Members of Beijing's middle class are demonstrating a growing interest in expressing their opinions on some big matters, even if it doesn't have much effect.
"A big portion of Beijing's middle class is not satisfied with simply being entertained or getting rich," said Wang Huiyao, the vice-chairman of China's Western Returned Scholars Association (WRSA), which with more than 50,000 members is the largest overseas returnees' organization in China. "They are keen to share their perspectives about state affairs and seek ways to deliver their message to the country's policy makers."
"We have to make use of these talented and ambitious people, many of whom have contributed tremendously to the economic development of Beijing," Wang said.
Wang, who is also the director general of the Center for China & Globalization, a think tank focusing on the academic, economic and political implications of how China adapts to globalization, said there are about 100,000 returned scholars in Beijing and 15 percent of them are members of the WRSA.
The WRSA also includes the Chinese alumni associations of many of the world's top universities.
"Many of our members joined because they want to network with a pool of talented and resourceful people, which helps them find job opportunities, business partners or life partners," said Wang. "However many of these middle class people seem to have reached a point in their life where they need a channel to express their thinking and opinions. We shouldn't ignore this strong desire."
The middle class often leads mainstream thinking and is the key engines of economic growth in many countries, added Wang.
Over the past few years Wang has been organizing monthly seminar luncheons and roundtable discussions for academics, business people and other members of the middle class while publishing periodicals with scholars' ideas on how to improve the country. He says he has successfully worked with government officials to turn some of the proposals arising from these discussions and periodicals into actual policies.
"Most of these people come back to China with an international vision and different perspective and want to explore the existing problems in Chinese society, instead of just making money here," said Wang.
For January's seminar luncheon Wang invited Huang Yasheng, professor of political economy and international management at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to compare the economies of China and India.
For February's seminar luncheon he invited Ji Weidong, executive director of Morgan Stanley Asia Corp in China, to talk about opportunities in China's media business.
Both of the two sessions attract dozens of the city's top-notch scholars, businesspeople and many other members of Beijing's middle class.
Wang said he wants to expand the seminar luncheon program to include Beijingers who not yet members of the middle class, but aspire to be one day. He admits budgetary constraints are currently hindering this, but hopes people don't mind paying a registration fee to join such discussions and share their opinions.
"We now require people attending our luncheon to pay 300 yuan, but I can guarantee that they will go home with some food for thought," he said.
(China Daily 04/01/2010 page28)