Justice for Jiangxi farmers

Sometimes things go right in China when it comes to the rights of the oppressed, and I always try to report such stories as they break. The problem, of course, is that these stories are so few and far between, and are soon overshadowed by yet more ghastly examples of repression with no justice. So let’s hope we continue to hear more stories like this one:

THIS WEEK, the China Youth Daily devoted an entire page to a modern tale of rural redemption. Villagers in Yanxi, Jiangxi Province, had been slowly poisoned and impoverished by a ramshackle zinc smelter constructed by a fly-by-night enterprise that happened to have been backed by members of the local government. But now, the newspaper triumphantly reports, years of relentless petitioning have finally paid off, and the smelter was shut down a couple of months ago.

The moral of the tale, one assumes, is that the procedures do exist to allow lowly farm workers to bring unscrupulous bosses to justice. The story offers the faintest of hopes for the many rural communities currently being hemmed in and ruined by overdevelopment, but it also reflects the central government’s faltering influence on the hinterlands.

….With the China Youth Daily, it is always tempting to engage in old-fashioned Kremlinology. The newspaper’s intrepid reporters and editorialists continue to express their frustration towards local authorities and their unwillingness to pay heed to Beijing. ‘Why can’t the orders of the central government get out of Zhongnanhai?’ the paper asked in November, and their anguish is shared by the central government. In this case, good sense eventually prevailed after a three-year struggle. Some, of course, are not quite so lucky.

This is from the great Running Dog, which finally has put up some new posts. About the question, ‘Why can’t the orders of the central government get out of Zhongnanhai?’ – I think it’s not really that mysterious. The central government really does want to crack down on corruption and see their laws enforced. But it has a contrary interest, i.e., retaining its much coveted power. It all boils down to priorities.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Richard, exactly.

Realistically, I only see two ways that the Central Government can really crack down on corruption and enforce its own laws. Both involve a greater transparency in governing and decision-making. The first is allowing greater political participation and political competition. The second is unfettering the media. Both methods establish a feedback mechanism into how good a job the government is doing. Both open the government to exposure of its incompetence and misdeeds.

If I were a mandarin in Zhongnanhai, I would continue the process of village elections, which allow for greater political participation without really jeopardizing the CCP’s monopoly on political power (at least for now). And I would opt for the possiblity for embarrassment that a free media creates in exchange for the feedback into what’s working and what’s not that they provide.

Sure, it’s somewhat risky, but I think this is the least risky option in a whole range of dangerous choices. Because I don’t believe that the status quo is sustainable, given the tremendous amount of social disruption that’s been created by China’s current modernization drive.

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to conclude that Hu Jintao does not have the vision to take this risk. Instead he will try to impose some top-down solutions – lowering taxes in the countryside, for example – without encouraging the kind of bottom-up reforms that might actually create the increased “social harmony” that he advocates.

In the long run, his approach is much riskier, IMO.

January 8, 2006 @ 1:51 am | Comment

Is it just me, or is the China Youth Daily edging awfully close to being censhured?

January 8, 2006 @ 4:44 am | Comment

I hope these questions aren’t insensitive, but I can’t access running dog’s website. Is he/she persona non grata in China? Am I the victim of internet policing?
If answers are in the affirmative it hardly seems fair; after all, it is his/her year!


January 8, 2006 @ 5:57 am | Comment

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