Crack nut with tenderness -- China seeks soft approach to maintain social stability

10:58, February 27, 2011      

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Lianhe Street in the suburb of Guangzhou City, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, is a typical community that officials and policemen keep a close eye on.

Most of the community's residents are relocated farmers and migrant workers who, in the words of a police officer, are more prone to "mass incidents" -- protests and illegal gatherings.

The community has a "stability maintenance" office, with officers handling minor disputes and complaints while reporting greater risks of unrest to higher authorities.

But the "stability maintenance" office means little to third grader Ma Qingqing, who passes by without noticing it every day after class. She ran directly to the four-storey building next door. Lianhe Yijia, or Lianhe Family, is a 1,020-square-meter community service center with a staff of 18 people, including 11 professional social workers.

Ma and about 50 other children play and do their homework there, with the help of social workers. The children have free meals at the center until their parents come to pick them up. Many migrant workers leave their jobs around 6 to 8 p.m. while schools end classes at 4:30 p.m..

Community service centers bring help, comfort, joy and unity to the local people. "When members of the community feel happy, they have no reason to take to the streets," said Zhang Liangguang, the CEO of Lianhe Family, a pilot project that exemplifies China's efforts to adopt a softer approach to maintain social stability.


The link between services, such as taking care of children, and social stability can be best demonstrated in the case of Bai Zhongjie, 17, who is one of China's youngest most wanted fugitives, Zhang said.

At the end of last July, when the police came to ask about Bai, the boy's mother was already worried. She hadn't heard from her son since the last time he ran away from home four months ago. But the news from the police was worse than anything she could have imagined. Her son was wanted for killing nine people.

Bai and four others allegedly killed nine people during six robberies in July last year. He was arrested on Aug. 4. The mother couldn't believe that her "honest, filial and gentle" son was capable of the crime.

Bai was born to a family of migrant workers in Dongguan City, a manufacturing hub in Guangdong, in 1993. Both his parents had to work and did not have much time to look after him.

When Bai was seven, the family returned to their hometown Zhengyuan County in Guizhou Province. Since then, Bai constantly ran away from home, hiding from his parents and spending days and nights in the woods, nearby villages and playing online games in Internet cafes.

On a few occasions, Pan Mengjin, Bai's teacher, saw the boy's father chasing him on the streets. "Whenever my father wanted to beat me, I just ran until he got exhausted," Bai once told Pan.

"A series of misfortunes caused Bai's tragedy -- lack of care in childhood, family violence and addiction to online games. Had we provided support in any stage of his life, things would have been different," Zhang said.

Lianhe Family cares for troubled individuals and families. It gives the comfort and support they need through various caring and humane services, Zhang said.

In the center, social workers prepare and deliver free meals to old and disabled people, counsel pregnant women and new mothers, talk about love and career with young confused migrant workers, host festivals and celebrations for various occasions and encourage people to get to know and help each other.

"We reach out to people in trouble and help them get out of it. By doing so, we keep the community harmonious," Zhang said.
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