The National People’s Congress or the National Politruks’ Conference?
For Chinese citizens, this year’s annual ‘two sessions’ of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) and the 11th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) are eyed – or neglected if you will - from different angles and walks of life. Depending on material circumstances, expectations of life, and access to information about issues at home or abroad people view it in different ways. Chinese people, regardless of what social strata they belong to, usually pay little attention, as this is not really regarded as the “people’s congress.” Many hold it to be the “high officials congress.”
Chinese and foreign news media analyses have focused on Premier Wen Jiabao’s presentation of the State Council’s work report of the past year – and the upcoming five-year plan. Much has been said about the report and the plan, so I won’t dwell on those documents here. In the light of China’s participation problem and the non-inclusiveness of the country’s political system, I think a focus on how the NPC is not representing broad segments of the population merits our attention. As always when the Chinese Communist Party feels it has to rectify things, measures of government economic stimulus, propaganda/information, and forceful repression by the power ministries in both offline and online forums are the main ingredients in the stability cocktail. If you are of a different opinion, you’ll just have to swallow, be still and calm for some time. Things usually get more normal, or at least somewhat normal, in a while. Right now it is not. As witnessed in the past few weeks, harsh treatment of democracy activists, legal practitioners, and foreign journalists in connection with the aborted Chinese “Jasmine revolution are now rule of thumb.
Economic inequality and power disparity
Finding remedies to the problem of income disparity and further improving the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable segment of China’s population is of utmost importance. Indeed, the best way to measure a society’s progress is to investigate the plight and situation of those groups in society that lead a hard material life. In China, these people are often referred to as “weak/vulnerable social groups.” How do they fare if we take a look at power disparity? It is conventional wisdom that these people — peasants, migrant workers, manual laborers, and other marginalized groups are subject to all sorts of discrimination and power abuse in cities as well as in the countryside. But how do they get represented in China’s National People’s Congress? On Tianya Forum, one person contributed with a post titled ”Migrant workers look at the ‘two sessions’: judging our migrant workers representatives” S/he lamented the fact that of the more than 5,000 delegates to the ‘two sessions” only three were migrant worker representatives: Zhu Xueqin from the Shanghai delegation, Kang Houming from the Chongqing delegation, and Hu Xiaoyan from the Guangdong delegation. That computes as 0.06 percent, hardly representative of a 200 million people large interest group. In absolute number, so-called red capitalists have more delegates to the NPC. Thus, entrepreneurs are a strong and powerful constituency. But how many millions of the ”masses” are they?
Social management to maintain stability
While I would not bet on China becoming engulfed in revolutionary fervor leading to regime change anytime soon, tensions and social discontent clearly exist in China. If there were no tensions and unhappy people around, the country would not see approximately 100, 000 so called mass incidents, i.e. grievances channeled into social protests every year. That is also why China, as was recently revealed, spends more taxpayer money on internal security than on its armed forces, the PLA. And brewing social discontent was also one reason for why President Hu Jintao held an ”important speech” at the opening ceremony of a seminar attended by provincial and ministerial-level officials in Beijing on February 19, 2011. It was pretty much a prep-talk containing the standard ingredients of China’s stability cocktail. But attention ought to be paid to his emphasis on the need for innovation to enhance ”social management with Chinese characteristics” — especially what regards containment of the restive and gossipy microblogging sphere inside China’s Great Firewall. Before the National People’s Congress it had long been indicated that economic policies would shift from economic growth to the improvement of the people’s life quality. We were told that the Chinese government would shift from an export oriented growth model to a model based a little bit more on domestic consumption. Moreover, to maintain much cherished social and political stability, economic growth had to benefit all people. One can only agree and say fair enough and - good luck. Just don’t forget to spend money from some of those huge export surpluses on building a sound welfare system, so that people dare to invest in something else than just stufffing their mattresses full of RMB as they prepare for old age, retirement, or sudden illness. And one more thing — crucial point – do not forget to remedy that power disparity/exclusion variable. True, it does not compute well with the stratagem “social management with Chinese characteristics” but it would do well for getting the “harmonious society” equation right. Depending on the ingredients, some cocktails are more explosive than others.