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Liu Xiaobo Reform in China: The Role of Civil Society THE MATERIAL LIFE OF THE VAST M AJORITY OF C H IN ESE PEASANTS IS at a much higher level than during the totalitarian period of Mao’s rule. Moreover, even though the present period is characterized both by corruption and social polarization, there is no chance that a largescale famine will take place. Therefore, why is it that during the Maoist period, when tens of millions of peasants starved to death, we did not see any large-scale resistance movements, whereas today, during this relatively prosperous time, when no peasants starve to death, largescale spontaneous resistance movements rise nearly ceaselessly? Some observers point out that under Mao, although people were poor, the distribution of riches was even, whereas since Mao, China has reached a degree of relative prosperity but now experiences a major difference between rich and the poor. However, the inequalities created by class and status discrimination under Mao’s totalitarian rule were much more barbaric than the current social polarization. Besides, polarization in today’s China is not so much a result of economic factors as it is the result of the political inequality between the rights of the people and the rights of the officials. Therefore, the main factor behind the emergence of resistance from the grassroots does not lie in the unequal distribution of material wealth but in the people’s growing awareness of their rights and economic interests, and in the diversifica­ tion of ideas and values. Behind the economic interests lies the people’s hunger for rights. social research Vol 73 : No 1 : Spring 2006 121 In other words, the reason despotic systems are able to enforce stability—besides the recourse to violent repression and lies by the government—stems from the fact that the people are not yet politi­ cally conscious; they are still ignorant. And it is precisely this ignorance that grants legitimacy to despotism. In today’s China, where the people are more and more aware of their rights, a political regime that has not been chosen by the people is increasingly losing its legitimacy. The monolithic society placed under the officials’ thumb in Mao’s times is increasingly being destroyed; the continuing separation of the unoffi­ cial from the official drives the process of society’s diversification and the conscious unofficial forces are increasingly difficult to ignore. The regime is losing the initiative in the face of the increasingly conscious unofficial forces, and is becoming more and more opportunistic. Utilitarian tactics and flexibility in response to domestic and inter­ national pressures have already become a classic feature of post-Mao China. THE TWO LOGICS OF CHINA’S REFORM When they analyze the motivations that preside over China’s reform, Chinese elites as well as foreign public opinion assert that the Chinese Communist regime is the leading force, so they concentrate their anal­ yses on the trends in Zhongnanhai. I think this point ofview is far from reflecting China’s reality and is unfair. From the beginning, Chinese reform has developed along two mutually reinforcing logics: one is the manifest logic of the ruling party that, in order to keep its political power and to defend the vested interests of the powerful, has launched a partial reform that is aimed at “making the cake bigger” and has used the satisfaction of the basic needs ofthe people to ensure their support. However, the logic of this official reform comprises internal contradic­ tions that are difficult to overcome. These include: ► The contradiction between a market economy and the system of official monopoly. The implementation of an economic reform whose goal is to ensure rapid growth has made marketization and 122 social research privatization the objectives that the people spontaneously pursue. These objectives naturally contradict the government system of official monopoly. The call for a market economy and fair competi­ tion requires the retreat of administrative power from the market. ► The contradiction between privatization and the pursuit of effi­ ciency and social justice. In a situation in which the distribution of power between officials and the people is extremely unequal, the policy that consists in making the cake bigger and letting some people...


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