We have spent much of the week mulling the Middle-Class as a concept. Does it even exist? If so, what impact does it have? it’s like trying to analyze paintings in an art gallery with the lights turned off.
On one side, there are those who believe that China is heading into a phase of Class Struggle with the Ruling Class on one side and the Middle Class on the other, and the proletariat off somewhere on the sidelines as always. If that’s true and there is a showdown coming, then when? Ah, now that’s where a crystal all is required, or at least a light switch. On the other side, we have spoken this week with people who believe that the Middle Class, if it can be said to exist at all in China, is so puny that it is has no significance at all in the future evolution of the country today.
Balancing up the views, with all the judicial neutrality and independence of judgment we can muster, which is not much, we tend to the view that there is a Middle Class, that its definition does not need to be too specific because the key is the awareness on the part of the Middle Class that they ARE Middle Class and therefore separate from either the Proles or the Rulers. That awareness, we sense anecdotally, has grown strong in the past two or three years. How does that play into the future?
The Middle Class, the argument goes, has a fundamental goal of protecting the value of their assets, and the only way to do that ultimately, in China or anywhere else, is the rule of law. Hmm. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Then there is the other view, that the Middle Class is small, weak, cowed and more concerned about stability than rule of law. Keep those rose-colored glasses off your face, but also don’t forget that in a system with low transparency the unexpected is to be expected. Watch out, you’re about to bump into a rubbish bin next to the statue in front of you.
And how about the stock market? We’re glad you asked. It was a week when the Shanghai market never got close to 3,000. Insiders say it can’t rise, and it can’t fall, but it has to get out of this range eventually, and our view would still be that the exit is down the stairs, just past the Zao Wou-Ki painting. If you’ve never seen his works, they are worth a few seconds on Google. Huge splashes of color, massive abstract power shapes of an indeterminate nature. We sat next to him once at a dinner party, and he told the story of how the chairman of a major state bank asked him to do mural for the lobby of the bank’s headquarters. “Do it in your own style,” the chairman said,” but can you make it a girl?”