Sun Liping (孙立平): The Biggest Threat to China is not Social Turmoil but Social Decay (Part I)

sunlipingchinaqinghuaSun Liping (孙立平) is a professor of the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University. He was also the PhD surperviser of Xi Jinping, the current vice-president of the People’s Republic of China. Professor Sun’s main research area is modernization and transitional sociology. He wrote the following post on his sociology blog on Feb. 28. It is being widely read in the Chinese blogosphere, and has appeared in major news websites such as Netease and the Southern Net.

The entire post has been translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan. Here is the first section:

This is a post for discussion. My main thesis is that the largest threat to China is not social turmoil, but . This idea is very preliminary, so this post is a work in progress. I welcome interested friends to participate in a constructive discussion.

本贴则完全是一个讨论贴。本贴的核心观点是认为,对中国最大的威胁可能不是社会动荡,而是社会溃败。这个想法是很初步的,因此本贴是在不断修改中。也欢迎有兴趣的朋友参与建设性的讨论。

1. Are we worried about the wrong issues? Many people are now concerned about social conflicts, confrontations, mass incidents, etc. The reason why there is such a concern is fear of major social turmoil. However, I think the biggest threat to Chinese society may not be social turmoil, but social decay.

1、我们是不是焦虑错了问题?现在人们都在关心社会矛盾、社会冲突、群体性事件等问题。之所以有这样的关心,是担心发生大的社会动荡。但事实上,对中国社会最大的威胁可能不是社会动荡,而是社会溃败。

2. Social turmoil means serious social conflicts that threaten the basic framework of the political system, whereas social decay refers to the necrosis of the cells that compose the body of a society. To illustrate the point with a medical metaphor, turmoil is to a society what an injury is to a healthy body, whereas social decay is like the failure (or death) of the cells and living issue of the body. Perhaps the concept of “social erosion” by Mr. Fei Xiaotong and “political decline” by Samuel Huntington could help us understand the phenomenon better, although they are somewhat different from the “social decay” concept I talk about here. “Political decline” is closer to my concept .

2、社会动荡是指严重的社会冲突会威胁政权和制度的基本框架,而社会溃败则是社会肌体的细胞坏死,机能失效。说的形象一点,动荡好比是健康的身体被别人打伤了,而溃败则是自身的组织或细胞出了严重的毛病。费孝通先生的“社会侵蚀”和亨廷顿的“政治衰败”两个概念可以深化我们对这个现象的认识,尽管这两个概念与我们这里讨论的“社会溃败”的含义并不完全一样。其中后者的含义可能会更接近一些。

3. The opposite of social turmoil is . The opposite of social decay is social health. The two things need to be differentiated, although they are related. The problem is that misjudgment of the former could pose an obstacle for the timely treatment of the latter. I’d like to illustrate this point with another medical metaphor. A patient suffered from cancer and needed surgery. However, his doctor decided that he could not operate because the patient had heart disease. Actually this person didn’t have heart disease, or only to a very light degree. Thus the misdiagnosis of the heart disease caused the doctor to delay treatment of the patient’s real problem. Similarly, necessary treatment on social decay is often postponed because of fear that it would threaten . Thus the problem of social decay becomes increasingly severe.

3、社会动荡的反面是社会稳定,社会溃败的反面是社会健康。尽管这两者经常是有关联的,但需要加以区别。现在的问题是,对前者的误判往往成为治愈后者的障碍。这就好比一个癌症病人,需要做手术。但医生误诊其有严重心脏病,无法做手术。实际上这个人可能并没有心脏病,或即使有也比较轻。但这种对前者的误判无疑会导致对后者的治疗。在现实社会生活中,对克服社会溃败所必须进行的一些变革,往往由于担心其威胁社会稳定而被束之高阁,结果是使社会溃败的趋势日益明显。

4. I have been stressing in my recent articles that the possibility for China to have large-scale social turmoil is low, although there are numerous social conflicts, some of which are growing in intensity. I wrote articles on this point about 10 years ago, and discussed it in an interview with Southern Weekend early last year. We overstated the problem of social instability and crisis in the past ten years or so, and formed a mentality that values stability more than anything else. In such a mindset, stability becomes the ultimate goal. Everything else must give way to it. Thus we failed to do many things we needed to do. Actually, it is hard to keep everything at peace in such a large country. With 1.3 billion population, it’s unavoidable that the country will have this or that disaster or problem. You could easily find unstable elements if you look for them. What’s more, the runaway power (of government officials) causes problems continually. For instance, the so-called mass incident in Dejiang County of Guizhou province was caused recently after local officials outrageously stopped some public entertainment activities. What matters is how we look at these problems. You could find unstable elements in any country in the world, if you look for it all the time. However, only in China do we have the slogan that “stability is more important than anything else,” and have such organizations like “Stability Safeguarding Committee.”

4、在最近的文章中我一再强调,尽管目前社会矛盾较多,甚至有激化的迹象,但中国发生大规模社会动荡的可能性并不大。对于这个问题,大约10年前我就曾经写过文章,去年年初在南方周末上也有两个版的访谈,一再强调的就是这个观点。在过去的十几年中,由于对不稳定因素、对危机发生的可能性估计过高,使得我们形成了一种稳定压倒一切的思维定势。在这种思维定势中,稳定似乎成了一种终极性的否定因素,一切都要为稳定让路。结果是许多该做的事情无法去做。其实,一年365天,不是有这样的事情就是有那样的事情;一个国家13亿人口,大灾小难也总是免不了的。如果总是刻意寻找不稳定因素,当然会找得到的。更何况失控的权力还会不断制造出“群体性事件”(如最近贵州铜仁地区德江县的所谓群体性事件就是由政府异想天开的制止群众性娱乐活动引起的)。关键是用什么样的心态看待这些问题。世界上哪个国家像我们这样刻意地去寻找不稳定因素,都是找得出来的。但只有我们有稳定压倒一切,有“维稳办”这样的机构。

5. The phenomenon of social decay has become increasingly obvious in recent years. A major symptom of it is uncontrollable power. Although we have established the framework of a market economy through the past three decades’ reform, power is still the nexus of our society. Thus the foremost symptom of social decay is uncontrollable power. Corruption is just its outward manifestation. When I say that the power of the government is out of control, I mean that it has become a force that is not restrained either externally or internally. In the past, internal restraining of power was relatively effective, although there was no external control. The central government’s authority has been impaired. There has been a saying that policy initiatives could not go beyond the walls of Zhongnanhai [where the Central Government Offices are located] since a few years ago. The power of local governments and various departments are neither bound by forces from above nor below. There is no check or balance. It means that the power of the national government has been fragmented. Officials do not fulfill their responsibilities. They sacrifice the interest of the government, not to mention the whole society, for their own interest of preserving their position or getting promoted. Corruption has become out of control and is an untreatable problem against this backdrop.

5、近些年来,社会溃败的迹象已经明显开始出现。其中最核心的是权力的失控。在过去30年改革的过程中,尽管建立起市场经济的基本框架,但权力仍然是我们社会的中枢。因此社会的溃败首先表现在权力的失控,腐败不过是其外在的表现。我这里所说的权力失控是指,权力成为不但外部无法约束而且内部也无法约束的力量,而在此之前,尽管外部约束是缺乏的,但内部约束是相对有效的;权威基础削弱,前几年就有所谓政令不出中南海一说,地方性权力、部门性权力已经成为既无上面约束,又无下面监督,同时还缺少左右制衡的力量,这意味着国家权力的碎片化;官员不能负责任地进行工作,为保官升官不惜牺牲体制利益(不要说社会利益了)。在此背景之下,腐败已经处于失控和“不可治理状态”。

6. This decay has spread to all aspects of social life. Various underlying rules prevail in the society, and have become the governing force of officials and ordinary citizens’ behavior. Mr. Wu Si has some very good analysis of this problem: The society has lost its morals; there is no bottom line of social ethics; strong interest groups are unscrupulous, which cause serious erosion of people’s sense of fairness and justice. Violation of professional conduct and professional ethics is widespread. The information systems throughout the society have become highly distorted. Falsification of statistical data signifies an institutional distortion of reality. As a saying goes, “officials in the villages cheat those in the townships; township officials cheat those in the counties; and false information goes all the way to the State Council.” This is a reality that is perhaps more truthful than official statistics.

6、这种社会的溃败蔓延到社会生活的各个领域:潜规则盛行于社会,甚至成为基本的为官为人之道,对此吴思先生有很好的分析;社会底线失守,道德沦丧;强势利益集团已经肆无忌惮,社会生活西西里化趋势出现;利益集团的肆无忌惮,对社会公平正义造成严重侵蚀;职业操守和职业道德的丧失是相当普遍的现象;整个社会的信息系统已经高度失真,统计数据的弄虚作假代表了体制性的对信息的扭曲。“村骗乡,乡骗县,一直骗到国务院”,几乎可以说是比官方统计数据还可靠的现实。

[To be continued]

March 10, 2009 10:26 PM
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Categories: Politics, Translation