Order under the Rule of Ritual

Now that there are a self-organized group of people, both affection and trust are indispensable, and the group must be governed under rituals: Remembering others' favors, seeking chances to return favors, being willing to take risks or even sacrifice some private benefits for one's familiar ties, being fair and righteous, and showing benevolence. There must be a set of group norms to define what can, or cannot, be done. And this set of norms is developed on the basis of rituals.

The process of building a self-organized unit, as we have discussed above, can be summarized into the following stages: Build a social network; create a small circle; the members begin to identify with their small circle; establish a group goal and begin to take collective actions; lastly and most importantly, group norms – that is, order under the rule of rituals in the self-organized unit – come into being for the purpose of self-management while collective actions are in progress. Furthermore, a collective watchdog mechanism will then appear within the small group to punish individuals who have violated the group norms.

Briefly, the self-organization process mush lead to a self-governance mechanism. The self-governance mechanism researched by Ostrom tends to be a set of rules, including constitutional-choice, collective-choice and operational rules (Ostrom, 1990; 1998), whereas in China, it tends to be a set of unwritten, informal norms.

Governance under rituals, or governance realized through self-organization, has a very unique set of internal behavioral logic. Governance within Chinese self-organized units is generally based on unwritten rules. The members of a self-organized unit can supervise each other since they can get to know each other in a small guanxi circle; somebody, once he/she violates a certain rule, will receive immediate condemnation and moral stress from the other members, and will even take the risk of being expelled from the group. These punitive measures are able to effectively constrain the members' behavior. In addition, such supervision is made at a very low cost, since it is jointly carried out by all the other members of the group; and it is very effective since the members of the small group know well about each other, making information asymmetry impossible. Accordingly, governance under rituals can establish order within the self-organization at a low cost. In villages of traditional Chinese society, there were no institutions specializing in maintaining public order, such as the police and written regulation, but most villages were able to maintain long-term peace. One of the main reasons was that governance under rituals was an ancient practice in traditional villages. Every villager other than the village's patriarch played the role, even without their knowledge, of a traditional order maintainer who carried out supervision all the time and reported non-compliance, if any. Accordingly, a strong supervisory force could be created with no need for law enforcement officials.

Even in modern society, effective moral supervision generally is realized by community members. With regard to communities ranging from professional or industrial ones, such as those of doctors, scholars or other specialists, to rural communities, urban apartment complexes, interest groups or online groups, it is up to the people in these communities to decide whether the acts of other members of their communities have violated the community norms, or departed from the basic professional ethics, or not. Unfortunately, however, a current problem in China happens to be with intra-circle supervision – government officials cover up for each other; tacit rules prevail in circles, for example. For example, the media, known as ―the masses' voice‖ or

―an uncrowned king‖, should play the important role of disclosing the truth and acting as a watchdog, is short of effective internal ethics and supervision. Fake-journalists and fake-news appear frequently. This has caused an overall lack of trust across society. We are now in a truth-hungry society where Internet users who are inclined to make groundless guesses may spread various rumors and guesses at will, whereas the voice of circle members who know the truth is unheard. In other words, today's China has yet transformed itself from the traditional modes of governance under rituals into the modern ones.

Both the establishment of informal norms and supervision rely on the general awareness of morality. Only on this basis can a self-organized unit develop its ―rituals‖ in accordance with the members' moral consensus, relevant customs and community specificity. What can be supervised by public opinions is the ―rituals‖ within the circle. We are in urgent need of calling for morality in order to create a good overall social environment. And we are in even more urgent need of building our society's capacity of self-organization so as to supervise and uphold morality with opinions within the small group, because a group of people who know well about each other is free from information asymmetry. Only in this way can the watchdog and reputation mechanisms become effective. Attempts to uphold morality by public opinion generally yield nothing but rumors and vilifications because of insufficient information, hypes by the media, and distorting reporting.


 
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