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A Prelude to China’s Coming Reforms

Mar 09, 2013
  • Qin Xiaoying

    Research Scholar, China Foundation For Int'l and Strategic Studies

March sees the return of spring to most parts of China, a season that has been greatly valued by the Chinese since ancient times because, as they believe, the work for a year is best begun in the spring. It might also be this type of traditional thinking, I am afraid, that explains China’s habitual scheduling of the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (commonly known as the Two Sessions) for early spring. 

The Two Sessions now under way, however, differ from the previous ones in several senses.

First of all, the new leadership headed by Xi Jinping, elected by the Communist Party of China near the end of last year, will be officially endorsed through legislative procedures during the current Two Sessions, officially terminating the period of power transition and taking charge of orchestration and boost of all understandings in the capacity of both the top Party and state leaders..

Secondly, the new leaders will get to learn lots of latest and most earnest demands from the grassroots populace during the Two Sessions, a time that has been known as ‘days of democratic politics’  because both the NPC deputies and the CPPCC members will voice their opinions and suggestions most loudly and in greatest honesty. On several previous occasions, both Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang had encouraged the ordinary people to tell their true mind and true stories. Sure to be repeated during the current Two Sessions, this stand by the top two leaders will widen the room for honest comments and real stories that underscore the performance of democratic duties and narrow the space for empty talks that merely echo the voices from the top. When veteran NPC deputy Shen Jilan and CPPCC member Ni Ping disclosed during the Two Sessions in 2012 that they had never voted against any motions or proposals or even raised any opposite opinions in their respective capacity, they came under a real barrage of criticism and ridicule.  

As a matter of fact, China is entering a new stage of social development after completing a 35-year period of fast economic growth. Given the situation, some scholars have worried that China may fall into the same middle income pitfall that had trapped many developing countries in the past, while some warned that China may be running headlong into a ‘prosperous period of lurking perils’ as experienced by the former Soviet Union under Brezhnev’s rule. According to some foreign media, what handed over by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to their respective successors Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang is a China filled with hopes and opportunities, and flooded by contradictions and difficulties. They are right, to be fair, because it is a period when contradictions come to stand out most prominently during the course of a country’s growth into a big power. China’s today is a pluralist society with constant pluralizing of values, interests, public opinions, and social groups. Due to differentiation of interests, ethnicities, professions, regions, ages and even genders, social pursuits have become widely different and individualistic. 

For all the differences, however, we can still find some popular pursuits from freely-attended microblogs and numerous media reports in the country that are so socially similar, so ardent, and so pressing. One of this author’s overseas friends has once generalized these common pursuits and aspirations into wishes for three reductions: reduction of environmental (as well as air and water) pollution, reduction of safety loopholes (including those in the food, medicine and transportation sectors), and reduction of the number of corruptive officials. 

So simplistic they sound, don’t they? Examined from another angle, however, these wishes signify a fundamental change of the general pursuits of the Chinese society today from the early years of reform and opening-up. In other words, while the Chinese struggled just for sufficient food and clothing during the Deng Xiaoping era, they now yearn for almost everything. In other words, they have tremendously raised their demand on life and subsistence quality, and come to both seek spiritual and material satisfaction and target economic and political goals. In one word, the Chinese today yearn for a democratic, law-governed, and constitutional living space more ardently than their peers in any of the eras in the Chinese history. They also aspire for a government that is more efficient in social administration, cleaner, better self-disciplined, and more responsible. In addition, they wish for greater safety secured through legislation and law enforcement; greater happiness achieved through completion of the social insurance system; greater dignity gained through relentless punishment of corruptive officials and promotion of equality and justice; and greater identity with the international community established through rational broadening of governmental, non-governmental, economic, trade, military and diplomatic channels.                                                     

Obviously, the new Chinese leaders can hardly satisfy all these demands of their people in one day. What is encouraging, however, is that the team headed by Xi Jinping has been marching resolutely toward the goal ever since its creation at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Through his speech on constitutional government, rebuke of corruption, contemplation over improvement of administrative efficiency, and reiteration of China’s unswerving stand for peaceful development, Xi has already pledged the determination of his team to do something within its tenure. Revolved to seek advice and comments on governance from the people, Xi and his Politburo colleagues will surely pin quite some hope on the current Two Sessions for some new positive energy.

Spring stands for hope, and marks a beginning. The Two Sessions now under way will be, as we see, a prelude of the reforms China will soon put into course.

Qin Xiaoying, is a Research Scholar with the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

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