Wednesday 16 December 2009

A Little Freedom is a Dangerous Thing

China has undergone some remarkable changes since the death of Mao, one of the last century’s most repellent tyrants. Along with India and, perhaps, Brazil, it is set to be the great economic powerhouse of our time. So much has changed and yet so much remains the same.

This is a country that cannot escape past inferiorities and insults, reflected very much in a contemporary assertiveness that betokens insecurity and lack of ease. It is governed, moreover, by a party that has no reason for being their other than to perpetuate itself. Pleased by success, pleased by the advance of the nation, the Communist Party is also afraid, afraid that the centre will not hold and that mere anarchy will be loosed upon their world. It is afraid, in other words, that it will become historically irrelevant. It reacts by suppressing any moves to free speech; it reacts by suppressing dissent; it reacts by persecuting Liu Xiaobo.

Liu, a fifty-three year old literary critic and former academic, is one of China’s leading dissidents, the inspiration behind Charter 08, presently accused of subverting state power by posting articles on the internet calling for democratic reform and greater civil liberties in his native land. He was effectively abducted by the police from his home a year ago, formal arrest only following six months later, though it made no practical difference to his status.

He was recently charged with inciting subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years imprisonment. Liu is no stranger to the Chinese penal system, spending almost two years in ‘re-education’ camps in the early 1990s for his part in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Representations have been lodged on his behalf at the highest levels but the Chinese government has ignored them all in its acute sensitivity over any move to question its monopoly on power.

As individuals there is little we can do about this, about the repression still exercised by the likes of the tyrannical and morally repugnant Chinese Communist Party. But in our rush to do business with these people, to buy their produce, it’s as well to remember exactly what they are and what they represent, just as bad in every way, just as dangerous in a different way, as the clerical fascists in Iran. I never knowingly buy anything made in China, a rather pointless exercise, I suppose, but one that surely avoids corruption by association.


  1. If you boycotted Israeli goods and produce that might have some humane rationale but boycotting Chinese goods is pointless as growth in production there is all that is bringing some help to the peasant classes.

    Its worth noting too that China and the Chinese Communist Party have killed less people outside their own borders than America. For mass slaughter of innocents abroad the USA is peerless, shows no shame and no sign of stopping. Bloody awful lot the Chinese Communists, but then I don't much like their mirror image either to be honest.

  2. Yes, I do say it's pointless, merely an exercise in personal moral distance, my own ineffectual protest. I have serious doubts about your comparison, John, taking the democide of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution into account.

  3. I went out of my way to avoid buying any Chinese goods for years after the Tianmen Square massacre until it became just about impossible.

    I certainly wouldn't boycott Israeli goods though - I'd be far more likely to boycott Palestinian goods seeing as under Arafat they repeatedly refused a 2-state solution even when one was offered and since that time they have done nothing but deliberately provoke Israel by their constant rocket bombardments.

    Israel is a Democracy that has given its Arab citizens equal democratic rights. The Gaza Strip is a theocracy determined on Jewish genocide.

    There should be no contest in which side to support.

  4. There are always moral decisions to be made, WG, of one kind or another.