There is much to mull over in the most recent poll results released by the Pew Charitable Trust's "Global Attitudes Project." You can find out what people all over the world think about George Bush or Hamas taking power in Palestine. But perhaps the most surprising data point to emerge from this survey of some 9000 people in 15 different nations came from the answer to the first question: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in your country today?
Out of 15 nations, only three were happy with current conditions, and two of those just barely -- Egypt (55 percent) and Jordan (53 percent). Then there was China, where a whopping 81 percent of the 2180 people polled professed themselves "satisified." That was a marked improvement over a year ago, when 72 percent said they were satisfied, and nearly double the response (48 percent) from 2002.
How could this be? By the Chinese government's own account, there were nearly 87,000 public disturbances in China last year. Tales of rioting peasants, fed up with party corruption and local land seizures and industrial pollution, are rampant. If you believe a recent AFL-CIO report on factory conditions in China, the East Coast is one giant forced-labor camp. The air is unbreathable, the press heavily censored, etc. How could 81 percent be satisfied with the way things are going?
One answer lies in a closer look at the data. In contrast to most of the nations polled, the survey sample in the Chinese case was "disproportionately urban." And to be sure, it is the coastal urban areas of China that have benefitted most from China's economic growth over the last 25 years. Rural-urban income inequality is a big problem in China, and by most accounts getting worse. By cutting out the rural segment, the poll-takers cut out the people most likely to be unsatisfied.
Even so, the trend line, from 48 to 72 to 81 is striking, and it's well worth taking into account when critiquing China's decision to make itself globalization's factory floor. If the Chinese themselves feel like they're on the right track, who are we to argue?