Someone making trouble? Send them to an insane asylum

This is shocking, if not too surprising.

LOUHE, China — Xu Lindong, a poor village farmer with close-cropped hair and a fourth-grade education, knew nothing but decades of backbreaking labor. Even at age 50, the rope of muscles on his arms bespoke a lifetime of hard plowing and harvesting in the fields of his native Henan Province.

But after four years locked up in Zhumadian Psychiatric Hospital, he was barely recognizable to his siblings. Emaciated, barefoot, clad in tattered striped pajamas, Mr. Xu spoke haltingly. His face was etched with exhaustion.

“I was so heartbroken when I saw him I cannot describe it,” said his elder brother, Xu Linfu, recalling his first visit there, in 2007. “My brother was a strong as a bull. Now he looked like a hospital patient.”

Xu Lindong’s confinement in a locked mental ward was all the more notable, his brother says, for one extraordinary fact: he was not the least bit deranged. Angered by a dispute over land, he had merely filed a series of complaints against the local government. The government’s response was to draw up an order to commit him to a mental hospital — and then to forge his brother’s name on the signature line.

It’s a long, painful article. Lots of things are way better in China than they were 10 years ago. The plight of those who question authority isn’t one of them. It’s all part of a campaign to maintain harmony at any and costs. Kudos to the NYT for having the patience to document this terrifying story so methodically.

______________

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: 17 Comments

As another tactic used by village and county officials to deal with individuals/groups persistently petitioning for justice over land and related issues, this is not uncommon information. To my point.

Putting aside LX type challenges which may/may not appeal to educated urbanites, it seems to me that the most persistent challenges to CP state power come from rural areas/peasants/villages. The dirt poor, uneducated, sullen, resentful and tired of being exploited/bossed around by local cadres, but still harbouring some idea of natural justice in this world.

And the number one govt priority is to prevent them developing grassroots organisations to prosecute their concerns. Keep unrest localised and squash it quickly, before it resonates into neighbouring villages.

This approach will sooner or later be counter-productive and give rise to some type of millenial movement or movements..inchoate, directionless and bloody. It wont be abstract, but will be inter-personal and involve farm tools. China has a singular history in this regard.

Okay, I sound like Anthropoly 101,but….and I have been following Beijing’s attempt to reorganise/provincelise the Office of Petitions.

November 13, 2010 @ 7:06 am | Comment

I wonder if China will ever change, will the state always wield power with such brutality against people who purely seek justice?
Sadly, I think it will – Machiavelli understood the nature of peoples relationship with their governments, put simply people tend to get the government they’re used to – it’s the efficient method of governing.
My heart goes out to Xu Lindong, his family and all the others who are victims of the greedy and corrupt… and let’s hope China can improve.

November 13, 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

I’m sure that I’ve read about this in the past, but it’s still horrible to hear that it’s still going on.

Sometimes it seems that as far as a majority of Chinese feel (whatever they say in public), the individual who falls foul of the system can go hang – literally.

November 13, 2010 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

King Tubby, if I read you correctly – are you saying that the treatment of the rural poor is similar to the dynamic of the secret societies resistance to the Manchu rulers? Do you think the present day powers that be and the present day rural poor see each other the same way? Could that possibly explain the government’s seeming overeaction in this instance as well as the dustup with the Nobel Prize people?

November 14, 2010 @ 2:56 am | Comment

Saw that article in NYT yesterday. Supposedly, the authorities are now sensitive to wanton abuses of the “law and order” system, and are less likely to simply jail trouble-makers without cause. So they abuse the mental-health system instead. You’ve got to hand it to the CCP- they’re flexible and creative when it comes to silencing criticism. What a beautiful system, if you’re the CCP. If you’re just a regular Chinese person, then maybe not so much.

November 14, 2010 @ 3:25 am | Comment

As A Chinese, Of Course I Hope America Will Collapse

The national pride of America is based on the dominance over other groups of people in the last two hundred years. The first hundred years it was the dominance over Native Americans. The last one hundred years it’s the dominance over other nations. The kernel of American pride is that “America is more advanced , stronger than all other nations. Everything we do is right and is the best.” The largest American entertainment and propaganda machine, Hollywood movie industry gives life to this psychology of Americans. Look at the number of block buster movies that promote American heroism: Armageddon, Independence Day, Terminator, Top Gun, etc. In all of these movies, it is America that led the world or an American that saved the day. I You think China has propaganda movies? In the arena of movie propaganda, Hollywood is the king. Of course, you will say “But Hollywood also makes movies that condemn Americans, condemn the Westerners, and sympathize with the “minorities” and the “weak”!. Yes, there are movies such as the recent Avater, Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai, etc, in which it seemingly “criticizes” itself. But even in those movies, ultimately, it is an individual white man who helps the natives, the weak to fight for themselves, it’s the white man who is the ultimate hero, the natives would never have achieved their success without the help of the heroic white man. So, this kind of “criticism” is really another indirect way of praising and elevating the American and Western culture. I call this praise wrapped in criticism.

A typical Amerian citizen, born and raised in this hollywood culture, wil grow up to have an extreme sense of superiority over other nations and other people. If that man turns to be well educated and intellectual, he’ll manifest his superiority in a very civil and “soft” way, and sometimes in terms of superficial and pseudo sympathy for the weak and minority, sometimes in terms of superficial and pseudo criticism of his own culture. If he turns out to be not well educated, and never learned the social and intellectual “dress” needed to hide his superiority, then he’ll simply turn into a open bigot.

But what if other nations one day become as strong and even stronger and more advanced then America? Then what will America do?

When USSR launched world’s first satellite the Sputnik, it only represented a temporary achievement in that specific area – the comprehensive national strenghth of the USSR was still very behind that of the US. Yet even that temporary achievement hit a nerve in America, the American gov’t later spent unbelievable amounts of money trying to “level the playing field”. The cost of the American Apollo program was 26.5 billion dollars, while the USSR’s sputnik program was only 4 billion. These days, many human rights and democarcy lovers love to say “China spend so much on space program only for saving face, only for appearance purposes, only for political purposes”. How laughable it is to hear citizens of a nation who spent 26.5 billion to put a man on the moon for nothing but political purposes. Looking back today, even American cannot deny that the Apollo program was mainly political, mainly for boosting the pride of the nation?

Therefore Americans will never accept any nation being stronger and better than them, their fundamental attitude and policy is to deny the emergence of any nation that will challenge their global hegemony. America may allow a single nation to challenge them economically, or culturally, or even technologically. But it will never allow any singel nation to challenge them comprehensively, all across the board. Do you Americans deny that this is the fundamental attitude and policy of the United States?

The emergence of China is negating this “American exceptionalism” in the hearts of Americans. It’s showing to the world that other nations can just be as strong and advanced as America, and can sit shoulder to shoulder with America, and can dictate global agenda in trade, commerce, technology, environment, etc. This is something Americans can never psychologically accept. This is another sputnik for America, but a more comprehensive and harder to stop one. It is eroding American self-esteem and psychological dominance. This is why you see so many politicians, media commentators, opinion writers, even regular citizens getting so angry and so hostile to China. “Currency manipulator”, “Human rights violator”, “Environment damager”, “Baby killer”, “Unfair trade partner”, “Unsafe toy maker”, “Unsafe food maker”, etc. All the bad labels in today’s worlds have been applied to China by American commentators.

But the possibility of a China erasing American dominance can only be denied psychologically, not logically. When there’s such a conflict between psychology and logic, many Americans often give bizzarre reactions to certain things in China. For example, you see on many American forums where someone posts a Chinese train reaching top speed, a Chinese airport looking very modern, a Chinese company overtaking an American competitor, a Chinese scientist producing world leading research, etc. Many people say this sentence “Damnit! China is not supposed to be this awesome!” This phrase “not supposed to be” is a very interesting phrase. “Not supposed to be” according to whom? Is there a rule that says one country is supposed to be like this and another country is supposed to be like that? Well, in the hearts of most Americans, there is indeed such a rule. America is supposed to be the strongest, the most technologically advanced, the most economically advanced, the most culturally advanced, the most militarily advanced, the most educationally advanced, the most politcally advanced nation on earth. This is the way it’s supposed to be. China is supposed to be a backwater third world country, a poor country, a culturally backward country, a dirty country, a smelly country. So when they are presented with thigns that contradict their own perception, they start to scream and get very upset. I remember when I first came to America, I lived with an American family in Tennessee. They asked me, “do you have refrigerators in China?”. I told them of course we do. And they insisted that I am lying to them, and insist that I must be brainwashed by the evil Chinese Communist party to think there are refrigerators in China. That was more than 10 years ago. You’d think Americans would’ve progressed since then. Unfortunately, just last year, I was talking to a Chinese student studying in MIT, and he was asked by his American roommate “So is it true that Chinese people eat babies?”

This kind of American psychological barrier is also a trigger of the decline collapse of America. Someone once said, “America is made up of people who did not love their own country”. Those people came to America, for what? Of course for material prosperity, for the “American Dream.” If America declines to a state where they can no longer realize their material prosperity, what reason do they have for sticking around? Usually, if you have watched pirate stories, you’ll know that when a pirate ship is full of gold and money, people will stick around, once the pirate ships leaks and starts to sink, people will jump as fast as they came aboard. This American pirate ship, I’m afraid, is sinking. Like a Chinese saying goes “When a tree falls, all the monkeys go away.”

As for China, and as a Chinese, I’m of course confident of its emergence to the top of the gallery of nations. For every dollar China spends catching to America, America needs to spend five dollars to keep its dominance. China’s economic size is already more than 1/3 of America’s, but if it takes America 10 times the energy and effort just to keep up. This is simply the “advantage of the person being in 2nd place in a race”. For example, America spent 26.5 billion on the Apollo program. Adjusted for purchasing power, this is about 240 billion Yuan. China’s space program, from scratch, cost about 60 billion Yuan. And who knows how much America would need to spend to restart its lunar program today. Probably 10 times as much as China. When China launches an anti-satellite test, America had to do the same. When China launches a mid range ballistic missile test, America had to do the same. When China launches its high speed rail project, America had to do the same. America had to, to prove to the world, to itself, that it still has the dominance, that it’s “supposed to be” the king, not anyone else. Can America continue this race with its current state of economy? Do you know how costly it is for pirates to keep a sinking ship afloat and keep it sailing high on the turbulent seas?

In the long run, America surely will be collapsed by this race, and as a Chinese of course I’m hoping this day will come sooner rather than later.

November 14, 2010 @ 4:14 am | Comment

To Math,

As your posts go, this is another example where you’re not as out-there as you can be. So kudos for that. But your premise is wrong to begin with. You’re not a “Chinese”.

But I do agree that we’re in an era where “America” can no longer simply assume herself to be “number 1″. And there may be many areas where, if she has in fact lost that mantle, it is not worth the cost to try to reclaim it merely for the sake of having that title. The space program may be one such area.

As an American, it is a little bit ironic that you cheerfully await the day where your country collapses. I would think that China can win without someone else losing, but old habits die hard for folks like you.

November 14, 2010 @ 7:20 am | Comment

” “Currency manipulator”, “Human rights violator”, “Environment damager”, “Baby killer”, “Unfair trade partner”, “Unsafe toy maker”, “Unsafe food maker”, etc. All the bad labels in today’s worlds have been applied to China by American commentators.”

Please list any evidence you have that the above mentioned phrases are not based in fact. Of course you have none.

Will China come to be a dominant, in not the dominant, superpower? Perhaps. Certainly economic growth, the formation of a formidable middle class and the influence wielded in the rest of the world (especially in under-developed and developing countries) are all indicators of this likely outcome. Despite its formation as a slave state, despite its long history of racial and social upheavals, despite its treatment of its native peoples, despite its interference in the political, social and economic lives of people and countries around the world, the United States differs from China in a key area: rule of law and an adherence to general principles. Until the vast poor majority of China have access to the China that is on display to rest of the world, until the rule of law is given more than lip service, China’s undeniable great achievements in other areas will be for naught. Countries do not make people great…people make countries great. All people around the world have the potential to do great things… if given the chance.

November 14, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Comment

Math, we have a saying…”Careful what you wish for…it might come true” The collapse of a major (the major?) world power results in shockwaves. After all, who is paying for China’s economy?

November 15, 2010 @ 6:14 am | Comment

Goju. Thanks. (For some reason your name always reminds me of the director Miike.)I’m no expert on Manchu China, but over the Middle Kingdoms long history, there have been around 2,000 millenial outbursts during periods of stress and strain.

My pet theory, which I’ve been spouting for awhile, goes something like this. It probably wont be a repeat of the past, but something organised around some weirdo Christian sect such as Eastern Lightning.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/jul/07/china.jonathanwatts
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Lightning

After all Christianity is going gangbusters in rural areas, and the possibility of some nutty Endtimes variation spreading like prairie fire is quite high. Who knows what shape or form it will take, but it will definitely challenge social harmony and population police management.

As for LX’s message of reform resonating in rural areas, just don’t think so. (1)Govt control of the media. (2) The mental horizon of the average rural villager does not extend beyond the family and local township. In that small world, injustices are magnified and nurtured….prime human material for some Endtimes sect able to draw upon deep-seated feelings of resentment and powerlessness. As I said, when the Apocalyptic moment arrives, it will involve farm tools and not urban digital media.

November 15, 2010 @ 6:55 am | Comment

Endtime sects have always been popular with groups that are at the bottom rungs in their society. The question is which path they choose. Will they wait for the endtimes events to play out on their own or will they actively seek to make those events happen? If its the latter, there could be a series of violent incidents – almost suicidial in intensity. And even with govt. control of media these groups will learn of each other’s actions and be further emboldened themselves. Its an insane chain reaction that feeds on itself and is only intensified by perceived persecution. Jim Jones and David Koresh come to mind.

November 15, 2010 @ 7:57 am | Comment

I was thinking of a more agrarian/non-US framework when posting this speculation, notably Canudos and The Counsellor in Bahia, North Brazil in the 19th century. Bought to fictional life as The War at the End of the World by Vargas Llosa. But I agree with you about the nature of the chain reaction. Don’t Chinese millenial movements erupt when there is a common perception that rulers have lost the Mandate from Heaven?

November 15, 2010 @ 9:05 am | Comment

I have no expertise in Chinese millenial movements. I was thinking more along the lines of a small local movement going viral – like Jim Jones. It is also possible that the movement could be more politically based such as with the US and French revolutions. It wasn’t so much that the King had lost his Mandate from Heaven as he had grossly abused his power to the point that it was the duty of every person to restore the balance as God had intended it. Bringing God into the mix greatly adds to the volatility. People in desperate straits tend to fall back on religion to explain things.

I also wonder about the influence of ethnic tension in these movements. A lot of people I talk to seem to see China as one large group. They fail to see the many ethnic groups or the historical tensions between them. Some people were shocked to learn the Uighers were from China and that China was dealing with its own Muslim uprising. China has to be very uneasy that Uighers are training with AQ and Taliban fighters. Other visitors on this site are much more knowlegable on the many minorities that make up China, and their relations with the CCP. It makes for very fertile ground to grow a movement.

I like having Math around, at least for the comic relief. Apologies in advance to everyone for the diatribes that will come from him in response.

November 16, 2010 @ 1:04 am | Comment

Goju. My last. Re Uighers. Mullah Omar and the Taliban would have trouble recruiting the Uighers I suspect. The latter are Sunni very light, drink, smoke, dance and fornicate outside marriage. If the Uighers are to look west for support, it will be to Turkey a modern secular Islamic country. Since Turkey’s attempts to enter the EU are continually being rebuffed, it will also seek to expand its influence east and further build on an already existing linguistic/cultural commonality among Turkmen.

You don’t need to leave China to find the trigger mechanism for serious rural unrest.

This dense and pathbreaking analysis on local govt debt in PRC by Victor Shih provides the answer.

http://chinesepolitics.blogspot.com/2010/02/looming-problem-of-local-debt-in-china.html
Quote
“For one, local governments would have to sell lots and lots of land every year for many years to come to pay interest payment on this debt”.

He also points out today in the NYT that inflation is hitting the poor family shopping basket very hard at the moment.

November 16, 2010 @ 4:43 am | Comment

@ King Tubby
“Re Uighers. Mullah Omar and the Taliban would have trouble recruiting the Uighers I suspect. The latter are Sunni very light, drink, smoke, dance and fornicate outside marriage.”
So are pretty much all Muslims. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, you name it. Most Iranians I know do the same. So did all the Syrians I worked with (ok, 1 didn’t drink). Likewise Pakistanis – the hard core were the UK born ethnic Pashtuns, etc I knew in the UK who were much more “pious” than their Pakistani counterparts (was a blog entry in Dawn about this too a year or so ago…I should try and find it…).
Doesn’t take many to set off bombs everywhere. Governmetns then have to take action and this is generally applied in a blanket fashion. The actions of a few Uighurs resulted in all of Xinjiang being cut off the rest of the world electronically speaking.
You might also like this last sentence here and the implications behind it.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/world/asia/15kashgar.html?ref=world
“Asked why the promotional materials did not include Uighur-language text, Mr. Han, the salesman at the European View Gardens, was frank. “What’s the point?” he asked, standing beside a large architectural model of the complex, which rises on fields and orchards once owned by Uighurs. “They can’t afford this place.” “

November 16, 2010 @ 5:23 am | Comment

@ Mike I agree with the points you make and the NYT article was spot on. Sure, the Islamic world is a very hetergeneous entity. I was making another point ie the Uighers are more likely to find an affinity with Turkey, in fact there are a number of institutional arrangements already in place, than with Taliban no-fun philistines. Anyway, I am more focussed on local govt debt in PRC and its potential to accelerate land reclamations. Many Thanks.

November 16, 2010 @ 6:18 am | Comment

@ King Tubby
The ruling party in Turkey started out as an Islamic party. It has also been noticed there is a rise in the number of veiled women in Istanbul…

One hopes that people look to Turkey as a model, but if they aren’t allowed to live that life, maybe they’ll look to other neighbours, like Pakistan (which China has a very close relationship with) for cultural succour.

November 16, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.