Xinhua: Improving Our Ability to React to Mass Incidents (1/2)

The following article is from Xinhuanet.com. Translated by E. Shih. This is Part I of II.

Improving Our Ability to React to Mass Incidents

2009 will possibly be a year with an unusual concentration of mass incidents. Also possible: a new opportunity for a deepening of reform and the creation of social harmony.

黄豁:新华社重庆分社新闻部主任
郭奔胜:新华社江苏分社总编室编委
钟玉明:新华社广东分社副总编辑
By Staff reporters at Outlook News Weekly
Huang Huo, Xinhua News Chief at the Chongqing bureau; Guo Bensheng, Xinhua News Editorial Board Member at the Jiangsu bureau; Zhong Yuming, Xinhua News Assistant Editor-in-Chief at the Guangdong bureau

针对2009年社会和谐稳定面临的新形势,《瞭望》新闻周刊专门邀请长期在一线采访群体性事件,素有研究的3位本刊记者,请他们进行预测,分析形势。他们认为,2009年有可能成为群体性事件高发的年份;同时,各地提高敏感、早做准备,创新思维、完善机制,同样有可能使之成为深化改革、创造社会和谐的新契机。

In response to the new situation that social harmony and stability face in 2009, Outlook News Weekly has expressly invited three of our journalists who are on the frontlines, specialists on this issue, for their predictions and analysis. They believe that 2009 could be a year with many mass incidents. At the same time, heightened sensitivity and early planning, combined with innovative thinking and comprehensive mechanisms, could bring about a deepening of reform, creating new opportunities for social harmony.

当前群体性事件是否进入高发期

黄豁:毫无疑问,现在已经进入了群体性事件的高发期,而且2009年中国社会还可能面临更多的矛盾冲突,更加考量各级党委政府的执政能力。

当前,最敏感的问题是要努力防止金融海啸引起的经济压力转化为社会危机,重点在保经济增长、保障就业、保障民生、保持稳定。

Are mass incidents entering a period of high concentration?

Huang Huo: Without question, we’ve already entered a period of highly concentrated mass incidents. Furthermore, 2009 may also be the year that Chinese society will face many contradictions and conflicts in a way that will test the governance at every level of Party government.

At the moment, the most sensitive problem is that of working to stop the financial tsunami’s metamorphosis from economic pressure to a social crisis. The focus has been on maintaining economic growth, guaranteeing employment, protecting the people’s livelihood and maintaining stability.

金融危机对我国影响正在加剧,沿海不少中小企业已经停产、倒闭,大量的农民工返乡,必然增加就业压力;同时,明年大学应届毕业生加上今年未就业的大学毕业生,总数超过700万,而即使我国2009年经济增长能保持8%的增速,也只能提供约800万个就业岗位。同时,2008年是中国国有企业政策性破产的最后一年,下岗或失业人员比往年增多不可避免。一旦因就业困难,失业率高企导致个人生存危机,社会矛盾有可能尖锐化。

The effects of the financial crisis on our country are becoming increasingly severe. Many small to medium size businesses on the coast are stopping production or closing down altogether. Large numbers of peasants are returning to rural areas, increasing employment pressures there. At the same time, the number of next year’s college graduates added to the number of this year’s unemployed graduates will be over 7 million. Even assuming the country can maintain 8 percent growth in 2009, there would only be 8 million jobs created. What’s more, 2008 was the last year that China’s state-owned enterprises went into strategic bankruptcy, unavoidably leading to the resignation or unemployment of more workers than the year before. As employment difficulties and a high unemployment rate cause crises for individual livelihood, social contradictions will likely to come into the foreground.

因此,当前最敏感的问题是“就业”问题,主要是“农民工”和“大学生”两个群体。对农民工来讲,他们已经完全适应了城市化的生活,特别是“80后”的二代农民工,他们的期望值比其父辈高,忍耐力却比其父辈低,留在城市的愿望更加强烈。据重庆在一些劳务输出大县的调查表明,有近80%的返乡农民工表示,不愿意留在农村,即使找不到工作也愿意呆在城市。

如果2009年大批失业农民工超过半年以上还找不到工作,没有收入,游荡在城市,问题就会很严重。

Because of this, the most sensitive problem at the moment is that of “employment.” That problem can be further divided into two groups: the “peasant” problem and the “college graduate” problem. To the peasant migrant workers, the city has become home—especially for the “post-80s” second-generation migrants. Their salary expectations are higher than those of their parents, but their tolerance level is lower and their will to stay in the city is much stronger.

According to a survey in Chongqing, among those counties which have a large population of exported contract workers, nearly 80 percent of peasants who return to their rural homes express unwillingness to stay in the villages and say they are willing to stay in the city even if they cannot find employment. If large numbers of peasant workers cannot find work and have no income for over half a year in 2009, this will result in a floating urban population, and the problem will become much worse.

大学生就业则不仅仅关系到就业,而且关系到社会公平。因为教育就是社会底层向“上”流动的主渠道。对社会底层人群而言,子女有希望,他们就不会绝望。如果大批普通家庭发现对子女高昂的教育投资换来的是“毕业就失业”的结果,容易影响社会和谐。

2009年的敏感时期,一个是春节过后,农民工大量外出找工作之后的一个月;另外一个就是7月份大学生毕业前后的时期。

The employment of college graduates is thus not only central to the employment issue, but also to the question of social fairness. Education is the main channel of “upward” social mobility for those in the lower levels of society. For those in the lower levels, despair can be staved off as long as they have hope for their children. If large numbers of average families discover that their costly investment in their children’s education is only repaid with “unemployment upon graduation, it could easily affect social harmony. The sensitive periods of 2009 are the month immediately following Chinese New Year, during peasants leave home in large numbers to find work; and in July, directly before and after college students graduate.

当前群体性事件有何新特点

黄豁:当前,体制转换、结构调整、社会变革,在广度上已涉及经济、政治、文化等所有领域,在深度上已触及人们具体的经济利益。在这个大背景下来看待当前的群体性事件,绝大多数都是群众为了维护自身利益,利益个体自发组织起来,通过集体行动,唤起政府的关注,使自身利益能得到政府的确认和保障。

What are the new and unique characteristics of current mass incidents?

Huang Huo: Currently, systemic change, structural adjustment and social reform have touched, in a broad sense, the fields of economics, politics and culture among others; they have also touched, on a deeper level, the concrete economic interests of the people. Considering mass incidents against this greater context, we find that a good majority of the incidents occur because the masses are protecting personal economic interest. Interest groups have spontaneously organized, grabbing government attention through collective action and thereby obtaining the government’s validation and protection for personal interests.

因此,群体性事件的定性还应沿用过去“人民内部矛盾”的思路,切忌胡乱定性和“泛政治化”。对于群体性事件,党政部门既要重视,也不要谈虎色变,觉得是多么不得了的“政治事件”。如果将之作为反对政府的行为强力弹压,恰恰会将问题搞得更加复杂,直接的结果是加剧了官民之间的对立。

As a result, mass incidents reflect a continuity with the past in their usage of “contradictions among the people” as a rationale, and must avoid a willful descent into “politicization.” Party officials must pay close attention to mass incidents without making mountains out of molehills and seeing them as colossal “political incidents.” Treating these incidents as anti-government actions and subsequently suppressing them with strong force would be the precise method of exacerbating problems, and would have the direct result of aggravating the opposition between officials and civilians.

当前群体性事件的共同特点可以概括为:社会矛盾已形成一定的社会基础和群众基础,一旦有适当的导火索,往往迅速爆发,呈现出冲突升级快,对抗激烈,社会破坏力强,处置难度大等特点。

同时,看似偶然的“火星”的背后,都有一堆必然的“干柴”,导致小事迅速升级,演变为大规模的激烈冲突。这说明在社会利益格局和利益关系不断调整的转型时期,社会危机可能仅因为人们不满情绪的相互感染而凸显,甚至一个街头纠纷也能酿成一场波及全城的集体无理性发泄。

The common characteristics of current mass incidents can be summarized as follows: social contradictions have already formed certain foundations of society and the masses, creating a powder keg ready to explode at the first hint of a flame. Conflicts escalate extremely rapidly; confrontation is intense; the destruction to society is sizable; appropriate management is difficult. At the same time, behind the seemingly random “sparks,” there is always a pile of “tinder.” This causes small incidents to escalate quickly, evolving into a large-scale, intense conflict. This shows that in a period of constant change in greater social interest and personal interests, a social crisis can be instigated by a contagion of dissatisfaction among the people. Even a street brawl could turn into an irrational mass venting that engulfs the whole city.

近来的群体性事件还出现了一些新特点。比如厦门“PX”项目风波、重庆及其他城市出租车罢运这些都是“非典型性群体性事件”。与过去大规模群体性事件动辄打砸抢烧,警民冲突激烈的状况相比,诉求者通过“非暴力不合作的方式”表达自己的利益诉求,争取利益。这与社会进步有关,但同时也取决于地方政府的宽容度和政治智慧。双方都意识到,用谈判、协商、平和的方式解决问题的成本比暴力要低得多。

Recently, mass incidents have had one other new characteristic. The “PX” incident in Xiamen and the Chongqing rental car strike, among others, are “non-traditional mass incidents.” In contrast to past instances of mass incidents, in which hotheaded masses rioted and looted, and intense violent conflict occurred between the police and the civilians, these protesters express their demands and fight for personal interests through a “non-violent non-cooperative” method. This has to do with social improvement, but it is also dependent on the tolerance and political wisdom of local government. Both sides are conscious of the fact that negotiation, compromise and peaceful methods are much less costly solutions than violence.

Click here for Part II.