Centers foster harmony in the countryside

By WANG RU/ZHAO RUIXUE| (China Daily)| Updated : 2018-12-05

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It was a late November day. As a cold wind blew outside, warm sounds of laughter and music emanated from the cultural civilization center at Nanxue village. Inside, residents practiced traditional Chinese art forms, from calligraphy to musical instruments.

The village belongs to Qufu, Shandong province, the birthplace of the philosopher Confucius, who advocated benevolence, righteousness and courtesy, among other harmonious qualities.

Centers like the one in Nanxue can be found throughout the city and are an extension of the so-called mediation rooms, which the local authorities have been using to solve disputes between rural residents.

Yue Yaofang, executive deputy head of publicity for Qufu's Party committee, said that in the past, some people valued money more than moral principles, "but we've made great efforts to promote spiritual civilization since reform and opening-up in 1978".

Over the past four decades, the city has established 431 mediation rooms, which preach the value of harmony, and their success rate for solving conflicts stands at 98 percent, Yue said.

"Decades ago, when people had a dispute, it was difficult for them to make a concession," said Wu Bo, the Party secretary of Wujia village. The mediation rooms help them reach an amicable solution, he said, usually after intervention from a prestigious figure in the community, such as a retired cadre.

Yue added that many residents are now "less inclined to argue in public because they fear other villagers will criticize them and make them feel ashamed".

One example of this unique brand of conflict resolution came after two villagers in Wujia began fighting over a chicken. Both claimed ownership, so a mediator let the bird run free-whichever household it returned to was the rightful owner. The fighting stopped after that.

This year, 41 mediation rooms were expanded into cultural civilization centers.

"We invite specialist teachers to our village two or three times a month to give lectures on filial piety, faithfulness and so on. The talks are in the evenings, after the villagers have finished their work for the day," Wu said.

Some centers also hand out titles, such as "good daughter-in-law" or "civilized family", to reward role models and inspire other villagers.

"We invite members of 'civilized families' to introduce their stories and experiences," Wu said. "Villagers tend to think highly of their reputation. When their neighbors win a title, they will strive to behave better."

When the civilization lectures started in Wujia, speakers struggled to draw a crowd of more than 60. Today, there are usually no empty seats in a classroom with space for 200 people.

"Many of us didn't want to listen to the lectures at first, as we were very tired after a long day of laboring," villager Wu Maosheng said. "But after attending a few, we found they really enriched our knowledge."

The cultural activities have brought villagers much closer, according to Party chief Wu Bo.

"Decades ago, many people didn't talk to each other when they went to the market or met their neighbors on the road. Now, they get on really well," he said.