Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Friday, August 05, 2005
 
Arrests and Unrest in China

This has to be one of the odder senteneces I've read in foreign coverage. From a New York Times article about a Hong Kong based journalist who's been arrested by China with charges of spying for Taiwan:
The restrictions also coincide with a surge of local protests in many villages and cities across China for a wide range of reasons, from commercial disputes to environmental damage. There has been no sign, however, that the protests are centrally organized or pose any immediate threat to China's political system. (Emphasis mine).
I realize that "or" is one of the weakest conjunctions out there, and makes no true implications. Both clauses on either side of the "or" seem perfectly credible. Nevertheless I can't help but feel that the implication of this sentence is that centrally organized protests are more dangerous to the PRC than a spontaneous, decentralized surge, which strikes me as exactly wrong. And so, oddly, the feeling you're left with at the end of the graf is, "hmm, something's really up." Even though that's exactly not what it's saying.

It's particularly difficult to get a grip on what's going on in the PRC. Arresting a journalist for spying is a pretty low blow, and I expect nothing more than a show trial at best. Zhao Yan, a researcher for the New York Times, has been detained in Britain since September of last year without any formal charges. From the article:
Mr. Ching is the chief China correspondent of The Straits Times in Singapore. Born in Shantou, China, and raised in Hong Kong, he holds a British National Overseas passport, which was issued to nearly half of Hong Kong's 6.8 million residents before Britain returned the territory to China in 1997. The passport does not entitle holders to move to Britain but does allow them representation by consular officials; a British consulate spokeswoman here said late today that Chinese authorities had denied access to Mr. Ching.
That's particularly worrisome, as that British National Overseas passport was supposed to be a lifeline. I hope Britain doesn't take no for an answer.

Most of the news from China is economic. The famous Left Hand Side column of the Wall Street Journal loves to profile the faces of globalizing China--workers moving from brick huts in the country to shiny apartments in the city, American executives moving to previously minor inland cities, antique salesmen making fortunes on E-Bay. Wal Marts are opening. The August issue of Business 2.0 has an 8 page spread on Making it in China, complete with a Checklist that casually includes: "Follow the Rules--The Chinese government is swift and effective when offended.") A recent Fortune Magazine cover depicted Uncle Sam as a 97 lb weakling whom a buff PRC couldn't even deign to beat up. The Zeitgeist wisdom seems to be that the Tiananmen Square stand-off is firmly in the past, and that the new China is all on one page and all about making money. A homogenous, obedient mass of cheap workers under the firm control of the government.

There's plenty of evidence that we might want to ignore the conventional wisdom though. That mass of workers is not necessarily so obedient. From an Asia Times article last October:
In the latest incident on October 18, 40,000-50,000 demonstrators gathered before the local government offices in the Wanzhou district of southwestern China's Chongqing municipality, protesting the reported near-fatal beating by an official of a migrant worker.
That's a lot of protesters. According to the China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based Chinese news blog, Rand Institute Researcher Murray Scott Tanner testified before a UC commission about "Rising Social Unrest" in China in April. And only today, from Reuters:
About 800 policemen clashed with armed villagers during a pre-dawn raid in southern China and arrested 47 people after residents defied a crackdown on illegal mining and went on a rampage, a local paper and officials said.
With all the talk of a rising dragon, let's keep in mind who powers the dragon in the first place.

 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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