Yu Jianrong: Reassessing China’s ‘Rigid Stability’

In an essay translated by Jason Todd, professor Yu Jianrong argues that China’s fixation on “stability at all costs” is misguided and unsustainable. He advocates the cultivation of a resilient and dynamic “true” stability, in place of the rigid and static form imposed by existing policies. From The China Story:

Abstract: China’s particular form of social stability is one of ‘rigid stability’ that is intimately connected with its authoritarian regime. This form of ‘rigid stability’ is maintained via a mechanism of ‘stability preservation through pressure’. In practice, ‘stability preservation through pressure’ is confronted by many challenges, including intensified conflicts of interest, various policy flaws related stability preservation, the development of information technology and increasing rights consciousness among citizens. A new line of thinking is currently needed in regard to stability preservation, with rights protection as its precursor and foundation. ‘Rigid stability’ must give way to ‘resilient stability’, ‘static stability’ must yield to ‘dynamic stability’, and ‘stability preservation’ must become ‘stability creation’.

In an increasingly open and democratic nation, true stability is unattainable through reliance upon the coercive and heavy-handed measures of the Mao era. Stability preservation during sensitive times of social conflict demands more than wise governance; it also requires that stability be rethought to fit the present stage of social development.

Yu’s vision for reform earned him a place on Foreign Policy magazine’s 2012 list of “Great Global Thinkers”, behind Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei. At the South China Morning Post, The University of Nottingham’s Andreas Fulda described the marked contrast between Yu and Ai, concluding that “establishment intellectuals like Yu are the people the West must learn to work with if it wishes to encourage political reform in China.”

Yu, an establishment intellectual, is an unlikely poster boy for the Chinese democracy movement. He is a patriot first, a democrat second. His position on the East China Sea islands territorial dispute between China and Japan is emphatically nationalistic, much to the frustration of his liberal supporters within China, and in his 10-year plan he does not advocate civilian control of the Chinese military, as most other liberals in China do.

In contrast, outspoken libertarian activists like Liu Xiaobo and artist Ai Weiwei are clear-cut reformers, railing at government control from outside the system. Their cause offers a compelling narrative to the West. But the strong focus on activists outside the system comes at the expense of people like Yu, who are prepared to straddle both sides. Establishment intellectuals need to walk a fine line between their reformist aspirations and the existing political realities in China.

[…] Due to the repression of reformers outside the system, policymakers dealing with China should recognise that more people like Yu will grow in influence in the years to come. This may be challenging. These patriots will first and foremost stand up for China’s interests, yet the reality is that this is fairly representative of popular thinking in modern China.