Sunday marked the start of Chinese Lunar New Year, the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. Reports record an unprecedented 3.4 billion trips made by Chinese returning home for New Year’s celebrations.
This year is the Year of the Snake, and many will find that their home country has changed. Over the past year, China has experienced significant cultural unrest, from disputes over problematic labor practices to reform of the income distribution system.
Donald Gross is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of "The China Fallacy: How the U.S. Can Benefit from China's Rise and Avoid Another Cold War." Sheryl WuDunn is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power."
WuDunn and Gross are in agreement that the legitimacy of the Chinese government is dependent on how they can deal with the worsening economic inequality and inadequate social safety nets. According to Gross, "Economic equality and the social implications of that is truly a critical problem that China faces right now. It's exacerbated by the fact that approximately 250 million people from the countryside have moved to the cities…and they are not eligible for many of the benefits that urban dwellers have." WuDunn contends that the situation is so dire that many children lack access to basic education because of their migrant status.
Gross warns that China's leadership must deal with these issues promptly: "Clearly for the new leadership coming into China, which will take office in March, addressing the inequality economically, increasing pensions, providing much better healthcare, giving greater access to education, not only for city dwellers, but for people in the countryside and those who have migrated to the cities from the countryside…that's a truly critical challenge they face."