Re: Will China Implode?
- From: rst9 <rst9wxyz@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 2 Sep 2009 11:50:15 -0700 (PDT)
On Sep 2, 9:44 am, Peter Terpstra <pe...@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Will China Implode?
thedailybeast.com[Sunday, August 02, 2009 22:01]
Obama and Chinese officials met this week for high-level policy talks, and
avoided exchanges on human rights. But China expert Isabel Hilton says
minority revolts in China recently show it is an empire in crisis.
There is a story that the Chinese government likes to tell: that China is the
world’s oldest continuous, unchanging civilization (the dates vary, according
to the exuberance of the moment, from 2,000 to a mythical 5,000 years). This
unique history, the story continues, will determine China’s future. In this
narrative of Chinese exceptionalism, the leadership remains immune to demands
for democracy or any resemblance to other developed countries. The government
hopes that this story will prove persuasive enough for the Communist Party to
keep the Mandate of Heaven and avoid challenges to its exclusive right to rule
for the foreseeable future.
The revolt of the minorities is only a symptom of a wider political malaise.
It’s a curious story for a Communist Party and very different to the earlier
myths of origin. Where once it promoted class struggle and revolution, today’s
party invokes history and tradition in support of its right to rule. In its
latest identification with the imperial orders of the past, the regime is even
restoring Confucianism as the core state narrative.
It’s a long way from the Communist Party’s own origins in the revolt in the
early 20th century against the suffocating orthodoxies of Confucianism, blamed
by the modernizers of the day for China’s slide into stagnation. As recently
as the 1970s, Confucius was still thought sufficiently poisonous as an
inheritance to merit a virulent campaign of criticism, along with such
imported bad hats as the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, the late
Ludwig Van Beethoven and the children’s book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. They
made an odd quartet, but no odder than the current spectacle of a Communist
Party that extols the virtues of Mencius and claims to be building a
Remarkably, despite its obvious flaws, this narrative appeals to those Western
commentators who believe that China’s rise is, in the Marxist phrase, a
historical inevitability, and who accept Beijing’s latest version of history
at face value.
Take this recent example, from the British author Martin Jacques’ book When
China Rules the World:
“China has existed roughly within its present borders for 2,000 years and only
over the last century has it come to regard itself as a nation state.”
China does not, in fact, officially define itself as a nation state but as a
multiethnic state in which all nationalities theoretically enjoy equal status.
A more accurate description would be that it is a recently expanded land-based
empire struggling to justify itself. Far from living within the same borders
for 2,000 years, China today occupies a land area roughly twice the size of
Ming Dynasty China, its expansion driven by the Manchu conquest in the 18th
century. It has an aggressive policy of colonization, exploitation of natural
resources, and assimilation. Like all such empires before it, it suffers from
the strains of keeping the lid on those it has colonized, who do not identify
with an imperial project from which they derive little benefit.
When China Rules the World was published some 10 months after last year’s
uprising in Tibet and six weeks before this year’s riots in Xinjiang. By the
time it had been on the bookshelves eight weeks, the Chinese government had
been obliged to put nearly half of its territory (including Xinjiang and the
Tibetan Autonomous Region) under tight paramilitary control.
The People’s Armed Police, the shock troops of Beijing’s attempt to impose
civil order (officially described as “harmony”) are pursuing familiar tactics
in Xinjiang: mass arrests within a troublesome demographic—ethnic minority
males—undisclosed places and conditions of detention; trials that meet no
standards of justice and long prison sentences, often preceded by rough
It is doubtful, though, whether these measures will be any more effective than
they have been in the past. Beijing’s diagnosis of the sickness in its body
politic is as flawed as its treatment: If repression fails, apply more
repression, a policy response that has steadily ratcheted up the resentment in
China’s far west.
The question is, how far will these troubles affect the majority Han
population and what impact will the blowback from the troubles have on China’s
future? In a related move, the government recently raided the offices of the
Open Constitution Initiative in Beijing, confiscating computers and
interrogating staff. The OCI was an important legal office, distinguished by
its members’ belief in the right to a fair, independent, and transparent legal
process, and their willingness to defend people whom the government wished to
silence or send to jail. Their clients included the parents of infants
affected by last year’s adulterated milk scandal, Tibetan prisoners, Falun
Gong practitioners, and other persecuted or disadvantaged groups. An
additional 50 lawyers who handled human-rights cases have also been disbarred.
The OCI also produced one of the only rational responses to last year’s
uprising in Tibet: Having examined the evidence, they concluded that the
uprising had not been orchestrated by the exiled Dalai Lama, but provoked by
decades of bungled government policy. Now they have been hit with a massive
fine for alleged tax irregularities and their office closed. Neither in Tibet
nor in Xinjiang, it seems, do the authorities wish to acknowledge their
But mistakes not acknowledged tend to be repeated, and policies that have
provoked angry responses in the past are unlikely to promote harmony in the
future. The test of China’s future trajectory, of its ability to go from large
power to great power, is only partly about economics. Thus far, China’s
economic growth has been based on unsustainable low-end manufacturing for the
export market and the legitimacy bestowed by rising living standards. To
manage the next phase of development successfully, China needs to move up the
value chain, improve its governance, cut down on the huge waste in the
economy, distribute the rewards of the effort more fairly, and inject some
justice into its politics and legal affairs. But to do that, the Communist
Party has to take on the vested interests on which it depends for its power.
We all have an interest in China’s success, as President Obama underlined at
the opening this week of a two-day high-level dialogue with visiting Chinese
officials. With just a nod to the recent troubles in Xinjiang, Obama ticked
off a list of common concerns from climate change to economic recovery. In all
of them, Chinese cooperation is essential.
In a globalized world, China’s troubles are everybody’s troubles and the U.S.
has little interest in seeing them grow. But China’s solutions, to date, are
unlikely to help. The revolt of the minorities is only a symptom of a wider
political malaise. Even taken together, their numbers, compared to the
overwhelming majority of Han Chinese, are small. But the indignation and
resentment that burst into view in Xinjiang in Tibet are also visible, for a
wide variety of reasons, in the Han population. As Xu Zhiyong, one of the
founders of the OCI put it in a withering public statement of protest at the
“It’s not us causing trouble, and the tens of thousands of mass incidents
every year aren’t caused by us …. On the contrary, we strive to bring into
line the contradictions caused by corrupt officials, we advocate absolute
nonviolence and we hope we can ameliorate some of the endless hate and
conflicts in our society... do not let this country once more be dragged by
those in power to a place where we are dead but not buried.
Why have we been targeted with this retribution? Because we have an awe-
inspiring righteousness, because we advocate for better politics, because our
dreams are too beautiful, because we as a people have never given up hope,
because no matter what befalls, our hearts are always full of the sunlight of
.. I am a poor man, so poor that all I have left are my beliefs. Great
leaders, can I give you a little bit of my belief? You should be needing these
beliefs and you should, like me, have the ability to show compassion,
compassion to see the restless souls disturbed by evil spirits.”
Confucius himself would have applauded.
Isabel Hilton has reported extensively from Latin America, East and South
Asia, Africa and Europe. She has made many documentaries for the BBC, has
presented Radio 4’s flagship current affairs program, The World Tonight and
BBC Radio 3’s main cultural program, Night Waves. She is a columnist for The
Guardian. She was editor in chief of openDemocracy.net and foundedwww.chinadialogue.net, which she founded in 2006. She is the author of The
Search for the Panchen Lama.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication
of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by
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