Monthly Review, Feb 2002: the New Year Warmth Project

Official Chinese New Year Resolution: The Poor Get Warmth

Traditions go a long way in China, particularly at the time of New Year celebrations. Beginning February, the government repeated its annual gesture of launching a campaign to send "warmth to the poor" (song wennuan) during the Chinese New Year (which began this year on 12 February).

On 4 February, the Standing Committee of the Politburo held a meeting and issued a directive to all its officials to diligently and earnestly execute the campaign to send support and assistance to the poor during the Spring Festival period. More substantially, the government also ordered the disbursement of bonuses and special funds to the poor in the week before the New Year. Funds were going to be raised from the public purse and well as through private donations. Xinjiang and Tibet, both of which have active separatist movements, were featured prominently in the official media coverage about how well-cared-for the population were by the government.

It has been a tradition in recent years that the media, during the first few days of the Spring Festival, is also filled with large pictures of top officials spending New Year's day with the poor and shaking their hands. It was reported that vice president, Hu Jin-tao (who is tipped to be the next president of China), spent the first three days of the new year visiting numerous poor families in the Heilongjiang Province. This northeastern province has been badly hit by mass retrenchment from its outdated and inefficient state-owned enterprises.

Authorities of the western provinces of Guangxi and Sichuan announced that over RMB 300 million (USD 37 million) would be earmarked for each of the province's Spring Festival Warmth Campaigns. Most of the funds would be used to assist needy pensioners and retrenched workers in the cities. The Labour Bureau of Qingdao allocated RMB 1.7 million for the Warmth Project. It was reported that each of the coastal city's 20,000 laid-off workers would receive RMB 80 special New Year assistance. The funds were disbursed by the former employing enterprises of the laid-off workers. Much poorer people in the villages did not receive as much assistance as their city counterparts. Concern for urban unrest most likely explains this policy.

Teachers have suffered gravely in the past few years from wage arrears. Henan Provincial Education Department managed to raise RMB 200,000 to be allocated as New Year special assistance to the province's teachers who were experiencing hardship, so that the teachers could feel the warmth sent from the party and the government.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) rallied to the call of the party and launched many initiatives in its Warmth Project. Its president, Wei Jian-xing, reiterated the call upon his cadres to make the task of looking after the poor and needy workers one of the ACFTU's priorities of work.

In a revealing cautionary note issued alongside the State Council directive, the government warned that officials should not be half-hearted or insincere in their "warmth campaign". Most importantly, the government declared, they should not attempt to pocket any of the money designated for the poor. It has to be assumed that this warning has relevance for the majority of government officials.

The annual campaign is a well-worn formula used by the government during the past decade to pacify growing bitterness among the poor towards the state and the elite at a sensitive and often emotional time. Chinese New Year is the time when the have-nots feel their poverty more acutely, when people are supposed to celebrate abundance, show extravagant hospitality, and when many flaunt their riches. At a time of surging social unrest and visible protests by the dispossessed, the last thing the government would want to occur is riots or violence by discontented people during the New Year Festival.

The annual Spring Festival Warmth Campaign has once again been announced closed with great success by the authorities. Nevertheless, millions of workers still suffer from serious and entrenched problem of wage arrears. Over 30 million urban workers are unemployed. As in previous years, over 100 million unemployed migrants (officially termed as transient surplus labour) from the countryside move en masse after the spring festival to the cities and coastal regions looking for jobs. These rural migrants often suffer from the worst form of exploitation by their employers. Some workers reportedly asked that rather than getting love and care from the authorities at the end of the year (nian zhong guan huai), "how about getting cared for throughout the year (zhong nian guan huai)?"

(Source: China's news agencies)

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Online: 2002-02-28

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