Heavy fog covers buildings in Qingdao, on the coast in Shandong province. Part of the imbalance in Chinese socio-economic conditions stems from the relative wealth of the country's coastal areas compared with its inland provinces.
The global financial crisis in 2008 was the last straw for the Chinese economy. After years of rapid growth, China had finally reached the limits of its economic model, centered on exports of low-end manufactured goods. The ensuing slump revealed the glaring inequality that still divided the country's coastal regions from its inland, its wealthiest citizens from its poorest. To get back on track, Beijing would have to break with the socio-economic paradigm that it had maintained for the preceding three decades and introduce a new one.
Today, the transformation is far from complete. The balanced and homogenous society the central government had imagined -- and the sustainable, consumption-based economy that would support it -- are still little more than a decadeslong dream. China's socio-economic disparities are as stark as ever, and the legacy of past growth models continues to haunt the country's economy. What's more, Beijing's attempts at change have...