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Yueran Zhang senior contributor

Slower GDP Growth in China? All the Better, Say Some Netizens

Credit: Peter Nicholson

On July 13, China’s National Bureau of Statistics, or NBS, revealed that GDP growth rate was “only” 7.6% year-over-year in second quarter 2012, the first time growth has fallen below 8% since the global financial crisis.

Although the number was in line with economists’ expectations, it still managed to ignite a heated debate among Chinese netizens about its meaning for China’s future and, more importantly, for the daily life of Chinese people.

Uncertainty in the economy

Unlike the financial crisis of 2008, when the Chinese government committed itself to a massive fiscal stimulus, it remains unclear at this time whether the government will respond in similar fashion. Domestic and international economists are also voicing diverse, conflicting opinions about the causes of and solutions for this latest downturn, leaving netizens confused and doubtful that China’s economy is on the right path.

After releasing the lower growth figures, the government has tried hard to soften their impact and to maintain confidence. Sheng Laiyun, the spokesman for the NBS, asserted that “the economy is performing smoothly and making steady progress.” Considering the goal set by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of 7.5% GDP growth for 2012, 7.6% does not seem problematic. However, China’s central bank recently slashed interest rates twice within thirty days, a surprise measure that leads many netizens to question whether the government really has everything under control.

@xwzx111 writes on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, “I’m terrified. Everyone knows the world economy is slowing and so many negative factors put China in danger. Why does the NBS claim that it has confidence in achieving the annual goal? What if the goal is not reached? Will they fake the growth figures then?” {{1}}[[1]] 看了《GDP三年来首次跌破8% 统计局称有信心实现年度目标》的新闻,心惊胆战。全球经济都在下滑,下行因素较多,已成共识,中国也难以免俗。为何要国家统计局出来表信心呢?达不到怎么办,又要作假吗?[[1]]

More than just feeling uneasy about the economic outlook, some netizens also expressed outright mistrust towards the macro-economic policies of the government. One representative quote from an article titled The Bankruptcy of Keynesianism published on ifeng.com, which was widely shared by netizens right after the release of the GDP statistics, states: “The prosperity achieved by the government’s stimulus measures only creates depression afterwards. For example, everyone desires good health, but if you try to attain it not by diet and exercise but by taking steroids or Viagra, your body would definitely break down one day.” {{2}}[[2]]你搞刺激下的繁荣,繁荣之后必定是萧条。打个比方,我们都希望自己身体越强壮越好,但你不是通过一个健康的饮食和合理的锻炼等等,而是通过外在的力量,打激素、吃兴奋剂、吃伟哥什么的,那肯定是不可持续的,最后一定会生病,你的身体功能一定会衰败。[[2]]

@邱爽_规划民工 even alleges that macro-economic control measures would not be effective to tackle the slow-down this time: “The economic decline this time is caused by internal structural factors. Any counter-cyclical fiscal or monetary policy would be the wrong medicine.” {{3}}[[3]]这次的经济下滑却是由内在的结构性因素导致。通过反周期的积极财政政策和货币政策显然是“文不对题”。[[3]]

To make the discussion even more complicated, netizens like @李杰律师1212 question whether the GDP growth figure is even real: “The statistics came out so late. Obviously it’s because the NBS was trying its best to cook the books. A number that’s too low would deflate people’s confidence, and one that’s too high would be suspect. We ordinary people shouldn’t pay much attention to the number, at the end of the day every bit of daily life that tells us about the real economic situation.” {{4}}[[4]]数据出来的越来越晚,可想而知统计局是在费心思编数据。数据编的太低,容易让人对中国经济形势产生悲观,数据编的太高,人家会产生质疑;最后出来的这个数据肯定经过经过很多工序和包装。我们老百姓大可不必关心这个数字,毕竟生活的点点滴滴在时刻告诉我们这个国家的经济形势。[[4]]

Concerned about their livelihoods

For many netizens, the health of the national economy is what is reflected in their daily life. As @梦翔之海 suggests, “all the media analysis didn’t pay attention to the very key question: are people really benefiting from the economic growth? Do they feel happier? Talking about numbers without the context of people’s well-being is meaningless.” {{5}}[[5]]最近媒体关注报导中国GDP增长率破八,分析来分析去,却忽略了关键问题,老百姓是否切实享受到了经济增长的好处,人民的幸福感是否在提升?离开民生根本,谈这些虚幻的数字有何益处?[[5]]

Some worry whether the slowing of economic growth would directly result in fewer job opportunities. @且听胡说 points out that China has no choice but to maintain high-speed economic growth in order to create enough jobs to maintain social stability. “The pressure of maintaining 8% growth stems from the widening income disparity,” he tweets. “The income of a single worker in the U.S. could feed 4.8 people [in that country], while it’s 1:6.8 in Britain, France and Germany, 1:3.8 in South Korea and Japan, but only 1:1.1 in poor China. Those developed countries also have comprehensive welfare systems. For 100 million working-age people, other countries only need to provide 20 to 30 million jobs in order to feed them all, but China needs 80 million jobs to keep society stable. Therefore, other countries are satisfied with 2-3% percent of annual GDP growth, but we need 8% to sustain social stability!” {{6}}[[6]]保8”压力源于收入分配结构不合理。美国一个产业工人的劳动收入可以供养4.8人,德英法是1:6.8,韩日是1:3.8,中国为可怜的1:1.1。况且欧美日韩还有完善的社会保障体系。所以1亿适龄劳动人口,在欧美国家只需提供2000—3000万个就业岗位而在中国则需要提供8000万个就业岗位才能保持社会基本稳定。所以,国外GDP能有2—3%增长,社会就一片欢呼,而我们至少要保8才能维持社会稳定![[6]]

Save the Mortgage Slaves

Artist Liang Kegang wearing a shackle with the characters "Mortgage Slave"

Other netizens had their eyes fixed on housing prices. At the press conference, the NBS spokesman admitted that a major factor contributing to the economic deceleration was tightened control of the real estate market. Although he affirmed that the control measures would not be loosened, many still expect that housing prices would rise again as the government takes measures to boost the economy. @城市边缘99 complains, “We would prefer slower GDP growth over higher housing prices! Maintain the strict control of the real estate market!” {{7}}[[7]]宁要GDP减速,不要房价上涨!支持房地产政策继续调控![[7]]

Similarly, @时之作手_宇 is depressed by the fact that high GDP growth also drove up housing prices and left many struggling on the rental market: “The government is saying the slower economic growth is due to control of housing prices. If you turn this rationale around, it means the miracle of high speed GDP growth must be attributed to the growth of the real estate market. This has created many miracles as well as much frustration. Aren’t inelastic demand [for housing] and so-called ‘mortgage slaves’ then just sacrifices on the altar of GDP growth? Aren’t they the silent, long-suffering stepping stones of this ‘prosperity’?” {{8}}[[8]]半年度GDP破八,官方说由于房地产调控所致。反过来说,GDP的大幅增长时由于房地产业的发展,于是造成了很多奇迹,造成了很多无奈。现在的所谓刚性需求,所谓的房奴,岂不是GDP奇迹的牺牲品?岂不是歌舞升平的垫脚石?[[8]]

Slower Growth a Good Thing?

Perhaps with all this in mind, many netizens seem to think that the slackening of GDP growth may be a positive development, and that temporary stagnation may present an excellent opportunity for restructuring the economy and adopting a new path to development.

On Sina Weibo, a comment by Mr. Wang Shi (@王石), a successful real-estate entrepreneur, has been shared nearly 2000 times. “For the sake of our offspring, for the future of the nation, the model of economic development that only emphasizes GDP growth should be abandoned. Slow down the pace please.” {{9}}[[9]] 为了今天,子孙的明天、国家的健康发展,一切以GDP为准绳的经济发展模型必须转变;放慢步伐…[[9]]

The popularity of the comment mirrors netizens’ awareness that the GDP-first ideology, which has dominated government thinking, has pushed the economy to grow too fast at the expense of social welfare and the environment. @快乐haier_a0s writes, “The economic stagnation is actually positive! We should seize the chance to restructure the economy after already missing a chance in 2008. Securing high GDP growth serves no purpose other than to further the careers of politicians. We should slow down and work for a high-quality economy, rather than maintaining expensive, inefficient growth.” {{10}}[[10]]经济放缓是好事!趁此机会调整产业结构,以免贻误像08年那样的大好机会。保增长其实就是保政绩,唯GDP论在作祟。与其粗放而低效率的增长,不如放慢脚步,提高经济质量。[[10]]

@浮世涤生 agrees. “Our country should stop leaping forward and do some soul-searching in order to achieve sustainable progress. Development relying only on export, real estate, investment and cheap labor needs to change. Slower growth will mean bluer skies, cleaner water, safer food, greener mountains. GDP growth may slow down but people may feel happier. There will be less forced demolitions for development, and a greater feeling of belonging. We will have fewer prestige projects, and more projects that really serve the people.” {{11}}[[11]]我们的国家是应该停一下跃进狂奔的脚步了,,检修一下,才能更健康的前进,靠出口、房地产、投资、廉价劳动力增长的方式应该转变。脚步放慢就不浮躁了,天空变蓝了,水变清了,食品安全了,山变绿了, GDP降了,幸福感强了,拆迁的少了,归属感强了,面子工程少了,民心工程多了…[[11]]

For many, the well-being of common people is the key to making the economy healthy and sustainable. @松花蛋战战战’s comment is representative: “For the government, the key to boosting future development is to increase people’s income and consumption and to invest more in infrastructure, health care, education and other areas that improve people’s lives. ” {{12}}[[12]]增加居民收入以增加消费,增加基建、医疗、教育等民生领域投资,才是推动今年和以后经济增长的王道![[12]]

Thus it seems that, instead of worrying about the slowing of GDP growth and the decline of China’s economy, many netizens are more worried that the government will repeat the same measures it took in 2008 to stimulate the economy.

@佳祺陳 voices out the concern. “I don’t especially care if the growth rate slows below 8% this year. Is there a real difference between 8.1 and 7.5? What I care about is how well government policy can adapt to the slow-down and leverage it to achieve structural reform of the economy. I would be really worried if the economy maintains its current warped structure and GDP growth continues to slow. What we need the most now is the courage for reform, which our current leaders lack.” {{13}}[[13]]今年的经济保不保8我不是特别在意,8.1和7.5有区别吗??只是差了点。在意的是中央决策层对GDP减速的包容性,更多的降调结构纳入考虑,如果结构依然扭曲着,而GDP进一步下滑,这才是担心的,以前邓公是才石头过河,现在河岸就在那里需要的是过河的勇气,改革的魄力,这在目前的高层是缺少的[[13]]

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Yueran Zhang

Yueran Zhang is a student at Duke University, class of 2015, currently majoring in sociology and math. He spent all of his life before college in Beijing.