China’s violent push for “stability”

China’s violent push for “stability”
China’s violent push for “stability”
Posted on 2011-11-02

Since the 1990s, as reforms have gone ahead, such problems as the growing gap between rich and poor, the growing gap between urban and rural, poverty and inequality, masses of vulnerable and underprivileged, have grown more pronounced [in China]. We have seen rapid growth in the number of mass incidents, and large-scale mass incidents in particular are happening with greater frequency. In order to deal with these dangers, governments often resort to various tactics in order to hold together the stability of the system, which results in a kind of framework of rigid stability.

Rigid stability is about defining absolute social calm as the objective of governance, and seeing each and every act of resistance as disorder and chaos, all to be struck down and suppressed through whatever means possible. In a situation of rigid stability, social management methods are always simplified and taken to the extreme. In many cases, local governments will use “stability preservation” in order to hold the central government ransom. At other times, for the sake of “stability preservation,” even if the actions of the lower-level government are illegal, higher level leaders have no choice but to look the other way. It can be said that in China, local governments using “stability preservation” as a justification to violate the legal rights of the people and destroy the most basic social rules is already a serious problem.

In the midst of social transition, many mass actions that are “normal” expressions of public will are branded as “illegal behavior” by local governments that act with utter disregard. Governments that should otherwise stand above the fray have become mired in a governance dilemma owing to tactical shortcomings in handling conflicts and the impact of institutional pressures. The result is that these governments must face these “illegal incidents” head on, with no latitude whatsoever for conciliation or compromise. Even less can they fully use social mediating organizations [such as NGOs] as a means of mediation and conflict resolution.

I have long advocated that the ruling party reflect on the concept of “stability suppresses all else” (稳定压倒一切) [or "stability is the overriding priority"]. This concept was raised by Deng Xiaoping at a very particular moment for our country. At the same time, Deng Xiaoping also said that, “Reform is the overriding priority,” and that, “Development is the overriding priority.” But now we have overlooked every other problem because “stability is the overriding priority.” For the sake of stability, we sacrifice the livelihood of the people; for the sake of stability, some local areas even pull the Cultural Revolution-style method of parading offenders through the streets out [of an earlier chapter in our history]; for the sake of stability, we do not shrink from the abuse of police powers.

So what has “stability suppresses all else” actually suppressed in this time of ours? It has suppressed the livelihood of the people, suppressed human rights, suppressed rule of law, suppressed reform. But stability preservation has not suppressed corruption, nor has it suppressed mining tragedies, nor has it suppressed illegal property demolitions and seizures.

Chinese society right now has too many “sensitive” things, “sensitive” people, “sensitive” topics and “sensitive” moments. Some issues even that concern the national economy and the people’s livelihood are designated “sensitive” topics. Everyone averts their eyes, not daring to look them straight on or discuss them. In fact, this is just an excessive response on the part of the government, and it is a sign of a serious lack of confidence. In my view, one important task facing China in the present day is “casting aside sensitivity” (脱敏).

We should also open the great door to the law, using the law as a means of resolving tensions and disagreements. In theory, the petitioning system is just one administrative relief mechanism covering things like administrative action (行政诉讼), administrative review (行政复议). But legal relief should be the principal means by which civil rights issues find relief and resolution. We must recognize that one serious consequence of replacing legal relief with administrative relief is that this objectively dissolves the authority of state judicial organs, the very foundation of modern social governance. But our courts are right now an embarrassment, with local Party and government leaders directly interfering with cases. The localization of our courts [by entrenched local interests] is getting more and more serious.

At the same time, one thing we might do is establish people’s congresses as standing bodies, with delegates acting as full-time representatives. This way people’s congresses might take on a role as monitors of the government, systematically building the mechanisms by which people can voice their interests.

I’ve found that people’s congresses have a special character in that they dare to criticize. If someone intentionally stirs up trouble, people’s congress delegates may rain curses down on their head — and the person on the other end still won’t have much to say about it. This shows us that people’s congresses have the potential to play a mediating role between the government and society.

Reforms can begin at the county level. For example, a number of counties can first be selected and reform experiments carried out for a few years. If the results are good, this can be expanded to the provincial level for a few more years of trials. In this way, at least, the Party can use “space” to buy “time.” And if by chance these reforms fail, then in any case the larger picture won’t be affected.

This is a translated an edited version of an essay by Yu Jianrong that appeared in Xinhua News Agency’s International Herald Leader on January 4 this year and has been re-posted on many websites today [at QQ.com] after Xinhua again featured it prominently.

3 Comments to “China’s violent push for “stability””

  1. Andao says:

    I would strongly argue that Republican China was much more free than Communist China today. How much religion is in the mainland? How about that freedom of press? Hell, at least the KMT tried to make laws…mainland judges today get bonuses if they solve cases through arbitration instead of due process.

    I’ve lived here for 4 years, and I don’t know anyone who trusts the legal system or has ever voted in any election. But based on your reference to “harmonious society,” I have a feeling you might receive income to the tune of 0.08 USD for this particular post.

  2. There are a thousand Chinas, and Yu describes one of them. In the other, larger, China 86% of its citizens approve of its government and trust it; judges, prosecutors, and police are being trained in applying the new-fangled ‘rule of law’; elections have begun at the village level; and the maintenance of a harmonious society is the goal of all.

    The Chines are enjoying greater prosperity, access to justice, and democracy than ever in their long history. The US is suffering lower prosperity, less access to justice, and less democracy. And despite the existence of almost-identical factions on the US political stage, both are one-party states. One is Capitalist, the other Communist.

  3. Andao says:

    Not sure what to make of this. On one hand, a lot of Yu’s points are valid, but I don’t understand his point about starting county-level elections, then working up to the province level in select areas, and beyond. What CCP leader, in their right mind, is going to support democratic reforms when that might involve them losing their job, their off-the-record perks, or both? A single party system cannot be relied on to try out democracy because it’s suicide. I guess there is precedent (Gorbachev) but I don’t think the collapse of the USSR was his intent.

    When Deng Xiaoping opened up Shenzhen in the 1980s, did he really believe he could cut off the experiment if he had to? How would he go about doing that? I think economic reform, like political reform, is very hard to roll back without a lot of violence. Yu says if the initial results are good, political reform could continue. But what does “good” mean? And how would you remove democracy from counties and villages after these trials, if a “bad” result came to pass?

    I hate how so many Chinese intellectuals try to step around this issue, and it’s especially frustrating because Yu references his disdain for all these “sensitive” issues in his essay. Any democratic reforms must come from outside the party, but they are afraid to say so because it’s sensitive. Otherwise it’s just putting lipstick on a pig.

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