BEIJING — The “Hierarchy of Needs," an influential psychological theory put forth by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, tells us that humans have different levels of needs. From the most basic physiological necessities such as water, food and sex, to love, belonging and self-actualization. It is notable that security comes in second on the hierarchy after the physical needs for human survival.
For Chinese entrepreneurs, who are typically taken care of materially and are pursuing social respect and self-fulfillment, their sense of security is the factor meant to allow them to sleep soundly at night. It means not having to think about emigrating from China, and feeling confident about China’s economy and the future for themselves and their businesses.
A recent nationwide survey by this newspaper found that when asked about their own security, 43% of Chinese entrepreneurs said they feel “very anxious,” while another 36% have “mild anxiety.” Those who feel “no anxiety” at all represent a mere 1.43%.
So what does it take to achieve a sense of security? It is a social mechanism in which the various relevant interested parties, including the government, businesses, institutions, and every individual in society, manage to reach a consensus for living together. Security relies on laws, trust and morals.
It has been more than three decades since the opening of China’s economy and society. Having gone through many tough trials and errors, political-business relations are still far from clarified. Not only are businesses administered by too many governmental departments, the authority’s hand directly interferes in economic practices, and far too often competes for profits with individuals.
While the path of continued economic development is clear, there exist many glass doors. By protecting the status of state-owned enterprises, certain officials are able to line their own pockets. There are also too many obsolete legal concepts with all kinds of administrative orders and various governmental authorities that don’t allow bona fide Chinese entrepreneurs to maximize their businesses. In particular, the essential component of private financing is filled with ambiguous legal regulations.
The fact that numerous entrepreneurs have been punished, one after the other, and several even secretly executed, such as Zeng Chengjie, who was accused of financial fraud, all contribute to a heightened sense of insecurity among Chinese business people.
So how can China help make its entrepreneurial class feel more secure? First it should clarify relations between government and enterprises, to define the authority’s referee position in a market economy. State-owned enterprises should give way to a modern corporate system so that a fair competitive market environment is created. Meanwhile, the state should be transformed to a service-oriented government that explicitly defines administrative boundaries.
In addition, China’s legal system and law enforcement must be improved as fast as possible. The improvement here doesn’t refer to the legal texts. China already has a vast body of regulations and bylaws. But when it comes time to turn to them as a reliable guide for current economic practice, they are either totally obsolete and hard to integrate or too vague to be implemented. Such a legal environment leads to too many grey zones and too much discretion on the part of individuals in the public domain.
The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee is coming up next month. The dividends of China’s opening-up over the last two decades appear to have reached a peak. The Chinese economy is now slowing down and the economic structure ought to be upgraded. All of this urgently needs the consensus of the whole society.
The Chinese government has recently presented a document called “On local government function, transformation and institutional reforms.” A Free Trade Experimental Zone has been introduced in Shanghai. All these are positive signs that allow entrepreneurs to look forward to the upcoming plenary session. I believe their expectations include the desire for a sense of security.
Due to China’s particular conditions, some entrepreneurs have recently proclaimed that businessmen “shouldn’t discuss politics,” and this provoked others into calling on businessmen to speak out for themselves.
I believe neither side is wrong. Those advocating active participation in politics may be both believers in civic duty or those with good relations with officialdom. The others may be passive liberalists, or believers in business is business. Whatever side they belong to should not stand in the way of their spirit of entrepreneurship and fulfillment of their social duties. People can only truly feel safe, and pluralism achieved, if a society can count on the rule of law and establish a public sense of trust.