Piling on the inequities
Gross economic inequality is one of the biggest problems threatening China's stability, and an issue President Hu Jintao has taken up as a cornerstone of his administration.
(Fortune Magazine) -- Gross economic inequality is one of the biggest problems threatening China's stability, and an issue President Hu Jintao has taken up as a cornerstone of his administration. In major speeches and policy addresses he has called for the creation of a "harmonious society," signaling the central government's desire to reduce the gap between the wealthy Chinese elite and the working class, who have seen far fewer benefits from the country's torrid economic growth.
But wealth redistribution has been slow, and anger has been welling - the latest national outrage rising in June after police freed several hundred children and adults who were found working in slave-like conditions at more than a dozen brick kilns and factories in Shanxi and Henan provinces, including the one above.
Internet campaigns by parents looking for their missing or abducted children sparked feisty media reports, prompting Beijing to order raids on the kilns, which were operating with the protection of local officials. Laborers had been lured from train and bus stations with the promise of good pay and working conditions, but instead were beaten, poorly fed, underpaid and forcibly kept from leaving.
Government officials then ordered a nationwide, two-month crackdown on illegal labor practices. Legislators also approved a law in late June revising standards for labor contracts, use of temporary workers, and severance pay. With the upcoming 17th Party Congress this fall, the twice-a-decade event that sets China's national policy agenda and chooses the Communist Party's top leadership, Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao must surely be hoping the slave-labor scandal passes quickly.
From the July 23, 2007 issue