Yongsheng Zhang: China’s Economic Reforms Pushed By Civil Society
The recent strikes of taxi drivers in some places in China is a good example.China has always put economic development and social stability as the top priority. But in the past, stability was achieved even through times of high pressure. This kind of stability was not real stability and not sustainable. The real social stability needs to be achieved through rule of law and civil society (or, as Hu Jintao put it at the 17th congress, “socialist democracy”). When the first strike happened in Chongqing, the party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, solved it in a different way to what is sometimes expected in China — to listen to the appeal of the taxi driver and reform the regulation of the government, rather than put pressure to stop the strike in the first place. These kind of examples can be seen as definite progress toward civil society in China.
Chongqing’s solution encouraged taxi drivers elsewhere to take action. In Hainan, Guangdong, Jiangxi and other places, taxi drivers followed Chongqing and organised strikes. In the old thinking, the strike means instability. But, actually, strikes are a sign that the Chinese society is becoming more and more open, transparent and democratic, since now the people can protest publicly, and the government has to solve problems through reforming and disciplining their own behaviour. Some western media may report the strike from a different angle and deem the strikes as the evidence of instability in China, or even the evidence of the crisis of Gongchandang’s rule. This kind of conclusion is incorrect and misleading.
Yongsheng Zhang is Senior Research Fellow at the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC), PRC and Professor of Renmin University of China.