Loyal to the Group of Seventeen

by Henry on March 7, 2009

This Financial Times story on how petitioners to the Chinese government are treated is extraordinary.

Those gathered there are from the country’s downtrodden, people with grievances against the government who have made their way to the capital to petition China’s modern-day mandarins. When the crowd spots a foreign journalist, many rush forward waving their petition documents and shouting their grievances: “My daughter was murdered and the police did nothing,” says Yan Zizhan, a petitioner from Henan province. “I was beaten up by officials from the family planning department because I wouldn’t have sex with one of them,” says Liu Zhongwei, from Shandong province.

… in the absence of democracy or an independent legal system, the Communist party relies on a 3,000-year-old pressure release valve known as the “petitioning system” to deal with dissatisfaction among the masses. … There is no substantial difference between today’s petitioning system and the system in place 1,000 years ago,” according to Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based lawyer and human rights activist who, like many in China today, say the petitioning system is broken and needs to be abolished. “The three essential elements – the emperor, the officials and the injured citizens – have the same relationship. The emperor wants to resolve a portion of the people’s grievances so as to maintain the stability of his regime but the officials have their own interests to think about.”

… Visitors to this office soon notice the heavy-set men in civilian clothes watching the crowds of disgruntled petitioners. Known as jiefangren, or petition interceptors, they are government officials, police officers or sometimes just hired thugs sent by regional and provincial governments to repatriate petitioners before they cause a fuss in the capital. … Over months of interviews, the Financial Times heard numerous accounts and witnessed several examples of officials from the Offices of Letters and Calls or Beijing police working in collusion with interceptors to help detain and abduct petitioners. When interceptors identify people from their region outside the petition office, they approach them and try to get them to return home quietly, ostensibly so their grievances can be “resolved” locally.

ome petitioners are promised quick fixes to their problems; others go willingly in the hope of a free trip home or a place to stay while in Beijing. Those who refuse to accompany these men are usually taken by force. Often they are taken to detention centres operating like private prisons and known as “black jails”. Mr Xu says: “Black jails are places used by provincial governments to illegally imprison petitioners; we call them black jails because, first, they are just like prisons – established by the government to restrict people’s freedom – and, second, they are ‘black’ because they have no basis in any laws or regulations and are totally illegal.” Such facilities exist all over China but especially in Beijing, where they are often no more than a few rooms in a hostel or an unused warehouse. Once detained, petitioners can be subjected to “thought reform” and “re-education” techniques that range from cajoling and threats to extortion, beatings and outright torture.

It’s a quite incredible article; read it.

{ 51 comments }

1

dave 03.07.09 at 6:54 pm

Martin Jacques, where are you now?

2

roger 03.07.09 at 7:52 pm

Petitioning the government sounds much, much more democratic than the system we now have in the U.S. In the American system, the top 1 million to 2 million earners rule absolutely In return, they give the plebes scandals and exciting legislation to deal with scandals. More steroids regulation, please. At the moment, it seems that the political elite has decided to sacrifice growth for the next ten years to more pressing problem of assuring counterparties that they will be able to reward their rich investors. It is turning out that if you have inequality like Mexico or Turkey or Brazil, you will have a governing structure that looks like Mexico or Turkey or Brazil. And to think, even last year, economists would right smugly about rentier economies in third world nations. Funny, that.

3

mike 03.07.09 at 8:40 pm

Roger is right. The US is much worse than China now. Didn’t used to be, but now it is. There is virtually no way for an American citizen to petition their government, and absolutely no hope whatsoever that the government will make any effort to enforce the laws. The US has many, many more people in prison than the Chinese, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population. And speaking of detention centers and illegal jails, the US now has a global gulag of concentration camps, slave labor camps, and detention centers that is now larger than that of Hitler and Stalin combined. So let’s focus on overthrowing the rule of the Democrats and Republicans before we waste time suggesting the Chinese overthrow their ruling party.

Sorry, but Americans are simply not in a position to criticize other nations for human rights violations or for not respecting the rule of law. The US has become the most lawless, human rights abuser on the planet.

4

Maurice Meilleur 03.07.09 at 9:52 pm

I dunno, Roger. The kidnappings and beatings and the ‘black jails’ don’t sound very democratic to me. Nor do they sound ‘much, much more’ democratic than voting. If the same people are in charge and benefit no matter whom you vote for, then why would the GOP try so hard to depress turnout and disenfranchise citizens? Seems like it would be a whole lot easier and cheaper to relax and accept all the goodies that are coming to you anyway. Plus you’d get the benefit of looking like you weren’t after them in the first place.

Not to say that I disagree entirely with your observation about the way the government in power now is dealing with the economic crisis. But at least the Democratic leadership is open to the idea that what’s good for AIG’s clients isn’t good for the rest of us. And there are too many folks in the US who would be served by that idea becoming a principle of governance who believe the opposite principle, that helping the rich is the same as helping themselves and that the business of government is business.

It will take quite a while for the failure of that principle really to sink in, and for them to realize that they ought to insist that government help them out–especially after thirty years’ worth of listening to the Republicans shrieking about how government can only make things worse, and then getting themselves elected in order to prove that claim correct.

In the meantime, at least the Democrats offer whole-grain bread with the circenses.

5

roger 03.07.09 at 11:54 pm

I’d say that there is some reasonableness in your reply, Maurice, except for this:
“If the same people are in charge and benefit no matter whom you vote for, then why would the GOP try so hard to depress turnout and disenfranchise citizens? “

Oppression operates on the margins. The KGB could easily have let the dissidents have their small little protests, distribute their samizdat -after the fall of the Soviet Union, one notices taht there was maybe 1 percent worried about the issues that roiled the Moscow intelligentsia. But you get a big return from that marginal oppression. If you can provide a reasonable standard of living, the people will be amazingly cowed by it all.

Granted, this isn’t the UK, which has an unelected leader, a House of Lords that could be called House of Bribery, and a raft of Labour passed laws that have plummeted the extent of freedoms of expression to 1870s levels. But you have merely to read the sickening story of the Treasury setting up the Maiden Lane off the books entities to grossly violate the law for plutocrats to know that this system is rotten. Iraq was sort of like a laboratory experiment in how far a small ruling elite could push the envelop – the billions of unaccounted money, the return of mercenaries, the endless lies, the impossibility to enforce any accountability. And of course, out in the American public, it seems like the desire for accountability is gone – there’s no sense that anyone at all should be held accountable for the horrendous last eight years. Which is how China does differ. The leadership cannot ignore, forever, such desires, and so they arbitrarily will pick off this or that corrupt dealer. Here, we simply put them in a think tank, where they can abide their time. The democratic spirit is definitely dying.

6

Paul 03.08.09 at 12:18 am

Rorture and abuse in China ? Mao must be laughing in his grave. He, after all, was a murderer on a rare scale along with Hitler and Stalin. I am reminded of Jean Francois Revel’s “How Democracies Perish”.

7

Paul 03.08.09 at 12:18 am

Typo – I meant torture of course.

8

dshatin 03.08.09 at 12:21 am

“And of course, out in the American public, it seems like the desire for accountability is gone – there’s no sense that anyone at all should be held accountable for the horrendous last eight years”

are you referring to the Congressional, Executive, and Judicial Branches of the US Government? here in the hinterlands, the anger is smoldering hot.. by what agreement or mechanism did the US government turn its head when tens of millions of jobs were outsourced, mostly to China? what occurred to pressure clinton to advocate permitting China into the WTO to begin with? where is the missing history? how could all just sit by while the auto industry defecated on the USA? who determines what is a ‘reasonable wage’? all that is long past… welcome to the world of the global wage…like it?

9

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 12:42 am

Well, I’m certainly not qualified to generalize about China; I’m glad there are folks like Anderlini out there doing what they can to offer us a lever here and there, and I daresay I could do a lot more to touch base with what those Chinese are writing who are offering an insider’s view. And I’m sure there are plenty who will want to chime in to take issue with your characterization of the UK government.

But I do take issue with the idea that in the US ‘there’s no sense that anyone at all should be held accountable for the last eight years’. If you polled the self-styled political cognoscenti inside the Beltway, the political pundits and journalists of our own version of the Court at Versailles, you’d certainly get the impression that everyone in the US wants to move on from Bush. But that is a handful of dozens of people presuming to speak for 300 million, and assuming, arrogantly and wrongly, that their own values and interests are those of the people they wish would shut up and listen to them.

Numerous polls have shown substantial support for investigations into foreign and economic policy over the last eight years, and even for prosecutions of those who committed crimes. There is plenty of anger and resentment among the American public about the collapse of the market. The problem is not motive, it’s opportunity: there is such a sense of disconnect between the government and its citizens that people feel powerless to put their anger into effective channels of response and change.

What worries me is that a group like Obama and his officials and supporters, who–say what you like about their specific policy choices–clearly want to revive and restore faith in mechanisms like elections and community organizing, may not be able to do so in time to prevent a substantial number of people–and not just the poor and undereducated, by the way–from being drawn into more separatist or even violent directions (think a re-expansion of survivalist/secessionist groups like the militia movements). The GOP, for all their vaunted political acumen, are playing with matches and gasoline when they whip up faux-populist sentiments, something they really ought to have realized as recently as 1995. Their preferred model of government–the police market state–assumes a docile and passive public of consumers, not well-armed paranoiacs drinking rainwater and hoarding gold bullion and fuel oil.

My point, and I do have one, is that my fears aside, the choice between the a public that relies on elections and organizing, and one that gathers in small numbers yearly to hope they can catch the ear of a government official to ask for a redress of their grievance without being dragged off to a nearby hotel room to be re-educated with a truncheon at the hands of thugs, is a meaningful one, and not one that flatters the thugs. Many folks in the US are starting to realize that the prosperity that free and easy credit offered them is a mirage, and that a belligerent and stupid foreign policy is bankrupting them and making them less safe. To the extent that they trust elections and organizing, they will use those mechanisms to make change. It will be halting and imperfect and patchy, but it will happen. To the extent they do not, we’ll end up closer to the state, probably not of contemporary Chinese citizen-government relations, but those of contemporary Russia. And it’s just not reasonable to deny that that would be a decline.

10

Lars 03.08.09 at 12:54 am

Jeez, is nobody gonna say it?

“No-one is to receive more than a hundred blows.”

11

Henry 03.08.09 at 3:29 am

I’m with Maurice here, only more so (perhaps I am less polite). The real problems with American (and other Western countries’) democracy aside, anyone who thinks that they would have a better time as a dissident or petitioner for change in China, or in any other authoritarian country, than in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Ireland etc really has no idea of what it is like to live in a regime that denies basic political freedoms to its citizens. I furthermore think that this kind of stupid rhetoric is rather offensive to the many, many people on the left and elsewhere who made enormous sacrifices to win the freedoms that we have. This is talking smack – it isn’t useful political analysis (and it is the kind of cheap and thoughtless claim that practically _precludes_ useful analysis).

12

MH 03.08.09 at 3:37 am

Yes, I’m largely powerless and bitch all the time, often using my full name in print. Nothing bad has ever happened to me because of the bitching.

13

JamesP 03.08.09 at 5:00 am

I live in China, and anyone who thinks there’s less human rights and freedom in the US than in China is – how do we put this politely – a fucking moron who shouldn’t be allowed to use a typewriter, let alone a computer, lest they break it.

14

Jonathan 03.08.09 at 5:05 am

There’s a “c” in their name, you know.

15

JamesP 03.08.09 at 5:22 am

One of the chief problems with the system is that, while there’ s a fairly high level of desire on the part of the higher authorities (or some of them) to clean things up, there’s almost no political will to push through the kind of institutional changes – external watchdogs, free press – that would genuinely alter things. So you get rounds of anti-corruption sweeps every few years that merely clear out a few thousand corrupt officials or so (a small percentage of the whole), who are then replaced with other corrupt officials. For one thing, you’re unlikely to advance in local politics *unless* you have the trappings of success and being a ‘big man’ – the extra apartments, the cars, the mistress. There’s also a gigantic gulf between the laws passed at the top and the enforcement at the bottom, which the petitioning system is supposed to bridge, but, of course, doesn’t. Case in point is rural taxation, which should be minimal under Wen Jiabao’s tax reforms of a few years back, but in fact is extorted at anything from 25-50% from the farmers by local officials gathering ‘fees’ and ‘fines’ – 中国农民调查/Will the Boat Sink The Water? – was excellent on this.

It’s hard to grasp quite how ludriciously corrupt some of the police are (and most are mildly corrupt) until you’ve seen it in practice. Even a small food stand where I live pays 1000 RMB a month in protection fees, split between the police and the gangs – for comparison purposes, graduate salaries run about 2000-3000 RMB a month. Back five years ago when I was first here and doing my obligatory year of expat ESL teaching, one of the students stole the mobile phone of another (these were middle-class 18 year olds) and used it to call his girlfriend in another province. The original owner reported the case to the police (which was a dick move to begin with), and the police promptly threatened the boy’s parents with three years in jail for him (which obviously would have utterly destroyed his life) unless they paid them 30’000 RMB – which I believe was eventually reduced through negotiation to 15’000. (The phone was worth about 800 RMB).

16

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 12:42 pm

Henry, I’ll bet you feel more polite, now.

It’s not as if no one in the US ever encounters violent and corrupt government officials. There’s all sorts of graft and influence-peddling here if one cares to look. And aboriginal Americans and African-Americans, to pick two important examples, know only too well the violence of which our system is capable. But there are also mechanisms and any number of cultural values, expectations, and obligations that undermine and limit that violence and corruption, or force it to hide itself, or set it against itself, or set the reconstructed parts of society against the unreconstructed parts.

It’s a slow and uneven process, and liable to stalls and reversals, and it doesn’t work equally progressively for everyone. But it’s enough to mean that for most Americans, what bothers them about their government, when something bothers them, is that it is inefficient and foolish and insensitive, not that its officials are aggressively extorting money or silence from them under threat of bodily injury, incarceration, or death. And entrenched as some of the inefficiency and foolishness and insensitivity is, and as greedy and stupid as the segments of society who have the most influence over government are, reformers in the US start out with reasonable and much higher expectations of success than their Chinese counterparts.

(If you want to talk about warrantless electronic surveillance, secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, habeas corpus protections of ‘enemy combatants’, and torture, then the idea of convergence makes more sense. But even here the problem isn’t that the US is no different than, let alone worse than, China; it’s that it isn’t different enough. That is still a meaningful distinction.)

17

Barry 03.08.09 at 12:43 pm

“The GOP, for all their vaunted political acumen, are playing with matches and gasoline when they whip up faux-populist sentiments, something they really ought to have realized as recently as 1995. Their preferred model of government—the police market state—assumes a docile and passive public of consumers, not well-armed paranoiacs drinking rainwater and hoarding gold bullion and fuel oil.”

That’s because there’s jack sh*t for real populism on the right; they deal with a ridiculousness in which a professor is a member of the elites, but a billionaire is ‘jest folks’.

18

Henry 03.08.09 at 1:12 pm

Maurice, you did get that I was agreeing with you, didn’t you (I am not sure what you are sayin in your first sentence).

This said, the differences between China and the UK/US etc have less to do, I think with police and bribery (I have heard similar stories to James’s about the London Met in the early 1990s) than with the lack of any means of formal recourse besides petitioning if politicians screw you over

19

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 1:17 pm

I did, Henry. I just wanted to suggest that JamesP made you look like Emily Post.

20

Brett Bellmore 03.08.09 at 1:25 pm

“One of the chief problems with the system is that, while there’ s a fairly high level of desire on the part of the higher authorities (or some of them) to clean things up,”

Yeah, right. Give me a break, it’s a totalitarian state, and you don’t get to the top in one of those by being a nice guy. What is it with the urge on the left to romanticize genocidal regimes? Bunch of smucks whining about how terrible we are compared to the Chinese, and not noticing that they’re NOT doing their whining from a prison camp.

Make no mistake, this country has serious problems, and at times I’m not very proud to call myself an American. But is anybody with that serious a disconnect from reality going to contribute to solving them?

I doubt it.

21

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 1:47 pm

Brett, I know it’s probably pointless to ask, but: Have you discovered a sense of humor? Or have you taken to trolling CT comments at random?

I know, I know: the sentence ‘anyone who thinks there’s less human rights and freedom in the US than in China is – how do we put this politely – a fucking moron who shouldn’t be allowed to use a typewriter, let alone a computer, lest they break it’ is full of subtlety and nuance. But really, if you think JamesP is an apologist for contemporary Chinese government-citizen relations, you ought to read his posts through again. That story about the theft of the cellphone wasn’t for a chuckle.

22

kid bitzer 03.08.09 at 1:50 pm

agree w/ jamesp and others: the u.s. is far freer and more democratic, and the people of china are suffering a level of oppression that very few in the u.s. suffer.

that said, my first reaction to the post was a bit like roger’s #2: not that the chinese system is more democratic, but that there is something curiously, touchingly democratic in the people’s utter incomprehension of the system that they live in, in their naive delusion that it might be responsive to their individual needs and requests.

so i felt some agreement with roger not as a matter of political analysis of the system, but as a matter of sociological analysis of the people’s understanding of the system.

these are people who fundamentally do not understand that the cossacks work for the czar.

but the czar model may get at the central point: this belief in the power of intercessory prayer is not, at root, characteristic of how the citizens of a democracy think of political power. it is characteristic of how the subjects of a paternalistic autocracy think of political power.

power rests with the gods and with their earthly favorite, the monarchical sovereign. the sovereign is benevolent and loves his people; his love is godlike and paternal, as is his power. discordant elements interfere with our father’s love for us; they are clouds that prevent the rays of his protective mercy from beaming down on us. we may pray to him to dispel them.

it’s an attitude one can find all through feudal europe, or feudal russia, or probably anywhere. but, at root, it is not a democratic attitude.

in a democracy, we do not offer petitionary prayers for mercy. we call people to account. they are our servants, and when they fail us, we take them to task for their shortcomings.

now, granted, the age of executive idolatry in america is pushing us ever closer to the paternalistic autocratic model. eight years of the dear leader, preceded by many years of reagan worship, have led many elements in the states to have a debased, undemocratic attitude towards power. it is unclear whether we still have the political will to call failed public servants to account.

but it would be a mistake to observe our own sickness and conclude that deluded chinese peasants are in a healthier state.

23

salient 03.08.09 at 2:14 pm

#2 has got to be the most tone-deaf comment I’ve seen on CT… roger, the most brutal day-to-day police violence we see in the U.S. is electrocution by taser, usually nonlethal. Bad, yes, but not even comparable to local government agencies operating as gang-rape clubs, or black jails in which people who complain of their suffering are tortured. And those who are vocally protesting taser use in the U.S. are not being silenced or extorted or threatened or locked up in black jails by the U.S. government or its affiliates.

it is unclear whether we still have the political will to call failed public servants to account.

It’s where I think the faceless-government-bashing of the right wing has accomplished much for them. When you see the government as a unified faceless entity it’s harder to recognize individual actors within that system and call them out for abuses. They all blend into the machinery.

24

Jonathan 03.08.09 at 4:33 pm

In “Ascian,” I mean.

25

roger 03.08.09 at 5:10 pm

Salient, I disagree. Look, for instance, at the immediate self-policing my comment evokes, which is one of the aspects of the democracy deficit I’m talking about. You have Henry, who comes up with a line that seems like subdeb Rambo II, about those on the left [?] and elsewhere who… made… enormous.. sacrifices to win the freedoms that we have today! (I like the great Sylvester Stallone better: “I want, what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it!” If you are going to try to knock down an argument by an appeal to throat lumping sentiment, there’s the way to do it).

Then the drive by zombie, who thinks I must be fucking stupid, so that I shouldn’t have a fucking computer, etc.

Meanwhile, of course, no attempt is made to deal with what is more than sentiment – my argument, right or wrong, that the democratic deficit in the U.S. and the rest of the democratic countries is driven by the enormous increase in inequality. And that one of the ways this is expressed is in the fact that the institutional processes that supposedly guarantee these freedoms (which, I remember piously, were won for me… by the sacrifices … of those on the left! I shed a tear for my comrade martyrs of the past) have now become buffers to insure that corruption of all kinds is accepted as part of the system.

So, my larger point is that the smugness of the comparison to China is stupid. The idea that we are so much better than China cause we don’t have petitioners who are imprisoned for their troubles is simply another blinding gesture on the part of those who, on the whole, have benefited from the American system, being comfortable themselves, metabolize that comfort into a morally superior position. I happen to think that’s bull. In America, we have these wonderful processes to help us forget. So we will forget the billions unaccounted for in the Iraq war, we will forget to ask questions about the State department and its good friend, Blackwater, we will forget the testimony about AIG in which, astonishingly, the Fed simply told congress to fuck off. We will gloat about the stories of shakedowns by Chinese cops of peasants – never happen in New Orleans, right? In fact, one thing for sure, you would never have a potential candidate of a major party brag about the overtly racist tactics of a majorly corrupt cop on tv … or maybe you would. On the other hand, to find out that the Fed and the Treasury decided to illegally end run around the law by setting up two off the book entities, Maiden Lane and Maiden Lane II, and very probably used them to indirectly payout billions to banks, that is too petty to even think about.

I can easily imagine a comparison going the other way. The Chinese could point out, for instance, the charming American habit of imprisoning vast swathes of the black population (for their own good – many were found in possession of drugs!) which occurred in response to the Civil Rights movement, just as the same enserfment of the black population occurred after Reconstruction, often by the same means – and the system of credit/political rights/privacy intrusion that has been built up to make the released convict’s life a petty hell.

But such a comparison would have a similar effect in china – it would be intellectual sominex. Go to sleep. We are the best. And don’t forget the enormous sacrifices of those on the left and elsewhere that brought you your healthcare, your garden patch, and your onward and upward economy.

It is disheartening that at the moment, only the worst have the passionate intensity to protest – those sad teabagging Malkin followers – and then, confusedly, on behalf of the wealthy. I’m truly sick of the amnesia by comparison which has long been the pablum of academic neo-liberalism. Look at those petitioning peasants! How far our civilization has gotten from that kind of thing. In form, there’s no difference from James Mill going on about the barbaric Hindoos. And the effect is to make us, Salient, deaf more than tone deaf.

26

Chris Bertram 03.08.09 at 5:27 pm

So an Irishman blogs about an article in a British newspaper by a Kuwaiti journalist who grew up in New Zealand (yes, I googled that) and we get a flurry of comments about “this country” (the US) and what “we” are and are not in a position to say about China? By the way, I’m British and I’m writing this in the UK. Cut the narcissism guys, it isn’t all about you.

27

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 7:11 pm

Your point is well taken, Chris. By way of apology, I will say that I think Roger is also wrong about England and Ireland. He didn’t mention NZ, but I bet he’s wrong about them, too.

28

roger 03.08.09 at 7:18 pm

Hmm, I’m not sure I understand the narcissism, Chris. The UK is a better example of the way institutionalized democratic processes, when combined with an entrenched elite that takes full advantage of its position to increase the already mindboggling wealth inequality, uses those processes to create an elite immunity that counters the original democratic impulse. One could contrast the bad times encountered by petitioning peasants in China with the good times encountered by knighted bankers in the UK – although recently I read a CIF article that, quite seriously, suggested the real, real serious punishment that could be meted out to the ex-CEO of the RSB would be to take away his knighthood. That will show him!

The argument doesn’t go away by deciding that comparison slides into moral equivalency, and we aren’t having any of that. UK, Germany, US, Australia, France, Italy (especially Italy!) no longer set the tone for the progressives in the third world. Can no longer be pointed to as societies that have taken care of their rent seekers. That have a functioning judiciary that doles out justice without fear or favor. That fearlessly pursues, say, millionaire Saudis and the military procurement firms that bribe them.

29

christian h. 03.08.09 at 7:44 pm

Oh dear. It is of course correct that the majority of people living in the US, UK, Ireland or Germany (or other Western democracies, please don’t feel excluded) don’t receive the same violent treatment as the poor in China do. I say “most” because in some places – for example the UK – segments of the population are clearly persecuted (just see what happened to Hicham Yezza, for example). Similar things certainly happen in the US, too.

In any event, I don’t think there’s any doubt the Western “democracies” a freer societies than China is. What is, however, in serious doubt is whether the grievances of the majority of the people in those countries are taken any more seriously than those of the Chinese petitioners.

30

roger 03.08.09 at 8:01 pm

Maurice, please! I liked the fact you argue against me, but to engage in this mobbing behavior, with me as the one with cooties and you rushing to make sure you are on the right side of the playground divide – that is just sad and unworthy. You can do better than that. For instance, you could start by defending Chris’ notion of narcissism. My notion is that intercultural narcissism begins when one forgets that the third world subject actually might have a thing or too to say about political systems too, and justice, and fairness. And might not conform to the type we – the ever Western we – want him to be. In fact, this putative kowtowing peasant might not even look upon the state of our institutions with great longing.

31

kid bitzer 03.08.09 at 8:20 pm

s’okay, roger–maurice’s #27 was pretty evidently a joke.

32

Henry 03.08.09 at 8:52 pm

Roger, if someone in this discussion had said that being nice to dodgy bankers, losing billions in the Iraq war, bad behaviour by Treasury etc were fine and wonderful because ‘we’ don’t torture and imprison supplicants, then your arguments would not be straw men. But then, if wishes were horses …

And the reason why Chris (entirely correctly) describes your comment as being self-involved narcissism is because, as per standard practice, you try to turn a discussion of what is happening in a quite different country into a discussion of American politics. Your decision to appoint yourself the Universal Spokesman for the Other occurred after you had been called on this, not before.

Which brings us back to your original claim – that (and I quote you to avoid unfortunate confusion) the petitions system in China “sounds much, much more democratic than the system we now have in the U.S.” This a claim that is stupid to the point of being completely indefensible. And blowing smoke about teabagging Malkin supporters (a truly vile image by the way – really, couldn’t you have just put that in ROT13 or something?) isn’t going to change that fact.

33

salient 03.08.09 at 9:33 pm

Cut the narcissism guys, it isn’t all about you.

Well, that’s fair; all the same, roger in #2 specifically references “Americans” & many of us are responding to that. My apologies for not generalizing or considering broader applicability where it’s clearly appropriate to do so.

Salient, I disagree. Look, for instance, at the immediate self-policing my comment evokes, which is one of the aspects of the democracy deficit I’m talking about.

Yeah, but you’re able to hash out your perspective, roger, and nobody’s knocking down your door with billy clubs to take you away to black-jail detention.

And the effect is to make us, Salient, deaf more than tone deaf.

I suspect christian h., above, stated more or less what you were intending to say all along, in his last sentence. Check above and see if you agree (I know the second I say “check comment #29 above” some comment will pop out of moderation upthread and change the ordering…)

Anyhow, I think it’s probably reasonable to assess whether certain states should or should not be regarded, at any given time, as leaders or visionaries whose governments are developing or exhibiting a superior conception of justice. Clearly, while we can engage in comparative analysis, the assessment of each state is independent: the fact that we see specific problems with the conception of justice being accomplished in State X shouldn’t somehow blind us to devastating injustice being accomplished in State Y. (I’m trying, Chris!)

So, I think you severely and offensively overstated your proposition.

I believe you to have made two claims: (Claim 1) in #2, that the ability to petition the emperor makes China’s conception of justice superior to conceptions of justice accomplished by other states, such as the United States (and many other countries). Your basis for this claim is the lack of formal redress procedures in these other states. In the case of the United States, this is ludicrous on its face: if you are mistreated by a government agency, for example, we have a civil judiciary system which you can “petition” via lawsuit. Not a perfect system, but not entirely absent either, as you seem to suggest. I am not familiar enough with other states to clearly identify the grievance-redress procedures they provide, but the answer “none whatsoever” would surprise me in any EU country.

Maybe there is a case to be made that the conception of justice accomplished in China is an ideal model for the rest of the world — or is at least morally equivalent in its conception of justice to the U.S. and other countries. But maybe you shouldn’t be making the case for idealizing China in direct response to anecdotes about torture, indefinite detention, police brutality, and re-education in China. Maybe there’s a disconnect there. When I said this approach was “tone-deaf” of you, I felt I was being very charitable.

(Claim 2) [State X] Can no longer be pointed to as societies that have taken care of their rent seekers [etc]. This is a weaker claim amounting to “it’s really effing rich of citizens of these countries to be decrying China’s governance when their own states are not exactly moral leaders.”

Well, this is a standard attribution error. Citizens of State X probably didn’t have much of a hand in developing the policies of State X, and they don’t deserve to lose their right to analyze and criticize the conception of justice enacted in State Y just because the conception of justice accomplished in State X fails to adhere to reasonable baseline standards for a satisfactorily just society.

If Donald Rumsfeld starts decrying injustice in China, I will question his authority to do so (or at the least I’ll question his intentions and sincerity). But I believe Henry Farrell, Jamil Anderlini, myself, and the many others who are chilled to the bone by Jamil’s report, have every right to express our dissatisfaction, disdain, and critical assessment. I don’t recall any of us suggesting we’re satisfied with the accomplishments of justice to be found in our respective countries of citizenship.

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Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 11:01 pm

In fairness to Roger (and he deserves some), he was not the only one to turn this into a contest about the relative merit of the US and China. In fact, Roger mentioned that the UK, too, was less democratic than China, so if anything I was being more ‘narcissistic’ than he was.

In further fairness to Roger, those who think his position is bollocks could just as easily be picking on Mike in #2. Easier, actually, since Mike’s apparently not around. ‘The US has become the most lawless, human rights abuser on the planet’ didn’t get any uptake.

But, Roger, your position really is bollocks. To express dismay at how bad things are in another country and to suggest outright or by implication that at least things in the West haven’t gotten that bad does not make a person ‘smug’, and it doesn’t amount to ‘Mill going on about the barbaric Hindoos’. There is a lot of the latter sort of posturing in the West, and no doubt some Western posers emailed Anderlini’s column around to their poser friends with the appropriate cluck-clucking commentary attached. But unless you’re accusing Anderlini of being such a poser, your position is meaningless as a comment on his article. And if you can show me anywhere in this thread where someone is preening his own country at the expense of the Chinese … but you can’t, because, as Henry pointed out, no one is. ‘I’d rather live here than someplace where you can be kidnapped and beaten for complaining about the government’ is hardly a patriotic anthem.

Justifying your position by appealing to the ‘third world subject’ is double bollocks. It sounds (sorry, Chris) like Bush accusing critics of ‘No Child Left Alive Behind’ of being selfish, elitist racists because they didn’t want to help schoolchildren in minority communities.

And while we’re still within shouting distance of the topic of narcissism, Roger, did you happen to notice that JamesP, the ‘drive by zombie’ who called you (yes, and Mike) a ‘fucking moron’, was someone who claims to live and work in China right now and was relating his experiences in, you know, China? Okay, maybe not precisely a native informant, but come on.

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roger 03.08.09 at 11:38 pm

Hnery, I put in a preface here to the silliness of the argument that, if I don’t state fully and completely my entire argument in one post, any modifications or alterations are ruled out by the invisible judges of debate. That is a child’s form of debate.

Instead, I’ll press two points. One is that the petitioning idea would be a nice thing counter to the monarchical tendencies in the “democracies.: The other will be a comment on the inertia that I think your post and comments show. It is an inertia that reminded me of the article in the NYT this sunday about economics departments.

It is very hard to argue that the power invested with the executive in the U.S….and the U.K., and Germany, and France, and Ireland … doesn’t possess quasi-monarchical powers. In foreign policy, I would say in two countries – the U.S. and the UK – the power is more than monarchical when it comes to vital things like conducting a war. Although Louis XVth might have wanted to continue the Seven Year war, the informal discontent of the bourgeoisie and the peasants made that impossible. Contrast this with the events of 2006, in which, in one democratic country, the U.S., an election was held in which a legislature was elected pretty clearly on an anti-war platform, and the legislature caved to the monarch and funded an increased commitment to the war. Then a new quasi-monarch was elected, and one of his first acts was to assure us that the commitment to the war would continue for almost three more years.

Now, I could as well be telling a tale of the U.K. There, the party that came into power and the electorate actually swallowed the idea that the prime minister would go at his choosing and would chose his successor, incidentally. And as for sentiment against the war, tough luck.

My argument, which really isn’t a straw man argument at all, is that the democratic processes in place are producing highly undemocratic outcomes. I could use, as an example, the recent business in Ireland with the golden circle of bankers and the P.M. and the resulting bailout. I have referenced the BAE scandal. Are you satisfied? Or we could go to the freedom of the press in Italy, in which the president is the head of the biggest media conglomerate in Italy and has exerted his control over the state media system. Or we could go to the scandals in France over the connection between Total and various politicians – or even the amazing synergy between various French commercial and political groups and the Rwandan genocide. Here’s a nice buried story from 2008, full of straw men:

Official French reaction to the Rwandan accusation that French leaders, diplomats, and soldiers were complicit in the epic 1994 genocide in Rwanda was muted and curt.
“Unacceptable,” said both former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, and a diplomatic spokesman here during a sleepy week when most of Paris has decamped for vacation. Yet some French nongovernmental organizations, media, and intellectuals treated accusations that France aided and abetted Hutu government forces in the 100-day killing spree, which left more than 800,000 dead, as at least a subject for further inquiry.

So, I abjectly apologize for using the American example. I apologize, too, for my interpretation of narcissism – obviously, I was treading the slippery slope of moral relativism, and before you know it I’d be idealizing China and putting down the freedom that the left (and Donald Duck) sacrificed so much for. But I think that, as we do have quasi-monarchical institutions, petitions are an excellent idea. I would love to see the American president, the Irish P.M., Sarkozy and Berlusconi subject to televised petitioning once a month by a random selection of citizens. Perhaps it would cause a small breech in the atmosphere of elite entitlement that dismisses all criticisms of the democratic deficit.

Second, let us go to my so stupid as to be entirely ignorable definition of narcissism, and point out that there’s some pretty interestin’ troping going on in your post, Henry. The ancient oriental despotism, the beaten peasants. In the 1840s in the UK, you could read the same kind of material. Then, of course, the problem was those poor peasants didn’t have the freedom to dope up – now, of course, fashions have changed, and we invade, pesticide spray, and engineer coups in order to keep people from doping up. But you drops in your tropes, you takes your chances. I’d expand – surely without any justication whatsoever – narcissism to include a peculiar blindness to history. But then again, since I didn’t say it in my very first post, well, that is totally out of bounds.

Although no – besides the silliness, do you actually not see how silly that argument is, Henry? Seriously, that is a procedural argument that makes no sense, and ignores the way comments sections work. One doesn’t say everything in a post. One changes an exaggeration. One works out a suggestion. Otherwise, it is hopeless.

That petitioning is more democratic doesn’t mean that china as a whole is more democratic. Instead, my posts have attacked the “more or less” distinction themselves. And, to quote mysel about the effect of these comparisons: “But such a comparison would have a similar effect in china – it would be intellectual sominex. Go to sleep. We are the best. And don’t forget the enormous sacrifices of those on the left and elsewhere that brought you your healthcare, your garden patch, and your onward and upward economy.” In fact, such things go on in China all the time. The bizarre idea that I am idealizing China by not condemning “oriental despotism” is one of the traps of the comparativist method. It is a great trap, especially as the parameters of comparison are simply assumed, instead of spelled out. Nor is there a proof process – I can look at the outcomes, I can point to the u.s., the u.k., france, italy, but it doesn’t matter. The outcomes are abstracted away, as if the system has no feedback. It does. Powerlessness in democracies is a pretty strong ambient feeling.

But this discussion is also symbolic. A generation that came of age at the end of the cold war, and went into academia during the hopes of the Clinton period (when the U.S. was the ‘indispensible” country) decided that they could build a niche in the neo-liberal order for human rights. As circumstances have changed and they have gotten older, they have increasingly adapted a vocabulary of universals in order to avoid circumstances. This is, I think, parallel to the freshwater school of economics. Your post is a very good example of this tendency, from the appeal to what we all know about “freedom” – as if freedom wasn’t context specific, but simply a description of an institutional political process, whatever the social circumstances are – to the idea that specificity is narcissism. Doubtless, you will again ignore the fact that I’ve broadened the base of examples, and ignore the pretty simple argument I am making. But I think that the rejection has less to do with my straw men than with inertia in among the political scientists who have watched humanitarian interventions and civil society groups go to hell.

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roger 03.08.09 at 11:40 pm

Oops. The first paragraph got mashed up by this commenting machine. Oh dear. I wrote “Henry, the first part of this disappeared when the commenting machine somehow ran away from me.” Sorry about the incoherence. The rest, though, is coherent enough.

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roger 03.09.09 at 12:28 am

Maurcie, I think you are actually agreeing with my definition of narcissism, but saying I’m the real narcissist.

Well, maybe. I do not pretend to be an expert on China. I deal with a lot of Chinese students, and I have a sense of what they think, but it is all in English. And it is not at all a representative sample.

On the other hand, I’m not quite sure why your reject the orientalist thesis except that you find it irritating. The thesis would predict, I think, the recapitulation of certain tropes in Western discourse – and surely that article was full of them.

Incidentally, reading around, the petition process has an office, and, according to Tarun Khanna’s Billions of Entrepreneurs, the state grades each local government according to the number of petitions it generates – hence, the incentive to beat the peasants by local government officials, or whoever they hire in Beijing. While I don’t think this is democratic, the idea of a petitioning system in which local governments would be graded on the citizen’s satisfaction or grievances doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 2:47 am

Actually, the most prominent expression of orientalism in modern Western discourse about China was almost certainly the Maoist fantasies of the 60s and 70s about how the Chinese ‘weren’t like us’, valued communities higher, didn’t care about individual rights, etc. The kind of crap being put forward by a couple of idiots here is a continuation of that – the real suffering of Chinese doesn’t matter except as a stick to make a (weak and inaccurate) point about America.

Experience of Chinese students’ political views, by the way, is essentially useless; Chinese students studying abroad are part of the most privileged classes in modern China. (Not least because a large percentage of them – this depends on the institution, of course – were too thick to get into a good Chinese university but had rich parents who arranged for them to go overseas instead. This is much more prominent at the undergraduate level, where Chinese students have an extremely high drop-out rate, than at the graduate one, of course.) Talking to overseas Chinese students (or, indeed, students in China, who are fairly privileged themselves) is a good way of gauging what the position of the elites will be in five to ten years time; it’s a useless way of finding out about the actual experience of ordinary Chinese. (I’m not holding up my own experience as first-rate on this, but I spend a fair amount of time in provincial industrial cities doing oral history work, and have friends whose work involves talking to labour activists and the such-like for modern stuff.) The Guardian and The Spectator both did particularly egregious examples of this in the last few years; the Guardian’s ‘China week’ was a fucking Potemkim joke (the kids you’re talking to have amazing English? That’s because you’re in a provincial-level specialist school specializing in languages) and good old Boris spent several dinners talking to selected students at Tsinghua and Beida – the two most elite universities – and concluded from this that ‘the Chinese’ didn’t want any of this Western rights stuff.

Mind you, even at the level of privilege, you get a lot of horrible stories. I’ve got a friend who’s studying in Australia right now, who comes from a provincial city in Shandong – about a million people or so – which is, like a lot of provincial cities, essentially controleld by a local government-cum-mafia. They chopped the legs off his uncle and left him to bleed to death on top of a building after he bid for a contract that they wanted, while his grandfather had gone to prison for ‘corruption’ for opposing the group. I don’t doubt that his grandfather was corrupt, but *every* provincial businessman – more or less – is* – the actual convictions are mostly motivated by being against the local power group. The reason my friend was going to Australia was so that he could work in an environment where he didn’t feel that he *had* to be corrupt. Another rich-ish friend had just had an uncle (note; uncle can mean anything from blood relation to family friend) imprisoned because he’d accidentally insulted a new provincial (Shaanxi, I think) governor on a booze-and-whores trip together to Hainan some years before.

Of course, there are genuine and interesting reasons why many Chinese both want a cleaner and fairer society and are opposed to the introduction of Western-style democracy and even free speech. I think those reasons are *misguided*, but they’re worth engaging with. But that doesn’t take away from the reality of widespread oppression and corruption, coupled, of course, with tremendous hope. On a positive note, f’instance, the rules got changed in two important ways recently; firstly, you don’t need government permission to do interviews anymore as long as the person gives their consent (though I’m dubious as to enforcement on this one) and secondly, journalists who discover local corruption are now allowed to report on it directly to high-level officials without going through the intervening levels of government.

*The actual process of doing business in the provinces is extremely similar to the interactions with gangsters explained in ‘Violent Entrepeneurs’ (about Russia in the 90s), only with bureacratic threats and local government substituted for violence and gangsters. Except, um, when you have to pay the gangsters too. I could post at this at some length but this has already become a massive comment with too many parentheses.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 2:54 am

Incidentally, I live in Beijing, used to live in Shijiazhuang, and am working on a book about Tangshan. Shameless self-advertisement time – if you liked these comments, why not try the book what I wrote!- http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/books/review/Goodwin-t.html.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 3:01 am

Also, Maurice has it quite right – one of the chief differences is not in the *existence* of corruption and extortion (though they’re much, much more widespread than in the UK or USA), but in the absence of effective methods to counter or protest about them – which doesn’t mean that there isn’t widespread and occasioanlly successful protest, of course. Kevin O’Brien and Lijiang Li’s RIGHTFUL RESISTANCE is the best book I know about one aspect of this.

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roger 03.09.09 at 3:49 am

James, interesting points. Although the wholesale dismissal of chinese students as privileged, hence not worth paying attention to, doesn’t really seem either true or relevant. I’ve students who are anything but privileged. And I work with some engineering profs who are obviously very. I do think the denunciation of Mao, followed by a Maoist like denunciation of the privileged, is interesting. What, are these capitalist roaders?

This is actually the game played by the regime – that the majority of dissidents were privileged pissants. Or pizi.

As for how any corruption could be much, much more than the U.S. – that is mindboggling. Since I would include TARP and the insider dealing that has led to the Fedtaking as collateral for loans who knows how much toxic waste to shore up a small elite, which easily runs to around a trillion dollars in a matter of merely five months, China must be something.

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Henry 03.09.09 at 3:56 am

Roger – You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know how the petition system works in China (my very strong impression is that you hadn’t actually read the linked-t0 article before your first comment). You admit that you know relatively little about China, but nonetheless feel entitled to engage in sweeping and ridiculous generalizations. You don’t understand how petitioning systems work in autocratic regimes (hint: they reinforce the power of the autocrats rather than limiting them). You apparently believe that a traditional form of supplication before the monarch/supreme ruler/whatever that has been adapted to modern purposes is _democratic._ You prefer arguing with the voices in your head to engaging with the serious criticisms of what was a manifestly stupid claim. You accuse people of Orientalism for making the apparently reasonable point that people prefer not to be dragged away and imprisoned or tortured for trying to complain to the government (this is, I imagine, a cultural universal). And then, you hilariously imply that it is unfair that _no-one is taking you seriously._ To remind you of our comment policy:

If your comments strike us as stupid or irrelevant we may also delete them in the interests of keeping the conversation at a reasonable level. Likewise, commenters who routinely seek to make marginally relevant debating points may be barred to make room for those with a substantive contribution to the discussion.

A warning: your score on ‘stupid’ and ‘irrelevant’ is mounting rapidly, as is your total of ‘marginally relevant debating points.’ When you make an idiotic claim that probably isn’t (as Maurice points out above) exactly what you wanted to say, it is better, in general, to admit that you got your formulation wrong, and then to restate your claim in more precise and limited ways. Doubling up on the stupid and then redoubling again is not _a good idea_ and it is one that we are inclined to be _quite intolerant of._

James – your book sounds fascinating. Any chance of a review copy?

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Henry 03.09.09 at 4:07 am

And to make it clear. If you had come up with a more serious and carefully thought through argument (e.g. that the US has its own forms of corruption and unwillingness to listen to complaints) it would perhaps have been an annoying form of threadjacking (it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of threads on US politics already where you can talk about this stuff to your heart’s content), but it wouldn’t have led to you getting subjected to the derision that you have received.

But you also really need to read more about other countries (and in an ideal world, live in them). You can live and work and own a business in the US without engaging in active corruption. You can’t in many parts of the world (which is one part of James’ point). That isn’t to let corrupt parties in the US off the hook, but it is to suggest that the degree and kind of corruption varies with institutional system. This is something that I have done a decent amount of academic research on – I would recommend Michael Johnstone’s _Syndromes of Corruption_ as a good first take on the literature, and also his incredibly detailed albeit not-entirely-up-to-date “corruption bibliography”:http://people.colgate.edu/mjohnston/Total%20Bib%20Fall%2005.doc. NB that there are some real measurement issues with the kinds of data that Transparency International etc use (it better gets at _perceptions of corruption_ than corruption itself – but there is a lot of variation in the degree and kind of corruption, and the US simply isn’t at the races with some other countries.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 4:11 am

roger, plenty of students (though a minority) come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds – but it’s like getting through Oxbridge in the UK (or, to be more accurate, Oxbridge in the 1950s or so) – the very process of going to university knocks you up a few notches in terms of experience and expectations, particularly if you’ve got into a foreign university. (And the vast, vast majority of those are from more privileged backgrounds than typical students. But, again, this differs. Some scholarship programs are fair and free, some are bought-off here. For many universities, it’s kind of a two-track thing – you can get in legitimately through scholarship and hard work, or you can bribe your way in. And sorry for calling you an idiot; I think you merely said an idiotic and thoughtless thing, which we all do sometimes.

While I’m not certain that the higher corruption, so to speak, is necessarily *worse* than in the US in particular – Halliburton in Iraq and so forth – though it’s certainly as big (something I can’t really discuss without going into whole other issues of statistics and the ongoing struggle between central and provincial power blocs) if not bigger, corruption is much more directly experienced in everyday life. To take the situation of rural peasants, imagine that you were, by law, obliged to pay 5% of your income in tax, but that every year your local town council extorted 25-40%. Or, say you’re a small business owner, imagine that every two weeks or so somebody tries to shake you down, and you have to refer them to the guy you’re already paying off, who you hope is higher up than they are. (My ex-girlfriend ran a computer education firm, and was paying off the dean of her university, the mayor of her city, and some guy high up in the labour department.) Sometimes you lose several days of business after something goes wrong – say the fire department or the hygiene department shuts you down – because you’re running around trying to find who you should be paying.

Henry, drop me a note (I’m presuming you can see my listed e-mail) with your address and I’ll try and get you a review copy.

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roger 03.09.09 at 4:44 am

Henry, I can only saqy that you are being silly. It must be late.

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roger 03.09.09 at 4:57 am

James, actually, I love the fact that there is jacqueries erupting in the Chinese countryside.
As for the students, well, as you are well aware, in 89, many of the dissidents were sons and daughters of high party officials. There’s a good novel about the paradoxes of the dissident movement reviewed in the NYT by yiyun li. I interviewed her for a mag. Very interesting woman.
Nevertheless, the orientalist framing of the article Henry quotes is quite raw and dumb. And the comparison system, in which the template is the political system of the Western states, is shifting because it is discredited.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 6:08 am

You haven’t actually cited any textual evidence for this so-called ‘orientalist framing,’ though, and I can’t see it in the article. The comparisons with the ancient China past – maybe, but that’s a perfectly common trope of discussion *within* China when discussing aspects of the political system, which makes it hard to claim as ‘orientalist.’ (An overused though still occasionally useful term itself.) There’s some mild scene-setting at the start, but it seems bizarre to dismiss the article, which is a perfectly good (though by no means new) piece of work on a broken and damaging system which in no way substitutes for real oversight.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 6:42 am

On a more praiseworthy note about the Chinese police, there’s an interview (which I got from the excellent China Beat) here with an ex-policeman who now works to promote awareness of the high rate of murder among prostitutes. What’s interesting about it is that you could very much imagine almost exactly the same sentiments coming from someone in a similar position in the UK or USA. (It doesn’t mention the heavy involvement of some policemen in protecting/extorting women, of course, but then that’s hardly unknown elsewhere either.)

http://china-crossroads.com/2009/03/04/the-plight-of-chinas-xiaojies/

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ajay 03.09.09 at 2:11 pm

Minor and belated point: but roger could do with some knowledge of the UK as well. The UK does not have an unelected leader. Its leader is Gordon Brown MP, who was elected in 2005.

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virgil xenophon 03.09.09 at 4:59 pm

Approspo of this discussion about corruption and China I am reminded of how much
more open China is now as compared to the pre-Nixon days, and how much easier it is (again, relatively speaking) to get a half-way decent “take” on the sociocultural realities in China today than in years previously. This conversation draws me back to the work of a Belgique journalist Simon Leys, who wrote a much acclaimed (at the time) seminal work “Chinese Shadows” back in the early 70s. Largely forgotten now with the opening of China as it described the last years of a very closed regime, it’s key insights/observations into the nature of the regime and Chinese society nonetheless still hold up amazingly well…..which leads me to the observation that analyzing Chinese society is much like monitoring ice formation in Antarctica; many are focused in on, and obsessing over, the melting of the glaciers in a very small part of the western part while ignoring the much larger ice/glacier/snow build-up and temp declines over the much vaster majority of the Continent.

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JamesP 03.09.09 at 5:13 pm

I believe Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) was actually a diplomat, not a journalist, though I’m not 100%. CHINESE SHADOWS is a wonderful book, so are BROKEN IMAGES and THE BURNING FOREST. He had his eyes open, unlike so many others at the time.

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