And thus began a torrent of happiness campaigns, happiness surveys and happiness-promotion measures.
There was a serious purpose behind the new approach, which includes lowering economic growth targets to a more modest 7 percent. Chinese officials worry that years of “GDP obsession,” as one of them put it, could contribute to a public backlash against rising prices, unemployment and other economic woes.
But what has unfolded since Wen’s speech has shown what can happen in China when provincial-level officials and the state-controlled media try to outdo one another in embracing a message from the top.
In Beijing, for the May Day holiday, 17 giant screens across the city and thousands of small televisions on buses and subways and in office buildings showed “happy testimonials” from workers. Beijing Television ran a series of short films called “Happy Blossoms,” documenting the apparently contented lives of teachers, factory workers and others.
Other provinces joined the happiness caravan. Wang Yang, the party secretary of Guangdong province, promoted the idea of “happy Guangdong” as part of his government’s five-year plan. “Happiness for the people is like flowers,” Wang wrote in an article. “The party and the government shall create the proper environment for the flowers to grow.”
Guangdong last week released the results of a happiness survey in which 500 residents ages 17 to 35 were interviewed. More than 90 percent scored 60 out of 100 on a happiness scale, with 100 being bliss and 1 being outright misery.
Not to be outdone, Chongqing city announced a bold plan to become “the central city of the country where people have the strongest feelings of happiness.”
And since the beginning of the year, the central government has embarked on a series of measures aimed at improving people’s livelihoods. Measures were announced to try to rein in the spiraling cost of real estate, including building more low-income housing. People with lower incomes were given a tax break, and the government announced a price rollback on 162 types of common medications.
Also, taking direct aim at one of the largest sources of discontent across the country, the government announced restrictions on forced demolitions of homes by private developers.
“The policy orientation has changed from enriching the country as the first priority to enriching the people as the first priority,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, the ruling State Council’s training school for mid-level bureaucrats. “People’s happiness and livelihood are now given more weight in the government’s decision-making process.”