A rising number of cases of civic unrest in China do not necessarily mean China will one day become a Western-style democracy because mass protests there have focused on a great number of issues, but democracy has not been one of them, academics said in Taipei yesterday.
While the increasing number of mass protests is an alarming issue for Beijing, “the party-state regime is getting better at containing public anger so it does not threaten the reins of the government,” said Wang Hsin-hsien (王信賢), an associate professor at National Chengchi University.
Wang was among four China experts who spoke yesterday at a forum called “Facing Chinese society,” the second of four symposiums organized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to increase the party’s understanding of China.
Experts said it was imperative for the DPP to better understand Chinese society, but added that the party also needed to be able to accurately ascertain societal differences between Taiwan and China.
Social instability in China likely reflects internal power struggles in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) based on differences of opinion on how to respond to specific instances of unrest, such as the riots in Xinjiang in 2009, rather than a real threat to the authoritarian regime, Wang said, adding that in the case of Xianjiang, the CCP was split over how to tame the unrest.
Compared with Taiwan, where social movements have shared a close connection with political movements since the late 1970s, social movements in China have rarely been cross-class, cross-agenda or cross-geographical in nature, nor have they attracted large numbers from the middle class, Wang said.
Wang also said that academics have underestimated the Chinese government’s technological control over the Internet and its sophisticated control of demonstrations.
Academia Sinica political scientist Hsu Szu-chien (徐斯儉) shared this view, saying that China has listed “social management innovation” as one of its top priorities, meaning that China’s leadership understands that social movements in the enormous country can only be “contained,” not stopped.
“[The CCP] has learned when to tighten the leash and when to let go. It can even mobilize mass movements for its own agenda,” Hsu said, adding that the CCP has established a social organization network to increase its influence.
Recent anti-Japan protests in various cities across China were a good example because “the only organization that could organize anti-Japan protests in 85 cities on the same day is the CCP,” Hsu said.
Academia Sinica sociologist Lin Thung-hong (林宗弘) said that social movements in China were very different from those in Taiwan because Chinese protests focused on basic rights, such as housing, wages and other elements related to livelihood, rather than political rights.
How Chinese farmers are treated is a barometer of China’s rise, National Sun Yet-sen University associate professor Tsai Hung-cheng (蔡宏政) said.
The DPP’s “Open Studio” policy forum examined possible future political development last week and is scheduled to discuss China’s economic development and human rights situation the following two weeks.