IP and Law

Why we aren't building a "harmonious Danwei"

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Constructing a Harmonious Society

It's hard to escape the "harmonious society" these days. President Hu Jintao's vision of China's Peaceable Kingdom, in which prosperity reigns hand in hand with the rule of law, has been plastered on banners, ads, and newspaper headlines across the country. Sure, it's nice to have a change after years of "The Three Represents," but at least Jiang Zemin's great thought was confined to domestic affairs. Search through the archives of China Daily, though, and you'll find things like Hu speaking to the UN about the "harmony of international society" or a law summit signing a document on "multiculturalism and a harmonious world."

But even with the constant encouragement to "construct a harmonious society," you may be left wondering how exactly to go about doing so. Like other big campaigns, the central government leaves the actual implementation up to local governments.

This may not be appropriate, however, for things like "rule of law" or "harmonious society," writes Liu Hongbo, a columnist for Oriental Outlook magazine. He sees the hierarchical approach to these issues as at the very least ineffective, and quite possibly even harmful to social progress.

Thinking Back to the Feuds I Saw in My Youth

by Liu Hongbo / OO

Ever since the idea of "a country ruled by law" was proposed, we began seeing "a province ruled by law," "a city ruled by law," "a county ruled by law," and even "a village ruled by law." Truth be told, throwing around these nice slogans doesn't really have much to do with putting the rule of law into practice. When the Administrative Licensing Law was enacted last year, many local governments cleaned out their illegal documents. Go online and search for "illegal documents" and you'll find the glorious results of this battle.

Naturally, the use of slogans is unavoidable during the construction of a harmonious society. The city where I live is building a "harmonious Wuhan," and the province in which I live is constructing a "harmonious Hubei." Again, you can find pages of results online by tacking on the name of a province, city, or county after "harmonious," and performing a search.

But I feel that using the phrase "a city ruled by law" is a bit excessive — we already have "a country ruled by law," so where would you go in China to find a place not ruled by law? The problem is that when the "ruled by law" formula makes its way down to the village level, it does not lessen the problem of "unlawful rule." Apart from manufacturing the image of "rule of law," echoing slogans has no practical use.

As for the "harmonious society" formula, it seems that every last place has come up with a "harmonious _____" slogan so society can harmonize together. Harmonious society is a holistic concept; is it possible to assemble it from a "harmonization" of separate parts? Some people say that when each individual place is harmonized, then the country will be in harmony. But I think that as an example of something that seems right on the surface but is in fact horribly mistaken, there is nothing more representative than this.

In my youth [Liu was born in 1966] I witnessed village feuds. Hejia Village neighbored Liujia Bay, and for a long while they quarreled over the ownership of a riverbank. At times there were isolated conflicts, and at other times there were big battles. On the days of the big battles, the young men in each town would get together and "unite in their hatred of the enemy." Many would be injured and deaths were not out of the question. Everyone said that the people in Hejia Village and Liujia Bay were "of one mind," but there was no harmony between "harmonious Hejia" and "harmonious Liujia." On the contrary, the harmony in each village was the foundation of the feud. Of course, if they were to construct a "harmonious rural district" then the most of the problems between Hejia Village and Liujia Bay could be solved, but problems could always arise between this "harmonious rural district" and that "harmonious rural district."

It is very easy for an administrative idea to take a social concept and divide it into local tasks. Using the model of "Guard the land from the enemy" and "Benefit a region", things have been divided by administrative district, as in "county ruled by law" or the construction of a "harmonious Huchang." Anything above the county level or outside of Huchang is not the concern of the county officials or the Huchang officials. In this way, the national "harmonious society" campaign is no longer something any single place can control; it has become an assessment target of the State Council.

This self-restricted, minding one's own business kind of thinking, and the fragmentation of the originally-holistic concepts and value ideals of "harmony" and "rule of law" into sections congruent with administrative districts, has the possibility to degenerate into a case of "Hejia Village" and "Liujia Bay," if it doesn't merely become an empty slogan. And even if "Hejia Village" or "Liujia Bay" manages to complete its assessment goals, the harmonization of society may still remain elusive, in the same way that an "everyone takes care of his own"-type policy creates havoc and gives fertile soil for criminals to flourish.

Not to mention the so-called "goal assessment" itself — it can turn a pool of fetid water into an object of contention. Using incomplete disclosure of assessment data by the social supervisors as a magic weapon for determining success places any decent administrative objective between idealism and simply going through the motions, and in the end, the perfunctory solution wins out. Like the joke where a man gets hit by an arrow and goes to the doctor, who snaps off the shaft without extracting the arrowhead; or like manufacturers of tofu-dregs who entice passers-by to try it out by using pretty colors — under pressure from "assessment," the "harmonious _____" can easily change into inharmonious quick-fix solutions. Massive catastrophes can be completely erased from the record, and if the record passes through the hands of the editors of the blueprint for harmony, then the elimination of "bad news" practically becomes a necessity. Cover-ups, pretense, withholding information, deception, and false reports are enough to allow any blueprint to be proclaimed "already put into practice," making the "harmonious vision" nothing more than a reflection by drunken planners of the bleakness of society's lower levels.

I have seen and continue to see how the spirit of "rule of law" has been sucked out of slogans like "a city ruled by law" and "a county ruled by law," making them "rules made for bureaucracy" targeted at the people. When the "harmonious _____" banners are hung in one place after another, I worry about a situation like that between "harmonious Hejia" and "harmonious Liujia." I worry that "harmonious _____" will become a monster existing between an ideal blueprint and a perfunctory execution. And I worry that it will become window-dressing like other slogans.

If in the name of "harmonious _____" the social order no longer comes from the people's natural internal harmony, but rather is effected by force; if it is used as an excuse to cover up conflict, becoming a command that prevents people from exercising their rights; if it becomes an excuse to suppress "bad news," satisfying the externals of harmony without regard for fundamental conditions; if it provokes people to bury all sorts of problems like a cat covers over its droppings, then this practice, in which it appears that each locality is "taking care of its own responsibilities," is in fact touching off the long fuse to a powder keg.

In my view, dividing things according to administrative districts or along industry lines to address matters of this sort is merely an issue of language. With the existence of "a country ruled by law," "harmonious society," and "peaceful China," then for "a village ruled by law," "harmonious bank," or "peaceful city," I can't see any need whatsoever.

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