Social Issues and Intellectual Trends

Baidu, China’s leading search engine, posted a list of the top ten search terms for 2012 in its Hot-button Social Issues (Shehui redian 社会热点) category. The terms, translations and a brief explanation of the context follow:


Wang Lijun on trial. Source: CCTV

Wang Lijun on trial.
Source: CCTV

The Wang Lijun Affair (Wang Lijun shijian 王立军事件)

The head of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau and the driving force behind the city’s campaign against organised crime made news in February when he spent twenty-four hours in the US Consulate in Chengdu, directly precipitating the fall of the city’s party secretary, Bo Xilai. Tried in September 2012, Wang was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for abusing his position and attempting to defect; the entertaining, gossipy exposés that subsequently came out in the media painted him as a megalomaniacal strongman obsessed with his image; at his own trial, Bo Xilai accused Wang of additionally having had a special relationship with Bo’s wife, the also-imprisoned Gu Kailai.

Bo Xilai on trial. Source: CCTV

Bo Xilai on trial.
Source: CCTV

The Price of Silver (baiyin jiage 白银价格)

The volatility of silver had investors and speculators frequently searching for its price, which fluctuated between US$20–30 throughout the year.

Bo Xilai Removed from Office (Bo Xilai bei mianzhi 薄熙来被免职 )

The Party dismissed Bo Xilai from his posts in Chongqing in March, and suspended him from the Politburo and Central Committee in April. Stripped of his last remaining position, as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in October, Bo was expelled from the Party on 4 November.

Fuel Prices (youjia 油价)

Government regulators raised prices in February and March, lowered them in June, and raised them again in August.

Paper Gold (zhi huangjin 纸黄金)

Gold certificates gave investors another place to put their money instead of real estate and stocks.

Income Tax (geren suodeshui 个人所得税)

The exemption threshold was increased from 2,000 yuan to 3,500 yuan in September 2011, and on 22 July 2012, the government announced plans to collect income tax on a household basis.

Car License Lottery (yao hao 摇号)

Beijing implemented a lottery system for assigning car license plates in 2011 in an attempt to control traffic gridlock. Guangzhou instituted a similar system in August. A minor commotion arose in November when keen-eyed applicants noticed that the name Liu Xuemei had been picked in the lottery eight times since May. This turned out to be well within ordinary probabilities.

Car licence lottery in Beijing. Source:

Car licence lottery in Beijing.

Labor Contract Law (laodong hetong fa 劳动合同法)

The resolution of employment disputes now involves the use of this law.

Double-ninth Festival (Chongyangjie 重阳节)

A traditional festival associated with chrysanthemums and hill climbing, ‘Double-ninth’ now doubles as ‘Senior Citizens Day’.

Bureau Chief’s Daughter-in-Law Flaunts Wealth (juzhang erxi xuan fu 局长儿媳炫富)

The daughter-in-law of the Director of the Drug Administration of Sanmenxian, Zhejiang province, posted photos of her luxury purchases online, boasting that her husband held a highly paid sinecure at a local state-owned enterprise, drawing the wrath of online commentators and prompting police to investigate.

Bureau chief’s daughter-in-law posted her luxury purchases online. Source:

Bureau chief’s daughter-in-law posted her luxury purchases online.



On 21 January 2013, the People’s Tribune (Renmin luntan 人民论坛), a magazine produced by the People’s Daily Publishing Agency, ran an article listing the top ten ideological trends, as decided by an online poll and a panel of experts. The article’s brief descriptions of the top ten trends offer a pro-establishment perspective on some of the major issues in China and the world in 2012.

The People’s Tribune website with article on the top ten ideological trends, as decided by an online poll, on 21 January 2013. Source:

The People’s Tribune website with article on the top ten ideological trends, as decided by an online poll, on 21 January 2013.

Patriotism was the order of the day during several prominent international disputes involving China in 2012. The People’s Tribune observes that Chinese nationalism was state-based (guojia minzuzhuyi 国家民族主义, as opposed to ethnic nationalism minzuzhuyi 民族主义), but that it tended toward extreme forms of expression, as in the violent sentiments expressed by young people participating in demonstrations over the Diaoyu Islands dispute. It is anticipated that extreme expressions of nationalism will continue to break out over the next several years.

In his Work Report to the Eighteenth Party Congress, Hu Jintao stated: ‘The whole Party should have every confidence in our path, in our theories and in our system’, neatly encapsulating the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Of these ‘three self-confidences’ (sange zixin 三个自信), the most significant is ‘confidence in our theories’, the article states. (It has also been the subject of fervent discussion among Neo-Maoists.)

Hu Jintao, former leader of the Communist Party. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hu Jintao, former leader of the Communist Party.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The perennial privatisation debate heated up in late 2012 after a number of economists identified with neo-liberal values put forth provocative suggestions about the future of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In November, Guo Shuqing, then Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said that SOEs ought to ‘shift 30 percent of their assets, instead of the current 10 percent, to the social security fund for preserving and increasing the value’ (translation by China Daily). Zhao Xiao — an economist at the University of Science and Technology Beijing who specializes in state enterprise reform — applauded Guo’s suggestion, adding: ‘Using SOE dividends to enrich the social security fund is a good idea’. Zhang Weiying — a free-market economist — suggested in December that China will only have a full market economy when SOEs contribute ten percent of GDP. The favourable reception these opinions received had left-leaning ideologues worried that neo-liberals were stealthily swapping ‘liberalism’ for ‘socialism’ in the socialist market economy.


Zhao Xiao, a Chinese economist specialising in state enterprise reform. Source: Baidu Baike

Zhao Xiao, a Chinese economist specialising in state enterprise reform.
Source: Baidu Baike

In a report released on 12 January 2012, the Beijing-based World Luxury Association (WLA) named China the world’s biggest market for luxury goods, accounting for 28 percent of the global total. Although the WLA was publicly shamed in 2013 for fraud and had its business license revoked, there is no doubting the growing hunger for luxury consumption in China. That the WLA was not far off in its estimate was confirmed in December 2012 by a Bain & Company report claiming that Chinese consumers accounted for twenty-five percent of global luxury spending. The People’s Tribune lamented the pursuit of materialism, calling the identification of liberty with the accumulation of material goods symptomatic of a new kind of ‘Chinese malady’.

Universal Values
The People’s Tribune article identified a new tactic in the debate over ‘universal values’ (pushi jiazhi 普世价值). These values are generally understood in China to include concepts such as democracy and human rights. Opponents of universal values see them as Western inventions incompatible with China’s social and political system: they accuse advocates of universal values of stealthily injecting them into discussions of other hot-button topics, and even of using them to subvert the ‘spirit of the Eighteenth Party Congress’ for their own ends.

The ideological split between ‘left’ and ‘right’ in China became more polarised in 2012, and in the crowded sphere of public opinion, people were driven to adopt extreme positions in order to be heard. Calls for complete privatisation the moment SOEs run into problems are matched on the other side by accusations that any criticism of SOEs is an attack on socialism. The Little Yueyue incident, in which a toddler was run over in a hit-and-run accident and ignored by passers-by (see the 2012 Yearbook), was to some people a sign of a looming moral apocalypse, but others pointed to heroic acts by common people in other situations as proof that public morality was in good order.

A trend that began with early education has spread to encompass the reading of traditional classics by adults. The influence of Confucianism in the humanities has moved beyond the disciplines of history and philosophy and has been taken up within such disparate fields as economics, law, political science, sociology, religion and education.

From developed Europe and Japan to fast-rising Russia and India and the countries of Latin America, populism crept into the political process in 2012 and found expression in right-wing governments and among grassroots politicians who turned public discontent into a base of support. The People’s Tribune cautions that while populism can give voice to the needs of the underclass, its negative repercussions should not be ignored.

Funeral of Wu Bin, a driver who was acclaimed for doing his duty. Source: Baidu Baike

Funeral of Wu Bin, a driver who was acclaimed for doing his duty.
Source: Baidu Baike

Moral Relativism
Moral exemplars are often described in China as ‘most beautiful’ (zuimei 最美). In 2012, frequent reports of heroes like ‘the most beautiful teacher’, ‘the most beautiful taxi driver’, ‘the most beautiful soldier’ and ‘the most beautiful mother’ gave the public models of selflessness, courage and integrity. The People’s Tribune opined that the beauty demonstrated by these heroes transcends moral relativism and reinforces positive values.

Social Democracy
In addition to the French Socialists winning the presidency and a parliamentary majority in France, British Labour, Germany’s Social Democratic Party and the Italian Democratic Party all made headway in 2012. After retooling their policies and refocussing their attention on their traditional political power bases following previous setbacks, European social democratic forces are making a recovery.