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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