China releases 'social harmony index'

BEIJING (AFP) - China has released its first-ever "rural social harmony index", state media reported on Tuesday, with Communist authorities apparently able to measure happiness down to the nearest ten-thousandth of a decimal point.

The first-of-its-kind index shows social harmony in the countryside currently at 59.2526 on a 100-point scale, according to the official Xinhua news agency, citing a report by the Centre for Chinese Rural Studies at Central China Normal University.

The measurement was based on six criteria related to the ruling party's definition of a "harmonious society", Xinhua said, including "democracy, justice, honesty, vitality, stability and harmony between humans and nature".

The notion of a harmonious society was introduced by then-President Hu Jintao as a call for a unified China pulling together. But the slogan has been tarnished in recent years by persistent social turmoil and outbreaks of violent unrest over a wide range of issues including corruption, state-backed land grabs, police brutality and unpaid wages.

China's economic boom has brought with it wide inequalities and severe environmental damage in places. The new study found that rural areas ranked highest in the area of honesty (83.65) but lower in achieving harmony between humans and nature (50.74), according to Xinhua.

China is not the first country to attempt to quantify social well-being. The remote Himalayan nation of Bhutan has drawn headlines in recent years with its trademark "Gross National Happiness" concept, which includes nine different areas including good governance, health and cultural vitality and diversity.