Middle Class Youth in China (Beijing Radio)

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Giving an interview on the trials and tribulations of the middle classes in China - I found myself quizzed on recent British history and stresses in the class system.

The question was a good one, the researcher at the station had been reading recent reports on downward mobility in UK. Suddenly, post GFC, the baby boomers realise that their grandchildren, indeed children, are not having the easy ride that they did.

Would this be happening in China too?

Well, in a way it's already happening. The very rich are somewhat protected from the more extreme follies of the world system of making and distributing wealth. Their children will be more likely to get to elite universities, to find work placements, and to earn salaries that will fund lifestyles they can live with. But the middling classes will struggle. Competition for global wealth is premised on rules and opportunities invented in line with the wills and interests of those who already manage it, or think they do. There is no certainty for salaried labour.

Kracauer wrote about white collar workers in the late Weimar period, their mixture of optimism and uncertainty led to great disappointments, that led in turn to political populism and chaos.

China faces huge waves of optimism and expectation. That may lead in turn to furious disappointment. The UK felt disappointed in the 1970s when I was growing up - oil crisis, bad jeans - but there was the rush of design excitement (pity about society) in the 1980s and people didn't notice the greyness quite so much. The ones who lost jobs and houses noticed of course, but they didn't win elections.

Not sure how it feels now. And the middle classes do sit astride the working but underpaid /  the unemployed and  disaffected millions in China, in the UK, across the world. So any problems in the middle are even greater at the bottom.

Here's the weblink to the full interview for Beijing Radio, aired on 31 October 2013.



Stephanie Donald

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