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Beijing Forum 2009: Nov 7 Harvard-Yenching Institute Panel Session

Yingjie Exchange Center, Peking University, Nov 7, 2009:  On the afternoon of Nov 7th, the Harvard-Yenching Institute Panel was held at No.4 Meeting Room, Yingjie Exchange Center. Scholars from different countries were convened to exchange their ideas on the grassroots mobilization in the 20th century China. Prof. Elizabeth J. Perry, director of Harvard-Yenching Institute, hosted the panel session.


The first lecture was given by Prof. Yu Jianrong from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He presented an analytical framework on the social order in China. He pointed out that some recent social conflicts in China were caused by people’s profit problems and they would not destroy the unity of China’s political domination and the efficiency of social governance. Thus, the social order in China is stable on the whole. However, he deemed that this stability is inflexible. He claimed to realize the change from inflexible to flexible stability through establishing a fair and equitable social wealth distribution system to guarantee the grassroots’ right, changing the current pressure system to realize a county-level political decentralization, and establishing legal authority through judicial reform.


Then, Prof. Zhou Yi from Fudan University shared her essay “Local Society in Transformative Economy: Actor, Relations and Institutions.” Based on the case of the process of building “the First Chinese Farmer City” in Wenzhou in the early 1980s and some first-hand field research data, she constructed the “Local Society Model.” She concluded that the urbanization process described by text as the farmers’ “from bottom to top” and spontaneous action in reform age were actually embedded in government force which can be described as “from top to bottom.”


In his lecture “Can NGOs be Efficient for Public Governance? - Development of Chinese Social Groups in a Realistic Perspective,” Prof. Xu Xianglin from School of Government of Peking University stated that NGO’s political character, potential lack of efficiency as well as its remediation to the failures of government and market, jointly constitute the complicated relationship between NGOs and the government, which in turn greatly limits the room of the development for NGOs in China. He also pointed out that the cooperative and mutually restraining situation can be formed if NGOs win the trust from CPC and the government.


In the discussion part, Prof. Elizabeth J. Perry gave excellent comments to the lecturers. She believed that there are still flexibilities in China’s governance, which are different to Prof. Yu Jianrong’s “inflexibility stability.” She thought highly of Prof. Zhou Yi’s research. Finally they had a warm discussion about the relation between grassroots and the government.


After the coffee break, three scholars presented their exciting essays. Prof. Liu Chun from the Chinese University of Hong Kong talked about culture in collective action from a pragmatics point of view, using data gathered from two years’ field research on a neighborhood-based environmental dispute in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen from 2004 to 2006. She stressed that past experiences and current policy settings are more important indicators to understand the rise and fall of a public controversy.


Prof. Jeong Jong-Ho from Seoul National University gave the lecture “Restructuring the Wenzhou Model: A Case Study on the Transformation of Zhejiangcun - A Migrant Settlement in Beijing.” Through a large number of data and pictures, he explained the reasons of Zhejiangcun’s transformation in Beijing during the past several years by the “Wenzhou Model” and the “New Wenzhou Model.”


Then, Prof. Yan Xiaojun from the University of Hong Kong presented his topic of “Market Reform, Financial Hardship and Political Participation: the Government Reform in Q County.” By closely observing the fundamental transformation of village leadership and governing structure in the villages of Q County during the past decade, he pointed out that local cadres have to collaborate with the newly emerged community leaders and change the way in which politics is run at the grassroots level accordingly, in order to locate alternative financial resources, pacify social tension, provide meaningful public services, and promote economic development.


Finally, Prof. Elizabeth J. Perry and Prof. Michael Herzfeld commented on the essays respectively and initiated a round of discussion between speakers and the audience. Besides Harvard, the universities of Berkeley and Stanford held penal sessions in Beijing Forum 2009 as well.

 

 

Edited by: Cai Ying, Seren