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« John Maynard Keynes: Taoist? | Main | My Bad »

December 17, 2008


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First of all, I love the blog. Regarding this post, though, I think your characterization of the Party as some lumbering, authoritarian monolith is at least somewhat misleading. I think there are forces within the Party that would actually be interested in discussing what Charter 08 wants to discuss--or at least some of it--but their voices are generally overpowered by the (mostly) conservative higher-ups. (On the other hand, my own blog has been blocked in China for, I presume, discussing Charter 08 and linking to the Chinese language text, etc...)

And there IS a rationalization for the knee-jerk "traitor" response, too--some people seem to genuinely feel that this kind of thing threatens national stability. Of course these fears and this argument are promoted by the CCP, but looking at recent Chinese history, it is sort of understandable. After a century of hell, things have finally been looking up the last couple decades--I can understand the "nobody jinx this by saying anything" mentality, and even if I don't agree with it, I think equating it to "Yankees Suck" may be a bit unfair to its proponents.

I think in some ways, the Party does represent the will of at least some of the people. Of course they would never invite open investigation of that, but from my experience there's more frustration with issues like local government corruption (which, lets face it, is not something the CCP invented or has a monopoly on) than larger Party policies like censorship, one-China, etc. I think a pretty good percentage of people would be willing to stick with the CCP, at least on a national level, on the idea that although things aren't perfect now, they're much better than they were, and the inevitable instability from a switch in governments could lead to regression. (And let us not forget that a famous Daoist once suggested he'd prefer to drag his tail in the mud rather than get involved in politics--I think after a half-century of being beaten over the head with politics, some people just want to live their own lives and don't really care about the national government)

It will be interesting to see, though, if that attitude changes as the worldwide economic slump continues. I think part of the reason there haven't been any any-Party demonstrations on the level of 1989 since then is that things have been getting progressively better. (There are, of course, many other reasons, including of course the lesson learned from the way that particular protest ended). If things start to get worse again financially speaking--and it sure seems like they are going to--frustrations will probably mount. How will that frustration manifest itself, though?

My guess is the Party is already extra-cautious, aware that a mistake could channel aggressions in their direction, but I could also see those frustrations being vented outwards at Western countries (especially France) who continue to "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people". For example, the anti-CCP riots in Tibet in May sparked nationwide nationalism because of the absurdly biased and shoddy quality of Western reporting on the topic; if something happens in Tibet this May--and it is the fiftieth anniversary--I'd anticipate the Western reporting to be just as biased, and the Chinese response to be just as, if not more, vitriolic and xenophobic.

Additionally, I see you're a Rangers fan. I can relate to that. I cried when they retired Brian Leetch's number.

I don't see 'biased' as a fair summary of 'western' reporting on Tibet.

Sure, there were many problems. However, 'western' reporters were also the ONLY journalists making any attempt to cover both sides of the story. Meanwhile, the anti-CNN brigade also pointed out numerous non-issues related to western media coverage (numerous of their examples of 'bias' were pathetic), and the Chinese nationalists jumping up and down and screaming (and assaulting people) in non-Chinese cities around the globe were often as not pointing to these non-issues as 'evidence' of a western conspiracy against China.

I do see biased as a fair summary of official Chinese discourse on Tibet. Basically there is no room for questioning of the official orthodoxy, and certainly no room for dissenting views.

Not all western reporting, no--and don't mistake me for part of the anti-CNN camp--however, I was watching everything very closely and I still think biased is a fair summary. To me, what was most telling was that the story of the ONLY western journalist who was actually IN Lhasa at the time was essentially buried (because he didn't report any kind of misconduct on the part of the Chinese police, and DID report seeing ethnic Tibetans doing violence to people from other ethnic groups, I assume). To be honest, I didn't see much of "an attempt to cover both sides of the story" in the initial reporting; what I saw was a bunch of journalists trying to turn ethnic rioting into Tiananmen Square 2: Now They're Killing Monks!

To be fair, in the early reporting, information was hard to come by, and of course that's the Chinese government's fault, but I don't think it's unfair to say there was definitely some bias there anyway.

Thanks for commenting.
I think both things can be true at the same time: China is getting materially better (at least for many, though obviously not all, Chinese people) and the Party continues to be beset by authoritarian obstructionism. You're right: not everyone in the Party is anti-democratic. But I think it is true that as a whole, as an institution, the Party stands squarely against political liberalization. There have been many pro-democratic people within the Party over the past couple of decades who have been repressd. Ask Liu Binyan, Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang, Bao Tong, Wang Ruoshui, etc....

Yeah, when phrased that way, I don't really disagree with you. I guess what I was really trying to get at was just that the story of the CCP as power-hungry maniacs with no regard for their constituency that's so prevalent in the West isn't really the full story. But you're right in that, at the end of the day, things seem to play out that way pretty often. I just like to provide another perspective because I assume that most of the people who read your blog are foreigners, and most foreigners tend to get a large dose of the CCP=evil story, and not really anything else. But they (the CCP) certainly aren't democratic, and they probably don't care whether Chinese people want democracy or not, so in that sense I agree with you.

please join the facebook group "I support charta08 china" and invite friends.

You ask: How can we know if Chinese people want democracy or not?

I would actually formulate this question in a slightly different way, as:

Why do so many Chinese people defend authoritarian rule, and why do they not seem to want democracy?

What is particularly striking, to me, is the way how little sympathy Chinese people have toward those criticizing certain aspects of China's political system. One always has to be very careful even when talking with Chinese who have lived in Western countries for a number of years - to not offend or upset them by making wrong remarks. From other countries' experiences, one is used to the fact that people living in dictatorships are aware of that fact and distance themselves in some way or another from the indoctrination of state ideology. In the Chinese case, this is very different though! People come up with exactly the same way of reasoning used by the Party. That the country needs strong leadership, with democracy the country would sink down in chaos, etc. The way that normal Chinese people think and how defensive they are of their country and the Party- with traces of arrogance, self-righteousness and clear dismissal of Western ways - is what is actually concerning me the most. I always wonder why the Chinese mind is so particular in this regard, and why it is so permeable for propaganda.

One only has to look to Russia, to see how democratic reform can sometimes crash and burn. Since Charter 08 is modelled after the democratic movements in former soviet blocs, Chinese are right to be skeptical.

As for "permeable for propaganda", you can read books such as Manufacturing Consent and A People's History Of The United States to understand how corporations and specal interest groups can generate enough propaganda to dictate people's opinions when given Freedom Of Speech.

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