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To people in China, future looks bright: Survey
By Donald Greenlees (IHT)
Updated: 2005-11-22 09:39

China's surging economy has had one unsurprising by-product: The Chinese people are feeling good about themselves and the world, according to an opinion survey.

An index of personal optimism, produced by the Pew Research Center, an independent opinion research organization based in Washington, shows China has emerged as "the world leader in hope for the future."

Many Chinese people feel they have made substantial progress in the past five years, think they will be much better off in another five years and are satisfied with the state of the nation, according to the survey, released Tuesday.

In the survey, conducted over the last 10 days of May in major mainland Chinese cities, 76 percent of respondents were found to be optimistic about improving their quality of life within five years. This ranked the Chinese at the top of 17 countries in which the global attitudes survey was conducted.

The Chinese were only matched by Indians for optimism. Of respondents in India - Asia's other economic success story - 75 percent expected their personal situation to improve.

By contrast, in the United States only 48 percent of the survey group expected life to get better, a fall of 13 points since the last survey, in the summer of 2002.

Analysts say the upbeat mood of the Chinese people is undoubtedly linked to rising incomes, wider consumer choices and improved living and working conditions in major cities as the economy bounds along at an expected growth rate of 9.2 percent this year.

"I am not surprised people feel better off because household incomes have gone up quite a lot in the last five to 10 years," Clint Laurent, executive director of Asian Demographics, a consulting firm, said in a phone interview from Beijing.

"Certainly, an increasing proportion of people have a nicer home, an increasing proportion of people can afford proper medical care, and an increasing proportion has more satisfying jobs as skill levels go up."

Many Chinese feel their personal situation has improved. When the Pew Center asked respondents worldwide to rate whether they had made "personal progress" over the past five years, again the Chinese came out on top. Fifty percent of Chinese surveyed claimed to have made progress, the largest proportion of any nationality.

72 percent of those surveyed in China said they were satisfied with national conditions. That was the highest proportion in 17 countries surveyed and compared with expressions of dissatisfaction from 73 percent of Germans and 57 percent of US respondents.

The Pew Center also found "the personally upbeat attitude and self-confidence" reported by the Chinese people was reflected in views of how their country is seen abroad.

Almost 7 of 10 Chinese surveyed thought the country was well-liked in the world. Only 42 percent had a favorable view of the United States, compared with 71 percent of Indians.

Naturally, not everyone feels like a winner in China.

The survey found that 31 percent of Chinese respondents felt they had "lost ground" in the past five years.

This despite extraordinarily rapid economic growth built on low-cost exports and foreign investment.

The Pew Center noted the result was "a reminder that China's economic growth has not touched everyone."

Even those Chinese who feel upwardly mobile still have a way to go before they fulfill their aspirations. Respondents were asked to rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, ranging from "the worst possible life" to "the best possible life."

On this "ladder of life," the Pew Center found 57 percent of Chinese were bunched in the middle, with ratings of 4 to 6. Only 29 percent said they were on the top rungs, with ratings of 7 to 10. In the United States, 59 percent of the people already place themselves on the top rungs.

The Pew Center survey was carried out in face-to-face interviews with 2,191 Chinese who were mainly in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan, which it acknowledged gave the results an urban bias.

Brian Negley, an executive director of AC Nielsen's China office, based in Shanghai, said the urban weighting of the survey made it difficult to do direct comparisons with other countries with smaller disparities between urban and rural areas.

"The difference between urban and non-urban in China is much bigger than in most of those comparison countries," he said. "So to come out and say China is the most optimistic country in the world might be a bit of a stretch if you just think of how the survey was done and conducted."

Laurent, of Asian Demographics, added that opinion surveys in China often needed to be "taken with a grain of salt" because of a tendency among many respondents to want to give positive replies.

"Chinese are very nationalistic and they will be prone to come out with such high satisfaction scores because they are very proud of China," he said. "It would be seen as being disloyal to say you weren't satisfied."

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