Is China Getting Better?

I really believe that Hu wants to improve things in China. I really believe there have been some encouraging signs. So why do some bloggers, like me, keep calling China on its iniquities instead of cheering on its reforms?

PRC News raises just this question:

My own experience of this country is that always pointing out how evil something or other is about China we always lose sight of the stories that actually have promise to make the kinds of changes that we so desire. No one is saying that fundamental changes and drastic reforms need to be made, but somewhere we need to find a kind of acceptance that China will never be a model for idealistic democracy, western models of justice, and probably never an open society in the way we know. To demand nothing less strikes me as being absurdly culturally arrogant.

That doesn’t mean we can’t express our anger and disappointment, but of far more interest will always be the emerging stories that threaten to change the very fabric of what we know to be the PRC, rather than just lambasting again and again the same faults of a country whose biggest domestic problem continues to be overpopulation rather than that often-cited evil: corruption.

Strong words. First, let me say that some of the reforms have been qenuine, but others (most?) have been on paper only. The actual deeds of the Party belie its intent to institute true reforms. More media freedom one day, crackdowns on Internet “abusers” the next. Greater freedom for the people to speak out, then this story today of exactly the opposite:

It [a human rights group] said some 85 Shanghai petitioners journeyed to the capital ahead of China’s October 1 National Day to press claims of compensation and unjust treatment that led to the downfall of Zhou Zhengyi, a flamboyant property tycoon under investigation for corruption.

Shanghai police detained the protesters at their Beijing hotel rooms and loaded them onto four buses early Tuesday and whisked them back to the eastern financial hub, Human Rights in China said in a statement seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The group quoted sources saying some of the detainees were physically abused and threatened. Police told them they would be held for 15 days and have to undergo ”training sessions” to reform their thinking, the U.S.-based group said.

As I’ve said before reform is as reform does. As long as this type of thing is still the norm, I can’t give a lot of credit to the CCP for its reforms.

And as far as lambasting them, all I can say is Why not? Lots of bloggers are lambasting Bush for his real or perceived iniquities. Why not the CCP? The fact that Bush may have done good things as well rarely comes into the conversation about Wilson – Plame, and really shouldn’t — those are separate conversations. Bush’s good leadership two years ago doesn’t take away from the apparent badness of the current scandals.

So when I see true reform I will praise it to the skies. But there are so many writers (and bloggers) already doing the praising, and not so many doing the criticizing. Believe it or not, I have actually read bloggers who say they are thrilled the CCP is in power. I’ve read some who would even point to Mao’s great achievements, with virtually no context or balance (like, um, 60 million dead bodies).

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to harvest the litany of the CCP’s sins, and balance it when appropriate with its achievements. It is something that for many reasons I feel passionate about; so do those blogging 24-7 about Bush’s evils in Iraq and elsewhere. Some do the same about Bill Clinton, which is their privilige (although to me they often seem deranged, going on about “body counts” and other nonsense).

Bottom line: Silence is what allows crimes to continue. It will only be noise — be it from half-million-man marches, human rights reports, news articles, people lighting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, and yes, bloggers — that will ultimately force the CCP to mend its ways. Silence equals death. So let’s keep up the volume on that which is blatantly evil.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Just read the post by Adam Morris. I certainly understand his take by “attempting to find the emerging stories” of real change in the PRC.

The problem is that the folks who people those stories ultimately pay some price, always, for that change.

I just wish he really could get below the radar and report the region without getting busted.

October 3, 2003 @ 8:11 am | Comment

Adam is talking nonsense.

He describes China as:

a country whose biggest domestic problem continues to be overpopulation rather than that often-cited evil: corruption.

That is exactly 100% wrong. People are an asset not a liability. Particularly a population as bright, resourceful and hadrworking as the Chinese. If China’s population has insufficient opportunities, that is because of the braindead, parasitic, corrupt elite draining the life from the economy and not because there are too many Chinese.

Were Adam’s analysis true, one would expect China’s most populated areas to be its poorest. Yet precisely the opposite is true.

Adam also writes:

China will never be a model for idealistic democracy, western models of justice, and probably never an open society in the way we know. To demand nothing less strikes me as being absurdly culturally arrogant.

Personally, its his willingness a perpetually enslaved China that I view as ‘culturally arrogant.’ As if the same natural and inalienable rights we hold, don’t equally apply to the Chinese.

October 3, 2003 @ 8:15 am | Comment

Conrad, I am with you 1,000 percent on this one. I always hear, “China has to take baby steps” or “You can’t impose Western-style Democracy on every culture.” Both points are true. But these human rights issues have been around for generations. The Nationals, once as brutal as the Communists and even more so, came around and got civilization; why can’t the Mainlanders? Easy answer: true checks and balances, true recognition of the rights of the individual, would drive the CCP out of power in a week.

October 3, 2003 @ 9:27 am | Comment

I guess I should not have been playing soft ball by being polite.

October 3, 2003 @ 11:44 am | Comment

In regard to your earlier post, Michael, getting “below the radar” is a hard thing for a foreigner to do in China. You just walk into a traditional Chinese environment and you can actually feel it in the air as everyone becomes aware of you, and behaves differently simply because of your presence. I’ve been many places, but none where I have felt so noticed for being of a different race. Hard to remain below the radar when everyody is looking at you, even those whose backs are turned.

October 3, 2003 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

I have to respond to Conrad, which I think has to be the most ridiculous counter-attack on any of my ideas I’ve seen in a while. I used the word overpopulation, and he took it too mean “too many people.” That’s not what overpopulation means. Overpopulation means there are too many people for given resources, not just too many bodies. Moreover, overpopulation has nothing to do with the quality of the people themsleves. I can’t believe I even have to explain this.

Anyway, Conrad, we can get into a nice little philosophical debate about those inalienable rights and what-not, but nothing about philosophical debates is as clear-cut as you seem to think. I think we can tell from my post that I don’t think those kinds of beliefs will ever apply to China. I am not saying that they won’t have human rights in the next incarnation of the PRC, just that they aren’t going to be what we’re used to thinking of them as. Hopefully we can keep that distinction in mind if we chose to debate that issue.

On getting “below the radar,” it’s impossible. Anyways, I’m not a reporter, and never will be. I’m just an ESL teacher with a lot of spare time on his hands. I call them as I see them.

October 4, 2003 @ 2:10 am | Comment

Adam, do you not see corruption as a massively serious problem in China? It is, after all, at the very heart of how and why the poor are brutalized — through obscene taxes that line the pockets of the local bureaucrat who imposes them, suppressing bad news (like AIDS and SARS) to look good and win Party favors…. But you know all that. To state that the main problem in China is overpopulation sure lets a lot of very bad people off the hook.

You may be right; human rights in China will perhaps never mirror those in America. Yet there are universal standards that most civilized countries that want to play on the global stage are expected to embrace. Since China wants to be a big global player, invite massive foreign investment, host the Olympics and play a leading role in the WTO, it has to demonstrate a degree of maturity and humanity. Not necessarily US-style democracy but fundamental human decency. It’s not so far-fetched or impossible. Stranger things have happened: Who would have believed 20 years ago Apartheid would be ended or the Berlin Wall be torn down? Change on such a masive scale is certainly possible, when there is the will and the courage to make it happen. It will never happen if we make excuses for the abuses and stop calling them to account.

October 4, 2003 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

Yes I see it as a massively serious problem. I just think overpopulation is a more serious one. My point was to put it in perspective, and not to downplay the corruption.

I never said we should stop calling them into account, nor do I think you should stop blogging the way you are. Just that I think your analysis could benefit from “my” perspective (or whatever).

October 4, 2003 @ 5:49 pm | Comment

But Adam, isn’t that why you have your site and richard has his?

October 9, 2003 @ 9:50 am | Comment

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