Economic development and transformation of human capital
On October 27th and 28th 2003, the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) jointly organised a conference entitled “Economic development and transformation of human capital”1, from which we publish two contributions. What competences does China need today? How do individuals, as well as the training system, adapt to the new demands of companies and of the administration? These were some of the questions asked and which the participants attempted to answer by exchanging their points of view on China, on Russia, another society and economy in transition, and on France; an approach based on the conviction that the social sciences can only be comparative.
The focal point of this conference was a consideration of the elites, a highly sensitive subject in a neo-authoritarian or neo-totalitarian communist regime. While certain actions of the new government team inaugurate a new phase in the policy of reform, which is more directed at those excluded from prosperity, does this really mean the beginning of a new practice of policy and of politics, which must necessarily include reflection on—if not a calling into question of—those who are at the top of the social ladder? The sessions were organised around three subjects: the economic, political and intellectual elites.
In his opening speech, Yin Jizuo2 recalled the context and the tenor of the changes experienced by the country’s elites. China, in integrating itself into the world system by its policy of reform and opening up, has joined the scientific and technical revolution, bringing about the necessary adaptation of the Chinese working population, that is to say its professionalisation. This is particularly the case of company managers, whose role has evolved in order to respond to the needs of the transition. Shen Ronghua3 showed how the state enterprise managers, until then administrative cadres supervising production, have become real heads of enterprises, chosen according to criteria of professional experience and competences validated by diplomas. It is not only enterprise managers who have to adapt to the new economic environment, but, to a large extent, all employees, of whom specific competences are now demanded. State enterprises are facing the challenge of retraining their employees, whom Li Peilin and Zhang Yi4, basing themselves on a series of surveys carried out in the province of Liaoning, showed would benefit from an effective system of professional training. Zhang Jiehai5 gave an example of successful retraining and of social mobility: that of migrant workers who have become white collar and thus identify with the urban middle class.
According to Lu Hanlong6, analogous transformations are taking place in the political sphere where the “reds” are making room for the “experts”. Jean-Pierre Cabestan7 confirmed this by studying a particular population, the delegates of the National People's Congress (NPC), the second most important group of leaders in China after the members of the Central Committee of the Party. The members of the NPC have an increasingly high level of education. Their legitimacy has been enhanced not because of the mode of election, but because of their increasing participation in debates which are more and more open to their growing expertise. What is true at a national level is also true, possibly even more so, at a local level. Li Yuomei8 underscored this by analysing the leaders of neighbourhood communities and other urban organisations, such as residents’ committees or co-owners’ associations; they are chosen more for their level of education or their professional status than for their links with the Communist Party. While in the eyes of these new social actors, professional competences are more useful and more valuable than membership of the Party, the same holds true for managing cadres who have themselves reduced ideology to a quasi-symbolic secondary importance. As our own work9 shows, the latter spend most of their training period in the Party schools or in the institutes of administration learning the stakes of the modern world and of post-Maoist China, as well as training on more specific or technical questions, in order to carry out the new tasks imposed on them by the policy of reform and opening up.
One could not tackle the problem of training for the leading elites without mentioning the French Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA) which inspired the Chinese government in the reform of its schools of administration and with which the latter maintain institutional and pedagogical links—their best students spend time in France. Jean-Pierre Worms10 sought to underline the distortions that “enarchy” has produced, in particular the de facto monopoly held by ENA graduates on positions of power in the economic and political spheres. Thus, from the training of leading cadres, the interrogation moved towards the problematical connections between the political and the economic, one of the challenges in the transition which are regularly brought up by the media during cases of corruption. Monique de Saint-Martin11 recalled that such connections also exist in Russia, where former Soviet bureaucrats have become entrepreneurs, owners or shareholders in large private enterprises after perestroïka. Nevertheless, according to Marie Mendras12, the administrative apparatus in Russia has managed to adjust to the new context, and to consolidate its positions in the political and economic spheres as well as the social one: in fact, at all levels of the country, years of upheaval have made the Russian administration stronger, and it is said today to be oblivious to political pressures.
To Zheng Yefu13, the remedy for the plague represented by corruption lies in a return to Confucianism and the placing of ethics and moral teaching at the heart of the pedagogical mission. Mao Hongxiang14 sought to show the glaring inadequacy of the Chinese education system, as a result of lack of investment and weak political will: urgent reform is called for. Finally professionalisation also affects the intellectuals—understood as the group of those with diplomas—who, according to Lu Xiaowen15, make up an essential part of the middle classes. Moreover Lu made an essential distinction between the professional intellectuals, the academics and researchers who fulfil a function of experts for the governments, and the critical intellectuals. The latter, recalled Xu Jilin16, after having been very active in the 1980s, had great difficulty during the decade of the 1990s in finding a role in the public debate of a society which puts more value on expertise with a practical objective. Jean-Philippe Béja17, comparing China and France, went further, maintaining that the critical intellectuals, or counter-elites, are condemned to remaining in a minority and to seeing their role decline. Lastly Jacques Rupnik18 showed how in certain Eastern European countries, the victory of the intellectuals (such as Vaclav Havel) also marked the beginning of their fall in the face of the advance of consumer society. As well as the question of the conversion of political capital into economic capital during the transition phase, he emphasised the importance of civil society in the consolidation of the democratic process.
The animated and open debates to which the body of these contributions gave rise were structured around the notions of effectiveness and equity. From the manager’s point of view, the objective sought is an optimal functioning of enterprises, administrations and the training apparatus. From the point of view of the citizen, it is access to education, the conditions of promotion and of critical thinking which are questioned.