“Enough is enough”

There’s a beautiful post over at one of my favorite blogs by Xujun Eberlein on the phenomenon of gatherings of mainly retired men in Chongqing. They meet on a major pedestrian thoroughfare and they talk, loudly, of the need for change in China.

Eventually, in front of the New Century apartment store, I found several circles of men. In each circle, one man stood in the center speaking loudly and excitedly, and others surrounding him listening attentively, chirping in now and then.

They were all men, most looking to be of retirement age. No women in the talkers’ circles, though I saw a couple sitting under a tree nearby, not paying attention. My appearance thus caused a small disturbance. A few men approached me, and I asked them what they were talking about. I’m not sure what they thought I was – a journalist perhaps? – but they immediately started to voice their opinions, nearly shouting: “We want a multi-party system!” “We want democracy!”

A major target for them is Bo Xilai and the corruption he represents. They even accuse him of being involved in organ harvesting.

Is this unique to Chongqing or is it part of a larger trend? I have no idea, but I find the fact that these men bother to do this on a regular basis to be rather astonishing. I wonder what motivates them; is it just Bo Xilai or is he merely a symbol of what’s wrong with the government?

The post concludes:

My friend He Shu, a Chongqing historian, tells me that spontaneous gatherings like the one I saw have appeared in several areas of Chongqing. On Yangjiaping’s Pedestrian Boulevard, he says, there are some regular speakers making intelligent remarks on current affairs and have attracted quite some audience. Again, most of the men are retired, and aging seems to instill a more urgent need in them to see a change in their country while there’s still time.

This is well worth reading in full. We can only be grateful that someone is documenting this phenomenon, and we can only wonder how long they’ll be allowed to continue if they keep drawing sympathetic crowds.

Update: Perhaps the findings from the latest Pew Research poll, just released, are relevant:

“As China prepares for its once-in-a-decade change of leadership, the Chinese people believe their country faces serious and growing challenges,” the authors of the survey wrote.

“In particular, the side effects of rapid economic growth, including the gap between rich and poor, rising prices (and) pollution … are major concerns, and there are also increasing worries about political corruption.”

Graft is a particular sore point for leaders of the world’s second-largest economy. The party has repeatedly warned that anger over corruption could threaten its survival, or at least destabilize its tight hold on power.

Half the respondents said they thought corrupt officials were a very big problem, up 11 percentage points from four years ago….

More and more Chinese people seem to be saying enough is enough.

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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: 25 Comments

Good piece, only the knowledge that it’s about to be trolled with anti-US comments casts the slightest hint of a shadow over it. Guys, why not just give it a rest?

October 17, 2012 @ 1:25 am | Comment

Red Star, you truly are a one-trick formula. Look at a post about China, google to find something, anything, related to the US and draw a false equivalence, then comment about it.

October 17, 2012 @ 8:18 am | Comment

Heheheheh! Irony, I love it – good one, HX. Only thing is…

“Occupy Wall Street is now being covered by every major American media outlet, from Fox News to the Nation. It is now also being covered by major international outlets such as Al-Jazeera and the Guardian”

See, it is reported all over the western media, even Faux…errr, Fox, sorry. But China’s Occupy Tiananmen there was….?

October 17, 2012 @ 9:28 am | Comment

Richard, great post, thanks. I just finished your book behind the red door, left a lot to think and it helped many Chinese’s own understanding of how and why they get there. Thanks a lot for this great book.

As a chinese, here’s some of my question: 1, do you write in chinese? 2, do you use weibo? 3, are you planning to publish ur book in chinese? at least in taiwan or hongkong? 4, how’s your time in “the global times”? is there any conflicts between you and them, or it’s strickly professional, no ideology or politics discussed when working?

Thank you very much.

October 17, 2012 @ 9:59 am | Comment

Richard, I look to this kind of encouraging development as I do the clearly increasing level of dissent online, however there needs to be a quantum change, a switch-flipped, to convert to actual change. 1989 was arguably the last quantum change, and I think most observers would view the result of that episode as a blueprint for similar events in the future. China needs her Gorbachev, I fear.

October 17, 2012 @ 7:36 pm | Comment

China needs her Gorbachev, I fear.

Or a Wang Anshi in our times. That, plus a number of figureheads who act the chairman and the core leadership.

October 17, 2012 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

“China needs her Gorbachev, I fear.”

China already had her Gorbachev and Khruschev rolled into one in Deng Xiaoping, but where Gorbachev and Kruschev failed Deng succeeded.

Gorbachev’s goal was to transform the USSR into a stable, more democratic, and more market-oriented society, but he certainly did not intend the break-up of the Soviet Union to happen, nor even the CPSU to cease to be the rulers of the country. His plans for a re-structured USSR came to naught, however, when he was deposed in a coup, the states declared independence, and Yeltsin emerged as a centre of Russian leadership outside of the Communist Party.

Similarly, Khruschev sought to end the personality cult of Stalin, and move the USSR from being on a permanent war-footing to being a country that produced consumer goods for its population. He suceeded in liberalising the arts and economy to a degree in the USSR, and in denouncing Stalin, but in doing so he both hacked away at the always-shakey legitimacy of the CPSU and inspired a coup that removed him and installed Brezhnev.

Den Xiaoping, on the other hand, succeeded in transforming China into a market economy, liberalising (to a certain extent) freedom of speech, and dispelled the idea of blindly following Mao’s ideas whilst hanging on to him as a unifying symbol. Deng built the modern China, warts and all.

October 17, 2012 @ 9:35 pm | Comment

Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, succeeded in transforming China into a market economy, liberalising (to a certain extent) freedom of speech, and dispelled the idea of blindly following Mao’s ideas whilst hanging on to him as a unifying symbol. Deng built the modern China, warts and all.

This.

But the Dengist vision is running out of steam. China needs another Deng now. I wouldn’t envy the incoming PSC team. They have a monumental task to perform.

What China really needs, though, is a system that won’t encourage so much calcification as to require a genius like Deng to come along every few decades. Basically China needs to build a system that is law-based, resilient, and idiot-proof enough to withstand a leadership full of individuals like George W. Bush. The current system is way too fragile for that.

October 18, 2012 @ 3:41 am | Comment

@ t_co. And here is one of the major reform fronts for the new leadership, which I suspect will end up in the too hard/vested interests department.

Reforming the SOE mini empires. The financial figures are astounding.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/business/global/in-china-a-power-struggle-of-a-different-order.html?pagewanted=all

They will only come undone if there are major scandals, and then only one at a time.

October 18, 2012 @ 6:19 am | Comment

See, it is reported all over the western media, even Faux…errr, Fox, sorry. But China’s Occupy Tiananmen there was….?

Every global media outlet. It was very well televised, the images were hard to forget.

October 18, 2012 @ 9:40 am | Comment

To Peter,
OWS was reported the world over, but americans got their fill of coverage of themselves. In contrast, TAM got covered up the wazoo the world over, except in china itself. The sweet irony is of something happening in china, and Chinese are the last to know about it… Or in TAM’s case, it still never happened. It always makes me laugh when such basic logic eludes Neanderthals like red star.

October 18, 2012 @ 11:28 am | Comment

“Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 3,177 respondents between March 18 and April 15. The sample represents approximately 64% of the adult Chinese population.”
—for purposes of full disclosure, I haven’t read the entire methodology section of this latest survey in the Pew Global Attitudes China project. However, on first blush, this is as much of a methodological mess as those surveys some people like to quote about “Chinese satisfaction”. And as I’ve said about those previous surveys, if the science sucks, one believes the results at one’s peril. It’s a good thing Pew has the capacity to publish their own work, cuz the lowest level copy-reading monkey at any peer-reviewed outfit would’ve taken stuff like this out back and shot it at first sight.

October 18, 2012 @ 3:39 pm | Comment

“But the Dengist vision is running out of steam. China needs another Deng now. I wouldn’t envy the incoming PSC team. They have a monumental task to perform.”

The thing is I genuinely doubt they are aware of this. The only person who has given any sign of being aware of a need for reform is Wen, and even then it is just as arguable that he is merely trying to be seen as pro-reform rather than doing anything.

In fact, I’m wondering if they aren’t just thinking of having another ten years of essentially Jiang-ist policy (face it: that pretty much describes the last ten years) with any problems happily left to their successors.

October 18, 2012 @ 7:13 pm | Comment

“Every global media outlet. It was very well televised, the images were hard to forget.”

You forgot one word. “Nearly” work out where to put it.
Thing about English which people forget – it is a nuanced language at times. Sometimes to understand it you have to read the comments before and then realise the situation being protrayed to get the full meaning of a phrase.
Or you can just make a comment to make people realise that some really do need to have a picture drawn for them to flesh out the words….

October 19, 2012 @ 4:33 am | Comment

In fact, I’m wondering if they aren’t just thinking of having another ten years of essentially Jiang-ist policy (face it: that pretty much describes the last ten years) with any problems happily left to their successors.

Actually Jiang and Hu had pretty different policies. Jiang’s policies were domestically neoliberal (he backed Zhu Rongji all the way, even in the painful years of 93-94 and 98-99) while also talking tough internationally–sometimes even on the verge of overreach, as the 1996 Taiwan Straits crisis demonstrates. Essentially Jiang was taking a page from William Gladstone and applying it to China.

Hu’s foreign policy was a 3rd-World-oriented “yuan diplomacy”. This was an unqualified success for China from 2002 to 2010, though a large part of it was due to self-inflicted wounds on America’s global image from Bush the Younger. China would do well to continue with this sort of diplomacy, especially as the US and Europe wallow in continued economic malaise. In the 21st century, when hard power is much less effective at producing real foreign policy gains, Chinese economic diplomacy is probably the best tactic possible, although China should be careful not to be blindsided by ignoring social concerns (Myanmar and Zimbabwe).

On the home front, though, Hu never had a policy, or if he had one, he never had the political capital to pursue it. For all his much-vaunted emphasis on being more redistributive than his predecessors, China’s Gini index actually got worse from 2002 to 2012. The “Develop the West” initiative ended up being used as a excuse by SOEs and banks to develop a de facto monopoly on giving and receiving business loans, the most glaring and critical example of state expansion at the expense of the private sector. When time came for personnel selection in 2007, no one stepped forward and actually ran on a “platform”. (Bo Xilai doesn’t count, as his platform was “sing songs and borrow money”).

Now we come to Xi, who we frankly know very little about. How strong is he? Does he have a vision of China 2022? Can he implement it?

When I worked for a large Chinese bank in 2010, I remember the bank president, a noted princeling, giving the annual address, wherein he laid out his vision for China 2025. It involved (surprise surprise) over 12.5 trillion RMB of new loans from the banking sector into urbanization projects alone over 15 years, on top of whatever other lending the banks were doing.

That’s not the vision China needs. China can’t afford that much new investment. China needs to figure out a way to urbanize its 400 million citizens for a lot less if it wants to rebalance its economy towards domestic consumption. Xi needs to somehow convince a population who wants bigger and better that smaller and more efficient is the way to go, and he needs them to start spending money on less resource-intensive goods as well.

And that’s just on the economic front. Politically, China needs rule of law, and more than that, it needs a greater alignment between de jure responsibilities and de facto powers amongst its major institutions.

Throw an aging population, environmental stresses, international tension, and a possible financial crisis along with the burden of coming up with this new politico-economic vision and I quite frankly don’t understand Xi, Li, and the rest of the team can sleep at night.

October 19, 2012 @ 6:23 am | Comment

China needs to figure out a way to urbanize its 400 million citizens for a lot less if it wants to rebalance its economy towards domestic consumption.

Should read 400 million new urban dwellers, not citizens.

October 19, 2012 @ 6:27 am | Comment

“I quite frankly don’t understand Xi, Li, and the rest of the team can sleep at night.”

I guess having a foreign passport and large amounts of money off shore just in case probably helps a bit in many cases ;-)

October 19, 2012 @ 7:13 am | Comment

What China needs is for the communist officialdom to be shot en mass. For a rejection of nihilistic and nonsensical Jew-Bolshevism as the state ideology. For the flowering of Han racial awareness to replace the perversion of Western post-modernism. For a democratic government with suffrage restricted to only literate Han men.

October 19, 2012 @ 9:25 am | Comment

Jing. Have you been flicking through Mein Kampf again.

I’m on giving you a pass conceded however, since you omitted any reference to lebensraum in the East.

October 19, 2012 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

“I quite frankly don’t understand Xi, Li, and the rest of the team can sleep at night.”

To quote the Simpsons: “On a big pile of money with many beautiful women”.

October 19, 2012 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

For a democratic government with suffrage restricted to only literate Han men.

Good luck with that, although I’m sure you’ll be singing another tune after the literate Han women remove your testicles.

October 19, 2012 @ 8:03 pm | Comment

To Jing,
you are nothing if not rigidly consistent in your 16th century mindset. The CCP might be a lot of things, and they are certainly not many things, but “jewish” is a new one…so thanks for that.

October 20, 2012 @ 4:33 am | Comment

To Jing,
you are nothing if not rigidly consistent in your 16th century mindset. The CCP might be a lot of things, and they are certainly not many things, but “jewish” is a new one…so thanks for that.

Let’s all ignore Jing. What’s your PoV on Richard’s post?

October 20, 2012 @ 9:54 am | Comment

There’s the question of what proportion of population feels/thinks/believes that “enough is enough”. One also needs to ascertain whether such sentiments are restricted to issues like corruption, or whether they’ve had it up to their eyeballs with CCP rule in general.

Then there’s the question of what segment of the population is prepared to openly talk about it, as described in the Chongqing example here. Better still would be the question of what proportion of the population is willing to do something beyond just talk. Which leads to the main question, which is who is willing to stick their neck out at the risk of annihilation by the CCP.

As much as I’d like to believe the Pew survey, it is scientific bunk as I said in #13. And while I can believe the sentiment to be particularly strong in Chongqing these days for obvious reasons, I don’t know if it is anywhere near the tipping point either there or elsewhere. But ultimately, it’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of old guys hanging around shooting the breeze…although every movement has to start somewhere and if this is the start of something bigger, fantastic.

October 20, 2012 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

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