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Introduction: Winners and Losers within China’s dynamic social change

Post Series: 2010: Volume 9, Number 2
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Rapid change in China is nothing new. Headlines highlight daily the growing importance of the country in the global economy and increasingly, on the political scene. The effect of these changes on a typical citizen in China is harder to grasp.

The three main articles in this issue of China Currents portray an array of winners and losers in China’s development process. The article by Mao, Pih and Bao conveys a sense of mixed opportunities for people in the Northwest-one of the poorest areas in China. Migration to cities can benefit families, but not necessarily. The factors that social scientists often look for as determinants of success, such as education and government-sponsored job training, do not always work in expected ways. As a result, this part of China has not advanced much relative to other parts of China, missing out first on the rural industry movement and now on the opportunities for migration for better jobs.

In the second piece by Cai and Liu we learn that some people in China have many of the same choices as the middle class in the U.S. Here consumers are discussing a brand new product-an Apple i-Pad. In this case study consumers are evaluating an expensive consumer product, and while many consider the i-Pad quite expensive, some of them could certainly afford to purchase one. The study is based on Internet postings, reflecting that China now has more Internet users than any country in the world. The article focuses on the ways that these new consumers communicate their opinions online as compared with similar evaluations by American consumers.

Finally, the films of Jia Zhangke described in the third article by Shu-chin Wu capture glimpses of the bewildered and those adrift in this new society. This is a reality of Chinese life that the filmmaker believes is missing from the visual arts in China. When foreigners visit China it is also not easy to see these aspects of the lives of ordinary people amid the glitter of new buildings and sleek trains. Today there is a new bullet train running between Beijing and Taiyuan. Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi province, where Jia grew up in the small town of Fengyang, and where many of his films are set. But a trip to Fengyang-either in person or via one of Jia’s films-will help bring these other lives into perspective.

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