Zhang Jing: How can a mistrustful group cooperate?

Abstract: The main thrust of this paper relates to the relationship between institutional rules and the construction of social capital. In contrast to existing research that focuses on social capital as an independent variable and its role in social development, this paper considers social capital as a dependent variable and traces how universal social capital, which is a public good, emerges, especially under unfavorable conditions of group conflict. It is found that generic social capital does not necessarily emerge naturally in social relations, but grows and consolidates in response to specific public social rules, and that the expansion of social capital in the case of XW – the transformation of the breadth of villagers’ cooperation from intra- to inter-zonal cooperation – is clearly the result of innovations in public decision-making rules. This paper describes the mechanisms by which this generic social capital is generated in order to advance theoretical explanations for the improvement of cooperative behavior and the expansion of social capital. The paper also suggests the possibility of policy improvement: self-reform using breakthroughs in institutional rules can help break the cycle of group conflict and competition for control and improve the quality of social governance at the grassroots level.

   In sociological research, the role of social capital in organizational governance and public goods has been the focus of many studies (Bian Yanjie and Qiu Haixiong, 2000; Patnan, 2001; Cai Xiaoli and Liu Li, 2006), but different studies have different understandings of the nature of social capital. Some scholars view social capital as a generic public resource, focusing on its role in public affairs (e.g., social development), while others tend to view it as a privileged resource in certain social relationships, focusing on its role as an interpersonal resource for individuals’ professional mobility and business activities. The key difference between the two is whether or not it is conditional on particular relationship identification and the range of target beneficiaries, which centers on the extent to which the resource can be shared and whether it is a public good.

   This distinction can be seen in the following representative description: “By social capital, I mean the features of social life – networks, norms and trust – that enable participants to act more effectively together in pursuit of common goals … …In short, social capital refers to social ties, and the norms and trust that come with them” (Patnan, 2020: 126); “social capital is the resources embedded in social networks” through which friends, colleagues, and general acquaintances have access to the access to financial and human capital (Burt, 1997); and the ability of individuals to access scarce resources through their membership in a network or broader social structure (Porters, 1998).

   Are these two types of social capital similar in nature and function? Most scholars argue that generic social capital has a positive effect and that societies with higher levels of social capital are more likely to develop (Patnan, 2001). In contrast, internal and external social capital, i.e., social capital that is low in generality and high in specialization, also has a positive effect in some respects, for example, in promoting the development of China’s private economy. Scholars have found that areas where clans exist can more effectively provide information through informal relationships, as well as benefit sharing and property rights protection, and that township enterprises tend to be more prosperous and active as a result.

   What are the limits of privileged social capital? What problems does it not solve? What are the conditions that would allow it to extend to generic social capital? These issues are less often discussed in empirical research. From a generalized social capital perspective, if social capital is constrained by local relationship boundaries, it is often difficult to extend it to the broader public sphere (Zhang Jing, 2011), unless public relationships are first transformed into personal or special relationships, such as the common ones of acknowledging kinship, making friends, or giving gifts. The “public” trust and cooperation established in this way is still premised on the differentiation of the objects of use, but it is just a matter of constructing different relationships that stimulate the expectation and commitment of “being treated as special”, and is not yet social capital in the nature of a universal public good. In the social order, by the same logic, if some organizations seek special treatment through rent-seeking, special associations with power organizations, etc., the high level of trust and cooperation between them will inevitably lead to mistrust by other organizations, leading to a broader loss of social capital and even social conflict.

   How, then, can generic social capital emerge? This issue, which is related to the social and cultural environment, makes many people pessimistic. In his later years, Sun Yat-sen criticized that the people of China, who worshipped clanism, were only as united as their clan. Some scholars have even pointed out that the cohesive ties in traditional Asian societies are characterized by patron?client relations (Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1980); and that although interpersonal relations in Asian societies are generally more extensive and higher than in other societies, the level of honesty and cooperation in public life is still high. lower (Fukuyama, 1998, 2002). In these discourses, it is clear that generic social capital is not a universal phenomenon, and in some cultural organisms it seems to be difficult to form because of the lack of a social base and the difficulty of fitting in with the local social structure and conceptual system. As a result, one finds a large number of examples to illustrate that new organizational rules from outside, such as industrial capital going to the countryside, often fail to gain the trust and cooperation of local villagers, resulting in the final encounter with soft confrontation between inside and outside and failure (Xu Zongyang, 2018).

   The question worth investigating here is how is social capital as a public good possible in the aforementioned socio-cultural environment? Does it have to be foreign? Is it possible for it to be endogenous?

   Most of the relevant studies acknowledge that the presence of social capital enables development-friendly institutions to function effectively, reduces interpersonal barriers, and reduces the cost of operating social rules. Here, the researcher uses the level of presence of social capital – the degree of social trust and cooperation – as a premise (an independent variable) to explain the effectiveness of the functioning of institutions, arguing that institutional rules require a social capital environment that is appropriate to them, such as having social capital and Authority figures (traditional leaders, chiefs, clan elders) in strong local networks have a higher capacity for organisational mobilisation (Baldwin, 2019), and conversely, most top-down rules tend to be formal and difficult to implement without local elites playing a transformative role and failing to be truly effective in governance (Zuo Wenmin, 2019). The logic of such a discourse not only marks social capital with a pre-determined immutable property, but also imposes a “death sentence” on the growth and improvement of social capital, especially on its transformation from exclusive to universal, and fails to answer how universal social capital emerges in an unfavorable socio-cultural environment.

   The answer to the question of the endogenous nature of universal social capital requires entering a specific cultural and social environment, digging deep into practice based on facts, observing whether and how it is endogenous, and, in terms of problematic consciousness, reversing the original causal assumptions to ask the question: if social capital is a resource of trust and cooperation embedded in social networks, how is this resource created through human activity? Is it possible, for example, to promote trust and cooperation among people who do not trust each other — what might be called the “growth and improvement of social capital” problem? Where are the conditions and incentives for such cooperation between groups that are divided or even in violent conflict? How did it go? The XW case mentioned in this paper may serve as a phenomenal window to answer these empirical questions.

   The theoretical value of this question is to reveal the relationship between institutional rules and the construction of social foundations (social capital, ideas or organizational structures), especially the role of system dynamics in rule change, and to explore the mechanism of social capital expansion: through what means it is renewed. Through an event history analysis of local cases, I hope to identify and describe this mechanism in my own practice at the grassroots level in China, in order to advance a theoretical explanation for the improvement of cooperative behavior, i.e., the expansion of social capital. If this explanation is plausible, pessimism becomes hope: through constructive action, people can push for improvements in policy rules and build a better social order.

   Twenty years of the petitioning village

   XW village is located in the SHT town of ZCH in southern China, covering an area of about 4 square kilometers, with more than 600 families and a population of over 3,000. The main income of the villagers comes from hired labour, self-employment and village collective dividends. Collective dividends are derived from rent or contractual payments for village common land and buildings, and these earnings are traditionally shared by all villagers at the end of each year. As a result of the village’s close proximity to several major transportation routes to and from the urban areas, the village has experienced a boom in commercial development in the 1990s, with several street-level hotel and trade city projects being built. For 20 years, no one was able to operate these assets because the leasing or contracting of the hotel and business city was always interrupted by confrontation, and villagers questioned the land acquisition and demolition, the leasing of the property, the contracting of the project, and the distribution of revenues. Problems accumulated and eventually developed into group conflicts or confrontations: villagers prevented cadres from taking office and contractors from moving in, and petitions were filed at all levels of the administration ……. Such confrontations have been going on for more than 20 years, since 1994, and XW has become notorious for its tensions between cadres.

In the mid-1990s, villagers were dissatisfied for two reasons. The first was that the whereabouts of the government’s compensation for land acquisition were unknown. Some villagers recalled: “At that time, the construction of roads to build economic development zones, the expropriation of our village 1,277 acres of land, the compensation standard is 15,000 yuan per mu, but the compensation was not distributed to the villagers, the return of the land is still unknown where.” Second, the residential land transactions are unfair. After the establishment of the local economic development zone, the value of the village’s land multiplied, there are about 60 homesteads of different sizes sold to the villagers, “the price of the house are the same, but village cadres and their relatives put the most valuable good land – near the development zone, crossroads, roadside — all occupied first.”

   Old problems are not solved, new ones keep cropping up.For more than 20 years, from the township, county and municipal committees to the provincial and central committees, the level of petitioning by villagers has been rising, with complaints focusing on the use and distribution of the village’s public assets. Around the disposal of public asset funds, the village has formed two evenly divided factions, with different village officials running each side and many villagers on both sides supporting them.

   The majority of the villagers in XW are surnamed Guo and are historically descended from the same clan, but the same surname does not create unity, and the interests of the two factions are organized along the two “halls” of Guo, each with its own core of people. For the sake of “maintaining the balance”, their superiors tacitly allowed them to take turns as village officials, but no matter who came to power, they would always give good land and good opportunities to their cousins, which was unacceptable to the other faction. Thus, whenever a new team takes office, it is the beginning of a new round of cadre tensions: villagers from one hall against cadres from the other in an attempt to regain control of public resources. If someone from each side enters the squad, they must be tearing each other down and unable to cooperate. For years, XW has been swaying back and forth between these two factions, resulting in a “tug-of-war”.

   If one’s own people can’t do it, can outsiders? The township government has twice tried to send cadres to act as village secretaries, who have nothing to do with the interests of the village, but to no avail, because no one in the village listens to them, and the villagers are still united around the two parishes, which are beyond the control of outsiders. So, at the end of the year, the officials have to rely on the sale of land for dividends, but the dwindling public assets will lead to a new round of petitions.

   The struggle between the two factions has been going on for many years, but the nature of the struggle has always been the same: the villagers protest against the “bad guys” who are in power and leave a lot of wealth to their own cousins at the expense of the others, so they push the other party out of power and put their own cousins in power, and after a few years, the other party is removed from power in the same way. ……. The first direct election of village council cadres in 1999, the two factions want to push their own people, mutual suspicion of black box operation, leading to escalation of the conflict, the result of the government had to send 400 police officers to “maintain order”. “.In 2000, the new municipal party secretary entered the village for research and was besieged by angry villagers for three days, claiming that he would not be allowed to return to work in the city until the problem was solved.After the third village committee head was elected in 2005, the previous cadres refused to hand over the official seal, and the new team worked for three years, “it took a year and a half just to ask for the official seal “In the end, I had to apply to the government to have a new official seal made.

   I as more than ten years of director, to the XW village not once or twice, each time to go to work is more or less the same, that is, to send back the villagers to the provincial party committee petition.

   The acrimonious confrontation in the village has brought no benefit to anyone: no matter who runs the public property, there are people who obstruct it, and the customers who have signed up to rent it can’t deal with the disputes and have to give up the business. The village’s collective assets were left unused for years, making it difficult to put them to good use. As a result, the village has been plunged into a “development dilemma” and grassroots governance has become a dead end.

   Trying New Rules

   At the beginning of 2014, a young man G, a businessman outside the village, returned to the village to develop, he is not highly educated, but for many years in the field in several cities in trade, counted as knowledgeable. In the past few years, there have been a number of cases in which the government has been unable to provide the necessary financial support to the victims.

   In January 2014, G won eighty-five percent of the votes and was elected village chief. As soon as he took office, he put forward a proposal to quickly start contracting and renting out village assets, but how do you get decisions approved by the majority of villagers when the two factions are at odds with each other? A fellow lawyer suggested that he should “decentralize” and use contracts to let villagers make their own decisions.

He decided to give it a try. The village first renovated a large house and put it up for sale as a “villagers’ council”. There are 600 households in the village, with an average of one representative for every 5-15 households, depending on the size of the family. Translated with There are 69 deputies in the deliberations. The meetings are convened by the two village committees, and in addition to the speaker’s and deputy’s chairs, there are also supervisory, attendance and observer chairs. Branch members and cooperative directors who are not village representatives may attend, and they have the right to propose and deliberate, but not to vote. The basic principle is that the most controversial and opinionated issues are all discussed at the meeting, and the proposal is decided through debate and voting by the representatives. The proposal supported by two-thirds of the representatives is considered to be passed, and all representatives must sign the contract or press their fingerprints to confirm it on the spot. The resolutions are reviewed by legal counsel and then publicized, and videos of the proceedings are simultaneously broadcast on the WeChat platform so that all off-site villagers can watch the proceedings on their mobile phones. The XW Village Rules of Procedure state that once a resolution has been passed, the village’s two committees are responsible for implementing and enforcing the decision, and that “no one can change or make another decision without permission”.