A friend of mine who lives in Shanghai wrote a quick WeChat update today:
which roughly translates to:
“Today is June 4th. Let’s pay homage to those young Chinese who perished in the cause of freedom and democracy.”
(For an in-depth article on June 4th, read “Let’s Talk About Tiananmen Square, 1989” and in Chinese, “且谈1989年的天安门事件.”)
Many of our readers’ reaction might be: “oh no, another idealist who is sold on the ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ religion!” Not so! In fact, there are many in China who use these two terms as a way to solidify grievances they have with Chinese society. They mainly see China as more backwards compared to richer countries like the United States. When asked what China is more backwards on? Many a response come as, “we have less freedom and democracy.”
The friend who wrote the above WeChat update lives in Shanghai, drives a Land Rover, owns his own business, and has the means to enjoy almost any amenity modern China has to offer, whenever he wants. Even by American standards, I would consider him “rich.” The freedom he enjoys is immense!
He is not interested in politics. He draws a clear line between 老百姓 and 政府. To him, politics is a career and a profession for which he thinks he has no patience for.
So, then, what does it mean when someone like him says there is a lack of “freedom and democracy?”
He offered two observations:
1.) Freedom: In China, people cannot as easily pursue any profession they want.
2.) Democracy: The government is inefficient, so one must build a network of relationships to expedite things along. Corruption is rampant among the rich and powerful. More democracy addresses these problems.
With respect to the first, sure, if there aren’t enough rich Chinese collecting art, then fewer Chinese get to become successful painters. The only way for Chinese society to afford more painters or anything else, generally, China simply must become more affluent. When opportunities are abound, you can collectively dream much bigger dreams. So, freedom is mostly a function of affluence and power isn’t it?
In regards to his second observation, well, government can be inefficient in general no matter the political system.
Democracy per se does not solve corruption. If we look at the United States, lobbying is corruption, but through propaganda, the public can be trained to not see it as such. Elites in America such as Wall Street is able to get the U.S. government to bail them out with tax dollars when they fail (look up TARP), while in preceding years they as individuals made millions gambling away public funds.
Requiring the government and those in power to publicly disclose more information to the public helps. But, again, be mindful that those control the mass media can always co-opt the public. In truth, the most optimal organization is that the public and its government strike a balance, a cooperative relationship where both sides work on true ills of society to better it.
So, in response to my friends WeChat update, I said:
Agreed. Let’s not forget the young Chinese who fought for more freedom and democracy. But let’s also not forget there are those who want to undermine your society by exploiting the discontent amongst you.
Back he wrote:
Let’s remember those at the June 4th protest as mostly the ones who genuinely want a better Chinese society – not the few pimped up and highlighted in the West who wants to topple it.