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Shenzhou-9 and People’s Livelihood

[Editor’s Note: On June 16, China launched the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with three crew members. It docked successfully with the Tiangong-1 space station. While the state media kept praising this great achievement, the public questioned the relevance of such an expensive space program on people’s livelihoods. Netizens suggested it would be better to take the hundreds of billions of yuan that were spent on the space program and spend it on improving people’s living standards. One netizen even dug out a People’s Daily article written in 1977 that criticized the Soviet Union for its huge spending on space programs at the cost of people’s basic standard of living. The voice of concern got so loud that Xinhua published an article to argue that Shenzhou-9 was relevant to people’s livelihoods. The following are excerpts from these articles and from netizens’ comments.]

I. Netizens Question Heavy Spending on the Space Program at the Cost of People’s Livelihoods

A very popular posting that netizens have repeatedly reposted is:

We can send a female astronaut into space, but we can also abort a village mother’s 7-month-old fetus against her will. 33-year old Liu Yang (the astronaut) vs. 22-year old Feng Jianmei (the mother who was forced to abort her fetus) [1]. The contrast between these two women’s lives is the best portrayal of the tragedy of this country: glory and a dream shining down upon shame and desperation; state-of-the-art technology alongside the most outrageous abuse of human rights; the best era (of China) meeting the worst era (of China). [2]

Another popular posting showed a cartoon where a teacher was talking to his students:

Teacher: “The Shenzhou-9’s successfully entering space represents a major step in our nation’s space endeavor. Students, please write a commentary article about this… Let’s first put aside the problem of the water leak in our classroom…” [3]

One Internet user using the name “China’s Citizen Anti-Corruption Hotline” posted a comment on the website [4]:

China’s Citizen Anti-Corruption Hotline – June 26 13:06: The Chinese race is coming to an end! Every year, the corrupt officials move 2.9 billion yuan (U.S. $460 billion) overseas from China; 98% of the Party members are either corrupt or have mistresses; 987,000 kids in the mountain areas cannot go to school; there are 2.96 million beggars in China; and each year at least 4,000 people die of cold or hunger. … Nobody pays attention to this! However, the launch of the Shenzhou-9, which cost hundreds of billions of yuan, made 1 billion people very exited! Can China still be saved?

Comments by other netizens followed the posting:

Taoist Shangshan – June 27 10:07: (We) definitely can’t give up hope. What I have seen is that not that many people care about Shenzhou-9. (The government reports that people are exited) are an illusion. On the contrary, more and more voices on the Internet express a different opinion. The government officials can’t remain complacent any more. All things clearly point to the critical problem of the authorities. What I see is that officials have become increasingly irrational. They feel guilty. They are panicking. Let’s work hard (on fixing this.)

szwangsen – June 27 11:44: (The heavens) are destroying this nation in this way.

hubi1234567 – June 27 13:23: It is still acceptable to spend hundreds of billions of yuan to launch Shenzhou-9. How many Shenzhou-9’s would it take if we also counted our annual foreign aid?

danbinya507 – June 27 23:00: In order for our grandchildren and the future generations not to live in this vicious social environment any longer, after understanding the societal issues and having lived for more than 60 years, I believe that we should be sad and angry. We must keep our social conscience and start saying “No!” to any action that deviates from fairness, justice, democracy, and the rule of law.

yy_3239027 – June 29 05:25: Too scary (to see society in this state). Maybe there is no longer any way to save (society).

One netizen dug out the People’s Daily article from 1977 that criticized the former Soviet Union for the huge-spending on its space program at the cost to people’s livelihoods. [5]

“‘Satellites Fly in Space; Humans Suffer Greatly on Earth: This is a Portrayal of the Soviet Union’s Social-imperialism Today.’ However, the Soviet Revisionists [6] themselves do not think that way. They call it ‘a developed socialist’ country. … Some readers wrote letters to the Soviet Revisionist newspaper, requesting that the Soviet Union reduce its space spending and instead spend the money on improving people’s material well-being. In New Era magazine, the government scholars denounced them.” (People’s Daily, February 3, 1977).

This year foreign aid is expected to be a little less than 640 billion yuan (US$100 billion). Universal health care will cost 160 billion yuan, but the government can’t afford it! My friends, what do you say to this?

Comments by other netizens following the posting:

A Sina reader 2012-06-19 21:03:35
Use history as a mirror.

A Sina reader 2012-06-19 21:23:05
Smiling bitterly, knowingly.

A Sina reader 2012-06-19 22:32:35
The public has no power to make decisions. Officials do not need your ballot.

A Sina reader 2012-06-20 00:46:24
People’s Daily has not published any false news for 60 years; it just made a loud sound by slapping itself in the face. I just want to ask softly: “Was (being slapped) painful?”

A Sina reader 2012-06-20 11:33:49
The CCP has always cheated people in this way.

A Sina reader 2012-06-21 18:48:19
Our tax money is given to other countries as gifts, but we have to live on a tight budget! (I) hope there are more ungrateful countries like Vietnam, North Korea, and Albania, who will awaken our sleeping leaders by beating us! On the international stage, you can’t go around buying others off. Providing your own people with a better life is the way to gain public support!

II. Xinhua Article: Shenzhou-9 Is Not Unrelated to People’s Standard of Living

To counter the public’s questions, Xinhua published an article to argue that Shenzhou-9 can help boost people’s standard of living. [7]

As the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft entered space on June 16, China’s first female astronaut went with it. The spacecraft docked at the Tiangong-1 space workstation a few days later: all this demonstrated that our country has taken a leap forward in our space program.

China’s exploration of outer space has unavoidably become the focus of social media. Some netizens have expressed their concerns on microblogs that the space program requires a long time and a huge expenditure. It needs the resources of the whole nation to succeed. Many peoples’ livelihoods need China to “pull its resources together to do big things.” How can spending a huge amount of money to “look into the sky” help people in their daily lives?

The Shenzhou-9 flight does not seem to have as strong a connection to people’s lives as affordable housing, transporting water from south to north, and other projects, but exploration of outer space is an indispensable step for future human development. Whether for our nation’s long-term national development strategy or in the interests of the whole human race, China, with its ever increasing national power, has a responsibility to make a contribution to the space program, and its success can reap benefits for thousands of years to come.

Also, Shenzhou-9’s space trip can make a great contribution to the health and well-being of our citizens. The trip of over 10 days studied the prevention and improvement of osteoporosis and muscle atrophy. It has the potential to convert that technology into practical medicine. Some products and services that we use in our daily lives, such as instant noodles, paper diapers, the satellite communication and navigation system, weather forecasting, and disaster prevention come from applying space technology to civilian life. The U.S. Apollo mission to the moon, which cost US$240 billion, resulted in 500 high-tech patents and 3,000 technology applications in the industry. It created commercial products with a market value of over US$100 billion. Today, the international norm dictates that, for every yuan spent on the space program, there is a 7 to 12 yuan return. As China’s space program rapidly advances, its economic benefits will increase year after year. So it is worthwhile to make a huge investment in the space program.

More importantly, the development of the space program is related to national security. Nowadays, nations compete in every area. As a large country, China must face this competition and use its technology and power to obtain the discourse right. Otherwise, looking at it simply from the perspective of people’s livelihoods and looking only at a tiny area without considering the big picture will not succeed in safeguarding the nation’s core interests. The development of a nation is a system engineering project. It needs to advance as a whole on every front. There will be different priorities from time to time, but that does not mean that we must solve every problem in one area before moving on to the next. The linear development model does not work in the real world.

Of course, we should address some netizens’ confusion and concerns. The government should put more effort into resolving the standard of living, especially those issues related to social justice. By nature, Chinese wants China to be more prosperous and stronger. Some complaints about Shenzhou-9 do not actually target Shenzhou-9. They come from some unresolved unhappiness in other areas and have gotten transferred to Shenzhou-9.

III. The People’s Daily Article from 1977 that Criticized the Soviet Union’s Space Program [8]

“Space and the Human World”
By Fan Qingrong, People’s Daily, February 3, 1977.

“Satellites Fly in Space; Humans Suffer Greatly on Earth: This Is a Portrayal of the Soviet Union’s Social-Imperialism Today.” However, the Soviet Revisionists themselves do not think that way. They call it ‘a developed socialist’ country. It claimed itself to be a “developed country.” To some extent, it is “developed.”

There are quite a number of Soviet spacecraft and satellites in outer space. Unfortunately, though the country has many spacecraft and satellites, they can’t be used as food or clothing. To compete for space dominance against the U.S. Imperialists, the Soviet Revisionist group has spent extensively over the past few years, which has caused great resentment.

Back in 1975, some readers sent suggestions to the Soviet Revisionist’s newspapers, asking that the funding on the space program be reduced and the money saved be used to improve people’s material well-being. The government’s scholarly New Era magazine criticized that suggestion. The article claimed the Soviet’s people’s request was a “wrong point of view.” To silence people, it even labeled the people who made that suggestion as planning to “bring production to a halt” and “cause a stoppage of the economy.” However, the Soviet people’s resentment did not stop. This put the small group (of leaders) of the Soviet Revisionist group in a difficult position.

Recently, the New Era magazine argued for the space program again. The difference was that this time they brought a Soviet astronaut to lecture the readers. This astronaut acknowledged that it was very expensive to conduct research on the cosmos, but there was a saying; “the cost of research on the cosmos will not only be recovered; it will also bring dividends.” This was to say that the Soviet Revisionist’s “space operation” was a very lucrative business. However, people might ask, “Where will the ‘profit’ come from? Is there a real treasure chest waiting somewhere for the Kremlin’s adventurers to open?” Clearly that does not exist.

Soviet scientists had acknowledged that developing cosmic resources is still something for the future. Despite that, this “astronaut” wanted the Soviet people to believe that there was a profit to be gained from launching satellites. “Profit” would not come from the sky but rather from the earth. He said, “Using the pictures taken from space, (we) can find fortune buried deep in the earth. (We’ve) discovered underground water reservoirs and mines.” Here, though he was hesitant. He confessed that one of the Soviet Union’s goals in building so many spacecraft and satellites was to collect economic information and grab the world’s mines and wealth. That is exactly their secret. He stayed away from mentioning that they used the spy satellites to collect military information on other countries, which was indispensable for the Soviet Revisionists to obtain the maximum benefit from overseas.

We all know that the Soviet Revisionist “KGB” was all over the world. They disguised themselves as foreign diplomats, businessmen, seamen, scholars, reporters, and tourists in order to conduct spy activities. Though they were very cunning, many of them still got caught, arrested, and kicked out of the country. Then the Soviets went into space to do their spying. It is doubtful whether the Soviet Revisionists can use their scholar’s lectures to keep their people’s mouths shut. However, this also revealed a “secret” about the Soviet Revisionist’s space program. It might be a good thing.

[1] Feng Jianmei (冯建梅), in Zhenping County, Shaanxi Province, was forced to abort her fetus in her eighth month of pregnancy. She already had a daughter and failed to pay a 40,000 yuan fine for an “excess birth.” The picture of her dead fetus lying by her side left netizens outraged.
[2] QQ website.
[3] QQ website.
[4] Tianya website.
[5] Sina website. “Satellites Fly in Space; Humans Suffer Greatly on Earth: This Is a Portrayal of the Soviet Union’s Social-Imperialism Today,” June 19, 2012.
[6] Since 1956, China and the USSR had progressively diverged about Marxist ideology, and, by 1961, when the doctrinal differences proved intractable, the Communist Party of China formally denounced the Soviet variety of Communism as a product of “Revisionist Traitors.” See
[7] Xinhua, “Shenzhou-9 Is Not Unrelated to People’s Standard of Living,” June 18, 2012.
[8] Sina website. “Satellites Fly in Space; Humans Suffer Greatly on Earth: This Is a Portrayal of the Soviet Union’s Social-Imperialism Today,” June 19, 2012.