Hong Kong Fireworks 2012, recorded from Kowloon by MrBartvl1979
» Taipei 101 2011 New Year Fireworks, Jan. 1, 2011
The following is an account of an article by He Zengke, a scholar of politics, director of the World Developmental Strategy Research Department at the Central Editorial and Translation Office (中央编译局世界发展战略研究部主任), and deputy director at the Beijing University Governmental Innovation Research Center (北京大学中国政府创新研究中心副主任) – see here for further details. It was published by ChinaReform (中国改革论坛网), on December 23 this year.
He Zengke’s original footnotes are in [square brackets]; mine are in (round brackets). He Zengke’s footnotes are added at the end of every blockquote translation, or within my indirect account of his paragraphs respectively.
Main link: http://www.chinareform.org.cn/Explore/perspectives/201112/t20111223_130890.htm. Links within blockquotes added during translation.
Joseph Nye was the first to suggest the term “soft power” in the studies of international relations. Domestically, the general term currently is “ruǎn shílì”, but it should actually be translated “ruǎn quánlì”. It indicates the legitimacy or legality of the values, political strategies, institutional organization initiated or pursued by a country, which earn it the other countries’ willingness to identify with these, and which constitute a country’s ability to win other countries’ support in international affairs, without issuing orders or forcing others. Nye suggests that soft power is a kind of assimilating power (co-optive power), in stark contrast to commanding others according to its own wishes, or issuing orders based on hard power, and is in fact a supple kind of international influence. Nye believes that soft assimilating power and hard commanding power are equally important, in defending and promoting ones own country’s interests. The former kind of power obviously meets with less resistance, and comes at lower transaction costs.1) Nye then suggests that the resources which constitute a country’s soft power are the country’s cultural and ideological appeal, the number of its multi-national companies and their strength, and the degree to which it leads in shaping international bodies’ policies and resources, etc.
美国学者约瑟夫·奈在国际关系研究中率先提出“Soft Power”的概念，国内目前通称“软实力”，其实应译为“软权力”。它是指一国所倡导或奉行的价值理念、政策战略、制度安排的正当性或合法性获得他国的 自愿认同而在国际事务中无须通过命令或强制等方式赢得他国支持与合作的能力。奈指出，软实力是一种同化性权力（co-optive power），它与命令他者按照自己的意志行动的硬权力或指令性权力形成了鲜明的对照，它实际上是一种柔性的国际影响力。奈认为，软性的同化权力与 硬性的指挥权力同等重要，在捍卫和增进自身的国家利益方面，前者显然遇到的抵制更少，实现国家利益的代价更低。奈进而指出，构成一国软实力的权力资源包括 本国的文化和意识形态的吸引力、多国公司的数量和实力、自身主导的国际机制的规则和制度等资源。
 Zheng Yongnian has thoroughly researched the limits and insufficiencies of these two methods of soft and hard power. Interested readers may refer to Zheng Yongnian and Zhang Chi, ‘Guoji Zhengzhi zhong de Ruan Liliang Yiji Dui Zhongguo Ruan Liliang de Guancha’, (‘Soft Power in International Politics and an Observation of China’s Soft Power’), chief editor Zai Yutang, Renmin Ribao Publishing House, 2009
 See also: Joseph Nye, translated by Men Hong, “Hard Power and Soft Power” (“硬权力与软权力”), Beijing University Publishing House, 2005 (北京大学出版社). This book’s fifth chapter (ruǎn quánlì) centrally reflects his idea of soft power.
Nye’s concept had many international repercussions, writes He, including China’s academia, among which the views of a certain Yu Xintian (俞新天) deserved particular attention.2). Yu divided soft power into three components:
He goes on to say that the core of soft power is culture, and that what matters most are the ideas or concepts, thoughts, and principles the core cultural values, institutions, strategies, and institutions this core depended upon, and that the latter [three] therefore not only constituted power in terms of resources (“资源性实力”), but also operational [or procedural] power or strength (“操作性实力”). With a third footnote , He refers to an article by Yu Xintian: “ruǎn shílì jiànshè yǔ zhōngguó duìwài zhànlüè” (Soft Power and China’s Foreign Strategy), “guójì wèntí yánjiū” (International Studies), second issue 2008, pp 15 to 20.
Cultural soft power is treated as a sub-concept (子概念) of cultural power in general here, winning over recipients at home and abroad by generating culture, by cultural exchanges, cultural education and communication, by guidance and operation of cultural ideals. The core of cultural soft power is based on core-values thoughts, concepts and principles, cultural products are its carriers, cultural exchange activities, cultural education and dissemination media. Cultural soft power is a kind of relational power, and a country earns influence on other countries by thoughts, knowledge, and values which are worshiped and generally acknowledged in those other countries. The country’s own ideology, concepts and principles reflect and safeguard its own interests, and earn the international community’s general recognition and acceptance, thus influencing other countries’ conduct in international affairs, diminishes resistance or obstruction it may otherwise face, and therefore helps a country to achieve its strategic goals in its international relationships, and enhances its national interest. It is because of this direct relationship between a country’s strong or weak cultural soft power with a country’s international competitiveness and its ability to safeguard the realization of its own national interest and to achieve its strategic goals that the international community in general attaches great importance to create some good methods and practice in increasing the cultural soft power of their respective countries. This deserves to be conscientiously summarized.
He Zengke’s summary contains several – theoretical or practical – guidelines for building / exercising soft power:
America had developed soft power on a global scale since the 1990s, promoting democratic values, writes He, under his first guideline. This had become an essential road to make America and its values safer (成为维护美国价值观安全和使美国变得更安全的必由之路). The U.S. National Security Council, directly under the president, paid close attention to the exercise of soft power and the protection of America’s cultural values as a particular means to protect America’s national security. The “National Security Strategy Report” of September 20024) had emphasized the importance of spreading the American way of life and promoting democracy, in order to influence countries which were of strategic importance to America. A footnote  refers to a book by Zhang Baoguo (张玉国), “National Interest and Culture Policies” (国家利益与文化政策), Guangdong People’s Publishing House, 2005, pp. 103 to 104. The “Homeland Security” agency determined four strategies: (1) Promoting and fostering cultural production to manifest the great freedoms and power which served the nation; (2) to guide and to recommend to the leaders and managers within the cultural spheres to join us in this field of combating terrorism, to use the broad influence and strength of cultural production to propagate to people at home and abroad that America is the greatest country on earth; and (4) to supervise, restrict, and at times when necessary, to close cultural organizations or companies who had contacts with terrorist organizations or which could harm to national security. Related footnotes  and  refer to the National Security Council’s website [the above link leads to the White House’s website – JR], as quoted by Zhang Baoguo, same book as footnote , page 106, and the “Homeland Security” website, also quoted there, pp. 106 to 107.
Those responsbile at the U.S. Information Agency (美国新闻署, in charge of stations such as VoA or Radio Free Asia (RFA) [The USIA is now defunct and its duties have been referred to the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the State Department – JR] are described as in charge of the strategic development of public diplomacy, thus safeguarding U.S. national security (实施美国对外文化战略开展公众外交以维护美国国家安全), and propagandize American cultural values and foreign policies, to influence public debate in other countries, thus maintaining the long-term interests of American policies. Gong Tieying (龚铁鹰), “A Systematic Analysis of Soft Power” (软权力的系统分析), Tianjin People’s Publishing House, 2008, pp. 157 to 165, is quoted here – He Zengke’s footnote .
America had been the first country that realized how culture and industries could be linked with each other, thus creating a leap to the position of an industrial superpower. After the 1990s, cultural production had become America’s most dynamic industry, with enormous economic benefits. [Statistics there, guideline 2 (“（二）将文化视为一种创造财富增加价值的创造性产业”) – JR.] He quotes from Li He (李河), “Developed Countries’ Contemporary Cultural Policies at a Glance” (发达国家当代文化政策一瞥), China Net (中国网) as quoted by a website which apprently no longer provides the source – http://www.jllib.cn/lecture/ref/20040630.pdf; He Zengke’s footnote . An excerpt of Li He
Zengke‘s apparent paper or article can be found here. From his sources, He also reads diversity in terms of investors in and funding of the cultural industry, encouraging migration by outstanding cultural workers into America, market mechanisms, fiscal tools such as tax exemptions and relief, and political and economic support for the position of cultural goods on the international markets – He Zengke’s footnote , Dong Weimin (董为民), “Foreign Cultural Products’ Current Status – Practice and Measures taken for their Development” (国外文化产业现状、发展措施与经验), Review of Economic Research (经济研究参考, published under the Ministry of Finance’s auspices), No. 10, 2004, pp. 19 – 20.
Countries which followed the American example in supporting the cultural industries indirectly had the state act as a facilitator – be it by tax exempts as mentioned by He above, or by special funding, combined with market mechanisms and commercial operations -, thus maintaining the sustainability and creative vitality of cultural development.
Referring back to his guideline 5 – unity in diversity -, He points to the introduction of multi-culturalism as introduced in America, Europe, Canada, Britain and Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, and this pattern’s relevance for China as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, in equal development of cultures and educational policies – He’s footnote , Wang Jian (王鉴), “Contemporary Western Countries’ Understandings of Multi-Culturalized Culture and Education” (当代西方国家对多元文化教育的几种认识), Foreign Education Research (外国教育研究), No. 2, 1994, p. 6.
America takes public diplomacy seriously, makes great efforts for cultural education and exchange, applies different strategies when exporting values, depending on the respective recipients, uses cultural carriers for the export of cultural values, and all these are methods to learn from.
 Li Bailing, “Practice and Measures taken by America to Increase its Cultural Soft Power”, Research Sub-Report, 2009
He Zengke’s article doesn’t only seem relevant as a source of how a Chinese – semi-official or official – academic compares China’s (cultural) soft power and policies to raise the country’s “soft power” vis-à-vis America. His review also includes a number of other countries and their soft-power approaches – France and Germany among them. But that should be material for another (much shorter) blogpost.
My Footnotes (translation)
1) I chose “transaction costs” as a translation here, a term which would usually be used in economics. A more plain translation would be “price”, i. e. “at a lower price” in this context.
2) Yu Xintian is a professor at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS).
3) Multi-culturalism may or may not be the best possible translation. In Germany at least, and arguably in other European countries, too, it is now frequently criticized as cultural relativism or as what is seen as a rather inappropriate approach to conflicts explained with gaps between different ethnic populations. If you are aware of a different translation for 多元化, please advise. Not surprisingly, He points out that multi-culturalism and assimilation [as a doctrine – 同化主义] coexist in America, as only within the mainstream, participation and the acquisition of knowledge, attitudes and skills would be possible.
4) The May 2010 National Security Report actually appears to be pretty much into American values, too – if not far beyond the 2002 report. Last year’s concept (“Our moral leadership is grounded principally in the power of our example—not through an effort to impose our system on other peoples”) may, however, come across as quite different from the Bush administration’s.
» We invented the Katyhusha, Oct 30, 2009
I’m currently focusing on two aspects of the “soft power” concept as initially coined by Joseph S. Nye. What I’m most interested in at the moment is the way the concept is seen by Chinese academics, and the way it is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The latter aspect isn’t terribly funny – I’m thinking of the 17th Central Committee’s “cultural document” of October 2011 as a guiding document when it comes to the relationship between the party’s soft-power and cultural policies, and this document seems to require translation (I haven’t found an English translation elsewhere so far). The former aspect would – so far, anyway – be limited to He Zengke (何增科) and, indirectly, to a few other Chinese academics he mentions, and those explorations – including translation -is the pleasant side of the task.
How relevant scientific contributions in politics really are within China, i. e. how far they actually shape the CCP’s ideological homework, is hard for me to decide, but clues may come in the process of reading and translating. I haven’t finished the central committee’s October cultural document yet, and it’s going to be on the back burner for a while. Seems to me that when discussing China’s concepts of soft power, neither the client (the CCP) nor the hopeful peddlers of scientific concepts, should be missed.
He Zengke is a scholar of politics, and director of the World Developmental Strategy Research Department, at the Central Editorial and Translation Office (中央编译局世界发展战略研究部主任). He is also deputy director at the Beijing University Governmental Innovation Research Center (北京大学中国政府创新研究中心副主任), and an expert at the – or a – sub-topic at the Central Marxism Fundamental Theory Research and Establishment Project (中央马克思主义基本理论研究与建设工程子课题首席专家) – a semi-official academic, to say the least.
» Confucius, after 14 Years of Travelling, ThinkQuest, accessed Dec 30, 2011
Joseph Nye was the first to suggest the term “soft power”
[Note/Update: I didn’t even mean to SAVE, let alone to PUBLISH this line. But now it is here, and as it is bad style to delete published posts – or so the pontiffs of blogging say -, I’ll leave it published. After all, it’s probably a true statement.]
I’m taking a break from blogging until Thursday night (GMT). No links to advise during this calm season between the years, except, maybe, for the Taipei Times and Radio Taiwan International (RTI), where coverage on the region in general, and Taiwan in particular, goes on as normal – without reviews of the outgoing year, of events I’m are either aware of anyway, or of which I don’t care.
If you comment and get into the moderation queue, please be patient.
Deutsche Welle (aka Voice of Germany) is a public broadcasting corporation, or, more specifically in German, a public broadcasting institution in accordance with federal law. Most domestic publicly-owned broadcasters, with a few exceptions, are governed by interstate law – which isn’t federal law but a treaty collectively entered by the states.
In Die Deutsche Welle im Rahmen von Public Diplomacy (Deutsche Welle in the Framework of Public Diplomacy)1), Christian Michalek, in 2008 and 2009, tried to assess journalists’ self-image (or self-concept) on the one hand, and the Welle’s political mandate (politischer Auftrag) on the other. His book was published in 2009, but it should be pointed out that much or all of his work (according to the time when he accessed his online sources, according to his bibliography, probably had been done before the unharmonious days at Deutsche Welle began – or at least before possibly existing tensions within the organizaton escalated.
In his book, Michalek quotes the German Journalists Association (Deutscher Journalisten Verband) with a concept of journalism which makes circumstances or processes known – the knowledge of which is of general, political, economic, or cultural significance. Another journalists’ association, the Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union, is part of Germany’s ver.di union.
Michalek quotes other sources, too, concerning journalistic self-concepts, which demand control of the powerful (Kontrolle der Mächtigen) in politics, business, and society, plus entertainment, but adds that all these requirements aren’t necessarily legally binding.
89 per cent of German journalists put neutral and precise information first in their work, according to a survey in 2004 and 2005, by Weischenberg, Malik and Scholl2), as quoted by Michalek. 79 per cent of journalists want to explain complex issues, and 74 per cent feel obliged to provide quick information and to describe reality as found. The idea that news provided should be of interest to a range of potential viewers, listeners or readers which should be as broad as possible doesn’t get with exactly as much support among journalists – 60 per cent, according to Michalek’s quote from Weischenberg et al.
Michalek interviewed the Director of International Relations at Deutsche Welle; a responsible from Marketing, Corporate Planning, and Ad Sales at Deutsche Welle (in charge of task-planning – see subtitle Negotiations with Politcs further down); and a deputy assistant under-secretary (Ministerialrat) with the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, plus three unnamed representatives of the foreign office (in charge of public diplomacy and communication abroad). While Michalek interprets assertions by the foreign office‘s officers and/or the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media’s representative as an expectation that Deutsche Welle should convey German perceptions (Deutschland und dessen Sichtweisen), Deutsche Welle representatives he also interviewed maintained that a journalist’s primary task should be to transmit news, and that a task of generating interest in, appreciation of, or understanding of Germany – as well as presenting the Federal Republic as a role model (Vorbild) – should only come second. Just as their peers elsewhere in Germany, Deutsche-Welle journalists, too, come across as primarily news-and-information oriented, in Michalek’s findings.
His book doesn’t tell much else about the operative level, i. e. the daily routine in the editorial offices. Michalek explicitly placed his explorations on the meso level, i. e., according to AppliedSoc.org, the middle ground the organizations that are on a mid scale, like communities or neighborhoods compared the macro structure of an entire city. Or, maybe somewhat more apposite in the Deutsche Welle context, the level of organizational principles which portray the relationships between single areas of public administration among each other (“Ebene der organisatorischen Prinzipien, die die Beziehungen der einzelnen Bereiche der öffentlichen Verwaltung untereinander darstellen”)3).
An exertion of influence on the Welle’s editorial work was nothing even the foreign office’s or the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media‘s representative interviewed would aim for, writes Michalek. Besides, such attempts would meet with massive protests and resistance among the Welle’s employees. Besides, a broadcaster free of such influence could only gain in terms of authenticity among its recipients – that’s where all interviewees agreed, according to Michalek.
While domestic public broadcasters are funded by the viewers or the audience via license fees4), the Welle depends on federal funding, as mentioned at the beginning. This leads to a particular formal way of negotiations between Deutsche Welle and politics – more specifically, between the Welle on the one hand, and the German federal government, and the lower house of parliament (the federal parliament, or Bundestag) on the other.
The Deutsche Welle Act (Deutsche-Welle-Gesetz, DWG) is available on the Welle’s website and describes the consultation procedure (para 4b) as follows:
(1) Deutsche Welle shall forward the draft annual update of its Task Plan to the German Bundestag and the Federal Government in due time after the Federal Government’s decision on the next Federal Budget and Financial Plan.
(2) The draft Task Plan shall be published in an appropriate manner to give the interested public in Germany and abroad an opportunity to comment.
(3) The Federal Government shall comment on the contents of Deutsche Welle’s Task Plan within six weeks.
The German Bundestag should take up this Task Plan within two months, taking the Government’s position into account.
(4) The Federal Government shall notify Deutsche Welle of the financial data adopted in its ongoing budget proceedings to the extent it affects Deutsche Welle.
(5) Deutsche Welle’s Broadcasting Board shall adopt the Task Plan within two months (with the consent of the Administrative Board), taking into account the comments of the German Bundestag, the Federal Government, and the public.
The Task Plan shall include an estimate of operating and investment costs during the period of the plan. If Deutsche Welle does not follow these comments in formulating its Task Plan, it shall substantiate this decision.
Deutsche Welle shall be responsible for adopting the Task Plan.
(6) The amount of the Federal subsidy for Deutsche Welle shall be determined in the annual Federal Budget Act.
(7) Deutsche Welle shall publish a final version of the Task Plan refl ecting the Federal subsidy.
The Welle doesn’t need to follow the Federal Government’s comments (see sub-para 3), or those from the Bundestag – but in an analysis of the 2006 procedure, Michalek found that the Welle did so in most cases that year. When it came to an item concerning stronger adaptation of the Asia programs to Chinese conditions, Deutsche Welle partly followed the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media‘s comments.
Michalek points out that the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media – not the foreign office – is exercising control of legality over Deutsche Welle. This arrangement puts some distance between the Welle and the foreign office (the latter of which, after all, is likely to be the one within government to take the greatest interest in the station as a tool for public diplomacy). That said, Michalek also refers to non-binding, formal and informal intercommunication (“unverbindliche, formelle und informelle Austauschprozesse”) between Deutsche Welle and the political arena, particularly the foreign office, which were hoped to serve a congruent international German appearance.
Ever since 1961, the German constitutional court has issued “Rundfunkurteile”, writes Michalek. These decisions weren’t only about what cannot be done, but about how to ensure a role for broadcasters which bars the state from broadcasting on its own, and to make sure that audiovisual programs are free from political, but also from dominantly unidirectional (einseitige) commercial and societal influences. The public broadcasting institutions, and those who work for them, are bearers or carriers of what may be best translated as the freedom of the air waves (Rundfunkfreiheit), which in turn serves the role of broadcasting to perform as an essential medium for individual and public formation of opinion.
The court’s decisions, over more than five decades now, have led the arrangements around public broadcasters, based on Article 5 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz):
5. – ( 1 ) Everyone has the right freely to express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by radio and motion pictures are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
( 2 ) These rights are limited by the provisions of the general laws, the provisions of law for the protection of youth and by the right to inviolability of personal honor.
( 3 ) Art and science, research and teaching are free. Freedom of teaching does not absolve from loyalty to the constitution.
Explanations as to why a simple “no” to unilateral or dominating influence from politics, or commercial, or societal interests wouldn’t be enough can be found online here (in German), on page 13 ff. in Manfred Kops’ Globalization as a Challenge for German Foreign Broadcasting (“Die Globalisierung als Herausforderung für den Deutschen Auslandsrundfunk”), but elaborating on this topic would go too far in the context of this blog post. Kops describes how inter-cultural dialog poses greater challenges than mere international dialog – something to get back to in another post. Both Kops and Michalek (or the sources he quotes) emphasize the constitutional courts definition of broadcasters as carriers of existing opinions, but also as factors in opinion forming. Their role as a factor in opinion forming necessitated the constitutional courts continuous guidance in organizing public broadcasting.
But Michalek points out circumstances which may be crucial in the brawl which has arisen in and around Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department since 2008 (without mentioning this particular department, or any particular department or stakeholder): There has been no decision if the freedom of the airwaves, as spelled out along the constitutional court’s decisions, applies for Deutsche Welle, or only for domestic broadcasters. In discussions, most lawyers would believe that the constitutional court’s decisions do not apply for foreign broadcasting specifically when it comes to a broadcaster which mainly speaks to foreign audiences5) – but there hasn’t been a decision by the constitutional court.
But even as such a decision is absent, another question would be if Deutsche Welle isn’t a carrier of the fundamental rights (or Grundrechte), and if freedom of the air waves doesn’t still apply for the broadcaster anyway, Michalek adds. There seemed to be no clear-cut trend among lawyers when it came to that question.
In at least two cases of the four employees and contributors of Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department whose contracts weren’t continued late last / early this year, the labor courts have spoken, and apparently confirmed the Deutsche Welle’s measures. But having read Michalek, I’m wondering if this occured in a legal limbo, or in a sheer legal gap, which could – and should – be filled by the constitutional court.
1) Michalek, Christian, Die Deutsche Welle im Rahmen von Public Diplomacy – Journalistisches Selbstverständnis und Politischer Auftrag des deutschen Auslandsrundfunks, München, 2009
2) Weischenberg, Siegfried / Malik, Maja / Scholl, Armin: Journalismus in Deutschland 2005, Zentrale Befunde der aktuellen Repräsentativbefragung deutscher Journalisten, in: Media Perspektiven Nr. 7 2006, S. 346 – 361.
3) Ignace Snellen, Grundlagen der Verwaltungswissenschaft, ein Essay über ihre Paradigmen, p. 125. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften/Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2006
4) This difference may lead to the impression that politics isn’t involved in determining the license fee when it comes to domestic broadcasters. My personal note: politicians play a role in determining the license fees, too – but their involvement may not be exactly as immediate as in the case of Deutsche Welle, and the procedures differ from each other.
5) Michalek, p. 69:
Während der Inlandsrundfunk (…) ohne Zweifel in die Zuständigkeit der Länder fällt und dem Bund dort eine Einmischung verboten ist (vgl. Dörr, 1996, S. 18), besteht im Hinblick auf die Veranstaltung ausländischer Rundfunksendungen keine Rechtssicherheit. Das Bundesverfassungsgericht, das mit seinem ersten Rundfunkurteil von 1961 die Verhältnisse für inländischen Rundfunk klar geregelt hat, hat bis heute nicht zu dieser Problematik gesprochen. Mittlerweile geht jedoch die herrschende juristische Meinung davon aus, dass Sendungen, die ausschließlich oder in erster Linie auf ein Zielgebiet außerhalb der Bundesrepublik gerichtet sind, gemäß des Art. 73 Nr. 1 GG (auswärtige Angelegenheiten) und des Art. 32 Abs. 1 GG (Pflege der Beziehungen zu auswärtigen Staaten) unter die Gesetzgebung des Bundes fallen und auch deren Verwaltung aufgrund des Art. 87 GG (Gegenstände bundeseigener Verwaltung) in dessen Hand liegen [statement of sources]. Insofern kann die Ausgestaltung der Deutschen Welle durch das vom Bund erlassene Deutsche-Welle-Gesetz als rechtmäßig anerkannt werden.
Three authors – Hu Xiaoping (胡小平), Zhu Ying (朱 颖), and Ge Dangqiao (葛党桥) -, addressed the problems of low efficiency in agricultural production. .
Not only “surplus labor”, but workforce who would actually be needed in the countryside, too, have left China’s rural areas in the wake of reform and industrial development and urbanization, according to their paper, published by Guangming Daily (光明日报), and republished by China National Radio (CNR). The author found that labor shortage in agriculture and an aging workforce were problems that went hand in hand. That the workforce was becoming of age had also led to a situation where “the workers’ quality” (导致了从事农业生产的劳动者质量的下降) was deteriorating.
After stating the obvious – that it is mostly younger people who move into
rural [correction (20120308): urban] areas, and that the elderly tend to stay at home -, the article adds:
In our country, there are big gaps between the countryside and the cities, in terms of the economy, culture, public services, social welfare, etc.. To enjoy their share in the fruits of modern civilization and to pursue good opportunities of development, even though they won’t achieve the levels of income they hoped for there, the younger will still wish to move towards the cities. Once they are there, they won’t return to the countryside, unless they absolutely have to. In the cities, they are raising the second generation of migrant workers, and while they remain rural population in terms of household registration, these have never worked in agricultural fields, and will feel no desire to return to the countryside.
在我国，农村和城市在经济、文化、公共事业、社会福利等方面存在较大差距。为了分享现代文明成果和追求更好的发展机会，即使在城市中无法获得预期收入，农 村大量青壮年劳动力也会源源不断向城市转移。进城以后，他们除非迫不得已，都不会再回到农村。他们在城市养育起来的“农二代”，虽然在户籍意义上仍属于农 民，却从未从事过农业生产，今后也不愿回到农村。
Urban industries demand high skills, argues the article, and competition had driven many of those who left for the cities since the 1980s back into the countryside – but the next young generation was on its way into the cities again.
But age alone didn’t explain the low efficiency in agriculture, as a look at the situation in developed countries’ agricultural sectors showed. High prices on their produce, combined with state subsidies, agricultural efficiency wasn’t low in Europe, the United States or Japan, despite a rural population which had come of age there, too.
A survey in the U.S. in 2007 found that the average age of a farm owner there was 57.1 years, in Japan, in 2009, 61 per cent of those who worked in the agricultural sector were older than 65. This doesn’t explain why the agricultural sector’s efficiency should be comparatively low. Abroad, an aging population is no threat to agricultural production, because they have sound social services and a comparatively high level of mechanization there, which offsets labor shortages.
The central government had intensified its efforts since 2004, writes the author, with some positive effects on efficiency in the agricultural sector, but not to a degree which would have avoided labor shortages, or migration of the young into the urban areas.
Rather extensive management of arable land was one reason for the shortcomings. Land had been left barren. The older farmers preferred land close to their homes, and abandoned more distant arable land. And where two harvests per year had been the rule before, the frequency had gone down to only one harvest a year. Frequently, they only grew food for their own needs. The central government had defined a red line of 1.8 billion mu of arable land to be kept in use, and the extensive use of arable land was in conflict with that requirement.
Attracting skilled work was another problem. Dual structures of rural and urban environments kept potentially skilled workers in
rural urban areas. Modern agriculture required technical and management understanding, mechanical skills, which the existing population with rather low educational levels could hardly provide. The phenomenon that many rural citizens moved to the cities temporarily and kept their land as a lifeline didn’t help to make agricultural use of the land more efficient, either. Each of them kept small fields which left no option to achieve economies of scale.
A third problem – and one people in the cities are only too familiar with, would be rising food prices, given that the supplies were rather inefficient. Even though the share of agricultural products in the consumer price index (CPI) had fallen from 60 per cent in the 1980s, to about 30 per cent in 2011, 60 per cent of this years CPI rise were caused by food prices. Under normal circumstances, one should expect that demand for agricultural products would only rise slowly, and expect little volatility, but the fast price rises suggested that there were serious supply shortages. Rises in pig (or pork) prices would suggest that supply would rise quickly, but older farmers were often neither prepared nor unable to raise pigs. Here, labor shortage was causing the problem.
The paper (or the Guangming Daily article reflecting it) makes three proposals:
Firstly, train professional farmers. Focus on attracting highly qualified staff into agricultural production, intensify farmers’ education, and create a beneficial environment for rural talents.
Secondly, improve agricultural mechanization. Encourage and support research and development that leads to mechanical solutions in line with the needs of agricultural production, increase the level of mechanization, and decrease the dependence of agricultural production on human labor. Continue to improve and enhance state subsidies for the purchase of agricultural machinery.
Thirdly, strengthen the building and investment in rural social services. Build and perfect social services to be provided before, during and after production [apparently kindergartens and pensioner facilities], accelerate agricultural production, the diffusion of agricultural technology, agricultural information systems, agricultural finance and insurance systems, and reduce the difficulties and risks farmers are facing.
Fourthly, change organizational and management methods in agricultural production. Change the traditional decentralized patterns of agricultural production, encourage the formation of professional guilds, cooperatives, specialized organizations and other forms of specialized economic cooperation, and increase the organizational levels in production. Encourage and support conditions which allow the achievement of appropriate economies of scale, based on reliable foundations of contract household responsibility systems.
The paper touches upon many related issues in economic, social, and ideological fields which are fairly frequently recorded on this blog. It also reflects existing confines of long-term and more recent restrictions on reform. I will try to build some links between these issues and this blogpost during Christmas.
Published without spell-checks or other corrections.
Chen Wei (陈卫), a dissident from Suining, Sichuan Province, was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier today, for “inciting subversion of state power”. He had reportedly been in detention since February 20, and been formally arrested on March 28 this year. In detail, the charges were reportedly about “inciting”*) online articles.
Chen’s wife, Wang Xiaoyan (王晓燕), Wang’s older sister and his younger brother watched the trial in the courtroom at Suining Intermediate Court. Mrs. Wang spoke with the BBC after the verdict. Wang probably won’t appeal, because he expected that the verdict would be decided in advance, and that there was no point in appealing.
Suining was named China’s outstanding tourism city in 2007, the country’s hygiene city of 2008, and a home of Guanyin culture, also in 2008.
*) Radio Taiwan International (RTI) quotes the charges as “subverting state power” (顛覆國家政權罪), which would seem to be more serious than incitement “inciting subversion of state power”.