This article takes as its point of departure contrasts between China’s fundamental philosophy of governance and the Anglo-American classical-liberal tradition, to show the differences between a mode of thinking that sees binary opposites as forming interactive unified wholes rather than mutually exclusive either / or opposites. It reviews the Chinese state’s relationship with village communities by looking back at the history of the past century, in North China and in the Yangzi Delta. The article summarizes the traditional mode of governance in the Qing period, undergirded by both state leadership and village self-governance, as well as both moralism and practicality, in the management of village affairs and mediations of disputes. That was followed by the decline and partial breakdown of the system in the Republic, and then excessive state control in the collective era, followed by the opposite of nearly complete state withdrawal in the late Reform period. What is needed is a more balanced relationship between the state and the village, with both top-down leadership and bottom-up participation. Within the party’s own “mass line” tradition, we can separate out the excesses of movement politics from positive practices like the emphasis on investigation and study in public policy-making, on test-point trials before enacting public policies, and on popular participation. Such popular participation should be developed further today to build a better and more balanced relationship between state and society, and prevent recurrences of tendencies toward either too much or too little state involvement in village affairs, in order to implement better the moral ideals of “humane government” and “serve” “the people.” Voluntary popular participation should actually be established as the sine qua non for enacting major public policies affecting the people’s livelihood.
This article is based on the introduction-summary of the author’s new book awaiting publication. It deals mainly with the realities of China’s “informal economy” (understood as laboring people with little or no legal protection), to be distinguished from misleading and obfuscating “mainstream” theory’s construction and discourse about them. The working people of the “informal economy” today come mainly from the “half cultivator half worker” peasant families, and with them, make up a distinctive social formation that is very different from the expectations of both neoclassical economics and Marxist political economy. It cannot be understood in terms of the conventional categories of “mainstream” theory and needs new conceptualization and theory to grasp. The “informal economy’s” latest manifestation is the rapid spread of “dispatch workers,” who need also to be understood in terms of new theoretical concepts.
The “third sphere” born of the interacting of a market economy with a centralized state, and of a system of market contracting 合同 with administrative “assigning responsibility” 发包/承包, has become a key characteristic of the new political-economic system of Reform China. It has imported the private enterprise market economy of the modern West, but has also retained the (revolutionary) tradition of a socialist party-state and its ownership of the principal means of production. Its administrative system resembles more and more the modern West’s (Weberian) bureaucratic system, but it has also retained the traditional imperial Chinese “centralized minimalism” and “parcelized despotism” characteristics. It cannot be grasped by the either/or dualistic opposites mode of thinking, but can only be understood in terms of the combining and interacting of dualistic opposites. The combination may be understood as one concrete and substantive meaning of the officialized term of a “socialist market economy.”
This article first explains why our “Best Young Scholar’s Monograph Prize in the Social Sciences of Practice” selection committee has chosen the three books International Law and Late Qing China: Texts, Events, and Politics, Rural Development in Contemporary China: Micro Case Examples and Macro Changes, and Urbanizing Children: Identity Production and Political Socialization of Peasant-Worker Sons and Daughters for the award, and then goes on to discuss how monograph production is faced with deeply contradictory forces in the scholarly environment of China today when compared with the American scholarly environment, to explain the purpose of the prize.