Global Times: On the back of an earlier article published in November which had other leading Chinese academics questioning his views – see Political reform doesn’t need blueprint, says academic Fang Ning (South China Morning Post, November 1, 2012), Fang Ning weighs in again after dismissing the practicality of roadmaps and timetables in political reform as they may not always sync with wider change.
Facing significant issues like political reform, decision-makers need comprehensive, profound studies. One-sided theories can prove meaningless. Decision-makers must be extremely cautious. Fang Ning, 2012
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Reform is not a lab experiment
by Fang Ning
Source – Global Times, published November 9, 2012
Amid the leadership transition, political reform in China has attracted increasing attention. This is a positive development. However, there are voices that say it lacks the proper theoretical guidelines, which has led to the relative slowness in political reform. This deserves further discussion.
There are long-held arguments that a “roadmap” and even a “timetable” is needed during China’s political reform process, and that a top-down design is indispensable for future reform. These arguments, while they are well-intentioned, appear unprofessional.
Experiences both at home and abroad have shown that successful political reforms largely had no theoretical guidance, but were carried out in practice over a long period of time.
In contrast, there are more than a few reforms that proved disastrous despite adequate theoretical preparation.
The political landscape, which includes various social problems and conflicts, is of great complexity.
Political dynamics are fluid. Accurate conclusions can’t be drawn through theoretical experiments, as if they were scientific experiments in laboratories.
Facing significant issues like political reform, decision-makers need comprehensive, profound studies. One-sided theories can prove meaningless. Decision-makers must be extremely cautious.
A poor political decision may cause suffering for generations, and even mislead the whole nation. What Gorbachev did to Russia is an excellent example.
Over the past three decades of political reform, China has conducted lots of experiments, acquired rich experiences, and gradually formed its own methodologies, the most important of which is “wading across the stream by feeling the way.”
In political reform, it’s hard to either copy a former example, or prepare an overall blueprint beforehand. It’s wiser to seek breakthroughs by addressing practical problems. This can reduce the risks brought about by blind assumptions or misjudgments.
Since the 1990s, China has launched many pilot projects, and there were small-scale trials before nearly all reform measures. History has already shown that “packaged solutions” must be avoided in political reform, otherwise a mistake in any link may lead to the failure of the whole reform process. Trials often help avoid bigger mistakes and disperse risks.
Moreover, taking comprehensive considerations into account and evaluating the overall effect of reform measures is pivotal. Political issues are entwined with each other, and a reform in one facet may cause problems in another. Even when a temporary success has been achieved, decision-makers should still keep cool-headed, and keep watching the follow-up effects, as well as how the reform proceeds over the long term and any side effects it may have.
“Wading across the stream by feeling the way” appears conservative, whereas a top-down design and theoretical plans sound more intriguing. However, political reform has great significance in terms of the nation’s prospects and public welfare, and cannot afford flippant, specious moves. Caring about political reform is one thing, while pragmatically carrying it out is another. The latter calls for scientific methodology, rich expertise, long-term field research and broad, international insight.
“Wading across the stream by feeling the way” stresses prioritizing the actual situation, respecting scientific methodology and seeking truth from facts. “Wading across the stream by feeling the way” does not sound poetic; it plainly tells the truth.
The author is director of the Institute of Political Science, at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.firstname.lastname@example.org