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

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

Improving Our Ability to React to

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.

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


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.




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.


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.



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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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.