August 07th, 2012 | Global Times Alienated public cynical about reform’s real prospects
A research project on China’s national revival has drawn huge controversy. The project, chaired by Yang Yiyong, director of the Institute for Social Development under the National Development and Reform Commission, claimed that China had accomplished “62.74 percent” of its national revival by 2010. It wasn’t just ordinary netizens poking fun online. People’s Daily remarked on its microblog that the idea of such an index pales when negative news about social injustice prevails. Why did a positive project draw such a negative reaction? Exactly what went wrong? The Global Times invited two commentators to give their views.
Sometimes public reactions to information published by official organizations are more linked to the social climate than the information itself. The recent public mockery of the “national revival” index is one example.
Using math formulas to evaluate an abstract and subjective concept like national revival may look bizarre, but it is not unknown in the social sciences.
The UN has an index to evaluate ecosystems, while the Japanese also have an index to measure their national education reform, so why can’t China use an index to evaluate its national revival?
The controversy is more about the research organization’s affiliation with the government.
As the Institute for Social Development is under the main government agency that manages the country’s reforms, the research program is seen by many as a government project that may become part of national development guidelines.
What’s really behind the broad mockery of this index is not the project itself. It is the growing alienation from national identity as a result of the public’s dissatisfaction that has stirred up these bitter reactions.
Such alienation will continue for quite some time during China’s transformation stage.
People often unconsciously confuse the government and the nation, their dissatisfaction with the government often influences their attitude toward national identity. As a result, loopholes in the rule of law, official corruption, failing social management and inadequate public participation in politics all contribute in breaking the social consensus over national identity.
National identity is a source of government legitimacy. But there are people, who intentionally challenge the notion of national identity so as to give the government a sense of crisis that can drive it to make changes.
This can also explain why cynicism is so popular in China. In fact, it’s not just the national revival index that has been a target of such mockery. China’s efforts in the London Olympic Games have also faced similar comments. People’s dissatisfaction with the government eventually overshadows any feeling of national identity.
In a society in transition, identity can be a very powerful issue, no matter in a small neighborhood or to a nation. It can easily rally people under phrases like “We are all X.”
But both embracing and rejecting national identity entirely are dangerous possibilities. Rejecting national identity may end up leaving a society shattered, while excessive nationalism may narrow the mind of a society.
A true national revival should be accompanied by constant reforms. Nevertheless the reality in China is that many now lack faith in further reforms, so it’s no wonder that claims that national revival is 37.26 percent away from completion are met with bitter reactions.
This is a direct reflection of public opinion and government officials should take it seriously.
Policymakers committed to reforms should strive to heal national alienation, as social consensus is the foundation of successful reforms.
The author is a Guangzhou-based media commentator.
By Peng Xiaoyun