Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Norms of Chinese Harmony: Disciplinary Rules as Social Stabiliser

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Norms of Chinese Harmony: Disciplinary Rules as Social Stabiliser

Article excerpt

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Economic modernity, social stability and legal tension

Whereas the concept of "socialist rule of law" (she- hui zhuyi fazhi guojia ...)((2) punctuated political discourse in the late 1990s, it is the idea of a "socialist harmonious soci- ety" (shehui zhuyi hexie shehui ...) that today casts a strange light, clearly more Marxist than Confucian, on Chinese legal reform.

For more than five years now, Chinese leaders have been trying to deal with numerous social protest movements((3) by constructing an overarching theoretical discourse which turns law into one of the regime's best allies. The first attempts to reduce inequalities that had widened greatly in Chinese so- ciety began in November 2002 when the need for social har- mony figured in debates during the 16th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In September 2004, the Fourth Plenary Session of the Party's 16th Central Committee clarified the leadership's goals. From then on, Hu Jintao and other top Chinese leaders repeatedly referred to the concept of "socialist harmonious society", which ac- quired a theoretical foundation in the landmark resolution of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee in October 2006. Its resolution,((4) organised as a system of core values,((5) specifies in familiar ideological terms, a set of principles based on "Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the 'Three Repre- sents'."((6) All this is directed towards the progressive realisa- tion of a harmonious society, by 2020. Although the text of the resolution is rather vague, it has an eye-catching group of binary elements. These concepts, conceived as comple- mentary, however contain a number of contradictions which become clearly apparent once the proposition is analysed in its entirety. The socialist harmonious society is to be founded on "democracy and the rule of law, equity and jus- tice, honesty and comradeship, vitality, stability and order, as well as harmony between Man and nature". All these el- ements are closely linked to the establishment of the social- ist rule of law, an ideal which seems to run the whole edi- fice. But it remains to be seen which will prevail - rule of law over democracy, equity over justice or order over vitality. A rudimentary explanation had actually been given by Hu Jintao on 4 March 2006, when he drew up a list of "Eight Honours, Eight Disgraces" marking a moral boundary be- tween good and evil:((7)

-Love the country; do it no harm.

-Serve the people; do no disservice.

-Follow science; discard ignorance.

-Be diligent; not indolent.

-Be united, help each other; make no gains at others' expense.

-Be honest and trustworthy; do not give up morals for profits.

-Be disciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless.

-Live plainly, struggle hard; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.

These rules of conduct for the development of a "socialist morality" are not just a flight of fancy; but are meant to be practiced. An example of this is Hu Jintao having ceremoni- ously greeted 53 new "moral models".((8)

The penultimate proposition above bears reflection: "Be dis- ciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless." This goes to the heart of the theoretical framework which seeks to turn law into a disciplinary principle bearing in mind the moral construction of society. Law not only disciplines the conduct of the physical individual; it captures the heart through a willing commitment to higher moral imperatives.((9) This ob- jective, to be considered in greater detail in the main body of this discussion, was clearly illustrated in the opinions pub- lished by the Supreme People's Court on 15 January 2007. The recommendations, aimed at clarifying the role of the ju- diciary in building the socialist harmonious society,((10) were followed in March 2007 by two statements by the Supreme People's Court stressing the "positive role" of mediation in resolving conflicts. …

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