Thursday, October 04, 2007

Chinese Words and Phrases 4: 和谐社会 héxié shèhuì

Hexie shehui means "harmonious society," and is a phrase that pops up a lot in China these days. One of the current favorite government slogans, it was adopted by the Party in 2004. In the wake of such rapid growth China is experiencing well-publicized social problems including a large gap between the rich and the poor, environmental devastation, and protests by Chinese who have been forcibly moved from their land in the name of development. According to the government "a harmonious society is defined as a socialist democracy, with rule of law, social justice, honesty and credibility, balancing human activities and natural resources." If asking citizens to help build a "harmonious society" sounds vague to you, apparently the government agrees, as according to China Daily the government has recently decided to create "an index system judging social harmony." Hm. Today the terror threat in America is the color green, and the social harmony in China is around 6.4 out of 10. Another popular government campaign is the "8 Virtues and 8 Vices" or "8 Do's and Dont's," which I spied in English during my traveling:

I'm intrigued by the Party slogans, and the propaganda, much of which is perfectly well-meaning. You just don't see "Cherish Life; Give Up Drugs" painted in giant letters by the government on walls in America, or billboards encouraging you to "Carry out the Three Represents." Signs like these would be mocked to death in the West. When I first started studying Chinese I looked forward to being able to understand the signs, posters, and billboards, which are pervasive. The most common theme is probably the one-child policy, with signs reminding the populace that "Having a girl is the same as having a boy," "Carrying out the one-child policy is every citizen's duty and obligation" and "Girls are the builders of our future." I'm not sure how excited many Chinese get about getting behind the slogans anyway; for instance, Chinese bloggers who get their blogs blocked now sarcastically write about being "harmonized."

Anyway, whatever President Hu Jintao and the rest of the Party meant by Harmonious Society, I hope it wasn't this:

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