Dynamic Balance in the Mind of Chinese

I have mentioned two important concepts above – what Fei Xiaotong referred to as ―the emperor's power‖ and ―the gentry's power.‖ Balancing between these two powers, which represent the powers of the top-down hierarchy and of bottom-up self-organized units respectively, was the very pivot of Chinese politics, according to Fei. There indeed was a set of structures and mechanisms in the history of China that had undergone changes one after another over the past millennia, according to Ray Huang in his book China: A Macro History. And this mechanism actually dealt with balancing between the powers of the hierarchy and self-organized units. If they were poorly balanced and the central power was much weaker than bottom-up ones, then turmoil would likely occur, along with fragmentation among competing warlords. Or alternatively, if the central government maintained so tight control as to deprive all the regions of vigor and growth opportunities, then the whole society would likely go stagnant and finally lead to revolution. Realizing a balance between the powers of the hierarchy and self-organized units – that is, avoiding the scenarios of ―Loosened control leads to prosperity‖ on the one hand and

―Tightened control leads to recession‖ on the other – was crucial for the prosperity of every Chinese dynasty.

It is advisable to balance the powers of market, hierarchy and self-organized units, but one of the current existing problems in China is that we pay attention only to governmental and market power, that today's Chinese scholars are always arguing whether we should let the market be the arbiter or strengthen the government's regulation, but society always plays an insignificant role. The mainstream generally talks about only the government's regulation or market forces. Moreover, those who advocate market forces are inclined to attribute all the current social and economic problems to an underdeveloped market; and those who advocate the government's regulation, to a chaotic market, together with the opinion that the government's intervention is needed.

By comparison, Chinese followers of the doctrine of dynamic balance always believe that neither overdoing nor underdoing is good and that diverse things coexist, complement, compete with and stimulate each other – that is, there is dynamic balance among them. How then do we know when to loosen or tighten control?

Self-organization

D

C

Balanced

Area

A B Market Hierarchy


Figure 7.1 The Diagram of Balancing Governance Modes

Take the governance of a certain affair for example. If you have used the aforementioned analysis method and seen that neither market nor self-organization but hierarchy applies, then you should the governance combination at Point A (see the figure 7.1). In other words, the doctrine of dynamic balance will argue that good governance structure must allow for the coexistence of the three modes. It is a combination of various governance mechanisms, which include more or less the principles of each mode. Otherwise, if you go to an extreme and reach Point B, then you have left the balanced area and will immediately see weaknesses of hierarchy, including the over-centralization and abuse of powers, a system that is devitalized by too many formal rules and thus becomes stiff, etc. Dynamic balance stresses that the situation varies with time. As an example, there has been higher trust between the parties to a transaction in the system, and the nature of the transaction has changed so that real trust is more needed than ever. Hierarchy-based governance therefore becomes unsuitable. It is necessary at this moment to move to Point C from Point A. But if you move too far and reach Point D, then you have gone to another extreme and will damage the system. You should then manage to move back to Point C from Point D so as to reenter the balanced area. This is dynamic adjustment, the way of seeking dynamic balance.

Confucian ethics and family ties constitute the traditional base for self-organized units in China, but, in modern society, self-organized units rely more on volunteerism and philanthropy to function. In reality, however, both Confucian ethics and family ties are having decreasing effects on Chinese society. Modern ideas from the west have been impacting on community forces for more than a hundred years. In addition, the growing market forces have caused great damages to community forces since China began reform and opening-up three decades ago. The market is damaging communities more severely than are any other forces. In rural communities, for example, capable people in the prime of life have all gone to work elsewhere, leaving the elderly, weak, female and children at home. Marketization and urbanization, together, have exhausted the resources of rural communities, which are therefore short of capable men and leave no one to conduct self-organization process. On the other hand, however, both volunteerism and philanthropy have yet to grow up in Chinese society, where the influences of morality and ethics needed by modern societies remain too weak and the number of self-organized units is still far from enough. The society will certainly become unbalanced if this situation continues. To realize harmony, Chinese society must value and foster the forces of self-organized units.

 
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