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Saturday, November 06, 2004


Theory may prove China on brink of social upheaval

Prof Niu Wenyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a special adviser to the Peoples Pepublic of China’s State Council, has apparently devised a scientific model to predict the “social ignition point” at which unrest will break out.

As reported by the Straits Times’ experienced Editor At Large, Leslie Fong (6 November), Prof Niu considers a widening gap between rich and poor one of the most important factors in a country's social combustibility and his model integrates the “Gini coefficient” used widely by economists to gauge whether wealth is distributed fairly.

On a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 denoting perfectly equal distribution of wealth, Prof Niu believes, any country with a Gini coefficient of 0.4 or more is vulnerable. He says that studies of peasant revolts, the Taiping rebellion and the Communist insurrection started in the 1920s backs his theory.

So what has it been like in recent years? According to figures compiled by Chinese economists, Gini was 0.341 in 1988, 0.343 in 1990, 0.389 in 1995, 0.417 in 2000, 0.448 in 2002 and 0.457 last year.

And even the cautious Fong can work that out: “If the trend continues, it can spell trouble for China and a China caught in the throes of social upheaval is bad news for the world as well”.

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