This a rough translation of Fan Gui’s response to Sun Liping’s essay (which we wrote about here):
1. Regarding Sun’s first point, I believe that he has ignored a very crucial fact—the growing gap between rich and poor. 20% of the population controls 80% of the wealth, how can you say that such a status quo has “flexibility”? While Professor Sun divides the population into urban and rural, does he mean that the urban poor ought to shoulder the burden of the rural poor? They [the urban poor] think of themselves as victims! Can we really continue to ignore them? The greater the income inequality, the less “elasticity” the society has.
2. Regarding Sun’s second point, I believe that he ignores two problems:
Firstly, is there really a fully functioning market economy? The current market is ruled by the powerful — must we continue to ignore this fact, even while it increases social tension and conflict?
Secondly, is it really true that social discontent is not directed against the government? Is there no relation between social problems and the government? Ask those that have been laid off from state-owned enterprises, or those peasants that have been forced to relocate their homes, ask them who they blame. The problem cannot be reduced into a small conflict between labor and capital in some small area. We have to squarely face the problems and tension that exists between the government and the people, because the government’s legitimacy rests on how well it solves or deals with these problems. This applies both to the central as well as provincial and local governments. If the government’s interest continues to clash with that of the people, the crisis will only deepen.
3. Does Professor Sun really believe that economic development has solved a lot of problems? Then how come the reforms of education and medical care seem only to get worse? On what issues have there been actual, substantial improvements that have increased social stability? Are there really many new opportunities for people? If so, why does it seems as if only the stock market and the housing prices are rising? How come there don’t seem to be opportunities in other fields? It seems a bit simplistic to believe that economic growth can somehow magically solve other problems.
4. The government does, as Professor Sun suggests, control enough resources. However, it’s a pity that some of the resources they control go to things other than public expenses, such as “face projects” or the use of public funds for travel and dining. In fact, these resources are now being abused as the government uses them towards its advantage, against the interests of the people. Rather than being a tool for reducing social strife, it has in fact created and increased the amount of social strife. Obviously, the less you are able to supervise or control the government’s use of resources,the more likely it is that you will infringe on the rights of individuals, thus increasing social tensions. Without any mechanism to control or limit the government’spower, it is quite likely that the government will lose the trust of the people, and once that happens, and things slip out of control, you can bet that large-scale unrest could very easily become a possibility. This isn’t meant to scare anyone, but as a statement of fact. Is not Professor Sun’s point here a bit lacking in analysis?
5. That society has become more stratified and segmented is a fact, but that does not make the formation of an oppositional group impossible. If the present gap between rich and poor continues to grow, then society will be divided into haves and have-nots, and although the have-nots are economically disadvantaged, those that find themselves in a similar lot will eventually band and speak out together, and ultimately will attempt to use their numerical advantage to wrest political control from the govenrment — at that point, it is entirely possible that there will be mass action.
6. Regarding Sun’s sixth point: it is true, many social elites have been bought off. However, mass action doesn’t necessarily require the participation of social elites. Large-scale social unrest often happens because social tension reaches a certain degree that cannot be solved through normal means, and when the boiling point is reached, the tension will erupt into the open and do great damage to society.
7. Regarding Sun’s seventh point, it’s true that while many people do buy the rhetoric of the market, there are still greater numbers of people that believe that “you have to have a good father if you want a good job” or “if you want to make it rich you have to curry favor with important officials.” Those that know that you need a “good father” or connections to officials are not going to believe that there lot in life is due to their lack of ability. Their discontent will naturally be aimed at society.
8. Regarding Sun’s eight point: I’m not sure what “experience” Professor Sun is pointing to here. Perhaps those laid-off workers and workers are most clear about what kind of treatment they’ve received.
9. Professor Sun believes that nowadays, most conflicts are just purely non-ideological and apolitical conflicts of interest. I believe this is an overly reductive way of looking at things. Most of the problems in contemporary China result from political inequality; the most serious problems come about because the undue concentration of power leads to the abuse of that power. Of course we can’t really blame Professor Sun; he spends most of his time on campus teaching where he can’t see these things happening.
I believe that Professor Sun wants to separate economic and political problems and let the government deal with economic problem while not letting these become politicized. I am sure this wish comes from a good place, but is really possible to cleanly separate the economic and political?
I believe that social unrest arises from a combination of political, economic, and cultural factors. To forcibly separate them will no doubt lead to serious misjudgment and even error. My intention, in criticizing Sun Liping’s essay, is not to exaggerate the threat of instability in China. I believe that there is the possibility of large-scale unrest, but this is not to say with Professor Sun that “we should scare ourselves” but rather that we ought to bravely take a look at the problems that we face.
Professor Sun hopes that society can peacefully and incrementally advance, without major social disturbances—which is quite understandable. However to purposefully avoid the threat of instability won’t make the problem go away. The question is not, as Sun says, the relative slowness political reform, but rather the complete impasse or even retrogression in this process. This is a reality that we cannot avoid.
I hope that intellectuals with as much influence as Professor Sun can call for more political reform, rather than turning a blind eye to problems, saying things that are not critical or that even echo the position of those in power. If it’s going to be like, that I would rather see them [i.e. intellectuals like Sun] remain silent, rather than misleading the masses so that they are as lost in fantasy and wishful-thinking as you are, because if a crisis really does come, we might get caught completely off-guard and therefore be prone to making even greater errors.
Fan Gui, 7 November 2007.
The original essay, in Chinese, is here.
Note: The photo above is not Fan Gui. We couldn’t find a picture of him online.
Also on Shanghaiist: Sun Liping discusses social stability in China