“The two faces of China”

The media have apparently woken up to the political reality of today’s China, i.e., the phenomenon of the Hu-Wen regime reaching out to the rural poor while ramping up oppression of dissidents, real and imagined. This piece in the LA Times is the latest in a series of recent articles to pick up on this topic.

Two years after coming to power, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have staked out a two-pronged strategy for political control: projecting a kinder, gentler image while cracking down on those disseminating unauthorized information.

The news this week that a prominent Hong Kong journalist had been detained on spying charges, the third such case in nine months, is the latest entry on the hard side of the ledger, analysts say. Recent months have seen a series of actions against the media, scholars, Internet users and dissidents.

This contrasts with efforts by the Hu administration to burnish a down-to-earth image on other fronts, in part through such policies as cutting taxes for farmers and increasing local subsidies in hope of reducing the yawning gap between rich and poor.

Hu and Wen have also made symbolic gestures, such as Chinese New Year trips to eat dumplings with coal miners, shaking hands with an AIDS patient and ensuring that a migrant worker got paid.

“The Chinese expression is ‘The soft get softer, the hard get harder,’ ” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at UC Berkeley. “They’re trying to get closer to the grass roots in terms of people marginalized, to balance a bit the increasing wealth gap.

“But they’re becoming even tighter on centralized, top-down controls,” Xiao said. “Their media oversight, state security agency and propaganda machine are only getting stronger. It doesn’t speak much for political reform.”

No, it really doesn’t, and that’s from the mouth of someone who was born there and lived there for many years until he fled after the 1989 “incident.”

The focus of the rest of the article is the suppression of the media, especially the recent arrest of Ching Cheong. Predictably, this move has sparked a global media firestorm, and anyone who complains about media bias in the foreign press toward the CCP has to understand that this sort of thing doesn’t engender warm and fuzzy feelings with international editors.

Hu and Wen, according to the reporter, have made some real strides in certain areas, but these changes are more cosmetic than substantive, and may not be enough to ensure stability.

Analysts say China has a positive story to tell these days with its booming economy, growing diplomatic clout and improved living standards. And Hu and Wen, they say, have done a much better job than previous leaders in appealing to the Chinese people, all of which would seem likely to give the leadership more confidence and a greater willingness to tolerate criticism.

“Many people think Hu and Wen should be confident. But they only see the superficial things,” Tsoi said. “China has a big and growing social crisis, masses of exploited workers and lots of social conflict. Chinese society is under great strain, and the leadership is not confident.”

That’s quite a statement, that the Chinese leadership is under so much strain it’s “not confident.” They are a vibrant, fast-rising star in the ascendant, basking in the glow of an unparalleled economic boom. Why shouldn’t they be gushing with confidence — unless there’s more unrest and trouble brewing in China than most of us suspect?

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Although few Westerners bother to keep up with them, the statements of party leaders are quite revealing at times. And anyone who does follow them knows that Hu/Wen have an entirely different perspective on China’s prospects than the previous regime. On the question of their “confidence” it is interesting to reflect on the text of the CPC Central Committee Decision on Enhancing the Party’s Ability to Govern (which was the main outcome of the 4th Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee held in September last year): “..in the face of the new situation and tasks, the party’s leadership and governance methods, leadership setup, and work mechanisms are not perfect; the ideological and theoretical level of certain leading cadres and leadership groups is not high; their ability to govern according to law is not strong, they have little skill in resolving complex contradictions, and their quality and ability are incompatible with the demand for implementing the important thinking on “Three Represents” and comprehensively building a well-off society; there are rather conspicuous problems among certain party-member cadres in lacking a strong sense of the cause and of their responsibility, failure to correct their ideological style, unsound work style, and in being divorced from the masses; certain grassroots party organisations are weak and lax, and certain party members are unable to play a vanguard and model role; and there is rather serious corruption in some areas, departments and units. These problems affect the party’s effectiveness in governance and they must arouse great concern of the whole party and be properly resolved…the party’s governing status is not congenital, nor is it something settled once and for all…the masses backing and support is the source of our party’s strength and the root of its victories. The party can only be built soundly if it wholeheartedly works in the public interest…we must develop a stronger sense of crisis, draw experience and lessons from the success and failure of other ruling parties in the world, and enhance our governance capability in a more earnest and conscientous manner.”

June 2, 2005 @ 8:38 pm | Comment

“Many people think Hu and Wen should be confident. But they only see the superficial things,” Tsoi said. “China has a big and growing social crisis, masses of exploited workers and lots of social conflict. Chinese society is under great strain, and the leadership is not confident.”

Have I misunderstood this, or is Tsoi implying that Hu and Wen don’t see or understand the growing social crisis? If so, I think he’s dead wrong. Hu and Wen see it all too clearly. For God’s sake, the CPC knows very well that it’s staring down the barrel of a gun on, for instance, “masses of exploited workers”. They undersand this, but can’t deal with it effectively for all the reasons outlined in Dylan’s post above. Strip away the sange daibiao rubbish, and what you have there is an admission that these guys have ideas but not the capacity to implement them. Which is no big surprise for anyone who’s actually worked with government departments or cadres at whatever level.

If you want to see this working in reality, look at coal mine deaths. People at the top of SAWS are tearing their hair out over this. They know what they have to do to, but they just can’t do it (refer to Dylan’s post above…).

Is “more unrest and trouble brewing in China than most of us suspect?” Depends on what we suspect. If you talk to migrant workers in factories a lot, then you probably suspect there’s a great deal of unrest and trouble brewing. The CPC is more aware than anyone else of what’s going on in factories in the PRD; and on that basis it should lack confidence.

What they do to reverse that is a whole other question. Everyone standing on the outside – as usual – has an answer; it’s just that most of them aren’t very useful in the short term (i.e., independent trade unions to solve problems faced by “masses of exploited workers” – to keep to the theme).

June 2, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

China’s current prosperity is based on the blood and sweat of the people, so naturally it fears the people most of all.

China works because it pays its laborers next to nothing and doesn’t invest in solid infrastructure, the whole country works on the premis that there will always b more workers, and that it is cheaper to rebuild than it is to build soemthing substantial.

If the people actually realized what prosperity looked like, they would riot.

June 3, 2005 @ 3:12 am | Comment

“China works because it pays its laborers next to nothing and doesn’t invest in solid infrastructure, ”

Your statement is the type used by old CCP before revolution: provocative and totally out of touch with reality. The price of labor is governed by market and paid by most international corporations. The recent shortage of labor and wage increase is the proof that market force is working.

Many people are using old s-o-c-i-a-lism crap to fight CCP. That is a losing argument.

June 3, 2005 @ 8:44 am | Comment

Come on steve. If what you said was true, why had wages in the PRD for migrant workers not increased by more than a few yuan for twelve years? As soon as there was even the faintest prospect of making some money by staying home on the farm, people did it in droves. That is the reason for the labour shortage. To paint this as a success is absurd, and it ignores the well documented poor working conditions, observance in the breach of ILO conventions, outrageous industrial safety record, lack of independent labour advocates, blatant ageism in hiring and firing, failure to pay wages and benefits on time, and so on.

The minimum wage is not set by the market, it is set by the local government as you should well know. And the observance of rules and regularions and standards is meant to be enforced by the government. In all of these areas, the government has been willfully remiss, allowing its citizens to be exploited so that officials can boast about their FDI and GDP growth statistics.

June 3, 2005 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

As usual dylan, when you post, you really do come up with the goods.

Go get ’em.

June 4, 2005 @ 4:43 am | Comment


Minimum wage does not jive with the adam smith’s invisible hand theory. Minimum wage is essestially asking government to interfere with market. That is why your republican folks do not like the idea at all.

In case you do not know, according to wall street Journal, a toy for $14 has a factory price of $1. Yes. $1, including all raw materials cost and labors and even factory owner profit. Where does $13 go? It goes to US, lawyers, marketing and sales, designer, etc. Are you happy now?

June 4, 2005 @ 7:58 am | Comment

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