Teachers’ petition shows breakdown in communication

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-19 23:48:03

Internet sources revealed Tuesday that a massive strike involving 8,000 elementary and middle school teachers was going on in Zhaodong, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. Later in the day, the local government briefed the media, saying that since Friday, the number of petitioning teachers had risen from a few dozens to over 200, reaching more than 400 at the peak. But there had not been large-scale suspensions of classes, according to the authorities.

The petitioning teachers want salary increases and government subsidies. The teachers base their appeal on the fact that they work in a county whose economy ranks in the national top 100, but Zhaodong teachers' monthly income is 1,000 yuan ($163) lower than their counterparts in surrounding impoverished counties. The local government said they held a special meeting to respond to the teachers' appeals.

It is unusual for teachers to petition or demonstrate. Normally, such mass incidents involve farmers or property owners disputing land acquisitions or house demolitions. 

The radical method the teachers adopted means that some communication channels and problem-solving mechanisms at the grass-roots level are blocked or paralyzed. As a result, radical methods, which may ultimately lead to confrontation, appear more attractive.

Strikes and protests, commonly adopted in the West in struggles for interests, are basically incompatible with the Chinese system. In recent years, they did happen in grass-roots China, but many took place in marginal areas of social governance. Within the system, the authority of discipline has been maintained, which must be cherished. The rule of law should be boosted to break the logic that problems can only be solved through mass incidents.

Before the latest strike, teachers in Zhaodong had petitioned repeatedly, and their petition letters were published online. But the local government only took them seriously and responded to the teachers' requirements after the mass incident erupted. This delivers no positive signal about the rule of law.

Crisis management should also be a process of clarifying rules and defending the dignity of the rules. If the teachers' requirements are justified, local governments should undertake responsibility for the eruption of the incident. But if the teachers' requirements are not reasonable, they shouldn't be complied with, even if there is a mass incident.

Grass-roots governance is complex, and many issues and responsibilities cannot be seen in black-and-white terms. But this is exactly why local authorities should not rush to a simplified solution under pressure.

The traditional mind-set of stability maintenance must be changed. It is rules, rather than protests, that should command the utmost authority. Whoever breaks the rules needs to assume the responsibility.

Posted in: Observer

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