Dr. Yu Jianrong was born in 1962. He received a Ph.D. in Legal Studies from Huazhong Normal University in 2001. He currently serves as Professor and Director of the Rural Development Institute’s Social Issues Research Center at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences in Beijing, China, and is a Visiting Scholar with the Harvard Yenching Institute at Harvard University. His published works include:
Politics of Yue Village: Changes in the Political Structure in China’s Rural Villages in the Transition Period
Organized Peasant Resistance and it Political Risk: A Survey of H County, Hunan Province
Rural Organized Crime and the Retreat of Local Sovereignty
Contemporary Chinese Peasants’ Activism Through Law
Social Conflict in Transitional China: Observations on the Rights Advocacy Activities of Workers and Peasants in Contemporary China.
Thanks to David Kelly, researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, for translating the following text:
Yu Jianrong: Rigid Stability: an Explanatory Framework for China’s Social Situation
This stability of China is, however, a rigid stability, based on the coercive power of the state, and may bear enormous social risks. Unrestrained self-seeking behaviour on the part of the rulers, as well as problems in the construction of the basic principles of society are leading to rapid loss of political legitimacy.
什么叫刚性稳定? 是以政治权力的排他性和封闭性为基础的政治稳定。中国社会的稳定首先是政治稳定，政治稳定的核心不是国家的法律怎么实施，法院或者人大、政府怎么依法运转，它的一个最大的特点是具有排他性，把垄断政治权力作为政治体制最高甚至终极目标。“刚性稳定”以社会绝对秩序作为管治目标。中国只要发生游行、上访、示威、罢工、罢市等等任何行为，都会被看成是非稳定的，这是一个非常大的问题。在刚性稳定下社会管治最大的特点是非此即彼，非黑即白，而且经常把民众正当的利益表达当成是对社会管治秩序的破坏。比如信访制度，这个制度有一个非常重要的特点，一方面制度的合法性来源于国家《宪法》第41条，再根据国务院的《信访条例》规定老百姓可以上访，同时地方政府又会说你到北京来上访是非稳定的因素。信访是民众解决问题和社会参与的方式，为什么把它说成是非稳定的因素呢?所以这是刚性稳定的一个非常大的特点，它追求的是绝对的社会秩序。如何把“刚性稳定”变成“韧性稳定”呢? 这是个很大的课题，我认为刚性稳定的相对一面是韧性稳定， 韧性稳定这个词不是我想出来的，是一位我非常好的朋友想出来的。
What is rigid stability? It is political stability based on exclusive and closed political power. The stability of Chinese society is above all political stability, the core of which is not how the state’s laws are implemented, how the courts, the National People’s Congress or the government function according to law. Instead, one of its main features is, given its exclusivity, making the monopolization of political power the highest, even the ultimate goal, of the political system. Absolute social order is the governing goal of “rigid stability”. As soon as any action—demonstration, petition, demonstration, strike, boycott and so on, occurs in China, it will be seen as non-stable, as a major problem. The greatest feature of social governance under rigid stability is dichotomized, black and white thinking, and often makes out that expression of the people’s legitimate interests is undermining social order and governance. The petition system, for example, has a very important feature: on the one hand, its legitimacy derives from the state, Article 41 of the Constitution, and further based on of the State Council’s Regulations which provides that the people can petition, but local government can at the same time claim that when you go to Beijing to petition you are a factor of non-stability. Petitioning is a way for people to solve their problems and participate in society, so why describe it as a factor of non-stability? So a major characteristic of rigid stability is that what it seeks is absolute social order. How can “rigid” be turned into “resilient stability”? This is a very big question, I think that correlated with rigid stability is resilient stability, which was not a word thought of by me, but by a good friend of mine.
I said the antithesis of the rigid stability was “soft” stability, but he said “soft” was wrong, it should be “resilient,” because resilience is measurable and unbreakable, whereas rigidity breaks easily. How can China’s social stability make a transition from rigid to resilient stability? This is a tough problem. Thinking about it, the most important thing is to establish a fair and equitable social distribution system, to change the current pressure mechanisms, establish county-level political decentralisation, and establish the state’s rule of law through judicial reform. I’ve thought this over for a long time, whether it is possible to turns things around, and I think that it is. First is to address the issue of balancing and expressing interests.
Over 80% of the contradictions in Chinese society are contradictions among the people, that is, so-called renminbi contradictions. To ensure balancing of interests, so that conflicts of interest never develop into major issues, we must establish fair and just systems of social distribution. In the current situation in China, the most important issue of the rural interest system is land, how to let peasants have rights to land, so that they obtain basic life guarantee through their land rights, this is very important, involving the problems of rural land right, in the last two years there has been an increase in disputes between people and authorities in China. Who will dominate these interests, will the people with vested interests like it? We first put forward these views, to discuss in order to explore whether there is any possibility.
The shift from rigid to resilient stability must first address questions of interests, but the key lies not in the interests, but in the politics. I think a truly stable society should be a society with democracy within the framework of the Constitution, with genuine expression of interests, so then there’s a question, how to change? If we want this country, this nation to be able to develop smoothly, it’s very difficult to solve the problem without reform of the political system.
I have some of the ideas about reform of the political system; whether it can be done from the grassroots. A decade ago what I mainly studied was the township, the village level. In the end I found that the village level was no good, and could not represent the grass-roots political power of the state power. So I now think that to genuinely change China it is the county, it is really to be done starting from the county government, if real system reform can be carried out in county government, it is a goal which is possible to achieve. Because this way changes in the entire state system will not be influenced, and can find a way to blaze a trail for the entire state system, carve out an “escape route.” How to change political authority at county level? First, can the county government genuinely implement the institutional arrangements conferred by the Constitution. For example, make the election of Peoples Congress deputies real and solid. Second, can County officials be made genuinely elected by the People’s Congress, rather than organizationally deployed? Now the county level has reached the time for separation of political powers, can government be genuinely built to the county level? These are things China can do now, and if done properly at the county level, it would foreshadow the future healthy development of the state as a whole. Dr. Sun Yat-sen set out quite clearly in his Jianguo gangling [Program of of State-building], he said if political authority were consolidated at the county level the nation could find a way, because all county-level political authority is directly in contact with the people, whereas that in the Centre and the provinces was officials governing officials. Recently, I have been writing articles on this, calling for starting reform at the county level political authority.
Third, we must carry out judicial reform, establish a judicial authority. I’ve believed that in Chinese society, given its various problems, we opt for petitions as we cannot find a better system to resolve disputes. We often say that the petition system necessarily arose due to judicial unfairness and corruption of the judiciary. So I think the reform of the judicial system is a very important reform now. If China is to resolve the social problems brought about by rigid stability, judicial reform is imperative.
How to change the judicial system? Given the need for judicial checks and balances, who is to be checked and balanced? Use the judicial power to check and balance the grass-roots levels of government. The judicial problems relating to rights of the Chinese people are mainly at the level of lower and intermediate courts. Can we think of a way to take them out of the hands of local governments and officials? Can we first change the grass-roots courts and procuratorates, to the point where at least the personnel, finances and material of county and municipal courts are not under the control of local governments? I think that on the one hand, give authority to local county government, so that it had a certain degree of autonomy; on the other hand, there must be the check and balance of judicial power: when the judiciary can take on social responsibility, acting as the last baseline of society, the incidence of conflict will be much less.
这个刚性稳定结构怎么改变，就是政治改革，包括司法制度改革，这是我这几年思考的问题。 2004年12月我到台湾去访问，在台湾大学做演讲，做完演讲之后，我要求他们派一个司机、给我一张地图，再派一个买单的人，让我拿着地图从台北走到台南。我问台湾老百姓很多的问题，我问，假如你们的官员把你们家的房子拆了怎么办? 99%的人回答说：不可能，他怎么可能撤我的房子呢?因为这个房子是我的。我就坚持问，假如拆了怎么办?他说我到法院告他，法院就会判他，这个政府就会很麻烦了。我说假如这个法官腐败了怎么办?他们再一次回答：不可能。法官不可能腐败，因为我有房产证、有产权，法官不可能乱判。我坚持问假如腐败了怎么办?因为我们大陆这边90%的老百姓会相信法官会腐败。台湾百姓不一样，他说，我会到议员那里告他，我的议员就会很高兴，会立即去调查，召开新闻发布会，他的这个法官可能就会当不成了。我接着问，假如议员腐败了怎么办? 他说这不可能，这怎么可能呢? 其他的人都有可能腐败，议员一定不会，不信我就打电话给他。他就把电话拿出来，给他们的议员打电话说我这里发生了一个事情你马上过来，他说，议员马上就会想办法过来。议员会很高兴特别兴奋。为什么?他就希望发生这个事情，他只要调查这个事情马上就能得到很大的政治资本。 所以你到台湾去，经常看见老百姓打电话给议员，议员就会马上赶过来，只要一调查完就会通知很多媒体。我接着问假如议员腐败了怎么办? 他们说不可能腐败，他要到我们家拜选票的，如果不解决我的问题，如果他腐败，我的选票就不给他了。不必要
Changing this rigid stable structure, that is, politically reforming it, including reforming the judicial system, is what I’ve been thinking about the past few years. In December 2004 I went to Taiwan to visit make a speech at the National Taiwan University. After giving it, I asked them to send a driver, give me a map, send someone to pay the bills, and let me go from Taipei to Tainan map in hand. I asked the Taiwanese people many questions. I asked, “What would you do if your officials demolished your house?” 99% of them answered: “Impossible, how could he wipe out my house? Because this house is mine.” I kept on asking: “If it were demolished, what would you do?” They said they would report it to the court, the court would sentence them, which would be big trouble for the government. “What if the judge was corrupt?” I asked. They again replied, “Impossible. The judges can’t be corrupt, because I have a title deed, I have ownership, and so the judge cannot make an arbitrary determination.” I kept asking, “What would you do in case of corruption? Because on the mainland 90% of people believe judges may be corrupt.” “The people of Taiwan are different,” he said, “I can go to my Member of Parliament, who would be delighted to look into it immediately, hold a news conference, the judge couldn’t stand up to it.” So I asked, “What if your member of parliament was corrupt too?” He said, “This is impossible, how could it be? Others may be corrupt, but for MPs it’s impossible.” If I didn’t believe it, we could just give the MP a phone call. He then took out his mobile phone and called his MP, saying “I’ve found out about something going on here, please get over here right away.” His MP, he said, would come up with something and come over directly. The MP would be delighted and really worked up. Why? He hoped something like this would happen, because once he started looking into it he could gain great amounts of political capital. So if you go to Taiwan, you often see people calling their MPs, who immediately come out, and as soon as they have done an investigation they notify a lot of the media. Next, I asked, “What if the MP is corrupt?” They said, “That’s impossible, he’ll be coming around to lobby for our votes, if he hasn’t solved my problem, if he is corrupt, he won’t get my vote.”
Returning from Taiwan, I summed up a number of the most important characteristics of a harmonious grass-roots level society: Taiwan’s grass-roots society is very stable; all expressions take place within a statutory framework. A very important feature of what we call mass incidents is that they have the nature of a non-legal order. On first visiting Taiwan felt it was nothing like whatI’d been told. Many Taiwanese people, never having met a mainland person, invite you for dinner and show you their town. Noticing they hadn’t lock their doors, I said “your door isn’t locked,” “There’s no need,” he said. “No problem, we have a security camera in the house so we can see if anyone gets in.” I thought, “With us over here, if anyone got in they’d take the camera as well.” (Laughter). Observing Taiwanese society, I think, first of all, in a stable society property rights are certain, whereas we are uncertain whether what is “yours” is ireally yours, and what is “not yours” is really not. Secondly, an authoritative judiciary: when there’s a problem you can go find the judiciary; there is judicial authority in Taiwan but not here—in the eyes of the people most judges are corrupt. Third, a genuine system of representation, one that relies on votes, and behind which is an open media.
中国要从刚性的稳定过渡到韧性稳定，要从这些方面着手。有人问你讲的这些在中国大陆能做到吗?基本上做不到。因为在我们这个地方是革命不合法，改革没动力，官方瞎折腾，社会无共识。我看了昨天一本杂志刊登了我在日本的演讲，还有人给我写信，说你讲的非常好就是做不到。 我讲这话的时候心里也没底，不知道能不能做到，我们还有别的办法做到吗? 革命话语已远离我们而去，革命已经不合法。
Shifting from rigid to resilient stability in China must start with these things. Some people ask whether they can be achieved in the PRC. Basically, they can’t. Because what we have here is revolutionary legitimacy, reform has no driving force, officials blindly flip-flop [zheteng], there is no consensus in the society. I see that yesterday a magazine printed the talk I gave Japan, and people wrote to me saying, “what you spoke of so well is not achievable.” When I say this my heart is undecided. I’m not sure if it’s achievable, is there another, achievable way? Revolutionary discourse has distanced itself from us, revolution is no longer legitimate.
If it’s revolution you want, you can’t achieve it with the people: when surveying the peasants in Hunan, I asked them what they thought of what they learned from Mao about starting a peasant association? “Don’t believe them,” they told me, “after those people left it was another group of corrupt officials. If you want to start another revolution, don’t make it yet another swindle.” In recent years I have gone many places and found that people do not agree with using violence to break the order. Going online to express your grievances is OK.
While revolutionary discourse still has legitimacy, the many problems it brought about has robbed it of any power to motivate. Reform has a lot of problems, to be sure, because reform in China is always led by a particular department, and the choices that are made are always in its own favour. It’s difficult for us to place great hopes in reform, and another big problem is that without sufficient pressure, would a ruling team be willing to release its power? Since Sun Yat-sen copied party rule of the state from the Soviet Union, party and state have been tied together. Political reform involves the distribution of power, can we place hope in the power-holders voluntarily letting go of power? So we can’t see where see the real driving force for reform of the political system is located. The power-holders blindly flip-flop for the sake of self-interest; the elite tell us not to flip-flop, but not to flip-flop is not to reform. On these issues therefore, China can’t find the force and motivation for reform.
Another important issue is, the elite having failed to achieve consensus, and the forces of civil society not having been integrated, there is no way of expressing gievances. Frankly, I simply don’t know what ultimately is to be done. I know where the road is, but who is going to lead us onto it? Who can lead this nation onto it?
Chinese scholars are of two minds regarding social stability: one is that many people still argue that it’s still stable and we don’t want chaos, once there’s chaos the Chinese nation will take many years to restore order. The other is, chaos—bring it on. While we hope that this country, this nation, this people will not be damaged because of social unrest, we also know how we should reform, but can’t find the force, find a pathway, we feel that there is no power, we feel great difficulty. Although our hearts are full of confusion, we are still looking at the stars, hoping the nation can find a path of stable development. I wonder, what those looking up to the stars today will eventually do for this society? Do to move this society from rigid to resilient stability? My mind is full of doubt.
Moderator: Thank you professor for you brilliant speech. Despite our lack of strength, let’s look up at the stars, and press forwards. Now it’s time for open questions.
Question 1: If the personnel, finances, and material of county and intermediate courts were not controlled by local governmented, couldn’t judicial corruption be improved? When would this be possible?
于建嵘：最近我和云南省高级法院的院长、副院长对话谈了这个问题，在目前中国没有办法完成党的民主化的情况下怎么办? 因为县一级法院和中级法院直接关系到民众的利益，现在老百姓最不相信的就是他们，所以老百姓才对司法缺乏基本的信任。 我觉得县一级法院、检察院的人、财、物是由省级统管，会克服司法地方化的问题，有助于减缓司法腐败。
Yu Jianrong: Recently, I discussed this issue with the President and Vice Presidents of the High Court of Yunnan—what should be done in the current circumstance in which China is unable to carry through a democratisation of the party? Because the county and intermediate courts directly affect the interests of the people; but they are what people have least belief in, hence their lack basic trust in the judiciary. I feel that were the personnel, finances, and material of county level courts controlled by the province, the problem of localization of the judiciary would be overcome, which would help reduce judicial corruption.
Question 2: Thank you for your presentation.
The reason the rigidity stability you discussed can be carried out in China is that the regime is currently in a process of outward tightening and inward relaxation, is this manner of coping what causes rigid stability be practiced in China?
Yu Jianrong: It’s not outward tightening and inward relaxation so much as inability to think of a solution. The greatest problem of rigid stability is rule by division of spoils. They check each other through stability: “If you want to stabilize things you’ll have to do as I say, otherwise what will you do if the country is destabilised?” Nor do the people want instability. But rigid stability doesn’t strive for genuine harmony in the country, or move toward resilient stability. In my view, what this stability was is absence of disorder; even legitimate demonstrations are thought of as unstable, because you may be able to challenge my power. The rigid stability I speak of is in fact mainly a challenge to power itself, rather than fundamental turbulence brought about by the social order. So my view is that it can seek a temporary stability, as to how it will be in the future is for future generations to decide. Deng Xiaoping was very intelligent, he always said that those coming after us are smarter than us, it will be a problem for future generations how things should be then.
Moderator: It’s time we came to an end. We’re very grateful for the professor’s speech: how Chinese society makes a transition from rigid to resilient stability will affect the well-being of every one of us. I feel you are a bit pessimistic, you feel that there is no consensus in this society, I think there is consensus, a most basic one being that everyone wants this nation can avoid the tragic fate of 2 millennia of the cycle of alternating chaos and order. And given such a consensus, we have a lot of room for effort, so we should full of strength, and press onwards.
We are very grateful to the Yanshan Auditorium, our mission is to “nurture the spirit of reason and develop civil society.”
* Yu Jianrong, “Gangxing wending: Zhongguo shehui xingshide yige jieshi kuangjia” [Rigid stability: an explanatory framework for China’s social situation], Dongnan xinwen wang, 9 May 2009 [于建嵘： “刚性稳定 中国社会形势的一个解释框架”， 东南新闻网 ，2009年5月 9日 ( HYPERLINK “http://view.news.qq.com/a/20090515/000033.htm” http://view.news.qq.com/a/20090515/000033.htm).].
Translation © 2009 David Kelly, China Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney