China and Harmony

The most celebrated program that has emerged from the meeting of the National People’s Committee, China’s lawmaking body, seems to be the Harmony Communique. The news broadcasting over CCTV 9, the single, state run English language television station here in Yunnan, China, has been on a virtual loop, repeating the same message about how the country is working towards a harmonious, socialist state. To foreign ears, it is easily seen as state sponsored rhetoric, with constant self-congratulation and relative lack of criticism. The instinctive urge to disregard the rhetoric altogether, however, should be resisted, for the actions behind the rhetoric has important and far reaching implications.

Chinese leaders have identified several situations in need of attention, not just present problems but ones that could grow to overshadow any positive developments that the country has seen. Some say that the economic and industrial development that has been so extraordinary in contemporary China has replaced an egalitarian society with one of massive disparities in terms of wealth and living standards. They also say that a once independent China has become dependent on outside sources of energy as well as the functioning of the global economy, not to mention the impossible to ignorable threat that development is posing to its own and the global environment.

Feature after feature talk about how important it is to develop the rural parts of china, to improve education and to improve the living standards of China’s agricultural workers. One report, about a small farm town in the Guangzhou province, interviewed a farmer that frequently went to use the internet at the wang ba, or web bar that had appeared in town due to recent economic development. The reporter points out that the presence of the internet does not necessarily mean that the lives of the farmers is better because there is a new internet café, but the story is highlighted as a success story, an indication that it is not only the urban Chinese that are benefiting from the extra-ordinary economic development in the country. The rhetoric coming out of the National Peoples’ Committee meeting in Beijing is full of talk about how development is being promoted in the countryside.

Interestingly, these reports on CCTV 9 are dispersed among special programs that highlight and almost romanticize the traditional ceremonies and lifestyles of different people throughout China. The clear irony that the development programs extolled in one program are often incompatible with, or at least mean dramatic changes to, the “traditional ways” of China is not recognized.

“This year’s work related to agriculture, rural areas, and farmers will focus on accelerating the development of modern agriculture and effectively promoting the building of a new socialist countryside,” Wen said. “We must focus on developing the rural economy and increasing rural incomes.”

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