By David Ferguson
Following the vexatious failure of the Olympics to be a failure, The Guardian has been looking for a new negative angle to take. One of the more popular themes is this: As a result of the global economic recession, the economy of China will collapse. Social unrest and protest will quickly descend into wholesale anarchy, and the CCP will disintegrate in chaos.
For what it's worth, I don't buy this analysis, although unlike many commentators I am not possessed of a faculty allowing me to channel the thoughts of 1.3 billion people and tell you "what the Chinese people want". After three years in the country I might speak with some authority on the views of a couple of dozen people.
My own opinion is therefore based only on common sense. It is this:
Although they are a lot better off than they were ten years ago, the vast majority of people in China still don't have very much, they have not had it for very long, and they had to work bloody hard to get it. If things go seriously wrong, rather than taking to the streets to hew at each another with mattocks and jab at each other with pitchforks, they will roll up their sleeves and get on with putting things right again.
Mr Zhang Hong, Online Editor of the Beijing Economic Observer, is one who does not share my optimism. In After The Boom, The Bust. Now what? he leaves us in no doubt that the situation is grim, and getting worse. Much worse. Worse, as in: "...the worst is yet to come. With fewer contracts from European and American markets during the Christmas season, more export-oriented factories are likely to fall and more workers will be left jobless..."
Now come on Hong. The Chinese economy does not actually operate like Santa's grotto. There are two weeks left till Christmas. Factory owners around China are not actually waiting by their phones for the longed-for Christmas orders to arrive, their wee faces fairly crumpling with disappointment when the call fails to come. The Christmas season for Chinese factories finished weeks or months ago, and the impact of that particular "worst" has already been felt in full.
However there is more. The key to the whole social collapse phenomenon is unemployment, and while official figures might suggest that this is around 4%, Hong is able to tip us the wink that: "Some western researchers put China's actual unemployment figure at above 10 percent – and some say it might even be as high as 20 percent..."
20 percent! Good heavens! Help! So much for the "official" figures then.
Many people will have been too frightened by this shocking news to follow the link to the Economist article that Hong provides, but the doughty few who did will have discovered an interesting fact:
The article does indeed make mention of the idea that some western researchers suggest that the unemployment figure may be as high as 20%. It then goes on to thoroughly and comprehensively rubbish the suggestion, and finishes with the conclusion that the unemployment rate at the start of the summer was in fact somewhere between, er... 3 and 4%.
It takes a particular kind of cheek to make a claim like Hong's and then provide in support of it a link to an article that says exactly the opposite. But then, Hong knows his Guardian – facts are "sacred".
But Hong has one more arrow in his quiver: Most people who know anything about the subject agree with him! "One concern shared by most observers is that the increasing unemployment rate could lead to social unrest, massive protests and even riots..."
Well, I guess that ties it up. I mean, if most observers think that, then surely they must be right. Grim tidings indeed.
But wait. Who exactly are these "observers"? How many of them are there? How does Hong know what most of them think? How did he canvass their opinion?