There has been terrible violence in India’s Assam region recently and the violence has spread to other parts of India. Since this is a blog on China, not India, I am not going to dig too much into the cause or even meaning of the riots. But I do want to point out the relatively “favorable” coverage India is getting.
In almost all reports I see, India is cast as the force of stability (and humanity), with the forces of conniving politicians and ethnic-based politics the root of instability. By comparison, when ethnic violence occurs in China, the opposite story is told, with ethnic-based politics held in high regard (under the guise of “human rights”) and any efforts to stabilize the situation seen as somehow oppressive and barbaric.
You see this fairly uniformly across Western media in all Western countries, including even self-professed “independent” news sources such as the global post. Here is a recent article global post had on Tibetan self immolations – which place the blame squarely on China. The Tibetans who burned themselves – and by extension the Tibetans who rioted in 2008 – were seen as oppressed people who had a right to riot, to fight back and were cheered on for their presumptive courage. There was never a reference to the official Chinese perspective on what’s really going on. Continue reading Riots in Assam→
This blog will essentially be a second part to the important discussions Allen and raventhorn started about democracy. I will present a philosophical discussion so that we may better think from a different and deeper perspective about this notion than everyday people may be used to by looking at its fundamental structure.
This is the full session between Niall Ferguson and James Fallows at the recently held Aspen Ideas Festival. Allen had posted excepts and we promised you the complete discussion as soon as it became available. Niall Ferguson had coined the term “Chimerica” to describe the symbiotic relationship between the economies of China and the United States. He currently sees this relationship as being in jeopardy, while James Fallows feels the relationship is far stronger the most realize. This video is slightly over 75 minutes.
Events of the last week in Iran have been widely reported by the world press. Not long before, the press also reported on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. Were these two distinct events reported in a similar manner or were they treated as different and unique events? Let’s take a look at each and see what we can find.
1) Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
Based on the coverage I’ve seen, both governments were cast as being in the wrong and both protest movements as in the right. In the case of China, the government sent in tanks and used live ammunition to break up a protest movement that was alleged to have turned violent. Most of the reporters in the world press were located in or near the same area, and their reports reflected what occurred in that vicinity. Analyzes of this event in most cases pointed to the government as the culprit and the demonstrators as being victims and responding in a suitable fashion. Is this an accurate assessment? The Chinese government attempted to confiscate film of the event from foreign sources but those attempts were successfully evaded in most instances.
In our Dalai Lama Warns of Looming Violence thread, Wukailong linked to this essaycovering three political scenarios that China might face in the year 2020. The author, Cheng Li is Senior Fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution and William R. Kenan Professor of Government at Hamilton College. His summary is as follows:
[NOTE] This is a translation of a report filed by (王和岩) Wang Heyan in (财经网) Caijing Net two days ago. The content of this report has been making quick rounds in various Chinese Internet forums. It was also picked by othernewsmedias.
The Communist Party Group of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) is staying at the Friendship Hotel. The members of this group are mostly current and former chairmen of CPPCC at province, city and regional levels. They are all experienced officials. [Note: CPPCC is generally where officials are parked after losing or retiring from power (i.e., active party or government positions).] Since they are no longer in the administrative structure and are not constrained in what they can say as before, I had high hopes to dig out something interesting from them.
However, things didn’t exactly go as I planned. Even though they are no longer in power, they kept their arrogance dignity intact, and are simply inaccessible.
In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, a “bottleneck lake” (堰塞湖) formed as a river was blocked by a landslide. Collapse of the dam posed a tremendous danger to those down-stream community, and the Chinese government spent huge resources and risked many lives to erase the lake.
Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang started a mini-landslide of his own, when 3 days ago he spoke to a group of Communist Party cadres at a training course (连接):
We must make democracy a value to be pursued. In governing, we must make sure we use democracy, defend democracy, secure democracy, and develop democracy. We must be sufficiently respectful of, and also open up expressions of popular opinion. We absolutely can not block popular opinion, and form a “bottleneck-on-speech lake” (言塞湖). We must use democratic methods to continuously improve and expand democracy within the Party, and push forward social democracy. We must self-consciously nurture democratic habits, learn to listen and tolerate, and use democratic methods to unite people.
Beijing will set up specially designated zones for protesters during next month’s Olympics … Liu Shaowu, director for security for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, said Wednesday that areas in at least three public parks near outlying sporting venues have been set aside for use by demonstrators.
Two months ago, major Western newspapers ran stories on laywers Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao. These two have been working in the “rights defense” (维权) movement in China. Both have received extensive overseas praise and attention for their work defending dissidents and FLG practictioners. Both also offered to defend Tibetans implicated in the March riots.
It all culminated in these articles at the beginning of June. I won’t bother quoting from the articles; the titles are pretty self-explanatory:
The articles largely agree in content, and are basically copied directly from press releases from activist dissident groups: the two lawyers were denied their licenses for political reasons, authoritarian China, no sign of reform, etc, etc…
Well, we’ve learned more about their situations since. However, the Western media doesn’t seem very interested in telling the rest of the story. We’ll just have to discuss it here.
As the Internet has gained in influence in China, the “human search engine” and “internet mob” has also made itself increasingly known. We’ve discussed several such stories here, including the case of Wang Qianyuan. In the past, some unknown government bureau might have simply issued an edict banning this behavior… but in a hopeful sign of the maturing legal system in China, senior judges are discussing how to deal with a lawsuit related to one such incident.
ESWN provides background on the case of Jiang Yan, and her husband Wang Fei. Jiang Yan committed suicide in the last few days of 2007, and that’s where the story begins. The full story of her husband’s affair and cruelty was described on numerous internet sites by Jiang Yan’s sister and friends. The human search engine and internet mob went into action, harassing Wang Fei and family at work and at home.
Rather than just disappearing, Wang Fei has filed a lawsuit against three Internet sites and one of Jiang Yan’s friends. I’m not going to get into the titillating details, but here’s an update from the China Youth Daily on the lawsuit (连接):
This reporter has learned that after the third hearing on the “first human search engine case”, the Beijing Chaoyang District Court has called a conference of senior judges. 54 senior judges have begun heated discussions on the topic.
Southwestern Guizhou province is again in the news, but this time for a good reason. Roland at ESWN translates a Xinhua article on China’s on-going experimentation with political reform as seen in the city of Guiyang. Guiyang is trying to appoint party secretaries to four districts and counties, and chose to do so in a more transparent, democratic way.
What exactly is the experiment? It’s not Western democracy, but it’s also not business as usual. A CCTV report (video below) explains the process:
82 candidates were publicly nominated for the four positions; 81 of them passed the initial screening process.
a conference made up of “responsible figures” in the Guiyang city government, and Party representatives from different industries select five candidates for each position, 20 candidates in all.
these 20 candidates appeared at a public conference, widely broadcast via TV and internet, and were graded for their performance. The candidates gave speeches, debated, and answered questions posed by the public.
the 8 candidates (two per district) with the highest grades were selected to go on. The grading is broken down this way: “democratic nomination” (20%), “research report” (20%), “public speech and debate” (20%), “public opinion” (30%), “estimate of leadership capability” (10%).
the final selection between these two candidates per district is made by the local People’s Congress.
Chinese president Hu Jintao’s brief appearance on the Strong Country internet forum might be more significant than most of us originally thought. There have been other signs in recent weeks that the PRC government is reconsidering its approach to Internet speech. I translate a story (原文), just published in the China Youth Daily (中国青年报, operated by the Communist Youth League).
Zhuzhou Discipline Party Secretary goes online with his real name – Angry enough to smash his keyboard, but too afraid to curse.
Yang Ping is party secretary of the Discipline Committee, in the city of Zhuzhou, Hunan province. Recently, he got a new nickname. It all started on an internet forum he started to frequent. The netizens there began to call him “classmate Yang Ping”. Gradually, even his friends began to refer to him this way.
He never thought that he’d get this kind of nickname at the age of 47. He also never thought that, since he started going online with his real name in May, he would be seeing changes beyond his nickname.
The other headline story in China over the last week has been the murder of 6 police officers in Shanghai. Yang Jia, an unemployed man originally from Beijing, attacked a public security office building, stabbing to death 6 officers.
All of this happened just as the Weng’an riot story itself became white hot, and the Chinese internet response was predictably extreme (and in my opinion, disgusting). After seeing local injustices, some Chinese netizens basically celebrated the attacks on the police. Yang was often described as one of the Robin Hood-type heroes forced to rebel in Outlaws of the Marsh (水浒传). Many simply assumed Yang acted for a reason, that previous police abuse was the reason for his anger; a rumor was spread that Yang had been beaten so badly his sex organs were injured.
The Shanghai public security ministry has been placed on the defensive, forced to explain whether Yang Jia was “justified” in his attack. Yesterday, Shanghai issued a 6-hour recording from an encounter last October, apparently the seed of Yang Jia’s anger (连接). Part of the transcript is translated below:
After a series of horn blasts, a middle aged man with a Shanghai accent (police officer) begins a dialog with a young man with a Beijing accent (Yang Jia).
Officer: Hey pal, please stop your bicycle for an examination!
Yang Jia: There are so many people on the road, why are you picking on me?
Our guest Youzi has given us a kernel for further discussion in one of his comments:
And even within China, between different provinces and peoples are tremendous psychological differences, perhaps even greater than those between two countries. As time has passed, as the people’s living standards have grown and as awareness of personal rights has woken… if the traditional methods of political pressure and thought control are used, it’s already become very difficult to maintain the China unity and a sense of belong to the Chinese people. The government has observed this point, but unless it implements effective political reform that respects and tolerates the interests of different groups of people, it will not resolve this fundamental problem simply by waving the worn-down flags of patriotism and nationalism.
I don’t think we disagree on this point, but I think Youzi goes a bit far to berate some of us for suggesting that an “awareness of personal rights” alone and a shallow understanding of “fighting for personal rights” without civic values and respect for law is a recipe for disaster. It’s a two way street. What makes “Western-style democracy” tick isn’t the prescription of “freedom, democracy, and rule of law”, but the deeply ingrained sense in every single citizen that their interests lie in their responsibility to and stewardship of the country, its institutions, and values, of which such rights are a part — in short, true patriotism. That prevents people from ripping the constitution apart when they don’t get their way. Sad to say, China isn’t there yet.
So what are “effective political reform that respects and tolerates the interests of different groups of people” at this stage? Well, there is a model and there is dynamics. Nobody is sitting idly on their hands. I want to direct our readers to this article in Foreign Affairs earlier this year titled
The vast majority of Chinese favor and support the “opening up and reform” period started in 1978. But many are also very nostalgic for the Mao era, a time when equality was guaranteed, a time when socialism in China was far more than just a hypothetical. One simple example is translated below.
This article has been spread around numerous Chinese forums, actual origin not clear. (原贴)
I was born in 1954, in a village in Shandong province. I have a sister, and our parents are also peasant farmers. I want to start by talking about the prices of agricultural goods, starting with wheat as an example. From 1970 – 1980, the market price for wheat was: 0.35 RMB/shijin (ed: 0.5 kg), later growing to 0.35 RMB/shijing. The cost of things didn’t really change, it was very stable during this period. So the problem I want to discuss is, when a farmer sells a half kilogram of wheat on the market, what can he do with that money? Continue reading Prices in the Mao era – a peasant's view→
With the Olympics only months away, the spotlight is definitely shining on China now. There have been many talks and documentaries on China and Chinese society like we mentioned. Here is another one. PBS’s Frontline just released a new documentary called Young & Restless in China, which bills itself as
An intimate look into the lives of nine young Chinese, coming of age in a society that’s changing at breathtaking place.
You can view it online. It is worth a look, even if it offers a few limited cut-away views, rather than a cross-section, but they did try to pick “ordinary” people.
While looking into the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (which deserves a blog post of its own), I came across these interesting results highlighted by Pew, with the title ‘Few in China Complain About Internet Controls‘. This survey was conducted in 2007:
Over four years of tracking user reaction, trust in the reliability of online content has fallen by one-half, from 52% in 2003 to 26% now.
Only about one-third of internet users (30%) said they considered online content reliable.5
An overwhelming number of Chinese, almost 84%, agreed that the internet should be controlled or managed.
Since 2005, the percentage of users who say that online content about “politics” should be controlled or managed jumped from 8% to 41%, by far the biggest increase of any items tested.
It’s fair to wonder whether the survey is fully representative. After looking at the methodology in detail (pdf) (which polled 2000 urban residents in 5 cities), I think these numbers do give us at least a fuzzy picture of common trends.
This all tells me that perhaps we shouldn’t expect much liberalization online in the near future. There’s just too little popular demand for it.
A report out of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper suggests that as a form of political liberalization, Beijing is considering the establishment of a “petitioner’s district” zone in Beijing, a free speech zone similar to London’s famous Hyde Park. The intent is to manage possible public dissent during the Beijing Olympics. The report (文章, translation below) only mentions an anonymous source in Beijing, so take it with a bucket of salt.
For those not familiar with the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, it is by tradition an area where anyone can speak publicly on any subject at any time, without requiring government permit or approval. Perhaps someone more familiar with British politics can fill us in on details; Wikipedia mentions a previous attempt to block an Iraq War protest? Continue reading Beijing considering a Speaker's Corner?→
It is early June, and the minds of many Chinese again return to the tragic political upheaval of 1989. Over the next few days, we will translate a number of messages that tries to capture our conflicted feelings towards that violent summer. We especially welcome submissions from those with first-person memory of 1989.
He Xin (何新) is a noted Chinese scholar from the ’80s, variously labeled as “neo-conservative” or “ultra-nationalist” by Western analysts. Before and after June of 1989, he was attacked from both the left and the right: the left accused him of fomenting a coup alongside the students, and the right attacked him for being a “running dog” of the Communist Party for opposing the protests.
Below is a translation of the speech he delivered to the 1990 graduating class at Beijing University. He was received in a very hostile way, but spoke candidly of the reasons why he opposed the Tiananmen protests. Everything from this transcript is interesting; keep in mind the timing of the speech, and the (hostile) reactions of the Beida crowd… it gives us a flavor of China during the late 80s. Nineteen years later, a significant number of young Chinese believe He Xin made excellent points about the protests.
In the deluge of earthquake news, something like this that affects daily life in China has managed to slip under the radar.
This article describes a situation that people in China are already aware of. At least in Shanghai, it’s said that an extra charge will be imposed to get your goods in those familiar plastic grocery bags.
The Chinese government is set to ban the manufacture and force shopkeepers to charge for the distribution of bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters thick as of June 1.
The Chinese government is banning production and distribution of the thinnest plastic bags in a bid to curb the white pollution that is taking over the countryside. The bags are also banned from all forms of public transportation and “scenic locations.” The move may save as much as 37 million barrels of oil currently used to produce the plastic totes, according to China Trade News. Already, the nation’s largest producer of such thin plastic bags, Huaqiang, has shut down its operations.
The effort comes amid growing environmental awareness among the Chinese people and mimics similar efforts in countries like Bangladesh and Ireland as well as the city of San Francisco, though efforts to replicate that ban in other U.S. municipalities have foundered in the face of opposition from plastic manufacturers.
The last sentence is ironic. China is no stranger to big government regulations, of course, but one can’t argue with the efficiency with which it can operate.
This article from the IHT inspires me to write about a topic that’s been on my mind in recent months. The article is about the well-known Tibetan-Chinese writer Woeser. The title of the article alone gives you a pretty good idea of what its going to say: “Tibetan writer alleges harassment by Chinese police…” Woeser lives in Beijing, and is the daughter of a Han Chinese People’s Liberation Army general and a Tibetan woman. She also happens to be wife of Wang Lixiong (discussed previously). She has written extensively about Tibetan issues for years, both in print and on her blog.
A more detailed feature on Woeser comes to us from the Washington Post, which has also kindly provided a platform for other Chinese voices: Wang Qianyuan, Yang Jianli. I don’t think it takes too much brain-power to guess the criteria by which the Washington Post selects its Chinese guest editorialists. Of course, I think it’s fair to say these three voices represent probably millions of Chinese voices, so I certainly understand the Western media’s right to feature their stories. My only question is… when will they give print real estate to Chinese voice that can speak for the other hundreds of millions of Chinese that disagree with them fervently?
All of this adds up to one question about the status of political dissidents in China: is the glass half-full, or is the glass completely empty?
Many in the West appear unaware that the Chinese political system is reforming itself… (it might be more accurate to say many in the West see the political system in China as old Communists waving their hands and issuing imperial edicts.) The truth is, although the pace of this reform is painfully slow compared to economic reforms, it is happening.
One of the more significant chapters in Chinese political reform might be opening in front of us.
The city of Shenzhen has recently released a document providing an overview of political reforms over the next few years. It’s not detailed enough to be called a plan, but it’s a strategic road-map of what Shenzhen hopes to achieve. It doesn’t look like Western (or Taiwanese) democracy, but it’s a step towards finding compromise reforms without risking instability. And at the end of this road-map lies competitive elections for the position of mayor. Other positions to be competitively elected along the way include district-chiefs, bureau-chiefs, and representatives to the People’s Congress.
Transparency in government remains one of the major obstacles in China’s social and political reform. The Communist Party has publicly acknowledged the need for more transparency; only in the last 3-5 years has government offices at every level around the country begun to add press departments, issue press releases, and hold regularly press conferences. But this is only one step in government transparency.
The next little step might be the “Government Release of Information” regulation (中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例) issued by the State Council in January of 2007. This regulation went into effect on May 1st of this year, 2008. The regulation requires administrative government offices go through a formal process in terms of processing, analyzing, and finally releasing various types of information (including budgets, planning decisions, details on government expenditures, etc) to the public.
This article from the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly gives us some idea of how this regulation might change the way Chinese government offices does business.
The Christian Science Monitor has an article on the historical links between the Olympics and politics. It’s mostly a repetition of what other articles have said, but there are a few interesting quotes.
Similarities stop there, however, says Susan Brownell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, currently in Beijing studying Chinese preparations for the Olympics. In the Olympic education campaign that the authorities have been running from primary school level to university, she says, “the Communist party is almost never mentioned, and nor is socialism.”
This is something most Chinese recognize. The government hasn’t made these games about the Communist party; only foreign activists have done that. From our point of view, we are looking to celebrate our country’s remarkable progress over the past 30 years. These Olympics are Beijing’s Olympics, the Chinese people’s Olympics… not the Communist Party’s Olympics.
This is also precisely why there such genuine grassroots anger and frustration from average Chinese that our Olympics have been threatened and abused by overseas activists.