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Where is the Harmonious Society Going?
-The Contradictions Revealed by the Chinese Bullet Train-

Chan-in Chiang
Associate Professor, Waseda University Center for International Education

China is a major power that is increasing its presence in the international community. Many specialists predict that this situation will continue for some time. At the same time, the whole world is focusing its attention on China over the question of how the world will change if China continues to grow. The way to become the number one nation built on a strong state and wealthy citizens, as a part of the century-long dream of 1.3 billion people, has been sought by trial and error through the Reform and Opening-Up Policy introduced by Deng Xiaoping. China is facing increasing social disparities and contradictions that lie beneath the glorious economic growth, and in order to solve such problems, the Hu Jintao administration aims to build a harmonious society (Hexie Shehui) with sustained and nationwide developments. As China is entering this new phase while its problems are becoming more complex, fundamental changes are being made in its society.

China Railway High-speed (CRH), the Chinese bullet train that was claimed as the fastest railway in the world, had a spectacular opening on the 30th of last month along with the Communist Party's 90th anniversary, carrying onboard China's century-long dream and boosting national prestige. It is still fresh in our memories how the opening faced severe criticism from the international community for applying for patents for vehicular technology in the United States, as well as safety issues due to rushed work and system consistency and other factors. While the expansion of the Chinese economy is welcomed, the country's "foreignness" to the rules of the international community, which is observed behind the Chinese government's way of handling the issues surrounding CRH, is gradually becoming evident as the economy develops. Amid concern over this situation, a terrible accident occurred in Wenzhou City in the Zhejiang Province where the China Railway High-Speed Hexie Hao had a rear-end collision and derailment-falling off the tracks while carrying onboard the dream of 1.3 billion people. This Hexie Hao railway accident can be regarded as depicting the dream and reality of the wavering huge nation, and symbolizing the complexity of China's internal problems. The Chinese government is also being pressed to reveal the truth behind its responses to safety issues in railway accidents that this particular accident brought up. It is still difficult to make the truth heard in Chinese society, however, because of strict press restraints, in spite of assertions being made through various media such as newspapers and the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo.

The Chinese government is always severely scrutinized for the way it responds to major accidents like this one, but the truth is hardly ever revealed. What lies behind these circumstances is its economic policy that prioritizes economic growth. The growth-first policy has brought prosperity to some, but social disparity has grown to become a serious problem and it has even greatly damaged living conditions. Rapid growth has been attained under the policies of the Chinese government that seemed devoid of human beings. Ironically, however, it has gradually surfaced as a major problem that shakes the legitimacy of the communist regime. The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee plenary meeting held in October 2006 decided to review the Reform and Opening-Up policy from their very foundations in order to make a policy shift to the harmonious society (Hexie Shehui), from the standpoint that the economic growth up to then would provide the solution to various problems. In this context, the Hexie Hao train accident revealed the contradictions between the national goal of building a harmonious society and the reality, and the word harmony may have sounded hollow to many people.

1. The problem goes beyond that, however. There is focus on whether or not China will change. A hint to the question may lie in the various domestic reactions surrounding the demand for a full account of the accident. Although it is not widely reported overseas, legal scholar Mr. He Weifang, referred to as the Conscience in the Rule of Law in China, through his Weibo (Chinese Twitter) posts, urged the National People's Congress to voluntarily set up a special investigation committee under Article 71 of the Chinese Constitution and to thoroughly investigate and clarify the truth behind the accident. His assertions gathered much support through Weibo and were spread all across China in the blink of an eye. Political judgments have tended to be prioritized in Chinese governmental policies when it came to serious accidents. It can be said that the government has been emphasizing that the party and government are faithfully confronting difficulties hand in hand with the citizens rather than making thorough clarifications of the truth, thereby avoiding public criticism of the party and government through news coverage. Legal scholar Mr. He Weifang's assertions that call for the revelations of the truth under the present Constitution clearly negate the principles of the rule of man, under which conventional political decisions are prioritized. It seems as though Mr. He Weifang's assertions were based on the fact that the rule of law was cited as the matter of the highest priority during the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee plenary meeting in October 2006 in an attempt to make a shift to the harmonious society (Hexie Shehui). Rule of law cannot be achieved easily under the political system led by the Communist Party, however, and the realization of Mr. He Weifang's claims may prove to be difficult. Nevertheless, various forms of social inequalities may occur because the gap between the rich and poor and social contradictions continue to widen under China's "developmental dictatorship" development model that lacks transparency and equality. Armed with the law to its advantage in trying to redress such inequalities, the Weiquan (advocacy of rights) movement has gained much momentum as wide-ranging types of people including workers, farmers, students, and intellectuals participate in it. The movement has now become widespread on a national scale and is gaining much attention both domestically and overseas. One interesting factor is that this Weiquan movement is led by Zhengfaxi, people who are very knowledgeable in law including legal scholars and lawyers. They apply their expertise to fight for the rights of the people.

Will democracy ever take root in China? This is a matter of great interest not only to Japan, but to the entire international community. As former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, however, China is like a cross between Europe and Africa-its national territory is vast and it comprises a variety of ethnic groups. In addition, it is easy to see that the road to democratization that includes China's unique state of national affairs where there is no choice but to make the feeding of 1.3 billion people the top priority is not a smooth one. It is not surprising, however, for a model of China's own form of democracy to be considered when seeing how China's GDP rose to second in the world while its market economy with socialistic traits is seesawing and facing difficulties. At any rate, China will be on the road to democratization. This is why duly securing people's rights under the rule of law, as called for in the current Weiquan (advocacy of rights) movement, is to be the foundation that will support democratization in Chinese society.

Chan-in Chiang
Associate Professor, Waseda University Center for International Education

April 1990 Came to Japan
April 1998 Research Associate, Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University
March 2001 Completed the Doctoral Course at the Graduate School of Law, Waseda University
April 2001 Visiting Lecturer, Research Institute of Current Chinese Affairs, Waseda University
March 2004 Retired as Visiting Lecturer
April 2004 Visiting Lecturer, Faculty of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University
April 2006 Visiting Assistant Professor, Center for International Education, Waseda University
April 2007 Assumed current post as Associate Director, International Office, Waseda University and Associate Professor at the Center for International Education

-Areas of Specialization: Basic law, Chinese law
-Current research theme:
"Research on the History of Chinese Civil Law [Chugoku Minpo Hogakushi No Kenkyu] (doctoral thesis)"
Lecture: The 25 Doors in Considering Taiwan [Koza Taiwan Wo Kangaeru 25 No Tobira] (textbook for the faculty)