Opinion / Zhu Yuan

Institution building urgent for social development

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-02 09:05

Institution building urgent for social developmentIn his book Uncertain Future, Singapore scholar Zheng Yongnian proposes that China needs to build a consumer society, so it can rely on its domestic demand for sustainable development. However, such a society requires an institutional foundation, which China is lacking.

It is the lack of modern social institutions that has resulted in the imbalance between the rapid economic growth over the past more than three decades and slow social progress. Along with this mismatch has come the unfairness characterized by the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, which has become a potential cause of political instability.

I agree with Zheng when he says in his book that some Chinese officials consider social development as the dividing of a cake and economic growth as the making of that cake. In fact, I would say that it is even worse, that some officials consider the process of social development as a feast for themselves and seek to get the biggest share of that cake through abuse of power.

British scholar Niall Ferguson has emphasized institutional difference as the major reason why China, as one of the most civilized powers in the world until 15th century, fell far behind Western powers.

The trophy of placing under investigation or putting on trial 48 ministerial or above level officials in less than two years does not just lend credit to the new leadership's iron fist toward corruption. It also points to the heavy debt the country owes to the building of an institutional mechanism that can effectively exert supervision over the exercise of power by officials at all levels.

The new look of the majority of cities with a great number of high rises or skyscrapers or huge squares can be attributed to the rapid economic development in the past decades. But how many of these urban development projects reflect the will of the majority of local urban dwellers? Has the urban modernization and expansion been proportional to the improvement of local residents' well-being? How many officials have become wealthy by extracting extra economic gains from urban development projects?

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