Chinese “goons” bully Nicholas Kristof, throw him out of Liaoyang

It’s an amazing story (found thanks to Brainysmurf). New York Times columnist and former foreign correspondent in Beijing Nicholas D. Kristof, is investigating labor unrest when he comes face to face with “the other side of China.” And it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s scary as hell. And I know.

Kristof calls them “goons” — the grim, scary government officials who throw him and his 9-year-old son out of town. He went to Liaoyang to interview labor leaders Yao Fuxin and Xiao Lunyiang (the latter brutally beaten by authorities), who were imprisoned in the wake of labor unrest. The goons, polite in a scary sort of why, prohibit the meeting and repeat the same maddening phrase to Kristof, no matter what he says: “China is a country of laws.”

This is an intense and disturbing article and another one of those “wake-up calls” that remind us that as cheerful as life may appear in the thriving coastal cities, that’s only a small snapshot of China. It’s a reminder that for those who ask questions, a brutal police state apparatus is ready to spring into action.

Labor unrest is at the heart of the column, and Kristoff makes it clear that this is one of China’s vulnerable spots, if not its achilles heel.

China is emerging as one of the world’s great powers, a status that it has earned with shrewd management and increasingly mature diplomacy. But a great power cannot go around crushing peaceful protests and torturing labor leaders. It is disgraceful that “People’s China” goes around locking up people like Xiao and beating his wife unconscious at his sentencing hearing – and holding family members of labor leaders incommunicado.

“This is not the China of the 1970’s or the 1980’s,” I complained to the men who nabbed me. “China has reformed. It should be open enough now to allow foreigners to speak to family members of prisoners.”

The curt answer: “China is a nation of laws.”

Someday soon, I hope, it will be.

You have to read about what he goes through, dealing with these brutes.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Communist started with labor movement and had claimed to be the vanguard of labor. Nowadays, it seems that capitalist seems to care more about labor movement than communist. It is hard to find something more ironic.

Admitted or not, it is unfortunate that, to achieve industrialization, suppressing labor movement is a key. That is what Britain has done, what US has done, and what China is doing. Strong labor movement is a key factor in the economic collapse in latin america.

Chinese government is OK to suppress labor movement. But he should be more transparent, and learn from US. By doing that, he will be in much better position to deflect criticism.

December 19, 2003 @ 9:31 am | Comment

Steve you make good points. Of course, it’s all a matter of how you do the suppressing! Layoffs and tightening of procedures is one thing; torturing and maiming is another. (Kristoff notes that one of the organizers was beaten so badly he was blind.)

I’m no friend to big labor, which is as corrupt as the CCP, but as Kristoff says, China cannot afford to ignore its at-risk labor force.

December 19, 2003 @ 9:39 am | Comment

Careful what you wish for. Every single law and regulation aimed at making workers’ lives safer and more humane is the result of long, sometimes bloody battles by the labor movement you so despise. I’m sure you’ve heard the slogan: “The labor movement: The folks who brought you the weekend.” Well, it’s true. Not to mention the 40-hour week, worker safety laws, laws banning child labor, and so on.

Implicit in most union-bashing is an underlying attemption that blue-collar, unskilled workers are somehow worth less to society than skilled white-collar workers like you and me, and that any attempt to improve the working and living standards of the former is akin to hubris — an unwarranted intervention with some divinely-ordained plan. But in the Darwinian capitalist model that is rapidly becoming the only game in town, all workers, whether their collars are white, pink, or blue, need to be protected against the natural instinct of corporations to extract the maximum amount of labor from them for the minimum cost.

Call me a commie if you like, but deep down, would you rather work at Wal*Mart (one of the most ferociously anti-union companies in America, and, not so coincidentally, one that does a huge amount of business with and in China) or someplace where your employer treats you like a human being?

December 20, 2003 @ 1:38 am | Comment

There is still an important place for unions and the idea of organized labor is definitely a good one. Sadly it has been corrupted by organized crime and lots of greed, at least some of the big ones. When I worked for The Newspaper I was a member of the union and quite active. It’s an area where I have mixed and conflicting feelings.

December 20, 2003 @ 8:06 am | Comment

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