Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happiness Not Equal to GDP Growth (Asia Times Online)

Money can't buy China happiness
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - Late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, a couple of years before his death in 1976, once advised a visiting foreign guest how to read and understand propaganda in the Chinese media. He said what was being trumpeted or glorified in "our newspapers" was exactly what "we" needed to improve or try to attain.

Nearly 40 years later, his advice seems still valid, even as China's economy and society have changed profoundly. Following his advice, one may interpret Chinese media's zealous praise of "pursuit of happiness for the people" - a goal set by the Chinesegovernment recently - as an indication that "happiness" is still
something Chinese people are in want of, though they are much better off economically.

Indeed, even some Chinese officials and commentators frankly admit this. For example, Zhang Lijuan, a columnist for - the official website of the State Council's Information Office, wrote on March 16, "30 years' of economic reforms in China have created an economic miracle. The government has promoted economic growth with a GDP target every year. But paradoxically, although people are wealthier, they are not happier. Facing issues of social injustice, high inflation, and a widening gap between the rich and poor, the government has decided to directly target happiness."

The goal of "happiness" for the people was announced by PremierWen Jiabao in his Government Work Report to the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) on March 4. It is also written into the national 12th Five-year Plan for Social and Economic Development (2011 - 15) as a signal of change in development strategy. In his report, Wen said the government's work is to "let people live more happily and with more dignity". In an online chat with netizens earlier, Wen gave his definition that "happiness means people live comfortably, feel relieved and safe, and have confidence in the future." Wen also said that Beijing would adopt the "happiness of the people" as a new yardstick to measure the performance of officials, replacing the 30-year-old yardstick of GDP growth.


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