The China Research Center Annual Lecture 2014: “The Paradox of Communists Effectively Promoting Capitalism”

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Professor Martin Whyte gave a talk at Georgia Tech on April 11, 2014 discussing his research on Chinese attitudes toward income inequality and distributive justice. The event was hosted by the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy (CISTP), the Georgia Tech School of History, Technology, and Society, and the China Research Center. Introductory remarks were provided by Nunn School Professor John Garver. 

For more than a decade Whyte has been conducting surveys on economic inequality and distributive justice in China, asking participants to respond to questions such as “Why are some people at the top and some people at the bottom” and “Does dishonestly explain why some people are wealthy.” Whyte found that the Chinese have a considerably more accepting  attitudes toward inequalities than do their counterparts in both mature capitalist countries and post-communist states in Eastern Europe do.  Chinese tend to see inequality as a function, not of unjust social structures, but as a function of hard work, education, and entrepreneurial drive.   China and the United States actually tend to be somewhat similar in this regard.   This is striking because China still self-identifies as a socialist country.

Whyte believes these positive national attitudes can be attributed to a “halo effect” that has accompanied China’s dynamic economic growth since it began making capitalistic reforms in 1978.  The deepest sources of perceptions of injustice in China, Whyte suggested, have to do not with economic differences per say, but with inequality of power, ”procedural injustice” over such things as official abuse of power.

Martin Whyte has been a Professor of Sociology at Harvard since 2000. Previously, he taught at the University of Michigan and George Washington University. His research and teaching specialties are comparative sociology, sociology of the family, sociology of development, the sociological study of contemporary China, and the study of post-communist transitions. His recent books are The Myth of the Social Volcano: Perceptions of Inequality and Distributive Injustice in Contemporary China (Stanford 2010) and One Country, Two Societies: Rural-Urban Inequality in Contemporary China (Harvard 2010).  


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