Civil society solid base for nation's future

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-4 19:00:00

The 18th CPC National Congress will convene soon. Amid China's leadership transition, there are various external discussions over China's political uncertainties. In my eyes, the future trajectories of Chinese politics are closely linked with the growing emergence of a civil society.

It is already a widely held consensus in China that the nation's civil society is growing and will become increasingly diversified in the future.

This is an important transformation. In the course of its long history, China, a civilization state which was vastly different from Western nation states, remained polarized with two layers of social and political formations. The Chinese term "guo jia", a counterpart to "country" in the West, perfectly depicts the strata - guo means state whereas jia means family. According to traditional Chinese concepts, there were merely two social classes: state rulers and civil grass-roots. The concept of "society" as the middle strata was absent both in theory and practice.

In the West, civil society plays a significant role in diluting and digesting social conflicts either from the state or from the market. Whenever a crisis erupts, some social mechanisms will start to react first. This partly explains why in the modern era socio-economic and socio-political crises in some Western developed countries have been prevented from reaching the revolutionary level of "crisis of legitimacy."

Along with the development of the market economy and thus diversified social interests, China's civil society has been growing stronger and more complicated. Decision-makers have realized that such a societal development is both unavoidable and very important.

The functions of some grass-roots social organs are undergoing some transformations. For instance, sub-district residential committees are increasingly dealing with everyday conflicts and community affairs. They are increasingly playing the role of mediator and helping dilute emerging conflicts. This is a positive development.

Nevertheless, a traditional perception still lingers: In many places, whenever a problem arises, even a marginal one, common people's instinctive reaction is to appeal to the top leader or the government, rather than approach any other intermediate personnel or functionaries. This, if not handled well, will undermine social stability.

China needs more social leverage to help dilute societal conflicts. I do not mean that we should simply copy Western practices. In fact, the US and European countries suffer various social illnesses. But after careful observation and life experiences in the West, I do believe that some of their experiences can be used by China. China can learn a lesson from them in acknowledging and fostering the role of civil society. However, China should also adopt sinicized measures based on its own unique situation.

China needs to continue reforms in its administrative system and further decentralize power to stimulate social vigor. One measure could be the promotion of effective management by government administrators and institutional professionals.

On the one hand, Party leadership should be constitutionally maintained and consolidated, designing a grand direction for the nation and making macro policies and decisions; on the other hand, government officials should be given "autonomy" in taking care of concrete affairs and implementing specific policies. At each administrative level, specific decisions on local affairs should be made on a professional basis rather than on a political one, while various interests are considered and different voices are heard.

For instance, in the first few decades after the People's Republic of China was founded, decision-making power was highly centralized, and the central authorities could easily mobilize social resources to focus on certain grand projects. Today, the situation is changing, as reform and opening-up deepen and social interests increasingly diversify.

This momentum will continue into the foreseeable future, and we need to think about new methods to deal with new social dynamics. The rivalry among different interest groups and social forces is a good thing, but the opening-up to competition and opposition should also be accompanied by positive regulation mechanisms to help maintain social balance and justice.

The rivalry would ultimately help restrain "public power" at different levels. As the civilian public is the social force in restraining and supervising public power, civil society will become more mature and resilient, guaranteeing a relatively solid social and political foundation that is immune to economic crises or social unrest.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Li Xing, director of the Research Center on Development and International Relations, Aalborg University, Denmark.

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