New thread

Because the one below is driving me nuts, and I can’t put up a new post right now.

One commenter below linked to this intriguing article. I think it’s well worth discussing.

For months, the 20,000 villagers who live in Wukan, near Shanwei city in Guangdong province, have protested first at having nearly £100 million of their land seized and sold off by the local government, and then at the brutal tactics used by police to regain control of the village.

The latest protests began on Sunday, when police attempting to arrest a villager were repelled by villagers armed with sticks. The police fired tear gas before retreating.

At the same time, the local government brought the village’s simmering anger to a boil by admitting that Xue Jinbo, a 43-year-old butcher who had represented the villagers in their negotiations with the government, had died in police custody of “cardiac failure”.

Mr Xue was taken into custody last week and accused of inciting riots. Mr Xue was widely believed to have been tortured, perhaps to death, and his family were rumoured to have found several of his bones broken when receiving his corpse.

I know, we do this sort of thing — and much worse — in America every day.
[Update – that closing line is strictly for my trolls, who feel compelled always to make this comparison.]


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: 94 Comments

As I said, we can always find examples of abuse. Always. And as I said, we are seeing creeping authoritarianism. I wrote about Padilla as a disgrace, as I wrote about Manning. And Manning is presumed innocent, I agree, although he did admit downloading the files. No excuse whatsoever for his mistreatment. On the other hand, the NY Times and UK Guardian all published the material he stole without punishment. Imagine the same scenario in China, with People’s Daily printing the CCPs state secrets.

We can find deep faults in both (and in all) societies. The degree of personal freedom and ability to seek justice and speak out is nevertheless far higher in the US, despite the many, many aberration and injustices.

December 16, 2011 @ 3:52 am | Comment

This thread is again getting derailed by non sequitur and tu quoque. On the soccer/football field of logic, these are not yellow card offenses. They draw red cards.

But since somebody went there, was the Waco Branch Davidian standoff that badly misreported in the Chinese press in (pre-Internet) 1993? Or did the Falun Gong have a huge arsenal of weapons that we didn’t hear about?

December 16, 2011 @ 4:25 am | Comment

Imagine the same scenario in China

The guy would have had 10 Nobels mailed to his house, he’d be considered an International Hero, and America would be working on talks to shut down all trade with China.

December 16, 2011 @ 4:39 am | Comment

Latest Telegraph post by Malcolm Moore. Not an entirely new entry; the latter 1/2-2/3 is a repeat of the one I linked to in #42. But now he’s saying that the villagers agreeing to the “sign-for-food” deal are actually signing on a blank document. Anyone’s guess as to what that document will say when it gets trotted out later with villagers’ signatures on it.

December 16, 2011 @ 5:02 am | Comment

Whether or not China can be considered mroe or less ‘authoritarian’ than the US is unimportant.

China has her own path to development, and how things are run in China do not have to follow the way things are done in the US, anymore than the other way round.

When the US was in the early stages of industrial and economic development, did she constantly feel a need to compare herself with China and try and match her actions with those of China?

Of course not. That is why they continually invade other countries, interfere with other countries and subject the rest of the world to over a century of imperialist domination.

Perhaps China should say to the US —you stop invading other countries. You should match our record of peaceful development and non-interference and non-oppression of foreign peoples.

The suffering caused to the rest of the world by US imperialism is simply unmatched by any other power.

So what that the US provides some sort of ‘rights’ to their own people.

It is sort of like some ‘athenian’ democracy. Where a few enjoy a privileged lifestyle,some sort of civic ‘rights’, but this is all maintained by brutalising and enslaving most of the community (in this case the world community).

The likes of S K Cheung probably think Apartheid South Africa was a great place – because at least whites had the vote.

December 16, 2011 @ 5:35 am | Comment

Well, I see that CPGBML has retreated to the usual stand-by rants about the US. It is always curious to me how that can be perceived to have any relevance to a China blog, or to the situation in Wukan. But it doesn’t appear that CPGBML is all that interested in China, since he seems to like talk about the US above all else. There is certainly no shortage of types like him. Man, if that Philly Cheesesteak blog ever gets off the ground, it should have some pretty good readership right off the hop.

December 16, 2011 @ 5:47 am | Comment

I just tried to have a civil discourse over at Hideous Harmonies, and attempted to explain why Hitler and Nazism were the archetypes of evil. In knee-jerk response, they brought up the American Indians (the US is worse than Nazi Germany). No matter what you say to certain types of commenters like Kookie and pugster and Red Star, they can only respond with the stock answer, which will be about either the Native Americans or Iraq. CPGBML might be in the same boat

December 16, 2011 @ 6:23 am | Comment

I believe Allen Yu once said something to the effect that HH represents the views of a certain subset of Chinese-Americans, and if that’s what you want, that is what you will get from them. Obviously I don’t, so I don’t. I would only venture onto those places at your own peril, cuz they are nothing if not completely predictable.

December 16, 2011 @ 6:35 am | Comment

Just as a case in point, a little while ago I commented there:

For the record, Custer’s comments were logical and polite, and watching him get hounded for no particular reason is not very classy.

Raventhorn, always the intellectual, barks back,

Why do you “watch” people for no particular reason, Richard??!!

Strangest response I’ve ever seen.

December 16, 2011 @ 6:40 am | Comment

Ah yes, RV, I remember him well. For a guy who is apparently a lawyer practicing in the DC area, his grasp of the English language is tenuous at best. Juvenile remarks like the one you quoted seem to be his specialty. Instead of responding to the crux of your remark, he instead chooses to respond to the phrase “watching him” taken completely and idiotically out of context. It appears nothing has changed since his FM days, not that I would expect anything different.

December 16, 2011 @ 6:46 am | Comment

Why do I even bother? You should see the way they treated Custer in that thread, then delete his comments for “spamming,” as if he’d ever spam a thread. Charles Liu and pug never spam, of course. Please don’t let them know that this blog is funded by the NED.

December 16, 2011 @ 6:48 am | Comment

No matter what you say to certain types of commenters like Kookie and pugster and Red Star, they can only respond with the stock answer, which will be about either the Native Americans or Iraq.

The US isn’t worse than Nazi Germany. It’s up there with Stalinist Russia as the three most evil polities of all time, however.

And no, I don’t just bring up the Native Americans or Iraq, but also America’s support for Mubarak, Shah Reza Pahlavi, Papa Doc, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, the House of Saud, Mobutu.

Then there’s Jim Crow, slavery, Operation Wetback, the annexation of Texas, the ousting of Queen Liliuokalani, Agent Orange, the liquidation of leftists in South Korea, Operation Menu and UXO in Laos, the 3 million prisoners in America’s rape-pens (half of which are minorities locked up for trumped up charges).

Don’t forget the fact that the richest 1% own 41% of America’s assets, and the laundering of nearly a trillion dollars a year from the world’s poorest nations.

But hey, continue your characteristic smear and denial.

December 16, 2011 @ 7:14 am | Comment

Over there, you are dealing with the true believers. They are impervious to logic and reasoning. So I honestly don’t know why anyone would bother. Rather than actively comment there, I do know of people who simply lurk. They’re kind enough to send me copies of examples of people saying particularly and outlandishly stupid things above and beyond the usual expected level, and we all get a bit of a chuckle. I think that’s the best method for effective consumption of that site.

December 16, 2011 @ 7:18 am | Comment

I just tried to have a civil discourse over at Hideous Harmonies

They are only hideous if you expect too much from them. An open discussion, for example. When something starts with a “let’s-dialog” ambition, I’m almost sure that it can only go wrong. Dialog comes either naturally, or it will be clouded with bitterness and “disappointment” before you spell “harmony”. To me, harmony seems to be the result of something that comes naturally, or not at all – and only if you can stand disharmony, too. Just like happiness, you can’t have that all of the time.

December 16, 2011 @ 7:38 am | Comment

I think my last comment there (and the only one, I believe) was early this year, Cheung. Couldn’t resist the temptation to tease them with a CCP story about certification ceremony for living Buddhas there. But I guess the joke was lost on them.

December 16, 2011 @ 7:40 am | Comment

Wow, Kookie, talk about predictability.

December 16, 2011 @ 8:02 am | Comment

Let’s give CM credit where credit is due. He has more stock answers than Pugster. I suppose that is something.

But at some point, we should get back to the point of this thread…

December 16, 2011 @ 9:27 am | Comment


I think implicit in any of these articles on an injustice that we quote is a sense of moral outrage at that injustice. But simply implying that moral outrage is not enough, because often it can lead to nonproductive discussions that quickly devolve into comparisons between China and America. Sorry if I offended you in any way, but I meant that statement as a bit of advice: if you want some commenters to contribute better comments, maybe it might be better to offer some policy recommendations with each of these articles that you post in the future?


First, I accept that today, the interests of the “connected class” (ex-govt officials, SOEs, developers, banks, MNCs) are overrepresented in China. I think the Chinese system is more flexible to the demands of the middle-class citizenry than you seem to argue. While, no doubt, we can both cite a litany of anecdotes to support both sides of that argument, the simple logic is that the Party itself, and the apparatchiks that execute policy, are overwhelmingly composed of middle-class citizens now. If you also accept, then, that the ideological bonds within the Party are not as strong as they once were, it can be safe to say that most of the “policy class” of China will be drawing from their day-to-day experiences to make governing decisions, and their day-to-day experiences (and aspirations) will mirror those of the other professionals in the middle class.

The real danger here is that the middle class within China is still a minority, and the lower classes lose faith within the Party to represent their interests. This lack of faith is analogous to a drought in a grass field–the less moisture, or faith, there is, the more likely the field is to burn, or revolt. We see this happening in Wukan today.

The primary, long-term task of China’s leadership will be how to create neutral arbitration platforms (not just a governing body–a set of institutions, laws, and social customs) between interest groups. The secondary, more immediate task will be to rebalance the Party’s internal promotion incentives to make cadres more balanced in representing the whole set of socioeconomic interests.

China has a wonderful problem, really–Chinese society is finally developing to the point where multiple interest groups are forming and jostling to get their voices heard, and foreigners are paying attention. Far from fearing this as external interference, Chinese people should be proud that 1) China has advanced to where its citizens have things to argue over and are educated enough to organize themselves to get it and 2)China has gotten big enough such that the rest of the world is affected by what goes on domestically and actually wants to offer (somewhat biased) advice. By responding proactively to criticism while ensuring all interest groups are fundamentally aligned with the concept of Chinese nationhood and progress, China’s leadership can take the country to a better future.

December 16, 2011 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

The fact is the comparisons are always brought up by the likes of Richard and SK. About how great the US is compared to China. Just go through their previous posts.

China should apparently always look to the US and emulate the US.

Well then, why does the US not emulate China and at the very least elect leaders who are not mass murderers, leaders who think that murdering 1 million children is fine, as long as it is in US foreign policy interests:

December 16, 2011 @ 6:42 pm | Comment

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

The US and the West are not paragons of virtue.

They built their wealth upon the enslavement and exploitation of non-white peoples.

Their opinions should mean absolutely nothing to the Chinese.

Just as one who commits a driving misdemeanour would not expect to be lectured by a paedophile or serial murderer.

December 16, 2011 @ 6:46 pm | Comment

The fact is the comparisons are always brought up by the likes of Richard and SK. About how great the US is compared to China.

I suggest that you just point some of them out, CPGBML – for everyone’s convenience. Maybe it is just how you feel about China?

Oh, and Hermit and Net Nanny send you their revolutionary greetings, too.

December 16, 2011 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

I suggest that you just point some of them out……

#1, 3, 4, 12, 14, 24, 26, 28 etc etc expecially blog 48 (who is more ‘authoritarian’ —I bet some Iraqis find the US far more ‘authoritarian’ than China).

It is so predictable from Richard and his Chinese minions such as S K Cheung – the US can murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Aghani people, experiment on black people with syphillis (Tuskegee ended only 1972), murder 2 million Vietnamese —but hey that’s OK coz Richard “blogged like hell about it”.

Great. I see Richard’s blogs are really serving to restrain the US imperialist beast. Oh —perhaps not. He is part of that beast himself.

December 16, 2011 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

I never said the US was “great compared to China” and if you misquote me and call me “part of the beast” you won’t be here long. Someone up above at #46 raised the issue of which of the two countries was more authoritarian and I argued the US is overflowing with abuse and “creeping authoritarianism” and that I had, yes, “blogged like hell” about these injustices over the years, and even over the past several months and weeks. And I listed the reasons why still, China’s government is more authoritarian despite the anecdotes that I raised myself showing America’s deep flaws. To state that I said America is “great” compared to China is highly misleading. So be very careful attributing things people to say. You started off on a decent enough start but you’re drifting into troll territory.

Great. I see Richard’s blogs are really serving to restrain the US imperialist beast. Oh —perhaps not. He is part of that beast himself.

Yeah, you need to be more careful.

t_co, thanks for the free advice. Some of your comment, with all due respect, sounds like a speech you hear on CCTV: “The primary, long-term task of China’s leadership will be how to create neutral arbitration platforms (not just a governing body–a set of institutions, laws, and social customs) between interest groups. The secondary, more immediate task will be to rebalance the Party’s internal promotion incentives to make cadres more balanced in representing the whole set of socioeconomic interests…By responding proactively to criticism while ensuring all interest groups are fundamentally aligned with the concept of Chinese nationhood and progress, China’s leadership can take the country to a better future.”

Sounds good in theory.

December 17, 2011 @ 12:10 am | Comment

who is more ‘authoritarian’ —I bet some Iraqis find the US far more ‘authoritarian’ than China

I think that if anything, Richard is making China’s political system look better than what it is, by referring to a totalitarian system as only authoritarian government. Besides, #1 was neither written by him, nor by Cheung; #3 was a referral to a certain cookie monster, rather than to China, and – I’m stopping here – Richard certainly has a point in that if the Iraqi government had been as accountable to its people as the U.S. government still is to the Americans, Saddam Hussein probably wouldn’t have attacked Iran, Kuwait, nor Kurdish citizens of his own country.

Yes, the US administrations are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands – but when looking at how highly motivated even Chinese fishermen are these days, I’m sure China won’t be second to America, once its peaceful rise is accomplished.

And tell you what – to many Vietnamese, the biggest headache today isn’t that big murderous Uncle Sam – it’s China.

December 17, 2011 @ 1:06 am | Comment

Btw, I understand that Cheung is American, not Chinese – but I may be wrong. That you refer to him as a minion has nothing to do with him – but it may have a lot to do with your own personal relationships. In a free world, people happen to agree or to disagree, without being either someone’s minion, nor someone’s enemy.

December 17, 2011 @ 1:08 am | Comment

Thanks for the reply Richard. Just because it sounds like the official Chinese viewpoint does not automatically disqualify its validity. You’ve spent more time on the ground in China than I have. What makes you doubt that what I stated will happen?

December 17, 2011 @ 2:50 am | Comment

t_co, I never disqualified the validity of your comment. It just sounds like bureaucratese. It sounds wonderful on paper. I’d love to see it all happen. But it would be like me saying, “The most important thing for the Republican Party to do would be to recognize the inherent truth that slashing spending during a deep recession will only make it worse. Secondarily, the Republicans must embrace Obama as a friend and work with him diligently to compromise and give at least 50 percent so government can function effectively and efficiently.” It sounds great. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the reality on the ground. I mean, it would be great if China introduced rule of law next week, but I’m not going to suggest it in a comment because I know how divorced the suggestion would be from reality.

December 17, 2011 @ 2:59 am | Comment

to many Vietnamese, the biggest headache today

Probably because the ones who had a problem with “Uncle Sam” died by the millions. Vietnam only has a “headache” with China because they want to steal Chinese territory (also claimed by Taiwan), even though Ho Chi Minh, a great hero of Vietnam, did not see the islands as part of Vietnam.

December 17, 2011 @ 3:03 am | Comment

You don’t need to go to United States since land seizures is uncommon since they already are ecomomically developed.

Here something the British media like the BBC/Telegraph is refusing to say anything:

British government funds land seizures without consent and compensation that is going to be used by South Korea steel firm, POSCO, in Orissa (new state of India):

December 17, 2011 @ 5:35 am | Comment

To CPGBML 69/70/72:
you are full of it up to your eyeballs. Rather than listing random comment numbers, why not have the courage and conviction to actually indicate where I have apparently “brought up…comparisons” “About how great the US is compared to China”. Indeed, please go through previous posts, and provide some specific citations of where I’ve done those things. This is a specific challenge. Quoting comment numbers is beyond lame. Take your sweet time. I’ll wait…

You are correct that American opinions need not mean anything to Chinese people. But certainly Chinese opinion should mean something to Chinese people, so one wonders why the CCP system as currently constituted doesn’t take them into account. You’re gonna have to explain that one. Good luck.

Oh, and I see you’ve simply given up all hope of talking about Wukan, or in fact about anything to do with CHina at all. Like I’ve said many times before, you people are just so darn predictable.

December 17, 2011 @ 6:56 am | Comment

To t-co:
I agree, the Chinese system may be more flexible than I give it credit for. But it’s probably also not as flexible as it could be, or more importantly, not as flexible as Chinese people would want it to be.

If you had to have authoritarianism, it probably is preferable to have it by committee rather than the strong-man/nepotism style. But I don’t know if it makes much difference that those who wield power have middle-class backgrounds. I don’t think you can assume those with an upbringing of middle-class sensibilities will automatically retain those sensibilities once they’re in a position of power. You know what they say about absolute power.

I don’t disagree with you about some of the things the Chinese government needs to do. My question, as usual, is whether the Chinese government, as currently constituted, is fundamentally capable of doing them.

December 17, 2011 @ 7:09 am | Comment

SKC, we have a major-league troll here, coming on sounding moderately sane and then, step by step, getting crazier and crazier. As I’ve said before, I’ve been running this blog for nine years now and can pretty much tell when someone is bad news.

Jason, there are land seizures in the US, too. But there is no surrounding of villages and choking off people’s food supplies and terrorizing the citizens. At least none that I know of. In fact, people whose homes are in the way of a public works project, at least in the US, often make out quite handsomely.

December 17, 2011 @ 7:52 am | Comment

To Jason,

fascinating comparison. Now, what justifies the comparison? Did somebody somewhere say that what’s happening in Wukan only happens in China? If not, then why bring up a comparison? Does the Indian example change what’s happening in Wukan? If not, then where is the relevance?

Sounds like some people in that new Indian state might have a legitimate grievance. Does that make the Chinese villagers in question any more or less aggrieved? Now, back to the topic, what about the people in Wukan? Are you OK with authorities laying siege to the villagers and depriving them of supplies of food and water? I don’t think any comparisons are necessary when addressing those questions.

To Richard,
I am a relative newbie in these parts, but yes, you seem to have captured the natural evolution of that subset of individual.

December 17, 2011 @ 8:01 am | Comment

“Are you OK with authorities laying siege to the villagers and depriving them of supplies of food and water?”

That was the least of it. They use a thug kidnap gang working with the local para-police force to snatch the village reps from a resturaunt, one of whom was later beaten to death.

Just last week Beijing announced a strike hard campaign again gangs working from unlicenced vehicles as ‘retrievers’ for black jails. Obviously, they have been redeployed.

If you look at Malcolm Moore’s recent tweets, I think you will see a photo of one of these gangs operating around Wukan.

Why not respond to these hard core facts about the realities of conflict problem- solving in China today.

Wukan is a glimpse of the future – maybe this year, maybe in 10 years time- and china will repeat its history. The immediate neighbours and the West will jeer while the country consumes itself, yet again.

December 17, 2011 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

Seems like armed thugs are running amok. Rule of law seems but a dream. Reality is a little less gentile.

December 17, 2011 @ 4:42 pm | Comment


The power of the Party is not absolute; not even remotely so. The power is absolute relative to the farmers and working class in China, but to the middle class and those who work the system, not so much; and finally, to those in charge or those who have the real connections, the Party is simply a source of power rather than a check on behavior. Hence, I don’t think anyone who enters into the party completely abandons their checks on behavior; government abuses usually pop up because the jerks causing these things were already jerks before they joined the Party; it was only that their callous natures were unintentionally rewarded by the current institutional set-up by promotion.

SK and Richard,

We seem to arrive, then at a fundamental question: is the current Chinese government capable of peacefully yet substantially reforming itself? Richard, you say that this is divorced from reality; what have you seen that makes you believe this? (I have no clue how to answer this question–sincerely curious.)

December 17, 2011 @ 4:51 pm | Comment

t_co, there is crime everywhere, which governments can’t stop 100% of the time. However, the problem here is that the man in question was seized by the authorities. It wasn’t a criminal gang who grabbed him. So it’s more that the CCP does not control over itself.

Which is why the CCP’s monopoly on power has to be broken. Even if the central authorities could be trusted to be whiter than white and against the ill treatment of its citizens under any circumstances (clearly it is not given it tolerates and takes part in the repression of its own people), it will never be able to micromanage what happens in the provinces.

December 17, 2011 @ 6:11 pm | Comment

t_co, I simply believe that while the goals you listed sound great, there is no sign of them happening. And this strikes me a wholly simplistic:

By responding proactively to criticism while ensuring all interest groups are fundamentally aligned with the concept of Chinese nationhood and progress, China’s leadership can take the country to a better future.

Responding proactively to criticism? Sometimes, definitely. But their more common response is digging in their heels and doubling down, increasing, not loosening, censorship, putting critics in jail and glossing over the truth with propaganda. Read about what they’re doing in Wukan. Censorship under Hu has gotten much worse, not better. I think the CCP can and will reform itself over many years, and am not sure I agree with Raj that the CCP’s monopoly on power “must be broken” because for now I don’t think it can be broken. But your contention that I just snipped above sounds, with all due respect, like one of those rosy platitudes Shaun Rein likes to write about how the party leadership will competently navigate the country through its crises and bring about peace, prosperity and reform. Maybe someday, but it ignores the cruel truth on the ground for many, many Chinese people, most of whom are not middle class and many of whom are subject to suppression. China is reforming, but two friends of mine in the past four years got knocks on their door, and a black hood was put over their heads and they were taken to secret jails (most likely cheap, guarded hotels). So yeah, saying they’ll keep reforming and all will be well sounds great. But it’s way too early to predict their victory in the wake of social unrest, a fragile economy, environmental catastrophes and rampant corruption. I want to believe they can accomplish what you say, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon, if ever.

December 18, 2011 @ 12:39 am | Comment

To t-co:
The Party is the system, and vice versa, so I don’t know how one could separate the power of the party and the power of the system. One and/or the other has absolute power, and at the end of the day, they are part and parcel of the same thing.

As you also say, the Party (and I would submit, the system) is a source of power rather than a check on behaviour. So you are really counting on the continued good graces of the people in power to not abuse it. But if they do (especially at the local level like in Linyi and now in Wukan), there is no systematic means of rectifying it. Instead of rule of law, you get rule by law, courtesy of armed thugs. I’m not sure that’s going to change without a fundamental change to the system.

I don’t have an answer to your question. I would observe, however, that if anything things have been back-sliding under Hu Jintao. The changes required would take it (the Party and the system) completely away from “authoritarianism” as I would understand it. I don’t know if that is within the capacity of the CCP.

December 18, 2011 @ 4:48 am | Comment

and am not sure I agree with Raj that the CCP’s monopoly on power “must be broken” because for now I don’t think it can be broken

Richard, for clarity I was not calling for instant change. I was referring to the fact that UNTIL the CCP’s monopoly of power is broken (or at least weakened), the sorts of injustices seen in Wukan will continue.

December 19, 2011 @ 2:07 am | Comment

Heard on the Beeb that Cantonese is going to be ousted from prime time TV slots in Guangdong. Wonder how well that’ll go down….

December 19, 2011 @ 8:35 am | Comment

by the way, gg Kim Jong-Il. good fucking riddance

December 19, 2011 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

See my new post, and use it as an open thread. I’m shutting this one.

December 20, 2011 @ 12:42 am | Comment

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