Thursday, March 27

Why should you boycott the 2008 Olympics? Do it for Mrs Wang.

The biggest lie broadcast in this century is that capitalist enterprise has been so successful in China that communism is virtually dead in that country.

How can that be, when property in China is owned by the state?

How can that be, when Chinese can be thrown out of their houses and off the land they lease from government and village collectives -- thrown off with no notice and no compensation, in order to make way for business developments?

How can that be, when millions of elderly Chinese farmers are left to starve after the state has stripped them of the land they lease?

How can that be, when millions of Chinese who attempt to legally protest eviction or unfairly small compensation are ignored by the state?

How can that be, when Chinese who attempt to defend their property are beaten, or murdered, or imprisoned and tortured?

How can that be, when China's 900 million rurals are getting the worst end of the stick in a communist country that governments in developed countries laud as an economic miracle?

What kind of economic miracle is this? What kind of capitalism?

Why do we persist in condemning the governments in Sudan and Zimbabwe for genocide and democide that are thinly disguised land grabs when they're only taking a page from communist China's method of land clearing?

How long do we think civilization can last if we back down every time an apologist for China's government calls us a bumpkin for pointing out that China is a communist country?

In 2005 there were (by conservative estimate) 87,000 riots and other types of mass protesta across China; many of these were pitched battles between villagers and government forces or goons hired by companies to clear land of inhabitants.

The unrest among China's poorest has come to the point where this March even TIME magazine -- a booster of China's "economic miracle" -- carried a report titled China's Fighting Farmers.

What we can do to help? Correct our most cherished assumptions about our trade with China, for a start. The journalist Jonathan Watts neatly summed our end of the problem in his Guardian report The big steal:
There is a widely held assumption in the west that increased wealth automatically ushers in greater democracy and social justice. But what is happening in Guangdong suggests the opposite. This is China's richest province, but it has also witnessed some of the most violent demonstrations, bloody crackdowns and ruthless measures to silence media criticism and crush grass-roots activism. The government's answer to the unrest is to promise the peasants more money and to beef up its security forces. In the meantime, the land is being moved into ever fewer and richer hands.
So while we continue to trade with China we can at least stop rationalizing for China's government; they do plenty of that without our help.

And if you believe that your presence and the presence of your country's leaders at the 2008 Olympics will help the poorest Chinese raise themselves up -- why don't you dig deeper than financial projections before making that argument?

You can start by reading a book called Will the Boat Sink the Water? which "Depicts life among the nine hundred million peasants who inhabit the rural areas of China, revealing the destitute conditions under which they live and the reasons why they have been excluded from China's economic revolution."

That's a polite way of describing "an exposé of torture, murder and exploitation of peasants by brutal local officials," as Jonathan Watts puts it.

You can also read the TIME article I cited above and Jonathan Watts's report, which could be subtitled, "The Education of Mrs Wang:"
When China's economic miracle caught up with Mrs Wang's cabbage patch, she was having her hair done in a neighbouring village -- too far away to hear the township official's bellowed orders, "You have one hour to harvest your crops and then the bulldozers move in."

So by the time she found out what was going on and rushed to the site, the fields her family had farmed for generations were already being churned up by mechanical diggers.

She was distraught. But with hundreds of armed police and security guards surrounding the area, there was nothing that she -- and the hundreds of other villagers who lost their land that day -- could do, except stand by and watch helplessly as their property was claimed for development.

"Many villagers were sobbing. I wanted to cry, too, but the tears wouldn't come out," Mrs Wang recalls. "I was so furious."


Normally a pillar of rural society, Mrs Wang was so incensed that she let rip at the deputy chief of the district. "This is illegal. You have no humanity. Even the Japanese were not this bad. When they invaded, we at least had food and land. But now, you take it away from us."


Six months later, the lame 60-year-old peasant -- who had never been in trouble before -- was in prison, charged with fomenting social unrest.
That was not the end of Mrs Wang's transformation into an activist; I invite you to read more of her story, which is the story of many millions of Chinese.

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