'Social management' unlikely to offer much in the way of justice

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
 

The Politburo's internal security boss, Zhou Yongkang, has been very busy in the last couple of months.

It all started in late August when the committee that he chairs expanded and changed its name from the Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Public Security to the Central Committee for Comprehensive Social Management.

The rebranding may seem like a tweak, but adopting the phrase 'social management' underlines its renewed function under the powerful Communist Party Central Committee.

The committee's responsibility, according to People's Daily website People.com.cn, is to co-ordinate efforts from all member agencies to maintain social management, to propose policies and to give guidance. In the past, the committee covered 40 member bodies but since the name change that total has grown to more than 50.

Zhou chaired a flurry of meetings beginning on September 16 when he listed eight areas on which the committee would concentrate its work. These areas are: management of and services to the migrant population; management of and services to businesses and non-government community groups; support and protection for special needs groups; expansion of the security control system; prevention of juvenile crime; comprehensive security in schools; security of key public facilities; and research on related laws and policy.

Just under a fortnight later the committee met again, this time to hear officials from Beijing, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Hunan, and Shenzhen report on their strategies to deal with social problems. Zhou asked local party organisations and government agencies to understand that social management was their 'foremost duty and task'.

People.com.cn was quick to follow up with a commentary saying that Zhou's remarks showed that development and stability are 'like the two wings' of China's rise. And proactive measures must be taken to deal with all the public's 'internal contradictions'.

More noticeably, the committee convened two meetings last week alone. The one on Wednesday was a 'special subject' conference, focusing on the management of the 200 million internal migrants, more than half of whom have left their rural villages to take on jobs in the cities.

The meeting on Friday focused on the prevention of juvenile crime, along with measures to help school dropouts, young homeless people, the children of migrant workers and those of prison inmates. It gave special mention to the need to censor internet content for minors.

The phrase 'social management' is a new piece of jargon and started cropping up in officialdom in February when Beijing's leaders were alarmed by the wave of Middle East revolutions, or turmoil, as they referred to it. Party General Secretary Hu Jintao first used the phrase at a high-level meeting with cadres studying at the Central Party School.

So what exactly does social management refer to? A People's Daily editorial defined it as 'maximising society's dynamics while minimising elements of social disharmony'. In order to do so, the editorial said, efforts must be focused on the origin of problems, which it identified as the restlessness of the mainland's hundreds of millions of migrants. Urban residents often blame migrants for crime in their communities. In June, in Zengcheng, Guangdong province, a massive street riot was apparently triggered by allegedly derogatory remarks by a community security officer against migrant workers.

In Sichuan, the province's official mouthpiece, Sichuan Daily, said the greatest challenge to social management lay at the grass-roots level, such as the management of urban and rural communities.

But some social scientists suggest some officials have missed the point.

In Zhongshan in Guangdong, the local government's internal portal quoted Tsinghua University sociology professor Sun Liping as saying that what China needed was 'positive social management', meaning social management anchored in social justice, not just 'passive social management', which is synonymous with social control.

The reality, Professor Sun said, was that social justice was still weak on the mainland and that people 'don't have a place to appeal to' when they strike problems.

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