Social fabric?

中国日报网 2016-03-18 13:24



Reader question:

Social fabric?

Please explain "social fabric" in this passage:

The message for the United States is clear. For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating.

My comments:

This is a commentary on America, but it sounds awfully like one on China, especially the part about money chasing.

Everyone chases money to a degree, but it sometimes, make that often, feels like the chase for money here is much more earnest and relentless than anywhere, America included.

Anyways, social fabric refers to the basic structures of society, especially people-to-people relationships.

Fabric, you see, is basically a piece of cloth, made from knitting pieces of single threads together. You can, therefore, understand social fabric this way by taking people of different race, religion, culture as well as social institutions including the system of law, politics as pieces of threads. If the pieces are all closely and smoothly knitted together, you have what is ideally known here as a harmonious society, i.e. a society where people seamlessly and happily relate to one another.

The key in fabric is in the knitting whereas the key in society is in networking, or relationships, how people interact with each other.

When we say “our social fabric is deteriorating”, it's like saying the shirt we wear begins to go threadbare, you know, revealing loose ends here and there. If we don't repair the shirt by patching up the damaged parts, soon holes will emerge.

Likewise when the social fabric is deteriorating, society begins to go bad. People are less happy with each other – the key to society being social.

When the social fabric breaks down, crime, for instance, may be going up. Quarrels over race, religion and politics in general are getting more heated and people no longer trust each other or the government.

I think that's about it. When the social fabric breaks down, it makes the whole society look and feel bad and wretched.

All right, no more ado. Here are media examples of “social fabric”:

1. The Catholic bishops of the Central African Republic have warned the country's new leader that the society's “social fabric is completely torn.”

In a message to Michel Djotodia, the president of a transitional government, the bishops decried “the loss of human lives, and the rapes, looting, the burning of villages, the destruction of fields, violations and looting of private homes, families illegally dispossessed of their homes illegally occupied by a strong man or by an armed gang.” They also condemned environmental destruction, looting, and corruption by government officials.

The bishops saved their strongest condemnation for “the zeal and determination” with which the victorious rebel group Seleka has “desecrated Christian places of worship and looted the wealth of Christians.” The Church leaders pleaded with government leaders to bring stability to the nation, as the first requirement for talks about the country's future.

- Bishops condemn chaos, corruption, anti-Christian violence in Central African Republic,, June 25, 2013.

2. In a week when he tried to focus attention on the struggles of the middle class, President Barack Obama said in an interview that he was worried that years of widening income inequality and the lingering effects of the financial crisis had frayed the country's social fabric and undermined Americans' belief in opportunity.

Upward mobility, Obama said in a 40-minute interview with The New York Times, “was part and parcel of who we were as Americans.”

“And that's what's been eroding over the last 20, 30 years, well before the financial crisis,” he added.

- Income inequality fraying social fabric, Obama says,, July 27, 2013.

3. Three-year-old McKenzie Elliott was playing on her front porch in the afternoon when someone rode past on a bicycle and started shooting. A neighbor threw herself on top of Elliott to protect her, but she had already been hit.

Her murder, too, remains unsolved, though the police commissioner at the time, Anthony Batts, announced publicly in the days after Elliott's death that he expected to make an arrest within a week. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Batts earlier this month.

“I blame the neighborhood because somebody knows who did it,” said Elliott's godmother Tanya Watt. “There's a street code where you don't tell, but there's no rule when it comes to a three-year-old.”

She said her family is still struggling after Elliott's death. The girl's eight-year-old cousin, Khadin, sees a therapist. He likes to watch videos he made of his cousin, which he keeps stored on a portable player. He insisted on helping carry Elliott's tiny coffin at her funeral.

In May, the city renamed the street where she died McKenzie Elliott Way. Her relatives are unimpressed. They just want her killer found.

A year after their loved ones died, all five families are still struggling. Brown and Tales both think Baltimore's social fabric is too severely frayed to repair.

Academics who have studied the area and its entrenched problems agree that change won't come easily. Lawrence Brown, a professor at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, sees many of Baltimore's ills today as rooted in the city's legacy of strict segregation that began in the early 1900s.

“When you combine the psychological impact of racism, anti-blackness, economic conditions, red-lining, disinvestment,” he said, it's no wonder “we have a disproportionate rate of violence.”

- Three days, five killings and a year of pain in Baltimore, Reuters, July 30, 2015.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:Helen)

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