China’s selective amnesia

I once wrote a post about my talking with one friend after another at the Global Times about what happened at Tiananmen Square 24 years ago, and whether they were familiar with the Tank Man photo. As I reported then, only one friend was familiar with the photo, and said she couldn’t understand why the West saw him as a hero. What he was doing was against the interest of society.

That episode came to mind as I read a piece in the NY Times that you should read, too, on “China’s State-Sponsored Amnesia.” We’ve discussed it here before — the air brushing of the horrors of the Great Leap Forward out of the public record, the erasure of June 4th, the downplaying of Mao’s misdeeds and blunders.

The author, a Chinese writer, sees the manipulation of history as a disaster for China.

The amnesia I’m talking about is the act of deleting memories rather than merely a natural process of forgetting. Forgetting can result from the passage of time. The act of deleting memories, however, is about actively winnowing out people’s memories of the present and the past.

In China, memory deletion is turning the younger generation into selective-memory automatons. Memories of history and the present, yesterday and today are all going through this uniform process of deletion and are being lost without trace.

I used to assume history and memory would always triumph over temporary aberrations and return to their rightful place. It now appears the opposite is true. In today’s China, amnesia trumps memory. Lies are surpassing the truth. Fabrications have become the logical link to fill historical gaps. Even memories of events that have only just taken place are being discarded at a dazzling pace, with barely intelligible fragments all that remain for people to hold on to.

This isn’t exactly new; I’ve been thinking about it for more than ten years now. But I hadn’t really realized the sheer scope of this massive, ongoing state effort to cleanse its people’s neurons and create its own history, almost in real time. After noting the whitewashing of the Cultural Revolution and the 1970 war with Vietnam, the author reminds us that state-sponsored amnesia is with us today, and the goal is always the same: to keep the ruling class in power.

What else is lost to memory? Everything that has happened in recent times: the AIDS epidemic caused by unhygienic blood selling; the innumerable explosions in illegal coal mines; the modern day slavery that takes place in illegal brick kilns; the rampant production of toxic milk powder, toxic eggs, toxic seafood, gutter oil, carcinogenic vegetables and fruit; forced abortions; violent demolitions; mistreatment of petitioners — the list goes on and on.

Anything negative about the country or the regime will be rapidly erased from the collective memory. This memory deletion is being carried out by censoring newspapers, magazines, television news, the Internet and anything that preserves memories.

… The oppression of words and ideas is not unique. It has been exercised by all authoritarian regimes around the world at various times. Under oppression, intellectuals — the people who are supposed to have good memories — are the first to become silent after being administered amnesia by the state. Next comes the general public.

The state prefers the intelligence of its people to remain at the level of children in a kindergarten. It hopes people will follow instructions, just as children follow their teacher’s instructions — they eat when they are told to eat, they sleep when they are told to sleep. When they are asked to perform, these innocent children enthusiastically recite the script prepared by adults.

As you can probably see, this is one scary article. Obviously in recent years the Internet has made it harder to stamp out memories of the more recent outrages and scandals, but the fact remains, most Chinese growing up in the Chinese education system have been denied the knowledge of much of China’s history. And I’m ready for the response that it’s the same in the US. Um, no. We are taught about the disaster of Vietnam, we see television shows about the folly of the Iraq War, we learn how we exterminated the American Indians. Some textbooks may try to put America in the best light possible, but there is no government-mandated effort to uproot history and deny Americans knowledge of their past. It’s all out there for whoever wants to know about it.

This is a long and engrossing article. Let me just quote its last lines:

The late Chinese writer Ba Jin had a dream for preserving memory — to build a museum in China devoted to the Cultural Revolution, the “revolution” that took place in the 1960s and 1970s and turned the nation into a madhouse.

Carrying on Ba Jin’s dream, I also have a naïve hope: I hope one day a memorial to amnesia engraved with all our nation’s painful memories of the last century can be erected on Tiananmen Square.

I believe a truly great people are people who have the courage to remember their own past, and a truly great nation is a nation that has the courage to record its own history.

China so longs for true greatness, it dreams so much of soft power and global influence. But as long as it insists on excising anything negative about its history from the minds of its citizens, it cannot be taken entirely seriously. How can they be taken seriously when they are so afraid of the past, so insecure about the present that they must reshape the truth to avoid any dissent or disharmony? Do they not know that it makes others wary to see how China manipulates its citizens’ minds? Is there any hope that this very basic notion is getting through to anyone at the top? Based on everything I’m hearing and reading, the answer is, for now, no.

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China’s Word of the Year: Reform

There have been a dizzying array of articles over the past two weeks about reform in China — all kinds of reform, such as opening up about air pollution, to what extent Xi Jinping will serve as a “reformer,” calls by reformers for China to live up to its constitution, Southern Weekend calling for reform of censorship and forced propaganda. It’s been hard to absorb it all, and even harder to evaluate what all this noise means. And really, there’s only one answer to all these questions and claims: It’s too soon to tell. And, No one knows.

I’ll never forget the mood in China after Hu Jintao took office in 2003. There was something akin to euphoria among some English-language China blogs (now all gone). Hu had just lifted the curtain on the government’s mismanagement of SARS and all but admitted its malfeasance in deceiving its people about it. Heads rolled. Surely this was proof that China now had a reformer in charge. Wen, too, immediately established himself as the good leader, the friend to the little man who would initiate reforms to ease the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised.

Wen’s image as a reformer never really died, whether he was one or not. Hu’s image as a reformer, on the other hand, was painfully short lived, and soon we were back to the usual government propaganda, censorship and repression. Censorship only got worse. At the time, I argued that reform under Hu would be impossible simply because it would threaten the one-party state, and reform didn’t seem to be the people’s No. 1 priority.

Things seem very different at the moment, with calls for reform coming from so many different directions. So with Xi Jinping I’m not placing any bets. Maybe the whole point of this post is simply to say I don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it will be fascinating to watch. It would be a cliche to say China is now at an inflection point, but I believe it to be true. My guess, however, is that we will see change occur only at glacier speed as the party deals with how to enact reform while holding onto power with an iron fist.

Possibly the most pessimistic piece I wrote on the subject can be found here. It’s written by a China watcher I have huge respect for.

Future historians wondering exactly when the PRC entered its pre-revolutionary phase may focus on a series of speeches that General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered behind closed doors to the Communist Party elite after being promoted to the top slot in the leadership. It was rumored early on that his tone was not encouraging to anyone hoping for an incremental transition to the rule of law with wider scope for civil society and greater accountability in government. Now Gao Yu has provided a few quotes from one of these speeches in an essay which Yaxue Cao has translated. In these fragments we glimpse a ruling class that not only is prepared to defend its privileges with force but anticipates the need to do so, and views proposals for reform as threats to its grip on power.

I urge you to visit the site and see the quotes from these speeches. They won’t encourage you to believe this is a government that will lean toward compromise.

At the moment, things look so positive for reform that reformers are speaking out openly about the need for China to recognize and enforce its constitution, a document that has proved infinitely irrelevant ever since it was enacted.

Now, in a drive to persuade the Communist Party’s new leaders to liberalize the authoritarian political system, prominent Chinese intellectuals and publications are urging the party simply to enforce the principles of their own Constitution.

The strategy reflects an emerging consensus among advocates for political reform that taking a moderate stand in support of the Constitution is the best way to persuade Xi Jinping, the party’s new general secretary, and other leaders, to open up China’s party-controlled system. Some of Mr. Xi’s recent speeches, including one in which he emphasized the need to enforce the Constitution, have ignited hope among those pushing for change.

A wide range of notable voices, among them ones in the party, have joined the effort. Several influential journals and newspapers have published editorials in the last two months calling for Chinese leaders to govern in accordance with the Constitution. Most notable among those is Study Times, a publication of the Central Party School, where Mr. Xi served as president until this year. That weekly newspaper ran a signed editorial on Jan. 21 that recommends that the party establish a committee under the national legislature that would ensure that no laws are passed that violate the Constitution.

One very astute article says we’re all asking the wrong question. It shouldn’t be whether Xi will be a reformer, or what kind of reforms he’ll initiate and when.

Better questions are needed in order to produce more useful analyses and forecasts of China’s political development. Such analyses should start by recognizing two facts: First, the new leadership’s various initiatives and pronouncements after taking office indicate that it fully accepts the need for change. Second to quote the American political scientist Samuel Huntington, the leadership is clearly aiming at “some change but not total change, gradual change but not convulsive change.” In short, the leadership wants controlled reform, not revolution or regime change.

Huntington has argued that implementing reform is far more difficult than staging revolution. The methods, timing, sequencing and pace of changes all need to be carefully managed. If not handled well, reform will lead not to stability but to greater instability and may serve as a catalyst of revolution. China’s experience with reform and revolution through history, especially its modern history, certainly lends support to this argument.

Finally, for an exhaustive and incredibly well-researched look at China’s leaders’ challenges maintaining stability in the face of social pressures, this article is a truly must read. Just a sample, from an essay by the Director of the Social Issues Research Center at the China Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Reform seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment.

The key to stability preservation lies in resolving the standoff between government attempts at stability preservation and popular efforts at rights protection. Essentially, rights protection is not in conflict with stability preservation. Quite the contrary, rights protection is the basis of stability preservation, as the process of rights protection is also one of stability preservation. The recognition and protection of people’s basic rights form the sole foundation upon which sound and lasting stability preservation can be achieved. Indiscriminate violation of these rights in the name of stability preservation will yield a stability that is fragile and ephemeral. The construction of a fair and just system for social distribution is the crux of stability preservation in contemporary China, but this requires first addressing the issues of interest imbalance and interest articulation. The frequent instances of rights protection and emerging rights discourse in today’s China have generated a gradual awakening of a rights consciousness among the Chinese public. This presents a golden opportunity to institutionalise a mechanism for rights protection, to open channels for the articulation of citizens’ interests, and to level the playing field for laborers and disadvantaged groups in the areas of interest aggregation and policy-making. If seized, this opportunity would enable the rapid realisation of true harmony and stability. The rationale is simple; effective stability preservation is dependent upon rights protection, which in turn requires a mature and institutionalised claims-making mechanism.

I know, that’s a lot of links and a lot of quotes. My point being that there is rather suddenly a tidal wave of discussion about reform and how it might work. I feel more optimistic than I did when Hu took office because this time the demand for reform appears to be far more extensive, coming from all segments of society. Even if a Pew Research Poll proves that most Chinese are charmed by what they see as the infallible leadership of their leaders, a lot of them seem to believe it’s time their leaders initiate broad-based and meaningful reform.

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Another day, another thread

Share links and talk about anything.

The topic that’s been on my mind lately (but which you are free to ignore) is what the recent uproar over censorship means for China. I read this in a Japanese newspaper and wondered if it’s really true:

BEIJING–In an apparent attempt to quell the uproar over censorship, Chinese leader Xi Jinping expressed displeasure toward the media control division and said he would not punish journalists who disobeyed its latest order, sources said.

Xi, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, appears to have given top priority to preventing the row from expanding further and threatening his new leadership installed in November.

Arguments for free speech erupted after the reform-oriented Southern Weekly based in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, was forced to rewrite its New Year edition before it was published on Jan. 3.

The propaganda department then instructed all major newspapers to toe the party line concerning the censorship of the Southern Weekly.

At a meeting in Zhongnanhai in Beijing on the night of Jan. 9, Xi, visibly displeased, asked if the media control division was not adding to confusion, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Are China’s leaders listening to the voice of the masses and backing down from censorship? Hard to believe. Can this story possibly be accurate?

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Another expat leaves Beijing

Will Moss has written a typically excellent and witty post, this time announcing to readers his plans to leave Beijing and head back to California. It is an eloquent farewell, and if you haven’t read it by now (and I’m assuming most of you have) be sure to check out the entire thing.

One of Will’s key points in the post is that expats come and go — in fact, he points out, nearly all of those who come eventually go. Thus the title of his post, “I’m leaving China and it doesn’t mean a thing.” He makes the argument that just because a couple of expats recently made the decision to move back from whence they came it is hardly big news. Not at all. He points to Charlie Custer and Mark Kitto, both of whose unexpected announcements of their departures created quite a ripple effect throughout the blogosphere and other media (here’s my brief contribution to the noise), and wonders why it seemed so novel.

Will writes:

But I was never in danger of staying forever, and nor are most other western expats. That’s why I was amused by the mass fluster that surrounded the public departures of Mark Kitto and Charlie Custer. All of a sudden foreigners were abandoning China! I know and like both Mark and Charlie, and admittedly much of the fluster was within our particular echo chamber, but, seriously, coverage in the New York Times, BusinessWeek and The Economist? Both of their personal experiences can be used to tell larger stories about life and power and business in China (and maybe I’m just jealous that my own departure is about as newsworthy as a bad air day), and both of their articles were great reads. But “foreigner departs China” is the very definition of dog-bites-man. The satirical site China Daily Show nailed it with a funny “dear John” letter from a foreigner to China.

“Foreigner stays in China,” now that’s a story.

Obviously Will is right about expats being famously transient. Those who choose to be “lifers” are a relatively insignificant minority (Jeremy Goldkorn and Kaiser Kuo might — might — fit into that category, as does my former boss in Beijing).

But I kept thinking about this, and wondered, was all the “flutter” being made about expats leaving unjustified, or at least overkill, as Will says? Why did we see that rash of articles and blog posts? Should we have been at all surprised by the media’s reaction?

I don’t think so, and here is why: Charlie Custer and Mark Kitto were not just your ordinary expats who did their time in Beijing and decided to move back home. They were both high profile. Mark was famous for his work in Chinese media and the price he ended up paying for it. (There’s even a Wikipedia page about it.) Charlie was perhaps the most high-profile English-language blogger in China, his posts and translations frequently cited in the likes of the NY Times and the New Yorker.

But their being high profile is only a small part of the story. It wasn’t just that they were leaving, it was how they told us they were leaving. (more…)

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Hu Jintao’s legacy

Will he be remembered as one of China’s worst leaders ever? Some think so.

After nearly a year in which planning for the succession has been upset by an extraordinary string of scandals, the leaders and elders have finally agreed on Nov. 8 as the date to begin the 18th Party Congress, the climax of just the second peaceful transfer of power in China’s Communist era. Much of the back-and-forth over the succession, which officials have kept behind a curtain of secrecy, has involved horse-trading over leadership positions between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and one loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

In recent negotiations, Mr. Jiang and his allies, who include Xi Jinping, the designated heir to Mr. Hu, appear to have had the upper hand, several political insiders said. Mr. Jiang’s attendance at a concert on Sept. 22 was interpreted by some as a signal that he was still a force in the game of imperial politics.

One blow to Mr. Hu this summer was the quiet unfolding of a scandal involving a powerful politician, Ling Jihua, who is Mr. Hu’s fixer. Now another stress point is becoming evident: Mr. Hu appears on the defensive over his legacy because of growing criticism that policies enacted during his decade-long tenure were responsible for the excessive growth of the security forces and also stalled an overhaul of the Chinese economy that is needed to maintain its dynamism.

“Right now, I think Hu feels very worried because a lot of people both inside and outside the party have been criticizing him,” said a party intellectual with ties to the leadership. “Some say he’s the worst leader China has had since 1949. Conflicts in society have intensified; monopolistic and antimarket tendencies in the economy seem to have intensified; and there’s been no real progress on reform.”

He has my vote. I’ll never forget the optimism I felt when he took power, right at the time when the government, probably against its will, came totally clean on SARS and seemed to be ushering in a new spirit of openness. How disappointed we all were just a few months later when Internet censorship became more aggressive than ever and the promises of reform melted away. He had the bad luck to suffer a series of catastrophes over the past few months that drowned out all other news about China, and the name Bo Xilai will always be pinned to his own. A sad end to what began as a hopeful new period of reform, but I can’t say he doesn’t deserve it.

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Words that get censored on Weibo

China Digital Times lists the words and phrases that will get your Weibo post zapped, at least if it’s written in simplified Chinese.

One of favorites is:

Bureau of Dicking Around (捅鸡局): Netizen nickname for the National Bureau of Statistics.

“Brainwash” makes it to the list as well. Check out the rest of the entries.

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Leaving China, Westernizing, Playing Victim, etc.

Update: Let’s add this to the thread. A very, very funny parody of the “why I’m leaving China” that seems in vogue at the moment.

Update 2: Wow.

This is an open thread to which I’d like to add a few links. I am late to this, but if you haven’t read Mark Kitto’s article on why he’s leaving China, do so now. I read it behind a pay wall more than a week ago and was blown away. Mark received some fame eight years ago when the magazine business he built from scratch was simply seized by the government, leaving him with no recourse. He only touches on that, a real act of badness, but it ties in with his other complaints about life in today’s China. (more…)

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Hong Kong Chinese Resist Having their Brains Laundered

UPDATE: You can see some wonderful photos of the demonstrations here.

Hong Kongers are demonstrating en masse as the CCP tries to shove down their throats a new student curriculum larded with Mainland propaganda. This is worse than the Creationist-modeled school curriculum instituted by the Texas Board of Education.

The new curriculum would be similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook entitled “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multiparty systems, even though Hong Kong has multiple political parties.

Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced in some elementary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.

Talks between the education minister, Eddie Ng, and the National Education Parents’ Concern Group broke down on Saturday. Mr. Ng later denied that the curriculum was akin to brainwashing.

One demonstrator, Elaine Yau, who was there with her 7-year-old daughter, said that people wanted a say in what was taught in the schools. “We feel like we have no choice,” she said.

One point of contention is that many of the city’s governing elite send their children to the West or to expensive foreign-run international schools, which will be exempt from the national education. The curriculum will be mandatory for the public schools used by most of the working and middle classes.

This part then took the cake. Leave it to a pro-Beijing official to say exactly the wrong thing.

Before the protest, Jiang Yudui of the pro-Beijing China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong added fuel to the fire when he told Hong Kong’s residents that the curriculum should “wash their brains.”

“A brain needs washing if there is a problem, just as clothes need washing if they’re dirty, and a kidney needs washing if it’s sick,” he said, according to the local news media.

In response, protesters waved flags showing a cartoon brain with a line crossed through it. “No thought control! Preserve one country, two systems!” they chanted, referring to the agreement that gives Hong Kong political rights that are not allowed on the mainland.

So there we have it. The dirty brains of Hong Kong kids need a little washing. At least he admits it. Big congratulations to the 32,000 HKers who care enough to demonstrate in public over it. Of course, the pro-Beijing leaders are saying their decision is irrevocable no matter how many citizens take to the streets. I see this as ominous, vile and dictatorial. I can’t imagine Hong Kong ever cooperating, even if it becomes the law.

Some of us really believed there would be one country and two systems. We seem to have been wrong, though we knew that many years ago.

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Global Times on the Wenzhou train crash, one year later

I was (am) always curious about the seemingly opposing forces at the Global times. Often I was amazed at how far they would go allowing commentators to criticize the CCP, even columns mocking China’s navy and arguing it was hardly ready to participate in any conflict in the South China Sea. So many examples like that. There was a 2009 op-ed praising Deng Yujiao, the karaoke waitress in Badong who stabbed a lascivious government official to death. And a lot more. These were balanced, of course, with xenophobic outbursts, sabre rattling and incredibly paranoid/irrational arguments about the West and the Western media. But still….I was amazed at what got past the censors at what the censors let through. But I never doubted that it was strategic. Nothing got through by accident. Give the people some space to vent, as long as they never cross the line, the fat red line between acceptable criticism and advocating for democracy or for greater freedom in Tibet or for referring to a massacre in 1989.

I wondered about this same thing tonight as I read this piece on the one-year anniversary of the Wenzhou train crash. It’s actually a damn good article; it’s real journalism. Paragraphs like these just pop out at me:

At the scene of the accident, wreaths for the deceased have been removed, memorial poems written on the viaduct pillar have been scrubbed off and there are no signs of the crash. Everything seems to show life has returned to normal. But the local villagers still remember the tragedy vividly.

“I will never forget that night, even now when there’s a thunderstorm and lightning, I am little worried about the viaduct, and worry that such accidents will happen again,” a local resident, who refused to disclose his full name, told the Global Times.

And then there’s this:

Although boasting one of the fastest high-speed trains in the world, the way the Ministry of Railways (MOR) disposed of the wreckage and delayed the results of an investigation into the crash sparked public fury and widespread doubt as to the wisdom of the massive investment in high-speed railways….

Though unwilling to discuss the past, Wang Jian still complained about the MOR. “After the memorial service, the MOR officials fled and have never contacted us ever since. The investigation result was delayed, and the complete name list of all the passengers on the trains has still never been released,” he said.

“The MOR did punish someone, but nobody was even jailed,” Wang complained.

This doesn’t sound like state-controlled propaganda. But maybe it is; maybe it’s doing exactly what the party wants it to do, placing the blame on a specific group of bunglers. I honestly don’t know. The one thing I always thought when I read articles like this, hypercritical of the government, was that it somehow fit within the approved party discourse — that the government was willing to let the media go this far and even encouraged it to do so in some instances, especially when reporting on corruption and local malfeasance.

Is this an example of opening up and greater freedom of the press? Or is it the same old propaganda, disguised as a watchdog media, that is actually planting exactly the stories the government wants it to? I wonder.

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The Great Democracy Debate

How many times have we discussed whether China would be better off with some form of democracy as opposed to its one-party authoritarian system? I know, too many times. But this article on the recent debate between CCP apologist and shill Eric Li and professor of government Minxin Pei is well worth reading. If you don’t believe me about Li being a shill, or if you are unfamiliar with him, read this. This is one of my favorite of Li’s assertions:

China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years.

However, China’s leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse.

The resulting stability ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity that propelled China’s economy to its position as the second largest in the world.

For a marvelous take-down of this drivel go here. As if all of China’s great progress rests firmly on the shoulders of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Anyway, sorry for that digression, but you have to know who Li is to appreciate this debate.

I’ve always been careful to say I don’t believe Western-style democracy would necessarily be the answer to China’s problems of corruption, human rights violations, and the injustices inherent to any one-party system that operates without the checks of rule of law. Pei makes a strong argument, however, that the huge political and economic challenges China is facing are weakening the government and will ultimately result in an “unraveling” of the one-party system. So China should have a democratic infrastructure in place if the party implodes. In a nutshell:

The economy has been driven primarily by investments at home and exports to developed countries, which isn’t sustainable. In the political sphere, we’re seeing manifestations of a fundamental vulnerability of one-party systems globally: a tendency to drift into benefiting a relatively small, and ultimately predatory, elite at the expense of society generally, and the associated phenomena of high-level corruption and inequality.

Together, Pei claimed, these two domains of contradiction tend to impede the growth of China’s economy and undermine the legitimacy of its government. You can see the last two decades as a story of the rise of the Chinese system, Pei said; but the next 10 to 15 years (no less than 10, no more than 15) will be one of the system’s unraveling. And this is what the United States and the West generally need to worry about — not China’s strength but its weakness, because when the transition to a more democratic system comes, it will be very difficult to manage, particularly given the country’s deep ethnic divisions, its disputed borders, and its complex integration with the global economy.

Li’s arguments are familiar: all of China’s mistakes have been dwarfed by its accomplishments, the party has put China on a long trajectory of growth and it would be insane to shift gears when the current system is working, Western democracies are thrown into chaos by politics and therefore can’t get things done, etc. Pei argues that by clinging to an unrepresentative system of government, China may be on a path to collapse should the economy falter dramatically, and having no other alternative to the CCP political bedlam could ensue. A comparison to the collapse of the Soviet Union is not inconceivable.

Li showed his true stripes several times, and he was proud of them. This was one of my favorites:

In response to a question from the audience, Li also criticized the very ideas of political liberty and individual rights. Unless you think rights come from God, he insisted, you really have no theory of why any one view of political liberty any discrete set of individual rights should be sacrosanct at all. “If they’re from men, they’re not absolute; they can be negotiated.” It was only too bad there wasn’t time to discuss what “negotiated” means here.

“I want to break the spell of the so-called right to freedom of speech,” he added later. “Speech is act. It has harmed from time immemorial.”

It’s too bad he sounds like such an apologist. Some of his arguments are fair. We all know how well China has done compared to 30 years ago. I believe the CCP has to be given a lot of credit for improving the quality of the lives of so many of its citizens, and wonder whether its people are ready for pluralism. But who gets to decide that? And if the people so adore the CCP, why do Li and other shills so strongly oppose free elections? And if the government is so confident in China’s future, why are so many party elites moving their assets out of China? Li got kind of tongue-tied over that one.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Nothing new, exactly, but thought provoking. And you really are left wondering what the answer is. Neither Pei’s nor Li’s answers are totally convincing and it’s hard for me to say who “won.”

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