Towards Social Harmony?...

by RO on Monday, 28 August 2006 Comments
The National Popular Assembly session that took place in March 2006 has illustrated a trend that has become more and more apparent since a few months: China is entering a debate on its social model. Journalists and experts all agree on the fact that social discontent and movements have increased on a much larger scale than previously reported, not only in the countryside but also on the poorer parts of the cities (notably in Beijing). The main reasons for discontentare well identified:
- land expropriation
- extent of pollution due to dissemination of polluting industries, especially of water pollution, with health effects beyond control
- anxieties of poor people about costs of education and health
This increase in social problems, exemplified by consecutive grave occurrences of rivers’ accidental pollution, coincides with a much more active role of NGOs and civil society in general. This increased role has been prepared by the government itself in so far as it has relied in the last years on NGOs for the care of some portions of society (sick people in poorer parts of the country for instance). In the last year, membership in associations caring for women, orphans, AIDS patient or environmental problems has grown very markedly. Also, information is disseminated more rapidly and quickly than before.

After an initial stage of anxious ocntrol of the debate on these issues (September-October 2005), the government has taken the risk to open up the discussion in order to show its concern for peasantry. The government also tries to reassert its grasp on civil society, especially through the revival of mass organizations (women or youth organizations) which allow it to reach out to segments of the population that it is in danger to lose. This governmental concern also has gone with quicker implementation of reforms on health and education. The debate on the 11th plan having taken place during the NPA session has been more open and lively than could have been expected in the last months. However, the turn towards “sustainable and harmonious development” proves to be very hard to take place. Topics for discussion include:
- What does the shift towards “socialist new countryside” imply?
- Who is going to pay for the large investments to be done on education and health care for the poor as well as for environmental protection? Will the richer provinces really accept to pay for the poorer ones?
- Did economic reforms go to far? Many observers point to the emergence of a ”new left” geared by a younger generation. Older people, still remembering the sufferings of the Maoist past, stick to a liberal, capitalist-like reform agenda.
- Can the shift towards a more “harmonious society” occur while the Party is still resisting political reform?

The debate is still going on...
See Renlai’s Observer article on China’s path of development

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