Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So is China Happy or Not?

A recent bestseller in China entitled Unhappy China (中国不高兴) created a stir a few months back. Not having read it, my understanding is that it was written by five authors who think that China is more qualified to lead the world, and that the West should just step aside and let that happen. I'm not sure exactly why a collective China should be unhappy, but the title of the book just never set well with me.

Even though it comes from a Chinese source, to me the title seems to perpetuate what I thought was a uniquely Western myth, that of China as a monolith. If I have learned nothing else in my years of living in, and traveling to, China, it is that the Chinese are about as individualistic as any other group of people one would ever meet.

From what I understand, though the book has sold well in China, it hasn't been universally well-received in China -- further confirming the fact that not all Chinese are unhappy. Or maybe it's just the fact that the overwhelming majority of China's population probably cannot afford to buy the book.

Like bestsellers in the US, this one apparently had enough legs to spawn a few offshoots. Yesterday I saw these three books at a bookstore in Raffles City, Shanghai.

The first book is the original, Unhappy China. In the middle is Happy China. And on the right is Why is China Unhappy?.

So is China happy or not?

Stupid question.


  1. The operative insight--"China is not a monolith"--is so on target. Indeed, until the 250 MM figure out how to justly distribute moderate, sustainable wealth to its remaining 1 billion lao3 bai2xing4 compatriots, China need not look beyond its borders.

  2. The monolith myth originated in China, not in the West, in my opinion.

    It is the CPC's rhetoric that entertains these ideas, as in "you hurt the feelings of the people", etc. The government is continuously presenting China as a monolith, as it is in its own interest. Because then, every critic of the government is a critic "of the Chinese people" and so subject to nationalistic reactions.

    BTW, I think China is happy. But that is only my opinion. I don't think I will read the book to find out, though.

  3. I think most Chinese are unhappy, but not the way the book described. Majority of them did not get their fair share of the economic boom. They don't have the right, the authority, the power, and the permission to decide who can grab their land, and where can they go when they are kick out of their house. They can't complain when they are mistreated by their government, and government officials. They can't do a thing about themselves and their friends and family, if they don't have power, or they don't have powerful friends and family. It is the helplessness that make them unhappy. They can't even speak out about their problems. And that's why they are unhappy.

  4. Thanks, everyone for your interesting comments.

    Uln, I agree with your point that the government is doing a lot to perpetuate this myth, especially with the "hurt feelings" rhetoric. I am deleting the word "uniquely" in front of "Western" in the article because, regardless of where it began, this myth is certainly perpetuated by both sides.

    Maoruiqi and Bill both offer a similar perspective that a lot of people cannot be happy because of their socio-economic and/or political conditions. While I agree that there are certainly some unhappy people among the lower stratum of Chinese society, I've also seen some pretty unhappy rich people here as well. Which I guess points to the political issue more than the economic one.

  5. they need a reality check to wake from thier own dream

  6. A government can't run successfully by keeping its people unhappy. And when such govt functions without facing opposition then it is not governance rather it is called dictatorship.Every human being born on mother EARTH has born with right to access human rights....from which they cannot be deprived of.International community should raise a voice against these atrocities (wearing a veil of communism).


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