Yet more on Hu, the great reformer

UPDATE: I am asleep. For the second time this week I linked to stories I linked to earlier. it’s because I’m posting from work real fast this week, with some big things happening at my office. I promise to be more attentive once this week is over.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 21 Comments

Hey, isn’t The Standard piece a reprint of the Philip Pan article you commented on earlier this week?

April 28, 2005 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

Reporting (by the Western media at least) on China always gives me the impression that there are a handful of ‘opinion formers’ who influence the grand majority of all reports.

When Hu came to power, accepted wisdom was that he was a reformer, good guy, blah blah blah – and all the major media seemed to reflect that. Now we seem to be getting a *uniform* shift to reports that he’s a conservative, authoritarian, etc.

Is it just that you only need to convince a small number of ‘old China hands’ to get your opinion accepted as mainstream?

April 28, 2005 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

chengdude, you are right — I was at work and had only seconds to post, and didn’t realize it was the same story. I started by saying it was “more of the same” but only with your comment did I realize it was the exact same. Sorry; once this week is over I’ll come back to normal.

April 28, 2005 @ 8:27 pm | Comment

I don’t know, David — a lot of pro-CCP people and a lot of expat bloggers had very, very high hopes for Hu, and were pushing him as the great reformer. It was nearly ubiquitous.

April 28, 2005 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

I guess the hope for Hu is more due to the dislike of Jiang than the real understanding of Hu. It turns out Hu is on the left of Jiang.

Hu is an engineer. Compared with other professions, such as lawyer or novelist, engineer is more result-oriented and more skeptical about grand theme/idea. Unfortunately, few countries with political freedom without wealth are doing well.

Throughout chinese history, I mean pre-CCP history, reformers had mostly ended very badly. That history must be looming in Hu’s mind. My guess is that, Hu is trying to build a civil servant system to clean out corruption. He may think that he can redeem CCP if he can wipe out corruption.

April 28, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

There is an pretty interesting new article on China and Taiwan relation:

http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26603.shtml

It”s long, BTW.

April 29, 2005 @ 12:45 am | Comment

I read that New Left article yesterday – it’s great but I didn’t blog it, as it is a little too dense and esoteric.

Steve, I agree Hu is apparently intent on reducing corruption. The question is, must that be done at the expense of freedoms? Why does he have to actually go backwards in terms of censorship? Reducing freedom of speech actually makes corruption worse — much worse — because victims are effectively silenced. So I am going to make the claim that you can’t have one without the other. A silenced society is prone to corruption of the worst kind, because they cannot complain.

April 29, 2005 @ 8:01 am | Comment

Of course.

April 29, 2005 @ 8:53 am | Comment

“Reducing freedom of speech actually makes corruption worse — much worse”

Richard, I agree with you on this. My take is that, Hu tries to separate two kind of criticism. One is criticism against system in general; the other is criticism against specific measures, policy, or specific official. For the latter, Hu seems to try to accomodate and quickly make changes if he see needed. As to corrupt official, I have never seen any country jail so many govenor/minister level politician.

For the first, the criticism usually leads to one conclusion, i.e., CCP is the root of many problems and has to go. In that case, he crushes dissidents much quickly than Jiang.

Hu’s claims quoted by Washingtonpost does sound similar to the slogan from cultural revolution. However, his claimes does sound true, i.e., many foreign powers want to see China disintegrated and want to get rid of CCP. In that sense, he is not paranoid, just realistic.

April 29, 2005 @ 5:52 pm | Comment

I accept your point of view, Steve. But just because a lot of officials are in jail doesn’t necessarily mean Hu is succeeding against corruption. For many years China has been announcing dramatic crackdowns on corruption and parading jailed officials in front of the media. Yet there have so far been no changes. I believe it’s because the very nature of today’s Chinese government encourages officials to grab as much as they can through local taxes, graft and often blatant theft.

April 29, 2005 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

“I believe it’s because the very nature of today’s Chinese government encourages officials to grab as much as they can through local taxes, graft and often blatant theft.”

Your claim is an oversimplification. This kind of claim is very appealing and provocative to people who are frustrated, but not productive. The natural conclusion from this claim is that, the solution is that CCP has to go.

To be fair, I have never seen a poor democractic country without rampant corruption. India is a case in point, and the corruption in india is much more severe than that in China. Therefore the usual claim of democracy will reduce corruption is highly questionable.

People are economic animal, and they make decision based on risk and reward. Many times, the reward from corruption is so big, that its risk of punishment simply can not balance it. That can explain CCP’s approach, e.g., the recent jailing of many officials and the great increase of public servant salary.

This approach so far has not prove to be effective. But with rising living standards, the temptation of wealth from corruption will decline accordingly. I would love to hear a success story about how a poor country keep it clean of corruption.

April 30, 2005 @ 8:21 am | Comment

I don’t know if a poor country can be clean of corru[ption — no country can. I have said many times, as long as a government collects taxes and decides how land will be used, there will always be corruption in every society. it is a matter of degree. China’s system, with virtually no rule of law, allows corruption to flourish to incredible degrees, as we all learned from the recent stories from Hankantou.

April 30, 2005 @ 10:54 am | Comment

Corruption may be rampant in India too, but this is checked by the electorate’s ability to vote local officials out of office. Massive construction projects like the Narmada river dam was stopped in its tracts by protests, while the Yangtse river dam project was lining the pockets of too many bureaucrats who had no worries of ever facing voters at the polls.

April 30, 2005 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

schtickyrice,

You are mixing up two things here. Building a dam is not equal to corruption. There may be corruption occuring in dam construction, but the decision to build a dam alone is not a sign of corruption.

I understand many westerners had a grudge against building a dam. Actually, the same people are also against nuclear power, against coal plant polution, etc. But they have no solutions for energy problem. As demonstrated by recent energy shortage in China, building dam can dramatically reduce other type of polution and meet energy demand.

April 30, 2005 @ 8:41 pm | Comment

But Steve, a lot of these dam projects have gone ahead despite the fact that they don’t meet China’s own standards – I must say I was really heartened when Premier Wen halted a dozen or so projects for that very reason.

April 30, 2005 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

“a lot of these dam projects have gone ahead despite the fact that they don’t meet China’s own standards”

The decision of constructing a dam is extremely complex, and is a trade-off of many interest.

When three gorge dam decison was discussed, oil price is about $10 and electricity supply in China is in surplus. Many experts used those data to against dam construction. Now oil is at $50 and electricity is in shortage.

Therefore infrastructure construction is a function of many uncertainties. I understand the approach of china carries enormous risk. But instead of doing nothing as in India, I prefer action.

May 1, 2005 @ 8:51 am | Comment

The problem with a lot of these dams is that, not only do they wreak environmental havoc, many are projected to have extremely short lifespans because of the silting that will pile up behind them. You have to ask yourself if the long-term devastation is worth the very short-term gain in electrical power (along with the money it puts into certain peoples’ pockets).

there are no easy answers for any of us in dealing with the world’s energy needs, but I was also heartened by China’s vow to move to renewable sources – 10% by 2010. I hope this happens.

May 1, 2005 @ 12:59 pm | Comment

I agree with you that many infrastructure had its negative impact on environment. The question is whether those problems can be mitigated and whether they should be a deciding factor.

Water electrticity can be a good renewable energy if managed correctly. For example, Hoover Dam has been a successful story and has benefited US greatly.

The problem with CCP is that, it inherited a bad reputation from Mao’s time. After revolution, the majority of party member are illterated young man from poor peasant family who looked down upon intellectuals. Ignorant of science and religiously crazy about ideology lead to multiple disasters.

As the old generation phase out, the new generation is better educated. Still, for big public project, the rationale needs to be questioned and examined, but should not be dropped simply due to concerns of corruption and environment.

May 1, 2005 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

Steve, you may be interested in reading this interview with China’s Deputy Minister of the Environment, Pan Yue. He seems like a very impressive official. He addresses the consequences of China’s environmental problems and how this could impact China’s growth and development.

http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,345694,00.html

May 1, 2005 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

Great thread.

It reminded me of this time last year when my company sent me to Nong Khai in Thailand for a week. I managed to drive out and see various parts of the Mekong River.

It was very sad to see that water levels have dropped to about half or perhaps slightly less than half.

My Thai is very basic but the people their told me that the water levels have being dropping since China started to build dams up river and syphon off water on their side of the border.

From what I’ve since read, dam construction is set to continue in China. It’s extremely sad to see the massive effect China’s recent increased demand for water is having down river re river communites, fishermen and river life.

China appears to take the view that the water on their side of the border belongs to China and refuses to discuss the death of the Mekong with Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

May 3, 2005 @ 7:29 am | Comment

China’s dams from Mao to now aer one of the key players in China’s overall environmental tragedy. Mao loved to believe he could tame nature, whether it was sparrows or the Yangtze. What a curse.

May 3, 2005 @ 1:25 pm | Comment

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