Zhu Yuan

Social rebuilding will be a long process 

Updated: 2010-02-10 06:44

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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Scholar Xiong Peiyun's new book is titled in English as China's New Revolution, but its Chinese title of Chongxin Faxian Shehui literally means "rediscovery of civil society". To accurately portray what the book is about, I think the literary translation of "rebuilding" is much better suited than "rediscovery".

"Revolution" is also not fitting not simply because the word is associated with violence. It refers to fundamental change in a radical way. That should never be how a civil society should be built. I prefer "rebuilding" because a lot of concrete efforts are needed for fledgling social organizations, voluntary bodies and institutions to become more functionary as the fabric of a civil society.

The word "rediscovery" is not appropriate because there has never been a civil society for us to rediscover. All elements of civil society vanished amid various political movements in the nearly three decades before 1978.

Excessive emphasis of political ideology made China a political society, and political struggle was the core doctrine of that ideology during that period. Political concern or concern for political struggle had been extended to every vein of society. Even waitresses did not serve customers in a restaurant for a short period of time during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), as the service they provided was considered politically incorrect and put them in unequal social standing.

There was no way for a civil society to take shape at that time. And neither was it possible in the early 1980s when the government's priority was to drag most Chinese out of poverty.

As the writer describes, the first decade after 1978 was characterized by struggles en masse for basic democracy. The fight by individuals for personal freedom was the political theme in the second decade, and a fledgling civil society's pressure on the government for more autonomy and freedom dominates the political tone in the third decade and in the present. I agree with the writer's analysis on this point.

Despite increasing complaints from the public against governments at all levels, a civil society is advancing steadily. This can be seen in the central government's ever-increasing concern for the livelihood of residents and the reiteration of its people-first principle in making policies.

Specifically speaking, the increasing number of nongovernmental organizations, the rise in the number of cases in which individuals stand up for their own rights, and the increasing number of laws in favor of the protection of individual's rights are evidences that the condition is becoming mature for a civil society to gradually take shape.

Given the fact that a highly centralized government has been in place for more than six decades, it will not be easy for a civil society to gain what should be within its domain from the government. It will take a long time and we need to have patience.

What we need for the building of a civil society is as much contribution as possible from citizens. For example, we have hotlines for the public to lodge complaints against the government. Citizens need to use the hotline and never turn a blind eye or deaf ear to anything bad or wrong that has nothing to do with one's own interest.

One point I want to emphasize is my opposition to any radical move that includes violence in the process. Chairman Mao Zedong once said that revolution was not a dinner, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery and it could not be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly. He said that it was violence, a violent move for a class to overthrow another one.

I would say that we don't need a revolution. We need to do just the opposite. This country has had enough of the aftermath of a violent revolution: political persecutions, the excessive concern for political ideology and sacrifices by people from all walks of life for political priorities.

Slow as we are, a civil society will finally take full shape as long as everyone contributes to the process of building it in the right direction.

(China Daily 02/10/2010 page8)


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