Society

Secretly unhappy

China trails Iraq in happiness stakes. Beijing’s displeased

Regarding the release of the UN World Happiness Report and China’s rank of 112th: all websites are ordered not to repost. All existing posts should be removed.”

This was the directive received shortly after the report was released in New York on April 2.

According to the China Digital Times, a website that often publishes leaked instructions to the Chinese media, the directive came from the very top – China’s State Council of Information.

So why was a country which has done so much to relieve poverty and raise overall living standards over the last three decades suddenly turned so sensitive?

Probably because of some of the deeper meaning in the UN survey. Its authors pointed out: “It is not just wealth that makes people happy: political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries. At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.”

China fares pretty poorly in many of these categories and as a result its overall score comes in the bottom third of countries surveyed, just below Somaliland.

It also scored lower than war-ravaged Iraq, poverty-stricken Bangladesh, and chaotic but democratic India.

Whether the ratings are fair can be challenged but they aren’t something that the authorities will want to see widely debated ahead of a delicate once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year.

That is not to say the government is unaware of public satisfaction levels. Domestic polls often show as much (in WiC 129 we reported on a survey carried out by a leading Communist Party magazine on the issue). Public disturbances – another indicator used to study the mood – are also said to be on the rise, although comprehensive data is hard to come by.

To counter this the country’s leaders have chosen to include “people’s happiness” as a tenet in the current five year plan (see WiC142).

But as the UN survey suggests, they might have a long way to go before they can claim a successful policy outcome.


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