to know something about China are routinely asked a series of contradictory questions. Can China’s economy continue to grow at the current rate? Will the Communist Party collapse? Will China become a superpower? The answer to all three of these questions is no. The economy can continue to grow rapidly because the country still has much surplus labour and human ingenuity as well as a great deal of pent-up consumer demand. But the problems in China’s banking system are bound to come home to roost eventually and stall economic growth. Nor is China immune to the ups...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 275-285)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 286-292)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 293-302)