Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tyranny Remains

The more things change in China the more they stay the same. In social and economic terms no greater contrast could be imagined between the country at the time of the death of Mao in 1976 and the high-tech nation of today. But the political technique, the technique of oppression, the techniques favoured by Mao Zedong both before and after the creation of the People’s Republic in 1949, are still very much in place.

There always have to be enemies, always outsiders, counter-revolutionaries then, disruptive elements now. China, in a sense, is in a state of permanent revolution. The enemies may have changed, the definition of what constitutes an enemy certainly has, but the fallback position remains the same – they have to be eliminated in one manner or another. It’s the technique inherited from Mao, the default position as Jonathan Minsky argued recently in an article in the political journal Standpoint.

Here it’s as well to remember that that it was Deng Xiaoping, the man normally associated in the West with modernisation and reform, who oversaw the so-called ‘anti-Rightist’ campaign of 1957, which saw the purge of thousands, and who also presided over the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 as well as the ensuing reign of terror.

Now, in the midst of prosperity, when even the word ‘jasmine’ is banned, as if it carried a kind of plague bacillus, it has been estimated that the number of extra-judicial executions range between 5000 and 10000 per annum, more than the rest of the world combined.

Thousands of people, often the poorest and least powerful, are being held in secret ‘black jails’, free enterprise institutions run by thugs to contain ‘troublemakers’, often no more than petitioners anxious to redress some abuse – a right granted to them by precedent and by law -, people who are an embarrassment to the authorities. There they can be held indefinitely without charge, beaten, starved and abused, out of official sight and out of official mind.

Corruption, mismanagement, official neglect and sheer incompetence get worst by the day. Officially the casualty toll from the recent high-speed rail crash near the city of Wenzhou stands at 40 dead and 191 injured, though according to the buzz among the country’s micro-bloggers the true figures are much higher. What is certain is that the government cleaned up the site with indecent haste, burying one of the carriages and restoring rail services even before rescue operations had been completed.

True or not, the rumours are based on past perceptions, on other scandals that have created a mood of widespread cynicism and scorn, a reluctance to believe anything the authorities say. Here the case of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when so many children died as a result of shoddy school construction, comes to mind. It was the determination to establish the true facts over this scandal that lead to the first serious clash between the complacent and negligent authorities and Ai Weiwei, the brilliantly unconventional artist, recently convicted on a charge of ‘tax evasion.’

In Mao’s Invisible Hand, a collection of papers edited by Sebastian Hellman and Elizabeth J. Perry, published earlier this year by Harvard University Press, the point is made that the policy style that emerged from Maoism was “fundamentally dictatorial, opportunistic and merciless. Unchecked by institutions of accountability, guerrilla leaders pursue their objectives with little concern for the interests of those who stand in their way.” Rightist opportunists, class enemies, counter-revolutionaries, seditionists, disruptive people, inharmonious elements - the terminology may change, the tyranny remains the same.


  1. the extra-judicial executions number is astonishing. i have not idea of that. but i am sure it's totally possible.
    still, by my own opinion Chinese people cannot blame all this to Mao alone, but Mao did "good" job to stirred up Chinese people's (espeically lower classes) oppressed "emotion"/"passion" during all past history, ingeniously combined with Marxism, made China a hell of "revolution".

  2. Blame the barbarians and the Outlaws of the Water Margin. Rinse, and repeat. I do not believe China will ever change - unless there is a cataclysm so enormous that all memory of the past is erased.

    India may be a different story. After millennia divided by race and language, modern transport and English might succeed in reshaping the ancient cycle - especially as so many Indians who have flourished in the US and UK return to the subcontinent with a new world view.

    There are those who believe that a language actually shapes what can be thought and how. It may not be possible for the Chinese to imagine behaving differently using their own written forms. The Indians have a contradiction between their many regional tongues and English, which unites them.

    Both countries are enormous in area and population, with vast differences in sophistication between impoverished rural areas and wealthy cities. Watching their future unfold will be fascinating.

  3. chinese politics are in dire need of modernization.

  4. Tyranny is beginning to be wiped out as more and more nations stand up for their beliefs.
    People power will win through in the end its just a pity it is taking so long.
    For too long now the minority has been listened to when the rule is supposed to be "The majority rules." By all means have your opinions but realize that you cannot force them onto others.
    China will eventually become democratic, its just a matter of time.
    It is only another problem solved, there will always be too much needless suffering in the world, that is the biggest flaw in mankind.
    We cannot live in harmony.

  5. Calvin, we live in interesting times, and I feel sure you understand the inference here.

  6. Donald, I wish I could share your optimism but the old conjunction between economic freedom and political liberty I fear applies less and less.

  7. One thing though Ana. I agree with the usual and unusual observations but unlike recent British governments, the Chinese love their own people.

  8. Nobby, they have an odd way of expressing it!

  9. Ana, This is true and they do get it wrong. But I remain convinced that Chinese leaders today care more for their own people than Tony Blair or Gordon Brown ever did.

  10. ps it is a comparative thing Ana

  11. Nobby, I think it truer to say that they care more for their own nation than ever Blair or Brown did, but I have a good idea what you are driving at.

  12. Yes, indeed Ana. Chinese leaders do care more about their own nation because they are also nationalists. Communists (with regards to ideology) are also quite often nationalist unless they are the Western version in which case they just as often claim to be internationalist.