Stanley's blog

I’ve just come across a speech by Yu Jianrong on 26 December 2009. Professor Yu is director of social issues research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and advises top leaders – clearly an insider. What he said is disturbing – and surprising. It is rare for someone of Yu’s official standing directly to criticise core Communist Party policies. It also shows that Chinese scholars can speak out more than is usually understood in the West.

He warned that hard-line security policies are taking the country to the brink of ”revolutionary turmoil”, and that his prediction of looming internal disaster reflected the results of on-the-ground surveys and also the views of some Chinese government ministers. Deepening social fractures were caused by the Communist Party’s obsession with preserving its monopoly on power through ”state violence” and ”ideology”, rather than justice, Yu said.

Disaster could be averted only if ”interest groups” were capable of subordinating themselves to the constitution, he said. The number of recorded incidents of ”mass unrest” grew from 8 709 in 1993 to more than 90 000 in each of the past three years. ”More and more evidence shows that the situation is getting more and more tense, more and more serious.” He referred to the growing range and seriousness of urban worker disputes and that mafia groups were increasingly involved in state-sponsored thuggery. Yu maintains that 80-90% of land cases have the mafia in the background.

”For seeking ‘bu zheteng’ [stability] we sacrifice reform and people’s rights endowed by law … Such stability will definitely bring great social disaster,” he said. Conflicts within society have increased for a number of reasons, including the increasing gap between rich and poor, corruption and intrusions into citizens’ rights (eg land confiscation, building demolition, environmental pollution and unfair judicial decisions.)

In Professor Yu’s opinion, most protests are about money, not power. No-one is seeking to overthrow the government. “ When Westerners take to the streets they are talking about rights; however when Chinese people take to the streets they are talking about rules.”

The issue is about the government not honouring its word. Thus, ordinary Chinese people say, “You promised to give me ten yuan, why are you now only giving me five yuan?…” Westerners say when they take to the streets, “Why are you only giving us 10 yuan? According to our… rights, you should be giving us 100 yuan. Your rules [providing 10 yuan] are wrong.” The central government’s rules are not being challenged. Were this to happen, the government’s political power would be in serious danger.

Yu Jianrong said that “China has recently experienced a new kind of mass incident which he calls “social venting”. These incidents have two characteristics. First, the participants do not have a material request; they are mainly venting their feelings of resentment and anger at government powers and at rich people. Second, the participants are not organized; the incidents happen and then quickly disperse.

“Currently, Chinese society as a whole is stable…China’s politics and rulers are united and that there have not yet been actions directed towards opposing the central government.” “As of now, there has not been a single local leader who has dared step forward and oppose the central government.”

But this type of stability is rigid and different from social stability in the West. It is centred around maintaining a monopoly on political power, and not about protecting the long-term stability of the constitution and the laws. “In other words, the ultimate goal of all the Communist Party’s goals is how it can hold a monopoly on political power.”

Social activities that would ordinarily be considered regular can be seen as “elements of instability”. “Now, even petitioning higher levels of government has been turned into an ‘element of instability’”.

Controlling society, says Yu, does not primarily rely on the judiciary but on state violence, ideology, and controls on societal organizations. China’s social stability is far greater than the social stability of Western countries because it is extremely rigid. “However, ‘rigid stability’ brings with it an enormous danger”.

In my own view, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have not delivered the hoped for political reforms and serious action seems unlikely at the end of their mandate. The conservative wing of the Party appears currently to have the upper hand. And yet, according to Professor Yu, the increase in large mass incidents “is truly shaking the view the rulers have of the nation”.

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  1. The prospects for mass disorder in China are likely to increase. Its big trade surpluses are proving unacceptable in other parts of the world; demands for protectionism from Chinese goods and services are increasing.

    In fact many deficit countries are worried that uncompetitiveness under the existing rules is driving them into bankruptcy. And Beijing isn’t the only surplus nation; Germany within the eurozone is another example – no suggestions here of currency manipulation yet.

    We seem to be seeing a repeat of the 1930’s. The future of globalisation is indeed in doubt.

    How’s the G20 getting on with what it agreed was the urgent task of solving global trading imbalances?

  2. “How’s the G20 getting on with what it agreed was the urgent task of solving global trading imbalances?”

    The deficit countries can no longer rely on trade protectionism. Protectionism is happening less than expected, according to recent WTO figures. It affects less than half a percent of world imports. This change from the protectionism of the days of the Great Depression is apparently because of a power shift. Big businesses are severing national allegiances, few business lobbies want protectionism, the WTO now exists to help business, and publics have little appetite for it.

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