"The End of the Chinese Dream still ranks as one of the works on the Chinese dream most worth reading…..This timely and controversial book is crucial to understand the dark sides of the Chinese dream, and for the development of future research.... This book should be required reading for serious social policy makers, scholars and students who are interested in social policy in China." Kai Chen, Zhejiang University, China

"The End of the Chinese Dream challenges everything we believe about China. This is a book that must be read by anyone who struggles to understand the greatest experiment underway in the world today." John Gray, Emeritus Professor of European Thought, London School of Economics, and author of False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism

"The End of the Chinese Dream is highly original and unusual. Gerard Lemos has written with real insight into the fears and dreams of ordinary Chinese people. Anyone who wants to get behind misleading headlines about China should read this important book." Zhou Xun, Department of History, University of Hong Kong

"Those looking for a meaningful yet concise interpretation of Chinese history, paired with original and revealing insight on the country’s social state, will find a good read in The End of the Chinese Dream. The book’s anecdotes will entertain even the most avid China watchers. The author does an excellent job in summing up the most palpable evidence that not all is well in the People’s Republic." China Economic Review

"A fascinating in­sight into the people’s hopes and fears….The Chinese government should be grateful for Lemos’s work because it tells them what their corrupt local officials per­haps do not…This is, therefore, an important contribution to an­swering one of the great 21st-century ques­tions: How will China’s leaders deal with the universality of human hope?” Humphrey Hawksley, BBC Foreign Correspondent, Global Briefing

"Lemos lifts the lid on systemic social problems: lack of healthcare; a broken education system, distorted family structures due to the one child policy and no recourse for those whose property is seized by the state" Leslie Hook, Financial Times

"Mr. Lemos performs a valuable substantive service by exposing the dark side of China's rise." Minxin Pei, The Wall Street Journal

"The End of the Chinese Dream shows what can be discovered despite official obstruction...Lemos’s snapshots reveal people traumatised by rapid change and the loss of community and family ties, deeply anxious about the insecurities of old age and resentful of flourishing corruption and ineffective justice." Isabel Hilton, New Statesman

"Lemos shows, with the weight of [his] impressive research, why the China of today cannot yet lay claim to [being] an exemplar for the rest of the world, and a real challenge to the United States." Rana Mitter, Daily Telegraph

"Lemos has a fine eye for detail...for the uninitiated eager to look beyond the veneer of China’s glitzy coastal cities and official propaganda, Lemos’s book is an excellent primer" Frederik Balfour, Bloomberg

"Lemos found that beneath the myth of a harmonious society most of these people were living in constant social and financial anxiety…All the problems listed in the book are true and well documented." Chow Chung-yan, South China Morning Post

"The End of the Chinese Dream is a much-needed and remarkably well-timed glimpse into the underbelly of this Asian tiger, one that reveals the terrible burdens of a growing wealth gap, rising prices, decaying communities, and weakened social safety nets. Lemos offers a view of China outside the glamorous city centers of Beijing and Shanghai, telling the stories that censors keep away from international eyes." Gordon Cain, The New Republic

"This is a welcome and highly readable account of the travails wrought on China's people by history's most powerful plutocracy." Frank Dikotter, University of Hong Kong, author of Mao’s Great Famine, the Sunday Times

"Given the number of books on China that are out there already, it is probably reasonable to ask whether we need any more…The End of the Chinese Dream suggests that the answer is “yes”…Lemos’ work helps us remember why it is that China faces as many as 180,000 protests annually and why it is that Chinese leaders spend so much time talking about the need for grassroots reform." Elizabeth Economy, Council on Foreign Relations

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Good governance before democracy
Humphrey Hawksley, BBC World Affairs Correspondent

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future
Gerard Lemos, Yale University Press, London, 2012, 352pp, ISBN 9780300169249

Gerard Lemos’s book on China begins on a London housing estate and ends with thoughts about the Arab Spring. In between, the author takes us to central China where he sets about assessing the aspirations of the citizens living in and around the megacity of Chongqing.
His findings are made more salient because Chongqing was recently the fiefdom of the fallen politician Bo Xilai, who attempt­ed to mesh the contradictions of consumer society within an au­thoritarian state by reviving op­eras from the Cultural Revolution and the teachings of Mao Zedong.
Fresh from his surveys on the fractious and run-down Aylesbury estate in south-east London, in China Lemos uses a ver­sion of the ancient Chinese Wish Tree where people write down their wishes and tie them to its branches. With a small army of helpers, he devises four ques­tions: Who are you? What event changed your life? What is your biggest worry? What do you wish for?
The answers give us a fascinating in­sight into the people’s hopes and fears: about losing jobs, factories closing, land seizures, growing old, corrupt govern­ment and – most prevalent – about non-existent or unaffordable health care.

Read More - Global - Good governance before democracy

Friday, 19 October 2012

Viewpoint: Fear and loneliness in China

In the Mao era, the cramped factories set up did also manage to foster a sense of community
What kind of society will China's new leaders inherit? China has developed at unimaginable pace, lifting millions out of poverty. But as part of a series of viewpoints on challenges for China's new leadership, Gerard Lemos, who conducted research in the mega-city of Chongqing, says it is easy to overlook its lonely underbelly.
An old man was hanging upside down in the public square. His feet in traditional cloth shoes were over the parallel bars from which he had suspended himself, for what were presumably his morning exercises. He was fully clothed and in a padded overcoat to combat the spring chill.

I saw this when visiting a factory community in Beijing in 2008. On the face of it, this was a peculiar act to perform in a public space, but people walked past taking no notice. In such traditional Chinese communities, this public square served as a communal living room; most of the people around are friends and neighbours. Not being surprised by the unusual behaviour of your neighbours is an aspect of intimate community life.
But this kind of sight will become rarer as a changing China sees the fragmentation of these communities.

Read More - BBC News - Viewpoint: Fear and Loneliness in China

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

 Chinese Whispers

A new book offers a tentative view of the largely uncharted terrain of public opinion in China, writes Kerry Brown


CHONGQING has been in the news lately. From 2007, what’s referred to as the largest city in the world (though this is a bit of a misnomer, as it more resembles a state or a province) was the fiefdom of Bo Xilai, the charismatic, high-profile former trade minister and Politburo member. Bo had been noisily claiming attention since his surprise appointment as party secretary of the southwestern city, which belonged to Sichuan province until 2000. His campaigns to crack down on organised crime and encourage local people to sing songs reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution were interpreted by many, inside and outside China, as a sign that he was lobbying for promotion to the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo at the party congress this year.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The hazards of Chinese
authoritarianism revealed

"The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future" and "Scattered Sand: the Story of China’s Rural Migrants" reviewed.

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future
Gerard Lemos
Yale University Press, 352p, £20
Scattered Sand: the Story of China’s Rural Migrants
Hsaio-Hung Pai
Verso, 316pp, £16.99

Any day now, the Chinese political system will go into spasm and produce a new leadership. The backstory of the choices will remain largely unknown, despite astonishing recent glimpses of the infighting in what increasingly resembles the world’s biggest mafia organisation.
If the past is any guide, at the climax of the Chinese Communist Party congress, scheduled for this autumn, nine middle-aged men with implausibly black hair and tightly set expressions will march on to the big stage in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to rapturous applause. These illuminati will be the new incumbents of China’s most powerful entity, the standing committee of the politburo.
At the end of their expected two terms of office, these men and their families will be fabulously rich. They will be alert throughout to the demands of supporters and wary of attacks by rivals. They will place their allies in key posts to guard against future reversals of fortune. Much lower down their list of concerns will be what the 1.3 billion people they rule might be thinking as they watch this change of shift at the top.

Read More - NewStatesmen - The Hazards of Chinese Authoritarianism

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Insight: The other face of China

Juwono Sudarsono, Jakarta | Insight | Tue, September 25 2012, 9:28 AM  

Books about contemporary China can be divided into two schools. By far, the most numerous belong to the first, which largely praises China’s rapid and impressive macroeconomic growth since the early 1990s. These groups of academics, businessmen and journalists believe that China’s rise as an economic power will surpass the United States, making them “the world’s largest economy” by 2030. They project that China will not only become the premier economic power, but also become the preeminent military and political power that overwhelmingly determines the terms and conditions of the new world system, replacing the United States in the military, financial and monetary power index to the point of dominating the commanding heights of world influence. 

Political and economic analysts vie with fund managers, public relations specialists, economic and business forums , futurists and psychics, along with outright hucksters seeking to land a fat contract with a Chinese investment company or government office keen at expounding notions such as “when China rules the world”, “the post- American world” or “the hemispheric shift to the Asia and the Pacific”, with all the consequences of how that trajectory of Chinese power will impact the rest of the world.  

Read More - The Jakarta Post - Insight: The other face of China

Chinese Fret Over Retirement, Healthcare, Jobs: Review

By Frederik Balfour on September 25, 2012

In “The End of the Chinese Dream,” Gerard Lemos presents contemporary China as an angst- ridden place where the economic miracle of the past two decades has left a vast swath of the population fretting about the future. 

It’s not the lack of democracy or human rights that keeps the Chinese awake at night. Rather it’s the gnawing fear of unemployment, soaring health care costs and the prospect of old age with insufficient savings.

The book’s findings are based on research Lemos began in 2007 in Chongqing, a city little visited by foreigners at the time. It has since become associated with the murder in November of British businessman Neil Heywood by Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced former Communist Party boss Bo Xilai.

Lemos sidesteps the ban on academics conducting independent social research by adapting a millennia-old Confucian tradition called the Wish Tree, where supplicants tie their desires to branches of a tree in temple courtyards.

Read More - Bloomberg Businessweek - Chinese Fret Over Retirement, Healthcare, Jobs: Review

Monday, 10 September 2012

China past and present: review

Some of the reasons that China’s leadership may be distracted from visions of world domination are made clear in Gerard Lemos’s The End of the Chinese Dream. Lemos spent four years working in Chongqing, the city that has become notorious for the Bo Xilai murder scandal, but his account is of a less lurid but equally troubling failing in Chinese government. He examines the model of welfarist authoritarianism with which the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to gain the “performance legitimacy” that might keep it in power, and finds it seriously wanting

Read More - The Telegraph - China past and present: review


What Keeps the Chinese Up at Night?

By Gerard Lemos

As China prepares for a leadership transition next month, problems are mounting: slowing economic growth, the political fallout from the Bo Xilai affair and destabilizing social problems. Chinese leaders find it hard to know what ordinary people really think.
For four years, I tried to answer this question, as I traveled to and from the foggy, industrial megacity of Chongqing as a visiting professor. I spent months teaching and studying in communities without foreigners around, where state-run factories had closed and where landless ex-farmers now live in barren blocks of apartments. 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Foreign Correspondents Club Lunch - Gerard Lemos - 1/3

Foreign Correspondents Club Lunch - Gerard Lemos - 2/3

Foreign Correspondents Club Lunch - Gerard Lemos - 3/3

The Fragrant Harbour

The End of the Chinese Dream? 

A book about Chinese fears and dreams
A book about Chinese fears and dreams
Tonight I attended a talk put on by the Asia Society, presenting British sociologist Gerard Lemos who has written a book called The End of the Chinese Dream -- Why Chinese People Fear the Future.

So I was hoping for a stimulating talk as did a number of other people in the audience, including former Chief Secretary Anson Chan.

However when Lemos began his talk, he cautioned he was not a China expert, only a sociologist and his findings were not necessarily scientific either.

What he did was he went to Chongqing in 2006 and at the time the Bo Xilai had yet to become Party Secretary of China's largest municipality of 30 million people.

The officials at the time were interested in finding out what ordinary people thought of policies and how they could plan for the future.

And while Lemos was there, making his first trip to China, he observed the Chinese liked to write wishes and put them on trees. And the higher up the tree they were, then the higher the chance the wish would be carried up to the heavens.

So the expert on social policy hit on the idea of creating another version of wishing trees where he gave people "leaves" to answer four questions:

1. Who are you?
2. What event changed your life?
3. What is your greatest worry?
4. What do you wish for?

He put these wishing trees in three areas in Chongqing, one near a tire factory that had employed 3,000 people that was shut down, one near some farmers' land that had been expropriated for development, and one near a historical area that has become a tourist spot.

British sociologist Gerard Lemos
Lemos read out some of the things people wrote down. Many said they were concerned about healthcare, particularly when they got older, as the cost of treatment and drugs are expensive. Others felt the pressures of the education system, that young people only have one shot at getting into university with the gaokao system and if they didn't get in, they would not only feel shame, but financially would wonder what to do.

He observed the high savings rate of young people, and put it down to the high cost of education, particularly now with one child.

Another issue is old age, and those prematurely laid off wonder how they are going to pay bills when they get older, while the one-child policy seems to have created unhappy families who are not seeing their traditional Chinese family values come to fruition and instead pour all their hopes and dreams into one child.

And then there are the "ant tribes", fresh graduates who are living in cramped quarters and having trouble finding work -- work that requires a university degree. They feel it is beneath them to take on a factory job, or perhaps would feel shame if it was discovered that was the only job they could get.

Lemos said he also did the wishing tree exercise in two areas in Beijing and got similar results.

What are we to make of all of this?

He wants us to read his book to find out, but basically his unscientific observations and answers from ordinary people show that in the late 1970s when China first opened up, there was the possibility of gaining wealth, of have the means to buy things, to have a better life and this is what fueled the Chinese dream.

But now some people are feeling that they are left out and left behind from the optimism and the dream, Lemos says.

What is also interesting is that when there were complaints about the system, people did not point fingers at particular officials, but felt the system wasn't working for them; they inherently knew trying to blame someone was not going to help.

Another observation was that more people were turning to religion to help them explain the world as it became more complicated. Lemos explained this was a phenomenon he was seeing in other places too -- like India and South Africa.

So really Lemos should be doing a world-wide reading with his four questions and then collating the answers to see what kind of country comparisons can be made, since he is not a China specialist.

Nevertheless, he has conducted an interesting project -- and should ask these same four questions again in another 10 years in China to see where people are with their Chinese dream.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


The hidden kingdom

Review by Leslie Hook

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future, by Gerard Lemos

China’s rapid transformation is the great story of our age. But how do the 1.3bn Chinese feel about the way their country has changed over the past three decades? What are the hopes and fears of China’s factory workers, farmers and pensioners? And what do their aspirations mean for the Communist party’s grip on power?
These are the questions Gerard Lemos seeks to answer in The End of the Chinese Dream. The British sociologist tackled the challenges facing UK housing estates in The Communities We Have Lost and Can Regain (1997), co-written with Michael Young. In his new book Lemos turns his eye on Chongqing, the urban district of 33m in southern China where he worked as a visiting professor between 2006 and 2010, and now familiar to westerners as the scene of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Lemos’s conclusions are bleak. By conducting a poll of 1,400 people, Lemos lifts the lid on systemic social problems: lack of healthcare, a broken education system, distorted family structures due to the one-child policy and no recourse for those whose property is seized by the state – which happens regularly.

Read More - Financial Times - The hidden kingdom

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mainland Malaise


The End of the Chinese Dream

Gerard Lemos, a former visiting professor in China from the United Kingdom, paints a disturbing picture of the failure of China’s extraordinary economic growth to benefit hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. After conducting a remarkable survey in China, Lemos links the economic problems and fears of ordinary Chinese to the policies of China’s authoritarian leadership, both local and national. Although most of Lemos’s research occurs in Chongqing, where the recently deposed Politburo member Bo Xilai was party secretary, the problems he describes exist throughout China.

In The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future, Lemos concludes that “the People’s Republic of China is now run by the wealthy for the benefit of the wealthy.” Hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese are the losers. They are “deeply insecure about themselves and their future” he writes, just when the rest of the world has become “star-struck by the apparent prospect of China’s imminent glory.”

Read More - America Magazine - Mainland Malaise

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Chinese Awakening

A new book pinpoints the anxieties ordinary Chinese feel.

Like a share listed on an exchange, the world's perception of China fluctuates as foreigners go from bullish to bearish. One gauge of how the country's image is faring is the latest crop of China books. Three years ago, when the country seemed like the inevitable superpower, Martin Jacques came out with "When China Rules the World." A book titled "What the U.S. Can Learn from China" even advised the apparently dysfunctional United States to take a page or two from Beijing's playbook.

Now China is caught in a downward spiral of sentiment, thanks to a precipitous economic slowdown and the exposure of the Bo Xilai affair. This downbeat mood was first reflected in March with Shaun Rein's "The End of Cheap China: Economic and Cultural Trends That Will Disrupt the World." Gerard Lemos's "The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future," captures it even better, because he nails the anxiety middle-class Chinese are feeling.

Read More - The Wall Street Journal - The Chinese Awakening

Protests show fears of Chinese kids

Gerard Lemos August 01, 2012

Last month's environmental protests in Shifang saw the unprecedented involvement of children who have a fear of the future in China, says Gerard Lemos.

“I wish the stream outside my house
won’t be murky anymore
The decision to cancel the metal refinery project in Shifang last month after protesters clashed with the police has been widely reported in the Chinese and global media. This is not the first time a project has been shelved due to public demonstrations. The same happened in Xiamen in 2008 and Dalian in 2011.

However, less widely noted internationally was the apparently unprecedented involvement of children and young people in Shifang. Much discussed on the internet, this has not gone unnoticed in the Chinese media. Commenting on this new trend, the Global Times evoked unhappy memories of the Cultural Revolution when young people, as Red Guards, were at the forefront of upheaval and “showed a tendency to violence and cruelty”.

In the past children may not have “rushed to the…protest scene to support a demand made by adults” as reported by the Global Times in Shifang, but in the consultation activities I undertook in Chongqing, a city in south west China, in 2007 and 2008 (published in July by Yale University Press in The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese people fear the future) the concerns of children about the environment – globally and locally – were all too evident. As in the West, children and young people will play a big role in shaping public attitudes to environmental problems in the future and policymakers would be unwise to ignore them.

Read More - Chiandialogue - Protests show Chinese kids' fears

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Back to Mao?

Geoffrey Cain  July 26, 2012 | 12:00 am

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future
by Gerard Lemos

IT HAS BEEN a tumultuous year for China. In March, the Communist Party unexpectedly sacked one of its biggest magnates, Bo Xilai, who was set to be promoted next autumn to the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s most powerful body. This charismatic autocrat built up an unusually loud gangster personality that, in this rapidly growing country, was too “Red” for his more cautious peers. In 2007, Bo gained a high profile when he took command of the exploding mega-city of Chongqing, an industrial entrepĂ´t of twenty-nine million people in the country’s southwest. He cracked down on organized crime, revived welfare programs, built low-income housing, and embarked on a Maoist nostalgia campaign that earned him the respect of the poor. “I like how Chairman Mao puts it: The world is ours. We will all have to work together,” reads a text message that Bo sent out to city residents in 2009, one of the many quotations that were usually taken from the former premier’s Little Red Book.
Read More - The New Republic - Back to Mao?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Gerard Lemos
Gerard Lemos

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future is a unique and important new book by Gerard Lemos that provides a study of ordinary Chinese people and how they perceive their lives and opportunities in modern China. Here Lemos challenges our perceptions about the country, and explains how he was able to gather such candid material from Chinese citizens.
Article by Gerard Lemos
The End of the Chinese Dream was published at the end of June in the UK and in the US it will be published at the end of July. The book has already had some good reviews in the Sunday Times and the Times Higher Education Supplement. In the US the Council on Foreign Relations has also reviewed the book.

The reviews mainly focus on how the book closely examines the views of ordinary Chinese people. Official escorts and propaganda messages generally make this difficult to find out, with the result that many books about China seem shallow and ill-informed. One journalist said to me ‘it was great to read a book about China which really was about China!’

My method was erecting Wish Trees and asking people to write responses to questions on ‘leaves’ which were then placed on the tree. They were asked who are you, what event changed your life, what are your biggest worries and what do you wish for? Chinese people frequently put wishes on trees in temples, in the hope that the wind will blow their prayers to heaven, so when I asked them to do something similar, they were on familiar territory.

The reviewers note how, contrary to the stereotype of timid, stoical Chinese people, they are completely open about their concerns: no universal health care, costs of education, jobs and pensions. But the reviewers are also interested in how I managed to get so close to ordinary people, far from the bright lights of Beijing and Shanghai. Getting permission for these kinds of activities is perceived to be almost impossible, but that perception is wrong. The truth is much more interesting.

In fact, senior officials in Beijing and in big municipalities like Chongqing and Tianjin are continually concerned that they do not know what is happening on the ground. Local officials either wish to conceal problems or are implicated in causing those problems. Typically, a relatively well-educated member of the community hears about the unredressed grievances of a neighbour and makes it their business to understand the published rules. They then corral local people into making formal complaints. Such were the perfectly legal methods deployed by Cheng Guangcheng, the blind, self-taught lawyer who was recently forced into exile in the US after seeking asylum in the US Embassy.

Initially, locals rarely take to the streets to protest. Once they have made their official complaint, usually nothing happens. Even if they take their complaint to higher authorities, the response is usually for the higher authorities to tell the local officials to get the situation under control by any means available and, above all, stop the complaints before they get escalated to even higher levels. The local officials then either bribe the complainants with cash or perhaps a new TV, or they intimidate the people complaining into desisting. Sometimes people press on regardless with pursuing their grievances. If those complaining are well-educated and confident they may be willing to take on the authorities. Several environment-destroying projects close to residential areas have been stopped by middle class protests, like the recent protests in Shifang in Sichuan against the building of a plant for refining heavy metals which ended in a standoff between protesters and police and the project being cancelled – though some believe it has only been postponed.

These problems of badly handled complaints and protests are not denied by the Party. Senior people all the way up to Premier Wen Jiabao frequently state that corruption is endemic at all levels of officialdom. Occasionally a senior official is prosecuted for serious misdemeanors, but the vast majority gets away with it. Protesters are bought off or intimidated into silence, but the grievances remain. With each case the legitimacy of the Party hierarchy is brought further into question and people become more cynical about whose side leaders and their local placemen are on. The underlying problem, of course, is that Party control means that rule of law, an independent judiciary and fair and equitable legal processes are out of the question, so there are no effective, legitimate means for people to get their grievances resolved – and no official channels for senior officials to hear about grievances and protests, until they are so public that they can no longer be concealed; perhaps even threatening public security.

So when someone likes me turns up to see senior officials, who is clearly outside all these tortuous, intertwined networks, senior officials often welcome new sources of feedback, such as the wishes and fears that local people placed on my Wish Tree. But local officials face a new test for their ingenuity. Their usual objections – that senior people will not grant permission – won’t wash. So they have to invent new ways either to prevent anything being found out, which is difficult because local people in my experience are all too happy to talk. China has the most vibrant, lurid gossip of any country I know. Or, when that fails, the local officials seek ways to keep the information found out from being reported.

That’s when the fun starts… I never expected any of the reviews of my book to describe it as describing events in ‘humorous detail’, but I take it as a compliment!

Gerard Lemos is a British expert on social policy. He advises governments, businesses and charities. His first book, in collaboration with the celebrated sociologist Michael Young, was The Communities We Have Lost and Can Regain. He is Acting Chairman of the British Council, in succession to Lord Kinnock, a member of the British Board of Censors, and holds a number of other public positions in British institutions. He speaks Mandarin and is Visiting Professor at Chongqing Technical University in south-west China.

The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future is available now from Yale University Press.

Eight Questions: Gerard Lemos, ‘The End of the Chinese Dream’

Eight Questions: Gerard Lemos, ‘The End of the Chinese Dream’

 Beneath the polished image of a booming China, a different story is told of the unskilled and marginalized, displaced by development and factory consolidation. Gerard Lemos, a former visiting professor with Chongqing Technology and Business University, tried to uncover the inner psyche of ordinary Chinese people who have been left behind through his project, the Wish Tree.

His book, “The End of the Chinese Dream,” details the results of a consultation exercise he ran based on an ancient Chinese tradition of writing down wishes and dreams on cards and hanging them from a tree. The project surveyed more than 3,000 people in three towns in Chongqing — a city that has been experimenting with household registration (hukou) reforms — and two different neighborhoods near Beijing’s city center. Mr. Lemos talked to China Real Time about the project. Here are edited excerpts:

1. Talk about the moment when you came up with the idea to do a “wish tree” in Chongqing, and how you made it happen.

In Taoist and Buddhist temples I had seen wish trees. Devotees had placed their wishes on the trees, for success in their exams or health for their elderly parents, hoping that the wind would blow their prayers to heaven. That made me think that Chinese people would feel comfortable speaking their minds if they were asked to put their wishes on a tree. Municipal officials were keen to improve the skills of street-level workers in dealing with protests and conflicts, so I suggested the wish tree as a way of consulting local people.
Officials suggested the three communities where we organized the wish tree. Two were neighborhoods where factories had closed, and one was a place where farmers had lost their land, paid compensation and been re-housed in blocks of flats. I erected wish trees and gave out leaf cards with four questions: Who are you? What event changed your life? What is your greatest worry? What do you wish for?

Read More - China Realtime Report - Eight Questions

The missing piece of the green jigsaw puzzle

The missing piece of the green jigsaw puzzle

When China's business becomes everyone's business

Five years ago, as editor of a completely bilingual Chinese-English website on climate change and environment, I regularly attended conferences and read reports that were missing an important piece of the puzzle: conferences on climate change were full of experts on physics, weather systems and sometimes economics, but tended to lack any expertise on China, even then rapidly becoming the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Conferences on China, on the other hand, tended to be full of people who spoke and read Chinese and were highly expert in the sociology, history, economics or culture of China, but lacked a knowledge of, or interest in, climate change. This meant that when they looked at China's current problems or future economic trajectory they were missing an important factor that needed to be fed into the calculations.

This phenomenon was a historic hangover from a time when, for most Europeans, China seemed remote and difficult to understand, a large country with a small direct impact on domestic or European affairs. Thinking, writing and talking about China was the province of China specialists and experts, and their deliberations had little impact on mainstream thinking in other areas.

Read More - China Daily - The Missing piece of the green jigsaw puzzle

Wednesday, 18 July 2012



A society in trauma


Why Chinese People Fear the Future
Yale £20/ebook £20 pp320 

Invited to lecture at a university in Chongqing between 2006 and 2010, Gerard Lemos, an expert on scoial policy, obtained permission to erect "wish trees" in several neighbourhoods in Chongqing and Beijing.  He then sampled the cards that people attached to the branches, gaining access to the innermost concerns of hundreds of displaced farmers and factory workers.  Rather than finding the industrious and increasingly prosperous workforce that is so often shown on state television, Lemos discovered a traumatised society in which most people are left to fend for themselves.  In the 1980s, after three decades of chaos and destruction under Mao Tse-tung, there was a widespread expectation that economic growth would bring prosperity and stability to all.  That dream, this book shows in compelling detail, has now stalled and died.

Hundreds of millions of poor farmers, forced to leave the countryside, face the prospect of unemployment, the absence of basic healthcare and lack of any state pension system.  Many of the elderly are financially dependent on their children.  But China is an ageing society, and the one-child policy places a huge burden on the single children who have to provide for their relatives.

Education, furthermore, is compulsory, but not free.  As Lemos shows, it can absorb one third of a family's income, as local officials devise ever more ways of gouging money from parents, ranging from fees to cover building repairs to stipends for teachers in public schools.

In the cities a university eduation is the highest ambition, but even here despair is the norm.  Up to a third of graduates (about 2m young people each year) cannot find a job.  They are called "ant tribes", as they colonise underground bunkers built during the Mao years.  So desperate are they for work that when a local governement in Shandong advertised for people willing to shovel excrement, five graduates were selected out of a pool of 400 applicants.

Even basic healthcare is beyond the means of many, as people have to bear a disproportiante share of the costs, more so than in most other countries - of 191 nations listed by the World Health Organisation in an equality report in 2000, China was at 188.  Regular health scandals, too, from contaminated milk to eggs with poisonous yolks, have undermined people's confidence in the very food they eat.

As much of the world seems starry-eyed when it comes to the apparently inevitable "rise of China", Lemos shows that the country's ordinary people are deeply pessimistic.  He paints a bleak but intimate portrait, even if occasionally he shares the misplaced nostalgia of his interviewees about the presumed benefits of community and social welfare in the Maoist past.  But overall this is a welcome and highly readable account of the travails wrought on China's people by history's most powerful plutocracy.

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

14 June 2012
One of the great unknowns of the modern world is Chinese public opinion. In the quite recent past, government officials and various interested parties abroad could airily declare that all Chinese believed in specific things, and it would be hard to challenge them. With the explosion of social media, however, making such sweeping claims has become more difficult. As the internet has shown, Chinese society is as prone to fractiousness and division between noisy extremes as any other.

As a way of trying to get some traction on what, precisely, public opinion in modern China is, Gerard Lemos devised a "Wish Tree". He obtained approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs - no easy feat - to erect a poster on which people were able to pin paper leaves inscribed with a few words on their hopes, fears and challenges. One interesting piece of information he got from this exercise was the variation among officials in different parts of the country in their willingness to let him take the data away for analysis. This indicates that, as he states, in many cases officials are simply trying to impose a harmonious veneer on people's views for fear of hearing the unvarnished feedback.

Read More - Times Higher Education - The End of the Chinese Dream

The end of the Chinese dream

by Gerard Lemos/  

In the city where Bo Xilai made his name, disposessed
residents say what they want © Gerard Lemos
In the early years of reform in China in the 1980s it seemed everyone was a winner. Farms were decollectivised allowing farmers to grow and sell more food and keep the profits. Millions of new jobs were created in factories in the special enterprise zones. The old state-owned enterprises were largely untouched and the “iron rice bowl” of a job for life, pensions, rudimentary health care and free education (though never available to everyone) was still intact for many. The 1980s were the years of the Chinese dream.

But after Tian’anmen and Deng Xiaoping’s renewal of the Party’s reforming zeal on his southern tour in 1992 state-owned enterprises which had been previously unaffected by economic reform were restructured. Loss-making factories closed and work units were combined into something like modern corporations, though the Party still owned at least a 70 per cent stake. Millions became unemployed and the “iron rice bowl” was peremptorily smashed. Their old communities have been demolished and ways of life abandoned. If they were lucky they got tiny, isolated flats in poorly built tower blocks as compensation. There is no longer anywhere to do tai ji or take the caged birds out for a stroll. More seriously, without a job or welfare support they have no prospect of prosperity or wellbeing. Too often they were cheated out of their meager entitlements and got nothing. 

Read More - Prospect - The end of the Chinese Dream
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 The Other China

by Elizabeth C. Economy
July 5, 2012

A Chinese labourer waits for a job at the Chaotianmen Port along the Yangtze River in downtown Chongqing on December 3, 2000. (Guang Niu/Courtesy Reuters)

It appears that 2012—like every year in recent history—will yield a bumper crop of new China books. In the past few weeks, three have come across my desk—Dambisa Moyo’s Winner Take All, Zhou Xun’s The Great Famine in China, and The End of the Chinese Dream by Gerard Lemos.

Given the number of books on China that are out there already, it is probably reasonable to ask whether we need any more. The first book I picked up—The End of the Chinese Dream—suggests that the answer is “yes”.

Lemos—whose background is primarily as an organizer, official, and consultant in the UK housing industry (and coauthor of a book on communities in the UK)—served as a visiting professor at Chongqing University during 2006-2010. During his time in China, he developed and undertook an on-the-ground survey to give voice to the desires and fears of the Chinese people in communities in Chongqing and Beijing. The survey itself was quite simple: just four questions—“Who are you? What event changed your life? What is your biggest worry? What do you wish for?”—on a printed leaf that would become part of a community “wish tree.” He simply sat outside at a table with some assistants, and people came to him to fill out their leaves.

By framing the study as an exercise in helping inform officials about local people’s concerns and improving local governance, Lemos got high-level buy-in from Beijing for his research. Of course, that didn’t mean that everything went smoothly nearly a thousand miles away in Chongqing, and Lemos shares in humorous detail precisely how he managed to circumvent the efforts of a few local officials—who were clearly concerned about his potential findings—to confiscate his results.

The results of his survey are not terribly surprising, but they are a useful and poignant reminder of how much the central government has left to do to achieve its goal of a more equitable and “harmonious” society. Overwhelmingly the adults were concerned about their ability to support themselves and their families—medical costs, education fees, and money for basic services such as electricity. They worried about getting ill, losing their jobs, and ensuring that their children would receive an education and find a job. Land tenure issues and the environment were also significant concerns. Children who filled out their cards wished for bigger libraries with more books, worried about being good students, and occasionally voiced concerns about violence in their homes.

Many of the wishes and worries would strike a chord in almost any country in the world, the UK and the United States included. The context in terms of overall standard of living and basic access to public goods such as secondary education, of course, is quite different in China, as is the number of people affected by such concerns. In particular, Lemos’ work helps us remember why it is that China faces as many as 180,000 protests annually and why it is that Chinese leaders spend so much time talking about the need for grassroots reform.

Lemos’ book falls short only at the very end, where he provides a quick and dirty analysis of the Chinese elite and concludes that the country is controlled by a “mistrustful and faction-ridden plutocracy focused on a single purpose: the creation and consolidation of wealth in their own hands” and that “The Chinese dream cultivated in the 1980s of prosperity, security, stability and even the beginning of freedom is at an end.” He may or may not be right, but the survey findings and anecdotes provided in the 250-odd pages preceding his final chapter don’t provide the evidence to support such a dramatic conclusion. In contrast, the penultimate chapter, “The Power of the Powerless,” leaves the reader in the right place—continuing to wonder how all the discontent Lemos has documented, both manifest and latent, will shape the country's future.