Thursday, May 19, 2011

Out of Mao's Shadow

The author thinks China is a corrupt oppressor, or just very good at doing what needs to be done to stay in power. He tells a few fairly unrelated stories that he develops for maximum emotional impact. One describes a documentary filmmaker who made a film about a girl that was killed for her "Anti-communist" beliefs. She had originally been a staunch communist. However, after Mao cracked down on criticism (that he had encouraged in the 100 flowers campaign, she refused to recant her criticisms.) In prison she wrote with her own blood. (Yes this sounds dramatic, yet they later let her recopy using a pen...)

Another story describes labor protesters who uncovered corruption as wealthy party hacks managed to get rich with privatization of state-run enterprises. The party successfully employed divide-and-conquer to give the workers just enough of what they wanted (including some sacrificial lambs) to quell the protests.

There are also stories of the cultural revolution, homeowners that lose their houses due to development (carried out by one of the richest people in China), the great leap forward, press censorship and the one-child policy.

After reading this, you can't help put feel the Chinese people are brutally oppressed, and that the communist party is an expert about doing what needs to be done to stay in power. (The communists co-opted the workers to destroy the landowners, then turned around and took over the land-owner role.)

However, with carefully selected anecdotes, you could probably do the same for any other country.

At the end he provides cases of daring civil-rights lawyers and their attempts to actually use the law to overpower the party bosses. (It is often the shame factor that leads to the desired results rather than the actual lawsuit itself.)

In the end, he presents the communist party as essentially a continuation of the previous dynasties. Rulers pretty much expect to rule by fiat, with the only real checks on power being their superiors. In the scheme of things, the communist party may actually be more of a "democracy" than previous dynasties. However, this "democratic" approach to power may also open it to greater corruption (since their hold on power is more tenuous.)

Since the author is a reporter, the press gets a large amount of coverage, and the rights of a free press are of the highest importance. However, he does note that the most successful independent newspapers also devote a huge amount of space to soccer and celebrities. Hmmm. Party fluff vs. celebrity fluff. Does it even matter?

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