With the Olympics only months away, the spotlight is definitely shining on China now. There have been many talks and documentaries on China and Chinese society like we mentioned
. Here is another one. PBS’s Frontline just released a new documentary called Young & Restless in China
, which bills itself as
An intimate look into the lives of nine young Chinese, coming of age in a society that’s changing at breathtaking place.
You can view it online. It is worth a look, even if it offers a few limited cut-away views, rather than a cross-section, but they did try to pick “ordinary” people.
While looking into the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (which deserves a blog post of its own), I came across these interesting results highlighted by Pew
, with the title ‘Few in China Complain About Internet Controls
‘. This survey was conducted in 2007:
- Over four years of tracking user reaction, trust in the reliability of online content has fallen by one-half, from 52% in 2003 to 26% now.
- Only about one-third of internet users (30%) said they considered online content reliable.5
- An overwhelming number of Chinese, almost 84%, agreed that the internet should be controlled or managed.
- Since 2005, the percentage of users who say that online content about “politics” should be controlled or managed jumped from 8% to 41%, by far the biggest increase of any items tested.
It’s fair to wonder whether the survey is fully representative. After looking at the methodology in detail (pdf) (which polled 2000 urban residents in 5 cities), I think these numbers do give us at least a fuzzy picture of common trends.
This all tells me that perhaps we shouldn’t expect much liberalization online in the near future. There’s just too little popular demand for it.
A report out of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper suggests that as a form of political liberalization, Beijing is considering the establishment of a “petitioner’s district” zone in Beijing, a free speech zone similar to London’s famous Hyde Park. The intent is to manage possible public dissent during the Beijing Olympics. The report (文章
, translation below) only mentions an anonymous source in Beijing, so take it with a bucket of salt.
For those not familiar with the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, it is by tradition an area where anyone can speak publicly on any subject at any time, without requiring government permit or approval. Perhaps someone more familiar with British politics can fill us in on details; Wikipedia mentions a previous attempt to block an Iraq War protest?
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It is early June, and the minds of many Chinese again return to the tragic political upheaval of 1989. Over the next few days, we will translate a number of messages that tries to capture our conflicted feelings towards that violent summer. We especially welcome submissions from those with first-person memory of 1989.
He Xin (何新) is a noted Chinese scholar from the ’80s, variously labeled as “neo-conservative” or “ultra-nationalist” by Western analysts. Before and after June of 1989, he was attacked from both the left and the right: the left accused him of fomenting a coup alongside the students, and the right attacked him for being a “running dog” of the Communist Party for opposing the protests.
Below is a translation of the speech he delivered to the 1990 graduating class at Beijing University. He was received in a very hostile way, but spoke candidly of the reasons why he opposed the Tiananmen protests. Everything from this transcript is interesting; keep in mind the timing of the speech, and the (hostile) reactions of the Beida crowd… it gives us a flavor of China during the late 80s. Nineteen years later, a significant number of young Chinese believe He Xin made excellent points about the protests.
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In the deluge of earthquake news, something like this that affects daily life in China has managed to slip under the radar.
This article describes a situation that people in China are already aware of. At least in Shanghai, it’s said that an extra charge will be imposed to get your goods in those familiar plastic grocery bags.
The Chinese government is set to ban the manufacture and force shopkeepers to charge for the distribution of bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters thick as of June 1.
The Chinese government is banning production and distribution of the thinnest plastic bags in a bid to curb the white pollution that is taking over the countryside. The bags are also banned from all forms of public transportation and “scenic locations.” The move may save as much as 37 million barrels of oil currently used to produce the plastic totes, according to China Trade News. Already, the nation’s largest producer of such thin plastic bags, Huaqiang, has shut down its operations.
The effort comes amid growing environmental awareness among the Chinese people and mimics similar efforts in countries like Bangladesh and Ireland as well as the city of San Francisco, though efforts to replicate that ban in other U.S. municipalities have foundered in the face of opposition from plastic manufacturers.
The last sentence is ironic. China is no stranger to big government regulations, of course, but one can’t argue with the efficiency with which it can operate.
from the IHT inspires me to write about a topic that’s been on my mind in recent months. The article is about the well-known Tibetan-Chinese writer Woeser. The title of the article alone gives you a pretty good idea of what its going to say: “Tibetan writer alleges harassment by Chinese police…” Woeser lives in Beijing, and is the daughter of a Han Chinese People’s Liberation Army general and a Tibetan woman. She also happens to be wife of Wang Lixiong (discussed previously
). She has written extensively about Tibetan issues for years, both in print and on her blog.
A more detailed feature on Woeser comes to us from the Washington Post, which has also kindly provided a platform for other Chinese voices: Wang Qianyuan, Yang Jianli. I don’t think it takes too much brain-power to guess the criteria by which the Washington Post selects its Chinese guest editorialists. Of course, I think it’s fair to say these three voices represent probably millions of Chinese voices, so I certainly understand the Western media’s right to feature their stories. My only question is… when will they give print real estate to Chinese voice that can speak for the other hundreds of millions of Chinese that disagree with them fervently?
All of this adds up to one question about the status of political dissidents in China: is the glass half-full, or is the glass completely empty?
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Many in the West appear unaware that the Chinese political system is reforming itself… (it might be more accurate to say many in the West see the political system in China as old Communists waving their hands and issuing imperial edicts.) The truth is, although the pace of this reform is painfully slow compared to economic reforms, it is happening.
One of the more significant chapters in Chinese political reform might be opening in front of us.
The city of Shenzhen has recently released a document providing an overview of political reforms over the next few years. It’s not detailed enough to be called a plan, but it’s a strategic road-map of what Shenzhen hopes to achieve. It doesn’t look like Western (or Taiwanese) democracy, but it’s a step towards finding compromise reforms without risking instability. And at the end of this road-map lies competitive elections for the position of mayor. Other positions to be competitively elected along the way include district-chiefs, bureau-chiefs, and representatives to the People’s Congress.
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Transparency in government remains one of the major obstacles in China’s social and political reform. The Communist Party has publicly acknowledged the need for more transparency; only in the last 3-5 years has government offices at every level around the country begun to add press departments, issue press releases, and hold regularly press conferences. But this is only one step in government transparency.
The next little step might be the “Government Release of Information” regulation (中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例) issued by the State Council in January of 2007. This regulation went into effect on May 1st of this year, 2008. The regulation requires administrative government offices go through a formal process in terms of processing, analyzing, and finally releasing various types of information (including budgets, planning decisions, details on government expenditures, etc) to the public.
This article from the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly gives us some idea of how this regulation might change the way Chinese government offices does business.
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The Christian Science Monitor has an article
on the historical links between the Olympics and politics. It’s mostly a repetition of what other articles have said, but there are a few interesting quotes.
Similarities stop there, however, says Susan Brownell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, currently in Beijing studying Chinese preparations for the Olympics. In the Olympic education campaign that the authorities have been running from primary school level to university, she says, “the Communist party is almost never mentioned, and nor is socialism.”
This is something most Chinese recognize. The government hasn’t made these games about the Communist party; only foreign activists have done that. From our point of view, we are looking to celebrate our country’s remarkable progress over the past 30 years. These Olympics are Beijing’s Olympics, the Chinese people’s Olympics… not the Communist Party’s Olympics.
This is also precisely why there such genuine grassroots anger and frustration from average Chinese that our Olympics have been threatened and abused by overseas activists.
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