Yu Jianrong (于建嵘): Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability (Part 4 )

Dr. Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), chairman of the Social Issues Research Center of the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences, delivered a speech entitled “Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability” before the Beijing Lawyers Association on December 26, 2009. This is part 4 of the CDT translation, here are part 1. part 2 and part 3.

I have made a simple conclusion about workers’ problems. Workers’ key problem in the restructuring of state owned work units will be conflicts between workers and management.

As for problems concerning city residents, I have not conducted specialized research. I have a Ph.D. colleague who is now a teacher at a Party school. Her Ph.D. dissertation was written specifically about city residents’ rights defense. This year I attended the dissertation defense of four Ph.D. candidates at Renmin University who majored in international politics. Three of the Ph.D candidates all wrote about city residents’ rights defense. Now there are more and more scholars who are starting to care about city residents’ rights defense. According to their research, building demolitions are a key issue. The most serious conflict caused by building demolitions occurred in Longnan, Gansu Province. November 17th last year [2008], the municipal Party committee building was smashed in. We predict that mass incidents sparked by city residents’ rights defense activities will increase. Everyone should pay close attention to this. The most recent case was a relatively large mass incident near Kunming’s Luosi Bay that was sparked by demolitions. Not long ago I went to Kunming especially so that I could understand what happened near Luosi Bay.

I have just spoken about situations where workers, rural farmers, and city residents are involved in rights defense. Now, I will make some simple generalizations about the characteristics of their activities. First, I believe that city residents’ rights defense activities are all about financial interest. Whether you are talking about workers, rural farmers, or city residents, the most notable characteristic of rights defense activities is that they are battles over financial interests, and are not battles over power. Said more simply, it’s all about the money and not about life or death. They just want money. They don’t want your political power, nor do they want your position as an official. This all-about-the-money approach is not about starting a revolution; it’s about getting money. No one is going out in the streets saying that the Communist Party must hand over its political power or that local officials must hand over their political power. No one is proposing that people should revolt and seize power like during the Cultural Revolution. Even if the government is destroyed, it would be about financial interests and [people] would not want [the government’s] power. No one is proposing to destroy the government and build a new government. A struggle over financial interests is the main characteristic of the rights defense activities of workers, rural farmers and city residents.
I’ll tell a story. In 2007, a huge problem occurred in China’s Guangdong province. A group of farmers in Shanwei organized a search and confiscation team. To whose home did they go to search and confiscate? They went to the homes of village and township cadres. They said, “You’ve sold our land, so we’re coming to search your home and confiscate your property.” This scared a lot of township and village cadres so much that they ran away. On May 7th of the year, I accompanied a national leader to Guangdong to conduct an investigation. On May 8th Zhang Dejiang, Secretary of the Guangdong Party Committee at the time, and member of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party, gave a report to the national leader. He said that in Guangdong Province these last few years there had been many problems; however, the provincial Party Committee after investigation and research came to the conclusion that these were all “contradictions among the people.” What are “contradictions among the people?” These are problems that can all be solved by using renminbi—the people’s currency. (Laughter) This is funny, but I think he was right. That night I met with editorialists from Southern Weekend and Southern Daily. I said that in my view, Zhang Dejiang, this kind of high ranking leader within the Communist Party, is familiar with the problems China currently faces. The biggest problem is a struggle over financial interests. The fact that struggles are about financial interests and are not about power is a key reason why, in our judgment, China is currently experiencing so many mass incidents. This is the first characteristic.

The second characteristic [of rights defense activities] is that “rule awareness” is greater than “rights awareness” (PowerPoint slide) This is what this person said. Her name is Elizabeth Perry. She is a world famous political scientist. In 2007, she published an important article entitled, “The Rights Awareness of Chinese People.” She said that since 1989, Westerners all thought that China would collapse. However it has almost been twenty years and the Chinese Communist Party has still not collapsed. When Westerners see Chinese people take to the streets they are ecstatic, they say once again that the Communist Party is going to collapse. But after a few days [the Chinese people] go back. Why? She says that “we Western scholars have all misjudged the situation and there is a key reason why; we don’t understand what ordinary Chinese people are thinking. Actually, ordinary Chinese people take to the streets for different reasons than us Westerners. When Westerners take to the streets they are talking about rights; however when Chinese people take to the streets they are talking about rules.”
This sentence is hard to understand so let me give an example and you’ll understand. Why do Chinese people take to the streets? Ordinary Chinese people will say, “You promised to give me ten Yuan, why are you now only giving me five Yuan? You’re not honoring your word. Your law says that rural people should be having elections and that land takings should only occur if the villagers approve. So why aren’t there elections? Why are you selling our land without gaining our approval? You local governments are not doing things according to the nation’s laws.” In summary the issue is about the [government] not honoring its word. So what do Westerners say when they take to the streets? They say, “Why are you only giving us ten Yuan? According to human rights, according to natural rights, you should be giving us one hundred Yuan. Your rules [providing ten Yuan] are wrong.
The vast amount of ordinary Chinese people’s behavior, I classify as legal resistance. They’ll use your own laws to resist you, and won’t say the law itself is wrong. It’s very rare that an ordinary person will say that the law is wrong. The only people that say this is are us [lawyers]. If you go to the “petitioning village” in Beijing, you will discover petitioners often copy large numbers of documents. These documents most often say that local government rules contravene central government rules. No one dares challenge the central government’s rules. Elizabeth Perry thinks that this is the key to why China has not collapsed. She says that supposing there comes a day when the Chinese masses universally think that the rules are wrong, then [the government’s] political power will be in serious danger. Therefore, Elizabeth Perry says that the Communist Party should count its blessings. [China’s] people are so reasonable! [China’s] people are just saying you haven’t followed the rules; if you follow the rules, then we’ll support you. In July 2008 Elizabeth Perry invited me to Harvard University. We had discussions that lasted for one week. We wrote an article, if you’re interested you can take a look. It’s called, “China’s Political Tradition and Development—Yu Jianrong in Dialogue With Elizabeth Perry,” published in Nanfeng Chuang. Yesterday’s Southern Weekend published another exchange between myself and Elizabeth Perry. The title is called “The Vitality and Predicaments of Chinese Politics.” It discusses: where does the vitality of the Chinese Communist Party lie? How much longer can it live?

The third characteristic [of rights defense activities] is that they are more about reactions [to events] and less about moving [a cause] forward. What does this mean? It means that for problems involving ordinary Chinese people; if [the government] doesn’t mess with them, then they usually won’t dare to mess with [the government]. For example, regarding demolition, people will say: “Why are you tearing down my house; how can you tear down my house and not pay compensation?” Supposing someone clearly knew that a house demolition would have benefits, they definitely wouldn’t dare go and find [the government] and say “Why don’t you tear down my house?” This is an illustration of the principle: if [the government] doesn’t mess with them, then they won’t mess with [the government].

[To be continued]


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