Media Commentary On Mass Incidents: Masses ‘Out Of Touch With The Facts’ Is Official Dereliction Of Duty

Reporter Huang Huo (黄豁) of Beijing-based Observer (Liaowang) Magazine published the following article on recent “mass incidents.” Thanks to Dr. David Kelly for the translation:

“A small group of people with ulterior motives,” “masses out of touch with the facts” and “evil forces plotting behind the scenes,” ……in recent times, at the start of some quite large mass incidents, local government have been constantly rushing to make these sorts of statements. Such “self-fulfilling definitions” were in evidence at the beginning of the “Weng’an incident” in Guizhou, the “Menglian incident” in Yunnan and, more recently the “Longnan incident” in Gansu.

“Masses out of touch with the facts” seems to regard the masses as “idiots” lacking independent personality or freedom of thought, or as “obedient citizens” able just to grin and bear it; their discontents can only be due to their having been deceived, misled, and incitement. By contrast, government officials and policy makers understand the facts, grasp the truth, and never get things wrong.

Such a definition is completely out of touch with the times. Internet users say jokingly about talk of “being out of touch with the facts,” that it is “not only an insult to people’s integrity, but to their intelligence to boot,” concluding derisively that the masses are always “out of touch with the facts,” protesters always “entertain ulterior motives,” there are evil forces ever ready to “incite the masses,” the family of the deceased are always “emotionally unstable,” ……

After 30 years of reform and opening up, Chinese society has entered a stage in which a “golden development” period coincides with a period “marked by contradictions.” Institutional transition, restructuring and social change impinge broadly on economic, political, cultural and other areas, and have deeply impacted people’s concrete economic interests. The adjustment of interests has highlighted new conflicts; employment, distribution, corruption and other issues have become the focus of attention. Whenever social contradictions find a “fuse,” they are very liable to burst out as large-scale mass incidents, marked by suddenness, intense confrontation, power of social destruction, difficulty in handling and so on.

The frequency of mass incidents has a profound social background. The vast majority are caused by some infringement of the vital interests of the masses being, and claims regarding such interests being ignored.

Analysis shows that common pattern shared by almost all larger group incidents which have had a major national impact in recent years: some very minor cause -> tardy grass-roots response -> escalation to mass incident -> loss of control by grass-roots level > shock felt at higher levels -> hasty handling -> situation returns to calm. As these conflicts brew and begin to concentrate, the Party committees and grassroots level of government of some localities generally show “institutional lethargy” towards the social conflict —they respond slowly, misjudge things and handle them poorly, resulting in “minor things being delayed, while major things explode,” as a concentrated expression of the lax musculature of their governance capability. To provide a fig leaf for this “institutional lethargy,” when dealing with mass incidents some local officials tend to extremes, and carry on the dictatorial ideas of “seeking out enemies,” simply and crudely “affix labels, pull braids, and brandish cudgels.”

In the face of crisis, their first thought is not to resolve conflicts, but to ascend to a “politically high level,” defined in advance, to “politicize” the masses’ interest claims. Whether it’s a “small group of people with ulterior motives inciting sedition,” or as “manipulated by evil forces” and then push e public security organs to the front line and take high pressure approaches to solve the problem.

When officials do things like this, they are actually acting intelligent to cover their confusion, hoping to shove off the responsibility they should take for their dereliction of duty. Hence officials defining things arbitrarily are in a sense the genuine “people with ulterior motives” behind the incident,

The ideas of the era of dictatorship had a certain temporal rationality due to the existence in the early stages of the founding of New China externally of continuing threats of both outside and inside hostile forces, and internally the existence of internal bandits, agents and other remnant problems. But today, having been in power in 60 years, inertia of the “dictatorship” era lingers in the mentality and behaviour of some officials, showing that they have not grasped the historical shift of the CPC from a revolutionary to a ruling party; even less have they properly understood or carried out the fundamental mission of the party to govern on the people’s behalf.

In the “Weng’an incident,” the grass-roots Party committees and governments rushed to define the incident as “organised and premeditated,” as evil forces inciting the masses and besiege the government; the reports they broadcast via the local mass media of “the Weng’an masses angrily condemning the lawless elements” aroused the masses to still more suspicion and resentment. Later, Shi Zongyuan, then still Guizhou Party Secretary, pointed out the “truth” about the incident: social contradictions that had built up over a long time were not given due attention or proper solution, there were tense relations between cadres and masses, the law and order environment was not good; in some places, there were still a lot of problems with the cadres’ ideology, work style and working methods, and the masses were not satisfied with our work.

While “seeking out enemies,” some officials habitually block the news and manipulate public opinion, setting the masses up to be “out of touch with the facts.” For a long time, after sudden public the incident, remaining silent and avoiding the media have become knee-jerk “conscious actions” of some grass-roots Party committees and governments. But given the diversification of means of communication, and popularization of the things that are broadcast, this “aphasia” at crucial points must lead to losing the initiative in guiding public opinion. What appears to be avoiding the risks of responsibility is in reality falling into passivity, and increasing the difficulty of calming the situation.

The masses being out of touch with the facts is dereliction of duty by government officials. The people have the right to know the truth, so that the masses being “out of touch with the facts” can occur is dereliction of duty by those in power in some localities. As a result, if some places are attacked and bombed by “masses out of touch with the facts,” those in power should turn around and review their own deficiencies first of all. The “masses out of touch with the facts” exposes some officials’ blindness to public opinion, as well as their strong aversion to rule of law ideas such as “power must accept supervision.” In the minds of small number of officials, they fundamentally overlook the fundamental rights of citizens, not to mention the “citizen’s right to know.”

“The Government Information Disclosure Bill” has long been promulgated and implemented, but a lot of the information that the public most wants, needs and deserves to know cannot be published. For example, recently, when Wen Hongxiang of Shenyang requested permission to publish government service, hospitality, travel and other expenses, the official answer was “highly sensitive and difficult.”

The masses are, on the one hand, unable to get in touch with the facts, while on the other, often the “facts” that are announced are “illusions” that the masses cannot accept. Reading the mass incidents news “drafts,” I always want to ask the drafters these three small questions: “If the deceased were your mother, would your emotions be stable?” “Why do people take up with gangs rather than with the government?” “Who in fact are the “people with ulterior motives?”

IIn building a harmonious society under the tide of history, those who govern should change their thinking, change social control to a social game, and ultimately move toward a social contract.

Was it not fully proven by the recent taxi strike in Chongqing, which was satisfactorily resolved through interactive negotiation and consultation between officials and people, that China can jump out of the so-called “cycle” of “dictatorship”??

December 1, 2008 1:02 AM
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