Reform Is the Only Option

作者:Li Fan 发表时间:2011-7-5 11:04:06

A recently trend has been observed in the rights protection activities among citizens: it is becoming more radical. Violence in rights protection activities is more prevalent and seriously disruptive incidents take place from time to time. It is noteworthy that some intellectuals have become more radially inclined as well. Some even begin to make erroneous and radical comments like “Incremental improvement efforts have failed, revolution is inevitable.”

Where do these radical ideas come from?

Based on the empirical experience of the world in terms of political development, any developing countries which pass the per capita gross domestic product of USD $4,000 reach a tipping point for political transformation. Such period of political transformation is characterized by an increased demand by the public for more civil and political rights, and social conflict will increase too. Undoubtedly, China has practically entered such a phase. The the government has carried out many policy adjustments and has advanced the establishment of a social protection system, yet local governments across the country have mobilized more police manpower to deal with social conflict. Overall, the unstable trend continues to emerge.

Based on the empirical experience of the world in terms of modernization of developing countries, an increase of internal conflicts and disruption of social order often go hand in hand with rapid economic development. Samuel Huntington has a famous formula to explain such phenomenon: the level of political participation and awareness of participation/level of political institutionalization equals the level of political instability. In other words, if there is high desire for political participation for citizens in a country where there are few established channels available for political participation, this country will be politically unstable. This formula shows that where there is a low level of political institutionalization and the public has strengthened as a result of economic modernization, the system fails to satisfy the public’s expectation and demand for participation, which causes political instability.

The correlation between political participation and institutionalization is such that when the rates of political participation are high and the levels of political institutionalization are low, the result is political instability. But when there is a highly institutionalized way of participation, then the desire for high participation will be absorbed by the highly institutionalized mechanisms, and social stability and order will be maintained. The mechanisms for participation includes media which can truthfully express public opinion, government agencies which allow direct conversation with the public, or judicial proceedings which can resolve conflict between citizens and the government in a fair and just manner. The greater the number of such mechanisms of public participation and the more institutionalized they are, the greater their capacity of absorbing and resolving public resentment. No matter how great the desire for public participation and how much political resentment there is, the public can work through such mechanisms to understand, interact, confront, compromise and cooperate and work out conflicts. For many developing countries, such mechanisms either do not exist or are unable to operate soundly, and therefore, are unable to defuse resentment, which contributes to political instability.

Looking at the Chinese situation, along with rapid economic development as a result of the reform and opening of China, social problems such as unemployed, wide discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the urban-rural income gap, environmental pollution and public policy crisis are becoming more serious; the rights of the public are violated repeatedly. The number of under-privileged citizens continues to rise. These factors drive up the public desire for participation, they hope the government can hear their voice and uphold their rights through political participation. And in the event that their rights are violated, they can use political participation as a tool to protect their rights. They resort to petitioning, litigation and elections. In general, the vulnerable peasants, peasant-workers, unemployed workers, and others make up the Chinese grassroots subject of right protection. Since the current means of participation available are unable to satisfy their needs, their problems are often unresolved and result in instability among communities in certain local areas.

According to Huntington, when the public’s desire for participation is thwarted or repressed, the demand for participation is not simply lowered, instead, disappointment and desperation drive it even higher. This is the current case in China. People are becoming disappointed after setbacks in defending their own rightful interests. When the public’s voice and their demand for public participation and involvement in policy making are repeatedly rejected, they make even more and bigger demands, which may begin to depart from reality.

Therefore, from the perspective of maintaining social stability and order, political system reform must be advanced in a constructive and steady manner, with a view to promote reform and innovation of the social system. More institutionalized mechanisms should be set up to resolve public participation issues and to facilitate the development of public political participation as well as supervision of the use of power. More institutionalized channels should be set up to enable the public to genuinely participate in the making of public policies and to adequately reflect their opinion. To reform, expansion and opening of public political participation in an orderly manner is the only way that can genuinely resolve and absorb dissatisfied public opinion as well as maintaining social order.