Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Predicament of a Buddhist Temple in Chongqing

I have been occupied by several other commitments in the past two weeks, including teaching a fiction workshop for the New Hampshire Writers Day. As such I haven't posted much or kept up with current China news. (I even briefly toyed with the idea of taking refuge from the China-blog world: being an independent blogger is such a lonely business, for she pleases neither lovers nor haters of China.)

Yesterday, however, a blogger friend sent me a link to a post in CDT titled "Thousand Year Old Temple to be Demolished, Luxury ‘Bathhouse’ to Take its Place." Upon reading it, I could no longer sit steadily minding my own business. The Hot Spring Temple, 1586 years old, is located in my birth town, Beibei, a suburban district of Chongqing, and in my childhood that temple and the north hot spring were my family's regular weekend retreat.

I began to search my Chongqing contact list, needing to do something to help stop the commercial developer from demolishing this historical treasure. But I still had questions. What exactly is going on? Who owns the property rights of the Buddhist temple? What is the government's position on this?

From the Chinese blog post translated by CDT, it is unclear what exactly is happening, other than the fact that the monks and local worshippers are very angry at, and frustrated by, the developer's activity around the temple. Though the word – "destroy" – is used in the post, no demolition plan is mentioned.

Following a link provided by the Chinese post, I found a blog written by an abbot of the Hot Spring Temple, in which he complained about the media's dismissive attitude toward their appeals for help. (One strange thing is that the blog uses a propaganda image of Lei Feng as its header. There must be some reason for this but for now I don't have time to research that.)

In his April 25 (yesterday) post, the abbot blogger said he received a call from Chongqing's government-run "Buddhist Association" ordering him to stop leading Buddhist demonstrations in Beibei's streets, which he said he had not done. Clearly, the government is not on the monks' side.

But a big crowd of the Chinese netizens are; the monks' appeal has been circulated and echoed on major web portals. Probably because of the internet anger, some reporters did take notice. China Economic Times (run by the Development Research Center of the State Council) published a report Friday, which is linked to by the abbot's blog. The report cited arguments from both the developer's and the temple's sides.

The developer, Yunnan's 柏联集团, was actually found and appointed by the Beibei district government, and they signed an agreement to build a giant spa center surrounding the Hot Spring Temple, using the hot spring and the temple as attractions for the spa business. The developer felt wrongly accused of "destroying" the ancient temple. "A vast cursing voice on the internet, we've been treated too unfairly!" A company executive cried to the reporters. He said he couldn't understand, "[The project] should be beneficial and a big promotion for both sides, why do things have to be like this?"

From the monks' perspective, however, a modern spa center encircling the temple breaks the tranquil Buddhist environment and atmosphere, and the massive view of exposed bathers is unacceptable to worshippers. To date, the chaotic construction activities have already damaged some cultural relics and interrupted the temple's religious affairs. Since the construction began, worshipers have been prohibited from entering the temple, the joss sticks and candles stopped burning.

In negotiation, the temple has proposed that the developer builds a wall around the temple's property, in order to block the unsightly entertainment scene in the spa and leave the temple in peace. The managing abbot also wanted to block vehicles from passing through the temple. However the developer rejected those ideas, threatening to withdraw the investment if the temple insists on its position.

The report mentions that the blogger abbot was beaten up by a mob last week and suffered many injuries. But it does not say who the mobs were and how the beating happened.

The report also answers my question about the temple's property rights: It still belongs to a government agency. Even though urban residents in China now enjoy property rights to 70 years, nothing has changed with regard to religious properties. We are talking about the officially legal religions in China, one of which is Buddhism.

Though it turns out that the CDT post has an inaccurate title and it's not a demolition case, I felt little relief. It appears to me this is another serious clash between cultural and commercial interests, and clashes like this have been happening in China frequently ever since the economic reform began. The Beibei district government and the developer see only the commercial benefits the spa project would bring, and have no regard for the cultural significance of maintaining the temple's non-commercial environment. I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I have tremendous respect for Buddhism. I applaud the monks' courage to fight commercialization; their stance is especially commendable given that many temples I have visited in China in recent years have already been willingly commercialized, worshiping money instead of Buddha.

A small comfort brought by the report is that an official from Chongqing's city government has rejected the developer's notion to take over the management of the temple and make it part of their spa business. However, for a more thorough resolution, it may be time for the government to return the property rights to the temple as they had been before 1949.

I will continue to watch the case and report back developments as I can. Meanwhile, dear readers, if you have connections in Chongqing, please do something to help the Hot Spring Temple 温泉寺.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The First Issue of Terracotta Typewriter Published

Take a look at the inaugural issue of Terracotta Typewriter – not particularly because it includes an essay of mine, but because it is an English language literary journal with Chinese characteristics. The magazine (in PDF format) is published by Matthew Lubin, who has lived in China as a teacher and editor. As far as I know, it is the only literary magazine of its kind. Enjoy the poems and prose.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Readers' comments

Apparently my blog is blocked in China again, and readers who reside in China had trouble posting comments. Two readers have sent their comments through email on some recent topics, and I'm posting these for them here:

You may want to look at some work on 'authoritarian deliberation', or as I prefer to refer to it as, 'deliberative authoritarianism' “审议权威主义”.

as you know, 审议 is just one of the ways of expressing 'deliberation', so you might want to search a few of the others as well.

Rebecca McKinnon gave a long talk on the internet in china where she touched on this, but the idea is not hers. A quick search on the internet can get you to many of the main source, and watching Rebecca's talk may be interesting.

2. Paul Armstrong-Taylor commented on "Blog Rally to Help the Boston Globe":

Newspapers need to figure out what they can do better than anyone else - TV or other websites. The problem is they try to be all things to all people, and, in any field, there are other places people can get better, more focused information, analysis or whatever.

Take sport: you can go to ESPN (website or TV) for general information; you can go to somewhere like Baseball Prospectus for statistical analysis of baseball; you can go to Sons of Sam Horn for interactive discussion of the Red Sox.

It is simply not possible for one publication to compete with all these sources - and others in news, politics, opinion, business, etc. I think newspapers as we think of them - generalist publications - can not survive. They need to focus on one area where they have an advantage and become the best source for that area. Maybe the WSJ is one example of how to do that - focusing on business.

One area I would like to see newspaper focus on is investigative journalism - trying to uncover the truth when there maybe some who do not want the truth exposed. Generally I think the US media does a poor job of this. Political reporting often consists of: Democrat said X, Republican said Y with no effort to determine the truth and or whether one or both were lying.

I think some effort to use their media access to report the truth not only would improve the knowledge of Americans (compare knowledge about the case for Iraqi WMD prior to the war in the UK and US), but would also providing a compelling reason to buy a newspaper.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rise of Political Confucianism in Contemporary China

(Note: In June 2008, The China Beat published my commentary "China: Democracy, or Confucianism?", which helped to draw wide attention to Jiang Qing (蒋庆)'s research on Political Confucianism. I learned last week that, an international conference titled "The Origins and Development of Social and Political Reflection in East and West" was held at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Prof. Wang Rui-Chang from Humanities School of the Capital University of Business and Economics presented a paper to explain Political Confucianism more clearly. I'm posting an excerpt of Prof. Wang's presentation with his permission. – Xujun)

The Rise of Political Confucianism in Contemporary China
by Wang Rui-Chang

Abstract: Political Confucianism is a newly emerged school of thought addressing political and social reform in Mainland China. It challenges the current prevalent democratic movement, both inside and outside of China, which proposes governance with legitimacy wholly resting on the ballot. Instead, Political Confucianism advocates the wisdom of “centrality and harmony” contained in Confucianism, especially the Confucian tradition of Gongyang School that flourished in the Han and late Qing dynasties in China. It is aimed at revitalizing Confucianism and reconstructing the politics of the Kingly Way in the modern global context. The present paper is meant to give as clear as possibly a presentation of Political Confucianism to current, especially Western, scholars for critical evaluation.

Background of the Rise of Political Confucianism

Probably anyone who cares about China may have not failed to notice that China is witnessing a revival of Confucianism and traditional culture: more and more scholars come to talk about “national studies”(guoxue); university teachers giving lectures on national television channels become “star scholars” overnight; classics recital classes for children are sprouting up in many parts of the country; thousands of books on Confucianism or traditional culture are piled high and sold well in book stores every day; attending “national studies training class” hosted by the prestigious universities has come to be a fashion for businessmen, civil servants or other part of the more fortunate and affluent part of the population; even the state leaders, as the Canadian political science scholar Daniel A. Bell put it, have also “rediscovered Confucianism."

In 2005, Fang Keli (1938- ), chairman of the Society of the History of Chinese Philosophy, observed:

"Since the May 4th Movement, the New Confucianism movement in modern China has undergone three generations of Confucian scholars and three stages of development. I think, with the 2004 Confucian Conference in Guiyang Yangming Academy ( also known as Summit Conservatism Conference ) as the starting point, the whole New Confucianism movement has now entered on its forth stage, i.e. a stage on which Mainland China Confucians represented by Jiang Qing, Sheng Hong, Kang Xiaoguang, and Chen Ming play the leading role."

In a sense, New Confucianism is a new Neo-Confucianism, a modern version of the Neo-Confucianism as represented by Cheng Hao (1032-1085), Cheng Yi (1033-1107), Zhu Xi (1130-1209), Lu Xiangshan (1139-1193) and Wang Yangming (1472-1529) from Song to Ming Dynasties.

As to the question of politics and social development, the New Confucians unanimously hold the position that China’s traditional political system and the political ideas embodied therein are out of date, and modernization with democracy and science as its true meanings is destined to be China’s political and social future. They argued that although democracy as well as science has been created and developed by westerners in western history, it is rather a “universal instrument” regardless of East or West. Furthermore, democracy, they hold, is actually the inner demand of the logic of Chinese cultural development, it is an instrument by which the ancient sages’ ideal of “making the world under haven impartial and common to all” (tian-xia-wei-gong) could eventually be fulfilled. As the most creative and influential New Confucianism exponent Mou Zongsan put it:

"Modernization takes its origin in the West. However, once it occurs, it is no indigenous product confined to particular countries; as far as it is truth, it is universal. Therefore, every nation must admit it. To put in our old Chinese words, we call it 'the Way of Kingliness', or 'Storing the world in the world itself (letting people themselves rather than emperors decide their own destiny).' To put it in new words, it is 'an open society' or 'democratic politics.' This is a common ideal. For these reasons, although democratic politics originated from the West, we should also realize it according to the requirements of our own inner life."

The New Confucianism flourishing in Taiwan and Hong Kong has exerted strong and durable influence on Mainland China’s intellectual circles since the state of conflict across the Taiwan Strait was lessened and cultural exchange between the two sides became possible when Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, and at the same time the New Confucian masters have attracted many sincere followers in the Mainland, some of whom are now quite prominent scholars. But in a strict sense, by “Mainland China New Confucianism” we don’t mean the scholarship of this group of followers who just repeat the thoughts of their masters, but the thought of another group of scholars who, though in a more or less degree influenced by the oversea New Confucianism, are more creative in their thought and have gone on a quite different way from their oversea forerunners. In short, the Mainland New Confucianism is not the simple photocopy of the Oversea New Confucianism.

It should also be pointed out that Mainland China New Confucianism is a newly emerged school of thought that is still in its maturing process, and the major scholars under this name actually develop their own thought with no intentional cooperation and they often fail to agree on many issues.

Political Confucianism, on which the present paper is focused, is developed by Jiang Qing, the leading scholar of Mainland China New Confucianism.

The Main Arguments of Political Confucianism
1) Division of “Self-cultivation Confucianism” and “Political Confucianism

“Self-cultivation Confucianism” and “Political Confucianism” are a pair of terms first coined by Mr. Jiang Qing to denote the two traditions Jiang himself recognized in Confucianism after Confucius. The two traditions are contrasted with each other in many respects: firstly the former is created out of “existential concern," or “concern of life salvation," while the latter is out of “institutional concern,” or “concern of political legitimacy” ; secondly, holding human nature as innately good, the former approaches the issue of elevating human mind and human nature almost wholly by means of self-cultivation, thus moral improvement being none other than restoring one’s humanity a prior, political and social environment being of little relevance, while the latter, taking a realistic point of view of human nature and deeming it is empirically bad, holds that rituals, institutions and penalties are critically important in improving human nature or keeping men or women from moral degeneration; thirdly, the former is aimed at purifying personal life to become a sage or saint while the latter is directed to the construction of a desirable and stable political system and the betterment of society. In a word, Self-cultivation Confucianism is, by its nature, oriented to the inner life of moral idealism while Political Confucianism is oriented to the outer political structure of social realism.

These two traditions, Jiang argued, are all handed down from Confucius and are equally important. Yet unfortunately, after the Han Dynasty this Political Confucianism of Gongyang Studies was entirely neglected and was buried in complete oblivion, so much so that nowadays scholars equate the teachings of the Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism and the modern oversea New Confucianism with the authentic Confucianism.

2) Theory of Three-Dimensional Political Legitimacy

The central theory of Political Confucianism as advocated by Jiang Qing is the doctrine of political legitimacy. He argues that “political legitimacy” is the foundation of, and the prerequisite to, all political system, political process, political activities and tactics, without which everything political loses its meaning and value.

For Jiang, to be fully legitimate, a political power or regime must simultaneously meet three conditions: 1), it must be at one with, or sanctioned by, the holy, transcendental Tao as expressed or implied in the Confucian Scriptures, and as interpreted by the prestigious Confucian Scholars; 2), it must not deviate from the mainstream of the national cultural heritage and break the historical continuity of the nationality; 3), it must comply with the will or endorsement of the common people.

The first condition is of the divine foundation of a political power, which can be symbolized by Heaven; the second is of historical foundation of a political power, being symbolized by Earth, since national culture and civilization are closely connected with particular regions on the earth; and the third is of the human or secular foundation of a political power, symbolized by Human. This is the so-called “the three dimensions of political legitimacy of the politics of the Kingly Way”, a political idea rooted in traditional Chinese political culture.

The dimension of legitimacy of human will and desire sounds easy to be understood by modern people, especially by Westerners, for it seems similar to the democratic idea that government is legitimate to the extent that it derives from people’s support. But Jiang warns over and over again that this democratic dimension of legitimacy should not have superiority over the other two dimensions. A political system is legitimate if and only if all three dimensions of legitimacy are properly balanced, with no one dimension being superior to the others. Jiang argued, it is the ancient Chinese “middle and harmonious” way of thinking, anchored deeply in the Book of Changes and the Spring and Autumn Annals, that makes this non-linear, tridimensional understanding of political legitimacy possible.

The dimension of historical continuity of nationality is the most disputable one of the three, but Jiang insists that this dimension is indispensible. He cited Edmund Burke’s view to support his stance. As we know, in Burke’s eyes, state is an organic body, politics is the outcome of historical evolution, and thus social heritage, or even prejudices, should be taken with respect. Burke said: “To avoid, therefore, the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousand worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we have consecrated the state, that no man should approach to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution; that he should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion; that he should approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude. By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds and wild incantations they may regenerate the paternal constitutions and renovate their father’s life.” For Jiang Qing, if the state was comparable to a father, then the legitimacy of historical continuity would be comparable to a father’s life blood, which cannot be neglected when considering establishing a political system.

This theory of three-dimensional political legitimacy is meant on the one hand to recognize, and on the one hand to circumscribe, the unbridled selfish human desire, whether of a collective nature or an individual nature, and by this way to create a better pattern of political system for China as well as for the world. For these reasons, Jiang asserts that human history, in a proper sense, has by no means “ended” as Fukuyama claims. On the contrary, it urgently waits to be re-created to avoid the“vital defect”in modern democratic politics.

3) Proposition of Tri-Cameral Legislature

To translate this theory of three-dimensional political legitimacy into realities, Jiang proposes to establish a tri-cameral legislature, with each house representing one dimension of legitimacy.

The House of Profound Confucians (Tong Ru Yuan) represents the legitimacy of the sacred Way, the House of National Continuity (Guo Ti Yuan) represents the legitimacy of cultural heritage and tradition, and the House of Plebeians (Shu Min Yuan) represents the legitimacy of the common people’s will and desire.

The particular way of choosing the members of each house of the legislature, and the mechanisms of check and balance among the three houses, are quite complex and are still under elaboration. Of this I can only give a very brief hint. The members of the House of Profound Confucians are chosen by nomination and appointment by non-governmental Confucian organizations and official Confucian institutions; the members of the House of National Continuity should be representatives of religions (including Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, and Christianity) and descendants of great sages and historical figures. The members of the Plebian House are chosen by elections and functional constituencies. According to Jiang’ s latest opinion in An Explanation of The Diagram of the Kingly Way, The Position of the House of Profound Confucians is the highest, the Plebian House is the lowest, and the House of National Continuity is positioned in between. Bills of great importance must be passed simultaneously by all three. If a bill is passed by all of the three Houses, it is a perfect law. If not, it may be delayed, suspended or vetoed. By dint of this device of tri-cameral legislature the theory of tri-dimensional legitimacy is hoped to be embodied.

4) Restoration of Confucian Religion as the State Religion

Jiang’s Political Confucianism is closely connected with his views about the Religion of Confucianism. For Jiang Confucianism is not merely a theory, not simply a system of abstract ideas, it is a great religion embedded in Chinese civilization, being comparable to Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. In ancient China, Confucianism played a role of state religion. To re-establish China’s political system, Confucianism as a religion is indispensible; it should again be restored as the state religion of China. He writes:

"As a state religion, Confucianism has defined the nature of Chinese civilization, molded the cultural identity of Chinese nation, and shaped the axiological consensus and spiritual convictions of the Chinese people.

In history Confucian religion has performed three functions: first, it provided political legitimacy for Chinese government by laying a transcendental and sacred foundation for politics; second, it provided ethical norms to regulate the social conduct of the Chinese people on the basis of rites; third, it provided religious faith for the people on the basis of transcendental and sacred values as interpreted by the Confucian sages. These three functions are not obsolete in the contemporary world. "

Jiang insists that, being faced with all-round challenges from the West, China must restore Confucian religion in all respects and at all levels. To put in his own words: “It is a task of top priority.”

To be sure, Jiang is against the prevalent idea of total separation of sate and religion, but he takes care not to go so far as to tighten state and religion strictly together as was the case in Middle Ages, or in Tsarist era Russia. But still his proposal to enshrine Confucianism as a state religion is deeply unpopular in China’s intellectual circles, even by some scholars otherwise sympathetic to Confucianism. For example, one of China’s top Confucianism scholars and professor of philosophy at Beijing University Chen Lai, welcomes the new departure in Political Confucianism research conducted by Jiang. In fact, he has helped to have Political Confucianism published. Still, he shook head at the idea that does not separate state and church apart. Their main worry is that other thoughts may be treated as heresies and suffer persecution once Confucianism is set up as state religion. To this Jiang answers:

"In the UK, the Anglican Church, the state religion established by the unwritten English common law, boasts of its privileges; in Northern Europe, the Lutheran church, as the state religion, also boasts of its privileges, In modern Greece, the Eastern Orthodox Church, as the state religion established by the Greek constitution, has its privileges as a rule. But all these countries remain the so-called liberal democratic countries. By the same token, to restore Confucianism as the privileged state religion by no means means spiritual persecution, it only means a certain consensus and unity of the Chinese national spirit and mind. No worry is necessary.”

In fact, the history of China also shows that such worry or fear is groundless.
(Wang Rui-Chang, penname Miwan. Some of his writings in Chinese can be found on

Monday, April 6, 2009

Blog Rally to Help the Boston Globe

We have all read recently about the threat of possible closure faced by the Boston Globe. A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. We are simultaneously posting this paragraph to solicit your ideas of steps the Globe could take to improve its financial picture.

We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm: Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. Thank you.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Conflicts and Clashes are the Natural Social Norm

by Sun Liping, Professor of Sociology at Tsinghua University

(Note: About a month ago I translated an essay from Prof. Sun titled "The Biggest Threat Is not Social Unrest but Societal Breakdown." His rational and perceptive view attracted wide interest from readers, and that post was linked by many influential websites, including WSJ's China Journal and For further discussion, I here translate another, more recent article from Prof. Sun. Note his non-confrontational language in treating a confrontational subject, which makes his arguments much easier to consider by different sides. Just one little quibble from me: he makes the US sound too perfect. :-) – Xujun)

[In translation]
Looking back at the mass incidents over the recent few years, one can find a fluctuating curve: Before 2005 it trended upward, was down a bit in 2006 and 2007, and rose again in 2008. What can we make of these trends?

Faced with the same facts, different judgments lead to different paths. For example during the global economic crisis of the 1930s, the situation in the US was the most severe, with very sharp and prominent social conflict. However the Roosevelt administration carried out a series of changes and saved America's democracy and prosperity. Under the same economic crisis however, German, Italy and Japan turned to fascism.

A system needs an easy spirit

The first problem that needs to be resolved is how to view and position social conflict; this is a more important issue than social conflict itself.

A system is not a dead thing; it too has a thinking process, but it is different from that of an individual. Something that everyone understands in everyday life might not be comprehendible by the system. For example during the Cultural Revolution, when a person accidentally broke Chairman Mao's statue, everyone knew he was just being careless, but the system did not have the vocabulary for "accidental behavior." You broke Chairman Mao's statue, you must receive punishment.

Several years ago a serious mass incident occurred in Sichuan. The cause was a simple one: the construction of a power station occupied some farmland, and the conflicting interests evolved into a mass incident. At the beginning, the local government viewed the incident as a farmers' armed riot, and treated it rigidly, which intensified the conflict. Later the central government re-evaluated the incident and gave farmers compensation, thus easily resolving the conflict. This shows that how the system views social conflict is very important.

There exist various conflicts and clashes in society, such as political, ideological, religious, and cultural ones. But the majority are conflict of interest. This actually is a most rational kind of conflict, but our positioning is often problematic. We are accustomed to political, ideological viewpoints, therefore when treating conflict the government is excessively tense and often overreacts.

A system is like a person, and it can be overcautious. Think about it: if it is all-day heavy-hearted, miserable, tense and unsmiling, how can it solve problems well? A system needs an easy spirit. This expression came from football commentary: Watching Chinese playing football, sometimes an early loss can lead to a final win, but leading first will surely cause a final failure. Why? Because the team becomes overcautious. When facing social conflict, we need also to have a normal mentality, an easy spirit. The "easiness" comes from accurate positioning. Only when positioned accurately, can problems be properly solved.

A system needs more self-confidence when facing social conflict

The biggest achievement in the 30 years of reform and opening-up is the establishment of a market economy. Whether a market economy is a "good" one, I think there are three measures: first, whether the system itself is healthy and complete; second, whether there is a good judicial basis; third, whether there is a supporting mechanism to balance interests. The third point is especially important.

Fundamentally, in a society different classes, groups and individuals should have a balanced capacity to fight for their own interests; their rights should be equal. In the past, China used an economic model of redistribution, for example the state designated a person's salary as level one or level two, so there were no fights between people. A market economy is different; people have to fight for their interests by themselves.

During the 1930s recession in the United States, a new policy of the Roosevelt administration was to have unions play a role, thus establishing an interest balancing mechanism, which effectively solved the labor relations problem, and alleviated various conflicts. After that, the entire social situation had a fundamental transformation.

However we should note one point: it is not that, once an interest balancing mechanism is in place, the poor can become the rich, the powerless can become the powerful. An interest balancing mechanism is only a basic condition for a "good market economy." China's reality is that a market economy is established, but an interest balancing mechanism has yet to be.

Take the example of mass incidents, the majority of them are rightful expression of interest. It's like when children run into unsolvable problems, they cry to call their parents' attention. There must be a mechanism to let people express their demands. In this situation, we should have a new understanding of social conflict.
First, social conflict and clashes are part of social normalization. To depend on strict guardianship and the elimination of problems at their embryonic stage is not going to work any more. The government needs to gradually adjust to a society with conflict and clashes.

Second, don't always regard social conflict and clashes as negative factors. On a certain level they also play a positive role. One is as a safety valve: through demonstration etc, people's discontent and stress get released, thus avoiding a direct impact on social stability. Another is as a means to problem discovery. For example when migrant workers wages were held in arrears, at the worst time the unpaid amount reached 100 billion nation-wide. Why in the end did the Premier have to demand the wages for migrant workers be paid? If demonstrations were regarded normal, and migrant workers were able to walk on the streets and talk about their demands at an earlier stage, the situation might not have evolved to such a severe level. When there is no mechanism to uncover problems, the government is not able to keep abreast of developments and to respond, and problems will accumulate to an irresolvable level until mass incidents break out.

Third, we need to form a new concept: the distinction between a good system and a bad one, or a good society and a bad one, is not whether there are conflict and clashes. Rather it should be (1) whether the system or society has the capacity to contain conflict, and how big that capacity is; (2) whether it can institutionalize a mechanism to resolve conflict. A good social system is self-confident when facing social conflict. Otherwise it's seized with panic when conflict is still at an embryonic stage.

In the United States, millions demonstrated on the streets to object to the war on Iraq. Did anyone think American society unstable? No. Then why, when a few dozen migrant workers demand unpaid wages on the streets, does the Chinese government act as if it is being attacked by a giant enemy? This shows a lack of self-confidence.

"Rigid stability thinking" needs to be abandoned

If we analogize social conflict to water, then there are no worries in the US, because the water there is running in a channel. Which direction it runs to, where it makes turns, where it's swift, where it's slow, all are predictable. But in China there is not a channel; when water comes, no one knows where it will run to, thus the only defense is to build dams everywhere. For this, the only solution is to build a channel, that is, to establish rules and procedures, to enhance institutional construction.

At the beginning of 2008, the China Eastern Airline's pilot strike was a typical "flood disaster," in the end there was no winner: the pilots had a heavy loss, their professional integrity was in doubt; the airline also had a heavy loss, tickets were forced to be discounted as was its reputation.

As a matter of fact, pilot strikes are common in other countries, but there are rules and procedures – pilots must first negotiate with the airline; if agreement is not reached, pilots submit a strike petition to the union; after a voting process that passes the petition, then the strike can begin. That is, there is a procedure for strikes. In this sense, China doesn't have such a thing as "strike." What the Eastern Airline's pilots did was called "stop flying," and what the taxi drivers did was called "stop driving."

If the legitimacy of strikes is not acknowledged, then there will be no way to regulate them, and no way to set up a resolution method. Today the Eastern Airline's strike is still unsolved, because no one knows who led the strike, thus there is no way to talk.

Why so far are we still unable to set up institutionalized solution methods and interest balancing mechanism under a market economy? Because we are held back by one thing: the "rigid stability thinking." The debate on the "Labor Contract Law" is a good example. The contact protects labor interest, and presses for the interest balancing mechanism, that much is agreed to. But the enterprises are all bitterly complaining about this law. Is this simply because of the selfishness of the capitalists? No, the fundamental problem is: this law is an attempt to use government-set regulations to replace equality in the game between interest bodies.

In fact, under a market economy, the government only needs to manage three things: one, set and hold a baseline; two, set up and guard game rules; three, adjust or mediate when the game reaches a deadlock. The agenda for the negotiation is set by the sides. However, our present situation is that the government is most afraid to let the sides talk among themselves, fearing the talk would hurt social stability. "Stop talking, I've set the agenda for you." The government always keeps its hand on the market economy.

In the decades before reform, we always overrated the situation of class struggle. Now, some officials overrate the nature of mass incidents, and this forms the "rigid stability thinking." But did stability overpower corruption or counterfeiting? No. In the end, it is our ability to express rightful interest that is overpowered.

Bottom line: one of the tools used by some vested interest groups is to distort the concept of "stability." In addition, some scholars think the social crisis is very serious, possibly able to cause big unrest, but that is a baseless worry. Using a normal mentality to factually judge and position the present social conflict and clashes, and solve them using an institutionalized approach, that is the real way out.