Gross domestic happiness key to Guangdong's future

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 January, 2011, 12:00am

Perhaps taking a leaf out of Bhutan's book, the Communist Party in Guangdong says it is refocusing its development strategy on gross domestic happiness rather than rapid economic growth.

It is something that will be welcomed by residents, judging from anonymous postings on an official internet chat room.

One internet user says there is no happiness in Guangdong because 'as a village teacher with a monthly salary of around 1,100 yuan [HK$1,297], having to raise children and take care of the elderly, there isn't even any guarantee of basic living standards in Gaozhou ', a small city in the province's underdeveloped west.

Another internet user asked provincial party secretary Wang Yang: 'Have you read our posts and do you know how we live our lives?'

After more than three decades of rapid economic growth, Guangdong has finally made livelihood issues its top priority, with official documents saying that economic development is just a step towards the final goal of making people happier.

Early this month, Wang vowed to realise that dream in the next five years while a new slogan 'Happy Guangdong' has become the government's slogan for the 12th five-year plan, lasting until 2015. The plan will be the main focus at the annual meeting of the provincial people's congress, opening tomorrow.

Scholars and analysts close to the drafting of the plan and familiar with local issues say Wang's move echoes party general secretary Hu Jintao's call for an improvement in the quality of people's living standards in the next five years. They say it is the first time Guangdong, one of China's richest provinces and a perennial leader in mainland growth, has paid more attention to livelihood issues than economic statistics.

'In the coming five years, Guangdong will have to change itself from a pioneer of economic development to a model example of taking care of people's livelihoods,' Chen Zaiqi, a senior researcher with the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, said.

Chen, who worked on a draft of the provincial five-year plan last year, said that as a wealthy province, it was Guangdong's responsibility to be the first to find new ways to tackle social issues such as wage expectations, social security insurance, health care and educational opportunities.

He said the wealth gap in Guangdong was just an example of a much broader phenomenon in China.

'If Guangdong can't narrow the gap and increase employees' wages, how can other provinces?' he asked.

Wang, a 55-year-old member of the Communist Party Central Committee's Politburo, is widely tipped to be promoted to its Standing Committee next year. According to his plan for more focus on social issues, Guangdong needs to create a 'Happy Index' to evaluate officials' work. Wang says that would reduce the emphasis on GDP growth in the current assessment system.

Ding Li, an expert on economic indexes at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, welcomed any reduction of GDP's importance among officials, saying it might eventually lead to a change in ruling ideas and ruling style.

He said the emphasis on GDP had created some monsters that damaged society. 'It made many officials think that a few powerful people could achieve the goals of economic and social development,' he said. 'Thus, the public were not given enough opportunities to be involved in policymaking or wealth-sharing.'

Ding said such an index system should consider at least four factors: fairness, justice, wealth and freedom.

Yuan Weishi, a prominent scholar at Sun Yat-sen University, said 'Happy Guangdong' was Wang's effort to implement Beijing's instructions for the country's 12th five-year plan. He said that paying attention to people's livelihoods had been an important theme of Hu's administration since becoming party chief in late 2002 and it was no surprise to see the new five-year plan place the theme even higher on the official to-do list. 'Only by doing this can the government please the people and maintain social stability,' Yuan said.

Many scholars, including Ding and Yuan, also pointed out that besides providing a basic social safety net, Guangdong should also create a stronger civil society in which people could have more freedom.

'Just like Premier Wen Jiabao put it, happiness also means respecting individuals' dignity and rights,' Yuan said.