When I was in middle school, I saw the following news story in a local newspaper: a group of businessmen had been supporting the education of children from a poor mountain village. They stopped after a year, however, simply because they had never received any thank-you letters from the children and thus thought that they were being ungrateful.
From a personal perspective, the businessmen have the right to spend their money at will and choose whoever they prefer for their donations. But if the donor was an NGO, then it could not decide who receives the donations solely based on moral preferences. For instance, it is unimaginable that the One Foundation, during an emergency disaster alleviation project, would first investigate whether the local people are honest and worthy, or that the Smile Angel Foundation would choose whether to support children with a cleft palate/lip depending on their parents’ moral status. This is especially true when it comes to the government. After the government took over the Free Lunch for Children project started by Mr. Deng Fei, the project gradually expanded its geographical coverage due to having more funds, but its goal was to provide lunch for all children, rather than only the children with better academic results or a good overall performance.
The logic behind this is that the existence of disadvantaged groups, such as poor children, senior citizens who lost their only child (known as 失独群体, a special Chinese social phenomenon caused by the country’s long-standing one-child family planning policy) and the disabled, is due to the structural deprivation of rights caused by imbalanced social development. The disadvantaged groups are different from disadvantaged individuals. Therefore, the foundation of modern philanthropy (which I shall refer to as “social development” from now on) is to respect rights rather than provide help with kind hearts.
A good example is the four stages in the evolution of public opinion towards the disabled: there’s the religious phase, the charitable phase, the medical phase, and the phase of social integration. In ancient times, disability was viewed as a heaven-sent punishment. As civilization developed, people started to show compassion towards the disabled and try to help them. Until recently, society was dedicated to helping the disabled to regain biological functions with modern medical technology. After the proposal of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people came to realize that the disabled face hurdles not only caused by their physical or mental disability but also by the uneven distribution of social resources.
For instance, if a person loses his right arm, which admittedly causes difficulties biologically, he can still contribute to the society, since having both arms is not a necessity for many jobs. Working in art, vocal music, or education only requires artistic insight, musical sense or the right knowledge structure. Nevertheless, mainstream society fails to acknowledge such people’s very existence. They are excluded from various aspects of life, such as education and work.
From the perspective of being able to function socially, high myopia, incompetence in operating a computer or driving a car in modern society can also be viewed as disabilities. The disabled suffer not only from inherited flaws or inevitable accidents but also from barriers created by public consciousness and ways of thinking.
Of course, this last phenomenon isn’t merely the result of public consciousness and the insufficient distribution of resources. It is certainly hard to help people with severe disabilities fulfill their social function solely through the redistribution of resources. But there still exist many artificial barriers for the disabled, particularly in areas such as education, employment, and marriage.
Some will argue that, even though the disabled will have more space if resources are more reasonably distributed, given the limited amount of social resources and a multitude problems, we should be focusing our resources more on development first of all.
This view bears some truth but is not entirely convincing. Society can never achieve a perfect balance through the egalitarian distribution of its wealth and resources. None of the societies throughout known human civilization have achieved that. Without some sort of gap, it would be impossible to develop any civilization. Social development demands differences. On the other hand, these differences should be kept within a certain range. To be more precise, they cannot be the product of a cut-throat natural selection as in the animal world, but rather of a model in which the more advanced can lead everyone else towards a common development. This is the meaning of civilization.
John Rawls proposed an interesting approach to the design of a well-ordered society in his book A Theory of Justice. Rawls proposes the following exercise:imagine you could design a social system, including its educational system, medical services, wealth distribution and so on, but you knew that you were then going to reincarnate into that system, not knowing whether you would be rich or poor, a man or a woman, healthy or disabled etc.. How would you go about it? In this process, most people will give sufficient weight to social mobility because they know they could be born into the lowest classes. Only then can they consider equality and justice from the angle of social development at a holistic level.
Therefore, the primary issue in social development is respecting and guaranteeing rights, what is known as “equality of public service”(specification of institutional safeguard of rights protection) in policy terms. If migrant workers enjoy an increase in their income, they will also need to enjoy the same social resources including medical care, education and permanent residence (Hukou) benefits, as other members of society. Despite the different discourse structures, both the government and the social development sector share the same goal of creating a better society. However, due to their limited vision and the primitive stage they find themselves in, many social development organizations are still operating from the point of view of“providing help”. “Providing help” is not a problem in itself, but the sustainability of their work will be undermined if they do not take ‘rights’ into consideration.
It is not uncommon to find that little attention is paid to the target group’s own perspective during the process of which they are “helped”. Forums on migrant populations are crawling with academics, and participants in official women’s development forums are mostly male. To be frank, “the disadvantaged” passively accept arrangements made for them instead of actively participating in the process- those without a disability decide for the disabled, adults decide for the youth, and men decide for women.
Difficulty in expressing needs impairs efforts to intervene. For instance, Wechat developed a project for donating a “voice” to the visually impaired community. People could contribute by reading one-minute long materials that Wechat would then put together. This project was criticized by the community because it totally omitted their actual needs. It is barely comprehensible when the voice, tone, and speed of an audio material changes every minute, let alone the pronunciation issues of amateurs doing a recording. This problem could have been avoided if a visually impaired person had been included in the design of the project.
In the long term, if the disabled were able to have more space for their development, for instance if most of the disabled could receive the same education as everyone else and with the knowledge and skills gained find good jobs, then they could have an income which would bring more freedom and opportunities. In most cases disabled people with resources and skills can, in turn, provide more help to others, for example through donations, raising public awareness, advocacy, and even establishing relevant organizations. When it comes to the society, then there is no need for frequent “sympathy” and “solicitude”. More significantly, the disabled gain dignity and character through this process, and are included in society as equal and contributing individuals – this is the value of development.
An analysis of the concept of “empowerment”
The concept of “empowerment” has been imported from the western social development sector. But considering the difference caused by translation and language structures, discussion and analysis are much needed.
Empowerment is the most important concept for the sustainable development of the disadvantaged in developed countries. “Empowerment” is translated as “Fuquan” (赋权) in mainland China, and “zengneng” （增能） in HongKong and Taiwan. “Power”(权力) normally implies supervision and limits whilst“rights”（权利） echoes respect and safeguards. In social development, the latter is stressed more. But the word “empowerment” contains “power”, while “funeng” (赋能) generally refers to “Capacity Building”.
In addition, there is much controversy over the character “fu” (赋), since it indicates inequality. Professor Pan Suiming from the Institute of Sexuality and Gender at the Renmin University of China once pointed out that sex education for young people aims to give them back their rights (复权) that they are naturally entitled but deprived due to some reasons, rather than give them rights (赋权). Hence, in some documents and organizations, “empowerment” is translated as “chongquan”(充权).
Due to different ideologies, some like the concept of “rights” (权利) and some don’t. Therefore, some experts, in practice, won’t use “fuquan”(赋权) but rather “funengchongquan” (赋能充权,capacity building and empowerment). These are a few of the disputes on “empowerment” and other related words. I would like to put aside the original definition and ambiguity of the translations, and explain these words as follows:
-“disadvantaged groups” (弱势群体): their existence is fundamentally caused by structural lack of rights; the effective approach to promote the sustainable development of the disadvantaged is “empowerment”, namely, equipping them with the same rights to social participation and personal sustainable development as other people;
-“capacity building” is an important method in order to achieve empowerment. Without the capacity building, empowerment is superficial and not profound. Sustainable development cannot be realized without sufficient information, knowledge structure, skills, opportunities, and economic status;
– Fu (赋) does not suggest inequality. This is just a misunderstanding caused by translation. All parties involved in “empowerment”(赋权) and “capacity building”(赋能) are equal. Fu ((赋) also means “promotion”, for example, young people have an inherent right to education and development.
举例来说， 一个人失去了一条右臂，在生物学意义上， 和其他人相比的确不够方便，但这并不代表他们不能为社会做出贡献，因为有两条手臂并不是许多工作产出成果的必要条件，例如美术、 声乐或是教育，这些工作需要的是眼光、 乐感和知识结构。但由于只有一条胳膊，主流社会往往并不接受他们的合理存在，残障人在教育、就业等各个环节都被排斥，无法融入社会。
如果以“社会功能”的视角来看残障，那么高度近视、 在现代社会不会使用计算机或开车也可以被纳入“残障”范围。“残”通常是由于先天或后天意外所产生的不可选择的因素，但“障” 更多是由于社会文化认知与思维所造成的人为性障碍。
这种观点有一定道理，但不全对。一方面，社会无法通过平均主义来分配财富和资源，以达成平衡。或者说，在可见的文明发展史上，任何社会形态都做不到这点， 否则文明很可能根本无法被创造。社会要进步，必然存在一定的差异。 但另一方面，这种差异必须控制在一定范围内，更准确的说，差异的产生应当脱离动物世界物竞天择、王者生存的模式，转向“前进者带动后进者共同发展”，这就是文明的意义。
美国学者约翰•罗尔斯在其著作《正义论》中提出了一个有趣的方法，“如何让人体验一个合理的社会制度” ——假设你有能力重新设计一个社会制度，包含这个社会的教育体系、医疗资源供给、财务分配等所有制度，但接下来你会随机的投胎到社会中：既可能是贫穷家庭也可能是富庶家庭，既可能是男人也可能是女人，既可能健康也可能残障，那么你会如何设计？ ——在这个过程中每个人都会充分的考虑社会流动性的问题，因为谁都无法确保自己不投胎到社会最底层，只有这样才能从社会发展的整体层次考虑公平与正义。
当需求难以表达时，会对工作的有效性产生深刻的影响。例如 2013 年微信开发了针对视障群体（盲人） 捐助声音的活动。任何人都可以作为志愿者捐献 1 分钟声音，微信会分配 1 分钟内容的读物，在大量语音的基础上组成了各类读物。项目上线不久后就遭到了视障群体的批评，因为该项目完全忽略了视障群体的实际需求。试想，任何人听着每分钟切换的声音都会对理解产生极大的障碍，每个人的音色、语调、节奏都不相同，更不用说方言等发音的标准性问题。如果在项目设计时期请视障人共同参与，就不会出现这些问题。
从更长远的角度来看，如果残障群体能够有更多的发展空间，例如大部分的残障群体都可以和非残障群体接受相同的教育，有了知识结构与技能就可以获得工作，经济收入会带来更多自由与发展机遇。而多数情况下， 具备能力与社会资源的残障者会反过来为其他残障者提供更多的帮助，例如捐助、呼吁社会关注、发声表达权益，甚至直接建立相关组织（瓷娃娃即是典型的例子）。对社会来说，也无需不断进行“慰问” 和“关怀”，最重要的是，残障者在此过程中具备了独立的尊严和人格，作为平等的个体融合进社会整体并做出贡献——这就是发展的价值。 涨知识：英语中的赋权表达
根据发达国家的经验，“Empowerment”是实现弱势群体可持续发展最重要的理念。“Empowerment”在内地普遍被翻译为“赋权”，而在香港和台湾被译为“增能”。在语言上，英文“Power”对应的词汇是“权力”，而“Rights”对应的是“权利”。 从概念上，“权力”对应的通常是监督和限制，而“权利”对应的通常是尊重和保障。社会发展领域所探讨的权利普遍为后者。但“Empowerment”的词汇结构中使用的是 “Power”， 而赋能又通常被认为是“Capacity Building”（能力建设）。
此外对于“赋” 的表达也存在争议，例如中国人民大学性社会学研究所教授潘绥铭就曾指出，对青少年的性教育，不是“赋权” 而是“复权”，“赋” 本身带着一种不平等的状态，是“我赋予你” 才有，而不是“你本来具有，只是由于各种问题产生了缺失”。 因此，在一些文件和组织中，“Empowerment”也被译为“充权”。
◎ “弱势群体” 本质上是由于社会发展失衡带来的结构性权利缺失； ◎ 帮助弱势群体可持续发展的有效途径是“赋权”， 即使其同其他群体一样，具备社会参与与个人可持续发展的权利； ◎ 赋能是赋权实现的重要方法，缺失赋能的赋权是形式化的赋权，而非实质性的赋权。如果缺少足够的信息、知识结构、技能、发展机遇和经济地位，无法真正的可持续发展； ◎ “赋” 并非是不平等的体现，只是由于翻译原因造成的误解。赋权与赋能的各方都是平等的。“赋”可以理解为“促进”，例如，青少年原本就拥有受教育与发展的权利。