The Harmonious Society

In Law as a Social System, Luhmann wrote,

A functionally differentiated society is anything but a harmonious society with inbuilt guarantees of stability. (481)

One could argue that the Chinese Communist Party’s emphasis on the “Socialist Harmonious Society,” which is a slogan first promoted by President Hu Jintao in 2005, is a response to the challenges of functional differentiation. Since the 1980s and the Deng Xiaoping reforms, the economy and mass media have gained increasing autonomy, challenging the hegemony of the political system. The harmonious society ideal has especially picked up in this century. Here is  a Google ngram for the Chinese terms for harmonious and harmony.


The reasoning here is that functional differentiation causes social disharmony, or the loss of absolute control by the political system. Under stratified and centralized forms of social differentiation, the political system (monarch) or the religious system (or those two combined) usually has ultimate power. The harmonious society is the dream of any government, particularly an autocratic one, because it means stability for the government.

What’s sort of interesting is that Hu Jintao introduced the slogan in 2005 but the Ngram rise starts in about 2001, and about half of the rise happens between 2001-05. So Hu didn’t invent the idea but apparently picked it up from somewhere else, probably from New Confucianism. And of course, the idea of China as a harmonious society goes back to Confucius. The rise for harmony+harmonious begins in the mid-1970s.

Below in the Ngram for harmonious society:


The slogan was primarily a response to the growing wealth gap that resulted from Ding Xiaoping’s opening up of the Chinese economy. In other words, the economic function system had begun to irritate the political system–as people protested the wealth and privilege gap–and the CCP responded by de-emphasizing wealth accumulation.

Perhaps more significantly, this shows that the Google Ngram Viewer does in fact show historical trends. This isn’t just random, and it confirms the value of the global brainwave research of Roth, et al.

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