In a piece posted in Chinese late yesterday, China Elections and Governance takes an interesting look at the way Japan’s response to the recent catastrophe has caused some Chinese to marvel at the resilience of the Japanese people, and how social order can be ensured without the strong arm of the government.
Called “Japan, a Society that Needs No Stability Preservation”, the piece is also a clear shot across the bow of the Chinese government’s policy of “stability preservation,” or weiwen (维稳), which essentially amounts to the mobilization of domestic security police to put down instances of unrest. A report from Reuters earlier this month revealed that China’s outlays for domestic security are expected to outstrip military spending by three billion dollars this year.
Yu Jianrong, director of the Center for the Research of Rural and Social Problems at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a former China Media Project fellow, has argued that China’s efforts at “stability preservation” are costly and ineffective, resulting in what he calls “rigid stability.” Outlining his arguments at Global Asia last summer, Yu wrote:

[A]ctive “stability creation” must take the place of passive stability preservation. This means breaking through the simplistic thinking behind the notion of stability as the overriding priority, and changing the idea that stability is something to be purchased at whatever cost. Breaking through this thinking requires a new way of thinking, which can be summed up in this way: facing mass incidents in China today, our society must be rational, our leaders must be wise and our researchers must show character. In a sensitive time of social tension, we need more than wise leadership. We need even more urgently a new way of thinking about stability that accords with our stage of social development. As they deal with massive problems concerning public interests, government leaders must be fair and just, dealing with issues reasonably and quickly, not half-heartedly, and they must not abuse their positions of power. The result of actively resolving social tensions and other factors of instability at their roots will be “stability creation.” At the same time, however, the steadily increasing social tensions in China cannot be dealt with through economic reforms alone. They must be resolved and controlled without delay through political reforms.

Real stability, argues Yu Jianrong, is a “dynamic stability” that arises from a recognition of social problems. By contrast, China’s current policy of “stability preservation by means of pressure conceals social problems, making it difficult to find real solutions” and resulting in “the long-term accumulation of social tensions.”
In the wake of the earthquake in Japan, some Chinese have glimpsed, the China Elections and Governance piece suggests, the kind of resilient stability Professor Yu says China must work toward. A portion of the article is translated below, but readers of Chinese are encouraged to read the entire article:

Japan, a Society that Needs No Stability Preservation
It must be said that maintaining social order in the midst of such chaos is a miracle, but the conduct of the Japanese is enough to make one believe in miracles. In a piece called, “A First-Hand Experience of the Japan Quake,” written for FT Chinese, Zhang Lei (张磊), a special assistant to the CEO of China’s Hanwang Technology, wrote that just 10 seconds after the quake occurred: “There was no other programming on any of Japan’s television channels, everything was about the quake, and the scenes being broadcast were staggering. I wondered: Was Japan’s government not afraid that it would cause instability for them to report the quake on the TV without fear like this? But in the TV reports on the quake, you rarely saw pictures of high-level Japanese leaders ‘dealing with the disaster’, and there seemed to be no images of the Japanese Prime Minister directing the relief effort, spilling his tears over the disaster-stricken area.”
In the face of major disaster, what we have seen is that the Japanese people are well-trained, calm and deliberate. The country has not descended into chaos or alarm, but instead has, just as ever, shown the world a face of calm order, solidarity and mutual assistance.
The article, “How Was the Social Resilience Shown By Japan After this Major Quake Achieved?“, published in Beijing Youth Daily on March 13], described Japan after the disaster in this way: “Even as they sought refuge city residents took it upon themselves to keep the main roads clear, those filing through stairwells divided to either side, keeping the middle open. They calmly waited in line for public transportation or to buy emergency supplies at supermarkets. Teachers were the last to leave their classrooms before shutting off the power. Public television stations broadcast essential information about the disaster and personal safety information in multiple languages. Toilets and other facilities were set up quickly in schools, parks and public areas. It was a scene of public order showing comprehensive expertise and efficiency in dealing with possible secondary hazards following the quake.”
. . .
Sun Yat-sen University Vice-President Chen Chunsheng (陈春声), who experienced the quake first-hand in Tokyo, said that when the quake began he wandered with other city residents to a public square, where everyone sat calmly on the ground. No one was flurried, and once the tremors had passed everyone headed back from whence they had come, the square cleared without so much as a hint of garbage: “Really, there was not a spec of litter, I’m absolutely certain of it.” He also emphasized that everyone was quite trusting of the government [Source: Phoenix Online].
At Chinese, editor Yuan Li (袁莉) said: “Going home, people waited in line. Using the public telephone, people waited in line. No one scattered litter anywhere. Faced with such a major disaster, Japanese have still not let go of their civilized ways. People like this fill one with admiration. I’m saying my prayers for them.”

FRONTPAGE PHOTO: Japanese wait in line at a grocery store on March 13 following the earthquake, available by Aaron Olaf at under Creative Commons license.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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