Turning Point?

cross-posted at the paper tiger

The LA Times files its report on Dongzhou today. Much of the information is similar to the accounts posted below. But the story asks an essential question, the answer to which I believe will profoundly affect China’s immediate future – and specifically, the future of the Hu/Wen administration and perhaps the CCP’s continued monopoly on political power:

Residents said the police who opened fired Tuesday appeared to be from the area, but reinforcements sent later were outsiders equipped with armor, shields and machine guns. Experts said it was unclear whether local police had panicked and exceeded their authority, or whether there had been a policy shift by the central government.

“Part of the pattern is continued tension and inadequate central control over local governments,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights in China. “This doesn’t take Beijing off the hook, but there are tensions between local police and other arms of government. It’s not a monolith.”

Jean-Philippe Beja, a senor fellow with the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research, said the central government usually opposes strong shows of force. But indications are that Beijing also gave more authority to local officials to deal with unrest after villagers in Taishi, also in Guangdong province, tried to eject a local official over corruption charges.

If this is yet another case of a corrupt, out-of-control local government that the central government has been unable to bring to heel, well, then Hu and Wen still have some time to make good on their promises of greater “social harmony” and bringing some economic justice to the rural masses who have been left behind by China’s “Economic Miracle.” But if this escalated use of deadly force comes as a result of a policy change by the central government…

Well, then Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen had better prepare themselves for a very bumpy ride. And perhaps a rather short ride as well.

No regime in China has been able to survive very long or very well if it loses the support of the peasant masses. By the Chinese government’s own account, there were around 76,000 significant demonstrations in China last year, which if nothing else, indicates an increasingly desperate – and emboldened – population. There aren’t enough police, there aren’t enough soldiers, and empty promises have lost their power to pacify the millions of Chinese who have very little to lose, who are quickly adopting modern organizing tools and are able to communicate with others across distances who feel as they do.

Hu has made things worse for himself by cracking down on China’s media, which could at least give honest reports on local problems about which the central government would otherwise be unaware (I know that there is some debate as to whether this crackdown is Hu’s doing or the remnants of that bad old Shanghai clique, and I’ll hold that possiblity open). Hamfisted, violent responses to poor people with legitimate grievances open the door to levels of chaos which China has not seen in a long time.

I can’t say this scenario is something that I would celebrate, because the pain and misery which are likely to result would be staggering. And if the current regime were to collapse, what would rise in its place?

UPDATE: I was in somewhat of an apocalyptic mood when I wrote this. As those following this issue closely know, apparently the Guangdong official who ordered the use of live fire has been arrested:

The official Guangzhou Daily newspaper did not give the name or title of the official or specify when he had been detained but said he had been arrested for his decision to open fire on the villagers’ demonstration.

As usual, whenever I am tempted to make any inflated pronouncements on what’s happening in China and what is likely to happen in the future, I’m forced to fall back on Premier Zhou Enlai’s assessment of the French Revolution: “It’s too soon to tell.”

(hat tip to Dylan and Sun Bin for the update)

The Discussion: 10 Comments


the depute head of police Wu was arrested.
5 people were dead.
a special commission has been established.

i suppose the earlier (official) report of 3 dead, 3 ciritcally injured, will mean 6 dead at least.

December 11, 2005 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

there are reports there more than one people were arrested.
on the scene mis-management was blamed.
the special commision seems to be still with shanwei city, so i am not optimistic about its independency.

i hope the profile/authority of the investigation will escalate in the next few days, and the maor needs to be share responsibility.

December 11, 2005 @ 4:54 pm | Comment

Is this episode getting much media coverage in China? Not a peep in the China Daily, which leads its national news with a weather story – it’s going to get colder, apparently.

December 11, 2005 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

Wow, it gets colder in the winter – who knew?!

December 11, 2005 @ 6:51 pm | Comment

Michael, see Richard’s post below about xinhua’s coverage.

Also, Hong Kong press has had some good access and is covering the story…

December 11, 2005 @ 6:52 pm | Comment

No, no, it does not get colder unless the Communist Party says so. That is, assuming that the Communist Party releases this state secret.

December 11, 2005 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

Oh I pity any Chinese who said “it’s going to get colder” before Xinhua announced it. They’ll probably go to prison for ten years for revealing a state secret.

December 11, 2005 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

Are any mainland Chinese-language mass media covering the story?

December 11, 2005 @ 7:57 pm | Comment

dylan, sun bin posted some links here and on the post below I think…

Sun Bin, do you have any more?

December 11, 2005 @ 8:25 pm | Comment

Intriguingly, the Xinhua story I cite below has been removed from Xinhua! Definitely makes you wonder: the story made it sound like the villagers had gone insane and the police fired because they had absolutely no choice. Obviously the government is now singing a different tune, announcing that it’s arrested the man who gave the orders to open fire.

December 11, 2005 @ 9:04 pm | Comment

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