Chinese more trusting of government months into pandemic, survey finds

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Chinese became more trusting of the government several months into the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by researchers from China, Canada and Sweden.

Nearly 20,000 people were polled across 31 provinces or administrative regions in mainland China from April 22 to 28 last year.

The survey was conducted weeks after the city of Wuhan in Hubei – where the first cases of the coronavirus were reported – emerged from a strict and unprecedented lockdown that lasted more than two months.

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Some 49.2 per cent of respondents said they trusted the national government more since the outbreak, while just 3.3 per cent trusted the government less.

For 47.6 per cent, the trust level remained the same.

But the survey also found that there was less trust in the lower levels of government.

“The authors find that Chinese citizens have an overall high level of satisfaction, but that this satisfaction drops with each lower level of government,” the researchers said in a peer-reviewed paper published in the Journal of Contemporary China.

They found 30 per cent of respondents said they had more trust in the local government, while 63 per cent said their trust level was the same, and 6.3 per cent had less trust.

Beijing has faced heavy international criticism for its early handling of the outbreak, including over the death of whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang from Covid-19 in February last year, after he tried to sound the alarm about the new virus but was silenced by the authorities.

However, the survey results suggest that months later, the authorities were being seen more favourably within mainland China, where Covid-19 has now been largely brought under control.

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Led by Cary Wu, assistant professor of sociology at York University in Canada, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the researchers recruited more than 600 students from 53 universities in China to conduct anonymous online interviews.

In Wuhan, 52.8 per cent of respondents said they trusted the national government more than they did before the pandemic, and only 3.5 per cent trusted it less. But 8.9 per cent of respondents in the city were less trusting of the local government.

“Overall, we see a negative association between Covid-19 cases and trust/citizen satisfaction. But in Wuhan/Hubei, respondents were highly satisfied with government performance, especially when they compared the Covid-19 situations in other countries,” Wu said, in a written reply to the South China Morning Post.

The average score for satisfaction with the government at various levels was 3.8 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5, the paper said.

Respondents were asked about satisfaction with information dissemination during the pandemic and the delivery of essentials to people’s homes when they were unable to leave during lockdowns.

For information dissemination, 89 per cent said they were satisfied with the national government, but that dropped to 77 per cent for the provincial authorities, 74 per cent for city governments, 70 per cent at the county level, and 67 per cent for community or village authorities.

That pattern was also seen for delivery of essentials, with 81 per cent satisfied with the national government but only 58 per cent satisfied with their community or village authorities.

Age and education also affected the level of satisfaction, with lower levels of satisfaction recorded among those who were highly educated to degree level and aged below 30, according to the survey.

The researchers also looked at how factors such as state propaganda, Communist Party membership and the Confucius culture that puts national and collective interests above those of individuals affected the survey results. They found that party members or people who got most of their information from state media were more satisfied with the government, as were those who believed in collectivism.

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