Helping China's 99%

Helping China's 99%


A Discussion on Still Developing Aspects of Chinese Society

AIED Council representatives recently attended a “conversation about China’s 99%” by a panel of China experts jointly hosted by Dissent magazine and the India China Institute at The New School.

The event’s focus was on China’s so-called 99%, or the lower classes in Chinese society. A large proportion of the conversation focused on inequities between these different segments of the population.

The panel consisted of Dr. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine, Ross Perlin, writer, Maura Elizabeth Cunningham, former editor of The China Beat, and Megan Shank, co-editor of the Asia Section of the Los Angeles Review of Books. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Mark Frazier, Professor of Politics at The New School and Co-Academic Director of the India China Institute.

To open, Frazier asked to the discussants, “How is inequality felt on a personal level?” Perlin brought up an interesting point on Chinese society, saying that when he first went to China, it was not clear “where rich people or poor people lived.”

Perlin paralleled this idea to the United States, saying that American society has a much more pronounced demarcation of stratification. However, all of the panelists agreed that China is quickly becoming more and more like the US in this regard.

Despite issues of inequity, Dr. Frazier presented the positive side of China’s development. He posited that if young Chinese today were asked if they were better off than their parents, they would always say “yes.” He then pointed out that many young Americans would answer “no” to the same question. 

Wasserstrom, illustrating this point, said that this is the “best time in the history of China to be Chinese.” Yet, this angle is “not being covered in the West.”

Getting Involved
Life in China is getting better for many people. The nation is seeing broad affluence at unprecedented levels. But, as mentioned, stratification is growing, with certain segments of society being left behind. 

Just like in the US, there are now organizations actively reaching out to this portion of the population.

Two of the panelist, Cunningham and Shank, had personally worked with low income or migrant children during their stays in China. They volunteered as ESL teachers for schools that had little to no resources for their students.

Cunningham described the her volunteer school’s situation, saying that she taught for only one day a week and that the students had to share textbooks. She added, that this was the only English lesson the students received during the entire week.

Shank compared the school where she volunteered to the disparities seen in New York, specifically to lower income area schools found in the Bronx. 

AIED Council views this philanthropic sense as an important aspect of becoming involved China. And because we are now sending educators abroad, we want to let Western educators in China know that there are opportunities for philanthropy while there.

Aside from volunteering in local schools, Shank suggested a few organizations that are doing worthwhile work in China. She mentioned Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots organization, which exposes “urban Chinese kids to importance of ecology.” For local causes, she recommended HIV/AIDS focused organizations that help educate sex workers or look after orphans of Henan province’s blood selling incident.    

While there are wealth’s of opportunity for philanthropic outlets in China, Perlin warned of limits when getting involved. “English without political ideology,” he said. He also recommended the book To Change China by renowned Chinese historian Jonathan Spence for any Westerner moving to China with philanthropic hopes.      

To close, Dr. Frasier said that there needs to be better integration of NGOs in the future, but that he was hopeful for this. As AIED Council is an NGO working in China, we are also hopeful.

This post was written by Ryan Allen. If you would like an AIED Council staff member to cover one of your events, please email him at  

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