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Inside China's ruling party

Woman and child in Beijing (AP)
Economic reforms have uprooted millions of people

The Communist Party’s over-riding aim is social order. Its greatest fear is unrest.

But keeping control over China’s 1.3bn population is becoming more difficult. Economic reforms have undermined the state’s role and forced people to look to the private sector for work and services.

With deep-rooted problems like unemployment set to worsen, it is unclear whether the Party can keep a lid on social disorder.

The authorities are particularly worried about people belonging to shifting social groups that are difficult to pin down and control.

Protest marches

In the cities, these include millions of people laid off from state-owned factories as a result of the economic reforms.

Workers who used to be guaranteed wages, housing and health care are suddenly being left with little or nothing.

There have been several examples of discontent spilling into the streets. In 2002, hundreds of workers laid-off from state-owned factories in north-east China held marches and protests, before their leaders were arrested.

Migrant workers are another group which makes leaders nervous.

As the agriculture sector has declined, an estimated 80-120 million people are thought to have left their homes in search of work and to be now living elsewhere, often moving from job to job.

Because they are usually poorly paid and are not entitled to the urban population’s social benefits, they are seen as a potential mass of discontent. The leadership also blames them for speeding the spread of Aids.

China’s unemployed could also pose a threat. Officially there are about seven million people out of work, though most analysts believe the real total is much higher.

Falun Gong

With the economy unable to create enough jobs for the 20 million urban residents expected to seek work each year, unemployment is set to become a serious social as well as economic problem.

The Party’s fear of any form of challenge means it perceives the Falun Gong spiritual movement as a threat.

China banned the group and labelled it subversive in July 1999 after it demonstrated its ability to mobilise thousands of followers to protest against their treatment by the authorities.

Since then a ruthless crackdown has driven it underground.

In some ways that makes it more frightening for the authorities, because they can no longer judge how widespread it is.


25-30m state workers laid off since 1998

20m urban residents seeking work each year

Only 8m jobs created annually at GDP growth rate of 7%

Some unemployed get $34 Minimum Living Allowance

Others get nothing

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