Back in the 1990s it was often fashionable to argue that increased prosperity would magically transform China into a more liberal political system. Today, that’s clearly not the case. What we’re seeing here, though, is the more likely mechanism for political change—dashed hopes. Peasant farmers often just feel beaten-down and resigned to their fate. But these are the would-be upwardly mobile. People who know perfectly well that better economic opportunities are possible and thus are poised to develop complaints and resentments.
This is a test of the theory that economic liberalization will lead to political change.