How can we deal with social contradictions effectively? There are three basic things we can do: maintain and promote social justice in laying the foundation for social security; safeguard people’s basic rights to promote “stability,” and vigorously promote the formation and development of social organizations that effectively integrate social forces and provide a buffer between the people and the government. While it is still in the process of development, China should recognize it occupies a uniquely advantageous position in terms of dealing with social contradictions. While Chinese people still have a strong desire for stability, China has the capacity for strong national mobilization, a tradition of pragmatism and tolerance, and the family, which plays an important buffering role.
Social contradictions in traditional and modern societies have different characteristics. In traditional societies, the probability of social contradictions occurring was relatively small, while in modern societies, it is relatively large. A variety of analyses conclude that social contradictions in traditional societies were largely related to land issues, while in modern societies they are related to the protection of basic human rights. As for how serious social contradictions are expressed, in traditional societies, they were expressed most easily through fierce confrontations, sometimes even bloody and brutal conflicts. In modern societies, however, serious contradictions are rarely expressed through confrontation and bloodshed. In traditional societies, it was difficult to find resolution in social contradictions, especially serious social contradictions; but in modern societies, there is a much stronger ability in finding resolutions.
It cannot be said that social contradictions, in general, are harmful or useless. Social contradictions often have dual functions: on the one hand, they exert a degree of negativity on society. But on the other hand, they may become a driving force for social change. During this transition period of reform and development, the latter becomes especially clear. The positive effects of social contradictions are shown by the continuous promotion and improvement of social justice (where the aggravation and escalation of social contradictions create an important opportunity for new patterns of interests), the development and perfection of various systems, the revelation of fault lines or points of struggle in a society’s operation, and, under certain conditions, the revelation of where social contradictions have created accumulated discontent or resentments. Social contradictions need to exist in certain conditions to become driving forces for social development. The parties concerned in social contradictions, especially the most influential parties, cannot become irrational, and the majority must have a relatively broad consensus on future prospects. The timing, also, must be right to launch relevant policies.
With regard to the aggravation of social contradictions, and whether or not they are being resolved, while recognizing the fundamental impact of material interest factors, non-material interest factors also have an important impact. Non-material interest factors can have the effect of either alleviating or aggravating social contradictions. Special attention should be paid to “extreme” spiritual factors such as racism, religious consciousness, and extremist ideology, which obviously all have catalytic effects on intense social conflicts. The main characteristics of these extreme spiritual factors are self-belief in the uniqueness of truth, self-belief in the monopoly of the world, extreme exclusiveness of external attitudes, and a means for enacting extreme brutality. Extreme spiritual factors easily lead to strong conformist behaviors on the part of group members and an orientation toward extreme paranoid goals, as well as intense social contradictions and conflicts, which inevitably lead to social disasters.
Power struggles between stakeholders are an important influence on the aggravation or alleviation of social contradictions. From the standpoint of the resistant party, the weight of its influence on society, the internal integration of its forces, and how the economic situation develops have a significant influence on social contradictions. From the perspective of the ruling party, its credibility and its power of control and integration have obvious influences on social contradictions. From the “middle party” perspective, its specific attitude and behavior orientation also have a certain influence on social contradictions. In addition, the specific situations of parties and other related factors have an important impact on social contradictions.
The relationship between labor and capital is very important in China, and contradictions between labor and capital are having increased impacts on society. Labor-capital contradictions in China have several key features. They illustrate where there are clear shortcomings in both the system and the arrangement of policy in terms of labor-capital relations—for example, when the government shows insufficient support for workers or there is an obvious absence of trade unions. Labor and capital are not equal, and the phenomenon of “strong capital and weak labor” is pervasive. Workers’ interests and demands are principally economic, not political. And on the whole their interests and demands are presented in moderate ways rather than violent ones.
The huge gap between the rich and the poor will generate severe contradictions between the two groups and lead in turn to other social contradictions. Due to a variety of factors, the contradictions between the rich and the poor in contemporary China have some obvious characteristics, but their core ultimately lies in China’s social structure. The government’s public services fail to fulfil their responsibilities effectively and the Chinese people are increasingly concerned about the gap between the rich and the poor. These contradictions are negative, broad, profound, and at a critical transition point.
Compared to other developed and developing countries, China has especially prominent contradictions between its government and the people. These have gradually increased from top to bottom. Some of the disputes between the government and the people are antagonistic. The contradictions show signs of ossification, and the government lacks any sort of settled mechanism for institutionalized absorption and resolution. However, some contradictions between the government and the people are non-confrontational. These can either become more intense or ease off.
When studying social contradictions in modern China, it is necessary first to have a general understanding and a macro-level perspective on their key features. Unlike most developing countries and regions, China has had a special social context in which to reform, open up, and modernize. Against this special background, the social contradictions that are key in modern China are: 1. that people’s livelihoods outweigh political appeals; 2. that disputes between the government and its citizens are prominent; 3. that individual cases often lead to crowd phenomena; 4. that the means people use to appeal for their interests is usually mild, so solving social contradictions tends to result in a dilemma; and 5. that there is a high probability of social contradictions increasing in severity.
The Internet has had a huge positive impact on Chinese society, and it has also spawned an array of social contradictions. Compared with past social contradictions, contradictions during the Internet era present a variety of characteristics: the Internet evokes both equality and inequality simultaneously, and the Internet boosts social contradictions to a significant degree and amplifies the extent of social contradictions. Social contradictions as seen by people in cyberspace appear to be more serious than the actual contradictions, but the Internet also has a positive function because it has the power to alleviate social contradictions. The key to relieving social contradictions in the Internet age is to regulate the Internet more effectively. To this end, it is necessary to implement measures like making backstage real-name registration mandatory for all Internet users when making information public, strengthening the supervision of Internet security, and carrying out the legal construction of the Internet.