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Asia

What worries the Chinese public the most?

Corrupt officials, pollution and inequality top Chinese public concerns, a survey found. And when asked if these problems would get better or worse in the next five years, the Chinese offered mixed views. DW examines.

China's economic slowdown is causing concern around the globe, as analysts say the world's second-largest economy and leading exporter may struggle to meet its growth target for 2015 of about 7 percent amid slowing investment growth and falling exports. However, the sluggish economy is not what worries China's 1.35 billion people the most.

Topping the list of concerns are issues such as corruption, air and water pollution, the gap between the rich and poor, crime, rising prices and food safety, according to a survey published by the US-based Pew Research Center on September 24.

Among the 15 issues included in the nationally representative poll - which is based on face-to-face interviews conducted from April 15 to May 27 (before a major drop in the value of Chinese stocks) - nine are considered either a very big or moderately big problem by at least 70 percent of the Chinese public.

'A big problem'

A key issue remains corruption; with 84 percent of those interviewed saying corrupt officials are a big problem, and 44 percent saying they are "a very big problem." Still, this is down 10 percentage points from 2014, when 54 percent cited corrupt officials as a top concern. And people are optimistic that the issue can be dealt with, with 63 percent stating the problem will get better in five years.

China Umweltverschmutzung Symbolbild

Many Chinese are worried that air pollution in the country will get worse in the coming years

Vowing to target high-ranking "tigers" as well as low-level "flies," Chinese President Xi Jinping has led a broad campaign against corruption in a bid to "clean up" the ranks of the 80-million-member Communist Party of China (CPC). His sweeping crackdown on deep-seated graft in the East Asian country has caught a number of senior officials and bureaucrats since Xi took over as president in late 2012.

The US survey also reveals that the Chinese public overwhelmingly recognizes the economic progress their country has made over time. In fact, despite a wide range of issues affecting the Chinese economy, most say they are better off financially than they were five years ago (77 percent), and with near unanimity they believe they enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents did.

Almost three-quarters of Chinese say their personal finances are good, up six percentage points compared to 2008. Moreover, only about two out of ten cite corrupt businesspeople, education, unemployment, traffic and working conditions as very big problems for China.

Infografik Sorgen in China Englisch

The side effects of rapid growth

Nevertheless, there are signs that the East Asian giant's economic expansion has had some negative side effects, as people expressed mixed reactions to the rapid changes the country has undergone. For instance, about a third of Chinese are concerned about air and water pollution, and three in ten people cite the gap between the rich and poor and rising prices as top concerns.

Other worries are related to food safety issues following several high-profile scares. For instance, in 2008, baby formula tainted with melamine was linked to the deaths of six infants and affected almost 300,000 babies.

More recently, nearly a half-billion dollars' worth of meat was seized by authorities in June 2015, some of it having been frozen in the 1970s. According to the survey, roughly a third (32 percent) now say food safety is a very big problem, up 20 percentage points from 12 percent in 2008.

And while most say they like the pace of modern life (66 percent), they also believe their traditional way of life is getting lost and needs to be protected against foreign influence. In this context, slightly more than half of Chinese view consumerism and commercialism as a threat to their culture.

Differing views

Public opinion, however, seems to be divided on whether these problems will get better, worse or stay the same in the next five years. This is especially true for China's environmental issues. For instance, the Chinese are split on water pollution: 37 percent believe it will get better over the next five years, while 34 percent believe the opposite. Similar divides are found on air pollution and the gap between the rich and poor.

In China's two largest cities, pessimism about air quality is widespread. According to the poll, more than half of those living in Beijing and Shanghai (53 percent) say air pollution will get worse in the next five years, compared with roughly a third (34 percent) of those living elsewhere in China.

Infografik China Zukunft Erwartungen Englisch

Public opinion seems divided on whether these problems will get better or worse in the next five years

More than three decades of industrialization and rapid economic growth have led to deteriorating air, water and soil quality in the world's second-largest economy. A recent study by the US-based independent research group Berkeley Earth found that air pollution contributes to 1.6 million deaths a year or roughly 17 percent of all deaths in China.

"For 38 percent of the population, the average air they breathe is 'unhealthy' by US standards," said the authors of the paper, Richard Muller and Robert Rohde.

Moreover, some 92 percent of China's population experienced at least 120 hours of unhealthy air between April 5, 2014 and August 5, 2015, said the scientists. China's national safety standard for daily exposure to harmful PM2.5 pollution - particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller - is 35 micrograms per cubic meter, making Chinese air quality limit four times higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization.