A great and resurgent but hurting China

Shanghai opened its 2010 World Expo last night (Friday) with a lavish opening ceremony, kicking off the 6-month world fair that is surely one of the most expensive and largest ever and the first in a developed country. Some see this event symbolizing Shanghai’s “comeback” as a premier world city, though as a colleague of mine succinctly put it- haven’t they been one for some time? – and while it might be a little hyperbolic, it does show China’s impressive and growing soft power in being able to host massive and gaudy international events like this and the 2008 Olympics. But as impressive as these events are, they still can’t obscure the significant problems within China, specifically growing socio-economic inequality and social problems. This week saw several horrendous attacks by knife-wielding individuals on little children in schools (see photos of the aftermath of one attack here) across the country. It would be easy to deem the attackers as crazed psychos and copycats and definitely in a sense they are, but looking at their recent background, it’d seem like the attackers themselves are “victims” who bear strong grudges and resentment against society for reasons like being out of work or being taken advantaged of by the authorities. It doesn’t excuse what they did, but it does show that amidst the hype over China’s economic and global power, it still has a society that doesn’t have much of a social safety net and where ruthless competition is basically a way of life, whether it be for jobs or school spots and other social resources, exacerbated by corrupt and inefficient government officials. Many find it hard to cope, and while the vast majority won’t be going on killing or stabbing sprees against children, they’re certainly expressing discontent in online forums, on the streets and undertaking all kinds of extreme action.

Danwei looks at Chinese media coverage and commentary on the attacks, including a memo sent to Sina, an online portal, editors not to place news of the latest attack on the front page (maybe it means homepage) in light of the World Expo’s opening. There are both views supporting and opposing limiting coverage of the attacks from Chinese media, as well as at least one expert who raises economic and social problems as possible causes.