The Lessons of Shengyou

CDN does us all a great service by posting this translation of an article by Radio Asia’s Liang Jing on Hu and Wen’s dilemma in the face of acts of brutality performed by insatiably greedy local cadres. It’s pretty obvious that they care and want to end it, but they’re caught in a web that their own beloved Party has spun.

The first thing we pick up from these events is the savagery of the local power groups. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have repeatedly expressed open anxiety that local offi¬cials may press the people so hard they revolt. They have stressed people-centred government, a harmonious society, and tried to use “advanced-type education” to make the PRC’s scores of million government officials reflect on their misdeeds and practice self-restraint. But now it seems that the lure of material interests is really too great for these local power groups to bother with scruples, they have no hesitation in “committing crimes regardless”, adopting extreme illegal methods to deal with peasants who dare to defend their own rights and interests.

Something else we pick up from the events in Dingzhou is that the peasant revolt to safeguard their rights is robust. Despite dozens of them being killed and injured, they didn’t retreat. We can see from this that the people in some places have already been pushed to the point of having nothing to lose.

The Dingzhou mafia must really have been blinded by greed to choose such stupid means of dealing with the peasants of an area so imbued with a tradition of martial resistance. They had obviously forgotten that this was where Zhu Laozhong and his mates, heroes of the novel and film “Keep the Red Flag Flying,” were once active. But while the event may look extreme, it was certainly no accident: it occurred against the background of the “people-centred” proposals of Hu and Wen failing to result in the slightest self-restraint on the part of the local power groups. It has on the contrary only confirmed their belief that they have no tomorrow, only today to grab what they can more crazily than ever. For the most part, they do not need to do something as dumb as hiring murder squads, but use their power and influence to speed up the plunder of resources, whether it be by wantonly discharging pollution, racing into large-scale projects vastly harmful in future like dam-building, etc.. For the sake of individual personal gains of a few hundred thousand or million, the PRC’s local bigwigs do not hesitate to let society and later generations suffer losses of tens or hundreds of billions. People in the street are aware of but can do nothing about the crazed minds of such corrupt officials.

Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are undoubtedly aware that there will be extremely ser¬ious con¬sequences if, like Jiang Zemin, they continue to allow local power groups to brazenly grab personal gain. The problem is, in the game between Hu and Wen and the local power groups, it’s becoming ever clearer that the former have been unable to come up with any effective way of containing the actions of the latter.

This is an awesome article and required reading. It inevitably brings to mind the ongoing debate about the New Leftists. It’s nice to think that market forces and trickle-down money will ameliorate the catastrophic plight of the oppressed villagers as the pie “grows higher.” But I don’t believe it for a minute.

The Discussion: 27 Comments

This really backs up what we’ve been discussing for months – that the authority of Hu and Wen and the national government in general is limited, and that their ability to control events at the local level is severly compromised. Add in any kind of power struggle at the national level, and their ability to crack down on this sort of corruption is even futher limited.

June 23, 2005 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

“that the authority of Hu and Wen and the national government in general is limited”

Even though the violence was not initiated by government, the mafia type of violence indicate that there is a protection, or perceived protection, for those thugs in government.

An interestingly related case, today, “the Supreme Court ruled that local governments can sometimes seize homes and businesses and turn them over to private developers.”

If government is really bought by mafia, they can just seize the property and send police to drive those peasants out. Apparently, they did not do that. In that sense, government is not that bad.

June 23, 2005 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

I found today’s Supreme Court ruling really disturbing. But of course, the kind of scenario we see in China, of local officials stealing people’s land and throwing them on the street, can’t happen in the US, even with today’s decision. The law calls for “just compensation,” which is usually quite generous. And if a local gvernment in the US started throwing its citizens onto the street to seize their property there would be a swift reaction — they’d be voted out of office fast. For all it’s faults, I like democracy.

June 23, 2005 @ 3:44 pm | Comment

I just posted on the recent U.S. supreme court decision – I think there’s something more than you say richard, in that “just compensation” is rather over-interpretable.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:18 pm | Comment

I think it’s a terrible decision and it made me sick. I’d been following the New London case for a long time. Terrible as the decision was, the payments governments often pay for these reclamations can be generous, to say the least. That doesn’t justify this practice in any way, and i can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I saw the headline. I’ll go read your post.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:20 pm | Comment

For the Supreme Court decision, it was interesting to see that it was the liberal justices in favor and the conservative justices dissenting. For that reason, I think the decision and it’s implications are probably a little bit more complicated than what it appears.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

Liberals aren’t always right. But almost always.

I read both the majority and minority opinions, and I was far more convinced by O’Connor than I was by Stevens.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Sure, liberals aren’t always right. But I still thought it was very strange to see that the left-leaning justices — the people who were supposed to be concerned about protecting the rights of the little guys — all going in favor and the hardcore conservatives Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquinst dissenting.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

yeah, I don’t understand it either. Suitor’s from NH, too – although his verdict sure isn’t in line with traditional NH sentiment. really disappointing.

June 23, 2005 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

Contemporary Liberals are not in the mold of Grover Cleveland, but rather are interventionists in peoples lives, the same as contemporary Conservatives; they just have a different set of accomplices that they wish to reward with the spoils from government seizure. In the regards, seizing private property, China and the USA are similar (China also compensates with a ‘generous’ amount).

June 23, 2005 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

For China, the farmers do not own the land they till, they are just tenets. That was and is one of the problems with collectiviation, one loses power over property and someone now has the power over that property.

June 23, 2005 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

The farmer in china is quite upset about the imbalance today. The
vision of the fathers is gone. What will happen when another revolution hits
China. We Chinese we want an emperor, one who will give us new vision
and pride and bring religion back into the focus. All the mongolian
people should be one. Taiwan belongs to us. Korea should be one, and we no longer need Mongolia as a buffer zone between us and Russia, we need Mongolia to join with their brothers. China can bring lasting peace to central asian republics.

June 23, 2005 @ 5:52 pm | Comment

JFS, our Supreme Court justices, liberals and conservative, do not have an especially interventionist history. This topic of interventionist liberals is a GOP talking point; I mean, what can be more interventionist than what we’ve done in Iraq! And what we’re trying to do in Iran and Syria? (Though not in Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan or Pakistan, hypoctitically.)

Anyway, I want to request that we be careful of the rhetoric. The way we’re talking in this thread, you’d think Americans were being tossed out of their homes willy nilly all over the country. This is a relatively rare occurrence, and to compare it in any way to the ruthless practice in China is utterly ludicrous. And you all know I am plenty critical of America. But let’s keep a realistic perspective. Today’s court decision was one of the most unfortunate in a long time. But it doesn’t put us on a par with China. No way.

June 23, 2005 @ 5:59 pm | Comment

– “In terms of the handling of the Dingzhou event, facing ubiquitous local power groups, what Hu Jintao can ask is that local officials maintain minimum standards, and do not go to the point of running around killing people. ”

It’s like I said the other day – it’s not a political system, but a Mafia they’re dealing with.!

June 23, 2005 @ 6:46 pm | Comment

On the day following the Shengyou beatings and murders, 60 migrant workers from Chongqing employed on a Wuhan construction site went to their boss to ask for 130,000 yuan in unpaid wages. The boss responded in a way that has become commonplace: he rounded up more than a hundred armed thugs who attacked the workers, beating ten of them so badly that they required surgery. The Beijing Youth Daily covered this, and it’s the kind of story I see and translate regularly. Despite the brutality, the Wuhan beatings – or indeed any of these sorts of stories – did not see the light of day in the foreign press. Yet it was only luck that none of the workers was killed.

It’s not just local officials who believe they can act with impunity. Many employers (though by no means all) believe they can act likewise. The bodies of dead miners are buried or burnt in secret, workers are beaten when they ask for unpaid wages, injury and occupational disease rates in workplaces are spiralling out of control (I just received a Chinese-language Master’s thesis the other day by a concerned senior health official detailing the situation in one province and it’s very grim reading).

Liang Jing gets it perfectly right, I think. And it’s easy to be pessimistic in light of what he says, but many people with whom I work and talk on the mainland are concerned about the structure Liang criticises. And a lot of them are working quietly to improve things in their own ways.

I don’t work in villages directly, but in the manufacturing supply chain these kinds of concerns are paramount now. Strikes, protests and so on are now such a major problem that some factory owners and investors are scrambling to deal with them. If they had taken the time to think about labour and human rights abuses earlier, a lot of this could have been avoided.

June 23, 2005 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

Stephen, I can’t thank you enough for your always-invaluable comments, grim and disturbing though they may be. How terrible.

June 23, 2005 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

A local government in the US attempts to take land from lower income residents to give to a private enterprise. The residents resist. The residents remain in their homes while the case is heard by state and federal courts, finally reaching the US Sureme Court. The residents lose and the government will have to pay them “fair market value” for their homes.

A local government in China attempts to take land from lower income residents to give to a private enterprise. The residents resist. The developer (with the connivance of local officals) buses in armed thugs to attack and murder residents.

And a majority of Western Europeans view China more favorably than the US.


June 23, 2005 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

Dear Conrad,

You are missing the entire point here. The rest of the world is not comparing Chinese society with that of their own societies. The perception among the majority of Europeans, Australiasians, Canadians and peoples of the Middle East and Asia, is that the United States poses a bigger threat to the world than does China. It’s a question of which country has the more aggressive, more dangerous foreign policy.

Surely you can appreciate why so many people view China as being less of a threat the the United Steates? The simple fact of the matter is that the United States does pose a much greater threat to world peace than does China!

It is true that China has, during the course of the last century, invaded Tibet and Vietnam. But it is also true to say that China today has diplomatically resolved literally all of its border disputes, like it has say, for example, with India.

Now compare the number and scale of aggressive acts committed by China over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, with the number and scale committed by the United States. Any rational person would have to conclude, very easily, that the United States poses a much bigger threat to the world than does China.

The United States was definitely the world’s most aggressive nation of the 20th century, and, so far, of the 21st century. Since the end of World War Two, it has bombed no less than 21 countries. The first of these was China, which it started bombing almost as soon as the Second World War ended, in 1945. It bombed China again in 1946, 1950, 51, 52 and 53.

Iraq is simply the latest poor nation to be the victim of US aggression. So far, the Bush regime has spent an enormous $78 billion plus of its tax-payer’s money on this illegal and murderous imperialist adventure. $1.8 billion would have been enough to have fed all of Africa for a year.

The United States spends more money on maintaining a military apparatus than the rest of the world put together, so that it can maintain its grip over all of those developing countries whose resources it wishes to plunder.

It’s not difficult to compile a huge list of dictators, usually very brutal ones, that the US has installed over the years as client rulers: Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, just to name a few. And look at the way the present regime in Washington is also right now trying to interfere in the internal affairs of the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter – Venezuela.

It illegally occupies an island that belongs to Cuba, and on which it operates what Amnesty International has recently called “the gulag of our times”, and in fact, as every Annual Amnesty International report has said dating back at least as far as 1996, “throughout the world, on any given day, a man, a woman or a child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame.”

The fact is Conrad, a majority of people in this world, a small majority perhaps, but a majority nevertheless, regard the US as the world’s biggest terrorist, because the US is the world’s biggest terrorist. Many US scholars agree: Noam Chomsky, the late Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal (“the United States of amnesia”), ad infinitum.

You can try to dismiss as being inherently anti-American, but I will strongly reject any such charge. I am not anti-America (I even work here in China for a Chinese-American joint venture) but I most certainly am anti-US imperialism (which has to date, proven to be a very bloody, murderous imperialism).

Mark Anthony Jones

June 23, 2005 @ 10:47 pm | Comment

Hey Mark … bad form to post identical messages in multiple threads.

June 24, 2005 @ 2:17 am | Comment

One thing those of us with eyes wide open in New Zealand learnt during our own ‘Reform and Opening Up’: Trickle down is the rich pissing on the poor.

The ‘pie’ will only get bigger so long as their are resources to exploit: the fatal flaw of capitalism. The resources will soon run out.

And who can rightly argue with anybody demanding a fair go in life? That’s what the revolution was about in the first place.

But why am I ranting? Chiang Kai Shek won: military dictatorship supporting a capitalist economy. The workers and peasants will be exploited or beaten or killed. Wen, like Zhu Rongji and Zhou Enlai before him, can say all the right things he wants, but the best he will achieve is to put a smiley face on the system.

June 24, 2005 @ 5:34 am | Comment

Actually, Mark, I believe Conrad has hit upon the point entirely.

A European would most likely rather live in the US than in China for some of the reasons that Conrad illustrates, but dislikes the US more because he or she believes the US to be more a threat to his or her way of life, or others’ way of life – the aggressiveness you so thoroughly mention. I think the opinion is really based more upon perceived notions of threat to a third party, and not upon the merits of either system, in which the US firmly would win. Although that being said, the US is getting worse. As you’ve said, there are some remarkably redeeming qualities to the US, and one of them is that people feel more free to live their lives there than most other places, and feel like they can better their quality of life in the US. This has changed a bit since 9/11, but I think generally holds true.

June 24, 2005 @ 10:18 am | Comment

Seems like this comment thread has gotten way OT. Let;s get back to the point of the article. What power do Hu and Wen have to address the grievences of the farmers and laborers and clean up the endemic corruption in local CCP circles that breeds this kind of abuse?

Whatever happend to Zhu Rongji and his 101 coffins? Maybe they can bring him out of retirement and give him a few more coffins. I always likened him to the Dirty Harry of the CCP. Or was he all bark and no bite?

Does anybody see any paralells between corruption today in China and what was going on with the KMT in the 30’s and 40’s?

June 24, 2005 @ 10:51 am | Comment

As an add-on to Luo Dawei:

Please refute this generalisation I keep making in my mind: that every Chinese government has always struggled with corruption and that this is one of the biggest problems in china and always has been. (well, I mean the results of corruption, ie. unfairness and poverty etc.)

Now please point to me how this will be resolved.

Corruption is everywhere, yes, but it’s not the biggest problem for everyone. Issue of relative magnitude.

June 24, 2005 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

I don’t think your generalization can be refuted. But the problem grew worse in the 90’s than probably any other time. One of Mao’s few successes was curbing corruption; it can be done (but then, the trade-off was total centralized control and rule by decree, a formula for catastrophe). There will always be corruption in every system. There has to be: once you have people in control of vast amounts of money, human nature dictates that some of those people will try to take some for themselves. The only thing that keeps it in check is rule of law. It can never be eliminated, only contained. In Singapore, where there is very strict rule of law and citizens are actively encouraged to report corruption, the problem is minimal except at the very top (the Lee family owns the most lucrative businesses in the country and they decide who rules, which I see as a form of corruption). In China, we see the opposite, where zero transparency and zero accountability and zero enforcement of the law leads to runaway corruption by local officials that threatens to tear the country apart.

June 24, 2005 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Interesting what you say about Singapore Richard. I’ve always thought that much of the west (say, the UK & US) are pretty similar: little low and medium level corruption, but definitely some pretty dodgy stuff at the very top (of, sometimes government, sometimes big business).
obviously China, & much of asia, far worse throughout.

June 25, 2005 @ 3:23 am | Comment

Have you checked out the Transparency Index 2004? China doesn’t rank as the most corrupt country out there. It has a rank of 3.4 out of 10 which gives it a rank of 71 out of 145 countries. Any score under 5 means the country is corrupt and anything below 3 means corruption is rampant! It seems that most of Asia is pretty corrupt with most of China’s large neighbours having lower scores believe it or not. Hong Kong and Singapore have very low rates of corruption but these are small city states. Over the last few years, China has had scores of 3.5, 3.5, 3.4, and 3.4 so it seems fairly constant.

In 1995, when the first survey was carried out, China was perceived as the second most corrupt country with a score of 2.16. Over the years, it has managed to rise slowly out of the muck so there is hope for improvement.

June 25, 2005 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

First time I’ve heard that corruption is becoming less of a problem in China. I thought it was getting worse. Anyway, I lived in Singapore, I lived in HK, I lived in Germany, I lived in Central America and I lived most of my life in America. China is by far the most corrupt place I’ve ever been to, far more so than even El Salvador where I lived for several months. I have no idea how the Transparency Index measures corruption, as corruption can take manmy forms. But anyone living (and especially working) in China knows a country can’t be much more corrupt. No matter where it ranks on some index.

June 25, 2005 @ 6:26 pm | Comment

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