'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, December 09, 2006

China: The Imperative of Radical Reform 

Over the last couple of months, I have posted several comments about how social unrest is forcing the Chinese Communist Party to consider, and tentatively begin to implement, reforms. For example, go here and here.

Now, according to the Times of London, the Party has acknowledged the extent of the peril in a recent partywide paper. Furthermore, according to the Times, Xinhua, the state run news service, has published a rare commentary on the sensitive topic:

. . . “The huge number and broad scope of mass incidents has become the most outstanding problem that seriously impacts social stability . . .

Resentment over the loss of farmland, corruption, worsening pollution in the vast countryside, arbitrary evictions by property developers and lay-offs by state enterprises in cities have galvanised the Chinese to take sometimes drastic action.

The commentary noted that some economic disputes had been politicised, while some had become increasingly violent and confrontational. Even a small mishandling of a protest could lead to bloodshed.

A major reason for the unrest was the progress of reform that has created a widening wealth gap between better-educated, entrepreneurial and white-collar urban residents, and farmers, migrant workers and the elderly, who find it increasingly difficult to cope with a swiftly changing society.

In an unusually direct warning of the consequences of failing to tackle the grievances of China’s have-nots, the commentary said: “Whether we can actively prevent and properly deal with mass incidents is a significant test of the party’s ability to govern. The Communist Party — particularly local officials — must do its utmost to help laid-off workers, landless farmers, displaced migrants, peasant workers and the poverty-stricken populations of towns and villages.”

Of course, the candor of the authors of both the paper and the commentary is the striking aspect of the story, as the factual circumstances have otherwise been publicized around the world with greater regularity in recent years. Such candor constitutes inferential support for the notion that President Hu Jintao, and many within the Party, recognize that neoliberalism as usual is no longer possible, indeed, that it is not even possible to pretend as if the social unrest is a localized phenomena that can be easily contained.

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