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Why Nanjing’s launched a happiness index

Personal happiness is a relatively new concept in China. The modern word for happy, xingfu, only entered into common parlance in the 20th century, and as many a Chinese will attest, it still sounds a bit alien to the Chinese ear.

But that hasn’t stopped it becoming one of the government’s new buzzwords.

Over the last year Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has repeatedly said that “people’s happiness” rather than rapid economic growth is at the heart of latest five-year plan (the 12th). Xingfu now crops up in the state newspaper editorials almost as much as “class struggle” did during the Mao era.

Now it is the job of local government to adapt to this new mantra.

The southern province of Guangdong, often an early adopter, incorporated a “happiness index” into its own five-year plan before the national government had even ratified their own last year.

This month, the southern city of Nanjing – once the Chinese capital – was the first major conurbation to do the same.

The index, which will be rolled out by January, will be used to evaluate happiness among Nanjingers, as well to help with the work of the city government, Xinhua reported.

“The 42 criteria will include income distribution, social security, public services, employment services, public safety… satisfaction with income, work status, educational status and general satisfaction,” the state news agency said.

Though the ruling Communist Party has presided over one of the fastest and largest economic expansions in history, an increasing number of its citizens are expressing their dissatisfaction.

Even China’s wealthy are said to be unimpressed, with many looking to emigrate, citing pollution, poor education and food safety as primary concerns (WiC128).

From the perspective of the less well-off, although living standards have risen for the last two decades, the gap between rich and poor has also widened.

According to the Los Angeles Times the rapid pace of change in China has left many feeling disjointed.

“People respond dramatically to change, good or bad. In our studies of happiness, we find that people can’t get used to the new situation,” a Shanghai professor researching the “happiness” factor told the newspaper.

While the domestic media has started to question the headlong rush for economic development by China’s local governments – dubbed the GDP Wars by netizens – it has also been sceptical about the effectiveness of new happiness indices, especially as a force for change at a local level.

Cynics see it as a public relations ploy; while some netizens simply mock it as a Maoist-style throwback.

“You can tell the leftists are in control in Nanjing. That’s what they do in North Korea,” netizen SHBund wrote on his weibo account.


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