A number of new events are worth our attention.
First, a directive issued by the Zhangzhou Education Bureau, Fujian Province, states that children of "big taxpayers" can get 20 points more in their senior high school entrance exam.
By "big taxpayer," it means private entrepreneurs who turn over more than 3 million (US$375,000) to the local government annually.
Second, a practice has been introduced in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, that entrepreneurs are mandated to rate local officials' performance and even have the final say on the officials' dismissal or continued employment.
Third, big taxpayers, heavy investors, families where both parents hold doctorates and returned overseas scholars in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, are allowed to have a second child, along with other special groups of people such as the remarried. This is against the background that the country's family planning policy still holds.
These phenomena are important because they involve whether or not social or political privileges should be granted to certain social strata as rewards for their contribution to society, in the context that society is becoming more and more divided.
Or in other words, it involves the question of whether citizens' equal rights, which are guaranteed by institutional arrangements, are effectively protected and if the equality can be altered by some specific policies by local governments.
The problem is that privileges are really being given to some groups in some places, as is shown by these examples. And there are more such examples in other places.
Doubtless, all these measures are formulated in the name of promoting the local economies.
It sounds plausible but the practice, beyond any doubt, is actually shaking the very foundations of social life and does damage to social justice.
Social justice constitutes one of the foundations of modern civilization and it is guaranteed largely by the basic equal rights enjoyed by all citizens. These privilege-giving practices, however, actually erode the basic order of justice.
Behind these measures loom opportunist considerations. Superficially, some measures may help promote the development of the private sector in the short term.
But society will pay dearly in the long run if social justice and citizens' equal rights are encroached upon.
In this scenario, the economy will suffer, contrary to the wishes of the people who introduce such economically motivated policies.
As a matter of fact, the exam-score addition measure in Zhangzhou has backfired. On the one hand, the policy has failed to give incentives to private entrepreneurs as expected, because some children of these big taxpayers were sent to other parts of the country for schooling, or even overseas. Some kids are too young to be sent to school and others are too old to be called students.
On the other hand, however, social justice is trampled over. If children are living in the shadows of social injustice when very young, society as a whole is bound to pay big prices in the future.
Social justice is sacred and should never be victimized with any excuse. It makes up the basis for social stability.
The government should, therefore, see to it that citizens have equal rights and, in turn, that social justice will remain immune to any harm done by expediencies, including those in the name of "promoting economic efficiency."
Every citizen is equal in enjoying these basic social rights. And no differentiation should be made between citizens by their economic contribution. No discriminating rights should be given.
For instance, the right of way, which is enjoyed by all members of society in equality, should never be differentiated to take into account the contributions different people make to society.
In the case of a traffic jam, society should not provide those who enjoy higher social status with privileges in using the road, excluding of course for exceptions such as convoys for an honoured guest of the State.
It is hardly imaginable that Bill Gates, who makes a colossal economic contribution to the United States, would be provided with police cars blaring sirens so that his smooth passage along the road was guaranteed.
It is equally unimaginable that special lanes could be reserved for dignitaries on Beijing's congested streets.
One question we must face squarely is: Does giving privileges to some members of society mean discriminating against other members and encroaching on their rights?
It should be appreciated that Chinese society is becoming increasingly polarized in terms of social structure. Though this is a normal phenomenon for modern societies, this kind of polarization should be kept within a certain extent.
We are now faced with a pressing question how to prevent the polarization of the rich and poor from slipping into social injustice?
The practice in Jiangsu Province's Kunshan that entrepreneurs pass their judgment on the performance of local officials hints at the potential hazards different economic status changing into differentiated rights for participating in political affairs.
We should at least be clear about two points.
First, modern society is a polarized one, with different strata or groups having different interests and, as a result, different demands and aspirations.
Entrepreneurs giving ratings on local government officials' records merely expresses the opinions and demands of a specific group of people. If the officials' fate is thus decided by only one portion of the public, a situation would arise in which a specific group of people dictates the behaviour of the government and oversees personnel affairs.
We may as well imagine that an environmental official catches out the wrongdoing of an entrepreneur who, taking no heed of the government's pollution control decrees, discharges large amounts of waste into the air or water, and the latter is very likely to pass his judgment on the former's performance.
What can we expect from this? The environmental official's fate is sealed.
Second, different economic capabilities ought not to be translated into differentiated political power. True, private entrepreneurs constitute an important force in promoting the country's economic progress and it is, therefore, necessary to offer them channels through which they can participate in political affairs.
But this can only be done by improving the institutions and mechanisms with regard to citizens' getting involved in political affairs, instead of endowing political privileges to a portion of the citizenry.
Source: China Daily; By Sun Liping, a professor from the Sociology of Tsinghua University.