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Before and After Hu

Is China Better Off Than It Was Ten Years Ago?

China's former President Hu Jintao attends a ceremony in Havana, Cuba, 2008. (Claudia Daut/Courtesy Reuters)

For the first time since 1992, the United States’ and China’s political calendars are syncing up, with presidential elections in the former and a leadership transition in the latter. But unlike in the United States, where Mitt Romney would have had to defeat President Barack Obama in a national election to win the White House, Xi Jinping, who is expected to take office as China’s next president this month, will not face an open contest against the incumbent, Hu Jintao. If the Chinese people were allowed such a choice, however, they would likely ask the perennial question of U.S. presidential elections since the time of Ronald Reagan, albeit in a slightly modified form: Are you better off now than you were ten years ago?

Despite all that is made of China’s spectacular rise, the numbers show that many people in China would likely answer no. As Hu

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