One of the first long term studies of its kind finds growing satisfaction among Chinese people towards central authorities.
When the Covid-19 virus was first discovered in China's Wuhan province, it was arguably the biggest test President Xi Jinping faced since he assumed power in 2013.
Now more than a year later since the pandemic began, China boasts about containing the virus, reporting the infection rate of under eighty-eight thousand, which puts it just behind Bahrain and slightly ahead of North Macedonian who together have a combined population of under four million.
China is now expected to be the only major economy that will see positive economic growth in 2020 and well ahead of its peers in getting its economy back on track in 2021.
A recent study by Harvard University found that Chinese people are acutely aware of and sensitive to how the government responds to managing the country.
While the survey doesn’t directly address the government's handling of the pandemic that has brought much of the West to its knees economically, it does offer a window on Chinese perceptions of their government.
Gaging the views of Chinese nationals given the country’s restrictive governance model is often hard if not impossible to do so without attracting the attention of the government.
Beijing is often sensitive about opinion polls, in particular, if they are conducted by outsiders.
The Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation has published one of the first studies looking at Chinese views of their government.
Since 2003, the Ash Centre has been tracking satisfaction of government performance, one of the only independent studies that have broached the topic. The authors of the study found that “Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board,” over the years.
From “national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before,” the study found.
The country’s marginalised groups also experienced an increase in satisfaction.
Most citizens associated their well being either negatively or positively to real changes that they saw around them, whether it was an increasing income or the environment.
The authors suggested that support towards the government “could be undermined by the twin challenges of declining economic growth and a deteriorating natural environment.”
“For government leaders, this is a double-edged sword, as citizens who have grown accustomed to increases in living standards will expect such improvements to continue, and citizens who praise government officials for effective policies may indeed blame them when such policy failures affect them or their family members directly,” the report added.
In 2016, the last time the survey was carried out, 93.1 percent of respondents expressed being satisfied with their government. In the US, by comparison, only 68 percent of respondents could say the same about their federal government.
China’s Communist Party has understood that in part its legitimacy rests on providing effective and practical government. Its response to the coronavirus by taking tough action and effectively preventing the spread of the disease is a practical effort to show to the Chinese people that it can still offer solutions.
Surveys such as the one carried out by the Ash Centre, have been criticised in other studies which show that respondents in places such as China are less likely to give their free and open opinion if they believe the information could go back to authorities.
The Ash Centre report does, however, give an insight on what is important to Chinese people and how they see their government.