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Martin Whyte | China’s Active and Dormant Social Volcanoes

  • Harvard Shanghai Center 5th Floor HSBC Building, Shanghai ifc No. 8 Century Avenue, Pudong New District Shanghai (map)

The Harvard Club of Shanghai and the Harvard Center Shanghai presents:

“China’s Active and Dormant Social Volcanoes”

A talk by Professor Martin Whyte, John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Sociology, Harvard Department of Sociology

Is popular anger about rising inequality propelling China toward a "social volcano" of protest activity and instability that could challenge Chinese Communist Party rule? Many inside and outside of China have speculated, without evidence, that the answer is yes. In 2004, Harvard sociologist Martin King Whyte has undertaken the first systematic, nationwide survey of ordinary Chinese citizens to ask them directly how they feel about inequalities that have resulted since China's market opening in 1978. 

Following up on the national China survey he directed in 2004, which formed the basis for his 2010 book, Myth of the Social Volcano, Prof. Whyte and colleagues carried out another national survey in 2009 to track changes in the views of ordinary citizens about rising income gaps and other inequalities.  These surveys provide evidence that popular anger about China's huge income gaps is not a leading threat to political stability and Communist Party rule.  However, evidence exists that popular anger about other types of injustices is widespread and on the increase, and that China's leaders will be hard-pressed to find effective ways to respond to this active social volcano.

Martin K. Whyte has been a Professor of Sociology at Harvard since 2000. Previously, he taught at the University of Michigan and George Washington University. His research and teaching specialties are comparative sociology, sociology of the family, sociology of development, the sociological study of contemporary China, and the study of post-communist transitions.

Within sociology, Whyte’s primary interest has been in historical and comparative questions—why particular societies are organized the way they are and how differences across societies affect the nature of people’s lives. Whyte is a member of the American Sociological Association, the Association for Asian Studies, the Sociological Research Association, the Population Association of America, and the National Committee for U.S. China Relations.

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