Southern Daily: County-level City Buys Social Stability at a High Price

Southern Daily reports on the price of social stability in Guangdong Province. While economic growth has often been cited as the key to social stability, officials of Lianjiang, Guangdong say social stability is in fact the key to economic growth. According to, yearly expenditure on the maintenance of social stability in China grew by 16 percent in 2009. This year has seen 8.9 percent growth, surpassing the growth rate of national defense spending. [Translation by Don Weinland]

Can you buy stability?

Guangdong’s Lianjiang City thinks it can. Despite financial troubles, the city still put $4.5 million into comprehensive stability maintenance last year—or as much as the past five years combined. This year spending has again been increased to more than $5,500 in per capita public funding, on par with the Pearl River Delta. Lianjiang Municipal Party Secretary Xu Shun said he is willing to spend money to “buy” stability.

Xu pulled out a series of data proving that stability can indeed be bought: this year no mass incidents have occurred in Lianjiang. The number of mass petitions and the number of participants compared to last year are down 58.9 percent and 50.2 percent, respectively. No mass petitions have gone to Zhanjiang and the number of mass petitions continuing to Guangzhou and Beijing have dropped by 58.9 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Liang Wei, a Provincial Standing Committee and Political and Judicial Committee memeber and head of the Public Security Department, said in a recent survey that Lianjiang’s social stabilization was “big on investment, intensity and effectiveness.” The comment came as wholehearted inspiration.

Public security uses public funds to catch up with Pearl River Delta

In the first half of the year, the country was stunned by the stabbing of 19 teachers and students in Leizhou City, also of Zhanjiang Prefecture. In response, Lianjiang invested another nearly $1.5 million to install closed-circuit cameras and alarm systems on campuses. An additional one to two security guards were allocated to each school and a special “sever the black hand” prize was established for peaceful campuses, awarding $70 to $450 for the investigation and detection of attacks on teachers and students.

More than $3.2 million was invested in the reclaiming of the Lianjiang City Guesthouse and the establishment of a petition and social stability center. For the timely handling of contradiction among the masses, more than $600,000 was invested in social stability centers for Lianjiang’s 21 surrounding townships, as well as [social stability] work stations for the 382 surrounding villages.

An investment of more than $1.6 million was made in installing a city-wide, all-weather 24 hour video surveillance system on major roads, intersections, key areas and roads leading out of the city. Long Yu, Lianjiang’s municipal public security deputy, said catching up with the Pearl River Delta’s public security spending was a difficult task.

“In the Pearl River Delta it might not be much, but in underdeveloped regions it’s by no means easy,” he said.

The founding of a 340 member social stability “Flying Tiger Squad” is another example of Lianjiang’s “generous spending.” To qualify for joining the squad, which will coordinate with the Public Security Department in patrolling and the handling of sudden incidents, members “must be able to run 400 meters while carrying 100 kilograms on their shoulders.” Xu said because most members of the Flying Tiger Squad are young and have simple societal relationships, they will have no misgivings and carry out their tasks neatly.

“Scoundrels looking for a fight on the street will be scared into obedience at the sight of the Flying Tiger Squad,” Xu said.

Although Lianjiang economic output is number one in Zhanjiang Prefecture, it is still far behind the developed regions of the Pearl River Delta. Why does an underdeveloped county-level city need to pay attention to the maintenance of social stability? Xu gives the inside story.

Just after Xu took his position in October 2008, a murder case that shocked the nation occurred in Lianjiang. Three unidentified people stabbed to death Huang Zhaoluan, the city’s Political Consultative Committee deputy chairman, 30 meters from his home. Many took the occasion to fervently attack Lianjiang’s public security, calling it “rotten to the core.”

Xu openly admitted, with Lianjiang’s west bordering Guangxi Province and east bordering Huazhou City, the regional environment is complex. Security at the time was poor and there were many incidents involving guns.

“The people were not satisfied with the security situation,” Xu said. “And at the same time, society was unstable. No one dared to invest and the economy could not develop. The experience was painful and we decided to take care of security no matter what.”

Xu put forward four areas he was willing to work on: a willingness to spend energy to seek stability; a willingness to spend time to grasp security; a willingness to spend manpower to guarantee security; and a willingness to spend money to buy security.

The first two are easily done. The latter two concern the spending of funds and have generated controversy among officials. Some have said “raising police salary is a good thing, but if you raise it this month, can you raise it next month as well? Are there enough funds? Founding the Flying Tiger Squad and hiring more security guards is good as well. But who is paying them?” Xu’s answer is that security is the No. 1 responsibility, and even if finances are in a worse state, more pressure will still be put on social stability work.

A “whistle soldier” on every street

Even so, financial resources do have a ceiling. In terms of innovating new ideas for social stability, and doing a lot with scarce funds, people in Lianjiang have made tireless efforts.

Lianjiang has a population of 1.6 million, making it top 10 in the country [for population of county-level cities], No. 3 in Guangdong Province, and No. 1 in Zhanjiang Prefecture. Yet there are only 700 policemen, and a police-to-citizen ration of 10,000-to-4, far lower than the national average of 10,000-to-12.

“I was once the police chief in Anpu Township. The township had 130,000 people but only 13 police officers. That’s one person responsible for the safety of 10,000 people,” said Chen Hai, the head of Lianjiang’s public security office.

Increasing the police force in a short period of time isn’t realistic. Only the mobilization of the masses is. Chen Hai said the majority of Lianjiang public safety management has expanded from the public security organ to the masses, increasing the main body to double that of the police force.

The first to be mobilized were the “village officials.” Lianjiang established a “peace prize” awarding $22 and $12 to the village secretary, leader and other officials for the absence of criminal cases, riots, mass petitions and industrial accidents.

“The money isn’t attractive to city officials but it’s very attractive to village officials. Their monthly salary is only a few hundred yuan.”

Lianjiang even formed a group of security information officers, their task being to report leads, incidents and collect information. They are awarded a certain prize when they provide the public security organ with effective information. With a few thousand security information officers operating on the avenues and alleys, every time they meet with a security issue they can report it and get a reward. Over the past two years the city has awarded nearly $370,000 to informants.

In a development community on Lianjiang’s Luozhou Avenue, the reporter saw a group of self-appointed “whistle soldiers.” At every alley someone had been dispatched as the whistle soldier squad leader.  When meeting with a security issue, the squad leader would blow the whistle. At the sound of the whistle others would come in a swarm and take part in a “battle.”

“We had previously made an agreement: Whoever doesn’t spring into action won’t get help when there’s a problem at their home,” said development community resident Wu Hanrong. Since the establishment of the whistle soldiers, incidents of theft clearly decreased.

The “five signature system” is another example. During festivals in the past, the people would organize various traditional activities, causing frequent mass incidents. In response Lianjiang put forward the five signature system. Before organizing a traditional activity, village committee officials, the village secretary, village party members, the heads of families and activity leaders must sign with the social stability center, taking liability for the event. At the occurrence of a mass incident, the irresponsible regulator is investigated. This year no mass incident has occurred during traditional activities.

People’s Congress reps have the final say in the quality of security

The money has been spent, the energy has been invested, and still Lianjiang wants to form into a contingent. At the beginning of this year the city of Lianjiang removed the economically and stylistically troubled director and deputy director of the public security bureau.

Has Lianjiang’s public security gotten better? In March the city had its 354 congressional representatives survey societal security. Those finding fundamental improvement, obvious improvement or some level of improvement accounted for 97.4 percent. Those finding fundamental or obvious improvement accounted for 63.8 percent, up from last year’s 43.4 percent.

Was the survey superficial?

“The representatives voted by secret ballot. They could have done without giving me face. This was a political risk, not something every secretary will do. If the survey results hadn’t been ideal, what would have happened to my reputation? I did it because I was emboldened,” Xu Shuo said.

84-year-old Mai Yimei once held Lianjiang’s Political Consultative Committee chair. He said Lianjiang’s security has indeed seen great improvement.

“Four years ago, while everyone was out of the house, a thief pried my door open with a crowbar. A neighbor saw him and screamed. The thief turned and ran, but not without his crowbar. Now in our community we have whistle soldiers patrolling the streets all day. You can leave your door open without worrying about it. Squad Leader Liu Xuehui was once deputy secretary of Lianjiang’s Commission of Discipline Inspection. Now he’s a whistle soldier squad leader and he’s busier than when he was secretary.”

The improvement of the security situation has made Lianjiang favorable for capital investment. Yuan Chao, National People’s Congress Representative and Superwood Co., Ltd chairman of the board, told the reporter he originally planned to move his corporation to Huizhou. But he’s given up this plan.

“In the past when clients would come to Lianjiang, they would get harassed by ruffians. This hasn’t happened for the last two years.”

In the first half of the year, reported hold-ups and robberies have decreased by 63.7 percent and 30.9 percent, respectively, compared to last year. As security gets better, Lianjiang’s economy has comprehensively improved. In the 2009 scientific development index assessment, Lianjiang took first place among Zhanjiang Prefecture for economic development. The compound financial growth rate among Guangdong’s 67 county-level cities rose from No. 27 to No. 11.

“The facts speak for themselves. You can buy stability,” Xu said.

Read more about residents participating in police surveillance work via CDT.

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