China Perspectives 2007/3

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Creating a Harmonious Society

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China Perspectives 2007/3

China - Society

Chinks in the Armour of Hu Jintao Administration: Can a Harmonious Society Emerge in the Absence of Political Reform? Page 4

Willy Lam Wo-lap

The leitmotif of the much-anticipated Seventeenth CCP Congress in October 2007 was how to give substance to the goal of “constructing a harmonious society.” However, the Hu-Wen leadership’s refusal to undertake real political reforms, especially sharing power with “disadvantaged” socio-economic groupings, has exacerbated differences across disparate classes and sectors. This article argues that “harmony” can hardly be attained while the Party “which is in cahoots with monopolistic business groups” refuses to yield the tight grip it has on power and its ironclad control over the nation’s resources.

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Village elections in contemporary ChinaNew Spaces for Generating Regime Legitimacy? Experiences from Lishu County Page 12

Chen XuelianGunter Schubert

This article discusses the impact of direct village elections on regime legitimacy in China’s local government. Applying a model based on David Easton’s political systems theory, it is argued that village elections in Lishu county, Jilin province, have contributed significantly to increased social stability and the quality of local governance, resulting in more regime legitimacy. “Rational trust” on the part of the peasants in their cadres may best explain the observation that the cadres’ political supremacy has not been challenged by direct elections.

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Conflicts in the countryside: the emerging awareness of the peasants Page 28

Yu Jianrong

Based on field investigations conducted in Hengyang County (Hunan Province), this article explores the rights defence movement among Chinese peasants, focusing on the legality of the movement

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The norms of Chinese harmonyDisciplinary rules as social stabiliserA harmonious society is one in which the rule of law is given greater strength and authority Page 36

Antoine GaraponLeïla Choukroune

Whereas the concept of “socialist rule of law” punctuated political discourse in the late 1990s, it is the idea of a “socialist harmonious society” that today casts a strange light, clearly more Marxist than Confucian, on Chinese legal reform. This theoretical framework turns law into a disciplinary principle dedicated to society’s moral construction. If law is seen as an instrument for legitimizing power, it remains implicitly but primarily subordinate to the regime’s durability. Although more and more ordinary citizens are seizing hold of normative tools being put at their disposal, the party-state, fearful of being outflanked, is seeking to snuff out the democratic ferment contained in forces it has itself unleashed.

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Confucianism, “cultural tradition” and official discourses in China at the start of the new century Page 50

Sébastien Billioud

This article explores the reference to traditional culture and Confucianism in official discourses at the start of the new century. It shows the complexity and the ambiguity of the phenomenon and attempts to analyze it within the broader framework of society’s evolving relation to culture.

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Eliminating Disharmony: Recent Examples of Censorship in Chinese Writing and Cinema Page 66

Sebastian Veg

This article examines contradictory recent trends in the Chinese censorship system regarding literature and cinema. While measures targeting the publishers of “eight banned books” in January 2007 demonstrated a preoccupation with the representation of history, fiction writing with political implications (Yan Lianke, Tsering Woeser) also remains sensitive. Independent cinema has recently been attempting to enter the official circuit, prompting the Film Bureau to accept a form of dialogue and negotiation with film directors. Nonetheless, the Bureau’s continued preoccupation with a non-conflictual representation of society betrays the government’s persisting tendency to assess films in terms of their political effects.

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Striving for Economic and Political Sustainability Page 74

Andy Rothman

Hu Jintao, China’s president and Communist Party chief, is asking his government to abandon its 25-year-old policy of striving for the fastest possible economic growth, regardless of the costs to society and the environment. Instead, he wants China to balance sustainable growth with a programme to redress the many negative consequences of two decades of 9%-plus GDP growth. Although we do not expect Hu to fix China’s health care system or to deliver a clean and green environment in just five years, we do anticipate enough progress to be achieved so that when the inevitable economic downturn arrives in five to ten years, the country will avoid political and social chaos. And while Hu is willing to accept slightly slower economic growth to manage the problems that threaten social stability, he continues to understand that a strong economy is the foundation for a harmonious society.

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Socioterritorial Fractures in China: The Unachievable “Harmonious Society”? Page 83

Guillaume Giroir

This article offers an inventory of the social and territorial fractures in Hu Jintao’s China. It shows the unarguable but ambiguous emergence of a middle class, the successes and failures in the battle against poverty and the spectacular enrichment of a wealthy few. It asks whether the Confucian ideal of a “harmonious society,” which the authorities have been promoting since the early 2000s, is compatible with a market economy. With an eye to the future, it outlines two possible scenarios on how socioterritorial fractures in China may evolve.

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Setting Up an Integrated Social Security System Page 92

Athar Hussain

As part of its plan to establish a harmonious society, the Chinese Communist Party has resolved to establish by 2020 a social security system covering both urban and rural populations. A common assumption is that the integrated system would provide to the whole population the same high level of protection that a section of the urban population currently enjoys. This article will provide an overview of the current situation and consider the prospects for the establishment of such a system by 2020. The aim is ambitious and the time available for achieving the target is very limited. However, two of the principal pre-conditions for achieving the target are present. First, there has been a dramatic improvement in public finances and the trend looks likely to continue. The implication is that the government would be increasingly capable of covering the extra cost of setting up an integrated social security system. Second, the leadership is strongly committed to establishing such a system. Yet a seamless and fully operational system is highly unlikely.

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Putting Health Back in China’s Development Page 100

Sarah Cook

A precondition for a harmonious society must surely be a healthy population; conversely a society that fails to deliver basic, affordable health care is likely to lack the social cohesion central to the concept of a harmonious society. This article examines the challenges China faces in improving health care provision, reducing health inequalities, and reviving a development strategy which prioritises good health as a basic right of all citizens.

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Education and Social Inequality in ChinaElite Groups Perpetuating Their Privileged Status Page 110

Wang Chunguang

At a time of growing economic and social inequality in China, there is a tendency to invoke education as a great leveller but that rose-tinted view fails to take cognisance of the role of entrenched vested interests which are in fact nurturing educational disparities precisely because education helps to perpetuate them. Current arrangements in education in China can thus hardly help achieve or promote a harmonious society.

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China’s Civil Society: Controls, Limits and Role in a “Harmonious Society” Page 118

Tina TanElisabeth WickeriWing LamBonny Ling

Articles

Fictional Truth and Digital Reality Page 126

Jean-michel Frodon

From Documentary to Fiction and Back: Reality and Contingency in Wang Bing’s and Jia Zhangke’s films Page 130

Sebastian Veg

The generation of “independent” Chinese directors has repeatedly crossed and displaced the borders between fiction and documentary film in their works. While originally linked to practical constraints, this trend has developed into a full-fledged aesthetic programme in the works of Wang Bing and Jia Zhangke. Both directors document the demise of the world of China’s state-owned industries and its impact in terms of livelihoods and social ideals, highlighting the subjective dimension of its dystopic significance. Finally, this article argues that both directors seek to define an aesthetics of contingency, commensurate both with the historical processes they document, and the absurdity felt by individuals who have no control over them.

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China Analysis

Democratic Debate is no Longer Stifled Page 138

Michal Meidan

Rationalizing administrative division: the resistance of the prefecture Page 140

Thibaud Voïta

Book Reviews

Edward Friedman, Paul Pickowicz and Mark Selden, Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China Page 142

Lucien Bianco

David Faure, Emperor and ancestor: State and lineage in South China Page 144

John Lagerwey

Erik Mueggler, The Age of Wild Ghosts. Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China Page 146

Béatrice David

Lan Peichia, Global Cinderellas. Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan Page 148

Chen Yu-wen

Song Geng (ed), Quanqiuhua yu “Zhongguoxing” – Dangdai wenhua de houzhimin jiedu (Globalization and “Chineseness”: Postcolonial readings of contemporary culture) Page 150

Yinde Zhang

EURASFI (Europe- Asia Finance), La Chine: Un colosse financier? Le système financier chinois à l’aube du XXIe siècle Page 151

Thomas Vendryes

Jean Ruffier, Faut-il avoir peur des usines chinoises? Compétitivité et pérennité de “l’atelier du monde” Page 153

Xavier Richet

Hélène Piquet, La Chine au carrefour des traditions juridiques Page 156

Leïla Choukroune

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