Yearbook 2013: Civilising China

00_d_cover_yearbookAs China becomes wealthier and more confident on the global stage, it also expects to be respected and accommodated as a major global force – and as a formidable civilisation. Through a survey and analysis of China’s regional posture, urban change, social activism and law, mores, the Internet, history and thought – in which the concept of ‘civilising’ plays a prominent role – China Story Yearbook 2013 offers insights into the country today and its dreams for the future.

The Cover

The cover features four Chinese characters, read from the top right-hand corner, top to bottom. The character wen 文 (‘pattern’, ‘design’, ‘the written’) features a writing brush; the word ming 明 (‘bright’, ‘illuminated’) contains a Huawei mobile phone with an iconic image of the model People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier Lei Feng on its screen (the fiftieth ‘Learn from Lei Feng Day’ was celebrated on 5 March 2013). Together these words form wenming, ‘civilised’ or ‘civilisation’. The main vertical stroke of the next character, zhong 中 (‘central’, ‘middle’, ‘China’), features a high-speed train, while the word hua 华 (‘flourishing’, ‘embellished’, ‘China’) is in the calligraphic hand of the Tang-dynasty monk Huaisu (725–799CE). It is taken from a ‘grass-script’ version of the Thousand-character Classic (Qianziwen 千字文) written in the last year of the monk’s life.


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Introduction: Engineering Chinese Civilisation

by Geremie R. Barmé

This second China Story Yearbook covers the period during which the fifth generation of Chinese leaders took control of the Communist Party, in late 2012, and then the government of the People’s Republic in early 2013. Xi Jinping became the new General Secretary of the Party and later President of the People’s Republic, and Li Keqiang was appointed Premier.

Chapter 1: Foreign Policy for a Global China

by Richard Rigby and Brendan Taylor

Is rising China becoming ‘civilised’ or is it becoming a civilising force? Analysts of Chinese foreign policy have long grappled with this question. During the mid-1990s, for instance, the American analyst Denny Roy described China as a ‘hegemon on the horizon’, a rising power bent on dominating the Asia-Pacific over the longer term — through the use of force if necessary. By contrast, a more optimistic analysis by Princeton academic G. John Ikenberry in 2008 suggested that China could be ‘civilised’ and effectively incorporated into the Western-led liberal order. The larger debate is unresolved, and may remain so for years, perhaps even decades to come. Acknowledging the enormity of the task, this chapter seeks to shed additional light on the question by examining what we judge to be the five major foreign policy issues that China faced in the 2012–2013 period.

Chapter 2: Revolution to Riches

by Jane Golley

This chapter moves beyond the question of whether the Chinese economy is capitalist or socialist to reflect on the role of the Chinese state in developing a ‘civilised’ economy. Income inequality is one of the main challenges facing President Xi Jinping as he seeks to turn the China Dream into a reality for all Chinese people. Meanwhile, China’s emergence as a major global investor continues to challenge the rules, norms and institutions that govern the international economy, igniting highly charged debates about the role of the state in an increasingly globalised, but not always entirely civilised world.

Chapter 3: An Exemplary Society

by Benjamin Penny

In the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index report by Transparency International, China ranked eightieth out of the 176 countries surveyed, with a score of thirty-nine from a possible one hundred. By contrast, Singapore is ranked fifth with a score of eighty-seven, Hong Kong fourteenth with a score of seventy-seven and Taiwan is in thirty-seventh place with a score of sixty-one. These comparisons show that China’s corruption cannot be due to some specific way people of a Chinese cultural background conduct business or public administration. Since he assumed the presidency, Xi Jinping has refocused the attention of government on the eradication of corruption, using not only the instruments of state power to arrest and detain offenders but also traditional methods of persuasion to encourage civilised behaviour in the community as a whole. Whether such methods, pioneered in the early years of the People’s Republic, and in fact even earlier, are still effective remains an open question.

Chapter 4: Under Rule of Law

by Susan Trevaskes and Elisa Nesossi

In post-Eighteenth Party Congress China, politics continue to dominate the justice agenda, particularly in corruption cases and in cases that may have an impact on social stability. Despite its staunch opposition to liberalism, the new party leadership recognises that, during the last decade, encroachments of the Stability Maintenance agenda on the legal system have resulted in a widespread loss of public trust in the law. Hence, in 2013 rhetorical expressions such as ‘using rule-of-law thinking’ have reappeared in the politico-legal discourse. This in no way implies a new commitment to liberal values. Indeed, the prescribed route to development and prosperity in Xi Jinping’s China remains unmistakably socialist, intolerant of the ‘deviant path’ of Westernisation and heavily reliant on anti-corruption rhetoric and Mass Line discourse, and these ideological concerns justify and inform justice practices.

Chapter 5: Building Civilised Cities

by Carolyn Cartier

This chapter introduces the urban issue of the year — the air quality problem in China’s cities — in relation to the ‘Civilised City’ system. The system combines Maoist-style campaigns with ideals of urban modernisation, bestowing the honour of the title ‘Civilised City’ on chosen places of reform. A hybrid form of social control and urban governance, the National Civilised City program sets out goals that encompass government accountability, air quality monitoring and improved public infrastructure including cultural facilities, in addition to programs promoting volunteerism and ‘healthy’ ideals for urban youth. It is a broad-based approach for all cities that recalibrates the party-state’s political and social agendas in relation to standard urban development benchmarks.

Chapter 6: China’s Internet – a Civilising Process

by Jeremy Goldkorn

Slogans and rhetoric and management techniques introduced during the Civilised Internet (wenming banwang 文明办网) campaign of 2006 have had a lasting influence on the way China manages the Internet, and how the party-state defines what it means to be civilised online. This chapter traces a history of China’s Civilised Internet; it looks backs to the rise of blogging and social media a decade ago to illuminate events surrounding the online world in 2012 and 2013.

Chapter 7: Fitting Words

by Gloria Davies

In China, digital technology has enabled the spread of independent opinion but public culture remains under strict and increasingly sophisticated state control. In 2012, many people spoke of a growing gulf between the language of ordinary citizens and that of the Chinese government. This chapter begins with observations about the recent popular online demand for those in power to ‘speak like real people’ and then explores more broadly recent developments in language under one-party rule. It draws on examples of official, intellectual and popular communications that have attracted commentary, controversy or widespread notice. The analysis highlights the different ways in which public language in China bears the imprint of authoritarian power.