The Joys of Chinese Justice

Please stop what you’re doing (i.e., reading this post) and read this heartbreaking article. Then come back.

I know, China really is changing in some ways. A genuine middle class is sprouting up rapidly and a few people are even getting rich. I am glad for this, because so many of the Chinese people are warm and wonderful and it is inspiring to see them rise up and break away from the shackles of the Cultural Revolution. That said, the system that rules over them is so rotten, so untouched by change and so terrible that, when I am reminded of this fact in articles like this (which, needless to say, cannot be accesses in China), I wonder what it will take to really get China to change. The article offers a single slim ray of hope, noting how scholars and students are protesting the atrocity; but it makes it quite clear there is no change on the immediate horizon.

Again, please read this article to the end. If you can access this blog but cannot access the article, please let me know and I will email it to you. I know there is a contingent of bloggers who believe I (and Conrad and Phil and others) exaggerate the badness of the Chinese government. They see me as strident and overly dramatic. They look at an article like this and say, more or less, “Well, just because there’s a corrupt official here and there does not mean the Central Government is to blame,” or “These things have to change gradually, give it more of a chance, you can’t change things overnight….”

I cannot buy that. China has changed many aspects of its old self quickly, even overnight. Just look at what Deng did back in 1976, ending the Cultural Revolution and instituting drastic change at lightning speed. But other things — things that ensure the survival of corrupt officials and the Party’s control over people’s lives and thoughts — remain utterly untouched. Of course, we hear now and then about “reforms” and plans to “clean up corruption.” There will even be a trial of a corrupt official, though usually that occurs only when the official causes the government to lose money. They cannot really crack down on corruption because it is the mainstay of their existence. A nationwide pattern of hair-raising corruption, known to virtually everyone in the country and given the wink and nod by all officials, is what keeps Party members loyal and citizens subservient.

I made an analogy recently that I feel is not that far-fetched. I said those claiming these “isolated cases” were acceptable and to be expected in a changing country, remind me of an actual conversation I heard as an impressionable teen in a NYC coffee shop, which went like this: “A lot of people only point to the negative side of Stalin. Look at how he pulled Russia up from its bootstraps, how he made it a great industrial and military power.”

I think it’s safe to say that any serious student of the USSR will find this an example of naivete at best and apologism at worst. While the nation improved in certain ways, look at the costs — the unnecessary costs: A vast portion of the population imprisoned and murdered in the Gulag for no crime whatever. Infinite corruption and exploitation of a terrified populace. The crushing of free speech and personal freedoms. The nation is still reeling from what Stalin wrought more than half a century ago. And it didn’t have to be that way. Who ever said that it takes ruthlessness and terror to achieve change? I cringe when I hear people say about the CCP (or about Castro or Ceaucescu [sp?] or any other strongman, to the left or right), “Well, they made some mistakes and they were tough on their people, but look at all the good that they did.”

A point I need to add: I am outspoken on this topic because I was once impressed with what I read/heard about Stalin, about Castro, about the CCP. It was painful for me to admit I had been hoodwinked, and part of me even today wants to defend Castro, because the idealized image I had of him was so comforting. The key episodes for changing my mind were visiting East Germany shortly before The Wall came down, and living in China, where I saw with my own eyes what the police can do. I still have nightmares.

As usual, what was going to be a paragraph has taken on a life of its own. I need to get back to my place, where later this afternoon I’ll get broadband and cable TV and will be free to write like in the old days.

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