Friday, April 15, 2005


Today's New York Times has an article that concerns Chinese protests against Japan:
China has tapped a deep strain of nationalism among its people, gambling, analysts say, that it can propel itself to a leadership role in Asia while cloaking its move for power in the guise of wounded pride and popular will.

But the government also seems to have taken steps to control - some say manipulate - a nascent protest movement to prevent a grass-roots challenge to the governing Communist Party.

In the last few weeks, relations between Asia's two leading powers have reached their most serious crisis since diplomatic ties were re-established in 1972. China has confronted Japan over newly revised history textbooks that gloss over wartime abuses. It stepped up its claim to disputed islands and undersea gas reserves between the countries.

China took Japan and the United States to task for declaring that they would jointly defend Taiwan in case of an attack from the mainland.

After weeks of hints, Chinese leaders said outright on Wednesday that Japan did not have the moral qualifications to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council...

..."Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community," Mr. Wen said.

"The moral issue is China's trump card over Japan," Mr. Shi said. "China is now playing that card."
I can understand Chinese rage if Japan is in official denial over its abuse of China in the 30s and 40s. Too often, Nanking's rape is eclipsed by European atrocities of the same era.

But I can't help but wonder about China's claim of 'moral' supremacy over Japan. While they riot for accuracy in Japanese history books, their own textbooks most likely lack historical exactitude. The 40 million or so Chinese who were killed by Mao probably don't figure in most Chinese history books. And I wonder how they handle China's claim over Tibet? And Tiananmen, 1989? Or Falun Gong? How do they record Mao's disastrous Cultural Revolution now that they're unabashed capitalists?

Obsessing over Japanese history is a good way to keep Chinese citizens from engrossing in their own unfortunate history. Mao's giant portrait still dominates Tienamen Square, the last time I checked. And his successors still speak his name reverently, at least in public. Since the regime appears to be detaching from Mao's murderous legacy while simultaneously claiming legitimacy from his communist system, there's some unfinished historical business, I should think. Perhaps there's a few inaccuracies in Chinese textbooks. Just a few.

I was interested to read this:
But in one indication of how the government sought to manage the event, at least four leading organizers of previous grass-roots efforts to confront Japan were ordered to stay home, the four said in separate interviews. One organizer said the authorities had reminded him of that order by cellphone on Saturday.
Ah yes, the Other Wireless Network. It didn't really occur to me until I read how effectively an autocratic country with cell phones can leverage a system of virtual minders -- calling their minions incessantly to make sure they're towing the government's line. I suppose if my cell phone rang at all hours with a government hack telling me what I could do or not do, I might be pretty tame.

Tame. Is that what the Chinese are? For all their riots, all their rage, all their industry, all that roiling, expanding population -- are they tamed by minders with cell phones? How long can that last?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wish You Happy

The other day a friend forwarded me a spam he received, purportedly from China:

From: "The chinaese womem"
Subject: The tradition of China exercise garments

The tradition of China exercise garments This is the national traditional garments of China.

Clothing + trousers = Åê30.The cost of postal delivery from China = Åê4.If you need,please to connect with me

If you need quantity, are greater , please write a letter to us to discuss. I am a Chinese woman .I am doing business for child and survival.

I emphasize sincerity , guard well-behaved . If you like these clothings, please write a letter to us to intend.

Sorry! My English ability will not express than difference. Wish you happy!

While it's entirely possible this spam did not come from China, it plays on the country's reputation. China is perceived as teaming with poor, overlooked peasants who are willing to work for desperate wages. China's official rhetoric that trumpets their expanding economy and improving standard of living appears to be a lid clattering on a vast roiling pot of growing discontent.

And Chinese discontent is pouring over the pot's rim into the Western press. The New York Times recently published a report about a village in southeastern China where up to 60,000 villagers have protested and rioted against factory pollution:
Thousands of people rioted this week in a village in southeastern China, overturning police cars and driving away officers who had tried to stop elderly villagers protesting against pollution from nearby factories.

By this afternoon, three days after the riot, witnesses say crowds had convened in Huaxi Village in Zhejiang Province to gawk at a tableau of destroyed police cars and shattered windows. Police officers outside the village were reportedly blocking reporters from entering the scene but local people, reached by telephone, said villagers controlled the riot area.

"The villagers will not give up if there is no concrete action to move the factories away," said Mr. Lu, a villager who witnessed part of the confrontation and refused to give his full name. "The crowd is growing. There are at least 50,000 or 60,000 people."

Other villagers gave substantially smaller crowd estimates. But they agreed on the broad outlines of a violent clash on Sunday that came when local villagers acted on their frustration after, they say, trying in vain for two years to curb pollution from chemical plants in a nearby industrial park.

An account in a local state-controlled newspaper blamed the brawl on local agitators and said thousands of people had set upon government workers with rocks, clubs and sticks...

The riot occurred on the same weekend that several thousand people in Beijing and Guangzhou held protests against Japan. These demonstrations, however, were officially authorized, with youthful urbanites shouting angry slogans and, at one point, tossing bottles at the Japanese Embassy, at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

But the riot described in Huaxi Village is seen as a symptom of the widening social unrest in the Chinese countryside that has become a serious concern for government leaders. Last year, tens of thousands of protesters in western Sichuan Province clashed with the police in a protest over a long-disputed dam project. Smaller rural protests are becoming commonplace and are often violent...

"The air stinks from the factories," said a villager, Wang Yuehe. She said the local river was filled with pollutants that had contaminated surrounding farmland. "We can't grow our crops. The factories had promised to do a good environmental job, but they have done almost nothing."

Several villagers said that local officials own shares in different local factories. But according to the story in the official newspaper, local officials had "paid great attention" to the environmental problems and had paid compensation for past discharges of pollutants into the river.
The government quickly labels the protesters as 'agitators.' Remember the teetering Soviet regime calling pro-Democracy protestors 'hooligans' in 1991? Perhaps China's ruling elite can take a lesson from the Soviet experience: 'Agitators' and 'hooligans' they may be; but there's a cause behind their actions, one to reckon with.

It's interesting to note that the cause of the Huaxi Village riot is essentially clean air, and a decent environment to to live in. I wonder if the pro-Kyoto people detect a slight whiff of irony in this report. Kyoto would cut China a lot of slack with environmental regulation, compared to the United States, because China is a developing nation. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Do you have some solidarity with Greenpeace? If you do, then the Kyoto agreement literally stinks. Huaxi's 60,000 people are genuine environmental activists, living the industrial nightmare. Kyoto is not on their side. Not at all. They probably never even heard of it.

I have another friend who went to Beijing last summer on many occasions. He said he never really saw Beijing because of the smog. He compared it to San Francisco's fog. His eyes burned and his lungs labored. Even his taste buds were dulled. "I couldn't wait to go home," he told me.

I have other acquaintances who are in some way doing business with China. They all admit that there's little choice other than to manufacture there, in order to stay competitive. And I concede that probably half the things in my tidy home came from The Polluted Continent. But perhaps we're deluding ourselves into thinking that through sheer hyper-economic transformation, China will join the world as a positive force. That's far from guaranteed. Being a global economic player for the first time in its history is allowing an isolated, communist regime to transform into a nationalist, autocratic one, with international influence. The environment loses in either case.

One thing that autocratic regimes prove beyond a doubt is that environmentalists are a secret, toothless society under their rule. Think of Soviet mega-projects, like turning the Aral Sea into a poisoned desert; or Ceausescu turning the Romanian countryside into a wasteland; or Saddam draining the southern marshes of Iraq; and China's vast worker-ant projects like Three Gorges Dam, displacing one million and flooding a whole region.

Growing unrest in China's interior, where the majority of people are not a part of the economic miracle, does not bode well. I am not one of those people who thinks China can just be a democracy and everything becomes hunky-dory. In the past couple of decades, two nations -- China and India -- have exceeded one billion citizens. That's a first for this planet. Megapopulations are a new phenomenon. The social stresses and strains that result are going to be unprecedented, with wild, unpredictable results.

China and India have recently been making friendly overtures to each other. I imagine the idea is for China to provide industry, and India brains. China is already headed to be the world's greatest consumer of oil. They're starting to jostle with western countries for energy and raw materials. Their hunger will grow, no matter who's in charge over there.

I would like to see people calling themselves environmentalists take a stand on this. Stopping seal clubbing is not going to change the world. Signing on to feel-good accords like Kyoto accelerates environmental destruction in places like China. Taking a stand with the villagers of Huaxi -- if only a symbolic gesture -- would be a step in the right direction. In the end, we should all do business for child and survival.