There has been a gradual but unpredictable relaxation of controls over freedom of speech and publication and some evidence of a developing civil society. The abandonment of former socialist policies has increased the wealth of some but encouraged corruption, and left many workers, peasants and those dependent on state benefits economically insecure. As a result there has been a dramatic increase in worker unrest, public protests by pensioners, and some criticism of economic globalization. In particular, the displacement and environmental problems caused by China’s massive hydropower programme, beginning with the Three Gorges Dam, has met with opposition. There is in addition evidence of rising rural unrest over sale of land to developers, local corruption and destruction of the environment. Campaigners are both putting up candidates in local elections and demonstrating. The government admitted that there had been 74,000 ‘mass incidents’ in 2004.
The incorporation of Hong Kong into China in 1995 created a zone with a special status and a lively democracy movement that had sprung up in the period leading to Britain’s transfer of control to Beijing. Nationalist dissent has not prompted the kind of problems experienced in the USSR because, in the China created in 1949, over 90 per cent of the population were ethnic Chinese. But reports have emerged of significant dissent among the Muslim population of Xinjiang. (Tibet is here treated as a separate country.)