A Nation Apart

China Photos / Getty Images

Unemployment line: Laid-off workers in southern China queue for their back pay

The news from China in recent weeks has been dire. Violent strikes and protests are reported almost daily. Millions of workers are out of jobs. Economic indicators presage more gloom, with electricity production for industry falling 4% in October, the first time it has declined in a decade. So is China — the "fragile superpower," as historian Susan Shirk memorably termed it — about to experience the one thing its leaders have feared for years: a so-called hard landing of its economy that could spark widespread social unrest?

The gloom-and-doom camp makes...

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