Do Westerners care about human rights in China?

This journalist clearly believes they do not.

Let’s stop jacking the Chinese around. We do not care a whit now — nor have we ever cared — about their human rights or any other aspect of their lives as long as they satiate our unbridled appetites. To pretend otherwise is to deny centuries of exploitative history in which the West drugged the Middle Kingdom and plundered it for its resources and cheap labor while obliterating any sign of popular resistance to our imperial sway.

From the Opium Wars to the contemplation of using nuclear weapons to bomb China back to the Stone Age because of our differences with it over Korea and Vietnam, the response of the West has been one of brute intimidation. Never have we been willing to acknowledge that China, for all of its immense contradictions, upheavals, sufferings and errant ways, represents the most complex and impressive example of national history.

Instead we intrude upon China in fitful moments of pique or treat it as a plaything. Who owns China? That was the question that marked the first period of U.S. involvement, when we joined other Western imperialists in carving up China into economic zones. And then came the bitter argument in the U.S. in the late 1940s and the ’50s about “Who lost China?” Now Americans find themselves preoccupied with how best to exploit China’s amazing economic prowess while feigning interest in the well-being of its people.

My problem with the article is the use of the word “We,” as if this lack of interest in human rights in China is monolithic and universal. Is it not possible that many of us care about human rights violations in China? Who is the “We” that doesn’t “care a whit” about the subject? Who are these “Americans” who feel this way? Are they to a large degree strawmen?

I would probably agree that most of the government and the oligarchy of multinational companies don’t care much if at all. But there are many sincere people in the West who do truly care. They are probably the same people who care about human rights in other countries, the kind of people who were appalled at the treatment by the US military of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and who spoke out against atrocities committed in the name of the “war on terror.” Most Western journalists I know in China care deeply about the plight of dissidents in China. I know I do, just as I care about the repression of women in Saudi Arabia, or the arrest and torture and murder of innocents in Syria.

How cynical can we get? Even more so.

Ever since the Republican Richard Nixon went to Beijing to suck up to Mao Zedong, every American president has acknowledged the power of China’s rulers to sweep aside the human rights concerns of foreigners as mere political theater for the folks back home. What a great spin it is to pretend that we are the champions of universal human rights as we tweet about our great concern for the Chinese people on the very mobile devices that their exploited labor created.

I am not so convinced China’s greatest human rights abuses are directed at its labor force, as the author contends. Most Chinese laborers are thirsty for the work and eager to work overtime. Of course there is exploitation and abuse. There is in any developing country, and in China it sometimes amounts to slave labor, at least in some instances. But many if not most migrant workers in China would much rather keep the jobs they have than move back to what they left.

There is nothing wrong or hypocritical about caring for human rights in China, for caring about Chen Guangcheng and Liu Xiaobo and the thousands of other activists/dissidents who had the temerity to challenge the status quo. I feel the same, as I said, for victims of US repression and have spoken out against it many times (go back and read my posts from 2004 criticizing the Bush administration). Read Philip Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow, a book of incredible compassion for the Chinese who stood up for human rights in China at a terrifying cost to their own lives. Does he, too, not care a whit about human rights in China?

He also pulls out the old chestnut of how “the US does it, too.”

The fact that Chen Guangcheng was targeted by Chinese authorities because of his opposition to his nation’s oppressive population control policies added the United States’ “pro-life” lobby to the army of morally subjective China watchers. Now if we can get the pro-lifers to care about the human rights of fetuses after birth, the condition of the millions of severely exploited Chinese workers who float U.S. consumption and our national debt just might stand a chance of improvement.

Morally subjective China watchers. Those who speak out are hypocrites because America, too, has a spotty record. I and most others I know are aware of and disgusted by this spotty record. But that doesn’t neutralize what goes on in China.

There’s a lot of truth to this article when it says the government and multinationals care more about their economic ties with China than with human rights. Very true. But many, many Westerners care deeply about human rights in China, as they care about it elsewhere. As they care about it in America as well. They are not all hypocrites and cynics. Scheer seems to dismiss them with a wave of his hand. I found this a deeply irritating and one-sided article.

And let me just add, a few minutes after posting this, that there is a lot of faux outrage and even more ignorance when it comes to the subject of human rights in China. Most Americans have no deep understanding of the actual story of Chen or Liu and see them in black and white, as good versus evil. There’s always more to it than that. These men may not be angels and some of those repressed by the government may not have been saints. But the illegal house arrests, beatings, solitary confinement and harassment are real. And yes, I know we are holding Bradley Manning in solitary confinement, and I find his treatment despicable, too. But at least it is common knowledge told countless times in the media and we can all speak out about it without fearing a 2am knock on the door.

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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: 46 Comments

people care about themselves and their concepts of the world, not necessarily the world as it is.

yeah, the article took a hard slant, and had some truth, imo.

me, i’m bugged with the treatment of ai weiwei or chen guangcheng because i can imagine it happening to me.

May 6, 2012 @ 3:50 am | Comment

I couldn’t agree more with this post.

Actually, one of the things that riles me most is how people forget that nations are a recent invention and are nothing more than a cultural construct. It’s truly retarded to take the lines on maps as anything more than… political convention, nothing more or less.

Sure, there are cultural differences, reinforced or introduced by different governments. Culture and mores, however, can change extremely fast. (Think of China today vs 50 or 100 years ago. Think of all of Central-Eastern Europe today vs 30 years ago. Hell, even when you watch American movies from the 50s and 60s, it’s as if you’re watching an alien nation – the clothes, the speech, the political issues, it’s all changed.)

So I would respectfully posit that when someone says “I couldn’t care less about x nation, let them all starve to death, stop all foreign aid and give me my moneyzz”, well, it’s doubtful that that person cares much about anything and anyone except himself.

It’s not as if the banker/gov’t types who mess around “abroad”, in places like China, Nicaragua, Peru etc. have any ethical principles at all when it comes to dealing in their “own” country (the US, UK, etc.)

So in short:
- decent people are decent to everyone everywhere and care about human rights everywhere;
- selfish bastards behave in a selfish way with everyone, everywhere, and couldn’t care less about human rights wherever; even if their own country gets messed up, it makes no difference to them as long as they have it good.

Therefore the original opinion piece relied on a silly generalization.

May 6, 2012 @ 4:19 am | Comment

Pan’s, OUT OF MAO’S SHADOW, likely the greatest book ever written by a Chinese on the horrendous treatment of the Chinese government against it’s charges during the CR.

But, there are many hero’s in this book, people willingly risking their lives for what they believe; freedom for the people. This gives me hope that one day the Chinese will demand a different form of government. And, due to the large population, change will come, as refusal by the government will be futile.

As for Americans really caring about human rights in China – I do believe they care; however, caring and being actively involved, (putting your life on the line), well?, are you marching around Tianamen Square with a placard in your hands reading DOWN WITH THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT!?

Neither am I. Neither are others who care.

Governments do what is in their best interests, this includes the U.S. Right now, we have more problems than fighting for human rights in China.

May 6, 2012 @ 7:49 am | Comment

I liked the article because I took it to apply to the American government only, not to “we” Americans as individuals. I think there are plenty of American individuals who care about human rights, but far too many of them think China is the worst violator, when it doesn’t even come close. I am of the view that unless and until Americans start focusing on the worst human rights violators (and it sure as hell ain’t Cuba or China or even Venezuela), nobody is going to take us seriously, and they shouldn’t. What about “allies” like Saudi Arabia where being gay means having your head chopped off and being female means being treated like dirt? What about Egypt, that ran off every single one of its Jews and now is killing and running off every single one of its Christians? Or Syria, where Assad Jr. is well on his way towards matching the 100,000 his father killed? The list goes on and on of countries where the US has said nothing and done nothing. I have written on this many times, most starkly in this post: http://www.chinalawblog.com/2009/06/im_sorry_but_us_hypocrisy_on_h.html.

I am not saying China is blame free, but I am saying that if we really did care about human rights we should maybe start with our allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “We” are hypocrites and the world knows it and that’s why it is fair to say that “we” don’t really care.

May 6, 2012 @ 8:27 am | Comment

Any article where the argument is predicated on the uniformity of thought of an entire people is bound to be useless on its face. It’s no better (or worse) than making arguments that start with “all Chinese” do this or “all Chinese” think that. No such reality exists. To argue based on that is to render one’s argument to only be relevant in an imaginary world, right from the get-go. That said, it’s always easier to argue against black or white rather than shades of gray, so this journalist has chosen the path of least resistance. He isn’t the first, and won’t be the last.

If it is assumed that the author is referring to the US government rather than Americans per se, that would make it a little less egregious. But then bringing up historical grievances seems a little obtuse, since the US had no role in pretty much any of those things. What’s more, the author is ambiguous about who is being referenced, and I’m not so sure deserves the benefit of the doubt. For starters, that benefit has not been earned.

Does the US have its own issues? Most certainly. And other countries are free to raise them. If one has to have a clean slate before being able to point out the shortcomings of other nations, then the list of nations capable of doing the talking would probably be quite short indeed. That would be a great principle for having nobody criticize anybody else…which, come to think of it, would be right up the CCP’s alley. So yes, the US should say something to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, for which they can exercise their prerogative. And the US should say something to China, for which they have exercised their prerogative. Those needn’t be mutually exclusive things.

May 6, 2012 @ 11:34 am | Comment

@Dan

Completely agree–US policy on China, US rhetoric on China, and what the American people actually feel about China are three different animals. Of course, the same could be said of every country in terms of policy, rhetoric, and actual popular will.

US policy on China and Chinese policy to the US have both been remarkably benign for relations between a hegemon and a rising power. Wilhelmine Germany and Imperial Britain never got along to this level, nor did England and Hapsburg Spain.

May 6, 2012 @ 11:35 am | Comment

I think we should be talking about Western governments rather than Westerners.

US is now being managed by the America’s Capitalist Party(ACP)which have become almost indistinguishable from China’s Communist Party(CCP) members,They’ve used their power to give themselves absurdly high pay(Legalised corruption); they have no accountability to shareholders; and they’ve created a new caste, which is now exercising enormous political power. The American Capitalist Party and CCP are both very worrisome.

EU countries are now busy with their own backyard fire.

May 6, 2012 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

I can’t agree with Scheer’s first line – “Let’s stop jacking the Chinese around”. Who’s jacking “the Chinese” around? If anyone, it’s their own collective leadership, at the center, and in the field. But what I like about the article is that it is sort of honest. To do business with China’s dictators, and to strengthen their hand by transferring technology there, we help to build a political system that we would never want to rule us, but which is gaining attractiveness among our “elites”. After all, making troublemakers vanish may not be such a bad idea after all, and some more collectivism (among the underlings, not us bosses) isn’t such a bad idea either, is it?

I don’t mind the “we”. When I’m talking about my own country, I say “we”, even if it is a policy or a cultural trait I either don’t share, or don’t want to share.

We want to eat our cake and have it too. That’s what is frequently attributed to a Chinese “national character”, but it is pretty universal, it seems. We want to do business with China anyway, even if it strengthens its political system as it is, for short-term profit. But of course, China must change, because we are doing business with it, right?

That stuff has been preached for decades, as if that were a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now that this policy – getting fat on China, and “changing” it at the same time, doesn’t quite seem to work, the prophets are becoming a bit angry.

Ludicrous. Especially when I get to hear people say that China’s political system “can’t work”. That’s a weak try to assign ones own responsibility – for human rights – to the workings of history and some kind of natural law. And such a view doesn’t respect human rights either. A collapsing China won’t show any more respect for human rights than it does now.

If we tolerate human rights violations anywhere and suggest that they must have “cultural” reasons, sure some “cultural” reasons in Western countries can be found to which would justify human rights violations in our places just as handily.

But I don’t really object to Scheer’s article. It is wrong, but for the right reasons.

May 6, 2012 @ 1:45 pm | Comment

My previous comment was sort of a sermon. To add something practical to it: we need industrial policies. We should learn the right things from China; we should learn that certain fields of industries are of strategic value, and have development potential (every country is a developing country).

Ralph Gomory wrote some very practical things about his.

May 6, 2012 @ 1:51 pm | Comment

It’s an interesting question and debate, and after thinking quite a bit about the events that unfolded this week (and the reaction to them), I am half convinced that it is not that “we” do or do not care… but that we like to think we do.

Which is why it takes CNN, and a case like CGC’s, to ignite a response. It is distant, it is someone else, and through the power of Youtube / Twitter I can join the response.

R

May 6, 2012 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

Many people in South Africa must have felt that Anglo-Saxon countries were hypocritical for criticising their Apartheid regime, given their history of Black slavery. Perhaps they were even right. But if they hadn’t been willing to criticise them, and pressure them, then Black South Africans would still be disenfranchised in their own country. It’s not necessary to be a saint, nor does your country need to have a spotless history, before you can speak out against injustice in the world.

May 7, 2012 @ 9:17 am | Comment

Black South Africans would still be disenfranchised in their own country.

Actually this should right “might” because it underplays the role of the ANC. But Nelson Mandela did acknowledge that international sanctions and criticism helped to bring down Apartheid.

On the other hand, some people in NZ, Autralia, Britain etc argued that we shouldn’t “impose our values” on other countries. I don’t think it was a bad thing that that argument lost out.

May 7, 2012 @ 9:35 am | Comment

Dan, I totally agree about the pass the US government gives to Saudi Arabia. Immoral, unforgivable. China is not, by a long shot, the worst violator of human rights. I have blogged in the past about honor killings and the execution in Iran of two gay teenagers a few years ago. I find the human rights abuses of the Middle East far more reprehensible than those of China. But two wrongs never make a right.

Let’s be realistic. The US government in recent years hasn’t really dwelt on human rights violations in China, just as with Saudi Arabia. The government makes some token references to abuse, but what has the US really done to point out human rights violations in China? Precious little, just as with Saudi Arabia, because the money comes first, always. What has the US said about Hu Jia, Chen Guangcheng, the many “cyberdissidents” China has arrested, Liu Xiaobo, et. al.? In my estimation, any protest by the US government against such abuses has been minimal and basically for show. Scheer is right when he says the US — the US government — doesn’t really care about the subject. “Strategic interests” — i.e., money — always, always come first.

May 7, 2012 @ 11:35 am | Comment

I do not care about human rights in China because, Opium War. At last, now I see clearly. Thank you, and goodnight.

May 7, 2012 @ 1:06 pm | Comment

It seems that the Peking Duck has helped to illuminate another poor soul. Congratulations and best wishes as your blog enters its eleventh year, Richard.

May 7, 2012 @ 3:06 pm | Comment

Not a bad post. Also the comments are reasonable. Nevertheless, I still feel the bias – but not overtly so. Gives a nice balance to the other extreme. It would be more interesting if you also gave your views on the (imo) inordinate & disportionate media frenzy given to Chinese dissidents. We all know practically everything about Liu Xiaobo, Fang Lizhi & now CGC et al. But for other faceless/nameless dissidents in the world – just a passing mention. More often than not, not even so. HR like you say should be equally available to everyone – not to suit political agendas.

May 7, 2012 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

[...] Corollary: Peking Duck’s response. [...]

May 7, 2012 @ 10:01 pm | Pingback

Thanks for the comment, WT. I think there’s one important factor that hasn’t yet been touched upon: It is the media that causes all the uproars over human rights in China, not the government. The government views these uproars as a pain in the butt and only responds to them in the wake of pressure generated by the media. And the only cases that come to light are the ones brought to light by the press. That’s why there are so many dissidents we never hear about, only the ones the press focuses on. The government is never going to speak out about that because it’s not in their interest (financial interest) to do so. That is, to me, a fundamental flaw in the article, mistaking media outrage with government outrage.

May 8, 2012 @ 12:32 am | Comment

@WT
Media frenzies sell papers. Dissidents in China are the sexy flavour du jour, especially if they are blind and manage to escape from their heavily defended house. The governemtn’s response (both local and national) are also sexy to readers – nothing sells like draconian authoritarian governments crushing poor plucky rights activists (unless they’re Bahraini or Saudi or Palestinian).
The media forms opinions and caters to those opinions. I guess Ricepaddy (#14) does have a point – it is like opium. Some say governments in the west (read US and Western Europe) have a hand in this but I suspect these governments are also in thrall to the media, kind of like riding a tiger, worrying every second that they do or say something that will cause their downfall.

May 8, 2012 @ 4:55 am | Comment

@ Mike, justrecently
The point I was trying to make is that saying that Westerners (whoever they are) do not care about human rights in China because of the Opium Wars is like saying that the English are not careful in their building standards because of Stonehenge.

Obviously I need to hone my ‘biting sarcasm’ skills.

May 8, 2012 @ 10:06 am | Comment

@Ricepaddy – But you’re forgetting that the Opium wars happened just yesterday whilst SARS, TAM and the CR happened a long time ago.

May 8, 2012 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

HuffPo is a bad place to go for foreign policy commentary. Scheer strikes me as completely innocent of any working knowledge of China, trade, Chinese current events….

May 9, 2012 @ 1:41 am | Comment

@FOARP

Indeed. And some of those things you mention may not have happened at all!

Actually, I think Stonehenge is quite cool, even if it was built without proper regard for construction safety. And of course, none of the labour was unionised.

May 9, 2012 @ 10:02 am | Comment

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/08/world/asia/china-chen/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

And so it goes…the face-saving dog-and-pony show is cued up yet again, led by such esteemed bastions as the Global Times. They can’t just say CGC is being allowed to go to NYU to study; they first need to run him through the character-assassination mill, so that the CCP is seen as doing Chinese people a favour by shipping a malcontent abroad. What a fine piece of work these people are.

May 9, 2012 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

@ SK

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/world/asia/behind-twists-of-diplomacy-in-case-of-chen-guangcheng.html

U.S. is spinning this just as hard. Note how the above piece portrays Hilary as essentially saving the day for everyone (saving face for China, saving Chen’s life, saving his family, saving the S&ED talks) through “artful diplomacy”.

Also regarding the Global Times, they’re more closely aligned with the faction that *doesn’t* want the CGC deal to succeed. They’d much rather the Foreign Ministry be portrayed as internally weak.

Both these reports really only prove one thing: it’s an election year, and CGC is a political football on both sides of the Pacific.

May 9, 2012 @ 3:55 pm | Comment

The Foreign Ministry IS weak and many observers would see that weakness behind debacles like CGC, China’s unrealized/failed soft power campaign, the trouble getting China serious about a code of conduct in the South China Sea, the violent behavior of Chinese fisherman in South Korean waters… In a Leninist system, thugs ultimately rule.

May 9, 2012 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

There are two reasons for me not to think of Chen as “political football” on the American side of the Pacific. (#25)

One is that putting it this way would – incorrectly – make Chen look as he were a mere object of the two great powers – in fact, he has taken courageous decisions in the past. Another is that the U.S. embassy, as far as I know, has not refuted Chen’s account of a threat that his family would have to return to Dongshigu if he stayed in the embassy. They disagree on a number of things, but not about this blackmail issue.

The Chinese government may like to treat a lot of Chens like footballs, and it may also like to make the Chinese public believe that Chen is simply an “ordinary people had to cooperate with the big political powers who made their [own] arrangements”. But I have no reason to see it their way.

May 9, 2012 @ 10:59 pm | Comment

I’m not sure what t_co really means on political football on the US side. S/he is right insofar as some Republicans have attacked the Obama administration for naivete in accepting Chinese assurances he could operate safely inside China. That line of attack has been toned down a bit with the (apparent) NYU School of Law resolution and as a more detailed picture of the negotiations emerged. But the CGC case is a one-off incident with little wider political traction in the US. There is no reason to expect that any occupant in the White House dealing with white knuckle negotiations with screaming and insulting Chinese apparatchiks with lives and key geopolitical relations on the line would do anything differently.

Before t_co weighs in on that, I’d like explanations on 1) how a shamelessly libelous, fabricated screed on Chen by the Global Times and a detailed insiders’ account in the New York Times of how the talks went down (even accounting for possible embellishment of Hillary’s role) equally qualify as simply “spin” and 2) how the CCP cabal/leadership enclave at the end of this year can be breezily described as if it were an “election” among many in a worldwide election year.

May 9, 2012 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

From the NYT article T-co linked: ““Face is more important in Asian society than any contract.”

And somehow, holding a blind guy, his wife, his elderly mother, and his young child illegally under house arrest for 19 months is not construed as a shameful act befitting a colossal loss of face? The CCP has a bizarre concept of a whole bunch of things, including what it means to “save face”, it appears. LOL.

To T-Co,
actually, the article is pretty fair about what the US could and couldn’t do. They initially kept quiet about Chen’s whereabouts, to give China time to manoeuver…that doesn’t sound like Hillary dishing out a bitch-slapping. US officials acknowledged there was only so far they could go with “assurances”…hardly Hillary going Iron-Man on the CCP’s Loki ass. THe article concludes by saying that gone are the days when the US sacrifices a bilateral relationship over any one guy…Hillary is no Black Widow going rogue on a bunch of Russians (sorry, several Avengers references there…good popcorn flick, btw). Hillary was being measured, whereas Romney and FOX friends may have preferred full frontal assault. Also, you can hardly equate NYT with Global Times in terms of mouthpiece street cred. GT wins that one hands down.

May 10, 2012 @ 2:51 am | Comment

Richard
My problem with the article is the use of the word “We,” as if this lack of interest in human rights in China is monolithic and universal.

It’s the majority opinion, the majority pretense. Look how much the West “cared” about Africa and just what that did for them. Nothing at all.

The truth is few people anywhere care about foreigners much less some segments of their own population. Westerners would rather feed their dogs gourmet food than 10 African children survival rations.

Which of course makes perfect sense unless you dogmatically assert you’re the champion of all human rights and make threats contingent upon said rights.

Of course, there are always those that DO genuinely care. Many of these, unfortunately, are idiots.

May 10, 2012 @ 5:51 am | Comment

How’d I get this random woman icon, it’s not bad.

May 10, 2012 @ 5:52 am | Comment

Well yes some of us do care about human rights in China and the best way a person can care is to give out the truth of God’s word , the Holy Bible I believe. It contains how come to know him personally through repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world to save sinners by dying for them on the cross , being buried , and rising from the dead the third day, being seen of men , and going back up to heaven. He is the only way to God’s heaven and to miss hell no matter what country a person lives in. HolyBible.com , fbnradio.com.

May 11, 2012 @ 3:03 am | Comment

. . . . because the church has always been known for its support of human rights. Don’t get me wrong, Oscar Romero, von Galen, Desmond Tutu and others showed Chrisitianity to be a potential force for good – but there’ve also been lots of counter-examples.

May 11, 2012 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

the best way a person can care is to give out the truth of God’s word , the Holy Bible I believe.

Yes, what China needs is the sanction of genocide and rape.

May 12, 2012 @ 3:34 am | Comment

To CM:
this is precisely why you are never able to make a compelling argument. George’s bible-thumping might be misguided, but there are many Chinese who accept Christianity (and some even go for full-on Catholicism…with Chinese characteristics). So it’s pretty pointless to merely focus on a few aspects of organized religion while completely ignoring the existence of many other somewhat more palatable aspects. One wonders why you even bother with such pointless attempts…

May 12, 2012 @ 1:17 pm | Comment

One wonders why you even bother with such pointless attempts…

Maybe it is because there are Christians in China who are prepared to pay a high price for practising their faith in accordance with their conscience, Cheung.

In CM’s view, I guess, they do that “to blacken the image of China”, i. e., its rulers. If there’s someting that keeps you from letting the CCP define your religion, you must be a bad person.

May 12, 2012 @ 1:55 pm | Comment

After all, the CCP is an expert on religion.

May 12, 2012 @ 1:57 pm | Comment

1) How many political prisoners are there in the US? Prisoners held because of what they said? I can’t think of any.

2) Manning? Well, if any Chinese stole a few hundred thousand diplomatic emails and published them to the world, I don’t think he’d be held in jail awaiting trial. He’d be shot behind the ear and his family would be billed for the bullet. That’s precisely why the US is targeted for this kind of crime and China is not.

3) I’m sick of the stupid comparisons between the US and China. The US is a shining beacon on the hill compared to any other great power in history, and compared to all but perhaps a tiny handful of other countries in the world (I’d say Canada, but you can be punished severely in Canada for expressing your opinions about jihadism; it’s hard to think of another country with the freedoms that the US has).

4) Of course, China has come a long way from the Maoist era – and that is what is so incredibly annoying about the stupid article mentioned up top – by an author who thinks that any crime committed in the name of equality is not a crime. Most Chinese have a huge amount of freedom today compared to the Red Guard era. But China still has a very, very long way to go.

5) Of course, the US has to balance its economic interests with its interests in promoting human rights, both in China and elsewhere. The world isn’t perfect. Second best solutions are usually the only solutions. As much as I dislike the Obama administration, I think they’ve done a pretty decent job keeping the right balance with China.

May 13, 2012 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

religion isn’t the answer here. religion introduced into a society bereft of other stable social NGOs quickly leads to theocracy

May 13, 2012 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

Apparently, CGC and his immediate family will be issued passports within 15 days, after which they should be able to go to New York. Time will tell.

On the other hand, his more extended family, not to mention the folks who helped him escape, are up the creek. For instance, his nephew, who may have stabbed a government official visiting his house or acted in defense against a government official invading his house (depending, of course, on who you choose to believe), remains “disappeared”. And I don’t know if the lady who drove CGC to Beijing has been heard from since the government goons paid her a visit. Ahh China, what a system.

May 18, 2012 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

@ SK

The key question is how to bring these folks back into the fold. Marginalizing them will not make China more stable

May 18, 2012 @ 4:37 pm | Comment

It depends on what kind of “fold” that would be – it may be one honest people do not wish to return to.

May 18, 2012 @ 5:25 pm | Comment

To T-co,
I’d actually characterize it as a question of how China can and needs to change in order to make it attractive enough for those who have left (or will soon be leaving) to decide to return. In CGC’s case, some assurances that he won’t be subjected to illegal house arrest might be a start. The problem is that such promises would be both simple and impossible…such is the state of Chinese lawlessness today.

Besides, if a blind guy is enough to disturb “stability”, is there much stability there at all? Chinese “stability” is enforced stability…which really isn’t stability to speak of.

May 19, 2012 @ 7:07 am | Comment

I should clarify Chen isn’t really a threat to Chinese stability, any more than Bradley Manning is a threat to the stability of American foreign policy. The long-term threat to China’s stability forever is the formation of powerful vested interests, who turn the bureaucracy of the state toward pursuing detrimental policies. This has been the trend ever since the Qin Dynasty nearly 2000 years ago. Back then it was feudal duchies and military commanders, now you have SOEs with the same economic heft and political influence as the largest Western multinationals.

When viewed through this lens, Chen’s imprisonment isn’t a product of him challenging the “system”, per se, but rather powerful vested interests that take advantage of said system. This is probably why Chen felt like he could make the (ill-advised) video to Premier Wen. In Chen’s case, he was challenging the population-control bureaucracy, and then the security budget for his imprisonment gave the security apparatus a reason to continue keeping him firmly marginalized. Integrating dissenting elements like him back into the mainstream means weakening the vested interests which want to keep things in a perpetual state of semi-crisis. However, I’m not sure the reforming side and Chen’s dissident friends are coordinating the right way to nudge China down a less statist course.

In my opinion, the best thing that ever happened to China over the past year was Wukan. Bo Xilai’s scandal was a wash, inasmuch it made people think with their lower halves instead of their brain. The CGC saga was also made a wash, mostly because of that video to Wen, which is going to hang on reform movement’s neck like a millstone in the upcoming elections, and because CGC, much to my disappointment, hasn’t used his 15 minutes of fame to actually illustrate a path forward beyond general platitudes about injustice.

But Wukan actually demonstrated a practical solution for political tensions. The village leaders who resisted the temptation to go for broke and denounce the Party, while at the same time staying firm in their commitment to accountable government, deserve the highest praise. Like the farmers in Anhui in ’78 who signed a pact in blood to end collective production, these people have shone a light through the current maze of issues. If China is to reach the next level of her potential, their ideas must be embraced.

May 19, 2012 @ 9:50 am | Comment

I agree, powerful (and corrupt) interests run amok in China. Unfortunately, the present paradigm is predicated on one part of the party showing the other the folly of its dinosaur ways. Any evolutionary product that involves the appeasement and input of a bunch of dinosaurs will be inherently genetically stunted.

I also agree that the Wukan villagers were inspiring. But accountable government of any meaningful scale in China will have to exist independent of any relic of the CCP. A one-party state that silences dissent the way the CCP does is fundamentally contrary to any concept of accountability.

May 19, 2012 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

I am a foreign-born Chinese, and with my 10+ years living within a community of mainland Chinese, I would like to put up front some of my mainland Chinese friends’ views on foreigners’ efforts in striving for human right in China. First of all, let’s make it clear that Chinese don’t take criticism well from foreigners. To criticize is simply inappropriate even among the Chinese themselves, unless it is from family members, close relatives or very close friends. The logic goes by: Who are you to criticize someone when you don’t even know him well? Plus, let’s have those who have not sinned cast the first stone. If you couldn’t even tackle human rights problem at your own soil well, then you are really not qualified to “teach” people what to do with human rights. That’s simply hipocrisy. But one of the reasons why Chinese find it unpleasant, or in many cases even offensive, with foreign intervention for human rights and other issues in China is that, to the Chinese eyes, these foreigners who, albeit out of good intentions, harbour a very arrogant and ignorant attitude towards issues in China. We feel that many of them get hot-headed the moment they hear the word “freedom” and “rights”. But then, many of them don’t really know Chinese history nor have any deep understanding of Chinese culture. Now, how many of these people actually know the number of dynasties there are in Chinese history, and can recite the names of the dynasties in sequential order? Lest have any knowledge of the flow of Chinese history. How many of them have actually went and lived in China for an extended period of time, talked to the locals, tried to understand what they think of the government and what their wants are, and then, with all these understanding combined with your experiences in the west, ponder on what the Chinese people really need? For these people, you don’t know much about us, yet you want to change us. Now, how much more arrogant can that be?! Of course, there are a small number of those who have actually bothered to go to China, to live there for years, to learn the history and the culture, and are engaged with the locals. Bravo to them! Yet, one should also remember that change do not come by with just talks. If you really want to make a change, propose something practical and doable, and then take actions. It’s very easy to point one’s fingers and say: “This is not right, and that is not right. I want to see it changed this way and that way.” A very good example comes from the reforestation of rural areas in China (couldn’t recall the village name), where hills that have been depleted from intensive agriculture have been transformed into grassland for herding or planting of the more prowess pepper plants. To tackle the environmental problems in China, one should also consider how the local economy and subsistence can be maintained so that these poor farmers can still make a living for themselves, while the market does not falter with shortage of supplies. Aside from tackling the issue, you should include the people’s culture, what they can handle and what they cannot, as well as the people’s livelihood into the formula. Chinese people certainly need help, and they crave for help. But don’t just go yelling “Save the environment”. It’s the easiest thing to do, yet the most inconsiderate and irresponsible to those whom you want to help. However, if you are willing to provide help in the appropriate manners, trust me, you will be loved, cherished, and remembered for generations by the Chinese (it’s in the Chinese culture!). Inspirations: Norman Bethune.

May 22, 2012 @ 2:26 am | Comment

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