The Chinese Tax Payer
Eli Bildner of Tea Leaf Nation has noticed an interesting rhetorical shift in Chinese discourse: people have begun referring to themselves as “taxpayers”:
Over the past year, the word “taxpayer” (nashuiren or nashuizhe) has appeared with increasing frequency on Chinese microblogs and websites, yielding almost 12.5 million results in a search on Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular microblogs. And just like in the United States, many Chinese “taxpayers” are hardly satisfied with their government’s fiscal record.
In a post last Friday, one Chinese microblogger (@Dvampire-MrFox) excoriated government officials who played hooky from work after China’s National Day vacation. “This is our money as taxpayers!” he wrote. “What are we paying them for?” Posting later that day, another microblogger (@薇薇-伍月) criticized the city of Zhengzhou’s poor record in providing housing for migrant workers: “Where the heck is our taxpayer money going?” she wrote.
This is a trend worth noting for two reasons. First, the Chinese government will begin to rely more heavily on income tax revenues in the coming years, mostly as a way to secure an alternative source of financing. Compared to developed economies, China has a relatively low tax base, but as more of the population surpasses the minimum income threshold the percentage of Chinese who pay income taxes will rise.
Secondly, the public has become increasingly intolerant of corruption and has begun to express more concern about how, exactly, their tax dollars (tax yuan?) are being spent. The brand-new Xi Jinping regime has already begun an anti-corruption movement, but there’s little reason to think it’ll ultimately prove effective absent systemic political change.
It might be tempting to say that “taxpayer” is just a word, one likely imported by a Chinese person who became familiar with the American usage and thought the term would apply quite nicely in China. But words matter. Throughout recent history the Chinese have mainly regarded the government in a paternalistic way, but should the paradigm shift and people consider the government to be working for them, with their money, the consequences could be significant.