Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pacing the Rule of Law

NYT: Legal Gadfly Bites Hard, and Beijing Slaps Him
BEIJING, Dec. 12 - One November morning, the Beijing Judicial Bureau convened a hearing on its decree that one of China's best-known law firms must shut down for a year because it failed to file a change of address form when it moved offices. read on...


The existence of this article is a telegraph of sorts from the party. This Mr. Gao, a kind of uber-troublemaker who specifically roams the countryside in order to find legal cases that are most antagonistic to party officials -- the ones involving detention of Falun Gong members and deep party corruption -- and then writes and circulates open letters calling communists party members "mostly a bunch of mafia bosses" has lost his license to practice law. The surpising thing is that he is not in prison, like many who tried to jolt the system ahead through legal challenges. He is now under 24-hour surveillance, his apartment courtyard a "plainclothes policeman's club". And yet he was able to do an extensive interview with a foreign journalist, which shows a sort of implicit collusion on the part of those watching him. Gao is sending the world a message about Beijing and at the same time Beijing is trying to send a message about itself : "We need people like Gao but we need them to work at our pace. " Is this message an accurate one or is the Gao case a PR effort to cover deeper intransience? It is undoubtedly both; the fact that Gao is neither imprisoned nor able to continue practicing law is an expression of a lack of consensus within the party on the pace to go forward.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Mass Action in China

Asia Times: Playing with protests
By Tanaka Sakai
The rising number of protests in China - 74,000 "mass actions" last year - is a sign of economic struggles rather than political strife. Unrest can very quickly become a political issue, though, so the central government is playing up the danger posed by the protests ahead of a crackdown on local official corruption. more...

Sakai makes the case that the Chinese government itself is providing these rising mass action statistics, something it hasn't done in the past, in order to generate political will ahead of an
imminent anti-corruption crackdown. This is very different from what we hear in the western media. The opposite actually. American journalists have written that the protests are a symptom of political instability and even an impeding party crisis. Sakai implies that the numbers might even be inflated by the party itself in order to provide a pretext for a crackdown.

Either way the question remains whether mass actions are the sign of health, a growing pain as the economy develops and allows greater openness, or a sign that the economic growth is increasingly unequal and at the expense of the society's most vunerable.

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Mian Yang and the New Private Sphere

Dispute Leaves U.S. Executive in Chinese Legal Netherworld
by Joseph Kahn (NY Times)

A Chinese-American business executive, David Ji is being kept hostage in China over a commercial dispute between Sichuan-based Changhong Corporation and his own Apex Digital that based in Los Angeles
. more...

During my time teaching in China in the Summer of 2002 I lived about a quarter mile from the Changhong plant in the city of Mian Yang. Often called the Silicon Valley of China, because of its creation of both consumer electronics and military hardware, Mian Yang is a kind of gleaming futuristic vision of a Chinese metropolis. With most of impressive skyline created in the last ten years the sole "science and technology city" of China has a feeling of cleaness and design -- of wellbeing-- that you don't often get in most of the country. There isn't that sense of mindless sprawl that is so present in most of China's newer cities. The streets are uncluttered by garbage and there are these very inviting parks with with pleasantly lit footpaths and gigantic monitors showing a rotating streams of commercials.

Something in this narrative of the Chinese future fits well with the image of David Ji held prisoner at the request of an electronics corporation -- with him being told "Your only way out is to do what Changhong tells you to do". Creating a high-tech city that is both conducive to innovation and still serving the interests of the state means creating fluidity between private and public. Common wisdom in the West asserts that private enterprise will inevitably reduce the power of the state, but it is quite possible that China will develop an entirely different model where state power and private power augment and complement each other.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Chinese Words

According to "Democracy a Bad Word", an article on cnn.com, Chinese users of MSN's Spaces blogging section who type words such as "Democracy" "freedom" or "human rights" have the uniquely Orwellian experience of a warning message that pops up on their screens reading "Prohibited language in text, please delete".

The plain creepiness of this is enough to overshadow the much more important element of this story: Chinese are now able to have blogs. The China of the cultural revolution is now experiencing another revolution that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

After reading the CNN article I opened my MSN window and saw that a Chinese girl who I had taught outside of Beijing was online. I asked her to test out the censorship filter. She got back to me in five minutes confirming that indeed she was given a warning message for some words including the "Falun Gong", and "Jiang Zemin". For awhile we discussed censorship issues before it dawned on us how strange it was that we were able to be having these discussions at all. A rural born Chinese girl and a New York Jew busy talking about politics and human rights across borders and across timezones. In the face of this, MSN's feeble word filtering (which as it turns out is only of subject lines -- not content itself) seems like a sort of death throes of a dying form of restriction.

China's entry to the world market has given large numbers of its citizens a level of individual expression that is unprecendented in world history. Millions of Chinese who can now create messages that are instantly readable (and can be commented on) by a global audience. This is simply not a genie that can be put back in its bottle.

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