Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Chinese – Hé​xié

March 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Chinese, Harmony

和谐

Hé​xié

Relates to harmony

The term is combination of two characters:

he 和 – mild, moderate, placid, harmony, peace[1]

xie 谐 – in harmony, to coordinate[2]

The term hexie conveys ‘harmony’, ‘harmonious’, ‘concord’, or ‘in coordination’.[3] The usage of hexie in the Chinese language dates back to at least the 2nd century.[4] In the modern era, hexie still conveys the same meaning of harmony or coordination. When hexie refers to the context of international affairs of China, such as ‘a harmonious world’ (hexie shijie), it generally conveys ‘harmony’. However, when hexie is used in the context of Chinese political or domestic affairs, it implies the Chinese Communist Party government’s ultimate objectuie to control society and furthermore, achieve as well as maintain stability in society.

The Chinese government believes that ‘harmonious society’ (hexie shehui) and economic establishment are interdependent. From a Chinese perspective, on the one hand economic development benefits individuals by satisfying their needs, reducing poverty, and consequently contributes to harmony and stability in society. On the other hand, a harmonious and stable society serves as a favourable factor to the economic development of a country. However, during economic development, contradictions and conflicts of interests arise among individuals and different sectors continue to rise and therefore threaten social order and harmony, and moreover political stability. The call for hexie in a society becomes even more urgent as China’s economy continues to grow. In 2004, the Chinese Communist Party came up with the idea of ‘building a socialist harmonious society’ (建构社会主义和谐社会).”[5] The Chinese Communist Party stated, ‘Forming a society in which all the people do their best, stay at their proper place and get along with each other harmoniously are the necessities to consolidate the social foundation for the party’s ruling and to realise the historical task of the party’s ruling. The profound change in our society must be adapted. The construction of a harmonious society must be put in an important place. The vitality in the society must be encouraged. The fairness and justice in the society must be facilitated. The awareness of law as well as honest in the whole society must be strengthened. The stability and unity in the society must be maintained’ (形成全体人民各尽其能、各得其所而又和谐相处的社会,是巩固党执政的社会基础、实现党执政的历史任务的必然要求。要适应我国社会的深刻变化,把和谐社会建设摆在重要位置,注重激发社会活力,促进社会公平和正义,增强全社会的法律意识和诚信意识,维护社会安定团结).[6]

In 2005, Chinese President Hu Jintao further explained that the socialist harmonious society that China wanted to establish is ‘the society that is democratic and rule by law, fair and justice, honest and friendly, with vitality, stable and orderly, human beings getting along harmoniously with the Nature(我们所要建设的社会主义和谐社会,应该是民主法治、公平正义、诚信友爱、充满活力、安定有序、人与自然和谐相处的社会).[7] The Chinese Communist Party and Hu’s words illustrate the Chinese government’s idealisation of the harmonious society that it wants to achieve.

The core thinking that lies underneath China’s wish to materialise its ideal of a harmonious society is to fairly reconcile and resolve increasing contradictions as well as conflicts among individuals or different sectors in the society. China admits the existence of contradictions and conflicts in the society. However, the Chinese authorities also considers that these contradictions and conflicts must be reconciled carefully and fairly among the parties involved to maintain the harmony and furthermore, contribute to the stability in the society. Methods to properly reconcile different interests of different individuals and groups include rule by law, achieving fairness and justice, reinforcing the awareness of morality among the people, and the consciousness of tolerating diverse views or values of others. Nevertheless, the Chinese government regards the most effective way to achieve harmony in the society as to implement ‘political and ideological education on people’s thinking’. In short, China hopes to control people’s thinking and unify that thinking into one, thereafter saving the trouble in dealing with contradictions which threaten harmony in the society.

It is genuinely embraced in the Chinese apparatus that ‘strengthening and improving political and ideological education is helpful to consolidate among all the ethnic groups in China the common ideal of building the socialism with Chinese characteristics. It [strengthening and improving political and ideological education] also firmly consolidates the common fundamental thinking to establish a harmonious society by being united and striving(加强和改进思想政治工作,有利于在全国各族人民中牢固树立中国特色社会主义共同理想,为建设和谐社会打牢团结奋斗的共同思想基础).[8] The Chinese apparatus believes that people’s thinking and behaviour should be guided to conform to the requirements and direction in order to establish a socialist harmonious society.[9] On the website of the government-endorsed China Ideological and Political Work Net (http://www.cnzgw.org/), the building a harmonious society is listed as one of the major ideological and political works that China strives for. Controlling and guiding people’s thinking is fundamental to create the atmosphere advantageous to forming a harmonious society.

Therefore, it is not surprising when there is an increasing trend in China that the Chinese government takes a hard and fast approach, and most of the time discreetly eliminates, covers, or blocks any comments in the public domain, especially over the Internet, which are considered negative and unfavourable to the maintenance or establishment of the harmonious society. The phenomenon of the Chinese government’s crack-down on dissenting views is dubbed and well-known in the civil sector in the wide Chinese community as ‘being harmonised’ (被和諧, bei hexie). For example, a week after the high-speed rail accident on July 23, 2011, when the discontent and anger among the general public was rising due to the Chinese Ministry of Railway’s alleged cover-up and poor handling of the accident, all the Chinese media unexpectedly received an instruction by the Chinese Propaganda Department not to carry out any follow-up reports. Negative reports of the train accident ‘were harmonized’, as a Taiwan newspaper described.[10] Chinese netizens are clearly aware of the great potential that their comments on the Internet would somehow, more or less, ‘be harmonised’.

A prominent case in China to protest against China’s move to ‘harmonise’ dissented views is artist Ai Weiwei’s “river crab banquet.” In November 2010, protesting against the Chinese government’s order to destroy his new studio in Shanghai, Ai announced on his twitter account that he would ‘celebrate’ the occasion by holding a ‘river crab banquet’. The pronunciation of ‘river crab’, 河蟹 hexie, sounds similar to that of ‘harmony’ (hexie). The pronunciation of ‘river crab banquet’, 河蟹盛宴 hexie shengyan, sounds similar to that of ‘harmonious society’, 和谐社会 hexie shehui. Ai was put under house arrest in Beijing two days before the satirical occasion. But at least 800 people reportedly showed up at the occasion.[11]

Harmony in the Chinese-language conveys an ideal status. However, the term and the implication of harmony has provided the Chinese Communist Party government with an excuse to suppress dissenting views and furthermore to exercise its control over  society.

 

 


[1] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 550. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1995, Vol 3, p. 263

[2] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 1507. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994, Vol 11, p. 336

[3] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 551. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1995, Vol 3, p. 277

[4] The term was once used by Zheng Xuan (127-200 A.D.), see Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1995, Vol 3, p. 277

[5] The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Decision on Strengthening the Construction of the Party’s Governance Capability (中共中央关于加强党的执政能力建设的决定), approved at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党第十六届中央委员会第四次全体会议通过), September 19, 2004, http://www.china.com.cn/chinese/2004/Sep/668376.htm

[6] The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Decision on Strengthening the Construction of the Party’s Governance Capability (中共中央关于加强党的执政能力建设的决定), approved at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党第十六届中央委员会第四次全体会议通过), September 19, 2004, http://www.china.com.cn/chinese/2004/Sep/668376.htm

[7] “Hu Jintao Emphasises the Importance to Deeply Understand the Significant Meaning of Building a Harmonious Society,” People’s Daily, p. 1, February 20, 2005, http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/1024/3187879.html

[8] “The Conference of the Political and Ideological Education to Establish a Harmonious Society in China (中國和諧社會建設思想政治工作現場經驗交流會召開),” a news report in the Xinhuanet and cited by the China Economic Net, June 4, 2008, http://big5.ce.cn/xwzx/gnsz/gdxw/200806/04/t20080604_15732574.shtml

[9] “The Conference of the Political and Ideological Education to Establish a Harmonious Society in China (中國和諧社會建設思想政治工作現場經驗交流會召開),” a news report in the Xinhuanet and cited by the China Economic Net, June 4, 2008, http://big5.ce.cn/xwzx/gnsz/gdxw/200806/04/t20080604_15732574.shtml

[10] Chu Chien-ling, “The Horn of Harmony Resounds; the Chinese Media Keep Silent about the High-Speed Rail Accident (和諧號角響,動車案陸媒噤聲),” the China Times, July 31, 2011, http://news.chinatimes.com/mainland/11050506/112011073100219.html

[11] Edward Wong, “Chinese Authorities Raze an Artist’s Studio,” the New York Times, January 12, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/13/world/asia/13china.html?_r=1; Dave Itzkoff, “Ai Weiwei Plans a Celebration, of Sorts, to Mark Demolition of His Studio,” the New York Times, November 3, 2010, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/ai-weiwei-plans-a-celebration-of-sorts-to-mark-demolition-of-his-studio/; “Ai Weiwei’s River Crab Banquet Is Disturbed by the Authorities; Chinese Poet Bei Ling Is Sent Back to Germany by Beijing When Trying to Transfer in Beijing Before Visiting Taiwan,” Apple Daily, November 7, 2010, http://tw.nextmedia.com/applenews/article/art_id/32943091/IssueID/20101107

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