- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 48 Hour
- Reading permission
Involve the masses in the nation's reform|
By Sun Liping (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-15 06:04
The issue of universal participation in China's reform is becoming increasingly accentuated now that the retrospective discussion of the current reform, which was launched nearly 30 years ago, has gone in depth. The reform made the country initially prosperous and has also given rise to a host of problems.
Universal participation is necessary to the fair sharing of the reform's benefits by all social strata. More importantly, it would provide new momentum for the reform.
In history, almost all reform programmes in traditional societies that lack the institutions of democracy were carried out depending on the personal charisma of their top leaders, while the masses were shut out.
The reform we are currently implementing in this country, however, is substantially different and should not be gauged by historical antecedents.
The reforms and rearrangement of interest relationships in history involved only local interests, instead of the general interests of society as a whole.
The reforms generally took place in such a scenario: The reform was motivated by the crisis the society ran into and defusing it required specific resources; the ruler, whose interests were not necessarily identical to those of the upper social strata, launched the reform to defuse the crisis; the resources needed by the reform lay with the upper strata, or vested interests, not the poor masses; the vested-interest groups, however, would not yield their privileges to the reformers; the vital question, therefore, was if the State was powerful enough to force these interest groups to give up some of their privileges; and the reform would be able to continue and embark on a peaceful and progressive road in case the interest groups, under the pressure of the State, gave up some of their privileges, as was evidenced by Britain's Glorious Revolution in 1688.
The social fabric would break and revolution would erupt when the nobility refused to yield an inch or the State was too weak to extract the resources needed by the reform from the vested interests, as was demonstrated by the French Revolution in 1789.
In view of all this, many reforms involving local interests were in essence "nobility yielding privileges." Their losses were of course compensated for.
Our current reform, however, marks the transition from a centralized distribution set-up to a market-economy one, which involves wider coverage and much more fundamental realignment of interest relations.
The outdated centralized distribution system meant that the State had all the important resources and wealth concentrated in its hands first and then redistributed them, subsistence resources in particular, among social members according to certain principles. The market-oriented reform, however, is to gradually transfer the resources monopolized or controlled by the State to sectors and members of the society and institutionalize this fashion of distribution within the market-economy framework.
The realignment of interest relationships in the context of the reform involves almost all important resources and social members and sectors as a result of the State having the important resources concentrated in its hands under the old centralized distribution infrastructure.
It is only natural that the social members and groups who took part in the creation of social wealth claim a share of the benefits.
The expression of their demand for interest-sharing covers such a wide scope that no historical antecedent could match it.
The problems arising in the course of the current reform can be directly attributed to the tipping of balance in terms of interest relationships and to the lack of a mechanism for universal participation. Or, in other words, the mechanism for the expression of different interest claims and the mechanism of different interests interacting with each other are lacking.
In the retrospective discussion on the reform, for example, some people have pointed out that the masses are kept out of decision-making on reform of State-owned enterprises, healthcare, education and housing, which are of vital importance to their lives. Such examples have not been lacking over the last nearly three decades of reform.
Moreover, some government departments, which are supposed to watch over the implementation of reform policies, have evolved into entities of interests, getting involved in interest-sharing and losing their neutrality as watchdogs.
At the same time, alliances between advantaged groups and these new interest entities have been forged.
In such a scenario, universal participation becomes all the more important if the reform is not to go astray.
Now that different interest groups have taken or are taking shape, a new way of thinking is called for: Although different interests clash with each other in some cases, their existence is justified and should be protected on condition that they do not go counter to the law.
The retrospective discussion on the merits and disadvantages of the reform, which is largely conducted on the Internet, attracts wide participation. Media reports point out that signs of benign interaction between decision-making bodies and the masses are seen in the Internet-based discussion.
It cannot be denied that some go to extremes in voicing their opinions and others are given to excessive emotional outbursts.
The Internet is not to blame. The mode of discussion via the Internet itself makes it clear that we lack the mechanism of knitting together interest claims expressed in scattered ways.
Generally speaking, individuals' expressions of interest claims are fragmented and piecemeal. They should be collected and combed into clear-cut packages of the standard required for decision-making.
Take the person who is laid off or whose interests are harmed in the course of reforming State-owned enterprises (SOEs). His personal claims could end up in social security bills compensating for his losses, which were made possible by the opinion-concentration mechanism.
In the absence of this interest-claim-concentration mechanism, his demand, going unheeded, could turn into resentment and excessively emotional language.
In view of all this, it is imperative to introduce an institutionalized mechanism of interest-claim expression and a way to collate the interest claims that are expressed in fragmented ways, in my opinion.
The author is a professor from the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University.
(China Daily 05/15/2006 page4)