Live discussion of China’s supression of “New Youth Study Group”

Yesterday Philip Pan of the Washington Post held a live online discussion about his devastating account of how China crushed a harmless student group in 2000, sending four of its members to prison for 8- and 10-year terms. It’s worth taking a look at the questions and answers for a couple of reasons.

As a reporter for a mainstream newspaper, Pan was being extremely cautious in his replies, as he should, but it’s easy to see that he is disgusted not only with the machinations of the CCP, but also with the argument that change must only occur slowly and with “baby steps.”

Q. Shanghai, China: Political change can not be made overnight. I am afraid that the radical change appoach could do more harm than good in China. What do you think?
A. Philip P. Pan: A very good question, but of course, political change can happen overnight. It just might be painful. Personally, I agree that “radical change” could be difficult for a large and volatile country like China to handle. On the other hand, I think using that as an excuse not to embark on any political reform or to change too slowly can be just as harmful, perhaps even more so.

What a thrilling statement — “political change can happen overnight.” Going about it too slowly is possibly worse than doing it too fast.

Pan also says the oft-heard contention that the Chinese are not interested in human rights and that money is their primary concern is a falsehood.

I think it’s unfair to say that the vast majority of Chinese are unconcerned about stories like this as long as their incomes continue to increase. The sense of outrage is limited, though, because many Chinese are simply unaware of stories like this. They are not published in China’s state-run media, of course. The government has been very careful to prevent stories that cause a lot of outrage from getting too much media attention for fear of causing social instability. They’re quite good at it. Of course, keeping incomes rising (which is a challenge in itself) is an important part of the formula too…. There’s no doubt that the Chinese people are concerned about human rights.

The other point that struck me was Pan’s apparent belief that China could indeed shed itself of the CCP without imploding into civil war and/or anarchy; I was in complete agreement when he said that “devolution of power from the central government doesn’t necessarily have to lead to chaos and war. Some intellectuals here believe some type of federal system would be quite appropriate for as large and diverse a nation as China.”

He also confirmed another point I believe in, that pressure on the CCP works, and that there isn’t enough of it:

I think there’s little doubt the world has put pressure on China to change, and that China responds to such pressure. But there’s also little doubt that commercial interests have influenced the actions of foreign governments, and that the Chinese leadership knows this and uses it to its advantage.

There’s a whole lot there, and if you read carefully and read between the lines, you’ll see that this reporter has had it with the CCP. (Actually, just reading his original article that’s abundantly clear.) And note how when a questioner tries to credit the CCP for creating stability, he counters that the Chinese people are sensitive to the sins of their leaders, and the stability may not be as stable as it appears.

If you can read Chinese, Pan said that some of the study group’s essays are now posted on a mirror site. Please tell me after you look at them — did they deserve to spend the best years of their lives in prison?

You can find photographs and profiles of the students involved here. It really puts a human face on this sickening story.

NOTE: There were many comments to this post, and they were all deleted due to code problems. Apologies.

The Discussion: 2 Comments

As with so much that goes on in China, it’s a mistake to pay any attention to the reasons given for their imprisonment. In the years preceding the 1911 Revolution, student study groups were very active and they were influential in pushing public opinion that became dangerous to the regime … and it’s this that the government is afraid of. Really, from their point of view, with a knowledge of the ways the Qing Dynasty was brought down, this action is perfectly logical. It doesn’t make it any less terrible, or legitimise their rule … but it isn’t strange.

April 27, 2004 @ 8:03 am | Comment

0.3% and the Free Society

A fair bit of ink has been spilled either reporting or commenting on the recent anti-Japan riots that have occured in various cities across China the past couple of weeks.

April 13, 2005 @ 3:42 am | Comment

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