The Chinese Peasant Survey trial

Thanks to a commenter for pointing me to a great articlce by Philip Pan on the libel trial against the authors of Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha. It reads like a courtroom drama, though it’s about much more than this case — it’s about the changing face of justice in China and a peasantry that’s mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore.

While it is a great sign that this trial is happening at all, any joy you might feel will be greatly tempered by the descriptions of the peasant’s misery at the hands of corrupt officials.

Please read this article. You will not be disappointed.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

Hi Richard, thanks for blogging. I read you were down in the dumps earlier this year and you wondered why you bother at all. I’ve been reading your website this past year and I want to thank you for doing it! Great stuff. 🙂

And yes, I was not disappointed with this article. Great news. Is there a verdict yet?

December 28, 2004 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

Richard, maybe you have heard from your Chinese friends already, but as a Chinese I still have to say, if you want to understand China more, you have to know more Chinese history, say the last 200 years, not to burden you too much.

But you have to understand how China arrived today, before you want to measure China up to your ideal world or even the US.

By the way, I was born and raised in China, then moved to the US in late teen and lived for more than a decade. You don’t understand how much China has tried in the past 100 years to find a way to barely survive and the absolute hell several generations of Chinese went through. And then you take a look at today.

China has tried quite few times of abrupt social changes in recent history, many times as if a penincea for all social ills was so obvious and right ahead. Well the results were not encouraging.

The past 20 years was unprecedent (read abnormal) in recent Chinese history. Yes there are so much social ill and vise in China today, but majority of Chinese don’t want to rock the boat, especially things are moving in the right direction, and given the last episode of such abrupt change played out in former USSR.

Given China’s huge population and constraints of scarce resource to achieve such speed of progress is miraculous.

I feel the pain of the peasants no less than you, but I have to say the change will be gradual. I agree there should be external pressure on the leadership, actually the leadership is already under enormous pressure to move forward on every front.

At the end, I don’t know if you have lived in an American inner city slum to see all the social ill and vise of America. It’s not just Iraq or Afgahnistan.

December 29, 2004 @ 10:16 pm | Comment

BL, I know all about the suffering, I promise. I have read book after book about it, and seen some of it for myself. And much of that suffering was brought on by Mao. Not all — there were many external sources of pain for China, of course. And I know change will be slow. So I am very happy to see this story about the trial — it is a good sign that justice is improving in China. But there is still too much injustice and brutality against the poor rural Chinese, and I get very upset about it.

December 30, 2004 @ 6:57 am | Comment

I disagree with you that most of the suffering of China is brought by Chairman Mao. I suspect you read most history in English. So you have a very Western/Anglo perspective of Chinese history.

I would encourage you read more in Chinese and try to see it from a Chinese perspective.

Here is my take on recent Chinese history. Between 1842-1911, China struggled with dyansty tradition and Western influence (a Republic). So much strife, so many defeat and chaos, Optium wars, Boxer uprise, Taiping uprise, numorous defeats with western powers and Japan.

This period all Chinese hated the cruelty and greet of west/Japan. But progressive Chinese admired its military and political structure, even enlisted the western help to overthrow the dyansty; the conservatives still believe in good old dynasty tradition. Both struggled to take lead in China. Hundreds of millions Chinese died, but it’s not a hot topic to be investigated in detail among western historians. You can’t read much.

1911-1918, the Republic first brought moments of estacy, then civil wars among factions backed by verious foreign powers, non-stop fighting and more chaotic than dynasty period. Then Versaille Treaty 1918, betrayed Chinese progressives trust in of the West. Communism (newest model) was the talk of the day for the progressive Chinese nationalists. Believe me Chairman Mao is not a communist, he is a ultra-nationalist at heart.

Without a united China, nothing would happen, China would just disintegrate into total anarchy, and eventually stop exist, becoming colonies of various western powers, much like Middle East after Ottom Empire. So the Communists saved China, this is no slogan, I speak from the bottom of my heart, as I look with grief the millions suffer in Middle East.

From 1049-1979, it was a tragety. The Communists flush in their victory, believing their have taken hold of the truth, blindly practices Soviet-style communism, in the hope to catch up with the leading nations in the world, returning China to the prominence asap. After all, that was what had them started in the first place.

The arrogence of the Party resulted in unspokable human tragety, in turn resulted disagreement upon the direction of future. Chairman Mao made mistakes in insisting his way, tragety and chaos continued in much of the mid 60’s to mid 70’s.

Mr. Deng came to power after Chairman’s death. He had learned from the events in the 60’s 70’s. Mr. Deng lead China with his vision, which has been carried out to this day. China finally gained some footing. Yet the experience after 1949 has generated so much cynicism in China till this day.

Since mid 90’s up till ’02, ’03, China had again been searching for a new vision. The Western vision is rejected by majority of Chinese, but is only promoted by a few (I call them radicals/extremists, AKA dissidents in the west). The experience of early Repulican China and recent international politics of the West— the US in particular, brings doubts on even the intention of such proposal, least the merit of it.

I am sorry to say that. I sincerely believe you and many of westers been to China, who have no ill will for China, but only good intentions. I very much appreciate that. Yet the American political elite is a totally different story. I serious doubt they have any good will toward China at all. I believe this is almost consenus among Chinese, tell me if I am wrong.

Getting back to vision issue. Personally I believe the new leadership has brought in a new vision, and it’s being implemented as we are speaking. It’s a vision for the 21th century China. I am grateful for the visions of Chairman Mao and Mr. Deng, and I am hopeful for Mr. Hu. This trial is a sign and only a beginning.

To write all this to you, is because I appreciate your goodwill to China and its people. I want to share with you my view from a Chinese perspective.

December 30, 2004 @ 11:08 am | Comment

BL, I appreciate your comment and I agree with most of it. Your assessment is fairly similar to my own. I do disagree, however, on giving Mao any credit for his vision for China. Deng, yes; Mao, no. And while I still am hoping Hu will demonstrate his own vision and a willingness to stick to his promises of reform, I have no reason yet to be optimistic. (To understand the reasons I say this, you may want to read this detailed post I wrote after leaving China.)

I tend to agree with you about the US government not having good intentions for China, at least under the current administration. I am getting a strong sense that the Bush people believe China is emerging as a true military threat, and that the US government is going to be increasingly hostile toward China, which would be a shame.

December 30, 2004 @ 11:20 am | Comment

Joann, sorry for not replying to your question; the answer is still no, there hasn’t been a verdict. Obviously they are terrified of coming to any decision, as they will have to deeply offend either the corrupt officials or the exploited peasantry. Either way, it will be ugly.

December 30, 2004 @ 11:21 am | Comment

Richard, about suffering of rural Chinese. I was born in a city, I have experience first hand, but when I read those accounts, I burst in tears for the injustice and butality.

I hope all this can be changed overnight. But the probability that a revolution or coup may brought more suffering is much higher than relief to those peasants and others. I understand your feelings, recent history has planty of warnings.

December 30, 2004 @ 11:35 am | Comment

Sorry Richard, I replied last time without having read your comments.

My taking on Chairman Mao, first I was born in early ’70s. I didn’t personally experience first hand living under the Mao era.

But I grateful for his leadership in establishing a unified China that is able to defend itself militarily. This is no small feat when you look back the recent Chinese history. He made it at all possible for the Chinese to make decisions for China.

from 1840’s-1940’s there was so much foreign interest involved in Chinese domestic policy making. I doubt it’s in west/Japan’s interest to see a unified and assertive China. So they would do everything possible to hold China back. Without true independence, China can never really make progress.

Chairman Mao would not listen to the west, yet when the Soviets tried to make China a puppt regiem, he refused again. Through his leadership China for the first time in recent history broke off the shackle of western domination backed up by nuclear and missile capabilities. That was his vision, Chairman Mao made it a reality. I am grateful for his leadership.

I am not a militaristic type of person, but I believe without necessary hardware and earlier wars, China could never have peace and be able to concentrate on domestic affairs.

The mistakes Chairman Mao made was huge in scale and in terms of suffering. yet I am willing to forgive him, it was not a crime of heart. He wanted to rush China into a first class country and failed. He had a wrong vision in this case. There is nothing to compare with death of millions more and suffering decades longer had Chairman Mao not existed in history.

Then there is the actaully number of people died in such tragety. This tragety in 1960’s, compared to the wrongful death of tens of millions from 1840’s to 1940’s, has become one of the favorate topic of western scholars. Maybe, just maybe the west has blood on its hands before 1949, sorry, I become cynical here.

I believe western scholars some of them out of concern for Chinese people, yet some of them are likely funded by conservative fundations or even CIA to exploit this topic to exaggerate the number of deaths, to discredit CPC and Chairman Mao. More or less like the propaganda campaign they waged against USSR. I have to say I was never a serious defender of Chairman Mao, before I realized this point.

Especially there was such a lack of accurate data for such period from CCP. I don’t believe either CCP nor the west media/scholar. Yet after looking into recent history from all sources, I decided to defend Chairman Mao. If I can’t investigate myself, between CCP and west media, without any information, I tend to lean toward CCP more, even though I am fully aware CCP is no angel.

I respect your opinion, I guess I understand how you got there. The above is my humble opinion on Chairman Mao, I think I need to tell you why. I guess we always carry personal bias.

December 30, 2004 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

To take another angle at this. I don’t like Mao very much, and I think the whole Communist revolution was perhaps a mistake. But the past is past, and you don’t fix the mistake of making one revolution by having another one. What happens after a revolution is that you end up with chaos and disorder and new leaders that aren’t necessarily better or could possibly be much worse than the old ones.

Having said this, I’m pretty optimistic about China’s future. If you went to the late 19th century United States, you could take similar pictures of poverty, sweatshops, and robber barons. It’s just a consequence of this stage of economic development, and it has happened enough before that things will be much better in about 20 years or so. As long as the Chinese economy grows, these problems will resolve themselves.

The *big* problem is the parts of the world like the Middle East and Africa where the economy isn’t growing.

January 2, 2005 @ 2:52 am | Comment


It’s great to reveal your affection for great leader Chairman Mao. It’s really easy for us to understand the mindset of neo-Nazis, who admire Adolf Hitler that made German people proud, and ‘never listened to the West’, isn’t it?

Did you confess it to your imigration officer?

January 2, 2005 @ 7:32 am | Comment

Joseph, I don’t fully agree with you. The US had its robber barons, but it had an overwhelming majority of middle class citizens who voted and paid taxes and had political strength. Through their courts, they could demand that Rockefeller break up Standard Oil. They could demand union wages for exploited workers. I see no such capabilities in China, though a trial like this one gives me a glimmer of hope — at least the peasants’ story is being heard! But without rule of law and a free press, China will only go so far. And ultimately, they could well be threatened by total revolution if there is ever a major economic crisis, like a run on the banks or mass famine. Thus the obsession with harmony and a controlled press. But when people or hungry or lose their life savings, they don’t give a damn about harmony, and they are capable of revolution.

January 2, 2005 @ 11:57 am | Comment


maybe you can help bellevue to track me down, so bellevue can have a meeting with the “immigration office” to provide information regarding my “confession.”

bellevue, are the thought police on sftaff with immigration service? What you said is a disgrace to yourself and your professed believe in democracy.

January 2, 2005 @ 3:18 pm | Comment


Again, you get me wrong. It’s free to believe that Stalin and Mao are your personal saviors. It’s a free country. But it’s also a country ruled by law. The immigration law says you are required to disclose your previous (and current) affiliation to Nazi and Communist organizations. Failing to do so can result in deprivation of your hard earned US citizenship.

If you have a problem with it, you can write to your congressman to voice your grief. Who knows, maybe that regulation will be changed to accommodate your political belief.

January 4, 2005 @ 2:46 am | Comment

This bellevue is a very nasty McCarthyite. The Thought Police hasn’t completely taken over the US yet, and bellevue is but an overzealous vigilante.
I tried looking up CREDIBLE sources for the citation of the dead under Mao, but in fact, no one ever conducted a population census to arrive at wild estimates of tens of millions.

I think the best way to go about this is to ask as many Chinese as possible how many of their family memebers have died during WWII, how many have died under Mao. My own experience with this enquiry is that many had family members killed by the Japanese, but none directly under Mao, although they had suffered.

July 5, 2005 @ 4:58 am | Comment

The estimates are based on the famously good records kept by the CCP. You can read about this in Becker’s masterpiece, Hungry Ghosts. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

July 5, 2005 @ 7:15 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.