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A little bird told me

This autumn, Ai Weiwei asked his 170,000 Twitter followers what the future of China would be. Their answers create a fascinating portrait of the country.

Ray of Hope @ssg2006

The political system of China will certainly change, perhaps within the next ten years. Whether it will be federal or otherwise is yet to be determined. No hope for political reform. No Straight forward way ahead. There will be bloodshed. When I think of it, I feel very afraid.

Scott Hu @slipknothooh

Historical development is definitely guided by its own rules; and China is no exception. The larger the country, the more inappropriate is the totalitarian system. My attitude towards the future of China is a positive one. The internet will bring unimpeded expression, people will be able to express themselves peacefully, rationally and in order, education will offer children a multitude of opinions and choices, and only criminals will be in prison, not prisoners of conscience. Although it is a painful process, hopefully it’s not just fool’s talk.

Westmoon @westmoon

In the future, China’s main contradictions – the political status quo and citizens’ needs – will intensify. Simple or incremental reform cannot come from such a rigid and corrupt system as that in China.
I believe that political revolution driven by the majority of the population will be inevitable in the future.

Hesuoge (You Jingyou) @nodig123

China’s transformation will be filled with violence and unrest. After the fall of the Chinese Communist Party, the years of poisonous education will have dire consequences.

Rosetta Elf @rosettaelf

There will be no difference between the future of China and today, only more “50-cents” and idiots causing more and more people to emigrate. Weibo will probably be banned permanently as it’s too dangerous.

jeffery @Jeffery1st

China’s future? This issue is too big. I’m an ordinary person who just wants to make money, take care of my family and move to another country one day. The situation in China has nothing to do with me. The problem is too small – there are so many people in this world, so many sights to see, life is so beautiful. So why would I stick with China? There are too many books to read, too many people to meet, too many fun things to do. China, stay away from me.

Qiangnei Youren @PasserbyA

We will die slowly and miserably . . . I’m pessimistic :(

Shen Dong @shyd19711

China’s future is like driving on a highway with the scenery unchanged. Don’t expect to see different scenery unless the car overturns.

Zhang Hali @zhhl93

Waiting for Chinese democracy is like someone desperately needing to go for a piss, but his house is on fire and his only solution is to wait for a downpour.

Andrew @WangFenghao

China’s future? At the top there are corrupt officials, at the bottom is the mob. Alas, I can’t see a future yet.

eastsea.zhang @eastsea1988

How do I see China’s future? I do not pay much attention to China’s future as I hold temporary residence here. You know what, I was born in this country, I am a citizen of this country, but I work in a city other
than my home town, so I have to have a temporary resident’s permit. I am only temporarily living on this land, this annuls any philosophy or doctrines. On TV, they say this is a great regeneration. I just want to say, fuck! Fuck your mother.

Eric @Eric_Hoo

As the Chinese economy continues to decline, there will be more social conflicts. The voices calling for reform will become louder and louder. The Communist Party will either bury itself or be buried by public opinion after considerable selftorture. The trends of democracy and the rule of law are coming sooner rather than later.

Jay @jay6th

I do not feel hopeful that China will undergo deep reform. I feel that the lives of ordinary people will get worse and worse. I am worried that there will be a large-scale outbreak, similar to the Cultural Revolution.

Yaxue Cao @YaxueCao

Over the course of 63 years, the Chinese Communist Party has not done one positive thing (perhaps some may argue that the “reform and open up” policy was positive; however that was a self-rescuing last resort after decades of catastrophe). It profoundly ravaged China, and harmed every Chinese person. If it can gracefully withdraw from the political arena with minimal harm on the country
and the citizens, then we would be grateful. But what reason do I have to hope for that?

Darsting12leo @darsting12leo1

I think there is no future. I am not enjoying life, I am enduring life. If I had a chance I would certainly leave this country, but if I don’t have this chance I will continue to endure. I do not dare say any more, I am afraid of trouble finding me.

Tui 2 @twi215

Three words, “I don’t know”.

Mogu Mogu @autistichild

Whenever I think about the future of China, I feel an immense sense of loss and fear. There are too many unknown problems that will explode but I don’t know when. Some say that the next decade will be the darkest decade. I do not know if the decade after the next will be even darker. Time does not stop. I am a bit worried but at the same time I still hope that there will be a turning point.

Scott Hu @slipknothooh

After watching the documentary Wukan, I believe even more in my optimistic view of the future of China. All that talk of special circumstances of the nation and of the quality of the population is simply untenable when the citizens are demanding rights. Each event is as insignificant as a small bead when the scales are heavily weighted to one side. However, ten million beads together are enough to rebalance the scales of justice.

AICC @aiaijia

In many important affairs, China can progress from being a douche bag to a normal person. I hope this is not just a beautiful dream.

Wiedergeburt_ v @wiedergeburt_v

I think China does not have a good future, whether it’s the economy or the natural environment. So many tragic disasters have happened after 1949. If China is allowed a good future given all that, then the world is really unfair. When the Chinese begin to reflect on their mistakes, then China’s “good future” begins.

Maidou Hongliang @0721maidou

The economy will collapse within five years. In 30 years, we will catch a glimpse of freedom and democracy.

eilin @angeng8

I am full of confidence for China’s future. It is certainly filled with brightness, democracy, individual creativity, goodwill and good air. All in all, it will be the opposite of the present. I am only worried that this process will harm innocent people. I think that heaven above will give us power! God bless China!

Xiangfeng Ziyou Chui @sun22382001

No Chinese person could have predicted the birth of Twitter. Twitter and Weibo are God’s special gifts to the Chinese people, and will accelerate enlightenment among the Chinese people. China will be the same as the rest of the world and won’t be the odd one out. Although the path is very rocky and some people have already fled from the homeland, I will stay until death.

Kai @imlk

Mankind is a whole. Authoritarian regimes cannot stop internal and external conflicts bringing about a revolution. China will experience pain and turmoil, but I believe there will be a good future.

Jingtian Yibi @xzx2007

First of all, after nearly 30 years of so-called development, valuable natural resources have been depleted. What is left is pollution, which causes physical harm to people for the next 50 years or even longer. Secondly, 60 years of large-scale, systematic brainwashing means that at least two generations of people will continue to suffer from spiritual pollution that could not be eliminated in 50 years. Following from above: So it doesn’t matter which political party is in power, the mainland absolutely cannot see a future for the next 50 years. The only difference is the length of time it takes to clean up the physical and spiritual pollution.

Lu Yi Si @kaipitiaod

I firmly believe that our generation can create change. In the near future, those twittering in front of computers will change this nation completely.

@cholerisC (account deleted)

I can’t see the future. Brainwashing education, variety of toxic food, casual disembowelling, indiscriminate medical prescriptions – it’s an impossible environment to save. Our police are quick to fire shots and won’t spare a dead body . . . kicks. Our lovable reporters should be worth more than just writing fairy tales, what a fucking pity.

Chinese Velvet Revolution @AngryVelvet

1. China’s future movement towards democracy is likely triggered by mass incidents that spiral out of control. These will be countrywide, linked to food safety, environmental pollution and other issues. How
to link every separate incident to form a positive interaction so that any individual protest will immediately be supported across the country is the key point to consider.

Bolin @lilyxox3 7

How do you see the future of China? Fear, worry, deception, distress, collapse.

Di Hongming @hazhm009

When we picture the future of China it’s just like that US movie Batman: the Dark Knight Rises –we will never be able to escape the cycle of dictatorship. I am 39 years old and I will never see democracy.

Wuyang @fivesheep

There is a future but without hope. Overused environmental resources, an ageing population as a result of the one-child policy, a wide income gap as a result of the unfair distribution of wealth, as well as further erosion of the nation’s minds through the brainwashing education system. All these factors will continue to afflict the people of this country. These are problems that cannot be resolved by one wise dictator.

You are not my homeland @busharen

The future of China? I only know that China under totalitarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party has no future. If you must talk about the future, that would be a complete collapse of the current system, replaced by a more suitable living environment for the people of China. All of this will be based on the premise of individual consciousness, to think of oneself as a real person. That’ll be China with a future.

Gongmin Xiaobiao @oubiaofeng
China’s future is for power not to kidnap rights but to serve these rights, to maximise rights for every citizen. Otherwise, China’s future is just a false proposition.

Guo Daxia @daxa

“Future” is a word that invokes unlimited possibility and space for imagination. However, in a prison deprived of rights, freedom, privacy and dignity, “Future” is a luxurious but hopeless word. It implies that you need to prepare yourself for old age and death. You are constantly facing death, disaster and despair . . .

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Ai Weiwei guest-edit

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.