The harmony dilemma
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Harmony has become quite a buzzword in China today. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rising calls for harmony are coming at a time of heightened tensions between state and society in China. Not so long so, concepts such as sustainability and harmony were virtually unknown in China's lexicon, in its headlong pursuit of growth and prosperity. Today, contradictions of this astonishing growth are itself proving to be the gravest challenge for its political leadership.
The immense political symbolism of the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on June 4 will surely not be lost on its leaders. For Tiananmen represents not so much a question of dealing with the country's past as much as holding out a mirror to its future.
There is no denying that China's 'governance crisis' is a serious one. Over the past decade, China has seen a rising graph of social unrest with several public expressions of anger in the form of protests, riots and strikes. Referred to as "public order disturbances" or "mass group incidents" Chinese official figures estimate that there were as many as 87,000 such protests in 2005. These numbers can no longer be dismissed as localised sporadic incidents but speak of widespread societal angst over corruption, layoffs, predatory taxation, a dramatic rise in inequality, environmental degradation and a crumbling social security system.
A governance crisis spells nothing short of a legitimacy crisis for the governing class and the reasons for anxiety are obvious. The ability to maintain and deliver economic growth and to successfully deal with the crisis of rising expectations that it generates has been and will be critical for the party's continued viability. That the Chinese leadership takes this challenge very seriously is also clear.
Hu Jintao's concept of a "harmonious society" now stands elevated to the highest rhetorical levels of importance in state policy. The Sixth Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China held in 2006 drew a direct correlation between continued prosperity and the need for social equity and justice. The Plenum passed a resolution for a harmonious society to be established by 2020 and called for "putting people first" as the first step towards building a prosperous society. It has set itself an ambitious agenda of fostering a "democratic society under the rule of law", underlining the need for "maintaining social stability" and for "a stable and orderly society."
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