China now is being analyzed by different types of international organizations and researchers that the economic development is well developed in China nowadays and a higher proportion rate of the middle class occurs, indicating that the middle class would be the major group in the Chinese population structure and should have more power in different aspects, for instance, economy and politics, according to the modernization theory. However, there is still a widening gap on political development between western developed countries, and the middle class in China seems not to contribute its own power to push China’s democracy. The inactive political attitude of the middle class is an appealing topic for research and the previous academic articles started to analyze the potential thoughts of the middle class towards the political issue in China, under the background of the rapid economic growth. An observation has found that the Chinese middle class is the beneficiary of the Chinese Communist Party(CCP)’s a developmental policy that middle-class people will not abandon their own interests. Rather than that, Chinese people prefer social and economic stability much more than their political rights.
Modernization Theory and the Situation of Chinese Political Development
According to modernization theory, economic development can promote political democracy because it transforms traditional society into a modern society, including the spread of education, urbanization, and increased social mobilization, creating the fundamental condition for a new democratic politics (Huntington, 1991; Lipset, 1960). The modern society of change under economic growth has become more diverse and complex, so authoritarian regimes are more difficult to control, and the transformation of class structure is crucial in all these gradual changes. Under this situation, cultivating a politically independent and empowered middle class is the strongest way to have more political participation and undermine the stability of authoritarian regimes. The middle class works as an agent to rearrange the structure of modern society and democracy (Wang, 2008; White, 1994; Xiao, 2003). The modernization theory thus is used commonly to explain the cases of different authoritarian regimes transforming to democracy.
Unfortunately, the theory cannot apply in China until now.
The Middle Class in China
Based on the review by Tang (2011), the middle class can be defined by an income-based approach delineate the boundary of the middle class, but it is not suitable in this topic due to the large difference in income distribution in China, in which the same amount of income means that the living standards in different regions are quite different. Tang excluded this approach and summarized the Chinese middle class as “a class of people who practice new professions, have a mindset that breaks from a traditional society, and live a decent life supported by a relatively higher level of income.”
Tang also study the political behavior of the middle class by several aspects, including attending to politics, informal approach, formal approach, confronting approach, and active electoral participation. The research draws the conclusion that there is no consistent difference in political behavior between the middle class and other classes. They did not show a greater tendency to appeal to legislative bodies or to prosecute cases in court. They also dare not confront the work unit or local government by protest or sit-in. In the election, their behavior is no more active than others. They are not those who try to influence the electoral process through brave actions. In other words, the Chinese middle class is as inactive as other classes to show greater civic orientation and actions when it requires more active efforts or courage in action. To summarize, the Chinese middle class contributes tiny or even no power to Chinese democratization.
Chinese Middle Class as the beneficiary of CCP’s policy
Interest is an attractive value for the middle class in China choosing not to be the agent in the transformation of political regimes. In addition, their interest depends on the interest of the CCP government. In China, economic development is governed or even controlled by the state. The state controls most of the flow of resources and finance. Many middle classes are employed by state governments, state-owned companies, or companies with close ties to government agencies. For many middle classes, their work safety and wealth resources are mainly in the hands of state institutions, even though China has achieved a large number of individual autonomy (He, 2003; Li, 2010). Given this situation, it is difficult for this class to gain autonomy or challenge the regime.
Different types of middle-class people have different interest considering. Private entrepreneurs, there were more than 2 million private entrepreneurs registered nationwide by the end of 2001, involving 270 million employees (Dickson, 2003). Private entrepreneurs rise in a growing market economy but lack any political interest or autonomy. As beneficiaries of economic growth and stability over the past two decades, they are reluctant to give up what they have gained. Their destiny is closely related to the government’s economic policies. These ‘commercial elites’ are politically insignificant, have no interest, have no autonomy, and have no class ability to work for democratic countries and political careers. Entrepreneurs support economic liberalization to promote further growth, but there is little evidence that this group In favor of political liberalization. As long as they are convinced that economic prosperity is not threatened, they can support political reform. Unlike professionals and intellectuals, they are primarily concerned with “economic freedom” rather than “political democracy.” (Gelb, 1998)
Professionals and intellectuals, they have always had a vague class status throughout post-revolutionary history. However, their status has undergone major changes. Politically, the intellectual is Mao Zedong’s ‘Chou Lao Jiu’, which ranks last in all nine ‘black’ categories. They were flattered by Deng Xiaoping’s status as a ‘working class in 1979, as this status meant that intellectuals eventually became the ‘revolutionary’ class in the reform era (Bian, 2002). Huang (1993) sees Chinese intellectuals as divided between ‘institutions’ and ‘out-of-organization groups” depending on whether they work primarily within the national or foreign sector. This institutional boundary does not mean that “outside the organization” intellectuals are “autonomous humanists” who may work in the independent sphere of civil society. Now, intellectuals are included in the middle class, and the CCP claims to represent ‘advanced productivity.
Since the late 1990s, more and more Western-trained students have returned to China. A new Chinese term, haggis (returned overseas), was recently used to describe this fast-growing group. Many of them have joined the ranks of the social middle class. Many of them teach at the university. Some people become professionals in joint ventures or start their own businesses, while others work in major government agencies or think tanks.
With technical expertise and indispensable professional services, intellectuals and professionals become socially rising classes. They see themselves as pioneers of democracy and are important contributors to society. Renowned democracy advocate Fang Lizhi mentioned limited peasant political participation because democracy requires enlightened citizenship – something that only intellectuals claim in China (Kraus, 1989). Some people actively participate in new social movements such as the environmental movement. As intellectuals are better educated, they can act as a bridge for communication and pass on information to others in society. Since the early 1990s, with the increase in wages and the government’s huge budget for research and development, its status and living standards have been significantly improved. In addition, their employment in educational and research institutions provides them with above-average wages, fringe benefits, and job security.
Some Chinese researchers have found that entrepreneurs who apply to join the bill or seek to elect a legislature want to gain social status and security, rather than changing the system internally. Similarly, intellectuals hate arbitrary power and desire personal freedom. They want to read the freedom of the press and be able to speak freely (He, 2003). However. Few of them want to openly challenge the regime. Therefore, they are more inclined to gradual reforms and do not support any thorough reforms. In general, intellectuals and professionals seem to be more conducive to the workforce than private entrepreneurs. however. So far, only a handful of intellectuals and college students have joined forces with migrant workers and urban unemployed people, and few have become their mentors and protest leader.