Chinese society and culture

Policy brief

published: 26.10.2023

Talking about Chinese Society and Talking to Chinese Society

Jean-Louis Rocca

In Europe, the mainstream discourse on China reduces Chinese society to its political system. Chinese society is presented as being backward, rigid, fragmented, and incapable of challenging political power. European values are systematically opposed to supposed Chinese values. In this polarized framework, the Chinese are generally considered to be devoid of opinions, or at least unable to express them. If we want to talk about China and to China, we have to change our vision of Chinese society.

The problem of this narrative is that many Chinese, including those who are most critical of the current regime, consider it as “anti-Chinese”. Moreover, it does not correspond to reality. Actually Chinese society is different from the mainstream image of a totalitarian society populated by submissive individuals who are dominated by an omnipotent power. Social conflict arises in a very broad range of situations, new opinion movements question the new model of society which has emerged in the 1990s. Chinese people, and more particularly the middle class, enjoy a large scope of freedom in matter of lifestyle and personal choices. Finally, despite censorship, social have become a genuine forum for exchanging information and view. The political authorities know that they are judged by the people, and the people know that they can put pressure on the authorities.

About authors

Jean-Louis Rocca

Professor at Sciences Po, Senior Researcher at Centre for International Studies (CERI), Sciences Po

Sociologist and Political scientist, contemporary Chinese society