China – An Attempt at Understanding a Complex Power Structure

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China, “a socialist state under the democratic dictatorship of the people”, is in a state of transition today that outsiders would hardly be in a position to fathom. Perhaps those in power would themselves not have too clear a picture. Whether the information that is freely available provides a realistic analysis of the existing situation is anything but certain. The present work draws from both personal impressions as well as reports. Most importantly, it provides the tools for obtaining a more exact picture, based on the theoretical analysis it undertakes.

By Dr. Reinhard Hildebrandt


China – An Attempt at Understanding a Complex Power Structure

1. Travel impressions

Visitors to China familiar with Europe’s unhurried pace are taken aback at the hectic pace of China’s metropolises, with populations of several million apiece. Having milling crowds around make one feel hemmed in, and negotiating pavements crammed with stalls, bicycles, electric scooters and numerous vehicles as calmly as the Chinese is, one soon finds, beyond one’s adaptability and sense of well-being. Just crossing one of the multi-lane and, for the most part, hopelessly jammed roads, seems to the visitor – unlike for the locals – a dangerous obstacle course. What is more, pedestrian crossings do not seem to make any difference to drivers turning right, who insist on their right of way over pedestrians. Having to fight for every centimeter of space in jam-packed buses and metros during peak hours very quickly sends one into a sweat. And panic grips the visitor when, while queuing at entrances to railway stations, he finds himself relentlessly pushed towards the x-ray machines by fellow-passengers from behind, to have his hand baggage checked for dangerous objects.

It is with surprise that the visitor notes the – at times – unrestrained consumerist behavior on the part of those Chinese who have grown rich, their predilection for luxury cars and their tendency to insulate their residential complexes by erecting high fences, walls and security checks at the entrance. “The number of billionaires has doubled in the last two years.” (Sandy Group, © süddeutsche.de, 7.9.2011). Face to face with growing consumerism among the newly affluent middle classes (Thomas Lindner, “Ohne China stagniert die Welt”, Schätzung: 140 Millionen Menschen, Tagesspiegel, 8.9.2011), the visitor has to remind himself that until a little over fifty years ago, the Chinese had to suffer famine across the country. “Does anyone today know what hunger feels like”, asks an elderly Chinese, quoted by Bernhard Barsch (Frankfurter Rundschau, 27/28.8.2011). Today he has standing in his home a TV, an AC and a large deep-freeze, and even this does not make him wealthy in the eyes of his children. The fact that even people from low-income groups are happy about the wide range of items on sale in shopping arcades, even if they cannot afford to buy them, is a pointer to the high social value that consumption enjoys for preserving social peace in present-day China.

Were the visitor to glance up at the innumerable bare facades of high-rise buildings standing cheek by jowl, he would find it difficult to imagine how the Chinese – despite their very legitimate complaints about the high cost of accommodation – welcome the prospect of swapping what had hitherto been their homes in a hutong (street) – homes with neither a toilette nor a bath of their own – or in a hopelessly run-down four-storied building of the fifties and sixties for a home, for instance, on the 13th floor, offering modest comfort. “…the explosion in prices last year made it particularly difficult for the growing middle class to realize its dream of owning a larger home.” (Peer Junker, Träume aus beton, Tagesspiegel, 18.6.2010). In Shanghai, the prices for residential accommodation rose by 50% last year (Thomas E. Schmidt, Der Stress der Mittelklasse, Die Zeit, 29.7.2010). But those who had rented flats in buildings that had been demolished against the will of the occupants to make way for the construction of high-rise structures reacted with protests and with deep disappointment. Entire localities in the urban areas have been flattened and turned into new settlements. Often, those uprooted search in vain for new accommodation or are forced to accept something far from the area they had resided in until then. By contrast, Chinese who have come into wealth buy up several flats at one go and speculate on them.

The visitor is amazed to see the Chinese looking at the numerous representative buildings with admiration. No doubt they reflect an architecture that is unique in the world, but as isolated buildings standing on their own without in any way connected with each other, they do not form a harmonious urban landscape.

But, spontaneous criticism apart, if the visitor were to ask himself how he would satisfactorily meet the needs of a population of 1.3 billion; what kind of infrastructure would be required to meet the demands of the present and the future; in what way he would placate fears relating to accommodation, jobs and placements for training, he would quickly find himself at a loss. His European yardstick, meant for far smaller dimensions, fails in the face of the socially explosive problem of growing wealth among a few Chinese and the impoverishment and mass alienation of the rural population, which pours into the economically prosperous cities of the east as migrant labor (more than 200 million of them), to then live there in inhuman conditions (survive or be eaten up!) and find their children left without seats in state-run schools. This sobering picture is also true of the political liberties conceded by the country’s leaders to its people – liberties that are truly modest by European standards. The visitor may be somewhat familiar with the relationship between self-interest and public welfare that underlies the scope for individual freedom in Europe, but which yardstick would be suitable for the dimensions that apply to China?

Thus, for instance, the visitor who views the situation from the European perspective is irritated by the measures adopted by the Ministry of Culture in Beijing to purge the Internet of songs deemed „harmful to national cultural security“ (Frankfurter Rundschau, 26.8.2011). From where do the Chinese authorites obtain their yardstick to judge with certitude what is beneficial to „national culture“ and what is damaging, and what for instance is „intellectually corrupting“? (Martina Meister, Keine Orte, nur noch Worte, Tagesspiegel 14.10.2009). A circular of the State Council of China clearly shows the extent to which the Chinese leadership appears to be divorced from the people. The Circular calls for „increased openness in government affairs to ensure officials continue to work in a lawful and efficient manner“ (China Daily, August 3, 2011). The Circular further decrees: “We should stick to a lawful, scientific and democratic policy-making and increase the scope of publicity, especially for major reform plans, policies and projects that are directly related to the people’s interests”. The Circular also complains of a „lack of information, non-standardized publicity procedures, poorly designed information-sharing systems, problems regarding the distinction between classified and public information.” It further demands that “local government departments must make more efforts to ensure transparency in government affairs in order to protect the people’s rights to know about and supervise the government”.

But from the European point of view, the joint responsibility of the people “extends far beyond merely “supervising” the government. It is not just confined to watching over the executive implement measures decided in organs far removed from the people. Joint responsibility means participating in the process of formulating the “interests of the people”. In the Circular, the State Council insists on the interests of the people being defined on behalf of the “people”. What are the powers that the People’s Congress has in this matter? Who decides which of the people’s interests have priority and which of them are but secondary? The Circular provides no answers to these questions.

2. The Exercise of Power in China

2.1 Constitutional Provisions

During the Energy Dialogue with Shell AG on 9th June 2010 in Berlin, Norbert Röttgen, the Federal Environment Minister of the CDU-FDP coalition, mentioned that he had returned from China with a new understanding of the situation there: Since the social structure prevailing in China is – unlike in the case of European societies – unable to offer democratic discourse as a mediating element in the dialogue between the government and the people, argues Röttgen, great care must be taken while deciding on the scale of climate-friendly technologies and while selecting them, that primarily such technologies are deployed that have no negative impact on purchasing power, or that actually even enhance it. The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions should on no account be at the expense of mass purchasing power, if unrest is to be avoided, Röttgen further argues.

Inquiring into the absence of democratic discourse in China leads one first and foremost to the Chinese constitution. Art. 2 declares the “people” to be holders of all power (Art. 2: All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people) while at the same time declaring that the people had ceded their hold on power to the dominant “proletarian class “ (Art. 1: The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state under the democratic dictatorship of the people, which is led by the proletariat and rests on the alliance between the proletariat and the peasants (the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China of 17th January 1975). Despite its ceding power to the “proletariat”, the “people as a whole” remain the reference point of the proletariat-led state and, like the “people”, the “proletarian class” is also not defined in more precise terms. Though the “proletarian class” hands over its own power to the “alliance of workers and peasants”, state power continues to refer to the “people as a whole”. From this we infer, on the one hand, that

  • real power in the state lies with the leaders voted by the rank and file of the “alliance of workers and peasants”, and, on the other hand
  • that on the basis of its responsibility towards the “people” and the “proletariat”, state leadership can also act against the will of those who elected it into office.

In drawing its legitimacy from the unorganized, non-operative units represented by the “people” and the “proletariat”, both of whom cannot issue any instructions, real state power contends that it acts and rules on the basis of its own absolute power and is accountable only to itself.1 From the “democratic dictatorship of the people” emerges the self-legitimizing state, which carries the attribute “socialist” (revolutionary, progressive, forward-looking). From the contradiction between democracy (rule of the people) and dictatorship (of the people), there emerges the rule of the Communist Party of China which perceives itself as supporting the state and does not brook any division of powers (Zhang Sizhi).

Unlike in parliamentary democracies, the ruling state power in China has so far lacked the capacity to voluntarily curtail its all-encompassing powers and turn them into a self-commitment. Keeping discourse open to a range of theories and approaches, and assuring it an existence with, against, among and through each other at all times (through which formless counterbalance is established in Chinese society – in just the same way as through the diverse practices of companies, associations, parties and communities) does not seem to be indispensable to this state power. From the perspective of the state, the unconditional opening up of public space, and the realm of discourse therein, to the activation and reactivation of fluctuating elements do not form part of the vital duties of the state. A closer look at Chinese philosophy reveals that such a reaction could hark back to a millennia-old tradition.

2.2 Philosophy and Power

In his book “Chinese PhilosophyChinese Political Philosophy, Metaphysics, Epistemology and Comparative Philosophy” published in January 2010, Wen Haiming is of the view that both Chinese and Western philosophy pose the same questions to society and politics, and address problems related to epistemology and weltanschauung in much the same fashion (ibid. p.1). Chinese philosophy is distinct from Western philosophy only by virtue of its unique “Chinese philosophical sensibility”. What this means for the exercise of power will be examined more closely below.

Haiming starts out with the Confucian emphasis on the family as the root of human existence (“Family reverence is the root of human beings” (ibid. p.3). “ In short, Confucius thinks that a human being can only fulfill him or herself by beginning with family reverence, the starting point of all relationships (ibid. p.25). “Confucius claims that if a leader treats his family and friends well, others will follow his example.”(ibid. p.26/27). For Confucius, the family is the source and reference point of his political philosophy which is rooted in humanity; later, this was to be defined by the philosopher Menzius in precise terms as “ruling states by humanity and love” (ibid. p.3). For Menzius, the family had a higher standing than the state, with even social justice being ranked lower than close family ties (ibid. p. 32). But although for Menzius, solidarity among family members takes precedence over the law (ibid. p.32), willingness to show loyalty towards the family is measured by upholding morality. In doing so, Menzius subjects both the state and the family to the primacy of morality (Heiner Roetz, Mit Konfuzius für die Demokratie, Frankfurter Rundschau, 10.12.2010).

The high standing enjoyed by the family right up to the present is evident in the following quotation: “In Imperial China, the upbringing of the child rested almost entirely in the hands of the family, whose coexistence depended on the father-son relationship. Described by the term “reverence” (Xi-ao) in Chinese culture, the father-son relationship is regarded as the highest virtue in Confucianism and as the spiritual link between generations. Even today, it is of great importance to the Chinese family” (KeYu, Chinesische Spitzenschüler, Frankfurter Rundschau, 1.2.2011).

Laozi to an extent carries forward the basic ideas of his two predecessors, while at the same time drawing attention to “dao”: “Dao is the road on which people walk, and the words people say.” (Wen Haiming, loc.cit. p.37). „Dao is not a name, it is the way-making that humans travel, linking them to the world as soon as they begin to walk and talk.“(ibid. p.37)

Laozi compares the path of life („dao“) with the incessant spurting of water from a spring and its exuberant search for a course immediately thereafter. The country’s leadership should be just as flexible and agile as water in thought and deed („Dao is like water“): benevolent towards its subjects and strict with itself, „wandering at ease without oneself“, as Zhuangzi was to later add (ibid, p.3). The leadership of a large state should follow the example of a cook who fries a small fish carefully, turning it as little as possible in order not to ruin it (ibid. P. 41). But the state should, as far as possible, not inform the people, says Laozi. Like Confucius, he describes as being ideal a manner of governing where the people are not informed: „Confucius shares a similar idea that people should be asked to do what they should, but there is no need to explain their purpose“ (ibid. p. 42). „The best way to govern“, argues Laozi, is to allow the people to participate in the decision-making processes as little as possible, but at the same time to ensure that they are able to lead a healthy and contented life. Based on this fundamental idea, Chinese political philosophy assumed a variety of forms in the centuries that followed.

The philosopher Mozi advises the country’s leaders to reject all war-like behavior and instead lay emphasis on a peace-loving policy based on universal love between all people – an idea that harks back to Menzius. Xunzi, on the other hand, represents a thinking that is opposed to Menzius’: Man is by nature not good but evil. Hence, the country’s leaders must control the people at all times, and make it mandatory for them to observe rituals as a way of exercising self-control over their actions. Here, a parallel to the contrast between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau is not difficult to define. The philosopher Hanfei praises the combination of three leadership qualities: a sense of power, justice and statecraft (ibid. p. 4).

The philosophy of Zhouyi interprets „dao“ as movement between „yin“ and „yang“ (ibid. p. 14): „Yin and Yang stand relative to one another…Zhouyi puts forth a yin-yang contextualizing paradigm quite different from Western models of separate opposing parts.” (ibid. p. 15) From the perspective of European philosophy, the difference between the quality and quantity of yin and yang should be investigated into. If yin and yang in their mutual embrace – represented by the symbol of two closely intertwined fish within a circle – have yin not only facing yang as an independent entity but also being present in yang as its core (in the form of a tiny dot), then the following two avenues of interpretation result there from:

  1. Yin and yang act as qualities like plus and minus. If yin decreases in quantity, it at some point of time goes beyond the boundaries of non-existence in its self-effacing movement. Its quantity veers towards zero and, once there, destroys the quality of yin. If the movement does not halt at zero but continues beyond non-existence, then yin advances further as the progressively increasing quantity of yang, ultimately attaining its full quality. The opposing qualities of yin and yang not only condition each other (the quality of plus cannot be conceived without the quality of minus) but face each other as entities, with each quality at the same time flowing into the other (that is, into its counterpart) during the process of movement. Of significance in this process are not the varying qualities of yin and yang but the crucial contrary movement whereby one quality flows into the other.
  2. At the same time, yin and yang begin their own self-effacing movement. Plus moves towards zero and, once there, finds itself directly adjacent to the smallest unit of minus. Minus in turn moves towards zero and, once there, finds itself adjacent to the smallest unit of plus. The two processes of movement run in their respective directions, quantitatively filling up the two opposing qualities again. The two entities are now immediately adjacent to each other, without however penetrating each other. At their common boundary line, the one quality does not take over the other, though both entities are dependent on each other. Plus is inconceivable without minus; a solitary plus or minus would not be viable. Plus must have its opposite number as part of itself just as minus has its opposite number in itself. Here, it is not the movement that is most important but the increasing and decreasing quality of two conflicting and mutually dependent entities.

Chinese philosophy is favorably disposed towards the movement between yin and yang and, consequently, towards the harmony between the two, while Western philosophy underlines the shaping of the two mutually excluding entities and, consequently, the line of demarcation or, rather, the disharmony between them.

In line with the first mode of interpretation, the Chinese philosopher Zhouyi advises people to bring their personal “dao” in tune with that underlying Nature: Ideally, a person’s words and actions are harmonious with the running rhythm of the world … ‚Great people (Daren)’ are those whose actions catch the rhythms of the nature, those who understand the great dao of the cosmos, and those who enhance themselves with cosmological sensibility.”(ibid. p.16/17). These people, Zhouyi maintains, are in a position, “to manipulate the world” (ibid. p.18). Whether the special sensibility that characterizes Chinese philosophy is expressed therein is uncertain; what is amply clear is the reference to the high standing that educated people enjoy until today. “From as early as the end of the 6th century, the recruitment of higher officials – mandarins – in Imperial China was conducted through a tiered system of examination open to all men without class discrimination. These examinations revolved exclusively around the works of Confucius. With these examinations for the post of mandarin, power was secured and at the same time legitimized“ (Ke Yu, ibid.).

In the succession of Chinese dynasties that held sway over millennia, rulers time and again sought out the philosophers of their time to legitimize and consolidate power with their help, but only rarely did they show themselves capable of tolerating any criticism of their despotic ways. On this Wen Haiming was to write: There were many other cases in which intellectuals had no control, for Chinese leaders lacked political tolerance for those who opposed them.“ (ibid. p. 73). In this respect, the Tan Dynasty with Xi’an as capital is time and again praised as the only exception. Even today, the impressive figures standing around the old imperial palace are testimony to the tolerance that prevailed in this dynasty. Till today, they are a favorite motif for photographs in China; the Chinese love to be photographed leaning on the figures. Is this a sign of secret longings?

In his book “Big Power’s Responsibility – China’s Perspective“ (China Renmin University Press 2011), Jin Canrong projects a picture that is opposed to Wen Haiming’s: Canrong refers to his country as „harmonious China“ (ibid. p. 2), which diplomats from all over the world look up to as the ideal country. In its foreign policy, China, Canrong believes, does not need to establish hegemony at all. Further, the multifarious nature of Chinese culture, saturated with historical experience, provides the country’s leadership an ideal benchmark for China’s relations with its neighbors and fellow-players on the global stage. „As the essence of traditional culture, the concept of harmony and collaboration has directly influenced China’s foreign policy of peace and friendship and shaped the image of a responsible country. „ (ibid. p. 24). Jin Canrong makes a specific mention of Laozi’s vision, which has harmony reigning between Man and Nature. Man adopts Nature as his model; Nature unfurls itself on the firmament; the firmament has a significant impact on the path of life (dao) and every man is in perfect harmony with Nature (ibid. p. 24). Jin Canrong postulates that „ harmonious China“ is the perfect manifestation of this closed loop, which is valid both for China as well as for its relations with other countries. Whether the relationship between the ruler and the ruled in China can be characterized as complete harmony and whether the claim to power manifest in the term „democratic dictatorship of the people“ gets completely dissolved therein calls for further analysis.

2.3 The Ideal Superordinate-Subordinate Relationship

Every ruler aims for an ideal superordinate-subordinate relationship. In a relationship of this kind, power is invisible. Absolute harmony prevails between the power-holder and the power-subject. But if a ruler like Muhammed Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi had played off the chiefs of the various clans against each other for 42 years, and insists at the end of his rule that the „people“ love him, he not only mistakes the chieftains of the tribes for the people of Libya as a whole but also mistakenly takes minions around him to be the people. Or when the former Minister of State Security of the GDR and head of the state security service, Erich Mielke, declared to the people shortly before the fall of the GDR: „We do really love you all“, he did not understand that, in a power relationship, the love of the people for the ruler cannot be arbitrarily demanded, and that his love evokes reciprocal feelings in the wooed subjects only when the latter feel fully recognized and secure in the love felt by their ruler.

In an ideal superordinate-subordinate relationship, power rests on the measure of subordination demanded always corresponding with the measure of willingness to serve. Hegel, for instance, postulates an absolute congruence between the measure of solicitude shown by the master towards his servant and the servant’s desire for recognition, protection and gratitude from the master (Hegel, Georg, Wilhelm, Friedrich, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Frankfurt am Main 1973, loc. cit. 153f). Niklas Luhmann treats the behavior of the power-subject in just the same manner: „ The power-subject is expected to be someone who chooses his own action, which offers him the possibility of self-determination…“ (Luhmann, Niklas, 1988, 2nd reprit: Macht, Stuttgart, p.21. His anticipative behavior „is linked not only to the reactions of the power-holder in the event of his wishes not being complied with, that is, to prevention strategies, but also to the wishes themselves. The power-holder does not need to command in the first place; even his uncommanded commands will be followed. Even the initiative to command can be shifted to the power-subject; the latter will enquire if he is not clear as to what the command would entail.“ (Luhmann,loc. cit., p.36).1

For the care and ministration provided by the superordinate to be on a par with the gratitude of the subordinate in „harmonious China“, subordination rituals must be so deeply ingrained in the population that they even seep into the people’s subconsciousness and instinctive behavior. In this case, the orders of the power-holder would not only be carried out consciously and voluntarily but would, in addition, also evoke in the subordinate a deep feeling of gratitude. This is also the direction of Ke Yu’s thinking: “In linking together the creation of state allegiance and ‚reverence’ through education and upbringing on the basis of Confucian writings, the structural unit of state and family is time and again reproduced.“ (Ke Yu, ibid.). To bolster his argument, Ke Yu points out that the word „state“ (guo-jia) in Chinese is made up of the two characters for state (guo) and family (jia).

The scope of action open to the superordinate vis-a-vis the subordinate knows no bounds when conscious, subconscious and reflex behavior get completely enmeshed. An ideal superordinate-subordinate relationship of this kind would no doubt satisfy every superordinate’s wishful thinking, but it does not materialize for the most part because the consciousness of the power-subject, characterized both by servility and recalcitrance, thwarts its realization.

2.3.1 Two Manifestations of the Consciousness of the Power-Subject

The basic aspect determining the consciousness of the subordinate identifies this consciousness – in Hegelian terms – as inevitably having its counterpart (that is, the consciousness of the superordinate) as a negative part of itself and at the same time as an independent entity outside of itself.

This comprehensive definition contains four narrower ones:

  1. The consciousness of the power-subject is defined by the consciousness of the superordinate existing outside of it and

acting for it, and bows down in a combination of self-sacrificing and grudging obedience.

2. In order to not just put up with the behavior of the superordinate without comprehending it, but to recognize its claim to superiority and adequately respond to it, the consciousness of the subordinate must be capable of perceiving the consciousness of the superordinate in itself – as a part of itself. This occurs in two ways. It may be brought to mind that subordinates are not born as such but only become so in the course of a painful process riddled with setbacks and reverses. This painful experience of what superordination can inflict on the subordinate gets ingrained in the latter’s consciousness as a fear-beset „superego“, and becomes a point of orientation for the subordinate’s future behavior – a measure of his self-sacrificing service. The consciousness of the superordinate that suffuses the subordinate helps him identify that consciousness outside of himself and acting for him, and acknowledge it as such. Fear constitutes an integral phenomenon in the development of subordinate consciousness. Its extends to its very roots, starts with a feeling of insecurity in the one who feels inferior, his moorings – believed to be firm until then – coming untethered. Servility, good faith, self-delusion, voluntary adjustment, patient endurance, silence and mimicry are oft-encountered patterns of behavior in individuals with subordinate consciousness.

3. The possibilty of resistance emerges from the third characterization of subordinate consciousness. The individual who

expends his labour goes through the experience of externalizing a part of himself in a creative and formative way, identifies with the product of his activity and, with the pride he feels in the work he has performed, gains in self- esteem. It is this self-esteem that enables him face up to the superordinate side with confidence and expect from it in return recognition in material and immaterial form. If this is not forthcoming, or granted merely in inadequate measure, then the prick of distance and alienation is felt.

4. Where the superordinate-subordinate relationship comes to an end, the fourth characteristic of subordinate consciousness comes to the fore: the appropriation by the superordinate of the work performed by the subordinate

If, of the four distinctive characteristics of subordinate consciousness, the second (the self-sacrificing service of the superego) dominates, there emerges a fear-stricken individual with the tendency to be introverted. If, on the other hand, the third characteristic of subordinate consciousness – namely the individual who finds himself reflected in his various actions and is proud of the work he has performed – dominates, there emerges an individual who is ready to defy fear, maintain an inner and outer distance towards the superior side, protest, boycott, rebel, strike and even take isolation and ostracism in his stride.

Both independent forms of subordinate consciousness represent a pair of absolute contrasts. Absolute fear completely rules out resistance, and absolute resistance knows no fear. Nevertheless, both forms together constitute the consciousness of the subordinate, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The level of subordination in consciousness is determined by how much or how little of the one or the other is present. Should fear dominate over resistance, then the consciousness of the power-subject will be marked by servility. If resistance dominates over fear, we have a subordinate consciousness that is rebellious. A subordinate consciousness containing not an iota of resistance runs the risk of being snuffed out by self-sacrifice. Conversely, a subordinate consciousness made up of resistance alone terminates the relationship with the superior side, thereby risking its fall. Generally, there is almost always a mix of both. A superordinate-subordinate relationship with an optimal tilt towards the superordinate largely rules out rebellious behavior on the part of the subordinate, makes practically no demands on the superordinate, though inducing in him unrestrained behavior towards the subordinate. If in a relationship that is ideal for him the subordinate always feels amply remunerated by the superordinate, this excessive remuneration can make his expectations soar, turning the superordinate-subordinate relationship on its head.

2.3.2 An Assessment of the Ratio of Mix among the Chinese

2.3.2.1 The Dominance of Servility

If it is true that the Chinese attach great importance to cohesiveness within the family and to the hierarchy reigning therein, without considering the individual to be important, and if in addition they have a weak I-consciousness and are very afraid of losing face, this would be indicative of a consciousness in which servile behavior is far more predominant than the rebellious. This is borne out by the „students regarding low marks, not to speak of failing in exams, more as a loss of face before their parents than as a squandering away of their own future. The family is the strictest and coldest of institutions in which parents mutate into rigorous, even monstrous, teachers“ (Ke Yu, ibid.).

He Weifang, a Professor of Law banished to the countryside, has this to say when asked what the majority of the Chinese think about the present situation: „I think the majority would not find China’s present situation all that bad. For, ultimately, what matters to the majority of the people is only that which plays a role in their own lives. But at the same time they are very conscious of their own weakness and know that it will be difficult for them to protect their rights should they be violated.“ (Bernhard Bartsch, „China will vor allem Angst einflößen“, Frankfurter Rundschau, 17./18.7.2010).

The founder of the organization „Tiananmen Mothers“, Ding Zilin, has been hoping since many years that the Party will admit for the first time to having made mistakes in Tiananmen. She continues with her undaunted struggle, but is forced to accept that even her former neighbors and colleagues are increasingly avoiding her: „They cross the road when they see me“, says Ms. Ding (Bernhard Bartsch, Höllischer Frieden, Tagesspiegel 4.6.2009).

Behavior of this kind reflects a servile, subordinated consciousness of the kind described in the report on China opening its doors to churches (Tagesspiegel 24./25.4.2011) in which Birgit Wetzel records her observations of the seminar conductor, Father Daniel, at the National Seminar for Priests in Daxing: “Our challenge is to get the students interested. They have not learnt to think on their own but they can do it. They think about their friends, families, perhaps about business or games. But not about history, philosophy, literature and art.“ Reverend Daniel mentions the behavioral characteristics of his seminary student participants. They would spend the entire week together, in the classroom, in church, in the dining hall. Yet they did not trust each other. „Every person here is an island. There is a tendency for each one to isolate himself, to preserve his own space.“

„Unhappy though the Chinese at times are with their leadership“, writes Angela Köckritz, „there is no alternative institution to the party, which succeeds in holding the people together with the promise of growth and advancement“ ((Aus dem Rahmen, Die Zeit, 11. 8. 2011). As long as there are many among the Chinese who link up this promise with their own rise, servile subordinate consciousness will often be in evidence ((Thomas E. Schmidt, Der Stress der Mittelklasse, Die Zeit, 29.7.2010).

2.3.2.2 The Dominance of Rebelliousness

The example cited below is illustrative of rebellious subservient consciousness. When, following a visit to the „Art of the Enlightenment“ exhibition in Beijing, Chinese students held that Chinese enlightenment had been driven by the reformers of the Qing Dynasty, and that the economic and social system of China was quite different from that of the West (Angela Köckritz, Nachhilfe für Peking?, Die Zeit, 28.4.2011), their reaction appeared suggestive of a subservient consciousness. But a closer look reveals that this distanced view of the West also mirrors the aspect of rebellious subordinate consciousness.

An outstanding representative of such a consciousness is the literary historian Wang Hui. He does not deem the Enlightenment of the West to be a signpost in the evolution of Chinese thinking, but is convinced of a modern Chinese mode of thinking (Georg Blume‚ Mit Konfuzius in die Zukunft, Die Zeit, 10.1. 2009). As early as in 1997, Wang Hui published his pamphlet on the ideational constitution in present-day China and the question of modernity – a pamphlet that was directed against the liberal market approach of radical reformers in the Communist Party of China. Warning therein against the uncritical adoption of Western thinking, Wang Hui used the term „neo-Enlightenment“ to counter this policy approach. The starting point was the plan initiated by the radical reformers to privatize farmland and create large agricultural units. With one sweep, some 800 million farmers, now landless, were compelled to seek work as migrant labor in the industrial regions of China. The egalitarian land reform of 2002 brought down the number of migrant laborers to 600 million. Nonetheless, in the years that followed, 200 million of them were forced to migrate to the towns to escape the growing shortage of food in the countryside. „We have just about enough not to starve“, complained a farmer. Her son added, „We earn almost nothing from agriculture.“ (Harald Mass, Klassenkampf auf Chinesisch, Frankfurter Rundschau, 6.3.2004).

Wang supported the student revolt of 1987, was penalized by being banned to the countryside in 2007 and lost his job as editor of the socially critical journal Dushu. The repressive treatment meted out to dissidents is abhorrent to him; yet at the same time he opposes the human rights policy pursued by Europe and the US against China. Such a policy, Wang argues, is politically motivated and overlooks the overall improvement in the human rights situation in China over the last 30 years. It also smacks of superiority and a lack of information.

In his book „Xiandai Zhongguo sixiang de xingqi” (The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought), published in 2004, Wang attempts to infuse fresh life into Confucian philosophy and turn the spotlight on hitherto forgotten system critics and early democrats from past dynasties. China, feels Wang, is “far more diverse, flexible and multiculturally accommodating than has hitherto been revealed.” He resolutely opposes the uncritical reverence in the Western media for Lamaism, with its regressive character and feudal structures. It is not the return to religion but secularization which will bring progress to Tibet, Wang believes.

In her article “Sammeln was sonst untergeht” that appeared in the weekly “Die Zeit” on 22.9.2011, Angela Köckritz points to yet another example. In setting up a private history museum, the millionaire Fan Jianchuan indicates that he does not want to leave the Communist Party of China in sole charge of mapping China’s collective memory. For, whoever has wandered through the lower floors of the National Art Museum in Beijing and seen the numerous portraits of party leaders, the heroic scenes from the time when the Communist Party had seized power and the Cultural Revolution was unleashed under Mao, is witness to a telling example of the Party seizing possession of collective memory. Fan Jianchuan’s rebelliousness also extends to photos of the humiliated and the mocked – the ugly face of power – being displayed alongside the relics of the Cultural Revolution. Köckritz writes: “Often, Fan operates at the very limits of the permissible without any intention of crossing these limits. At times, however, he does cross them; in such an instance, a part of his museum is ‘harmonized’, in other words, “censured”.

Angela Köckritz cites yet another example of rebellious consciousness. Shortly after the collision of two high-speed trains in July 2011, the Chinese government issued the following instruction to journalists: “No journalist may give independent interviews. Do not write any reports on the development of high-speed trains. Do not analyze the reasons for the accident. Use the information provided by the authorities as standard information. Do not reflect or comment on the matter. Do not question or give further explanations or make associations!” (Angela Köckritz, Aus dem Rahmen, Die Zeit 11.8. 2011). Very few journalists heeded these instructions. Many newspapers left a blank space on one of the news pages. The Chinese business paper had the following printed beneath the gaping white space. “Lies make your nose grow long”. The Beijing news reported – in a seemingly innocuous manner – on a precious bowl that has broken into six pieces. Which was precisely the number of wagons that had derailed during the accident.

From the above examples we may conclude that China by no means enjoys an ideal relationship between superordinates and subordinates as Jin Canrong had postulated with his ”Harmonious China”. Rather, we should assume that the superordinate-subordinate relationship is not balanced and no longer entirely without implications.

2.4 The Imbalanced Superordinate-Subordinate Relationship

In an imbalanced superordinate-subordinate relationship, subordination does build up anger and resentment in the power-subject and arrogance in the power-holder. But the absence of an immanent questioning means that suppression only remains a potential threat as long as no external discursive formation that characterizes the relationship of subservience undermines the “positive differential character” of the formation or challenges it. If not, any attempt to represent subordination as being “unfair” and get this generally recognized would fizzle out if there were not at least a trace of discontentment in the one subordinated.

What are the characteristics that point to an imbalanced superordinate-subordinate relationship in China?

During the global financial crisis of 2008, which also seriously impacted the Chinese export industry along the East coast and left an estimated 20 million migrant laborers jobless, employees reacted to the non-payment of salaries with protests. Migrant laborers, taxi drivers, farmers, teachers and policemen drew attention to their precarious position in demonstrations. And indeed, the extent to which they were left unprotected was amply evident during the crisis. “We are not lacking in laws but in implementation”, said Han Dongfang from the labor law organization China Labour Bulletin in Hongkong. “Further, there are no trade unions or works councils that actually represent the workers’ interests. “In response to the protests of taxi drivers, a local party chairman promised to provide higher subsidies. A member of the politburo called upon local governments to “nip (social problems) in the bud” ((Bernhard Bartsch, Chinas Massen proben den Aufstand, Frankfurter Rundschau 6./. 12. 2008).

When some 3000 workers responded to the privatization of their factory by bringing production to a halt and the designated chief of plant operations announced the retrenchment of 30,000 workers which was to follow shortly thereafter, he was beaten to death by incensed workers (Bernhard Bartsch, Chinas neuer Klassenkampf, Frankfurter Rundschau, 26.7.2009). It was only after this incident, described as a “mob episode”, that the provincial government brought privatization to a halt. “The phase of rapid economic growth has passed. For the first time the government is faced with the loss of confidence of the masses”, warned the thought leader of the Communist Party of Beijing, Shang Dewen (Georg Blume/Angela Köckritz, Herr Lu, Herr Li und die Krise, Die Zeit, 5.2.2009). The crisis affected not only the migrant workers but the middle classes as well, who feared for their jobs, and the 1.5 million university graduates who had not succeeded in finding employment until then. For it must be pointed out that over the last 11 years, the wage share dropped from 53% to 39.7% – a development that necessarily had implications for the purchasing power of the masses (Karl Grobe, Wachsendes Klassenbewusstsein, Frankfurter Rundschau, 26.7.2010).

The central government invested 460 billion euros in an economic stimulus plan for infrastructure expansion, in which the focus lay on improving connections between the eastern provinces and the less developed central regions. These measures were closely linked to China’s long-term development plan

  • to reduce export dependency
  • further the industrialization of the central regions
  • increase domestic demand
  • produce more sophisticated products in the industries already in place in the coastal provinces and raise the wage level there (transition to high-wage production and the service industry; increase in the minimum wage)
  • halt the migration from the poor provinces to the rich and provide migrant workers jobs in their place of residence
  • increase subsidies for agriculture and raise farmer incomes in order to boost demand in the rural areas
  • reverse the negative environmental balance (16 of the 20 states with the highest levels of air pollution are in China).

The aim of this development plan is to turn China into an internally structured area of circulation in which the individual regions are productively linked, unnecessary transportation avoided and large-scale migrations rendered superfluous.

The reform of the state-run health insurance led to a rise in consumption. Exorbitant hospital costs for operations sent even extended families into financial difficulties. A mere 18% of the Chinese population was covered by health insurance in 2009, with private health cover being too expensive for the majority (Peter A. Fischer, Mehr Staatsgeld für Krankenhäuser sollen Chinesen entlasten, Frankfurter Rundschau, 10./11. 1. 2009). “Only a stable social security system can gradually leave the people feeling secure enough not to feel the need to build up large savings. That is the best way to step up consumption“ , argues the academic Bi (.“(Frank Sieren, Was Herr Bi fordert, Die Zeit, 5.3.2009). Bi further calls for the patchwork of non-transferable urban, local and regional insurances to be replaced by a single national network.

The action plan for the better protection of the rights of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution, promulgated on 13.4.2009 by the central government, was one of the measures conceived to address rising public anger. “The two-year plan”, wrote Keith Bradsher in the Global Edition of the New York Times of 14.4.2009, “promises the right to a fair trial, the right to participate in government decisions and the right to learn about and question government policies. It calls for measures to discourage torture, such as requiring interrogation rooms to be designed to physically separate interrogations from the accused, and for measures to protect detainees from other abuse, from inadequate sanitation to the denial of medical care.” The high rate of inflation – 6.4% in July 2011 as against July 2010 – has proved to be the cause for growing discontentment among the Chinese, especially since the price of foodstuffs rose by 14.4% over the same period (Peer Junker, Chinas Führung bekommt die Inflation nicht in den Griff. Provinzen und Kommunen sind verschuldet, Tagesspiegel, 12. 7. 2011). The consumer feels the pinch of the price rise directly, and when it exceeds the increase in family income, the situation sparks off public anger. That this is a reality is reflected by the fact that the Chinese government declared the fight against inflation to be its topmost priority (Reuters, cited in the Frankfurter Rundschau, 13.9.2011).

Additional jobs in the growth-oriented industries only make those employed there happy. However, the greater the increase in productivity per worker deployed, the greater the number of workers retrenched. Further, if there is a slowdown in the global economy and a fall in demand for Chinese exports, there will be growing anger among the retrenched workers. Once back in their rural homes, they will have to face continuing scarcity in food supply, which does not even meet the requirements of the rural population. Employing surplus labor in the already overstaffed services sector would mean lowering the – as it is – low labor productivity, which could result in lower wages. Up to now, surplus labor had been absorbed on a massive scale through infrastructure expansion (roads, highways, railways, energy production, power lines, expansion of the drinking water supply network, wastewater disposal etc. This however had the negative effect of trapping the local and regional governments in a state of severe indebtedness, forcing them to curtail expenditure elsewhere and resulting in a drastic rise in the rate of inflation.

The prevalence of subordinate relations in a society cannot be equated with the presence of structural force. If, however, subservient relationships are transformed into pools of antagonism, then the subordinating side either has the option of responding with an argument that justifies the existing condition of subordination (in the process mitigating or altogether eliminating the cause of discontentment among the subordinates) or it can permit structural force. The latter characterizes power-control relations.

3. Structural Force as the Characteristic of Power-Control Relations

3.1 Definitions and Forms of Structural Force

Where subordinates are treated as adversaries, that is, where

  • expressions of their discontentment are only met with arguments that keep subordination intact
  • the democratic discourse is permanently disrupted
  • power is institutionally protected

then what was until then an imbalanced relationship between superordinates and subordinates gets transformed into relations of power and control characterized by the use of structural force against the dominated.

We may speak of structural force „when social orders are organized in such a way that social injustice, unequal life opportunities and glaring discrepancies in power positions and the avenues of influence linked thereto become the social principle of order and existence“ (D. Senghaas, Gewalt-Konflikt-Frieden, Hamburg 1974, p.117).

3.2 Structural Force as the Outcome of the Capitalist Economic and Social Structure

The economic process of transformation ushered in after the Cultural Revolution (1976), whereby the state-socialist social order was transformed into a capitalist economy under the control of a state party, led to growing disparities in income distribution and to social destabilization. Today, price formation almost always takes place in the market. This has resulted in forms of structural force typical of a capitalist economic and social system.

  • Corporate managements, heads of associations and cadres of mass organizations assume that workers in factories, representatives in associations and members of mass organizations shall be subjected to firm, immutable subordination
  • They take over the interpretation of the subordinates’ interests and filter their demands through the prism of their own interests, with the result that the subordinates are underrepresented in society as a whole
  • For the benefit of the subordinates, they sanctify the arrangements they select with the aura of the universally valid.

Another form of structural force results from the mutual confrontations of rival power formations. If power formations wear each other down because they are active in areas that overlap both in their subject matter and existing arrangement, then they are prone to make the full-fledged formation of a suitable system of relatively stable social forms difficult for their rivals. The power potential available decides which of the two sides prevails in a specific case. Each side experiences the outcome of the power struggle in an entirely different way: the one side as a reaffirmation of its position of power through successful competition, and the other as structural force directed against it, or as a painful lowering of its status in the framework of differences and distances between the competing power formations, combined with lower profit expectations. Yet both play a role in the emergence of structural force.

Examples for both forms of structural force have already been provided in Chapter 2.4: non-payment of wages and retrenchment of 20 million migrant workers during the global financial crisis of 2008; lack of representation of trade union interests; overly long working hours with hardly any occupational safety measures in place; a drastic reduction in labor income share; insufficient insurance cover for work incapacity due to sickness; inadequate old age benefits and environmental pollution.

When power-holders resort to suppression, thereby provoking an incalculable measure of resistance in the suppressed, the point will be reached earlier or later at which the formless counterbalance snaps and can no longer be restored – this counterbalance having been created by the power formations among themselves on the basis of their varying periods of rise and fall, and their varying life expectancies. Such a development is not inconceivable for China either.

The assemblage of power formations active in different fields are by themselves not in a position to avoid such a development or divert it to other channels. Consequently, the state must intervene to preserve the formless counterbalance. Here the idea of justice on which the state proceeds in its intervention is but of secondary importance. Rather, it is the preservation of the formless counterbalance that is crucial to its intervention. The question as to whether the state can or should create justice is a matter to be discussed separately and has no causative linkage with the preservation of the formless counterbalance.

3.3 The Combating of Structural Force and the Preservation of Formless Counterbalance by the State

The vast range of state interventions for preserving the formless counterbalance include:

  • keeping the realm of endless discursivity open for activating and reactivating fluctuating elements and new discursive formations
  • support for emerging power formations and their practices as against already established ones, in cases where the latter do not tolerate any rivalry
  • constantly exploring the scope and limits of flexibility of power formations, and the review and examination of their practices on destructive developments
  • the observation and adjustment of relations between power-holders and power-subjects in relationships among power formations to avoid suppression that may foment unrest.

What is of crucial importance and needs to be positively underlined is that indispensable corrective effects for complex societies emanate from the prevalence of a level of discursivity, which though basically separate from the social ensemble of relatively stable social forms, is at the same time linked with it in numerous ways. This level serves as a basis not only for the development, inquiry and rejection of new theories but also for promises and prognoses to be made for the future, which render possible theory-driven praxis, their re-linkage with theoretical reflection and the acceptance of unavoidable mistakes.

In their endeavor to expand and stabilize the ground that gave them the opportunity to develop and to ward off corrective intervention on the part of the state, power formations are perpetually tempted to join forces with others in the so-called chains of equivalence. In their public relations work, for lack of better information, these power formations create the impression that formless counterbalance does not rest on their time-staggered finite structures. Rather, they contend that a self-regulating infinite structure (market) is characteristic of this formless counterbalance and does not require corrective state intervention for maintaining public welfare. Victim to their own propaganda, these power formations are not aware of the growing fragility of formless counterbalance; for, the more successful they are in isolating themselves from newly created, emerging power formations, the fewer among them actually produce formless counterbalance. Oligopolistic and monopolistic formations can only delay the process of disintegration. In denying the state the support of still nascent emerging formations, they create increasing fragility in the formless counterbalance thanks to their strategy of isolation, thereby even accelerating the process of disintegration against their own professed intention.

Further, it is not predominantly from the concept of public welfare that aims at society as a whole that power formations derive the benchmark for exploring their leeway to suppress subordinates, but primarily from the analysis of a comparison between their situation and that of rival hegemonial formations. However, this mutual observation and adjustment of the situation of rival formations has consequences for shaping the public good. If, for instance, subordinates no longer consider the subordination they are subjected to as necessary but as an unjustified imposition and rebel against it, this could result in migration, unrest, strikes and rebellions, affecting not only the internal equations of the formation concerned but also those of the others.

This impairment of the public good is the reason why the state feels obliged to intervene in order to subject internal conditions to an analysis and, if need be, intervene in giving them final shape. The range and scope of state action is wide, extending from theory-based recommendations, which are non-binding in nature, to far-reaching legal measures such as provisions for occupational safety and the maintenance of conditions conducive to health, as well as directives for the introduction of the minimum wage.

Mediation by the state extends to all areas of social coexistence and banks on the rival parties voluntarily accepting the outcome of mediation. If the state is ousted by power formations from its extensive role as arbiter in social conflicts and is not considered trustworthy, brute force often takes the place of mediation.

Yet another indispensable task that falls to the state is the creation of public space in the social ensemble of relatively stable social forms, and the protection of this public space – a realm of activity into which it should incidentally also incorporate its own public relations work. A precondition for this is the protection of the private sphere. The public and private spheres are contingent on each other. The individual lives in both spheres and needs both to develop. If the private sphere is constantly intruded into, and if the public sphere extends up to the very boundaries of the private, the individual feels violated in his protective realm and involuntarily reaches out for strategies with which he tries to fend off the oppressive intrusion of the public sphere. The variously structured public sphere, which emerges through the self-representation of individuals, needs to be protected by the state to save it from the threat of destruction posed by the practices of power formations.

3.4 The Obstruction of the State Preservation of Formless Counterbalance

If in their misapprehension of the special relationship of the state with the formless counterbalance, highly placed power formations enter into a close alliance with the state, then either the state becomes their appendage, first and foremost furthering their practices, or a powerful state makes use of the preparatory and collaborative work of these power formations to further its own goals and activities. In the first case, the state loses its ability to intervene to preserve the formless counterbalance, and in the second, it believes it has an extensive steering capacity which it actually does not, due to the information it lacks on future requirements. Cadre-based parties with their rigid hierarchical structures provide the worst possible precondition for the development of a culture of errors, which is becoming increasingly important in complex societies (Wolf Singer). The centralization of decision-making powers typical of cadre-based parties not only encumbers the flow of information from the bottom to the top, but the complexity of the problems to be addressed prove well beyond the capacity of the few decision-makers at the top, leading to increasingly poor results. In the reality of China’s constitution, the hierarchically structured Communist Party of China is placed above the constitution and the people. Its position of power and its claim to supremacy in the state no doubt assure the Party its extensive rights of intervention, but whether it goes beyond preserving its own power to promote the development of the present social structure with its decisions, is a matter of doubt.

3.4.1 The Constant Disruption of the Democratic Discourse by the State

The use of force by the state results from Article 35 of China’s constitution (the right to freedom of opinion) being circumscribed by Article 51. This Article states that the right of the individual to freedom of expression may not harm the interests of the state, society, community, or the rights and liberties of his fellow-citizens granted by the law (Wu Hongbo, China’s Ambassador to Germany in an interview with Arno Widmann, Frankfurter Rundschau, 13.10.2009). The social and state structure that prevails in China assigns to the leadership cadres of the Communist Party the power to define the interests of the state. It lays down the extent to which freedom of expression shall be permitted. Thus, in individual cases, Chinese authorities have no qualms about making it clear to Chinese travelling abroad what they may say there and what not. As China’s Ambassador underlines: The Constitution has to be abided by one and all, and everyone is equal before the law, but as far as the power of definition goes, the Party is above the law. Han Dongfang, the founder of the first independent trade union, who was arrested without trial and later expelled from the country, observes: “Violence in China has ultimately always been the law.” (Bernhard Bartsch, Höllischer Frieden, Tagesspiegel, 4.6.2009).2

An extreme feature of state violence sanctioned by law is the death penalty still prevalent in China. Presently, five countries account for more than 90% of the death sentences pronounced worldwide, these being: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA and Pakistan (Pierre Simonitsch, Die Oppositions-Killer, Frankfurter Rundschau, 27./28.2.2010). Human dignity is rooted in the right to life; the death penalty violates this dignity. Moreover, wrong judgments cannot be completely ruled out. The death penalty deprives the murderer of every opportunity to make up for the crime committed by him.3 Also falling within the realm of the law are the following forms of state violence in China:

  • house arrest for civil rights activists alongside intimidation, kidnapping
  • imprisonment of individuals without judicial sanction beyond a limited period of time, with their place of imprisonment kept undisclosed. A bill that would empower the police to actually detain suspects for six months in an undisclosed place is due for debate in the People’s Congress of China (Frankfurter Rundschau, 29.9.2011).
  • conviction for „fomenting public unrest“ – In the case of Zhao Lianhais, his attempt to help victims of the milk scandal get due compensation earned him a two and a half year prison term (Bernhard Bartsch, Peking bestraft besorgten Vater, Frankfurter Rundschau, 11.11.2010).
  • the government’s written instructions to publishers not to print a single line from a dissident (Bernhard Bartsch, Die subversive Freude am Zuhören, Frankfurter Rundschau, 4.3.2010).

3.4.2 Ways and Means of Preserving Subordination

The visitor to Beijing and other Chinese metropolitan cities is surprised to see how clean the roads and squares are. Bulldozers sweep up the garbage from the roads; battalions of cleaners are constantly clearing the pavements of articles thrown around carelessly. At night, the road dividers, painted white to guide the traffic, are given a fresh coat of paint by whole groups of painters.

But the sticky air of the urban canyon makes it difficult for the visitor to breathe, and the veil of smog screening the sun is an indicator of how heavily polluted the environment must be. After a downpour, a stream of dirty brown water flows into the sewers and, often enough, from there into the rivers and lakes which are drained dry by irrigation systems. The visitor heeds the advisory to boil tap water before drinking without fail, and he washes the fruits and vegetables he buys in the market before consuming them. But for the most part, he never learns what the toxic content of the foodstuffs is, which have been raised with high doses of artificial manure. The growing measure of environmental destruction affects the Chinese even more than it does the visitor. More than 10 million people put in complaints every year.4

China has traditionally enjoyed the right of petition, which on the one hand „is to provide the citizens with an opportunity to turn directly to the central government with their concerns, while at the same time offering the government insights which the local bureaucratic apparatus only seldom allows to be carried all the way up to Beijing“(Bernhard Bartsch, Wen hört Untertanen zu, Frankfurter Rundschau, 27.1.2011). „Frequent reasons for complaint are corruption, land expropriation and non-payment of wages. Handling these complaints is, however, a rather delicate business for the central government, for every intervention on behalf of the citizens means a confrontation with the local authorities and power networks. Moreover, the petitioners do not for the most part have the requisite funds and knowledge at their disposal to put forth their complaints in a legally correct form. Consequently, their prospects of success are slim. In an investigation conducted in 2006, the Supreme Court reached the conclusion that although 80% of the petitions are justified, only 2% of them actually get justice. But even in these cases, the judicial authorities of Beijing do not undertake investigations themselves but merely issue a form to the petitioner that demands a re-handling of the case by the local authorities. Which means that the petitioner invariably goes back to the very officials against whom he had lodged a complaint: those who were the source of the grievance were now supposed to redress it.“ (ibid.) Such a system of handling complaints perfectly serves the aim of the central government to gain an insight into social reality, although it does not permit free discourse and, consequently, is perpetually faced with the problem of obtaining sufficiently reliable, wide-ranging information on the concerned subjects. Such a government cannot endorse the idea of provincial governments sending policemen to Beijing to intercept petitioners in front of the complaints offices, to then lock them up in so-called „black prisons“. If China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao listened to the people’s grievances to then promise – „we must utilize the power in our hands to serve the interests of the people and help the citizens overcome difficulties in a responsible manner“ (ibid.), then his visit to a grievance centre cannot be interpreted as particular concern for the people but as a sheer necessity for the central government to directly obtain evidence of the realities of the country, without having to turn to local or regional state organs.

The urgency of widening the information base is amply reflected in the answer provided by Prof. Shi Yinhong, head of the premier Chinese training academies for government civil servants, to the question as to what China’s present-day needs were: „Until now, our greatest challenges are clearly within the country: we have massive social tensions, huge environmental problems and an extremely skewed development. Only when we can resolve these, will we become the country that is really attractive to the rest of the world.“ (Interview: Bernhard Bartsch, Frankfurter Rundschau, 5.3.2010).

The more powerful economic entities grow, the more conspicuous their vested interests, which they project to the small circle of leading cadres in the Communist Party of China as issues relating to public welfare that definitely need to be addressed. In the absence of a firm capacity for prognosis within the party, the leading cadres are inclined to turn the public welfare concerns brought before them into legally enforceable welfare measures for society as a whole.

4. Concluding Remarks

The Chinese philosopher Zhouyi recommended that every man bring his personal „dao“ in harmony with that guiding Nature: „Ideally, a person’s words and actions are harmonious with the running rhythm of the world… ‚Great people (Daren)’ are those whose actions catch the rhythms of the nature, those who understand the great dao of the cosmos, and those who enhance themselves with cosmological sensibility.”(ibid. p.16/17).This advice from the philosopher Zhouyi may have been useful to agrarian societies of previous centuries, which were still readily comprehensible in their structures. Present-day societies, on the other hand, are characterized by such a high degree of complexity that the country’s leadership cannot claim that the course it has adopted is in harmony with the rhythm that prevails in the universe. Attempts and mistakes accompany the chosen way (dao), and the sheer preservation of power on the part of the ruling party does not serve as a good guide for determining the way.

Is the way that has been embarked upon really the right one, asks Angela Köckritz in her article „War’s das, China?“ (Die Zeit, 6.10.2011). „For 30 years, China followed a path that promised great success: It relied on exports and a trade surplus to invest the capital earned within the country. That worked extremely well, for China was a poor country which needed roads, airports, hospitals.“ (ibid.) But, continues Köckritz, once China ceased to be a poor country, the question as to which investments are actually expedient to address the challenges of the future grow increasingly important. Köckritz further argues that only if domestic demand can be significantly increased can the Chinese economy grow further. But this would require a drastic redistribution of wealth from those who have grown wealthy to the mass of China’s population which has remained poor. Whilst only 30% of the Chinese who have come to acquire high purchasing power can afford to buy a flat, those who are truly affluent increasingly invest in real estate. They speculate that there will be a sufficient number of people looking for accommodation in future, to whom they could sell or rent out their flats, some of which have even been lying vacant for a long time.

However, several experts have prophesied that an insufficient rise in domestic demand could result in the real estate bubble bursting and a downturn setting in the economy. If, in addition to this, there should be a slowdown in exports due to Chinese goods encountering lower purchasing power in the countries they had hitherto been exported to, then a situation would arise where workers would have to be laid off in such large numbers that many of them would neither find an adequate income in the emergent industries of the Central Provinces nor in the agricultural sector. Even now, there is a steady decrease in agrarian land, the silting up of broad expanses of land has not been brought to a permanent halt, while the urban sprawl around the large cities is on the rise. By buying up increasing amounts of land in South America as a substitute for its declining agricultural production, China has not made itself exactly endearing.

Scenarios of this kind cannot really be dismissed outright. The Chinese leadership’s urgent appeal to the Europeans and Americans to get their difficult financial situation once and for all under control so that their markets are not permanently shut to Chinese exports is an indication of China’s growing concern. For, in the foreseeable future, China will continue to remain dependent on exports. The long-term development plan pursued by the Chinese leadership for China requires a considerable amount of time to be successfully implemented, and whether domestic demand would one day make export dependency completely redundant, is still very uncertain.

Until now, many Chinese linked up their personal advancement to that of the entire country. If China were to continue to advance on the growth path, but if an ever-increasing number of individuals were to be left behind with their hopes for the future remaining unfulfilled, even the biggest promises of harmony will not suffice to appease growing discontentment. If there are no political forums in which the Chinese could debate the best way forward in such difficult times, the call for the suppression of the discontented and the deployment of greater structural force against them would resound, making the risk of a downfall more likely.

„The culture of opposition needs time to evolve. And time, as one well knows, is scarce“, writes Jochen Hörisch in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 10.10.2011. „Generally, oppositions strengthen the system in which they operate, even if they are opposed to the form and manifestation of the system… Opposition renders systems more complex, and imparts to them the ability to learn; criticism almost automatically strengthens the one who is criticized. This motif stands the test, even when reversed. Militant, unconditional support is the worst that can happen to institutions, systems and persons.“ (ibid.)

A word about foreign journalists who, without opting to, become an outlet for oppositions’ opinions, which do not find any takers in the Chinese publishing world. To accuse them of failing to condemn – in a passage added on to every critical article on China – the double standards of European and American journals in their perspective on Saudi Arabia, for instance, would be hackneyed as long as these journalists do not commend China’s positive sides and resist instructions from their editors-in-chief back home to only report critically on China.

Notes and References

1. To this extent there is no difference between the self-projection of state power in China and the self-projection of the state in parliamentary democracy. If one were to understand the real public only as a „political idea of unity“ or as a concrete intellectual whole“ – as is the case with the interpretation of Article 20 Para 2 Sentence 1 of the Basic Law – this real public would be reduced to just the chimera of a concept. In referring to this abstract entity called „people“ and declaring this effete „holder of power“ to be its object of reference, the state reveals that it is turned unto itself and is only answerable to itself. Representing itself as its sole point of reference, the state is free to voluntarily curtail its all-encompassing powers to self-commitment, which is what actually occurs in the remaining articles of the Basic Law.

A member of the French Parliament once described the relationship between the French people and the state in drastic terms. Drawing upon Thomas Hobbes’ state contract theory, he argued that since the people had ceded all power to the state, they should not complain if they are now controlled by the same state. The state, he continued, was now only answerable to itself.

2. The restriction of freedom of opinion in China cannot be justified by referring to the restriction of freedom of opinion in the USA. The example, cited by the Ambassador, of the Director and other concerned persons in Voice of America being dismissed, merely points to restrictions on freedom of opinion in the USA. Shortly after 9/11, Voice of America had broadcast an interview with El-Qaida representatives. This example demonstrates the double standards often encountered in the Western media: severe in finding fault with others and lax while judging its own limitations.

3. The difference between the USA and China lies in the existence of a human rights commission in the USA, which ventures to pass judgment over other countries while accepting the death penalty existing in the USA.

4. The destruction of the environment represents a particularly insidious form of violence. In an article on “China’s Sun King” Huang Ming, Peer Junker relates how the fate of his daughter led Huang Ming to withdraw from the oil business, set up his own company and supply China with “solar water heaters” (Tagesspiegel 30.9.2011).

Translated by Madhulika Reddy, Bangalore (India)

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