Looking back in order to enhance looking forward

There is no intention on my side to engage in a wider or deeper debate on Chinese issues – it would require volumes, acknowledging successes, failures and contradictions now and then. And there is surely no intention to deny one or the other, be it in absolute terms or in the light of comparative reflections.

Still, having arrived in Moscow, I dare looking briefly back. The 19th CPC National Congress, having taken place the recent days, marks a shift in the orientation of which the meaning will be seen in the future. The congress suggested as main, i.e. ‘principal contradiction’ the country faces now is the society being

between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need fpor a better life.

Previously – for 36 years – the maxim was seen as being caught between

the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production.

Sure, even commenting on this can only be an attempt to make us thinking about what is at stake – actually far beyond China.[1] And any commenting is of course facing the danger of ‘loosing due to translation’. A bit of comfort for me is looking back at some experience in daily life, the glimpses into Chinese life and perhaps a bit of the mentality – glimpses, surely not more.

Well, then, isn’t there potentially a ‘mental’ or ‘intellectual typo’? Shouldn’t it read peoples’ instead of people’s. In the second case there is an individualist undertone while the challenge is really the life of the people, not people.

Sure the resolution of the congress has inscribed this new project:

addressing the development’s imbalances and inadequacies, and push[ing] hard to improve the quality and effect of development

into the party’s constitution. Important is now to see emphasis that constitutions are about processes, not structures. We are dealing with the constitutive process, the formation. And with this it remains to be seen if the apostrophe will be shifted into the right position, to promote a course that is worth to be carried on by a party that claims to be left. At stake is indeed the peoples’ life as foundation of people’s life – seemingly a tiny difference though remarkably one that is decisive for the meaning of the social.

Looking back at the experience of teaching in the PRC up to recently there is the tension not just in the party’s document and in reflecting on it. Surely, some of my students would go for moving the apostrophe into the right place. And surely, this means not least confronting an Americanised and Europeanised orientations of the educational system.[2]

Sure, there is the wider question, looking back much further. Here we have to ask if Deng had actually been right – or completely wrong. First we have to eat, that stands before any moral considerations are made – well known from Brecht’s Three-Penny Opera. The ‘Deng-question’ remains, better to say, the question Deng did not sufficiently consider: ‘What kind of moral will those, being well fed, while others receive little more then the bread crumbs, develop?’

There is no reason to question successes – over the last years more than breadcrumbs had been made available for many. Equally, as appalling as developments in Higher Education is in ‘the West’ are, there are exceptions and there are increasingly counter movements: claims for higher quality, for

an education … [that] will teach you how to think, not what to think

to use the words of Jazreel Goh, education marketing director of the British Council in China. More than glimpses of hope?

The hopes I personally have, and it means to take up on and support the excitement I see in the eyes, I hear in the voices, I read in the words of so many students; the hope that they withstand the strangulation that is still going on.

Looking back … – or looking forward? There is no real need for marketing directors but there is a need for academics being aware that they are and will always be students and for students that are aware of being academics, not future bean counters or Wall Street-pedestrians [follow the links for the interviews that are in these articles] – I found it striking that the congress paid a lot of attention to the economy and its development, while it neglected by and large many of the questions that are ore fundamental, namely those dealing with the actual processes of production and its ‘what and how’.


[1]            This far beyond may well be taken as part of the interpretation of the outspoken claim to be a global payer.

[2]            I dare to say that the congress was apparently clear on the question of education – but in a very unfortunate direction towards competitiveness, undermining ‘deep quality development’.


At least somewhat ‘strange’ or: occupying the occupied

At least somewhat ‘strange’ – or at least remarkable: the fact of being occupied by social spaces and occupying social spaces, namely cities.

It is several years ago that I visited Vienna the first time, and I returned a couple of times. The first time was somewhat unpleasant – unpleasant in terms of disliking the place as exhibiting imperial power. Indeed, having known Budapest already, I joined in the popular saying: Budapest is the ‘nicer Vienna’. The nicer Vienna because it was seen as the city where people, real people, would live. One could surely move towards issues like the ‘Hungarian soul’: a bit of permanent resistance and suffering going hand in hand – Leiden, dass dann führt zu Leidenschaft und Leidenschaft, die Leiden schafft.

Vienna … a space that presented itself to me as occupying, remaining unapproachable, remote … . Anyway, what did it matter? It had been another business trip amongst many. Not so on one later occasion. Actually it may be that I went there for business but in the meantime a friend of mine, Viennese whom I knew for many years from Brussels, lived in Vienna again and I remember that I stayed in his apartment. Another district, in short: Working class Vienna. Much could be said … In a nutshell it was the experience that allowed me to occupy space. Sure, local knowledge helped – the ‘local guide’ who showed me also those places next to the ‘imperial exhibits’: the people’s park, one or the other coffeehouse: and as much as Vienna is shaped by the gallant Cafe Centrale, Vienna is characterised by those Kaffeehäuser that are a bit dingy, humming along with the croaking sound of the violin, the waiters apparently competing in ignoring the guests, the Volksbuhne and those spaces that are occupied the peculiar charm of bohemian, intellectual, critical debates …

Anyway, I returned later on different occasions, stayed in different quarters, though mostly in district VII and VIII. The city gained space, I gave it space in my life even if only for the short times of my stays, always remaining visitor even barely coming as tourist – it had been about short business trips to the government, to conferences, or as the last time for teaching … and of course unforgettable: one year the visit with my students and my friend Joe.

The city gained space, I gave it space in my life …. – even visiting the imperial places as the museum of history of arts – a specifically lost ground which, by the way, hosts also a beautiful collection of Pieter Bruegel’s the older works –, the Albertina and its private collection, the state opera, the Burgtheater and yes, the Cafe Centrale, I visited as well the people’s park, the People’s opera, and the several small galleries and theaters, local stages, the Kaffeehäuser and restaurants … Mixing, merging … becoming a place where the different circles of debates, culture, ordinariness are emerging as a new normal, merging as living space, lived space for some time – not necessarily to be agreed with, but to a large part challenging, demanding to be … occupied again and again.


And Budapest? – Yes, it is still, with its own eccentricities, the beloved place, also the place to meet a good friend …, and yes, there is the shadow of de-occupation: the city loosing its very specific charm which I learned to love, I tried to capture a little bit in the Diary from a Journey into another World: Diaries against nationalism, inspired by trying to overcome personal resentments.

Social Quality — The Book

Book announcement 

A New Perspective on Social Development

Edited by Ka Lin and Peter Herrmann

160 pages, 21 figs., 26 tables, index

ISBN 978-1-78238-897-5 $39.95/£25.00 Pb Published (July 2015)

eISBN 978-1-78238-898-2 eBook

Social quality thinking emerged from a critique of one-sided policies by breaking through the limitations previously set by purely economistic paradigms. By tracing its expansion and presenting different aspects of social quality theory, this volume provides an overview of a more nuanced approach, which assesses societal progress and introduces proposals that are relevant for policy making. Crucially, important components emerge with research by scholars from Asia, particularly China, eastern Europe, and other regions beyond western Europe, the theory’s place of origin. As this volume shows, this rich diversity of approaches and their cross-national comparisons reveal the increasingly important role of social quality theory for informing political debates on development and sustainability.

Ka Lin is Docent at the University of Tampere, Senior Researcher and Docent at the University of Turku, Professor and Director of the Social Policy Research Center at Nanjing University, Professor and Executive Director of the MSW Center of Zhejiang University, and Deputy Director of the Center for European Studies at Zhejiang University. He is also Vice President of the International Association on Social Quality and Editor of the International Journal of Social Quality.

Peter Herrmann is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland, Honorary Associate Professor in the Department of World Economy at Corvinus University of Budapest, correspondent to the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy, Munich, Associate Member of the Eurasian Center for Big History and System Forecasting, and Member of the Scientific Committee of Eurispes. Currently he lives and works in Rome.