November 1, 2008｜China
Professor, Reitaku University
What will become of the society and economy of China after the Beijing Olympics? If one looks from a perspective of the stability of society, then not solely the problem of economic growth, but the problem of rural areas and the problem of the lower class workers in the cities could be said to be the most important issues.
China’s social strata are formed by: 1) the upper social stratum, made up of an extremely small number of the political and economic elites; 2) the middle social stratum, made up of the cities’ state and provincial public officials, enterprise administrators, owners of private enterprises, and technicians, etc.; and 3) the lower social stratum, made up of the great majority of peasant farmers, farm laborers, general laborers and ordinary workers, the owners of retail stores, and the unemployed. In the process of attempting to push systemic economic reforms and moves toward the market economy, economic policies for equality and fairness, and equal opportunity have not always been adopted. The haves have been further plundering the have-nots, and today this is increasingly widening the divide between rich and poor and increasing the population of those in poverty (including those poor in rights) (Yu Shaoxiang, Ruozhe de quanli—Shehui ruoshi qunti baohu de fali yanjiu [The Rights of Disadvantaged Groups—Research into the Legal Principles of the Protection of Underprivileged Groups], Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 2008, pp. 131-2).
As the disadvantaged of society come to feel that their rights are being shorn away, the factor of social unrest heightens, and violent incidents also increase. In rural areas, because of the awareness that the social life and economic benefit of farmers has been neglected, dissatisfaction toward administrators at the grassroots level is growing in intensity and mob incidents are frequently occurring.
It may therefore be said that protecting the rights of the disadvantaged of society is the most important issue at the present time in the realizing of the Harmonious Society aimed at by the Communist Party of China, maintaining the stable development of China’s economy and dissipating social unrest.
The Third Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was held in Beijing from 9 to 12 October 2008. At that session the “Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Major Issues Concerning Rural Reform and Development” was discussed and adopted.
The gap in income between urban residents and peasant farmers is large at 3.33:1 and the inequality is growing (Xinhua News Agency, 3 September 2008).Investigating what can best be done in order to double, compared to 2008, the per capita income for peasant farmers by 2020 and to correct the income disparity between urban residents and peasant farmers was the major subject at the Third Plenary Session.
In what sort of direction will rural reform proceed in the future? How will they attempt to protect such things as the rights of the disadvantaged peasant farmers? In Jiaozhou in Shandong Province a “land cooperative” organization is being created as a nationally pioneering attempt at rural reform. The city of Jiaozhou promulgated the “Ideas to further promote the spread of land management rights in rural areas to rapidly develop the scale of management” at the beginning of 2008 (Economic Information Daily, 17 October 2008). This is a philosophy to attempt to carry out modern agriculture and large-scale agriculture, allowing land contract management rights to spread freely via various methods in rural areas, such as the spread of contracting, leasing, interchanging, conveyancing, and exchanging into stock.
In the urban areas there are the disadvantaged who are unemployed or laid-off workers. They are mostly over forty, and as they are incapable of becoming the workforce that would appeal should enterprises want to hire staff, getting another job is also difficult, and the putting in order and repletion of a security system must be planned without delay. A draft social insurance law was submitted and had its first reading at the 31st Session of the Tenth National People’s Congress (NPC) of December 2007. It looks likely that a social insurance law will be officially enacted before the end of 2008. It is thought that workers’ right to a livelihood will be protected and societal fairness in mutual help and relief will be maintained by this law (Zheng Gongcheng, NPC Standing Committee member and professor at Renmin University of China, NPC website: http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/zt/2007-12/29/content_1387569.htm).
At this point in time economic measures to pump-prime the economy, such as large-scale tax cuts and fiscal spending, are necessary in the short term, and will probably be effective, but in the long term the putting in order of economic systems, policies and laws to eliminate the disparity between rich and poor is necessary.