Social issues in China are varied and wide-ranging, and are a combined result of the Chinese economic reforms set in place in the late 1970s, China’s political and cultural history, and an immense population. Because of the vast number of social problems that exist in China today (not at all exclusive to the following list), China’s government has faced considerable difficulty in trying to remedy the issues. Many of these issues are exposed by the Chinese media, while subjects that may contain politically sensitive issues may be censored. Some academics hold that China’s fragile social balance, combined with a bubble economy makes China an extremely unstable country, while others argue China’s societal trends have created a balance to sustain itself.
According to Professor Jianrong, official statistics show the number of recorded incidents of mass unrest are “boiling … to the point of explosion”. They have risen from 8,709 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in each of 2007 through 2009. Reasons cited include an aggrieved class of dispossessed migrants and unemployed workers, a deep loss of faith in the system among many Chinese and a weakening in the traditional means of state control.
Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing University of Technology said corruption, state monopolies, the yawning wealth gap and the rising cost of housing, education and medical care all contribute significantly to unrest. He said land seizures and the widening wealth gap were the two top factors: Since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1979, the disparity between the urban and rural populations has risen from 2.56:1 in 1978 to 3.33:1 in 2009. Urban income in 1978 was 343 yuan whilst rural income stood at 134 yuan; in 2009, the corresponding figures were 17,175 yuan and 5,153 yuan respectively. Despite the overall increase in urban income, unemployment, unpaid wages and police misconduct are sources of grievances.
Since the economic reforms in China began, income inequality has increased significantly. The Gini Coefficient, an income distribution gauge, has worsened from 0.3 back in 1986 to 0.42 in 2011,. Poverty researchers recognize anything above 0.4 as potentially socially destabilizing.
The growing wealth gap can be seen as a byproduct of China’s economic and social development policies. The adverse effects of having a widening inequity between the rich and the poor include social and political instability, discrimination in access to areas such as public health, education, pensions and unequal opportunities for the Chinese people. It is important to note that the inequality in income in China can also be seen as a rural-urban income gap especially with the widely criticized social development policy, the Hukou (household registration) System in place. Market income – mainly wages – has been the driving factor in shaping urban income inequality since the economic reforms in China while the widening rural-urban income gap is due to low salaries for employees and migrants in many companies coupled with rapidly growing profits for the management of State-owned enterprises, real estate developers and some private companies. The urban per capita net income stood at 17,175 yuan ($2,525) in 2009, in contrast to 5,153 yuan in the countryside, with the urban-to-rural income ratio being 3.33:1, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
The Hukou System has been long seen as an institutionalized source of inequality and disparity among the population and source of population control seen a deterrence factor for rural citizens to seek a higher standard of living in the cities as rural citizens will be denied access to urban housing and education for their children. It is also seen as a legacy of the dualistic economy, serving as a highly effective measure of limiting urban migration.
Steady increase in cases of AIDS
Much of the current spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in China has been through intravenous drug use and through prostitution. In China, the number of people affected by HIV has been estimated at between 430,000 and 1.5 million; somewhere below or around 0.1% of the population. The CIA World Factbook as of 2012 estimated the percentage of adults (aged 15–49) living with HIV/AIDS in China at 0.1%, the same as in Japan and less than in many European Union countries such as the United Kingdom (0.2%) and Austria (0.3%). According to a United Nations report in 2001, the main distributors of HIV were the sharing of needles among drug users and problems during blood donations. In many rural areas of China during the 1990s, for example, faulty blood collection programs infected a large number of people with HIV.
Transmission through sex has been rising exponentially, exposing which groups the UN report regards as the 21st century’s most vulnerable: “widespread lack of knowledge and protective life skills, huge internal labour migration, underprivileged minority communities, relative poverty, youth, and gender inequity”. A serious outbreak in a country as large as China could significantly affect the economies of both China and the world as a whole. The underlying government response to HIV/AIDS is now that of preemptive intervention.
An official report published in February 2009 stated that in 2008, for the first time, HIV/AIDS was China’s leading cause of death among infectious diseases. Nearly 7,000 people died from the disorder in the first nine months of 2008, a substantial increase—until three years prior to this, the total cumulative mortality was fewer than 8,000.
Employment distribution has been an important issue for the Chinese Government ever since it began initiating reforms. The previous state-led system of employment has been restructured to accommodate the market economy. Its negative effects include the massive layoffs and the cracks to the household registration system, which sent many rural Chinese to seek employment in the cities. These factors gave rise to the competitive labor force and unemployment. Employment levels differ from region to region, with stronger concentrations of unemployment in the interior.
The unemployment trend is attributed in part to the efforts of the Chinese Government to make its SOEs (State Owned Enterprises), which had a redundancy rate at an estimated 25-30% in 1999, more efficient. On the other hand, as of late 2011, the heavily industrialized coastal areas and cities are in fact experiencing an employment shortage due to the runaway growth of the economy. Guangdong province alone needs at least 1 million workers to cover the shortage. It is important to note, however, that unemployment elsewhere causes millions to leave home in the rural areas. By the end of 2009, for instance, 120 million workers, who lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis that affected China’s manufacturing industry, trooped to areas such as Guangdong to find better opportunities. The government’s recent response to the unemployment problem has been viewed favorably because of a shift in perspective. Today, the state approaches the issue, not as a political problem but a socio-economic problem that require socio-economic solutions.
There are also related social problems to unemployment. These include the fact that the country’s social insurance system is considered within the primitive stage of development, exposing employees to further problems in cases when the government allows the companies they work for to be liquidated.
Government and law
Bloated staffing in civil service and redundant government agencies
Corruption (nepotism and cronyism (favorism over meritocracy), wasting public funds, bribery, legal system corruption (司法制度腐败),Corporate scandals etc.)
Face projects (面子工程), including building useless roads, buildings, and huge government squares
Tofu-dreg projects (豆腐渣工程), meaning poorly built infrastructure
government-commerce relationships (官商勾结)
Lack of the rule of law
Fusion and unclear definition on the powers of the government and judiciary
Increase in corporate irregularity a.k.a. white-collar crime.
Close tie between organized crime and corruption.
Extensive allegations of counterfeiting.
Increased instances of alleged fraud and scams (including people claiming supernatural powers, quack medicines, etc.)
The resurgence of Chinese organized crime.
Dissatisfaction with corrupt government officials.
Large protests against local government/businesses due to unfair treatment (usually land and expropriation related issues) and ensuing persecution.
Elitism and discrimination
Regional elitism (mainly in Beijing and Shanghai)
Discrimination against women
Emergence of new class system
Common with other East Asian countries is the extreme pressure from friends, family, and society to perform well in extremely competitive schools, (especially in Gaokao, the university entrance exams) this can result in unethical behaviour performed by parents and/or students (bribery, cheating, etc. to get into best schools)
Lack of strong relationship between state-funded research and the private sector, e.g. poor commercialization and technology transfer of university research
Lack of critical scholarship and monitoring of research quality
Higher Education System is challenged by the transition of economy system in China(from controlled economy to market economy), the methods of production ( from diversified to intensive), the conflicts between ancient Chinese cultures, modern Chinese cultures and western cultures. Students are often barred from higher education because the right of admission of a large number of universities is held by most educational administrative departments and local authorities. In addition, Students and Faculties in Higher Education disregard academic duty while demanding for more academic freedom due to the lack of effective regulations.
Norm that social competitiveness should be considered above all else
Loss of traditional Confucian morals and beliefs
Inflexible ideologies taught in public
Discrepancy between the free market and the lack of liberal individualism grounded in law