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Minqi Li: “Throughout the 1990s, maybe 70 or 80 percent of the state industrial sector was privatized. And as a result, between 30 million and 60 million of the state-sector and the collective-sector workers lost their jobs in that period of time.”

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PAUL JAY: Welcome back to the second part of our interview with Minqi Li. Minqi, talk a bit about the struggles taking place in China. We’re told that these Olympic games, or the ceremonies, were the expression of harmony. The Chinese Communist Party is calling for a harmonious society. But these were the same slogans used by Chinese feudalism, where people are supposed to accept their lot in life. So talk to us about what exactly is happening now in China.

MINQI LI: Well, that’s the interesting thing. You know, in the Olympic opening ceremony, there’s this celebration of the Confucian rituals. So today you can celebrate Confucianism, you can celebrate the West, but you cannot celebrate anything associated with revolution or socialism.

JAY: Just to emphasize that point, just in case there’s anybody in this audience that didn’t see the opening ceremonies, which I suppose is possible, there was next to nothing in the opening ceremonies that had anything to do with anything that happened either during World War II, the anti-Japanese war, and nothing, really, about what happened in the revolution in the last 50, 60 years. Go ahead.

LI: Okay. Yeah. It’s, you know, about this harmonious society. And, in fact, the Chinese Communist Party leadership today is promoting this harmonious society exactly because they feel that, over the years of market-oriented reform, China has developed so many social conflicts, so many disharmonious aspects in this society. And so, basically, after about 2002, 2003, with the coming of this new administration led by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, and they feel it’s necessary to take some steps to address these issues.

JAY: Minqi, can you give us some examples of what you say are a rising disparity or these social tensions? Give us some facts, some statistics on them, that give us a picture of what’s happening in general.

LI: Between 1 percent or 5 percent of Chinese population controlling about 70 percent of all of the financial wealth, as far as I can recall correctly. And it’s also interesting that a few days earlier I read a commentary article on The Financial Times, which says why China’s middle class does not like democracy. Now, it’s written by an American who—basically, he is arguing that the Chinese middle class—. The middle class actually a misnomer in the Chinese context. It’s actually about the most privileged 15 percent of population. And they would, in fact quite be concerned, given China’s context, that if you do have democracy in China, they would be outvoted by the lower classes in China. So that’s the—you know, give you some idea about the situation in China today.

JAY: Give us, for example, what’s the situation in terms of health care for people, unemployment, some basic statistics about life?

LI: In terms of unemployment the official statistic is not that reliable. But, basically, throughout the 1990s, maybe 70 or 80 percent of the state industrial sector was privatized. And as a result, between 30 million and 60 million of the state-sector and the collective-sector workers lost their jobs in that period of time. And in the meantime, we have, let’s say, between 100 million to 200 million of the workers, the so-called migrant workers, meaning they originally came from the rural areas, then work and get employ in the urban sector. So these migrant workers typically work in the sweat shop conditions—that’s well known. And in terms of health care, China used to have relatively good, actually a pretty good, basic health care system by third-world standards, and that has completely changed. And so China by now has arguably the most privatized health care system in the world, in terms of most of the workers, peasant, do not have access, especially in the rural areas, do not have access to health insurance, so they have to pay out of their pocket when they see a doctor.

JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the idea that this is part of growing pains, that this is a catharsis China has to go through, and that, first, these cities become more affluent, and then the countryside will follow. That’s the theory. In the next segment of our interview, let’s find out whether Minqi thinks this is true. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and The Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and is the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the field of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.