As Marxism is dying in China and the country moves towards a socialist market economy, continuous economic development and increasing prosperity across the past decade has made the ‘Chinese dream’ more relevant than ever. This new ideology was first introduced by leader Xi Jinping after he became elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, on 15th November 2012 (China Daily, 2012). Xi Jinping used the slogan to ‘unite an increasingly diverse nation’ (The Economist, 2013). China’s rising middle class and increasing income inequality reflects why the ‘Chinese dream’ is crucial in maintaining single-party state control within such a rapidly developing nation. However, whilst the ‘Chinese dream’ makes China ever united, does it pose a global threat?
The ‘Chinese dream’ is an effective way to unite the People’s Republic of China because it is a single phrase without a single definition. It can be interpreted in many different ways and consequently has broad appeal (Patience, 2013). The ‘Chinese dream’ is therefore often considered a method of propaganda to gain control, encouraging support for the Communist Party. It could therefore pose a risk of ‘handing more power to the party than the people’ (The Economist, 2013). With censorship of news articles and online resources it is clear that the single-party state has great control over values and beliefs within China, enforcing a lack of independent thought. After being elected, Xi Jinping spoke at the Politburo Standing Committee Members’ meeting in a way which could gain support from a population of alternative aspirations.
The ‘Chinese dream’ can be interpreted as a military threat and a global cause for concern; “the great revival of the Chinese nation in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world” (Xi, 2012). The sceptical view introduced by Dreyer (2007) suggests that China is increasing its defence budget, rather than investing more in domestic social programs, to become a hegemon and dominating world power. Although economic growth is slowing, China has continued to increase its defence budget to $132 billion, which has created anxiety in Asia and a fear of military dominance (The Editorial Board, 2014). On the other hand the ‘Chinese dream’ is viewed closer to the American one (Brown, 2014), striving for “education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social security, medical care of a higher standard, more comfortable living conditions, and a more beautiful environment” (Xi, 2012). In this sense the ‘Chinese dream’ is not a threat but an aspiration. According to advertising group WPP 35% of Chinese people chose the U.S. as their ‘ideal country’ (Shaffer, 2014), reflecting instead a nation longing for prosperity.
Either way it becomes clear that to understand China you must understand China’s heritage and therefore the best way is ‘looking back, not forward’ (Brown, 2014). Confucianism and harmony of thought has historically promoted the hard work ethic within China. Growth has therefore occurred so quickly because each individual works for the collective good of society, promoting social unity; “every bit of happiness in the world has to be created by diligent work and labour” (Xi, 2012). In the recent 2014 National People’s Congress Xi Jingping stood by his initial dream of economic prosperity and military control (BBC, 2014). However, the fact that GDP growth targets remain at 7.5% suggests ‘the Party’s worries about social instability that could result from economic cooling presently outweigh its resolve to reform’ (Roberts, 2014). This implies that the ‘Chinese dream’ is more than the American dream of ‘a car, a nice house, good food’ (Brown, 2014) and therefore a collective stance could pose a future threat. However Chen (2014) argues that the ‘Chinese dream’ and Chinese civilisation can be accepted ‘if the way of promoting it is in line with the cultural logic of Western society and Westerners believe it is beneficial’ (Chen, 2014).
The emerging middle class reflects the ‘Chinese dream’ within an age of globalisation and increasing consumerism. McKinsey research suggests that by 2020 75% of urban consumers will be in the middle class bracket, earning between 60,000 and 229,000 renminbi (Barton, Chen and Jin, 2013). Within China success is often measured in terms of material goods; 71% measure success based on the things that they own, more than double the global average of 34% (Hatton, 2013). The ‘Chinese dream’ has therefore benefited the rest of the world, as the rising middle class is becoming the largest export market for many multinational companies as they compete in a frenzy to enter this rapidly evolving market (Studwell, p.64,2005). The western world will also benefit from decreasing debt, as domestic consumption and investment levels rise (Dumas and Choyleva, 2006). This effect is likely to multiply over time, as new generations are more prone to spend and less inclined to save (Barton, Chen and Jin, 2013). However, although the middle class is increasing, the majority still struggle due to increasing house prices and costs of living. The current triumph of the ‘Chinese dream’ therefore may be exaggerated, as the majority remain in relatively poor conditions. Until China begins exporting goods made by China rather than made in China it remains a developing nation, far from the global superpower it aspires to be. It is therefore not ‘pressing up against the U.S’s strategic interests’ (Brown, 2014) and unlikely to pose a global threat in the near future.
Although the ‘Chinese dream’ is sustaining a collective communist culture, it becomes clear that this should not pose a global threat. Instead it conveys what is possible with an exemplar work ethic, as China will not exchange growth for ‘freedom of culture, language and religion’ (Fenby, p.111, 2012). China does not want to rule the world and it becomes clear today ‘no single state can dominate the globe’ (Fenby, p.388, 2012). The ‘Chinese dream’ is driving China’s economic aspirations, providing benefits to the rest of the world. It is overall, a desire for Chinese prosperity.
Word count: 996
BARTON, D. CHEN, Y AND JIN, A. (2013) Mapping China’s middle class. Available from: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/consumer_and_retail/mapping_chinas_middle_class [Accessed 10 March 2014]
BBC. (2014) China congress reveals growth target and defence boost. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26429481 [Accessed 12 March 2014]
BROWN, K. (2014) In many ways, the ‘China dream’ is not different from the American one. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/31/in-many-ways-the-china-dream-is-not-different-than-the-american-one [Accessed 10 March 2014]
CHEN, C. (2014) Cultural exports can’t be created by force. Global Times. Available from: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/847121.shtml [Accessed 12 March 2013]
CHINA DAILY. (2012) Xi Jinping elected general secretary of CPC Central Committee. Available from: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012cpc/2012-11/15/content_15931883.htm [Accessed 13 March 2014]
DREYER, J. T. (2007) Chinese Foreign Policy. Newsletter, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Vol. 12, No. 5.
DUMAS, C. and CHOYLEVA, D. (2006) The Bill from the China Shop, 1st ed. London: Profile Books.
FENBY, J. (2012) Tiger Head Snake Tails, 1st ed. London: Simon & Schuster.
HATTON, C. (2013) How do you know if you’ve made it in life? Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-china-blog-25436289 [Accessed 10 March 2014]
PATIENCE, M. (2013) What does Xi Jinping’s China Dream mean? BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-22726375 [Accessed 12 March 2014]
ROBERTS, D. (2014) What to Know About China’s National People’s Congress. Bloomberg Business Week. Available from: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-04/what-to-know-about-chinas-national-peoples-congress [Accessed 10 March 2014]
SHAFFER, L. (2014) The ‘Chinese dream’ is … the US? CNBC. Available from: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101447146 [Accessed 12 March 2014]
STUDWELL, J. (2005) The China Dream, 3rd ed. London: Profile Books.
THE ECONOMIST (2013) Xi Jinping and the Chinese dream. The Economist, 4 May.
THE EDITORIAL BOARD. (2014) China’s Disturbing Defence Budget. The New York Times. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/opinion/chinas-disturbing-defense-budget.html?_r=0 [Accessed 11 March 2014]
XI, J. (2012) Full text: China’s new party chief Xi Jinping’s speech. BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-20338586 [Accessed 10 March 2014]