Consumption and the Principal Contradiction of the New Era


Social Sciences in China Review

No.1, 2018


Consumption and the Principal Contradiction of the New Era


Editor’s notes:


The report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China points out that as socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, “what the Chinese society is now facing is the principal contradiction between the unbalanced and inadequate development and the peoples ever-growing needs for a better life. Not only have their material and cultural needs grown; their demands for democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice, security, and a better environment are increasing.


Production and consumption are the two aspects that need to be considered when meeting the people’s need to live a better life. That means that, the supply side should provide products that meet people’s needs, at the same time, people need to access consumer goods through individual and collective consumption. Compared with satisfying “people’s growing material and cultural needs,” satisfying “people’s increasing need for a better life” requires consumption upgrade and structural transformation.


Consumption upgrade and structural transformation are not just economic issues. It is isomorphic to the changes in social structure, which reflects the changes in social relations and order. It is precisely because of such isomorphism and the demand for “better life” and “joint contribution and shared benefits” that consumption upgrade will become one of the main starting points for improving the quality of social development, and the key to realizing coordinative economic and social development.


What does it mean by improving the quality of social development? The fundamental is to realize what is mentioned in the report: “We must put the people’s interests above all else, see that the gains of reform and development fairly benefit all our people, and strive to achieve shared prosperity for everyone,” “and will continue to promote social fairness and justice, develop effective social governance, and maintain public order. With this, we should see that our people will always have a strong sense of fulfillment, happiness and security.”


Therefore, it is of great immediate significance and value to pay attention to the relationship between consumption upgrade and transformation of social structure that will last at least for decades, focus on the matching of the two, on different needs from different social groups in this process, and on their fair access to and share of benefits of reform and development.


At the present stage, in the overall social structure of China, what are the pictures and characteristics of different groups in the consumption upgrade? How can the social structure be optimized in the upgrading as a relatively complicated social development process?


In this process, there are not only individual choices, but also common needs of different groups for health care, education, social security and comfort. Will the latter be a greater challenge to the government in providing public goods and in its social governance?


Social sciences always take as their responsibility to respond to major social issues. In December 2017, the editorial board of Social Sciences in China Review organized a small seminar on “Consumption and the Principal Contradiction of the New Era” in Guangzhou. Zhang Yi(research fellow, provisional Secretary of the Party Committee and dean of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Social Development Strategy), Wang Ning (professor, deputy dean of School of Social Sciences and Anthropology, Sun Yat-Sen University), Zhu Di (associate research fellow at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Sociology), Lin Xiaoshan (professor, deputy dean of School of Law and Politics, Zhejiang Normal University) and other scholars were invited to attend the seminar and Wang Ning was the host. The following four articles presented here in this special issue are part of the result of this seminar.