China’s Rigid Stability – Yu Jianrong 于建嵘 analyses a predicament

In November 2012, Foreign Policy named Yu Jianrong 于建嵘 one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers and described the famous scholar who works in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing as a ‘rare Chinese academic who has taken up the challenge of defining how exactly China could change course’. In his recent writings, Yu reflects both upon social stability 社会稳定 and reform – two equally beloved concepts of the Chinese party-state.

Professor Yu Jianrong.

‘Social stability’ is the most pressing socio-political issue driving the governance agenda in China today. It is generally understood to refer to the political and social security that accompanies orderly and stable social relations within communities and between individuals and the state at large. The imperative of stability maintenance stems from the anxieties and uncertainties of the party-state, which fears that destabilizing social activities may threaten not only the success of China’s economic agenda but also, more crucially, political stability and, ultimately, the very survival of the Party and the People’s Republic China as it is presently constituted. Growing social dissent has seriously called into question the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to manage China’s society efficiently and effectively, while, at the same time, preserving control over it in a legitimate fashion.

In the last twenty years, collective resistance to the powers-that-be has been growing rapidly both in scale and intensity. It is estimated that in just fifteen years the number of mass incidents has increased ten times – from 8,700 in 1993 to 180,000 in 2011. People take to the streets to complain against forceful land grabs, house demolitions and environmental pollution. Increasingly aware of their rights, citizens demand fair wages and vocally fight against rampant corruption, abuses of power, poor governance and violations of individual rights.

Since the late 1990s, the Chinese party-state has responded to what it perceives as destabilising or potentially destabilising social action – discord, deviance and criminal behavior – by setting political agendas focused on stability maintenance or preservation, weiwen 维稳 (a contraction of 护社会定). (For more on this subject, see Susan Trevaskes, ‘The Ideology of Law and Order‘, Chapter 3 in China Story Yearbook 2012: Red Rising, Red Eclipse, available on this site.—Ed.)

Chinese police training.

Overall, weiwen gives expression to a range of policing methods aimed at preventing, controlling or punishing social dissent and social disorder, particularly petitioning (信访or 上访) and ‘mass incidents’ 群体性事件. In fact, the CCP appears today more worried about expressions of collective discontent than about conventional crime, in particular many argue because social protests produce intense political pressure that bears most heavily on its legitimacy.

According to the CCP’s rhetoric, society should be protected from the effects of instability allegedly created by collective protests and individual petitioning. This defensive action involves a two-pronged approach featuring some of the characteristics of classic Maoist political ideology. First, it entails strong-arm coercive tactics aimed at the minority who are protest ringleaders and, secondly, it emphasises ‘persuasion and education’ for the vast majority of citizens. ‘Coercion, persuasion and education’ is strongly reminiscent of Mao’s theory of contradictions 矛盾理论, which distinguishes antagonistic contradictions between the people and their enemies – to be handled through ‘dictatorship’ (i.e., punishment) – and non-antagonistic contradictions among the people – to be handled through democratic means (persuasion and education). In this context, the law is still used to coerce those who the Party-state considers its enemies. Although mass incidents are officially regarded as non-antagonistic in nature, those who organise protests or defend the organizers can be treated coercively through legal punishment since their relationship with the Party-state may be considered ‘antagonistic’.

Protesters take to the streets.

The following essay by Yu Jianrong, translated by Jason Todd, originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Exploration and Free Views 探索与争鸣 published by the Shanghai Federation of Social Sciences 上海社会科学界联合会. In it the author deftly describes the politically risky approach of pursuing what he calls ‘rigid stability’ 刚性稳定. Ultimately, the stability obsession developed by the Party-state in recent years has served to increase social anomie and contributed to the development of profound social contradictions. Some argue that these very methods at self-preservation are generating the ultimate existential threat to the Party. China’s political fixation with ‘stability at all costs’, Yu argues, breeds rigidity, discourages flexibility and innovation in responding to emerging social problems and, most importantly, hampers the development of more appropriate institutional responses to social conflict.

While the rhetoric of the Party-state emphasizes the promotion of the rule of law and human rights, in practice it still relies on tactics that very often lie outside the limit of legality. Laws applied consistently and correctly, according to clear and precise substantive and procedural rules, would promote public confidence in the government and its judicial organs. According to Yu Jianrong, safeguarding citizen’s rights by reinforcing the authority of legal institutions is the only way forward. By overcoming the obsolete system of ‘rigid stability’ and developing forms of ‘resilient’ and ‘dynamic stability’, the rights of Chinese citizens can be duly protected, social conflicts more effectively resolved and the goals of stability better achieved. Importantly, this implies that stability should not be ‘preserved’ but dynamically ‘created’ according to changing social needs and circumstances.—Susan Trevaskes and Elisa Nesossi

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于建嵘:当前压力维稳的困境与出路——再论中国社会的刚性稳定

Reassessing Chinese Society’s ‘Rigid Stability’

Stability Preservation Through Pressure,

Its Predicament and the Way Out

Yu Jianrong is the Director of the Social Issues Research Center at the CASS Rural Development Institute

内容摘要:中国的社会稳定是与威权体制密切相联的‘刚性稳定’,压力维稳是这种‘刚性稳定’的维持与运行机制。在实践中,压力维稳面临着利益冲突加剧、维稳政策偏差、信息技术发展、维权意识增长等多方面的挑战。当前,维稳必须要有新思维:维权是维稳的前提和基础,必须变刚性稳定为韧性稳定,变静态稳定为动态稳定,变‘维稳’为‘创稳’。

Abstract: China’s particular form of social stability is one of ‘rigid stability’ that is intimately connected with its authoritarian regime. This form of ‘rigid stability’ is maintained via a mechanism of ‘stability preservation through pressure’. In practice, ‘stability preservation through pressure’ is confronted by many challenges, including intensified conflicts of interest, various policy flaws related stability preservation, the development of information technology and increasing rights consciousness among citizens. A new line of thinking is currently needed in regard to stability preservation, with rights protection as its precursor and foundation. ‘Rigid stability’ must give way to ‘resilient stability’, ‘static stability’ must yield to ‘dynamic stability’, and ‘stability preservation’ must become ‘stability creation’.

关键词:刚性稳定、压力维稳、韧性稳定、维权、创稳

Key words: rigid stability, stability preservation through pressure, resilient stability, rights protection, stability creation

近年来,维稳成了一个政治热词。不管是媒体报道,还是官方文件,维稳这个词的出现频率都越来越高。这一方面表明社会稳定问题已经引发社会各界的广泛关注;另一方面也表明政府面临着越来越大的维稳压力。那么,维稳的压力为何越来越大?在笔者看来,这固然与当前我国的改革进入深水区,各种社会矛盾和冲突凸显有关;但更从侧面反映出我国的社会稳定结构和维稳体制还存在一些根本性的制度缺陷和问题。这主要表现为社会秩序的‘刚性稳定’以及与此相关的压力维稳运行机制。

Stability preservation has been a political buzzword in recent years, appearing with increased frequency in media reports and official documents. On the one hand, this demonstrates the considerable concern that issues of social stability attract from various parts of the society; on the other hand, it also illustrates the increasing pressure that the government faces in maintaining stability. Why is this pressure growing? For this writer, the increase is no doubt related to the deepening of Reform and the various social contradictions and conflicts that have appeared as a result. From another angle, however, it reflects the fundamental institutional weaknesses present in China’s social stability structure and stability preservation apparatus. These problems are primarily manifested in the ‘rigid stability’ of social order and the related implementation mechanism for ‘stability preservation through pressure’.

刚性稳定与压力维稳

‘Rigid Stability’ and ‘Stability Preservation through Pressure’

在以往的研究中,笔者曾将当前中国的社会稳定概括为‘刚性稳定’。这种稳定以垄断政治权力为目标,以僵硬稳定为表象,以国家暴力为基础,以控制社会意识和社会组织为手段。‘刚性稳定’有三个主要特征:第一,‘刚性稳定’是以政治权力的排他性和封闭性为基础的政治稳定;第二,‘刚性稳定’以社会绝对安定为管治目标,把一切抗议行为,如游行、示威、罢工、罢市、罢运等都视为无序和混乱,都要采取一切手段压制或打击;第三,‘刚性稳定’以国家暴力为基础,依赖对意识形态和社会组织的控制,具有非程序的法制性。为了实现和保持刚性稳定,执政者追求并强化政治权力的排他性和封闭性,试图对社会进行绝对管治。刚性稳定缺乏韧性、延展性和缓冲地带,执政者时刻处于高度紧张状态,企图运用一切资源来维系其‘专政’地位,最终可能因不能承担不断递增的巨大社会政治成本,而导致政治统治的断裂和社会管治秩序的失范。[1]

In previous work, the writer has used the term ‘rigid stability’ to summarize the social stability of contemporary China. Founded upon state violence, this form of stability seeks to monopolise political power through control over social ideology and organizations, with a kind of stiff or rigid stability as its primary manifestation. ‘Rigid stability’ has three primary characteristics:

  • First, it is a form of political stability founded upon the exclusive and closed nature of political power;
  • Second, ‘rigid stability’ seeks absolute social tranquility as a goal of governance, viewing all forms of protest – be they marches, demonstrations and strikes by workers, retailers and the transport sector – as a form of disorder and chaos that begs suppression by any means; and,
  • Third, with state violence as its foundation, ‘rigid stability’ relies upon the quasi-legal control of social ideology and social organizations.

In order to achieve and preserve ‘rigid stability’, the authorities seek to strengthen the exclusive and closed aspects of political power and thereby attempt to exercise complete control over society. Because ‘rigid stability’ lacks flexibility, malleability, or any kind of buffer zone, the authorities find themselves in a constant state of high anxiety and spare no expense to maintain their ‘dictatorial’ position. Ultimately, the ever-rising social and political costs of ‘rigid stability’ could lead to the disruption of political rule and social control.[1]

刚性稳定是一种集权封闭的、静态安定的、暴力强制的稳定,虽然可以把民众的政治诉求限制在一定的秩序之内,但却无法有效地确立政治权威和职责的合法性,因此可能蕴藏着巨大的社会风险。执政者无约束的自利行为,以及社会基本规则建设中存在的问题,都造成政治合法性正在快速流失。中央执政者为了保障社会的绝对稳定,不断向各级地方政府层层施压,不惜一切代价对社会进行管控。当前,最典型的就是信访制度。这个制度的合法性来源于《宪法》第41条,国务院也制定了《信访条例》,规定民众可以上访。但在实践中,地方政府又将上访认定为社会的非稳定因素,并采用各种方式打压甚至非法关押上访者。信访制度在法理上的合法性与它在实践中的‘非法性’的冲突,是刚性稳定在当前中国面临困境的最突出反映。由于刚性稳定没有弹性,缺乏韧性,没有可以缓冲的中间地带,而是通过不停的政治高压实现表面的稳定,因而隐藏着巨大的政治风险:维稳链条一旦发生断裂,整个社会就可能陷入大的动荡,所以这种刚性的稳定是不可持续的,它必须依靠压力在短期内得到维持。

‘Rigid stability’ is centralised and closed, static and unfluctuating, violent and coercive. While to a degree it serves to tame and curtail the political claims of the public, ‘rigid stability’ cannot effectively confer legitimacy upon the political authorities and for this reason it is attended by enormous social risks. The uninhibited, self-interested behavior of the authorities, combined with the problems plaguing efforts to establish basic social rules, has caused a rapid erosion of political legitimacy. In order to guarantee the absolute stability of society, the central leadership has applied constant pressure to every layer of local government and spared no expense to exercise control over society. This is best exemplified by the petitioning system, whose legitimacy springs from Article 41 of the National Constitution and the State Council’s ‘Regulations on Petitioning’. These Regulations grant the public the right to petition higher authorities; in practice, however, local governments consider petitioning to be a prime source of social instability and have adopted a variety of oppressive measures – even going so far as to detain petitioners unlawfully. The contradiction between legality on paper and ‘illegality’ in practice reflects with particular clarity the difficulties presently faced by ‘rigid stability’ policies. Because it lacks elasticity, flexibility, or a buffer zone, and instead marks the result of incessant political pressure to maintain surface stability, ‘rigid stability’ masks huge political hazards. Once the chain of stability preservation is severed, society could well go into free-fall. ‘Rigid stability’ is therefore unsustainable and dependent upon pressure for its short-term maintenance.

由此可见,压力维稳是刚性稳定的维持机制。荣敬本先生曾以‘压力体制’来描述当代中国政治体制的基本特征,并解释高度集权的中央政权对地方政权的领导状况。[2]

It is evident that ‘stability preservation through pressure’ is the mechanism through which ‘rigid stability’ is maintained. The scholar Rong Jingben 荣敬本 once used the expression ‘the pressurised system’ to describe China’s present political system and to explain the ‘state of the leadership’ which exists between a highly centralised central government and the local authorities.[2]

在当前中国,两种不同的压力影响着中国的政治运行状况:一是中国政治运作中自下而上的增压机制;二是自上而下施加的压力以非暴力的方式直接由民众向压力的起点即中央反弹。中央自上而下施压,导致的是压力的转移,而不是压力的消解,压力最终还是转移到中央,增加压力的最终着力点还是中央。压力维稳是中国目前特殊政治生态下的产物,是与中央集权的政治结构相适应的,同时也是与常态化的政治格格不入的。压力维稳机制有如下几个方面的特征:第一,压力维稳重视事后处理胜过源头预防;第二,压力维稳重视基层,注重‘实战’;第三,压力维稳使政绩考核功能异化;第四,压力维稳成本高,投入大。[3]这些特征在日常政治中,导致维稳成为各级政府的重要目标和考量标准,并深刻影响着各级政府的执政行为与地方政治生态。由于维稳目标与威权政治相结合,地方政府在日常事务中必定会践行压力型体制的政治逻辑,它最终导致‘维稳’变成‘唯稳’。

Two different forms of pressure affect political operations in contemporary China. While the first is a form of bottom-up pressure, the second operates like a boomerang – through non-violent means, top-down pressure bounces from the populace directly back to the source of the pressure – the central authorities. The top-down application of pressure by the authorities at the central level leads only to the diversion of this pressure, rather than its dispersion, as the focal point is eventually shifted back to central authorities. ‘Stability preservation through pressure’ is a product of contemporary China’s unique political ecology, one suited to its centralised political structure and incompatible with a ‘normalised’ politics. The mechanism of ‘stability preservation through pressure’ displays the following characteristics:

  • First, it emphasises post hoc management over prevention at the source;
  • Second, it emphasises the grassroots and ‘real combat’;
  • Third, it distorts the system of performance evaluation; and,
  • Fourth, its costs are high and investments in it considerable.[3]

In everyday politics, these characteristics lead various levels of government to pursue stability preservation both as a primary goal of rule and a standard of measuring performance. This, in turn, deeply influences administrative behavior and local political ecologies. Because the goal of stability preservation is intertwined with authoritarian politics, local governments inevitably apply the political logic of ‘the pressurised system’ to their daily work with the end result that ‘stability preservation’ becomes ‘stability at all costs’.

在中国这样一个不是通过选票获得实质合法性的国家,中央政府要对地方政府实现控制与领导,从而维护其合法性并巩固统治,就必须对‘稳定压倒一切’这一执政理念进行不断的强化宣传,这也成为执政者衡量改革成败得失和获取民众认同的最重要标准。实际上,稳定也成为了政权的合法性标志。因此,当这种合法性逐步流失时,采用高压手段维持统治可能会更直接有效。当各种社会矛盾无法通过合法的途径得到解决或排释时,动辄使用高压手段不惜一切代价来维护政治稳定,就成为底层社会的一种常态。这样,许多地方的维稳工作处于政府维稳和民众维权的张力之中:政府在沉重的行政压力之下维护以‘零上访’为目标的任务,而民众在权利受损时不得不以各种非常规的方式冲破规则的限制,造成了令地方政府越来越焦虑的矛盾和冲突。

In a nation where legitimacy is not derived from the ballot box, the Chinese central government strives to maintain control over local governments. Thus, the central government must continually and forcefully promote ‘stability trumps all’ as a governing principle in order to safeguard its legitimacy and solidify its rule. This principle of governance has also become the primary standard by which authorities judge the success or the failure of reform and secure public approval. In fact, stability has become the marker of political legitimacy. Consequently, high-handed measures may be more directly effective in the maintenance of political rule as this form of legitimacy is gradually eroded. Faced with multiplying social conflicts, yet devoid of legal channels for their resolution or dissipation, the ready use of high-handed tactics has become the norm at the grassroots as authorities seek to safeguard political stability at all costs. Thus, in many locales, government efforts aimed at stability preservation lie in tension with popular action in the name of rights protection. While the governments are under intense administrative pressure to meet a ‘zero petitions’ target, those whose rights have been violated have no choice but to adopt unconventional methods to break through restrictive regulations. Such contradictions and conflicts are making local governments increasingly anxious.

压力维稳的困境

The Predicament of ‘Stability Preservation through Pressure’

前面已经指出,刚性稳定的首要特征是以垄断政治权力为目标,即让执政者能够保持对政治权力的垄断。当前,各种维稳政策措施都以此为出发点。为了达成这个目标,处于中央层面的执政者通过政治承包的方式,将维稳责任自上而下地层层分解给地方各级党政组织和官员。许多官员不能以‘平常心’来看待社会冲突,更不能认识到社会冲突具有缓解社会政治压力的减压阀作用,而是将稳定视为一切,为了维稳经常不惜代价。同时,基层政权由于掌握的资源有限,面临的维稳压力更大,并日益陷入越维越不稳的怪圈,导致了更加尖锐的社会矛盾。这主要体现为以下几个层面:

As mentioned, the primary characteristic of ‘rigid stability’ is its goal of monopolizing political power. Indeed, those in power consider the defence of that monopoly as the starting point for all stability preservation policies and measures. In order to achieve this goal, central authorities utilize a form of political contract in which the responsibility for stability preservation is distributed, top-down and level by level, from the center to the local organs and officials of the party-state. Few of these officials can view social conflicts with equanimity or recognize that they have the potential to function as release valves for socio-political pressure. Instead, all is subsumed under the rubric of stability, for which these officials spare no expense. At the same time, lower level authorities control few resources yet face enormous pressure to maintain stability. As a consequence, they increasingly find themselves trapped into a vicious cycle, wherein the harder they strive to preserve stability, the greater the instability they face. This has led to sharpened social contradictions, seen foremost through the following aspects.

第一,利益冲突加剧,政府为了满足日益增长的财政需要,非法征地和暴力拆迁,急搞各类项目。改革开放以来,中国的社会结构和利益格局发生了深刻的变化,尤其是随着市场经济体制的确立和发展,不同的社会阶层和社会群体开始成为利益主体,并围绕自己的利益诉求展开博弈。孙立平教授认为,市场不仅是一种经济整合机制,同时也是社会结构的生成机制之一。与市场经济体制的建立相伴随的,是社会结构的分化和利益主体的多元化。[4]按道理说,政府作为公共权力的代表者,应该是保护全体公民的利益,并为他们提供公共产品和公共服务,不应该有自己的利益。但是,相关研究和现实情况都表明,政府也是理性的‘经济人’,有追求自身利益最大化的趋势。政府不但有自己的利益,有时候为了自身利益还不惜动用国家机器与民争利。这在当前中国的一些地方表现得尤为突出。一些地方政府为了满足日益增长的财政需要,非法征地拆迁,急搞各类项目,严重侵害了民众的利益,引发上访、群体性事件的频繁发生。

First, conflicts of interest have intensified. To satisfy ever-rising fiscal demands, governments have engaged in illegal land expropriation, violent demolition of homes, and rush jobs on countless projects. Since the onset of the period of reforms, China’s social structure and arrangement of interests have experienced profound changes, especially in the wake of a developing market economy. Social classes and social groups have coalesced as interest groups, unleashing a game centered upon the pursuit of self-interest. Professor Sun Liping asserts that the market is not merely a mechanism for economic integration, but also an engine for change in the social structure, as the establishment of the market economy is accompanied by polarization of the social structure and the pluralization of interest groups.[4] As the representative of public authority, it is reasonable to expect the government to protect the rights of all citizens, providing public goods and public services without promoting its own interests. In reality, the government not only has its own interests but also is occasionally quick to utilize the state apparatus in pursuit of those interests at the expense of the people. This is particularly manifest in certain locales, where local governments meet their ever-rising fiscal demands through expropriation, demolition, and rush jobs. These actions violate the interests of the people, frequently triggering petitions and mass incidents.

不过,对于这些基于利益矛盾和冲突的事件,我们也不要过度紧张,而是应该正确看待和处置,毕竟这是作为弱势一方的民众在利益受损之后的反应性抗争,并不是针对政权的政治性抗争。一个国家最可怕的事情不在于出现很多严重问题,譬如群体性事件等之类的具体问题,而是出现了社会冲突事件后,我们不能正确认识它、不能正确处置它。只要处置得当,这种利益冲突一定会得到有效化解。实际上,由于当前中国正处在社会转型期,产生各种利益矛盾和利益冲突是很正常的,也是不可避免的。社会冲突本身也是存在正功能的。一个社会不可能没有矛盾和冲突,关键是要把它们控制在一定的范围之内。

However, we should not be distraught over these incidents, based as they are on conflicts of interest. Instead, they should be viewed correctly and handled appropriately. These incidents are a form of reactive resistance rather than a proactive challenge to the political order; they are the response of a relatively weaker party – the people – to a loss of its benefits. The appearance of various serious problems, such as mass incidents or other similar occurrences, is not to be feared; what the state should fear the most are the consequences of a social conflict, which if not identified correctly, cannot be handled properly. If handled properly, this sort of conflict of interest may be effectively diffused. In fact, because contemporary China is in the midst of a social transition, this sort of conflict of interest is common, unavoidable, and not without its positive functions. It is impossible for a society to be completely devoid of contradictions and conflicts; the key is simply to confine these challenges within certain limits.

第二,维稳政策出现了偏差,一些地方采取非法手段维稳,加剧了政府和民众的行为方式冲突。当前的’刚性稳定’是以社会绝对安定为管治目标,把一切抗议行为都视为无序和混乱,都要采取手段进行压制或打击。在刚性稳定的状态下,社会管治的方式总是简单化和绝对化。这就导致当前的维稳政策出现了偏差,主要表现为:首先,一些地方把正常的利益表达也作为不稳定因素加以打压。例如,工人、农民、市民等群体为了自身利益,采取集体上访、游行示威等方式表达自己的诉求和意愿,本来应该被看作是在行使公民正常的利益表达权利,却被当成了影响稳定的‘群体性事件’。各级政府特别是基层政府,就不得不采取各种维稳行动。这样也就把政府特别是基层政府推到了前台,成为了冲突的一方。可见,正是由于地方政府的‘刻意作为’,使大量原本应是‘正常’意愿表达的群体行为变成了‘非法事件’。同时,政府还要直接面对这些‘非法事件’,没有任何缓冲和回旋的余地,更不能充分利用社会中介组织在矛盾调解和纠纷化解中的作用。

Second, stability preservation policies are flawed. Some locales have adopted illegal measures to preserve stability, intensifying the conflict between governmental and popular behavior. Today’s ‘rigid stability’ takes absolute social tranquility as the goal of governance, viewing all protest behavior as chaos deserving of suppression. Under conditions of ‘rigid stability’, the means of social control are always simple and absolute, and this has led to certain flaws in stability preservation policies. First, some locales consider normal interest articulation to be a destabilizing factor worthy of suppression. Workers, peasants, urban residents, and others have voiced their claims through collective petitioning, demonstrations, and other activities, in what should be viewed as the exercise of the citizenry’s natural right to interest articulation. Instead, these events are regarded as destabilizing ‘mass incidents’ and governments – particularly at the lowest tiers – are then forced to take action to preserve stability, as one party in a conflict. As a direct result of this ‘deliberate action’ on the part of local governments, the ‘natural’ interest articulation of groups becomes an ‘illegal incident’. At the same time, governments must confront these ‘illegal incidents’ without any room to maneuver and without the advantages which social intermediaries can bring to conflict resolution.

其次,一些地方党政官员采取非法手段维稳,为了实现其维稳目标不惜一切代价。这就造成一些地方政府以‘稳定’为借口,侵犯民众的合法权益、破坏最基本的社会规则。[5]

A second policy flaw arises from local Party-state officials’ adoption of illegal measures for stability preservation. This ‘stability at all costs’ mindset leads to the violation of the legal rights of the public and to the undermining of basic social rules – all in the name of ‘stability.’[5]

比如,针对上访民众采取的截访、销号、拘留、劳教等,不但不能解决访民反映的问题,反而成为他们进一步上访甚至采取极端行为的缘由。此外,在对待民众的群体性抗争活动时,政府处置不当,滥用警力,可能会导致矛盾激化和冲突升级,造成人财物的巨大损失。

Measures such as the deletion of petitioners’ case files, the interception and detention of petitioners and re-education through labor do not work to resolve the problems experienced by petitioners; on the contrary, these methods press petitioners to take their claims one step further and adopt extremist tactics. Furthermore, government misconduct and the indiscriminate use of force when handling mass contention can lead to the intensification of contradictions, the escalation of conflicts and enormous material losses.

再次,一些领导干部为了保证在自己任期内不发生影响稳定的事件,不得不奔命于与维稳相关的事项,尤其是在国内外有重大活动的所谓‘敏感时期’,基层官员更是紧绷早已脆弱的敏感神经,广泛动员群众,把维稳作为头等重要的大事来抓。长久以来,中国在稳定问题上都存在着泛化和扩大化趋势,有着顽固的‘宁紧勿松’的思维定势。同时,许多领导干部对一些问题能推就推,能捂就捂,只要矛盾不激化,不影响自己的政绩就行。比如,对一些所谓的不稳定因素制造者进行利益收买,‘花钱买稳定’。这种现象在某些地方已经到了非常严重的地步。

A final policy flaw involves the fears of some leading cadres that destabilizing incidents will occur during their tenure, with the result that these cadres are constantly occupied with matters of stability preservation. This is especially true during the so-called ‘sensitive periods’ – national holidays, sensitive anniversaries, and other important domestic and international events – which weigh heavily on the already frayed nerves of local officials. Stability preservation becomes a matter of prime importance during these periods and the masses are mobilized on a large scale. For many years, the problem of stability has been growing in importance, undergirded by a single, firmly entrenched mindset – ‘always tighten, never loosen’. At the same time, the attitude of many leading cadres has been one of ‘kick the can down the road – or cover it up’; in other words, as long as problems do not deteriorate and tarnish one’s professional reputation, they can be neglected. Along these lines, some cadres have bought off so-called unstable elements; this phenomenon of ‘buying stability’ has reached worrying proportions in some locales.

第三,随着信息技术的发展,真相和谣言同时在解构政府权威。近年来,以互联网、智能手机为代表的信息技术的发展速度越来越快,其在人们日常生活中扮演的角色也越来越重要。不仅如此,信息技术在中国的政治发展过程中也日渐成为一种重要的重构力量。这不仅表现在民众通过网络可以设置议题,而且表现为民众通过网络提出一系列行动方案,成为一种新的社会动员方式。现代信息技术赋予了公众主动利用媒介的能力,这也会成为加强公众对各种社会语境和意识形态的抵抗和消解的因素。

Third, in the wake of advances in information technology, truth and rumors are both undermining governmental authority. In recent years, the web and smart phones – emblematic of the fast-paced development of information technology – have played an increasingly crucial role in everyday life. Furthermore, information technology has become an important restructuring force in the course of China’s political development. This is reflected not only in the popular use of the Internet to set agendas, but also in its role as a facilitator for various planned actions. Accordingly, the Internet has become a new avenue for the mobilization of society. Modern information technology has given the public the ability to make active use of the media, a development which will serve to strengthen its capacity to resist various social contexts and ideologies.

比如,在一些‘社会泄愤事件’中,失实或错误的信息很容易激起民愤和聚集人员,使事态扩大,这些信息主要通过手机短信和网络进行传播。与此同时,这些地方的党政官员没有意识到信息技术发展带来的变化,仍想沿用以前那种延迟发布或封锁消息的办法,结果谣言满天飞,想用真相来消除已经来不及,谣言夹杂着部分真相让广大民众不知道该相信谁。这就使得延迟发布的真相不但没有成为消除谣言的良药,反而起到解构政府权威的负面作用。而政府权威,是整合社会秩序、保持社会良性运行的根本性力量。一旦民众对政府的信任感和认同感降低甚至丧失,必将引发民众的恐慌和社会秩序的全面混乱。

In many ‘incidents of social venting’, for example, wrong or inaccurate information can easily arouse public anger and lead to impromptu gatherings, where the situation can quickly deteriorate. This information is spread primarily through text messages and the Internet; however, Party-state officials have yet to recognize the changes brought by the development of information technology. Instead, they still prefer the time-honored tactics of information blackouts and belated statements, as a result of which rumors fly rampant and the truth is rendered moot. In this atmosphere of rumors and half-truths, the public does not know whom to trust. Consequently, truthful yet belated statements not only fail to dispel the rumors, but, on the contrary, serve to undermine governmental authority. This authority is the fundamental force which maintains social order and preserves the smooth operation of society; once the public begins to lose trust in the government and ceases to identify with it, panic sets in and complete social chaos is unleashed.

在这种情况下,只能动员武警采用强力手段恢复秩序。这不但会耗费大量的公共资源,付出巨大的社会成本,更为重要的是会或多或少地消解民众对政府的心理认同感。也就是说,在今天这样的互联网时代,信息技术的广泛应用对依靠国家暴力、垄断信息、控制组织和压迫言论来维护稳定的模式提出了严峻的挑战。长此以往,中国管治安的警察部门、管舆论控制的宣传部门等,需要终日绷紧自身的每一根神经,不断地加大资源投入,必将导致社会管治成本不断攀升。而为了维持社会管治的巨额成本,政府不得不利用各种方式占用公共资源,与民争利,从而造成社会矛盾的更加复杂和激化,陷入恶性循环的怪圈。[6]

In such situations, the only choice is to mobilize the People’s Armed Police, who take forceful measures to ensure that order is restored. Not only is this costly in terms of both public resources and social costs, but, more importantly, it weakens the public’s feelings of identity with the government. In other words, the widespread use of information technology in today’s Internet age presents a stark challenge to the stability preservation model reliant upon state violence, organizational control, information monopoly and restrictions on speech. The Chinese security organs (the police) and public opinion control (the propaganda department) are on constant high alert, investing even greater resources in the face of the rising costs for social governance. If this trend continues, these enormous costs will force the government to hog public resources in competition with the public, thus intensifying and complicating social conflicts in a vicious and never-ending cycle.[6]

第四,公民的维权意识在增长,且付诸维权行动的可能性也在增加。哈佛大学的裴宜理教授认为,’在中国,权利往往更多的被理解为是由国家认可的、旨在增进国家统一和繁荣的手段,而非由自然赋予的旨在对抗国家干预的保护机制。在此情景下,民众对行使自身权利的诉求很可能是对国家权力的强化而不是挑战。’[7]但是,随着中国的维权抗争活动从个案维权向共同议题转变,公民的维权意识不断增强也是不争的事实。现在,人们意识到自己应该享有某项权利。当这项权利受到侵害的时候,很多人都会起来维护自己的权利,而且付诸维权行动的可能性也在不断增加,其中的一部分人还能在维权行动过程中表现得理直气壮,并认为自己握有侵权方的把柄,’无论走到哪里,我都不怕’。这得益于市场化的经济体制改革、依法治国方略的实施,以及现代权利制度的确立与发展。

Fourth, as citizens’ rights consciousness grows, so does the probability that this awareness will translate into concrete acts of rights protection. Harvard University professor Elizabeth Perry asserts that: ‘in a country where rights are seen more as state-authorized channels to enhance national unity and prosperity than as naturally endowed protections against state intrusion, popular demands for the exercise of political rights are perhaps better seen as an affirmation of – rather than an affront to – state power’.[7] However, following the shift of Chinese rights-based resistance from individual cases to a shared agenda, the deepening and strengthening of citizens’ rights consciousness is undeniable. The Chinese people have now realized that they should have certain rights, so that when a particular right is violated, many will stand up to protect it; in this context, there is an increased probability that rights consciousness will bring about action. Some of these advocates, brimming with righteous indignation, will assume that they ‘keep the violators by the tail’ and declare: ‘I’m not afraid of anyone’. This is benefited by market-oriented economic reforms, the implementation of the rule of law, and the establishment and development of a modern rights regime.

对此,有研究者就指出,‘表面上看,人们对权利的获享和行使,使个人与个人、民众与政府、社会与国家之间的分裂和对抗得以显化,但实际上,现代权利制度不会激化只会容纳社会共同体的分裂与对抗并将其保持在适当的范围内,通过权利义务关系的调整使其得以缓释。这是解决社会冲突的制度化方式。’[8]也就是说,随着社会结构、社会关系、社会价值观念的变化,以及法律规则的建立健全,公民的权利意识不断增长,采取维权行动的可能性也不断增加。这可能导致在一段时期内,不同社会成员或不同社会组织为维护自身的权利而使彼此之间的矛盾冲突增加。但这是正常的利益表达形式,这些矛盾和冲突有相关的制度规定,在可控的范围内,不会对整体的社会秩序造成严重的影响。

Indeed, scholars have pointed out that ‘on the surface, the people’s possession and exercise of rights only clarifies the antagonism and divisions between individuals, between the public and the government, and between the state and society. Yet, the modern rights regime does not intensify the antagonism between social groups; in fact, it serves to absorb these divisions and keep them at an appropriately low level, so that they may be resolved through the redefinition of rights and obligations. This amounts to an institutionalized method for the resolution of social conflicts’.[8] In other words, the changing structure, relations, and values of society, alongside the establishment of a sound legal framework, have promoted the continuous expansion of rights consciousness among citizens and a concurrent increase in the likelihood of rights protection activism. Although initially this could lead to an increased rights-based conflict between members of society – whether individuals or organizations – these conflicts remain a natural expression of [individual or group] interests. Regulated – as far as possible – by the relevant institutions, these conflicts will not significantly affect social order.

如何建立中国社会的韧性稳定

How to Bring ‘Resilient Stability’ to Chinese Society

在一个日益开放和民主的国家,要想得到真正的稳定,是无法依靠计划经济时期的强制与高压手段的。在社会冲突敏感期,维稳不仅需要执政智慧,更需要与社会发展阶段相吻合的新的稳定思维。

In an increasingly open and democratic nation, true stability is unattainable through reliance upon the coercive and heavy-handed measures of the Mao era. Stability preservation during sensitive times of social conflict demands more than wise governance; it also requires that stability be rethought to fit the present stage of social development.

第一,维权是维稳的前提和基础。解决维稳问题,最重要的是处理好政府维稳与民众维权的关系。从本质上来看,二者并不矛盾,维权是维稳的前提和基础,维权的过程就是维稳的过程。维稳只有建立在对民众的基本权利得到确认与保护的基础上,才可能是稳固而长久的。如果为了维稳不惜侵害民众的基本权利,这样的稳定只能是暂时而脆弱的。在当前中国,维稳最重要的是要建立公平、公正的社会分配体制,这需要首先解决利益均衡和利益表达问题。尤其是在当下的中国,民众的权利意识正随着权利话语的凸显以及维权事件的频繁发生而逐渐觉醒,如果能在此关键时刻抓住机会,建立健全制度化的维权机制,畅通公民的利益表达渠道,提高底层劳动者尤其是弱势群体在利益综合以及政策制定中的博弈能力,一定能够尽快实现真正的和谐稳定。因为,只有建立制度化的、完善的利益诉求机制,才能更好地维权,从而才能更有效地维稳。[9]

First, rights protection should be the precursor and foundation of stability preservation. The key to stability preservation lies in resolving the standoff between government attempts at stability preservation and popular efforts at rights protection. Essentially, rights protection is not in conflict with stability preservation. Quite the contrary, rights protection is the basis of stability preservation, as the process of rights protection is also one of stability preservation. The recognition and protection of people’s basic rights form the sole foundation upon which sound and lasting stability preservation can be achieved. Indiscriminate violation of these rights in the name of stability preservation will yield a stability that is fragile and ephemeral. The construction of a fair and just system for social distribution is the crux of stability preservation in contemporary China, but this requires first addressing the issues of interest imbalance and interest articulation. The frequent instances of rights protection and emerging rights discourse in today’s China have generated a gradual awakening of a rights consciousness among the Chinese public. This presents a golden opportunity to institutionalise a mechanism for rights protection, to open channels for the articulation of citizens’ interests, and to level the playing field for laborers and disadvantaged groups in the areas of interest aggregation and policy-making. If seized, this opportunity would enable the rapid realisation of true harmony and stability. The rationale is simple; effective stability preservation is dependent upon rights protection, which in turn requires a mature and institutionalised claims-making mechanism.[9]

第二,变刚性稳定为韧性稳定。当前,中国的法律文本并不落后,但在现实中往往难以落实,甚至被层层的条例、细则、办法和‘红头文件’等稀释,有法不依的情况比较严重。为了解决目前的压力维稳机制,需要适时推进一些重要的制度变革和制度建设。在笔者看来,首先需要进行一系列的社会改革,以使‘刚性稳定’转变为‘韧性稳定’,其中最重要的就是建立公平公正的社会分配体制,让社会各阶层真正共享经济发展的成果;改变目前的行政压力体制,建立县级政治分权,并通过司法改革,树立国家的法制权威,让宪法成为社会稳定的基石。目标是使中国县政建立在行政分权和政治分权基础上的民主自治,以此来解决威权政治的缺陷,使政治体制增加韧性。与此同时,国家还应该充分满足民众的参政意愿,切实保障公民的有序政治参与,这也是每个公民享有的基本政治权利;改进和完善政治制度,真正落实宪政体制下的公民权利,把公民的利益表达纳入体制内,是实现国家长治久安的可靠保障。

Second, ‘rigid stability’ should be replaced by ‘resilient stability’. In contemporary China, the problem lies not in the laws already on the books, but in their implementation. Rules, regulations, methods, and ‘red header documents’ issued at every level of government serve to water down the strength of China’s laws and create serious problems with enforcement. Taking on the mechanism of ‘stability preservation through pressure’ requires a timely push for institutional transformation and institution building. This author believes that a series of social reforms are needed in order for ‘rigid stability’ to become ‘resilient stability’, prime among these being the establishment of a fair and just system for social distribution; this will permit the fruits of reform to be enjoyed by all social strata. Other necessary changes include reform of the present ‘pressurized system’, devolution of powers to the county level and – via judicial reform – the establishment of the state’s legal authority, which would make the Constitution the cornerstone of social stability. The goal of these reforms is for county governments to institute democratic self-governance on the basis of administrative and political devolution, thereby correcting the defects of authoritarian politics and increasing the resiliency of the political system. At the same time, the state should fully accommodate the wishes of the citizens for orderly political participation and work to protect this basic political right. A mature and improved political system, civil rights under a truly functional constitutional system, and the institutionalization of interest articulation on the part of the citizenry – these are reliable safeguards for China’s long-term political stability.

第三,变静态稳定为动态稳定。对于‘动态稳定’与‘静态稳定’的差别,政治学者俞可平解释说,‘静态稳定’就是禁止做什么,比如老百姓有什么不满,禁止他表达,也就是以堵为主;而‘动态稳定’就是有不满说出来,如果有道理就赞成他,并进行制度调整,即以疏为主。[10]

Third, ‘static stability’ should give way to ‘dynamic stability’. Political scientist Yu Keping explains the difference between ‘dynamic stability’ and ‘static stability’ as one of prohibitions. If the common people are for some reasons dissatisfied, under ‘static stability’ they are prohibited from articulating their grievances. Under ‘dynamic stability’, however, not only is grievance articulation permitted, but reasonable demands are approved and institutions are adjusted. Yu has summed up these differing approaches as ‘channeling everything into its proper place’ versus ‘holding everything in place’.[10]

目前,中国的社会稳定状况是典型的以压和堵为主的静态稳定,这种压力维稳是短期的,不具备长期的持续性。执政者不可能在长期掩盖和回避矛盾中获得长治久安,大量矛盾的累积可能会导致深远的社会问题。当前,民众的权利意识正在逐渐觉醒,但缺乏真正代表他们的利益表达机制,民众的谈判能力弱小,还经常受到权力、资本拥有者等强势群体的侵害。在这种情况下,民众的不公正感和被剥夺感可能成为诱发社会不稳定的因素。因此,要解决目前的压力维稳机制,必须建立一套完善的利益诉求机制,建立一个社会安全阀机制,让民众表达自己的利益诉求,让社会情绪得到宣泄,否则就会形成‘蝴蝶效应’。

The present state of China’s social stability is a classic case of ‘static stability’ predicated on ‘holding and pressing everything in place’. This sort of ‘stability preservation through pressure’ is temporary, as it does not possess long-term sustainability. Authorities cannot ensure lasting political stability amidst so many conflicts long hidden and neglected, whose sheer accumulated volume could lead to profound and lingering social problems. Although a rights consciousness is gradually taking shape, the public currently lacks a truly representative system for interest articulation. Occupying a weak bargaining position, the public often plays the victim to those groups with power and money. Under these conditions, a sense of injustice and relative deprivation could cause social instability, and in the face of such a possibility, the present system of ‘stability preservation through pressure’ must be addressed. This requires a sound mechanism for citizens to voice their own claims and a social safety valve to vent public frustrations, because the alternative will be a ‘butterfly effect’.

第四,变‘维稳’为‘创稳’。当前,社会矛盾的累积已经达到非常严重的程度。与其在压力的逼迫下进行改革,不如主动解决社会矛盾,消解社会压力,通过政治合法性建设,建立真正稳定的社会秩序。为此,政府以及各级行动主体需要树立科学的维稳思维,变被动‘维稳’为主动‘创稳’。这首先要突破简单理解‘稳定压倒一切’的思维定式,改变那些不计成本和后果、一切都要为稳定让路的做法。走出这种思维定势需要新思维。面对目前的社会稳定问题,社会需要理智,执政者需要智慧,研究者需要品格。尤其是政府官员在对待涉及群众切实利益的重大问题时,一定要公平公正、及时合理地解决,坚决杜绝敷衍塞责、滥用职权等不当行政行为,从源头上减少矛盾纠纷和不稳定因素,达到主动‘创稳’的效果。

来源:《探索与争鸣》2012年第9期,第3-6页;参考文献略。

Fourth, ‘stability creation’ should replace ‘stability preservation’. Social contradictions have increased significantly and reforms have emerged mainly as the result of this social pressure. A better way forward would be to work actively to resolve these contradictions, to eliminate them as a source of social pressure, and – by establishing political legitimacy – to build a truly stable social order. To that end, the government and actors at various levels must adopt a scientific way of thinking about stability preservation, trading passive ‘stability preservation’ for a more active ‘stability creation’. The first step is to break through the ideological stranglehold of the simplistic ‘stability trumps all’ mindset and abandon those methods which ignore costs and side effects. Breaking this mindset, however, requires a new way of thinking. Facing today’s issues of social stability requires rationality on the part of society, wisdom on the part of authorities and character on the part of the researchers. Of particular importance is the need for government officials, when handling matters which affect the interests of the masses, to act fairly and justly, swiftly and reasonably to put a stop to half-hearted work styles, abuse of power, and other improper administrative behaviors. This would work to reduce conflicts, disputes, and elements of instability at their very source, thereby achieving active ‘stability creation’.

Source: 于建嵘:当前压力维稳的困境与出路——再论中国社会的刚性稳定, Exploration and Free Views, 9 (2012): 3-6. Published online on 21 October 2012: http://www.aisixiang.com/data/58296.html.

Translator’s Note: The Chinese original contained in-text endnote numbers, yet references were omitted. I have done my best to piece together these sources, but any misattributions are my own rather than the author’s. Suggestions regarding a more accurate attribution of sources are welcome at: [email protected]

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注释:

[1]    于建嵘:《从刚性稳定到韧性稳定——关于中国社会秩序的一个分析框架》,载《学习与探索》2009年第5期,第113-118页。

[2]   荣敬本,高新军,杨雪冬,赖海榕,王安岭:《再论从压力型体制向民主合作体制的转变——县乡两级政治体制改革的比较研究》,中央编译出版社,2001年版。

[3]   于建嵘:《从刚性到韧性,变’维稳’为’创稳’》,《南方都市报》2010年4月4日。

[4]   孙立平:《建立市场经济条件下的利益均衡机制》,《人民网》2004年11月29日。

[5]   于建嵘:《社会冲突与刚性稳定——对近期中国社会稳定形势的分析》,载《战略与管理》2009年第2期,第38-53页。

[6]   于建嵘:《当前中国能避免社会大动荡吗?——2009年2月9日在日本早稻田大学的演讲》,载《经济管理文摘》2009年第11期,第38-44页。

[7]   于建嵘,裴宜理 [美] ,阎小骏(译):《中国的政治传统与发展》,载《南风窗》2008年第20期,第32-34页。

[8]   夏勇:《走向权利的时代》,中国政法大学出版社,1995年版,序言。

[9]   于建嵘:《维权就是维稳》,载《人民论坛》2012年第1期, 第23页。

[10] 俞可平,阎健(编):《民主是个好东西》,社会科学文献出版社,2006年版。

Notes:

[1] Yu Jianrong, ‘From Rigid Stability to Resilient Stability: An Analytical Framework for China’s Social Order’, Study and Exploration, no.5 (2009): 113-118.

[2] Rong Jingben, Gao Xinjun, Yang Xuedong, Lai Hairong, and Wang Anling, Reassessing the Transformation from a Pressurized System to a Democratic System of Cooperation: Comparative Studies of Political Reform at the County and Township Levels, Beijing: Central Compilation and Translation Press, 2001.

[3] Yu Jianrong, ‘From Rigid to Resilient, “Stability Preservation” to “Stability Creation” ’, Southern Metropolis Daily, 4 April 2010.

[4] Sun Liping, ‘Build a Market Economy Mechanism for Balancing Interests,’ People’s Daily Online, 29 November 2004.

[5] Yu Jianrong, ‘Social Conflicts and Rigid Stability: An Analysis of the Recent State of Social Stability in China,’ Strategy and Management, no.2 (2009): 38-53.

[6] Yu Jianrong, ‘Can Contemporary China Avoid a Great Social Upheaval? 9 February 2009 Speech at Waseda University, Japan’, Economy and Management Digest, no.11 (2009): 38-44.

[7] Yu Jianrong, Pei Yili (Elizabeth J. Perry), Yang Xiaojun (translator), ‘Chinese Political Tradition and Development’, South Wind, no.20 (2008): 32-34.

[8] Xia Yong, Towards the Era of Rights, Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 1995, Foreword.

[9] Yu Jianrong, ‘Rights Protection is Stability Preservation’, People’s Forum, no.1 (2012): 23.

[10] Yu Keping and Yan Jian (ed.), Democracy Is a Good Thing, Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press of China, 2006.