í@BEIJING, Oct. 6(Xinhuanet)--With per-capita gross domestic products reaching more than 1,000 US dollars in 2004, China is more than ever embracing social harmony rather than pinning the focus on economic growth.
"The construction of a harmonious society" was initiated by President Hu Jintao, who, while addressing a high-level seminar at the Party School of the Communist Party of China(CPC) Central Committee in the capacity of its General Secretary in February, urged the state and Party leaders to prioritize social harmony on their agenda.
In Hu's words,"A harmonious society should feature democracy, the rule of law, equality, justice, sincerity, amity and vitality."
This focus shift is timely, as many observers point out, as China is confronted with increasingly acute potential social unrest caused by disparity in development and distribution, inequality, injustice, and corruption despite rapid economic progress.
The"harmonious society" initiative has stemmed out of awareness of the social problems cropping up in the process of development, which might hold back the country's sustainable progress and brew up into real social crisis if they are not dealtwith properly, says Dr. Ding Yuanzhu, a prominent sociologist withthe Academy of Macro-economic Research under the State Developmentand Reform Commission.
In fact, notes Ding, China has never put"harmonious society" above economic progress."The idea of social harmony demonstrates the central government's determination to overcome thorny social problems caused by inadequate policy decisions and overheated economic development."
During the past 26 years, China, in its reform and opening drive, seems to have created an economic miracle with GDP growing at a dazzling rate of 9.5 percent annually.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the total amount of GDP hit 13.65 trillion yuan(8.11 yuan against oneUS dollar) in 2004.
The economic glory, however, doesn't necessarily promise social stability. Says Dr. Ding, "A most severe social crisis often erupts at the time when economy reaches its most flourishing stage. Ominously, behind the current stability of macroeconomic growth, a range of negative social elements emerge dramatically. These include widening disparities between the rich and the poor and between urbanites and farmers, worsening chronic unemployment,and deteriorating ecological system."
Social conflicts as such clearly indicate that "Chinese societyhas entered an unstable period," says Dr. Ding. "Containing socialinequity and injustice has become crucial. These are not just ethic issues any more. They have become a matter of social and political stability."
Some farmers may keenly feel the inequity more than other groups. In the process of rapid urbanization, millions of farmers have lost land to farm or become surplus labor and marginalized inthe economic growth. In pursuit of a better life they have floodedto cities, taking odd jobs with poor pay.
Among them are Zhang Yong and his wife from a southwestern mountainous village, who came to Beijing, the national capital, five years ago, making a living by selling vegetables in a residential area full of high-ranking officials in western Beijing.
Parents of two teenagers, the couple gets up at 2:00 a.m. in the morning to get the freshest vegetables at the best possible price at a wholesale market. The 35-year-old husband complains, "We have to work 17 hours a day on the average to make both ends meet, earning 800 yuan a month. There is no money for entertainment. At best we just take a day off."
Even so, the wife says, "life still is better than it is in the countryside, where you might not get in anything if the weather doesn't bless you. Here in Beijing, you can always have some cash in your pockets at the end of year."
China now has more than 120 million rural surplus labor, also known as migrant workers. And there are another 30 million of unemployed population, including laid-off workers. These people represent an important stake of social harmony, Dr. Ding warns. Farmers like Zhang Yong and his wife account for over 70 percent of the country's total population of 1.3 billion, he says. "If they cannot savor the sweetness of economic prosperity, their growing discontent may eventually touch off an appalling social disaster."
Zhang the vegetable vendor might not understand the meaning of social harmony. Yet, a laid-off steel worker who is now working asa traffic assistant on Beijing's signature boulevard Chang'anjie believes, "equity and justice must be the core. Without that, no people can hope for harmony. "
His remarks are in keeping with what President Hu has warned the government: Without equity and justice, people won't feel happy. It is important to balance different interests, and properly handle the people's internal contradictions in order to ensure social equity and justice for all.
Currently, conflicts of various economic interests are primary among the people's internal contradictions. Jing Tiankui, directorfor the Sociology Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,notes, "Building a harmonious society is a long-term and systematic project. Balancing different interests cannot be delayed any longer." He adds that the government should be the coordinator of different interest groups instead of scrambling for profit.
The Chinese government is working hard to guarantee that the people's rights and interests are honored. In a bid to improve thethorny situation of unemployment, the government has decided to put in 10.9 billion yuan on "re-employment," and another 3 billionyuan to improve industrial safety, especially in the country's coalmines.
Meanwhile, the government has pledged to exempt 730 million farmers from agricultural taxation, and provide subsidies to ensure all the poor rural children with the 9-year compulsory education.
Education and healthcare are prominent in the endeavor to build harmonious society in rural China. A study conducted by the China Students' Federation showed the average cost for education in a full-time four-year university is 38,500 yuan, equivalent to 40 years of income for a poorest farmer in west China. That means many rural children are denied full education.
As for healthcare, according to the Ministry of Health, in someareas, the medical insurance covers less than 10 percent of 900 million rural population, although 80 to 90 percent were covered by an organized cooperative medical system before 1979. An official with the ministry says that many people have slipped back into poverty because of huge debts caused by chronic diseases likecancer.
Realizing that healthcare is critical to social harmony in rural areas, the central government has been carrying out the New State Cooperative Health Insurance, aimed to cover the entire rural population by 2010. The program, considered a remedy to the collapsed cooperative medical care system which functioned in rural China up to the early 1980s, has been in place for two years. Farmers who want to join the program only pay a minimum ten yuan a year which is matched by another twenty yuan from the central and local governments.
By the end of 2004, nearly 80 million farmers have joined the program, while 41.94 million have claimed reimbursement for medical expense of 1.394 billion yuan. Dr. Ding Yuanzhu believes that the government is moving in the right direction.
"The rural population plays an important role in fostering a harmonious society," he says. "Only when the poor farmers live a better life, can the whole society expect to live in harmony and stability."
Furthermore, he notes, "it's a pre-requisite requirement for government authorities to provide an equal and fair-play environment, where needy people can get basic public services, like healthcare, housing, and a minimum income."
The idea of building a harmonious society marks the maturity ofthe Chinese Communist Party as a ruling party with serving the people as its guideline. Dr Ding says,
"These policies lay a theoretical framework to boost sound societal development, steady economic growth, and an abundance of social wealth in the years to come. If we abide by them, social harmony is possible." Enditem