CSM: “An experiment in democracy leads to fierce resistance”

There are situations where the venality of local officials transcends the usual debate over political systems and makes me despair not for any particular locality or government, but for human nature in general. This is just such a case.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

“When Fang Zhaojuan began organizing her neighbors here to impeach village leaders whom she suspected of corruption, she had no idea that the challenge would lead her first to the hospital and then to jail.

She was following the law, after all, and had launched legal petitions signed by a large majority of villagers. They believed they had been cheated of proper compensation when their village council had sold land for industrial development to the government of a nearby township.

Mrs. Fang, her family, and colleagues on a recall committee, however, found themselves plunged into a violent political drama. This, they say, has shown residents of the hamlet just how narrow the boundaries remain for their democratic rights. It has also, they add, hardened their resolve to enforce them.

Huiguan, a nondescript cluster of brick houses outside the port of Tianjin, is like tens of thousands of other Chinese villages, on the verge of being swallowed up by a fast-expanding city. Its farmland has all but disappeared under new factories, and under circumstances that Fang, a 43-year-old widow, found suspicious.

“She never expected this,” says her sister, Fang Zhaohui, displaying photographs of Fang’s bruised and bloody body taken in the hospital six weeks ago, after thugs had broken into her home and beaten her. “She never expected it would be so difficult and that the government would be so black.”  

Keep in mind that Mrs. Fang was not trying to introduce some radical new Western concept she picked up while perusing The Federalist Papers, she was attempting to avail herself of rights already enshrined in Chinese law.   As Peter Ford said in his audio commentary, Chinese leaders may dislike talk of democracy, but they are interested in establishing rule of law.  Sadly, predictably, the efforts of Mrs. Fang and her fellow citizens brought out the worst in the thugs and goons who run her local parish, anxious to preserve their power in the face of organized, legitimate opposition.

I know a little about the back story to this article. These villagers were well aware that talking to the Monitor would get them in trouble, several have been arrested since being interviewed, but they had the guts to stand up to the Man Purse Brigade and the local bully boys and say: “Enough.”  

You want to talk about courage?


Cross posted at Jottings from the Granite Studio

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Step one, separation of the government and the judicial system.

Step two, removal of the village level “government”.

That will save us from another farmer revolution.

September 4, 2008 @ 7:43 am | Comment

I have a few questions: where the hell is the government on this? What of Hu’s ‘harmonious society’ and the championing of dialogue to solve disputes? Why haven’t we been reading about this in the state media?

It’s not as if it strengthens the party’s grip on the country to watch impotently as chaos descends in the backwaters. Then again, this happened in Beijing’s backyard. Just how difficult would it be to send in a thousand troops to tell the thugs to ‘back off or else’?

I can’t think of a better way to employ the PLA.

September 4, 2008 @ 9:03 am | Comment

Step one, separation of the government and the judicial system

Not going to happen. Why? Because the government benefits from the current system by being able to ignore Chinese citizens’ technical rights according to the Constitution and other laws. I am not an expert on Chinese law, but it could well be that if there were proper rule of law in China a lot of the restrictions placed on Chinese life would be ruled unconstitutional and thus unenforceable. To many in the political elite, rule of law would mean and end to their ability to be able to automatically silence dissent and “troublemakers”.

That is, of course, a very short-sighted view to take given that rule of law would help reduce corruption and therefore stop complaints and dissent rising in the first place. But it’s why I think you won’t see the judiciary becoming fully independent any time soon at least on political/civil rights matters.

stuart, I remember a very similar case to this a couple of years ago (I forget the name of the village) where a recall was organised. There was at first national-level coverage and some implied State-support, but then for some reason interest fell away and the local government moved in to quash the action. Now it seems that the national government has simply decided to keep a lid on this.

Yes, it doesn’t serve either the CCP or China’s interest to have these things happen. But the calculation may be that drawing attention to the current political system’s failings is worse for the CCP than trying to keep things quiet and sort things out behind the scenes. The government’s unwillingness to deal with these sorts of situations is one reason why I have little faith in Hu Jintao or his administration when it comes to political reform. They talk the talk, but time and again show that they have little or no interest in doing something that would prove that they are committed to stamping out corruption and protecting Chinese people from exploitation – going after their own. Unless, of course, they’re influential party members allied to a faction you don’t like, as we found with the Shanghai mayor matter.

September 4, 2008 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

@Raj –

“if there were proper rule of law in China a lot of the restrictions placed on Chinese life would be ruled unconstitutional and thus unenforceable.”

Not necessarily, the constitution is written in a way which leaves much open to debate.

“I remember a very similar case to this a couple of years ago”

I believe you mean Taishi, where the same man who organised the beating and torture of those who tried to organise the population in an effort to get him out is still in charge. And let’s have none of this “central government is fighting corruption” talk, central and local government are all part of the same structure, and all suffer from the same level of corruption.

September 4, 2008 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

FOARP is right.

the central gov’t has a parasitic relationship with the local thugs. The CCP lives off of the peoples fear, they survive when the people are down, materialistic, brainwashed, beaten, quiet and have extremely low standards and heads full of untruths.

The CCP could not accomplish that only from the top, they need people in all social strata and aspects to enforce lies and insure fear.

People basically know this to some degree but the whole “harmonious society” line is designed to make people embrace being treated like animals. They are taught that demanding rights and justice will lead to chaos where the government will have to crack down on them in a bloody slaughter like cultural revolution, they’re totally brainwashed, fearful, or they are rich and living abroad so don’t care about human rights and justice. The CCP can buy people off, let them get rich so that they dont care about human rights and justice, but they can’t buy everyone off, so they mostly beat people and scare them into submission.

What alot of people don’t seem to get is that the head of the party is evil, people believe what they say, why? They are liars and killers, they have the power to change things in China, goons at every level that could be doing real work instead of just stealing, but that’s the relationship, that is the path the CCP has chosen to go down, the path of scaring people into submission and lying. I don’t think they could turn around now, their guilt is something they desperately need to hide, if they installed real justice, they would be the first hung, and that is the exact reason they cannot do that for China.

September 5, 2008 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

I am beginning to head in this direction myself – I mean, believing that the excuse that the central government is against corruption at the local level but powerless to take any action is just that, an excuse. Snow, i do think you go overboard when you say “the head of the party is evil, people believe what they say, why? They are liars and killers.” The same can be said of many other governments. Of course, it is more applicable to China for the simple reason that there are no meaningful checks and balances or rule of law. And Raj is right, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. But they are more than just killers and liars. I can say that about Bush, but it would deprive me of any credibility because as much as I don’t like my president, he definitely has done more than lie and kill, as has Hu.

September 6, 2008 @ 12:03 am | Comment

@Snow – Word, and I do believe we have had arguments before, and I am sure we will have arguments again, but I think those guys at Sinocidal were wrong about you.

@Richard – as much of a scumbag as I think Bush has been, I cannot see how he is not the worst that the American system has to throw at us – but Hu is quite probably the best the current CCP/PRC system has to offer.

September 6, 2008 @ 8:45 am | Comment

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