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A new probe into China’s private lives

world Updated: Jun 11, 2010 02:19 IST
Reshma Patil

Chinese sociologists have launched a bigger and more inquisitive attempt than any study in India or a developing nation to probe how individuals, families and communities are coping with the world’s fastest modernisation.

“The scale, rapidity, speed, and scope of social changes in China are unprecedented,’’ sociologist Yu Xie at the University of Michigan who has teamed up with the Peking University in Beijing, told the Hindustan Times. “The study will be important to China’s political goals, as emphases gradually shifts from economic aspects to social issues during China’s development.”

This Chinese Family Panel Study — the world’s second-largest such exercise after a British study — will also transform social science in China from being opinion-based to evidence-based, said Yu.

Since the launch of economic reforms over 30 years ago, the Chinese economy has grown faster than researchers can keep pace recording how the changes impact personal and political aspirations and satisfaction with the quality of life.

Officials view labour unrest, ethnic riots, anti-demolition protests and even critical bloggers as a threat to domestic stability and the Communist Party rule. This year, some analysts speculated that social inequality was the root cause of a series of attacks on China’s kindergarten children.

Inequality of income, education and health-care access, inequalities of migrant life and ‘inequality due to the centralised political system’ are major themes for data collection from interviews with each member in 16,000 households in 25 provinces.

In an April interview to Science magazine, Yu revealed that 380 trained interviewers will also observe nuances like ‘how wealthy the family is, how they interact, how clean the house is.’

The data will record changes like how generations of the Chinese households get along, teenage dating habits, emotional maturity of students, adult sexual behaviour, migration patterns, and whether respondents are depressed or confident about the future.

The Science magazine report highlighted the challenges of tracking change in the fastest-changing nation.

Interviewers on pilot studies ahead of this project would revisit villages and find entire communities relocated for construction projects. The sample will represent 95 per cent of the population, but Tibet and Xinjiang where China’s worst ethnic violence since several years erupted in 2008 and 2009 are out of coverage.

The researchers plan to constantly release raw data to Chinese academicians. “The survey will always be ongoing, we hope,’’ said Yu. The analysis of China’s private side may be made public after two years.