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Discussion of social management mode conversion of Hangzhou Government.

Distinguished professors and scholars, the issue I would like to discuss with you today is the transformation role of local government in contemporary China; this reform mainly refers to the change from an authoritarian government to a learning and service-oriented government. I will take the example of Hangzhou City, China's southeastern coastal area, which is also the city I lived in. In recent years, I have observed the new attempts and harvests the local government has made in the social governance mode, and I have often considered the meaning of this transformation on political reform.

First of all, let's look at the four cases of urban governance I was experiencing.

The first case is about not charging for the parks along the West Lake, which happened in Hangzhou in 2002. Eight years ago, the Hangzhou government announced that the main attractions around West Lake in Hangzhou would be free of charge, which was unprecedented among China's tourist destinations. Experts and Hangzhou citizens around me were talking about the public policy heatedly, and they mainly thought the huge park ticket sales would be lost, which would affect the public finances; they also worried that scenic spots might become unattended, disorderly, and dirty. After that, the policy of being free of charge was implemented. From the aspect of government's role and behavior, this process is still the "Mao-style" democracy of New China, or we may call it the operation of "democratic centralism," which means democracy first, and then centralism. Although public opinion was collected and listened to, the one who could really make plans and decisions was only the government. Of course, when we look back in ten years, we will find that the free of charge policy effectively strengthened the concept of sharing the public cultural facilities in the city, and it caused some major public places in Hangzhou to form a "free of charge" practice later; for example some libraries, museums, public houses, and community activities centers were all free of charge. Moreover, it greatly attracted domestic tourists, leading to an increase of local revenue, so we could call it a successful reform. After that, a number of other cities soon followed the trend. Now, the public feels quite positive about the reform.

The second case was the "Street and Lane reconstruction project," which was started in 2005 in Hangzhou. In this project, the local government implemented the central government's political value--"people oriented". The local government decided to allocate a large amount of money from local revenues to help low-income people in dangerous and old houses. However, during this period, the Hangzhou government first proposed the concept of governance--to promote democracy and people's livelihood, so the government used a "democratic" approach to implementing relevant procedures. First of all, the government disseminated its ideas through media, and sought suggestions extensively from relevant groups as well as urban development experts and citizens: where to change, how to change and how to supervise the complicated works. Eventually more than 90% of the public felt satisfied with the policy. The reason why so many people agreed was mainly because the whole process was meant to achieve the pre-existing intention of "decision by the people": everything from decision-making, scheme rebuilding, multiple consultations, repeated negotiations and reserved lines called for the people to supervise the process to completion. Hangzhou local government's role was no longer the final master of "first democracy and then centralism", but instead a General Director on a grand scale, involving many participants in building activities. It is worth noting that in this case, the government and the three major groups including citizens who benefited, building contractors, media professionals and intellectuals achieved the "Four in One" linkage.

The third case is the problem of "urban traffic congestion," which has not yet been resolved. If any of you, professors and scholars, have a chance to visit Hangzhou, the biggest headache or unpleasant thing for you would be the phenomenon of traffic jams during working hours. Everyday, in the morning peak and evening peak, whether you are traveling by bus, taxi or private car, you may be stuck in the wide newly-built street. There are many people who ride a bicycle or an electric bicycle, but they do not abide by the rules, which is also one of the reasons for road congestion. Concerning this problem the Hangzhou government has repeatedly "polled people" through launching discussions by network, telephone, and telecommunications. In the process of these discussions, experts collected many feasible schemes of value with a number of solutions. Several TV stations and network media cooperated to organize centralized or decentralized organizational discussions. On this basis, the Hangzhou government has introduced numerous policies and regulations, such as solving the difficult problem of parking in residential and public places. Next, they implemented the system of the odd and even numbers on weekends, controlled the annual volume of vehicle licenses, rationalized the design of roads and traffic lights, sped up the subway construction process, and strengthened the awareness of people to observe the law, etc. It is a pity that the phenomenon of traffic jams has still not really eased in Hangzhou. Like other provincial cities in China, the problem is becoming even worse. But it must be praised that in this ongoing process of "polling people", the Hangzhou government realized equal interaction and consultation interaction between "the officials" and "the people." Government officials get to know, listen to and understand the mood and quality changes of the public; moreover, the citizens have felt the complication of the problem and the difficulties in solving the problem. I believe, in regard to this problem, the process of consultation is going to continue for a long time.

The fourth case is what we call "Social Composite Subject," which was gradually established in Hangzhou since 2000. To be exact, they are social organizations and cooperation platforms with local characteristics. The Social Composite Subject mainly refers to the free combination between equal entities, such as government, academics, businessmen and media. According to the expertise of the participants and the different community projects, they cooperate in a flexible and orderly manner. The government, however, mainly plays the role of service provider and coordinator in these activities and projects, intervening when invited. The government tries its best to give room to participants for sharing interests, while at the same time keeping the role directed and regulated.

In short, in these four cases, the role of local government changes significantly from dominator to host then to equal consultant. This apparent change will have a significant social impact on the government's role of self-perception, public understanding, and experience towards democracy.

Next, I will simply elaborate on how I thought of the transformation role of Chinese local governments and political social effects.

First of all, I suppose all of you professors and experts will notice that the three examples cited above are all about the specific changes of social governance, not the fundamental reform of the political system. What may generate concern is that if the political system can not reflect the political values of the core concepts, such as democracy, or more specifically "of the people, by the people, for the people," the specific policies and the democratization of governance improvement, is no more than making the political system more stable and more efficient, which may not have the legitimacy.

We know clearly that western countries attach great importance to a protective system of citizens' rights to vote and government's decision-making transparency and fairness, as well as the separation of powers and balance checking of government agency design. If the political values, political systems and public policies are three important levels when we consider politics from the inside out, from concept to implementation, then considering the current status of China, what the local government could do better in political reform is at the level of public policy transparency and fairness.

Regarding the two aspects of democracy, the system level and policy level, which are more important, I think there is definitely a theoretical controversy. Nevertheless, the nature of the two should be connected to realize the people's participation in both the management and self-management. With political governance at the city level, and public participation through public policy, the government can feel the pressure of public opinion from the people, and citizens can thus effectively urge the government to work for them. From the angle of the interaction between government and citizens, the people of Hangzhou become increasingly involved in the construction and development of their own, which is what I am glad to see.

Even if the change at the management level is a political reform on the surface, which is similar to the Hangzhou government public policy making and implementing process, it still needs the qualified support of the local public. In recent years, Hangzhou government invited some non-local scholars and investigators to examine and give suggestions to Hangzhou. After reading their reports, I found that, in their comparison, observation and research, they believe that many of Hangzhou's public policy making and implementing process could not be duplicated by other provinces or cities. For example, recently the Hangzhou government required that all public transport buses must let the pedestrian go first at a zebra crossing. Under the guidance of public transport vehicles, taxis and private cars now try not to cut in while driving. What's more, most people would denounce the cut-in cars altogether. However, the same provision in another southern city in China had to be given up. Though the government is determined to do it, sometimes it could not obtain its goal because of some objective conditions. This shows that during the three decades of China's reform and opening up, the regional differences have held the pace of political reform at the national level with great care. In Hangzhou, the role of local government transformation is intended to support the development of local realities, to explore new features, and to adapt to the current development stage of the governance model which is "democracy promoting the people's livelihood," which is a new mode of urban governance. This exploration from within China, one of the first, is active and effective. This exploration has led many visitors from other countries and other parts of China to feel that Hangzhou has changed, becoming more open, comfortable and safe, even with the quality of a modern urban civilization

The second issue is that, under the premise that there is no great change in terms of the overall political system in China, when the appointment, appraisal, promotion, transfer and organizational management of the cadres have no great change, why should the Hangzhou government look for pressure from the public? What is their initiative and motivation to reform the working mode?

Both in the past and at present, China, faced with complex problems arising from super-large-scale social governance, is a country whose political and administrative powers are all concentrated. In theory, a high concentration of administrative power should be coupled with a high level of democracy; otherwise there will be what our new China suffered during the first thirty years after its establishment, which is arbitrary executive power, corrupting public decision, economic development following no objective law of development, and people' lives lacking basic security. What should a high level of democracy that suits China be like: representative democracy, consultative democracy, democratic elections, civil society or something else?

When intellectuals in China today discuss the similar issues, they not only take reference from western experience, but also from the rich experience of many non-westerners, as well as China's own experience. What should be made clear is, currently, among the overseas experience, it is the road of democracy in East Asian countries, not the democratic process in western countries that is more attractive to Chinese people's eyes. For instance, Singapore and Japan both have a long-term ruling party, while Taiwan, China and Korea have a very painful and confusing process in democracy. From the perspective of a democracy model more in line with China's current practice, it is not a competitive democracy but a consultative democracy. If the basis of a competitive democratic system is to be divided into groups of interest, China's current social and economic development are the highlighted differences in people's interests and the widening gap between rich and poor. If the interest of institutional and policy competition is strengthened during this period, the awareness of rights and a sense of division may also be strengthened. When people's rights are not fully realized, group splits may lead to a strong sense of social conflict

As in my observation and understanding, the control mode conversion of the Hangzhou government has two reasons: one is that the central government has become decentralized, so that the local governments can have more initiative and enthusiasm in the local fiscal revenue and social governance; the second is that the real work of local government is directly related to people's livelihood. In order to do well, the local governance is to better develop the local economy first, and then win more support from local people. Besides, the politicians should have the awareness to let the economic benefits serve local people's livelihood. Only if the economic benefits are connected with improving people's quality of life, would local people continue to support the government's economic and social governance. This relationship is not only that "democracy" should have "economic premise", but also it is to promote successful economic use of the "democratic" way. So this is a "people's livelihood first, democracy later" relationship, and also a "to promote people's livelihood through democracy" one.

Thirdly, the characteristic of the current governance conversion model of Hangzhou government is not a western-style through citizen participation, strengthening democratic ideas and oversight mechanisms for authorization, but a public participation in China's local governments to get more rational and efficient development and implementation of public policies. The focus of this pattern is not to emphasize a mutual supervision system, but to strengthen a mutual coordination mechanism. The government hopes the public can meet and support their people-beneficial policies, so it invites the public to discuss and supervise, making public satisfaction a criterion to measure its political performance. Government in this process understands public opinion and grievances and knows the necessity to posit the working mode. While the public on one hand hopes the government ensures social stability so that they can make sure their own interests can increase stability, on the other hand, a lot of problems can only be solved by the government, no other social organizations or social interest groups can replace it. So they are pleased to see the government's decision-making process as open, transparent, and reasonable, and they're more willing to be involved in the public policy-making process which directly affects their lives. During the process of participation, they learned public awareness and social community value. Based on this mutual understanding, compared to western styles with public argumentation, margin election and fierce competition, this way could be accepted by the central government, local government and common people and thus eliminate the current discontent.

The third issue is whether the micro-political reform process in Hangzhou is sustainable. How much influence could be sustained? Will the similar reform in policy level and management level gradually form the public need and opinion for system reform?

In my opinion, China's economic and political development have both a world-connected side and a more and more self-contained side. Within China, there is the "scattered political reform" under the central and unified leadership, and there also exists micro-political change and self-containment in different provinces and municipal cities. The reform attempt of the Hangzhou local government is exploratory and continuous. In addition to the change of government model, there are also the continuous efforts for building a new social organization and a multilateral cooperation platform; that is, the Social Composite Subject, which was mentioned in Case four. I hope I will get an opportunity to write and discuss issues in this field in detail. These efforts are not only based on the Chinese tradition, but also based on a "subculture" level of local cultural traditions. This little tradition in fact has a long history and deep roots.

As mentioned above, the current governance model conversion of local government in Hangzhou is mainly focused on public policy, which mainly deals with the contradictions and needs that affect people's daily lives in the process of urban development. It should be said that some of these contradictions and needs are non-fundamental interest disputes and rights appeals, which are of great importance. The local government has the power to solve them independently. But the realization of more principled power and interests, indeed, needs to wait for the institutional change of central government.

Through equal exchange and democratic consultation and through the related interest and information, the local government not only reached many social consensuses with people which led to a number of reasonable public policies and activated the creativity of local culture, but it also cultivated their common good awareness and community participation in democratic capacity building.

From the view of development, I hope that this local democratic culture can first promote some of the decision-making process to evolve into the democratization of all public decision-making; then it can influence the surrounding urban and sub-urban districts in the province of their social governance. Moreover, it can affect the local quality of deputies and government officials who exert an influence on the central and national level meetings or decision-making. Ultimately, China's democracy entering system and political value level can be achieved. In other words, I think the significance of these micro-reforms should not be exaggerated, but we need more courage and patience, hoping for more participation of common people's and intellectuals' involvement. This will ensure its sustainability and viability, to supervise its creativity and adaptability in the new issues, thus to expand and secure its existing meaning of social and political reform.

Note: Yihe Pan's main research interests are in Comparative Political Culture, World Literature, and Comparative Culture Studies.

(This speech translated by Yan Liu, College of Media and Intercultural communication, Zhejiang University.)


Dewey, J. (1991). The public and its problems. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Pateman C. (2006). Participation and democratic theory. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press.

Pan, Y. (2010). Democracy in Jiving world: searching the new political culture of contemporary China. Beijing: Social Science and Literature Press.

Yihe Pan

Zhejiang University

Correspondence to:

Yihe Pan

College of Media and International Culture

Zhejiang University

34 Tianmushan Road

Hangzhou, Zhejiang 310028

P.R .China

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Author:Pan, Yihe
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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