Friday, November 11

Bao Jia: "Nine families die with one person's crime."

To this day, few American workers realize that they're not actually in competition with individual Chinese workers; they're in competition with China's government, which I have likened to the reign of ancient Egypt's pharaohs.

Of course this is something American government officials, congressionals and captains of industry don't want to hear about jobs offshoring and outsourcing, which is why few Americans know the story. The story is simple, however:

If China's government decides they need X number of say, software or electrical engineers in order to be competitive in a certain area of global trade, they 'order up' those workers by imposing the necessary specialized education on the needed number of Chinese.

The penalty for refusing to major in a particular subject and specialize in a particular profession or business? The same penalty that was imposed on Taishi villagers who wanted to vote out their corrupt chief; really unpleasant things, which can include imprisonment of one's family.

So today's China has a method of governing has more in common with the rule of the pharaohs than with capitalism. In an essay titled Pharaoh I pointed out that apologists for China ignore that individual workers in democracies are not in competition with individual Chinese workers for jobs. They are in competition with China's government, which is another way of saying they are competing with China's military.

In short, individual workers in democracies are playing against a stacked deck when it comes to competing with China's workers for jobs in the globalized marketplace.

The question is how China's government has been able to maintain such control over China's huge work force. The system of bao jia explains how.

To understand bao jia, and how it played out in modern times, is to understand how central authorities maintain control in China. Bao jia also explains the collectivist or 'wolf pack' mentality so prevalent among Chinese. ("All must agree and follow in line with leader.")

Even if bao jia has less hold in the biggest cities and Hong Kong, the attitudes developed under two millennia of the bao jia system remain. Below are three short pieces (with references) that explain bao jia and how it still impacts Mainland China, but first a little good news:

Objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy of individualism, has gained attention in China and a Chinese translation of Rand's The Fountainhead went on sale there this month. (Hat tip: Simon World.)

Critics sniff that Rand's philosophy helps China's robber barons justify their rampant greed. However, Objectivism is the best medicine for people who were born and raised to the idea that if one person in the family does wrong, the entire family must be punished -- so to save the entire village from punishment.

Bao Jia references

1. "Where was that sense [of collectivism] fostered in the Chinese history? When Qing Dynasty united China, the Emperor established a national government system: County, District, and Province. Under the county, it had a system called Bao Jia. Ten families were in one Bao and ten Bao constituted one Jia. Bao Jia system had many social and government functions: security, tax collection, charity, school, etc. and it was maintained till 1949 under the Nationalist government.

All dynasties in Chinese history developed a "Heavy Award and Heavy Punishment" policy for the Bao Jia's performance. For example, if one person passed the national civil examination, the government would send a band to his hometown to announce the news, chanting his county and family name all the way there. If one person committed crimes, the whole family would suffer from the wrongdoings. Naturally, there were more good things that people do so the award appeared to be more associated with the collectivism.

There are a few of sayings about this award practice. One of them says: If one can fly, his dogs and chickens arise with him to heaven. We have another saying for the punishment side: Nine families die with one person's crime.

It developed into its worst form of crime by association when power struggles became fierce."

2. "A reference to the system under which neighbours were requested to keep watch on each other's activities and report them to local authorities."

3. Death Trap:
How One Chinese City
Resorted to Atrocities
To Control Falun Dafa

by Ian Johnson

Pressured by their Superiors,
Weifang's Police Tortured
Members of Banned Sect

(From 2000 series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles on Falun Gong written by Ian Johnson for the Wall Street Journal.)

"WEIFANG, China -- Rising out of the North China Plain in a jumble of dusty apartment blocks and crowded roads, this is an unremarkable Chinese city in every respect but one: Local police regularly torture residents to death. [...]

Across this country of 1.3 billion, at least 77 Falun Dafa adherents have now died in detention, according to reports by human-rights groups.Weifang, which has less than 1% of the national population, accounts for 15% of those deaths.


The answer has its roots in imperial China, when the country developed a system of social control that is still used today. It puts huge pressure on local officials to comply with central edicts -- but gives them absolute discretion over implementation. For officials running Weifang, that mean they were under strict orders to eliminate the huge number of Falun Dafa protesters in their district but faced no scrutiny of the methods they used. [...]

Officials in Beijing set up the framework for the killings one year ago after they became impatient with the continued flow of protesters from around China into the capital. Deciding drastic measures were needed, they reached for a tried-and-true method of enforcing central edicts, one honed over centuries of imperial rule.

Based on the 2,200-year-old bao jia method of controlling society, the system pushes responsibility for following central orders onto neighborhoods, with the local boss responsible for the actions of everyone in his territory. In ancient times, that meant the headman of a family or clan was personally responsible for paying taxes, raising troops and apprehending criminals.

A variant of this is now in use to implement even broader policy goals. After the Communist Party launched economic reforms in the late 1970s, it had great success by signing "contracts" with peasants and factory chiefs, who had to deliver a certain amount of grain or industrial output but were given complete latitude over the methods used. By the late 1980s, provincial governors were also signing similar contracts, being held personally responsible for maintaining grain output in their province or holding down births to a certain level.

Now the problem was Falun Dafa. The government's Office 610, a bureau that was coordinating the crackdown, issued an order in December 1999, telling officials of local governments they would be held personally responsible if they didn't stem the flow of protesters to Beijing, according to Weifang officials. As in years past, no questions would be asked about how this was achieved -- success was all that mattered. [...]"

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