革 -Of the character 'ge', the Yiijing, ancient military texts and moral concepts

This is the sequel to an earlier post on 'gaige kaifang', in which I start to examine 'gaige kaifang' by focussing on the character 革 (ge).

My choice to begin the analysis of a concept  from a single character was inspired by various earlier discussions, ranging from attempts to find possible, different interpretations of on-going trends in Chinese law, to more abstract discussions about the 'friend/enemy divide', attempts to construct an effective reading technique for Chinese texts, and so on. 

It may be argued that 'gaige kaifang', as a concept, is outdated because it is not at the centre of current policy debates, and therefore plays a largely rhetorical, or else a ceremonial function. Ceremonies and rituals, whether they be political ceremonies and rituals or ceremonies and rituals of the civil variety, however, play a lasting and important role in marking the passage through different stages of an organization, and in shaping its identity.

In this post I am focussing on the literal meaning of 革, to avoid constructing an individual interpretation, and then projecting it onto one of the fundamental (and overlooked) structures of Chinese political and legal thought. While examining ge within composites such as geming 革命 is a possibility, I believe that such an examination would separate 革 from the context of gaige kaifang, reform and opening up. 

If concepts are embodied in symbols - physical objects functioning as receptacles of the meaning(s) infused on them, and if values and structures of thought are performed - in the sense that they are expressed through the everyday actions and behaviors of those who abide by those values and move within those structures of thought, then gaige kaifang is one of the most important concepts that have shaped China into what China is today.

Burberry store in Beijing.
Image courtesy Reuters

As opposed to what China used to be in the past

Food Coupon - Cooking oil.
Image courtesy of ventouresource.com

...and 革 ge is the core of reform and opening up. As I wrote earlier,   革 ge belongs to Chinese tradition. While characters that in the XIX Century were used to construct new words in the political and legal vocabulary were infused with new meaning, ge did not undergo the same process of reinterpretation. The Mathew's Dictionary, the standard Chinese dictionary generations of Western scholars have used to learn the meaning of Chinese characters, gives the following translations for 'ge': 

(i) a hide deprived of its hair
(ii) human skin
(iii) the wings of a bird
(iv) to remove 

Modern language dictionaries list two main meanings for the same character:

(i) change
(ii) removing/removal/to remove

Ge appears in a variety of classical texts, ranging from the Book of Changes, to texts attributed to the School of Military Thought (bingfajia). In the Commentary to the Figures (象) to the Book of Changes, one of the five canonical texts which originated before China's unification in 221 B.C., ge is appended to the figure of hexagram 49, and glossed as follows:

The Commentary to the Figure says: Ge, water and fire extinguish each other, two women live under the same roof, but their wills are at odds. It is said: ge. 
[translation mine, comments and corrections welcome]

James Legge gave the following explanation of ge:

The character called Ko or Keh it is used here in the sense of changing. Originally used for the skin of an animal or a bird, alive or dead, it received the significance of changing at a very early time. Its earliest appearance, indeed, in the first Book of the Shu, is in that sense. How the transition was made from the idea of a skin or hide to that of change is a subject that need not be entered on here. The author had before him the subject of changes occurred - called for - in the state of the country; it may be on the greatest scale. The necessity of them is recognized, and hints are given as to the spirit and manner in which they should be brought about. [here, at page 168]

This explanation seems to be coherent with how ge was used in other classical texts. Ge appears in the Art of War, in the Wuzi, and elsewhere in the seven canonical military texts of ancient China, always with the meaning of 'hide'. In ancient China, war chariots were protected by leather, and soldier armors were made of leather, therefore. Therefore, the word ge/leather came to designate chariots and armors, and was used to refer to soldiers and to armies. It is in this second sense that ge can be found in all military texts. In other texts, as the Li Ji, Tang Gong I, ge designated the hides of a water buffalo, or the hides of animals. 

How "the transition was made from the idea of hide to that of change" could be a matter of common sense. Ge designates a very concrete object - the skin of an animal, specifically the skin of hairy, furry or feathery animals. Once such a skin is processed, by removing the air, fur or feathers, the membrane that is on the inside, and by tanning it, the skin turns into leather. Turning a skin into leather involves changing the skin by substantially altering its texture, color, and feeling. There exists a visible difference between the animal hide, and the end product. Those who used ge in their writings to refer not to war chariots and armors but to change, were familiar with the sight of animal skin, the process of turning them into leather, and the resulting change.

Ge is used to designate change in various texts, as the Han Dynasty's Fa Yan:  
Someone asked: is it the Dao to follow tradition or not? Yangzi said: if tradition is appropriate, then follow it. If not, then change it. 
 the Lun Heng:

In case the nature of creatures could be changed (变), it ought to be possible that metal, wood, water, and fire were also altered (革)
the Book of Lord Shang:

(...) therefore, if the law is fixed, and not altered (), then (...)
and other texts I am not examining here. The continuity in meaning from the Lun Heng to contemporary usages of ge in compounds as gaige / reform - which conveys the idea of changing old ways to make room for new ones - is striking.

There is one substantial difference between ge and other words and concepts I have referred to in earlier posts, as well as in a soon to be published volume on the concept of Justice. Most of the words that compose the vocabulary of law, and politics, in China possess a moral connotation. This is the case of words as 'superior man' (君子), 'commoner' (小人), the words used to convey different aspects and conceptions of justice, as well as those referring to the absence of justice - as 冤. Each one of these words expresses a moral concept.

A partial exception may be the word yi 义 justice-righteousness. In its ancient version yi represents the head of a sheep above a hand holding a spear.   The most immediate allusion may be to the practice of making sacrificial offerings to heaven and earth, the spirits of the land, of grains etc - a religious connotation. 

Ge is devoid of moral or religious connotations because it designates an object, which is processed and altered to produce something different, such as clothes for the emperor, protections for war chariots, or for foot soldiers. Ge does not only designate these objects, but also the process of change that produced them. To the ancient peoples,  skinning an animal and tanning its skin were beyond any moral judgment - activities needed to go safely into battle, and to wear the appropriate clothes in winter. More than to morality or religion, ge may be connected to notions of necessity...[to be continued]


On Gaige Kaifang

Image Courtesy of the Xinhua News Agency
Reform and opening up (gaige kaifang) are words commonly used to refer to processes of change that have been active in China's legal, political, social and economic systems since 1978. These words occupy a very important place in the daily vocabulary of China scholars, yet they have become 'worn out' by their repeated use. We look at 'gaige kaifang' passingly, and we consider it as a commonplace feature of Chinese law, politics, society and economics - a feature so ordinary as to not deserve any further comment or analysis. 

Gaige kaifang possesses at least five dimensions, each one of which is beyond dispute. Gaige kaifang is:

(i)  a historical period, which began in 1978 with the repudiation of the policies enacted by the Gang of Four;
(ii) a slogan created by Deng Xiaoping which, as the BBC observed, is among the 11 slogans that changed China.
(iii) a policy the "Chinese people of all nationalities will continue to adhere to" (Constitution of the PRC, Preamble, paragraph 7)
(iv) part of the basic line of the Chinese Communist Party (Constitution of the CCP, Preamble, paragraph 10)
(v) a word. 

While adding other dimensions to gaige kaifang is possible, in my next posts I will focus on the literal meaning of these words. This choice stems from some earlier observations about how an interpretive approach based on the assumption that words hide the real meaning of a legal document can sometimes be misleading. It attempts to build upon Jean Christopher Mittelstaed's criticism of an earlier study of "Seeking Truth From Facts". That criticism held that I performed a brutal separation of concepts from the contexts that gave them meaning, and projected a 'Western' meaning on Chinese concepts, while decrying this very same move. 

Also, this is a choice I am making in an attempt to understand the point of whether a better understanding of Chinese law (politics, society, the economy) is enabled by the creation of new epistemic categories, or by focussing on the epistemic categories China uses to talk about itself. After all, 'listening' to what a legal system has to say about itself, and accepting the epistemic categories the system uses to talk about itself does not imply an endorsement or a rejection of its values. 

This approach differs in a substantial way from other possible approaches, such as:

(i) relying on epistemic categories external to the Chinese legal system, using a 'pure category' or a pure category modified and qualified by the anteposition of an adjective. 
(ii) Analyzing the plurality of legal discourses existing in China, and then identifying each one of the cognitive schemes that generate them.
(iii) Focussing on the tensions that exist between interpretations of the same concept provided by different discourse communities. 
(iv) Crafting an entirely new epistemic category that used Chinese language. 

Some of the words used to designate the epistemic categories of Chinese law (whether these words are used by Chinese speakers or by foreign speakers) were introduced in the nineteenth century, by intellectuals who drew from 'Western thought' in eclectic ways. The introduction of these new words in Chinese language later raised the question of whether these words pointed to any objectively existing universal notion or idea. 

Arguments have been made in favor of the objective existence of these universal notions and ideas. Some analyses of the usage and meaning of legal concepts, however, have noticed how while 'overlapping and criss-crossing similarities' in concepts may exist across systems, these concepts do not refer to any universal notion. As any other object that exists in the world, words receive their meaning from those who craft them and those who use them. Unearthing the meaning of a word - if it is assumed a meaning exists - would require understanding how the word is used in all possible contexts, by each and every member of all the communities and sub-communities of speakers that exist. Even so, there is no guarantee that two different communities of speakers will attribute the same meaning to the same word. Also, exploring areas of ambiguity and vagueness, and areas where clashes between opposite meanings occur, can easily lead the analyst to attributing an additional layer of meaning to the concepts she examines. 

Certain words, words which carry a connotation at once moral, legal and political, were crafted by Chinese intellectuals using the cognitive, cultural and linguistic tools of China, 'the West' and Japan as these tools were available to them. This is a historical fact. Languages are evolving entities, however the path of their evolution and change is not charted, and the forces which eventually contribute to driving change in a specific direction are unknown. The historical facts that surrounded the crafting of new words, the personalities and backgrounds of the intellectuals that created, recreated or used those new words can be understood as meaning that these words are not a genuine part of Chinese culture, history or legal philosophy. While arguments to the contrary can be made, perhaps concepts that belong to Chinese tradition deserve a more in-depth exploration. 

There is no doubt that gaige is a genuinely Chinese concept, with deep roots in the language, the history and philosophy of China... [to be continued]


Ministry of Civil Affairs Draft Regulations on the Registration and Administration of Social Groups Available for Comments

On August 1, the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the PRC released the Draft Regulations on the Registration and Administration of Social Groups (full text in Chinese below), soliciting comments from the public. An English translation of the Regulations is available at ChinaLawTranslate

The comment period will expire on August 21. Comments can be sent via email to the following address: zcfgs[at]mca.gov.cn


第一章 总则

第一条 为了保障公民的结社自由,维护社会团体的合法权益,加强对社会团体的登记管理,促进社会团体健康有序发展,制定本条例。
第二条 本条例所称社会团体,是指中国公民自愿组成,为实现会员共同意愿,按照其章程开展活动的非营利性社会组织。
第三条 成立以下社会团体,依照本条例的规定直接进行登记:
第四条 在社会团体中,根据中国共产党章程的规定,设立中国共产党的组织,开展党的活动,发挥党组织政治核心作用。社会团体应当为党组织的活动提供必要条件。
第五条 社会团体必须遵守宪法、法律、法规、规章和国家政策,不得反对宪法确定的基本原则,不得危害国家的统一、安全和民族的团结,不得损害国家利益、社会公共利益以及其他组织和公民的合法权益,不得违背社会公德。
第六条 国家保护社会团体依照法律、法规、规章及其章程开展活动,任何组织和个人不得非法干涉。
第七条 国务院民政部门和县级以上地方各级人民政府民政部门是本级人民政府的社会团体登记管理机关(以下简称登记管理机关)。
第八条 国家制定扶持鼓励政策,支持社会团体发展。

第二章 管辖

第九条 全国性的社会团体,由国务院的登记管理机关负责登记管理;地方性的社会团体,由所在地人民政府的登记管理机关负责登记管理,其中,城乡社区服务类社会团体由所在地县级人民政府的登记管理机关负责登记管理;跨行政区域的社会团体,由所跨行政区域的共同上一级人民政府的登记管理机关负责登记管理。
第十条 登记管理机关、业务主管单位与其管辖的社会团体的住所不在一地的,可以委托社会团体住所地的登记管理机关、业务主管单位负责委托范围内的监督管理工作。

第三章 成立登记

第十一条 申请成立社会团体,由发起人向登记管理机关申请登记。
第十二条 成立社会团体,应当具备下列条件:
第十三条 社会团体的名称应当符合法律、法规、规章和国家政策的规定,不得违背社会公德。
第十四条 申请登记社会团体,发起人应当向登记管理机关提交下列文件:
第十五条 社会团体的章程应当包括下列事项:
第十六条 登记管理机关应当自收到本条例第十四条所列全部有效文件之日起60日内,作出准予或者不予登记的决定。其中,对全国性社会团体的登记,情况复杂,60日内不能作出决定的,经国务院登记管理机关负责人批准,可以适当延长,但延长的期限不得超过30日。
第十七条 有下列情形之一的,登记管理机关不予登记,并向申请人书面说明理由:
第十八条 准予登记的社会团体,由登记管理机关发给《社会团体法人登记证书》,并在登记证书上标注统一社会信用代码。登记事项包括:
第十九条 社会团体的法定代表人,由章程规定的负责人担任;社会团体的法定代表人,不得同时担任其他社会团体的法定代表人。
第二十条 依照法律规定,自批准成立之日起即具有法人资格的社会团体,应当自批准成立之日起60日内向登记管理机关提交批准文件,申领《社会团体法人登记证书》。登记管理机关自收到文件之日起30日内发给《社会团体法人登记证书》。
第二十一条 社会团体凭《社会团体法人登记证书》申请刻制印章,开立银行账户,办理税务登记。社会团体应当将印章式样报登记管理机关备案。

第四章 变更登记、注销登记

第二十二条 社会团体变更登记事项的,应当自变更决议作出之日起30日内,向登记管理机关申请变更登记。
第二十三条 社会团体有下列情形之一的,应当终止,并向登记管理机关申请注销登记:
第二十四条 社会团体应当在本条例第二十三条规定的终止情形出现之日起30日内,在业务主管单位、登记管理机关及其他有关机关的指导下,成立清算组进行清算,并向社会公告。不成立清算组或者清算组不履行职责的,由业务主管单位、登记管理机关依法申请人民法院指定有关人员组成清算组进行清算。
第二十五条 社会团体清算后的剩余财产,应当按照社会团体章程的规定进行处置;章程未规定的,由登记管理机关主持转给宗旨相同或者相近的社会团体,或者用于公益目的。
第二十六条 社会团体应当自清算结束之日起15日内向登记管理机关提交注销登记申请书、清算报告书,办理注销登记。
第二十七条 社会团体成立、注销或者变更登记事项,由登记管理机关予以公告。
第二十八条 《社会团体法人登记证书》遗失或者毁坏的,社会团体应当在登记管理机关指定的报刊上声明作废,申请补领。

第五章 组织机构

第二十九条 社会团体应当依照法律、法规、规章和章程的规定建立健全组织机构,完善内部治理机制,实行民主选举、民主决策和民主管理,依法开展活动。
第三十条 社会团体的组织机构包括会员大会或者会员代表大会、理事会、监事或者监事会。
第三十一条 会员大会或者会员代表大会是社会团体的权力机构,行使制定、修改章程和会费标准,制定、修改负责人、理事和监事选举办法,审议批准理事会的工作报告和财务报告,决定社会团体的终止事宜,以及章程规定的其他职权。
第三十二条 理事会是会员大会或者会员代表大会的执行机构,行使章程规定的职权,对会员大会或者会员代表大会负责。
第三十三条 会员大会或者会员代表大会、理事会、常务理事会应当对所议事项的决定作成会议记录。会议记录应当由社会团体保存,并向社会通报。
第三十四条 社会团体设监事。监事有3名以上的,可以设监事会。监事或者监事会行使检查社会团体财务,对理事、常务理事执行职务的行为进行监督,以及章程规定的其他职权。
第三十五条 社会团体的负责人应当遵守法律、法规、规章和章程的规定,忠实履行职责,维护社会团体和会员的合法权益。
第三十六条 有下列情形之一的,不得担任社会团体的负责人:
第三十七条 社会团体的分支机构、代表机构是社会团体的组成部分,不具有法人资格,应当按照其所属于的社会团体的章程所规定的宗旨和业务范围,在该社会团体授权的范围内使用规范全称开展活动、发展会员。社会团体的分支机构不得再设立分支机构。
第三十八条 社会团体之间不得建立或者变相建立垂直管理关系。

第六章 信息公开

第三十九条 登记管理机关应当向社会公开下列信息:
第四十条 社会团体应当向社会公开章程、负责人、组织机构信息,以及接受使用社会捐赠情况和国务院登记管理机关要求公开的其他信息。上述信息有重大变更的,社会团体应当及时向社会公开。
第四十一条 社会团体应当于每年531日前通过登记管理机关统一的信息平台报送上一年度工作报告,并向社会公开。年度工作报告的内容包括:本社会团体遵守法律、法规、规章和国家政策的情况、依照本条例履行登记手续的情况、按照章程开展活动的情况、人员和机构变动的情况以及财务管理的情况。
第四十二条 涉及国家秘密、商业秘密、个人隐私的信息,以及捐赠人不同意公开的姓名、名称、住所、通讯方式等信息的,不得公开。

第七章 监督管理

第四十三条 社会团体的财产来源必须合法,任何单位和个人不得侵占、私分或者挪用。
第四十四条 社会团体必须执行国家统一的会计制度和国家规定的财务管理制度,接受财政部门的监督;财产来源属于政府资助或者社会捐赠、资助的,还应当接受审计机关的监督。
第四十五条 社会团体接受境外捐助、开展对外合作项目、加入国际组织等活动,应当遵守国家有关规定。
第四十六条 登记管理机关对社会团体履行下列职责:
第四十七条 登记管理机关在履行职责时,对社会团体涉嫌违反本条例规定行为的,可以采取下列措施:
第四十八条 业务主管单位对社会团体履行下列职责:
第四十九条 登记管理机关应当建立对社会团体的评估、社会团体及其负责人等的信用记录制度,与业务主管单位、其他有关部门共享社会团体登记管理信息。
第五十条 登记管理机关、业务主管单位和其他有关部门履行本条例规定的职责,不得向社会团体收取费用。

第八章 法律责任

第五十一条 社会团体在申请登记时弄虚作假,骗取登记的,或者自取得《社会团体法人登记证书》之日起1年未开展活动的,由登记管理机关予以撤销登记。
第五十二条 社会团体不再具备本条例第十二条规定条件的,由登记管理机关责令改正,可以限期停止活动;情节严重或者在规定期限内未改正的,吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》。
第五十三条 社会团体违反本条例第五条规定,情节严重的,由登记管理机关吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》;对直接负责的主管人员和其他直接责任人员构成违反治安管理行为的,依法给予治安管理处罚;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任。
第五十四条 社会团体有下列情形之一的,由登记管理机关给予警告,责令改正,可以限期停止活动,并可以责令撤换直接负责的主管人员;情节严重的,吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》;构成违反治安管理行为的,依法给予治安管理处罚;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任:
第五十五条 社会团体未按照本条例规定履行信息公开义务的,登记管理机关可以将其列入异常名录,并通过统一的信息平台向社会公示,督促其履行信息公开义务。社会团体连续2年未依照本条例规定履行年度报告义务的,由登记管理机关吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》。
第五十六条 社会团体的活动违反其他法律、法规的,由有关国家机关依法处理;有关国家机关认为应当吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》的,由登记管理机关依法处理。
第五十七条 违反本条例第十一条第二款的规定开展活动,或者未经登记,擅自以社会团体名义进行活动,以及被撤销登记、吊销《社会团体法人登记证书》后继续以社会团体名义进行活动的,由登记管理机关予以取缔,没收非法财产和违法所得,可以并处违法所得1倍以上5倍以下的罚款;没有违法所得或者违法所得不足1万元的,可处以1万元以上10万元以下的罚款;构成违反治安管理行为的,依法给予治安管理处罚;构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任。
五十八条 社会团体被责令限期停止活动的,由登记管理机关封存《社会团体法人登记证书》、印章和财务凭证。
第五十九条 登记管理机关、业务主管单位和其他有关部门的工作人员滥用职权、徇私舞弊、玩忽职守构成犯罪的,依法追究刑事责任;尚不构成犯罪的,依法给予行政处分。

第九章 附则

第六十条 本条例所称社会团体的负责人,是指社会团体的理事长或者会长、副理事长或者副会长、秘书长。
第六十一条 社会团体章程示范文本、《社会团体法人登记证书》的式样由国务院民政部门制定。
第六十二条 在中国内地设立国际性社会团体,参照本条例进行登记管理,具体办法由国务院民政部门制定。
第六十三条 本条例自 年 月 日起施行。19981025日国务院发布的《社会团体登记管理条例》同时废止。