Is China facing a trust deficit? State media seems to be saying “yes.” According to an editorial published yesterday in the print edition of state-run People’s Daily titled “Use Trust to Break the Ice,” a new survey conducted in seven Chinese cities shows that the Chinese social confidence index has fallen below sixty points. As the Chinese Web site RFI explains, this means that fewer than one in five Chinese people believe the majority of people in their society are trustworthy, while fewer than three in ten people believe that strangers can be trusted. The People’s Daily reported that experts attribute this drop to social transformation in the ways that Chinese people interact.
The article reminisces back to times when Chinese enjoyed their neighborhood, and parents would go out and leave their children and keys to their apartment with their neighbors. In sharp contrast, the article reports, today neighbors install security doors and windows, and the mantra “don’t talk to strangers” has become the norm.
The People’s Daily attributes this breakdown in social interactions to China’s rapid and “inevitable” urbanization, which it says degrades mutual trust. The editorial warns that whether or not the study is accurate, social integrity requires urgent attention: China needs to promote governmental integrity in order to strengthen trust between the people and the entire community. A stronger legal system and laws will help to improve trust. But in order to combat a society of strangers, the people also need to continue to communicate with one another, exchange greetings, and organize neighborhood festivals and activities. Rapid urbanization has upset old bonds, but the editorial puts the onus on individual Chinese to build new ones.
Let the finger pointing begin
While users of microblogging platform Sina Weibo affirmed the massive social changes the article describes, by and large they appear not to believe that the lack of trust begins with the nation’s citizens. Instead, they have pointed their collective finger at China’s ruling government. @萧峵 wrote that if changes need to occur to combat a lack of trust in Chinese society, then “the ruling party and its mouthpiece should do the first self-criticism.” @-流年似梦- summed up the general consensus among commenters:“The government is everyone’s familiar stranger.”
A lack of trust between netizens and government officials has grown deep in recent years, amidst high-profile local-level corruption cases, many of which have been brought to the government’s attention by Web users. These so-called “netizens” have taken it upon themselves to actively ferret out examples of Chinese officials living beyond their means and advocating for citizens wronged by those who purport to represent them.
Transparency International, a global coalition fighting against government corruption, gave China a score of 39/100 on its corruption perception index, which ranks China 80 out of 176 countries.
Most netizens commenting on the People’s Daily’s post denounced officialdom as the cause of alienation in modern China. @晨依思 remarked that the government was the “root cause of the problem” and that society should “now look to officials” to fix it. @瑟调琴弄 asked, “If the rulers are untrustworthy, how can you build integrity?”
Some agree with the People’s Daily’s argument that a stronger legal system would improve trust in society. @段郎说事 wrote in support, “Apply the rule of law, use the system to resolve social alienation.” But a larger number believe that strengthening the legal system shouldn’t aim to correct problems among the people, but should fix problems within government. @hjk4321-1 wrote, “If you want to work with iron, you must be tough yourself.” The phrase means that one must be ideologically sound to perform arduous work.
With trust waning in Chinese society, Web users seem to agree that neighborhood parties and friendly greetings are not going to be enough to combat the problem. If China hopes to achieve a strong level of trust among its people, the government would do well to listen to netizen calls to increase government transparency and strengthen ties between officials and the people. As Weibo user @草根皆尘 put it, trust is “based on mutual trust; we first need to remove the mask.”
[h/t Bill Bishop]