So, here we are. If you like a pun, then Happy Niu Year! If you prefer irony, then good luck in the Year of Bull.

It looks even the noise from all the unauthorized firecrackers in China couldn’t make us not hearing the gloomy news. Guardian’s Tania Branigan did a video reporting piece from Beijing’s main railway station before the Chinese new year to interview the migrant workers, part of the great annual people movement. They were worried about whether they can get their job back when they come back to the city after the festival. At least this year they didn’t have to get stuck in the station for days like last year. A Chinese blogger, after went to the same station, suggested that this year the Chinese new year rush is actually much smoother than previous years. The suspicion is that many migrant workers had already left for home, being laid off at the end of last year.

The worry is always that when the migrant workers come back to the city after Chinese new year, and couldn’t find a job, what will happen? An often quoted figure is 8%, the GDP growth China must achieve to provide enough jobs for the labour market. The forecast for 2009 by various organizations seems all below that, thus the prediction of widely spread social unrest in China this year due to the mass unemployment. However in my opinion more social unrest there may be, but they are unlikely going to distablise the Chinese society in large scale. Chinese government do realize the seriousness of the economic downturn and high unemployment, and have been quick to disperse measures to stimulate economy and provide new jobs. There may be nothing imaginative in Chinese government’s approaches, but they do have the crucial ammunition – plenty of cash in hand.

Meanwhile the government also hope that establishing a civil society with more citizen participation may help to resolve some of the social issues. The year 2009 is called Civil Society Year Zero by the official media. That will be a constant struggle, and bound to be going forwards and backwards in unpredictable fashion. The detention of 08 Charter’s initiator Liu Xiaobo, harassment of its signatories, censoring influential websites including the recent closing down of are all seen as part of the government’s attempt to silence their critics. However the founder of, Luo Yonghao, is surprisingly optimistic about the website’s possible re-opening in the future. In no time a list of where to find the blogs from alternative places started to circulate around internet. And now a “ghetto version” (shanzai) of, operated by one of the famouse citizen journalist, Zola, is online. Willingly or not, the Chinese government are giving their critics space, and sometimes even use the online opinions to counter corrupted local officials. The critics themselves, while stressing they are not dissidents, have also learned to operate in this environment.

It’s safe to bet the Year of Ox won’t be a bull year. The road ahead is bumpy to say the least, but Chinese people have gone through time tougher than this.