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China's Dilemma

Social Change and Political Reform

Courtesy Reuters

In May and June 2010 Chinese workers organized strikes, which spread across factories in southern China. By citing labor law protections passed in 2008, they secured tacit government approval for their labor action and got pay rises and better working conditions from their employers. In August Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a prominent speech warning that China’s economy and national modernization process would be jeopardized if the country failed to undertake systemic political reform. In October, the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, one of hundreds of Chinese that signed a 2008 charter calling for constitutional democracy, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Together, these events called attention to the prospects for social and political reform in China.

In fact, there is no indication that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will launch major political reforms in the near term. Wen’s speech did, however, identify China’s central long-term challenge: on the one hand,

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