Lecture 7 Dynamic Balancing between Hierarchy and Self-organization

“Confucius said: “There was Great Shun:-He indeed was greatly wise! Shun loved to question others, and to study their words, though they might be shallow. He concealed what was bad in them and displayed what was good. He snatched up the two extremes, determined the Mean, and employed it in his government of the people. It was by this that he was Great Shun!"

—The Doctrine of Dynamic Balance

Since most Chinese organizations have a bureaucracy, or hierarchy, to control a network of comparatively independent subunits, how to make balance of hierarchy and self-organizations has become the most interesting issue in the research of Chinese management. Thus, the most important thing for managing organizations under the doctrine of dynamic balance is balancing tightened and loosened control, that is, powers in hierarchy and the ones in self-organization.

Explanations from Local Sociologists

By putting forward ―the emperor's and the gentry's powers,‖ Fei Xiaotong was the first local sociologist to talk about how to balance the top-down hierarchical and the bottom-up self-organizational powers. On the one hand, the emperor's power went down to counties by appointing governors, who were members of the hierarchy. On the other hand, clans' power was exercised in a bottom-up manner; squires were the leaders of autonomous groups but were not members of the government hierarchy and not subordinated to the local county governors. These two powers were bridged by the county governors' subordinates, petty civil servants and, in clans, conciliators appointed by the local governments (this job title differed from place to place in China).

What conciliators did was a piece of drudgery, as the powers of local self-organized units were actually held by squires. Since squires did not deal directly with the local county governors, conciliators became the gatekeepers for the emperor's power to influence the countryside. Petty civil servants transmitted administrative orders to conciliators, who in turn executive these orders

① An ancient great Chinese emperor.

105 before submitting relevant reports to their superiors. A conciliator would be imprisoned if the local squire thought of an administrative order as being improper and decided to defy it. By this moment, the county governor would talk with the squire to reach a consensus and push for execution of the order. Their reputations were maintained as the conciliator would be punished for doing a poor job in executing the order. There were times when it was difficult to reach a consensus on executing an administrative order or when the local governor played politics in this process. In such a situation, the squire would mobilize relationships that he built up in the officialdom and relied on the government at a higher level to restrict the local governor. The squire therefore acted as a protector of the local self-organized unit.

If it was very difficult to execute an administrative order, the squire could ask a higher-ranking official, with whom he had a good relationship, to convey his opinion to the group of civil servants who stood for the Confucianism, which asserts the restriction of emperor's power. And if he had served as an official in the capital of the country, the squire could even directly ask a particular central government official to convey his opinion. In the meantime, he could rely on a protest by the clerisy and the Confucian orthodoxy to refute the administrative order as departing from local conditions and being arbitrary, or to report the improper execution by particular local officials that had caused great trouble to the local people. This led to dual management systems of the political organization in China. Specifically, political management in China did not rely solely on a rational system implemented in a top-down manner, as there were also effects from self-organized grass-roots groups built upon the use of power in a bottom-up manner and upon interpersonal relationships in clans. With the Confucian orthodoxy counterbalancing centralized governance to a certain extent, it was possible to let high-ranking officials in the bureaucracy know the needs of local self-organized units so that they could make decisions with these needs in mind.

The rapid development of local self-organized units also received acquiescence from the then Chinese government; administrative districts below county level were autonomous and social functions of clans were mostly respected by the government with exception to taxation, conscription and forced labor. Coordination by the clan was a mediation mechanism dominated by the clan's authority, based on its own internal rules and intended to maintain internal harmony. Every clan had the authority to discuss important internal affairs at the ancestral temple and to arbitrate internal disputes, and decisions reached by arbitration were binding upon relevant clan members. Chinese villages were always a part where it was more difficult for national laws to work. It was therefore impossible to rely solely on national laws to coordinate relationships and mediate disputes in rural communities. As a result, a considerable part of coordination and mediation was carried out within the clan. In a ―guanxi society‖, there are social networks connecting political elites on the top and the grass root gentries, and bridging ties thus help balancing the top-down and bottom-up powers in the ways that Fei Xiaotong illustrated. So the political organization in China was not a hierarchical one spanning level down to the grass roots, but -two levels with a hierarchy to control a network of comparatively independent entities. Specifically, there was a top-down hierarchy at the county and higher levels, while, at the grass-roots level, there were self-organized local autonomous entities controlled by squires who did not subordinated to the hierarchy. Fei Xiaotong referred to this system as ―dual lane political systems.‖ The clerisy acted as a bridge between the powers at the higher and grass-roots levels. On the one hand, they formed a group of civil servants to prevent powers of the hierarchy from overexpansion. On the other hand, they educated local people on norms and virtue behaviors rituals so as to maintain the order in self-organized units.

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