SPEAKER 1: I teach in the Department of Philosophy. And I'm director of programming Ethics in Public Life. The Confucian master, Mencius, Mengzi, said that being humane is part of being human. These days, he might have added that being concerned about China is part of being human. After all, one in five human beings lives in China.
China's been the scene of one of the most wonderful achievements in human history, I think the most wonderful in my lifetime, the liberation of half a billion people from abject poverty. It's also the scene of challenges, of problems that occupy the attention of people throughout the world.
I think some of those problems are very familiar to people in the United States. There's great economic inequality. There's great inequality of political influence as well. Some are not familiar to the United States, but very familiar throughout the world. And many people look to China as a potential model. A significant amount of dire poverty remains.
And China has a political system like no other, involving a process that's been part of that economic miracle, partly also involves the fear that's required to maintain a one-party regime. The questions and problems that I've raised have two things in common.
One thing is this. Ethics in Public Life is creating a series of online educational videos on all of these topics that will be available on YouTube, will be available on our website, involving distinguished scholars at Cornell and elsewhere, including the US and China.
And something else all of these topics have in common. Ching Kwan Lee, our speaker today has shed light on all of them. Above all, shed light on all of them by studying the impact of the challenges, the problems, the achievements, on people without authority, people with their own humane concerns and concerns to themselves, finding their own forms of political activity, seeking to change the world.
So it's great that she can be here to speak to you to contribute to our videos. [? Rose ?] [? Beck ?] from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations we'll tell you more about CK Lee's achievements. And then she will talk to us on the theme, Buying Stability in China, Markets, Protests, and Authoritarianism.
SPEAKER 2: And I want to move quickly because I know you all want to hear CK Lee. But let me just give you a little bit of background. She is, by all accounts, the leading scholar on labor and politics today, labor in politics in China. She's had a profound effect on how we think about these issues, on market transformation and transformation of work, of Labor Relations, of politics, of protests, and of the role of the state.
Just a little bit of background. She started with her BA at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, moved to Berkeley where she got her MS/PhD, went back to the Chinese University in Hong Kong as Assistant Professor, then moved to the University of Michigan for several years and joined the Sociology Department at UCLA in 2008, where she's been a full Professor ever since.
She has been absolutely prolific. So in the 20 years she's been writing, she's authored, co-authored 6 books, 16 journal articles in leading journals, 13 book chapters, and a variety of other venues in the media and public speaking. Just to give you, briefly, a sense of her books, her first two solo-authored books were absolutely path breaking.
They received many, many national awards. The first was called Gender and the South China Miracle. What was so important is she put gender on the map. And she talked about women's labor in China in ways that we had never understood it before.
The second book was also equally path breaking because she led us into the world of labor protest in China, and compared two very different regions, the South, where foreign investment was coming in, and the North, where the old-state enterprises were, and showed how these different legacies led to profoundly-different labor protests and labor movements. Very, very powerful. Since 2007, she's co-edited four books. And I'll briefly just announce what they are. One was on the ethnographies of labor in the workplace.
So you really could see what it's like to work in different Chinese workplaces, Re-envisioning the Chinese Revolution, where she looked at politics and the poetics of collective memories, then moved on to a broader scope in looking at social activism, so the variety of labor and social and community and NGO and other types of actors that were building social movements in China, and finally, The Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization, where she expands our understanding of, now, the shift to the informal sector as the labor market reforms have brought profound changes in China.
Now she's working on two other books that go further in articulating the role of the state more clearly in Chinese society and then also in other developing countries, with a specific focus on Africa. So what we see is this prolific work that is not only large in volume, but it really has shaped your understanding of the transformation of work, of labor markets and politics and protesting in China and beyond. And now.
CHING KWAN LEE: Well, thank you very much today for inviting me. And thanks, Rose, for this very generous and comprehensive introduction. I never counted how many things I've published. So it's good to know the numbers.
So this program asks the question of where China is headed. And I think, in order to think about where China is headed, we need to know how China works today. And for people who don't even study China, you might have got a sense of China from reading the New York Times.
And by all accounts, The Times has very quality reports. And you get bits and pieces of China. And I'm here to help you put them together. The bits and pieces of China that you read from The New York Times would include, for example, China has a very vibrant capitalist economy. Look at how we, US, responds to Alibaba's IPO.
And that China also has one-- as the world's most-powerful autocratic government, ruled by a one-party state, the largest Communist party on Earth, which has been really relentless in cracking down on all sorts of dissents, ethnic, and human rights, and including human rights lawyers, and blind ones, in particular.
And then we also, from the Times, we know that China has an increasingly-affluent society. So they report about, what, tourists in Paris yesterday? And we see that China also sends students to Cornell. And increasingly, you read from the newspaper that Chinese society has become more assertive. We have lots of protests happening.
So basically, if you read The Times, you get three pieces, the market, authoritarian party, and an increasingly-assertive society with lots of protests. And these are the pieces that are in the subtitle of my talk. And my job today is really to shed light on Chinese society and on how these things come together-- the Times may not tell you how they come together-- in shaping the path of Chinese development.
And I hope, through that understanding of what is happening in China, how these big items come together, we may be in a better position to think about where China is headed. And I'll come back to answer that question a little bit at the end.
But what I'd like to talk about today is to bring you-- to focus on one particular moment of state society interaction in China that I've had the chance to study. And that is the moment of social protest, how the state deals with the mounting volumes of social protests that have-- that many people see, even on the street.
People are blocking the streets. They surround government offices to demand, to make claims of all kinds. And I think this is a particularly important, poignant moment for us to understand how authoritarianism actually works. How does the government control and manage to absorb so many, on a daily basis, the kind of protest the citizens dare to stage, even in an authoritarian system?
So what I'll try to explain to you is what, in China, is called stability preservation, that is, how does the state preserve stability in the face of rising number of protests? And these are popular protests that the numbers-- these are official statistics-- some of you might be familiar with.
And so every year, basically, on average, in 1993, there were like 24 unrest incidents in the country every day. By 2010, there were 500. So this is a very impressive amount of popular unrest that the regime has to deal with. How do they do it?
And we were looking-- when we're doing this research, we were looking at what I call the political changes. That is, at the moment of unrest, when people were blocking traffic, surrounding government offices, confronting the state, how does the state, at that moment, interact with the citizen? I think that is a very important window for us to understand how power works.
And we're talking about processes, not the laws on the books, not the kind of government bureaucracy, not machinery of repression, because you can't arrest all the people who stage those 500 protests every day. Well, first of all, I'd like to clarify a little bit, what are these protests about? What are the characteristics?
And again, these are statistics that you can find, that social scientists inside China have collected. Duration, these are very brief incidents. 95.6% of them were resolved within a week. And some 75% were resolved within one day. So these are very brief public display of disobedience.
In terms of issues, depending on the surveys, and I'm citing from some official sources, 20% to 50% of them are about land rights, land requisition, and about property rights, so relocation, demolition, relocation. These, together, account for about 50%. 30% are about labor issues, strikes, people-- workers threatening to jump off the buildings because they can't collect their wages.
10%, a growing number of them, are about environment. And we are seeing a rising trend in this type of protest. And 10% also about ethnic conflicts.
What is noticeable about these figures is that most of them that the government has to deal with have to deal with socioeconomic interests and grievances. And they are reacting to violations of rights that are economic and social in nature. They are not. They're really politically motivated.
Now, reading the Times, you may not get this sense because they highlight human rights violations. But most of the protests that actually become public incidents, that the government has tried very hard to contain, have to do with land issues, pollution issues, labor rights issues, demolition, property rights.
So-- and I also want you to preface my talk with some observation, to talk about-- I won't go into detail. But what are the master process that actually trigger this large amount of unrest in China? Of course, in every society, the kind of conflicts that I mentioned are quite normal. You'll find them in any kind-- in the US, you'll find them. In other capitalist societies, you'll find them.
So in a way, China is not an outlier in having all these social conflicts. And the master process of that in the Chinese context is that, in the past 30 or 40 years, in many aspects of life, the market has expanded. The market has taken over the role of the state. So we can say that there is a master process of commodification, of many different kinds of livelihood resources and activities.
And the protests are actually counter movements against these kinds of incursion of the market, expansion of the market, something that economic historians, social historians, will be very familiar with if you've read Karl Polanyi's book.
So we are talking about the commodification of labor, land, housing, and nature. So that leads to environmental protest. That used to be distributed by the state and now is the market. And in this process, the state has reacted to the expansion of market by issuing limits on the market in the form of laws and regulations.
I'm not going to go in depth. But I want to flag that the state is playing a very high-profile role in creating the markets. And that is why, when society responds with protests, these protests always involve the state. The state is always part of labor protests, which is quite unusual if we look at it from the US standpoint.
So again, these are the examples. I won't go into detail. But lots of laws. How do we interpret this explosion of laws in China and regulations of all kinds? We have to see that every moment-- every time when a market expands into a new arena, the government would react with promulgation of new laws to limit what the market can do.
They may not be always effective. And as a matter of fact, they are always not effective. But the state tries to do something to put a limit on how much you can commodify labor power.
Can you make a worker work 24 hours a day? No. There are laws to limit how labor power can become modified, so on and so forth. And again, we won't go into this. If you are interested, we can come back to this line and discuss what is the state's roles in protecting society against the market?
But what I want you to talk about today is social protest. That is protection by society against marketization or commodification. And what is so peculiar about China is that even though, in every society, we can see unrest and conflicts, only in China would you find something called the Stability Maintenance Bureau as part of the government.
There is an office in the Chinese government that is particularly tasked with maintaining stability. Now I challenge you to come up with another government with this kind of setup, that there is a government bureau to do it.
No. Why? Because is an authoritarian party state with an imperative to maintain political power. And therefore, this state sees reality in the light of control. And what they see, and the perception of reality is such that the entire government has this anxiety about any unrest which they perceive to be a threat to political monopoly.
And they are so obsessed with control that those laws that they promulgate, they can't let these laws take their course of action. They cannot leave it up to the process to resolve conflicts and aggregate interests. They have to control the outcome. So the laws that they promulgate, they always intervene into the implementation of the law, to skew it in a way to deliver the outcomes that they desire.
And the state, therefore, always plays a role in both creating problems. And because it's so powerful, protesters always want to leverage the state, involve the state into the conflict because they know real solution can only come from the state because it holds all power in China. So this is the peculiarity of China as a background.
So let me go into this political ethnography that I've done together with another sociologist in China. And by the way, this research has been published in the American Journal of Sociology last year. So for people who want more details, you can go there.
But we spent time with what we call the grass-root officials. And these are the officials that are at the front line of the authoritarian state, who are there to show up in the site of protests. Whenever 500 people block the road, the first people to show up, representing the state, are the grassroots officials.
And they come from-- in urban China, they are called the Street Government Officials. In rural China, they are from the Township government. So these are the levels of government that we spend time observing, and actually go with them to the side of unrest. I set into in the training session, where one government jurisdiction, the Stability Maintenance officials, will teach other Stability Maintenance official how to maintain stability.
And they will do a PowerPoint presentation like what I'm doing for an hour. And I'll be sitting in the audience, hearing them, to know how to actually do this work. So it's kind of fascinating.
And we focus on the interaction between grassroots officials and aggrieved citizens in moments of conflicts. We did that in Shenzhen and Beijing for four years. I split my time between Zambia and these two cities in those four years. And we look at both urban and also the villages surrounding these big cities.
I can explain why Shenzhen and Beijing. But to give you a brief summary, is it because these two places, these two big, mega cities, have the highest incidence of the kinds of conflicts that I presented to you earlier. And you'll find all kinds of problems, labor problems, relocation, demolition, land rights surrounding these big cities because land grabs happen surrounding big cities. Those are the lands that are valuable for developers and for the officials. So we find lots of those as well.
So lots of cases. We have some environmental cases in these cities. And we did conduct-- we did in-depth interviews with them. But I think the most useful sources of data that are really illuminating are those where we actually went and look at these conflicts on site.
The fact that we could do this study tells you authoritarianism is real. But it exists in very unique forms in China that people would never imagine, that as social scientists, we will be able to look at how an authoritarian state function. And so it's a kind of authoritarianism that, on an everyday level, if you know your way, you can get a lot of things done.
So basically, we're interested in looking at the micro foundations of power through looking at the grassroots state. And by micro foundations, basically, we not just look at the graph root level of the state. But also, we want to look at practice. We want to look at how the state actually functions, how it works, not the law books and the institutions that you can draw your chart with. And we want to look at lived experience.
Authoritarianism sounds horrible. It's a horrible term, especially in this country. We're used to associate that term with the evil empire, with people being oppressed and in prison all the time. But if you talk to people who come from China, which you find a lot on campus, that's a different story. And to being able to get that lived experience, it's very important for us to understand why China is so stable and the foundation of that stability.
One of the things that I would argue is that if Chinese authoritarianism is sustainable and is entrenched, is resilient, we have to look for explanation in what Chinese citizens do as much as in what the Chinese state does. So there are three mechanisms that we'll be talking about today.
And they form-- together they form a multi-pronged repertoire of domination and creating a unique experience of power, both among the officials who have to confront citizens and the citizens who make claims on the state.
These three mechanisms are respectively what I call buying stability. It works through the logic of the market. And the second mechanism is what I call bureaucratic games. It works through the logic of rules, all kinds of rules, including laws, regulations of all kinds. And then patron clientelism, networks, social networks, that the state extends into neighborhoods and create all kinds of patron client-lists relationship.
And none of these three have to do with repression. None of them have to do-- relies on brute force. It's not about fear and terror. It's not about politics. And this is the key.
Political domination in China works through depoliticization. It's not politics. It's the market exchange. It works through rules, rule of the games. It works through person-to-person networks, interpersonal networks. And that is the secret of authoritarianism in China. It is this the depoliticization of everyday life.
So let me talk about buying stability. Many of you might have heard that this is the primary means for the government to pacify protesters. It actually, literally, means that you use cash to pay people off and send them home. So in every local government that we managed to visit and talk to, everyone in Shenzhen and Beijing, street governments and the district government and the city-level government, they all have what they call Stability Maintenance Fund.
And that ranges from several million yuan to a billion yuan in one of the Beijing districts in Beijing city. And they use the money to pay cash, to dish out cash, to protesters and workers, landowners, peasants and property owners. And but they also use the cash, the fund, to pay for services that are at the center of the dispute.
So property owners trying to fight the management companies, block the road in resistance to not to pay their management fees because the management company is related to developers who encroach their rights on green space, the government would come and stop the protest by giving-- to pay, paying on their behalf, the management fees.
If the water pipe is a problem, they repair the water pipe using the fund and disband the protest. Workers, unpaid wages, they pay the wages first. Then go home. And then they do their work later on.
They compensate aggrieved citizens by providing all sorts of public goods and services. They build a school. If property owners are unhappy about the neighborhood, instead of having them on the street protesting, they promise them new green space, gardening, new security gate, a new school to send their kids to.
So the fund is used to dish out cash as well as providing public goods that were at the center of the contention. It has-- it looks like ad hoc. It looks like it's arbitrary but it's not. It has become so routinized, patterned, that people have this jingle that again, for people from China, you would have heard, big disturbance, big resolution, small disturbance, small resolution, no disturbance, no resolution, which means that you have to create some kind of disturbance if you want the government to really take seriously your complaint and do something to resolve your problem.
The money that they use to maintain social stability, the budget for that has ballooned so much that in 2010-- starting 2010-- the Financial Times has, for the first time, reported that the money, the budget, the central government budget for domestic public security exceeds the money for external defense. And since that year, for the past few years, it has stayed that way.
So the ratio, the money that they spend on internal security, actually is enormous. But if you think that paying cash every time you have a protest is what is happening in China, then you are wrong because if you start paying people money every time they show up in 10 or 20 or 50-person group, then you set up the trouble. They come back tomorrow and you have to pay them again.
So the essence in buying stability is not so much the payment. You have to pay. But you need to know how to pay them in such a way that they won't come back to ask for more. So that's why we need to look at the process of buying stability. How, actually, is stability being purchased by cash? So we need to look at protest bargaining.
Through the research, what we find is that this bargaining is the key to China's stability, but also is the crisis of authoritarianism that I would explain later. But let's focus on the process of bargaining. The process of bargaining basically transforms a confrontational situation into one that is a non-zero-sum bargaining process. You get something. It's non-zero sum. You're not talking about to the state who is against you, that you two would have some shared interest at the end of this process.
Through this non-zero-sum bargaining process, state and citizens, they are bound together in a pragmatic but quite precarious kind of alliance. And I will explain this. But this is the kind of statement that I want you put into your head and follow for you to follow as I explain the process.
So what happens when, let's say-- I'm using a real example that we encounter in the field-- 500 workers do not get paid? And they decided to block a road in Shenzhen. And 500 of them-- and why this road?
The workers are very clever because they know that day-- well, not that day, tomorrow-- that road will be passed-- there will be lots of vehicles passing by because a leader from Beijing is going to his hotel through that road. And the night before that, they stage a protest, not choosing other roads, but that particular road, to call the attention of the officials.
So let's-- so what happened? Something like this. What will be triggered? Immediately, within 5 or 10 minutes, this road-blockage incident would be reported to a center in the local government. There is-- in every local government you go to, you will see this big sign saying that this is a center of Integrated Security, Petition, and Stability Bureau.
And it's present in any street government and township government and is staffed by people who will be there 24 hours on call. And as soon as they get this information, there will be a triage system. The official there will immediately classify, categorize this unrest, according to the number of people involved, the kind of money that will be estimated to be involved in this incident, the contagious potential of this incident.
So they have a very-well mapped out chart, categorization, of this particular incident. And with that, immediately, it will be a triage that there will be a flowchart to show that person on call, to tell him which number to call. Who are the officials who should be arrived on scene within five minutes? Who should be texted to be reported about this incident? And who should be reported or receive this report, who will get this report tomorrow?
So the hierarchy officials who should be dealing with this case, and who should show up on site, who should be aware of it, are well categorized. And so the person will just communicate this. And within 5, 10 minutes, somebody from the government will show up on site. And what they would do on site, once they show up, is that they would start emotion control.
These people-- these grassroots officials would put on a very human face. They would, as what they told us, they have to make friends and talk love with these protesters, basically assuring them that they are on their side, calm down, give them their cell-phone number so that even in the middle of the night, even after they were disbanded home, they can call up this official.
So to really tell these protesters that you are on their side, government is listening, you give them your cell phone. And you really try to show your support for these people. So emotion control is the first step. And let me quote you about this official who have been so experienced in Beijing dealing with-- he has seven years of experience handling all sorts of demolition and relocation cases.
And he told us that he has many times, residents, workers, who have threatened to jump off buildings or drink poison in front of him. And he has he dealt with calm because, I quote, "All you need to do to deal with these incidents is to let people see the hope of making some profit and solving the real livelihood problems. I personally think that Chinese people are really easy to govern because all they want from you is economic interest.
But dealing with different kinds of people, we'll have to use different languages and methods. For instance, teachers," people like us, "They are shy to talk about money. So they talk about the law and regulations, beat around the bush all the time. But their real goal is money. Peasants, farmers, are straightforward. They make direct demands for money."
So he knows people's goal is not ready to die. They don't want to kill themselves. They want to threaten you so that you will take care of their problems. So they control emotion. These guys are extremely sensitive. And it gives a human face to an authoritarian state, to these citizens who are angry, who are capable of mobilizing a collective protest.
So once they get through the point of controlling emotion, they would ask these protesters to select official representatives, direct election, from an authoritarian state. They want to find representatives. Why? Because once they elect representatives, they can put order in chaos.
They don't want to deal with chaos. They don't want to deal with passion. Passion is difficult to control. They want to deal with rational discussion of interest, for people who have read Albert Hirschman, passion and interest. To channel passions into rational discussion of interest, you need representatives. And once you have representatives, what they want to deal with representatives is to fragment the group from within because once they know that five people represent a group, they will send a group home and talk to these five people. And what do they talk to them about?
Let me quote you. "I first ask them to select 10 representatives. And I talked to these representatives individually about their own domestic and personal situations. I know I can ferment them and exploit the conflict of interest. As soon as they see some opportunity for making a gain, they will eventually agree."
They call these people handles, access points. And once you find these handles and access points, you have the ability to take care of their-- to bribe them, basically. And you ferment labor. You ferment [INAUDIBLE]. You do class fermentation through these leaders, and therefore demobilize collective disobedience.
You sit down with these leaders. In addition to bribing them, you need to transform their rights consciousness. Now the Chinese Studies literature talks a lot about rights consciousness, rising rights consciousness. And the idea in the literature was that citizens know their rights because of all the laws that have been promulgated. And once they read the law books, they know their rights and they go to the street to demand those rights.
No. The process that we find is more complicated than that. People may start it out with what they imagine their rights are, I'm a laborer. I'm a person. I have rights to my land. I have rights to my wage. People may struggle with these rights in the head.
| once they go through this process of protest bargaining, these officials manage, in many, many cases, to reshape their rights consciousness-- no, that's the rights in the law book-- to transform that into realistic, pragmatic, realizable rights under the circumstances of China.
So for example, laborers blocking the road because they didn't get salary, wages. The official arrived on scene and talked to the representatives. So they insisted, we have the rights. We are laborers. The labor law says we should be paid. Yes, the labor laws say you should be paid. Do you have labor contract? No.
50% of workers in China don't have labor contracts. So you can't go to the court because you don't have labor contracts. In that process, this official will transform the understanding of labor rights into realistic labor rights rather than theoretical labor rights in the law book, and settle for a discounted wage payment by the employers.
The officials would also talk to the employer saying that, do you want-- how much would you lose if these workers don't work for one day? Why don't you pay them 80% or 50% of what you should pay them. And they bring these two groups together and in the process, transform people's idea of rights.
We have another case in environmental protest, this elderly retired Naval intelligence officer, the Chinese officer, who had been party member for 20 years. He was the leader of a massive protest against noise, representing the neighborhood, property owners, against the building of a road that creates noise.
And at the end of the process-- he struggled against these officials, talked to them, have meetings with them. And at the end of the process, he said, the government has increased it's budget for reducing the noise. And we don't want to protest anymore because in a process of negotiation, his consciousness of rights changed once he realized who decided to build this road, how much or how little wiggle room he has in changing the decision upstairs. And he began to understand that there is no way for them to look at the environmental law and get what the residents want.
So as soon as he sees the government is giving concession, they're trying to do something, spending more money on optimizing noise reduction rather than actually canceling the building of the road, he said, we have reached our goals. Now this is a person with an extremely experience in dealing with the government. And he knows. And he has changed.
And it was through this process of negotiating, years, months and months of negotiation, that he begins to understand what the limits are, what are the real limits for people fighting for their rights. And so through a process of joint construction of rights, these officials will change citizens' idea of what they can realistically fight for.
In the process of process bargaining, a very important element is to show of force and the threat to use force. What we realized is that in many protest situations, the central government has imposed the injunction that we have to use force judiciously, that force cannot be used in all cases because that would be counterproductive. That would radicalize, escalate the conflicts between the government and the citizens.
So police, actually, from many of the things that we have observed, they were just there. They didn't dare to arrest people unless they were attacked. So the threat of force-- and what I found very interesting is that officials, the grassroots officials, would use force, threaten to use force in a skillful way in the sense that they both arrest some leaders when they become really recalcitrant and uncompromising, but they also engineer their release.
And they do it deliberately. That is they are the ones to arrest protesters, especially the leaders. But they are also the ones who release them. Why? Because through this arrest-and-release process, they gain the trust of these leaders. They know they will protect-- the government will protect them but they have to cooperate with the government. And so it's a way of co-opting citizens cooperation through the use of threat.
And these days-- a lot of times we see that police doesn't want to do to arrest or even touch these protesters. Grassroots government have to use "hired "help. The security guards that we see in many neighborhoods in cities in China, they work part time, on a piece-rate basis, to show up, to deal with these unrest incidents, 100 yuan a day if the government needs a show of force, like in a range of 2,000, and they can't mobilize official police to show up.
Finally, very interesting, one of the most unexpected discoveries in this process of protest bargaining is that we realize, sometimes, very strangely, these grassroots officials instruct protesters how to protest. They would teach workers how to protest-- how to strike. You don't strike on the street. You don't go beyond the factory gate. But you block.
The most effective way to strike, to get your result, to really get the salary that you want, is to block the warehouse so that your employer cannot send the goods out to fulfill the orders. That would block your employer's getting the money. And you really threaten your employer that way, instead of going onto the street and trigger the police.
Why do they do that? What we realize is there is mutual interest between the protesters and these grassroots officials because grassroots officials want-- they want a certain level of instability. They want a certain level of unrest in their jurisdiction.
They don't want total stability and quiet because a certain level of instability can justify them to ask, upstairs, for a bigger budget. And also, it can demonstrate to the upstairs, the use of these stability maintenance officials. So we traced the promotion record of these officials from the street level to the district to the municipal level.
And what we realize is, in the past few years, the people who get most promotions, they're mostly from the stability maintenance system. And if there is no unrest in your jurisdiction, you can't ask for budget. You can't increase your manpower. You can't show your importance. And you have very little prospect of getting promoted.
And so protest is a means for citizens to bargain, to get real, pay off, material, pay off, cash, jobs, schools, whatnot from the government. But for the grassroots official, they need that too. So they both state and society at the grassroots level, capitalize on instability.
With this mutual alliance, we are seeing that there is always instability. There will always be instability because it's to both sides' interest to have instability. So they exploit the specter of instability to create bargaining power for material benefits. And it happens on both sides of state and society divide.
So both rely on that to augment their interest. And through this process of bargaining, it transforms people's subjective experience with state authoritarianism. It gives the authoritarian state, which looks like, from the outside, reading the New York Times and reading other kind of rhetorical description of China, China authoritarianism is very inflexible, is very coercive.
But on the ground, if you have interacted with these grassroots officials, you see them as personal. This is not an impersonal machinery of repression. It is a machine-- it is a state with human faces who interact with you, talk with you, give you his cell phone number-- you can call upon them-- and who would actually talk with you, change your way, the way you think about the government. And both you and them could benefit from this bargaining process.
But it's not all positive. We talk to officials and they hate this process. I quote you this official. "The people don't trust the government. And they don't respect the authority or the law. The government's authority has been eroded for a long time. That's why the masses use every opportunity to eke out more benefits for themselves." The officials themselves feel the loss of authority in an authoritarian state.
What about the citizens? Citizens, those protesters, who obtain benefits through the process, they are not happy either. They get the benefits. But they describe the situation to us as signing unequal treaties, like China being under duress, signing the treatise with the government.
They say-- this is from a protest leader-- "We ordinary citizens can never successfully fight the government. They set the price." They set the price. "And you either take it or leave it. The power holders can use all kinds of methods to make us comply."
So even coming out of this kind of bargaining process, both sides gain materially, officials feel they don't have any authority. Citizens feel injustice. They feel violated. So both sides come out of this protest bargaining feeling diminished, resentful, and reticent.
So it's pervasive. It preserves stability. And is a very effective way. But the long-term consequence is that I think there's a creeping process of erosion of the party state's authority in what still looks like a very authoritarian state so that there's no more authority in authoritarianism.
And citizens are willing, in this process, to bargain away their right, to sell their right, as a commodification of both state authority and citizen's right. And we'll come to that. I'll come back to this point to talk about where China is headed.
But I think I want to highlight this very pervasive process that you find not just in Shenzhen and Beijing. To prepare for this talk, I look at the web. And to my astonishment-- maybe not my astonishment. I should have expected it-- these processes have now become codified processes that show up in many circulars that you can find on the web.
If you-- anyone interested, I'll send you the links-- in even small cities, urban administrations, they now have these very-formalized instructions about how to handle protest and mass incidents in China. And they basically talk about emotion.
Now they don't use these terms. These are my terms. But you can see they basically talk about this process. You control emotion. You have them elect representatives. You talk about interest. You ferment them. You basically have to report, within certain hours, which level of government.
So for all we know, this has become a national model. So the second mechanism, I don't have time. I'll go through these rather quickly because these are secondary to buying stability with cash. Bureaucratic absorption, basically, authoritarian government, they're not democratic. You don't really have genuine election. There is no check and balances between the legislature and the executives or the judiciary.
But this one-party state has many undemocratic channels of engagement for citizens to engage a state, incorporating people into its machinery of domination. So it's not like a big gap between the state and citizens. What channels are we talking about?
There are all kinds of bureaucratic and legal channels, what I call games, that people participate in all the time, petition, mediation, arbitration, litigation. There are all kinds of rules governing these games. For people who know China, you may know that the petition system has been there's-- before the CCPU took power in 1949.
And this system has persisted to the extent that it engulfs people. It eats up people's lives. Those protesters, there are professional protest petitioners who would start this petition process representing the factory who has gone bankrupt, the workers, or people whose lands have been taken away.
And by and by, year after year, they quit everything. They abandon their family to become professional petitioners. I visited one so-called village in Beijing, in downtown Beijing before they were removed by the government. Tons of them stay in very shabby housing, very dirty. That's the petition village. There is a documentary about them.
These are professional petitioners that spend their whole lives, 8, 10, 20 years petitioning. These games can suck you into it in ways that you cannot imagine because there are rules. And these are protected ways that offer some hopes for ordinary people to get justices because these are official channels. But they eat you up.
Why? Because they send you through different paper chases, petition, and bureau after bureau to kick you around. But it's safe. And there are people who get justice out of that system.
So for the state, this is a very effective way-- once you entice people to participate in these games, you diffuse them from the streets. You send these through the bureaucratic machinery. And people get demobilized. Who will be able to afford the time and money and energy to sustain a legal process that lasts for, on average, 360 days?
So I have another colleague who calculated this. On average, if you want to pursue a legal lawsuit through mediation, arbitration, and litigation, basically, on average, you're talking about one year to one and a half years. No workers can sustain that. But in the process, you diffuse the group, so demobilization of protest through these bureaucratic games. You participate in the game. You don't contest the rule of the game.
And we have lots of examples in the paper that we published using officials, using elections, to absorb protest. People who are interested in this should look up and follow the case of Wukan, which is this village which make international news because of land grab and the murder of one of the leaders.
And guess how the authorities reacted to it? They let the people re-elect. They cancelled the original village committee and let them re-elect their own representatives. And one year later, nobody is following-- I don't know if the New York Times is not following up the story to look at how it has evolved.
But if you follow up, you will see election. Once you have elections, as I told you, you have handles for the government. And they basically co-opt these leaders again. And many of the villagers now in Wukan complained that the new leaders were no better than the old ones.
So games, bureaucratic games of all kinds. And in the village, you have elections. And we've seen that over and over again. Elections become a very important game that both sides play, not because they like democracy or respect democracy and want democracy, but because these elections would lead to very lucrative land deals. And people want to have the power to the collective asset in the villages.
So these are-- to talk about the games, all these, you can play because these are laws. I'm not going to go into details. We can come to this in Q&A if you want. The third kind of strategy that the state used to deal with protests is what I call patron clientelism. And a very famous sociologist, Andrew Walder, has written this classic book about the previous era under Maoist socialism, patron clientelism.
The Communist Party is not this cold party that exists in Beijing, but actually, in every factory, in every village, you have activists working for the party to create loyalists, activists who would help the party do its work. And in return, they get exceptionally-good opportunities, life chances, and whatnot.
Now today, people are no longer dependent on the party for housing and jobs and whatnot. And so dependence is not the key to patron clientelism. But there are still people-- most people are not dependent on the party-- there are still several groups of people that want to be the clients of the party state. And we find them in neighborhoods, not so much in state-owned enterprises anymore, but in neighborhoods.
Civil servants, party members, elderlies and retirees, great power is very important source of support for maintaining stability in China, the elderlies that you find in neighborhoods these days, and of course, protest leaders that have been co-opted. So we'll be in, talking to these stability maintenance officials. And somebody-- it happens so often.
Somebody would say, oh, I got this text message. And by the way, they look at their text messages all the time because these phones convey all the information about which part of the city has protests. So we look at it. We'll be eating and drinking and then or something-- there's this sound from the cell phone. And everybody will be looking at their cell phone. And because that's a report about a certain incident, some of them will have to go drop everything and go.
One day we'll be talking to this official and say, hey, he will be reading out the text message. It is like, 40 ex-military men are now gathering in front of the city government. They are trying to protest. In an hour, there will be banners. Somebody will be reading this out loud and we would know.
And we ask, who is sending you this message? How do you know? Even before they unfurl the banner, they would tell these officials, in an hour, we'll have banners out. Who are these people, sending messages to government officials to tell them what will happen? These are protest leaders, in the past, that now have been co-opted to inform these grassroots government.
Elderly people, many of you have seen dancing going on in squares in Chinese cities. This has become a most popular activity. So you have lots of choices of dancing. Dancing is most popular. But they have calligraphy groups. They have playing chess. They have badminton. They have-- elderly people are very active these days in the neighborhoods.
And dancing is by far the most popular activity. And you have ballroom dancing. You have folk dancing. You have fan dancing, sword dancing, fitness dancing. And you have teachers and live music every day and night.
What happens to these groups? Many of these organizers of these dance groups are activists in the neighborhoods. And they told us the government gave them money to organize these civic groups, to organize competition, send them buses, transportation to another city to compete with elderly on dancing or badminton or hiking, giving them hiking shoes and sneakers. And in return, these activists also help to maintain stability.
If there is a protest happening in the neighborhood, not only with these activists report to the government before things happen-- these people gossip anyway in the neighborhood. They have nothing to do but they talk. And they gather information. And that is a very easy step for them just talk gossip with the local officials.
They would tell them information. But also they would persuade their children, who are the home owners, not to participate in anti-government protests. And these are elderlies. And their children are too busy doing-- handling their white-collar jobs. And they listen to these elderlies. And they sway opinions. These are opinion leaders.
So patron clientelism-- and in return, these elderly derive symbolic rewards. It gives them status. In the old days, they were party members anyway. They like working for the government. This is the only way for elderlies to generate any kinds of status. They are retirees who don't have income. They have no jobs. But working for the state seems important for them.
So-- and also, most importantly, is the material interest that they get in return. So they get, actually, support. Thousands to 10,000 yuan per year to help them hire an instructor for dancing, send them to competition. So material exchange now is the major nexus between the party state and the clients in the neighborhoods.
In the past, when Andrew Walder wrote his book, it was mainly about deference, loyalty, and dependence. Now it has boiled down to a cash [? analysis ?] between party and its activists, now supporters, so these three major means of domination.
And what do they add up to? They add up to an authoritarianism as lived experience in the sense that there's no politics in this authoritarian system, not that you can feel it on an everyday level because these three mechanisms of domination have the effect of depoliticizing confrontation.
And here, what I mean is by depoliticization, is that conflicts between state and society, through these three processes, three mechanisms of domination, has become market exchange, the game of the rules, and social relations. It's your neighbors and social relations.
If it's not about politics, if we define politics by differences in political values, in ultimate values, what define what you want, if we define politics as a struggle between unequal parties that you want to change the system of inequalities. It's not about unequal power. It's not about political values.
In a way, what we find here is that there is politics of necessity. But there is no politics of freedom. The government, the state, doesn't want any politics that has to do with real politics of freedom. You don't ask freedom from an authoritarian state.
But if you limit your politics, even collective mobilization, to issues of necessities, that is socioeconomic interest, then what you face is a non-zero-sum game. You get something from this authoritarian regime. It's not a hard-and-cold repressive machinery. It is very human. You can negotiate with.
That's why we come up with this term, there's only one party but there are many bargains going on a daily basis involving many different classes of people. This authoritarianism is one that is very amenable to incessant bargaining. Citizens can bargain with the state. And experience of that is not oppression.
And experience of authoritarianism is a system where you, if you know your way, you get something out of the system. You benefit from this system. If you know your way, you can manage to do a political ethnography of the state in terms of how they do stability maintenance.
So the lived experience of power in China, I would say, is authoritarian. Yes, you know it. You feel it. You won't not see it. It's in your face. But it's not [INAUDIBLE]. It's totalizing but there's room for you to maneuver. It allows for politics of necessity, not so much politics of freedom.
And of course, China's stability also relies on a set of macro-institutional kind of arrangements. They use-- they have no qualms using selective repression against dissident intellectuals, human rights lawyers, organized religious, political dissent. As long as you are organized, then they come cracking down.
Co-optation of NGOs, a lot of people are interested in NGOs. But what we found is that another use of market-- these days there is a policy of buying social services by NGOs. It's a way to help NGOs survive, gives you a lifeline, businesses. But you do the services that I want you to do.
I outsource-- the state outsources services to these NGOs, commercializing them, but at the same time, co-opting them in one single instance of using the market. Policy, as I would-- if you want to talk about this, there are a lot of policies. The authoritarian state in China is very responsive. They respond in its own way to grievances.
The countryside has totally been transformed since the New Socialist Countryside Campaign. You-- for the first time in thousands of years of Chinese history, for the first time, not only do peasants no longer have to pay agricultural taxes, but there actually is a modern system of social insurance covering pensions and health care for peasants. Now it's kind of spotty in different parts of China.
But the goal is to universalize this safety net in the countryside. And some of my colleagues in other universities have actually done survey to show that actually they are real. They are serious. The peasants, indeed, in many parts of China, in big surveys after surveys, that they actually obtain these insurance protection. It's not just talk. It's done. It's done.
So where is China headed with all this information that I've given you? Is it sustainable? Is this kind of buying stability sustainable? It is sustainable but it depends on several conditions. One, it is sustainable as long as China-- the state's infrastructure and physical capacity remains the same, that is, as long as it can reach deep down to every neighborhood and village with the same kind of financial capacity to dish out money.
That amount exceeds that amount for external defense. Now, we can't guarantee the Chinese state will always be that deep pocketed, that it will have this kind of fiscal prowess.
So any time you have a fiscal crisis in China, that would very easily translate into a political crisis. That is why the Chinese government is so intent on keeping the economy growing. It can't let the economy sink because it has a lot to do with stability. Also, it depends on citizens willing to bargain away their right. If citizens insist on not marketized, not commodified, they're right. There is no way this kind of protest bargaining can sustain.
And what you see in Hong Kong as we speak, Chinese students in Hong Kong, they are boycotting classes. There is a territory-wide boycott going on because China has given rules to limit direct election of the chief executive. And Chinese citizens-- Hong Kong citizens are saying to the-- to Beijing, we want economic growth. But we are not going to bargain away our democratic aspiration. We want universal suffrage.
But I'm not seeing, in mainland China, that Chinese citizen is putting up this same message to the Chinese authority. So another condition for this protest bargaining to continue, to buy such stability to continue, is whether citizens are complicit in this game of selling citizens' rights. If they don't, then it will spell trouble for this regime of stability maintenance.
Another thing that we want to look at when we look at ahead in China's future, it's not so much social instability, but the fabric of Chinese society and what my colleague in China, [INAUDIBLE], has called social decay. That is, people have no moral limit. There's no bottom line to the society that dares to commodify everything.
All the food scares, all the kinds of horrible stories coming out of China, it's because commodification has no boundary, that people do not-- the government and citizens do not observe any boundaries to-- there's no limit to what market cannot buy. If somebody can buy this piece of pork, no matter how poisoned, I'm going to produce it because it brings me money. I don't care how people would eat my rice that is contaminated with cadmium. As long as I can sell it, I will grow rice on contaminated water.
There's no limit, no moral boundary to this society. And that is the very scary part. And I think-- where China is headed, I don't know. But this definitely is one important-- but my final point for us to observe China is to go beyond China in China. A lot of the problems that China is dealing with, the state is dealing with, they try to externalize them. How? By expanding into other parts of the world.
You have unemployment at home? You have your corporations experiencing falling rate of profit? They're not earning as much as before? You have your NGOs who find their work blocked? Open up markets for them, global China. That's what send me to Africa, actually. Externalization of domestic bottlenecks in labor, capital, market, NGOs, name it.
In Africa, you find all these traces of China sending workers, companies, NGOs, exporting-- expanding the arena for these domestic actors so that authoritarianism, at home, will have outlets to release these people so that people who-- construction workers, they're not finding jobs anymore because the market in China is saturated.
You find them, tons of them, in Africa. State-owned enterprises, falling rates of profits. They go to Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia, open up new shops, new market, much doubled the profit margins they are making at home, likewise with civil-society NGOs.
So if we want to know where China is headed, we have to look beyond mainland China, China proper, to look at this, what I call global China. So with that, I leave you with maybe 20 minutes of Q&A. Thank you very much.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE] should we-- I'd be glad to call on you. The only advice I would give is that, although you can hear us pretty well, many people in the audience have trouble hearing one another. So I advise you to say it. loudly. And you might want to stand up as well.
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: I have a And thank you so much for a fascinating talk. I have a pretty basic question, actually, about your [INAUDIBLE] this all started [INAUDIBLE] this as a researcher, or did this research [INAUDIBLE] and how do you win trust from those grass roots officials? And and if we [INAUDIBLE] petitioner?
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes--
AUDIENCE: --and how is this [INAUDIBLE]? How is the access [INAUDIBLE]?
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Anyhow, thank you.
CHING KWAN LEE: Great question. Very briefly, we have-- well, I have professional and personal connections. And mostly, I have a collaborator. I have several collaborators in China. They have their own personal connections. And if you have the right connections, you can open lots of doors.
And as people who've-- who come from China, you know. You can bypass lots of rules if you know the right people. And we-- I got lucky. And I have the right channels too. And they basically accepted us. And we have no-- for this research, we have no-- how should I put it? I have never received any threats or any repercussions because we published this.
But I will-- there are a lot of details into how we get this. But basically, you need to very personal friends who have the power to open doors for you. And we do not identify the identities of the real names of the government and also the officials. So we're protecting them at the same time that we can see how they work. If you have the right connections, I think you can do a lot of things in China. That's my observation. Yes. Yes.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] people [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE]. My first question is, now this is a very popular phenomenon, that anytime these rich people, they pull into South California and they buy up properties there. And in May of this year, there were a seven-- I forget how the accurate number-- 5,000 or 7,000 Chinese tourism group. They traveled South California. And even the mayor of the city, he invited them for lunch. And [INAUDIBLE] very unbelievable because they want to cool the local economy. So what is your comment to this phenomenon?
And then my second question is about the anchor baby problem. Many Chinese, rich family, they prefer to give birth of their babies in the United States. Will this influence immigrants-- the immigration policy in the future? What are you doing-- looking-- what is the government's [INAUDIBLE]?
CHING KWAN LEE: I don't know how the Chinese gov-- you mean the Chinese government, right, deal with immigration?
AUDIENCE: The US government.
CHING KWAN LEE: Oh, I have no expertise in the US government. I don't know how the US government wants to deal with it. I think they're cracking down on those-- what do you call, maternal immigrant? The people who come to give birth, I heard on NPR the other day. I think they're cracking down on people who just stay here to give birth.
And the first question, tourists, you-- they are not just in Southern California. They in France. They are everywhere, doing things they like to do. And they are welcomed because they bring money, revenue, through tourism industry. I think the world has to get used to the fact that there are Chinese-- there are Chinese students. There are Chinese everywhere.
I don't see it any-- it's not something that we should be alarmed by because they bring-- they spread wealth around. And the more they come to the West, in different forms and ways, and the world gets to know them better. And they get to know how other people behave and what other people do outside of China.
So it's just this kind of-- some years ago, several decades ago, the Japanese, too, they were ridiculed, having those-- with the flag and the tourists following the guys around. And people ridiculed the Japanese. I think it's just a matter of getting used to each other, Chinese and the world. Yes?
AUDIENCE: I have a question about the cities you choose to come down to [INAUDIBLE].
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: In your research in [INAUDIBLE], the design of those two cities are quite special in China because Beijing's the capital. I said that it's the special--
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: --economy zone. So I guess, just to put that, two cities are relatively liberal.
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yes, so--
CHING KWAN LEE: This is a representationist question, isn't it?
CHING KWAN LEE: OK.
AUDIENCE: So some cities within China, who now have [INAUDIBLE] in [INAUDIBLE]. Maybe that's a totally different story. So that choice of cities influenced the generalizability of your result?
CHING KWAN LEE: Well, great question. Yes, of course, any city-- any sampling would generate some kind of biases. I don't claim to represent all of China. But one thing we know, certainly, is that deep in the interior provinces, the rural governments in some of impoverished places in China, they are more thuggish.
If you look at the blind lawyer's experience of escaping from his own town, you see local governments behave like thugs in his-- is it Shandong or-- I forgot where he came from. So indeed I'm talking about major cities. Now how representative is Beijing and Shenzhen, I can't answer the question because I have to rely on other people doing similar work into the processes that we document in these two cities.
But without that, all I can tell you, as I said before, if you look online, the things-- the component processes that I explained to you, spent so much time all talking about, I find them in circulars of other local governments.
So that would be evidence to show that it might have originated in these two cities because these two cities were at the center, the epicenter, of all these unrests. And so government strategies that arise from-- that derives from their practices, spread. This is the way, the model, the usual way that in China goes, is that you develop some innovation at the local level, in some test points. And then they spread and become the model.
And we suspect that this is exactly what has happened. Otherwise, I won't-- you go online. You-- in Baidu, you put in [INAUDIBLE], mass incident, [INAUDIBLE], and it comes. It was a casual search for me. It comes out, those small cities, circulars, instructions on how to maintain stability. You take a look. And that's make me want to think that maybe this has become a codified national model.
But the question is right. I hope more people can do studies of this and show us whether there may be regional differences. I can't answer that question because it takes a lot of work to uncover the processes because you can't read these processes from statistics.
You can't read it from documents. You really need to know, talk to the people on both sides, state and society, to actually unravel what goes on in the bargaining process. Good?
SPEAKER 1: Before I wanted to raise the question about the relationship between commodification and social decay. The process is called commodification. Often, they seemed like things that happened in the United States, [INAUDIBLE], for example, there's this grievance and there's a process which ends with compensation. We call them lawsuits in the United States.
But they're risky. You have to pay lawyers lots of money. And usually you don't get what you want. And sometimes when workers are disappointed, they do things in the United States to get concessions. We call them strikes. Usually they fail in the United States.
Material interests affecting people's politics, like the grandmas and the grandkids, well, we call that voting your material interests in who you vote for. And it's routine. What's in it for me, people ask.
Really, in the US, the [INAUDIBLE] isn't [INAUDIBLE] and there aren't pigs floating in the rivers. Someone might say then, why the discrepancy? Isn't what's going on in China a result of courts not being very powerful regulatory agencies, not being well equipped, and officials being susceptible to bribes, leading to corruption?
That's actually the level you would expect from China's per capita and GDP. So why are you scaring us, some would say about how authoritarian [INAUDIBLE] maintains itself in China by telling us that [INAUDIBLE]?
CHING KWAN LEE: Well, because there's a big difference between compensation that people get in the US-- yes, you can modify your rights because you get your rights violated, you get compensated in monetary terms. The big difference there is that in China, as opposed to the US, it depends on who you are.
It depends on whether you have the capacity to mobilize, to pull off something like this, collective action, if you want to get compensation from the government through this kind of protest bargaining. In the United States, you have-- whoever you are, the law protects you the right to sue, to get compensation through the court. In China, it is not a guaranteed right that you can pursue justice through a system.
You get compensation only if you overcome this collective-action problem, only if you're not scared, only if. There are many conditions for you to get rights. And so I think it's not quite the same, even though in this country you get compensated for rights being violated.
In China there is no-- it has to take a lot of courage and mobilization effort to get to the point where bargaining would happen. And even that, you have to know how to play that game. And it is extremely scary to confront a state, for many people.
We don't have the security of pursuing that kind of collective action. There is no liberty of doing it. So I think it's quite different. And the point about social decay is when people have lost their ability to differentiate what is corruption and what is not corruption, what is your right, what is not your right, what is the limit to the market, what can market not do, where market should not apply, that is when you see people willing to buy their way-- to buy whatever they want, to sell whatever they want.
And that's why you see people that have no moral responsibility to people who would be poisoned by the rice that they grow, knowingly, knowing that it would lead some people to die. And there are a lot of issues that are just unimaginable in other societies because people really, objectively, in a society and subjectively, do not have any moral boundary to what market should not go, where markets should not go, and where the rule of exchange, price cannot apply to that thing. But commodification has destroyed that kind of sensibility.
I think social decay is when people, citizens, do not insist on certain things that cannot be commodified. Then I think that society has lost their ability, as a moral check on the authoritarian state. And so that's scary for me as a sociologist because I think, ultimately, what the state would be has a lot to do with what citizens let the state does.
And so if that's the case, if you're thinking about where China is headed, cannot just look at the economy or the political system, whether there is still one-party rule. The defense against authoritarianism has to come from society and the citizens.
If every citizen is willing to bargain away the right, I don't think China will see any democracy in the real sense, even though you may have, one day, the party will say, hey, let's have an election, it will be false. It will be flawed election. It will be an election that involves buying votes and all kinds of dishonesty that doesn't really reflect the aggregated collective will.
To have genuine democracy, you need citizens who actually commit to democratic values, that are not willing to settle for a discounted wage as your labor right. And I don't see that happening in mainland China. And the kind of conflicts that you see is what is happening in Hong Kong, I must say that people-- they have-- they're wealthy.
That society is so affluent. But people would not give up that right to elect. And that's why they're staging this kind of protest. It's a good mirror for mainland China to look at. I think Deng Xiaoping, when he designed this one country, two system thing for for Hong Kong, what he was thinking was that as long as we keep the capitalist system, people will be happy.
People will be apolitical because all they care about is making money. If we continue to let you raise your horses-- remember his famous saying? You dance your dance. You raise your horses. You make your money. Hong Kong remains capitalist. We'll be fine. No, it's not fine because that's not enough.
There are things that capital-- having money is not the end of what we want. And I think they have to deal with this reality in Hong Kong, but not so far in mainland China. Yes?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. I have a question about this [? mobility ?] problem. [INAUDIBLE] I think is saying 2010. It's like $500 billion yuan in Chinese currency. And so it's even higher than the National Defense Fund--
CHING KWAN LEE: National what?
AUDIENCE: National defense.
CHING KWAN LEE: National?
CHING KWAN LEE: Defense?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE].
CHING KWAN LEE: No, that you are saying some things that I said before, no? Are you agreeing with me?
AUDIENCE: You said that already.
CHING KWAN LEE: I said that already.
AUDIENCE: Oh, you said-- Oh, I didn't-- I'm out of here. Well, I just wanted to ask that. Do you think it's a hinder for the Chinese government to worry more about its people than the outside forces, the States or Russia [INAUDIBLE] and yeah, as a sign that is-- I think it's lawyers in a role to the [INAUDIBLE] higher end [INAUDIBLE].
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes, yes. I absolutely agree. I cited that figure to show how much money the government is spending on internal security. And it reflects it reflects the strategy of the state, which is to use cash to buy stability. And I think, as I said, one day, if they no longer have that fiscal capacity, then China will be unstable because it relies so much on paying cash and using financial means. There is no authority anymore, or very little authority in the Chinese state. So one day you can't pay and buy off your protesters.
AUDIENCE: Do you think that that's a sign that the Chinese [INAUDIBLE] is actually scared of this mass of people--
CHING KWAN LEE: Of course he's--
AUDIENCE: --who are not the party?
CHING KWAN LEE: Yes. They are very paranoid about social instability, the threats to their political monopoly.
SPEAKER 1: I think we have time for one quick question.
CHING KWAN LEE: It's up to you. Two questions. Let's take two. OK, one and two.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, you've been talking about the [INAUDIBLE] you mentioned it binds the ability to reshape their past, very interesting concept you brought up there. But I don't know whether you noticed there, in actual, there are some complaints which are from the officials, grass roots officials, government officials. They think now we are too soft. Our hands are to soft because you are central government, you want to-- you put these laws here. You want us not to intrude by using violence too much. And we have to be soft.
But actually, to be soft with this problem was-- the government officials, they are satisfied with this situation. Let's go back to the Obama administration. When they [INAUDIBLE] office, they actually want to show a more soft stance. But as a result, actually, the [? petition ?] card has increased a lot. So how do you see the damage?
CHING KWAN LEE: Well, that's exactly what I've discussed here, which is on the part of officials, they themselves feel, firsthand, the loss of authority. They don't feel they have authority over the citizens anymore. That's why the officials I quoted are saying that people don't-- they are not afraid of us. That's why they try every means to eke out some-- they don't respect the law anymore.
They are not afraid of us. They come to make demands and try to get as much as possible from the government. This exactly what you're saying. They complain about being soft is exactly the reflection on their part that they have lost authority. So it's concurrent. It just dovetails with what I found. Last question.
AUDIENCE: Sorry, [INAUDIBLE] I'm really interested. So I'm very [INAUDIBLE] by the picture that you have depicted about the protests [INAUDIBLE] and the [INAUDIBLE] when the [INAUDIBLE]. But I was wondering if maybe they should have different [INAUDIBLE] or adopt different strategies. Would that would mean is different types of protests.
For instance, for labor perhaps, maybe they can be more a mediator between workers because they don't have a personal interest in there. But [INAUDIBLE] land issues, they are actually [? fighting ?] the parties. And also, about environmental protests, maybe stop protesters who amass are now waiting to be compensated by demanding to sacrifice their rights. That's what they're protesting against.
CHING KWAN LEE: Well, according to some of the studies that I read about environmental protest in one of the recent China Quarterly issues-- there is a special issue on environmental protests. And you read those papers, you will see, actually, people are not that insistent on the environmental right. Again, they can be bought off.
And if the environmental pollution or pollution happened in their village, it depends on whether they have economic interests in that factory that pollutes the river. If it is someone that is an outsider investing in that factory, they protest. If it's one of the villagers, less so. There is a lot of instrumental economic calculation even in environmental protests. This doesn't mean that there is no way for them to bargain with the state and bargain away that right.
In terms of land rights as opposed to-- land protests as opposed to labor protests, there are some differences. The role of the government though is quite similar. In both cases, the government would intervene because those who violate the rights of workers and peasants, they are not coming from the same level of government.
So the government is still a very important adjudicator in many cases. The differences have to do with how powerful these protests are because if you're talking about land-rights protests, these usually are more serious and long term because you're talking about community rising up together, whereas workers are more easily fermented.
So in terms of the strength of protest, there are difference-- we observe differences. But in terms of the overall strategies of how the state strategizes their coping and response and bargaining, it's quite similar. But usually land cases are very intricate and involving many more games and many more mechanisms.
SPEAKER 1: On November 3, Tony [? Saich, ?] represent the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard will be speaking to us on the culture of the Chinese Communist Party and the challenges that it faces. In December, we hope to start to release our videos on where China is headed on YouTube and the Ethics and Public Life site.
We very much look forward to your comments, one virtue of video is that we can revise in light of those comments. We are extremely grateful to one of the future stars of our videos, Ching Kwan Lee for her informative and inspiring talk
CHING KWAN LEE: Thank you. Thank you very much.
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Ching Kwan Lee gives a lecture entitled, "Buying Stability in China: Markets, Protests, and Authoritarianism," as part of Cornell's Program on Ethics and Public Life fall series "Where is China Headed?". Recorded Sept. 22, 2014.