That was the golden age of reform in China. If the process of reform is to have any hope of moving forward now, it will require, at the very least, mutual trust between the state and the people.
At present, however, Chinese people have little trust in local government at any level. They would rather place their hopes in a far off, nebulous central government than trust in their local government’s will to reform. At the same time, the government is suspicious of the people, interpreting any expression of dissatisfaction as a threat to the system, even associating any group activity with “collaboration with external forces.” This lack of trust between the state and the people has now gone so far that it has taken on a psychological aspect. How can reforms move forward when there is a lack of trust between state and society? How is the state going to win the people’s support? Any reforms instigated without this support will run into a dead end.
Under the leadership of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), the past few years have been all about maintaining stability. Reform, by definition, involves change, generally to the betterment of the present circumstances. As a challenge to the stability of the past, it necessitates a certain degree of instability. Stability and reform are mutually incompatible.
To state the policy goal of maintaining stability, then, is to confirm that reform is dead.
Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Paul Cooper