Defending the indefensible

China’s defending its arrest of lead poisoning victims seeking treatment.

Chinese authorities have defended the six-month detention of lead poisoning victims who were seeking medical care, saying the punishment was necessary for “public education”.

Police in Jiahe, Hunan province, blocked a bus carrying 53 villagers who were on their way to get health checks last September, according to Chinese media.

Mistakenly believing the villagers were planning to protest, the police have detained two of them for the six months since on the charge of “disrupting traffic”. Though it has since been proved that they and their children were contaminated by illegal emissions of heavy metals from a smelting factory, the local government was unapologetic.

“We may have blocked the wrong visit, but they should not have been on that road,” Li Ying, deputy secretary of Jiahe county political and legislative committee told the Beijing News, which today published an investigation into the incident.

Ou Shudong, the chairman of the local People’s Congress, told the newspaper the police roadblock and detentions were justified. “The villagers’ intentions were unclear. Even if they were going for a medical examination, they should have informed the government.”

The story highlights the feudal control that local officials exercise in much of rural China. It also exemplifies the widespread strategy of stifling dissent by making an example of suspected ringleaders, a tactic known as “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys”.

A Jiahe county report cited by the newspaper says the punishment of a few people “served the purpose of public education for the majority”. The Guardian’s calls to the county government, police bureau and communist party went unanswered.

Very considerate of them, helping to educate the majority.

As we continue to be dazzled by China’s progress and mesmerized by the success stories, it’s important to remember that this sort of outrage remains commonplace. It’s a depressing story on multiple levels. There’s the unjustifiable arrest of the innocent and the sick, and there’s also the story of the lead poisoning itself, a by-product of all that success the government would rather we not know about.

Via CDT.

Update: For some good, balanced analysis of the lead-poisoning issue in China, please check out this excellent post. It’s not good versus evil (and I never say that it is). Some in the government are trying very hard to correct a horrible situation. To understand the forces at play, check out Ibsen’s classic of more than 100 years ago. It’s an old story.

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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: 24 Comments

It’s quite funny – I was going to include my “mandatory disclaimer” at the end, saying that yes, America has done bad things, but that two wrongs never make a right. But then I said, Wait; your readers aren’t that immature and stupid that they can’t figure that out for themselves.

Guess I was wrong.

March 18, 2010 @ 9:55 am | Comment

If the Chinese government looks weak, Imperialist forces will try to split the country up. So it’s very important for the Chinese government to show who is boss. Needless to say, this goes double when they are caught making a mistake.

March 18, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Comment

No I did not say it was related to this news. I was just angry about these American crimes, just expressing my anger on these 2 american crimes.

March 18, 2010 @ 11:16 am | Comment

1. Providing links to Wikipedia entries on embarrassing moments in U.S. history is a sorry, intellectually vapid way to make a point. At best, such arguments constitute an evasion of responsibility; at worst, they are an implicit (if unintended) admission of wrongdoing. In the end, what does the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry more than 60 years ago have to do with present-day atrocities commited by the Chinese government? For that matter, what does the extraordinary redition and torture of a bona fide thug like Kalid Sheik Mohammed have to do with the false arrest and detainment of a bus full of medical-attention-seeking poor Chinese? What is it about U.S. society that allows us to be so introspective and willing to admit fault? What is it about China that makes the Chinese so resistant to do the same?

2. Not only do stories like this remind us that similar experiences are commonplace, they also remind us how great the economic and social divide is between China’s urban rich and rural poor. They also remind us how resistant this problem is to easy policy solutions. In the end, news reports such as this one put a nice, fat dent in the “China miracle” narrative.

note:

Michael Pettis’ recent post (How will an RMB revaluation affect China, the US, and the world?) is excellent. Find it at http://mpettis.com/

March 18, 2010 @ 2:53 pm | Comment

When will people understand that we sometimes have more in common with other people in other parts of the world who suffer as a result of similar (mis)rule – the nationality of the mis-rulers is less important that the fact that people should enjoy the support of their government rather than be oppressed by it; after all we all pay for them!
I know it may sound all ‘give peace a chance’ but we as people have a collective strength – if only we could start to see that national boundaries do not necessarily help us.
Perhaps if we were to see the emphasis on ‘Authorities’ rather than ‘Chinese/American authorites’ it might be clearer…

March 18, 2010 @ 6:22 pm | Comment

Gan Lu, thanks for that link to Pettis. BTW, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were “relocated” not “interned”. Internment was another program that affected all Axis nationals in the US.

March 18, 2010 @ 8:20 pm | Comment

I’ve updated this post; see the new link on the two sides to the story of lead poisoning in China.

UK Visa, it’s true, what you say about collective strength. As long as it doesn’t get manipulated by populists who cynically use it to advance their own goals. Think Sarah Palin. Think Teabaggers.

March 18, 2010 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

Providing links to Wikipedia entries on embarrassing moments in U.S. history is a sorry, intellectually vapid way to make a point.

No it isn’t. The point is the U.S is in no position to lecture others (for its own benefit). The U.S doesn’t actually care about human rights, or Taiwan, or Tibet. They just want to destabilize a rival power.

What is it about U.S. society that allows us to be so introspective and willing to admit fault?

Because you don’t even talk about, or apologize for, your atrocities until 60 years later. Maybe in 2030 we’ll have the CCP apologize for Mao’s actions.

To date not even 1% of Americans know about the mass murder of supposed leftists in South Korea, and few know about Operation Menu, or the Iranian coup. They’re too busy enjoying the spoils from illicit wars and mismanaging their money.

Michael
BTW, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were “relocated” not “interned”.

lol.

March 19, 2010 @ 12:54 am | Comment

Merp, you are wrong as always. Many Americans were howling about the sins committed in Iraq for years (remember Abu Ghraib?), and about Vietnam as they were happening in real time. No 60 years. The difference is the state of the media at the time of the atrocities. Of course more Americans know about Tankman in 1989 than about the US role in putting the Shah of Iran in power in 1954. It was all captured on CNN footage as it was unfolding. However, most educated Americans do know about the Shah, just as we know about US shenanigans in Guatemala and Chile. These things are hardly secret. If a person doesn’t know, it means they aren’t interested. The facts are out there in US history books, on the Internet, and made reference to every day in countless articles and blog posts.

March 19, 2010 @ 1:05 am | Comment

Merp, none of these hostile comments are going to get published. We get it. You hate America, the place you’ve chosen to live. You have no credibility and I’m tired of this game of you making outlandish, preposterous assertions about how evil and stupid Americans are and then everyone scrambling to prove you wrong. And then when they do prove you wrong, you simply hop to another topic and do it all over again. I am sick of it.

There are some lovely blogs listed in my blogroll to the left. Feel free to join the conversations at some of them, and see how long you last. I’ve been very nice to you, and you have taken advantage and jerked everyone around. No more. Take care.

March 19, 2010 @ 1:18 am | Comment

Get out more, merp, and read up on things. You may one day post something worth reading.

March 19, 2010 @ 1:36 am | Comment

Watch less American propaganda, slim.

March 19, 2010 @ 8:12 am | Comment

The point is the U.S is in no position to lecture others (for its own benefit). The U.S doesn’t actually care about human rights, or Taiwan, or Tibet. They just want to destabilize a rival power.

This is Peking Duck not the US State Department so I don’t see a problem, unless Richard is guilty of some human rights violation that we don’t know about.

March 19, 2010 @ 9:20 am | Comment

HongXing made a lame attempt of dodging the point.

sptwo made a lame attempt at getting back.

merp IS lame

That pretty much sums it up.

March 19, 2010 @ 10:15 am | Comment

“a bus carrying 53 villagers who were on their way to get health checks …” — I have serious doubt about all 53 on one bus, all have the appointment with the same hospital.

“according to Chinese media” — NO names of the Chinese media???

“they and their children were contaminated by illegal emissions of heavy metals from a smelting factory” — This could be true.

“the local government was unapologetic.” — I don’t believe this statement.

““We may have blocked the wrong visit, but they should not have been on that road,” Li Ying, deputy secretary of Jiahe county political and legislative committee told the Beijing News, “ — Li Ying must have said a lot more than that. This is clearly out of context. Not believable at all.

I have read enough tabloid stories like this on BBC, the most egregious propaganda machine on earth. Guardian, not much better, when reporting on China. Too much dramatization. Totally out of context. very vicious intention.

March 19, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Comment

I want readers to see what TC Lim is up to.

I have serious doubt about all 53 on one bus, all have the appointment with the same hospital.

Does he think the reporter is lying? Nowhere in the article does it say they were going “to the same hospital” – that is your typical TC Lim fantasy. But even if they were, is that so outrageous? Are there that many hospitals in the area that they could pick and choose which one to go to for their lead poisoning test?

TC Lim is a conscious and persistent falsifier of fact. Like I said earlier, I am really cracking down.

But let’s delve a bit deeper into TC Lim’s bullshit – I suggest you don your waist-high boots and wear an industrial-strength face mask. Look what he says next:

“according to Chinese media” — NO names of the Chinese media???

Oh no! They don’t name the Chinese media they are referring to. Oh my stars and garters. Except let’s look at the actual text:

“We may have blocked the wrong visit, but they should not have been on that road,” Li Ying, deputy secretary of Jiahe county political and legislative committee told the Beijing News, which today published an investigation into the incident.

Get that, TC Dim – the Beijing News???

I apologize, kind of, for my aggressive tone, but this nonsense just has to stop. I think we all know that whatever Pug, Merp, TC Dim and a few choice others have to say is immediately suspect, and in all likelihood simply manufactured for the greatest effect. It’s the shamelessness of the lies that bugs me; I mean, if you have to make things up can’t you do it artfully, with a bit of finesse? If you are here to antagonize, can’t you be more strategic, a little more subtle at first and then go for the jugular, art-of-war style? If you’re going to make yourselves so easy to expose as quacks and liars, what’s the point?

March 19, 2010 @ 10:49 am | Comment

@Zictor

sptwo made a lame attempt at getting back.

With my lame post, i am trying show how irrelevant HongXing’s with all its wikipedia links is. I can always say ______ (Fill the blank of any country’s name) has done terrible things before, therefore the CCP is above criticism.

March 19, 2010 @ 11:21 am | Comment

I have serious doubt about all 53 on one bus, all have the appointment with the same hospital.

This incident happened last September. The appointment system (for tier-3 hospitals. I doubt that villagers from Hunan could afford to go to a tier-3) was introduced last October.

March 19, 2010 @ 11:33 am | Comment

Glad to hear you’re cracking down, finally. Give them a piece of their own medicine with a “strike hard campaign.” I’ll look forward to the day when discussions on this website are no longer completely pointless! Restore the glory of the Peking Duck!

March 19, 2010 @ 11:33 am | Comment

I recall watching an episode of Time Team (a UK archeology program – one can google it – rivetting stuff, for me at least). This was the sort of thing that happened in England during the Idustrial Revolution…though it wasn’t the government that cracked down but the factory owners and similar. The treatment of the working classes in Manchester, the way they were manipulated by their bosses, lead Engels to write about it in 1844 (hah – and we all say China is the future?? Been there, done that!) in The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/17306). We also know Marx was writing about the same thing while in London…

How would they feel seeing the successful manifestation of their ideas today? In the UK, they’d throw their hands up and say “See? That’s what we wrote about!” but would be forced to admit that things are better now than then. Yet what I read of conditions (though these are rare and isolated cases, I think) of people with genuine grievances makes me fear for the future. What if this model is taken up, what if the Chinese economy is as they say it is (and not as many say is the reality) – will my children be forced to revert to the 19th century for their working conditions?

March 19, 2010 @ 2:54 pm | Comment

we’ll have the CCP apologize for Mao’s actions.

In your wet dreams.

March 19, 2010 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

TCL
By what criteria do you judge news reports? Which do you deem credible and how? What is your news source of choice?

March 19, 2010 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

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