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New Left Review 76, July-August 2012

Joel Andreas


Every week there are new reports of popular upheaval in China—peasants driving officials out of villages in protests against corrupt land deals; migrant workers striking to demand living wages; laid-off workers occupying privatized state factories; ethnic minorities protesting Han encroachment; urban and rural residents fighting to shut down polluting plants, and so forth. [1] Martin King Whyte, Myth of the Social Volcano: Perceptions of Inequality and Distributive Injustice in Contemporary China, Stanford University Press: Stanford 2010, $27.95, paperback250 pp, 978 0 8047 6942 6 According to figures compiled by the government, there were some 90,000 ‘mass incidents’ in 2006, up from about 9,000 in 1993. Although there are a range of immediate causes, commentators in the prc and abroad have linked growing unrest to rising economic inequality. Over the last two decades, as the Communist Party has implemented capitalist-style market reforms, the top echelon of Chinese society has grown incredibly wealthy, even by global standards in an age of neo-liberal excess, while the livelihoods of those at the bottom have become increasingly precarious. For over a decade, many journalists and scholars have suggested that anger about growing economic inequality could lead to serious social upheaval.

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