From rigid stability to social governance : innovations in social security and public security arrangements in Shandong Province, China

從剛性維穩到社會治理 : 山東省社會安全和公共安全領域的創新實踐研究

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Lin HAN


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2015


Social stability is a major concern of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government. Public security and social security are seen as essential to achieving and maintaining stability, in the understanding of the CCP and their policies. China’s leadership has often publicly expressed its concern to avoid ‘social instability’. It is viewed as a threat both to the political order and to the continued growth of the economy. Instability is manifest in what the CCP deems to be unharmonious relations between government and society as manifested by crime, dispute and protest. Disparity in income distribution, the underdeveloped welfare system and weak governance in local areas are especially considered to be the root causes of social instability and pose threats to the state’s institutional and political legitimacy. In the past, China’s approach to resolving social conflicts was rigid stability as characterised by the suppression of public opinion and a reliance on state violence and control as a means of government organisation. However, with heightened economic development and deepening market reform this strategy has not been able to contain the prevalence of mass incidents which rose substantially in 2007 and 2008 compared to earlier years. In response to concerns that rigid stability is not working, and might even be making social instability worse, the Chinese authorities have gradually turned to social management innovation and to social governance as two alternatives to rigid stability. The literature on social stability is new but expanding rapidly. Although the first major academic articles on the subject of social governance, for instance, appeared only as recently as 2012 a picture of some of its key elements along with those of social management innovation is beginning to materialize. One notable feature of social management innovation and social governance compared to rigid stability is that the state is not considered to be the only actor responsible for maintaining social stability. Instead, in social management innovation and social governance provisions have been made to encourage non-government organizations (NGOs) and social organizations to play a part in maintaining social stability. However, whereas social management innovation involves the participation of NGOs and social organizations through the direct co-ordination of local government as leader, social governance puts NGO’s at the forefront of intervention shielding state authorities from the full focus of stability responsibility. This process of ‘decentralization’ is entirely in keeping with the spirit of social governance which since its inception has entailed a strategy of localizing grievances while insulating the centre. Contemporaneously, aside from NGO engagement in social stability maintenance other studies have charted the changing responsibilities of formal police forces, the development of para policing, expanding social security provisions and the establishment of new forms of network governance, amongst others. Inevitably, given the fairly recent academic attention that has been devoted to social stability, and in particular to the shift from social management innovation to social governance, this study addresses two immediate gaps in the literature. First, most current research of social stability maintenance lacks analysis of China’s social management development practice at local government level. This is particularly true of studies of social management innovation and social governance which tend to be pitched at the level of policy developments only. A second contribution is that the study expands the extant focus on social management innovation and social governance to consider the role of rigid stability as a precursor to both. Although the theme of social management has existed for fifteen years or so, at this stage it is more usefully defined as rigid stability so that the notion of social management innovation that was first mentioned in 2004 can be more subtly distinguished from it and from the subsequent notion of social governance. The general empirical questions that are formulated against this background are: to what extent are the desired properties of social management innovation and social governance detailed in the policy documentation observable in practice, do they appear to provide genuine alternatives to rigid stability and what do they reveal about the changing relationship between state and society? The background to these questions will be addressed by tracking recent policy developments in the field of social stability before empirically applying them to two best in class (most favourable) local government case studies innovating to maintain social stability. The first case of the Sunshine Aid Project in Qingdao city, Shandong Province, examines a pioneering social management innovation in the context of social security. It is designed to address shortcomings in the minimum living allowance system (MLAS), which serves as the “last line of defence” in the social security system. The second case of the Ping An Association in Xintai City, Shandong province, examines a pioneering social governance intervention in the context of public security. It is designed to resolve a worsening local public security situation and entails the project leadership of a NGO in the domains of crime prevention, social conflict mediation and mass incidents. At the most basic level, the case study analysis suggests that the principles of social management innovation and social governance can be identified in the two pioneering localities. However, the expansion of Ping An Association’s intervention into the domain of “cultural construction” demonstrates how the project, as a pioneering social stability maintenance intervention, is possibly moving into new uncharted territory. In conjunction with the observation that the two cases are built on initial shortcomings of formal social security and public security provision, a point absent in supporting policy documentation, raises the prospect that social management innovation and social governance are not so much about displacing, or even necessarily dispersing, state power but rather more about taking advantage of societal forces to assist government. Moreover, via the gradual development of what is referred to as “cultural construction” the social governance alternative to rigid stability could even signify a consolidation of state power through pre-emptive, or even socialisation, measures. However, in such a newly emerging domain of literature one has to proceed cautiously and many of this thesis’ contributions involve either clarifying the empirical presence of emerging concepts or gradually advancing the field by pointing out other possibilities. Key Words: Social Stability, Rigid Stability, Social Management Innovation, Social Governance, Social Security, Public Security, China

    Research areas

  • Political stability, Shandong Sheng, Public administration, Local government, China