Friday, April 4

The National Petition Bureau will see you now, Dr. Barnett

In his 2008 cover article for the May/June issue of Good magazine (Ten Reasons Why China Matters To You), Thomas P.M. Barnett, an American security analyst, lists at number 8: "Because China’s transformation echoes much of America’s past. ... right now, China is somewhere in the historical vicinity of 'rising America' circa 1880."(1)

All right; let's take a look at the vicinity for China's peasants, which comprise two-thirds of China's population:
The Yunfu authorities who confiscated Mrs Wang's land are only doing what countless other municipalities around the country have done. ... Against such powerful local interests, what do peasants such as Mrs Wang do to seek justice? The answer has been the same for centuries: they travel to Beijing to make a direct appeal to the rulers of the nation. And in doing so, they become a member of China's most desperate underclass: the petitioners.

This is probably the only group with lower social status than the peasantry. No one knows how many there are - it could be tens of thousands or tens of millions - but they all share the same belief in a benevolent central government that will correct the injustices carried out by local tyrants.

It is a legacy of the imperial age. Up until 100 years ago, petitioners put their hopes in the emperor, who was believed to rule with the mandate of heaven. Since 1949, appeals for earthly, or divine, justice go by letter to the state council - the communist-controlled cabinet.


"When we arrived, we went to Tiananmen Square directly without having dinner, because we thought the National Petition Bureau was there," says Mrs Wang. It wasn't. By the time they found the right place, it was too late. They lodged at a £2-per-night flophouse and tried again the next day. It was dispiriting and confusing.

Mere peasants, the officials told them, should not be taking up so much important government time.


In the rubbish-strewn alleys of Fengtai, near South Beijing railway station, an entire community of petitioners has sprung up - some of them waiting for years in the hope of redress.(2)
Ah yes, I remember as if just yesterday the tens of millions of American peasants in the 1880s who pilgrimaged to the nation's capital every year to seek redress from the emperor.

Is there no way to convince Dr. Barnett to take up his true calling, which is designing Lego toys?

And is there no way to get through to the naive that this era's China apologists are cut from the same cloth as the Western journalists and intellectuals who marketed Mao Zedong's slaughter of 45 million Chinese as a great leap forward?

The difference, this time around, is that the apologists enjoy the full cooperation and encouragement of democratic governments, and transnational corporations and financial markets based in democracies.

This fellow traveling has resulted in myths so prevalent in the West that propagandists and influence agents in the pay of China's government barely have to exert themselves.

The other day a Reuters reporter passed along the myth that Beijing's interpretation of upholding "human rights" is supplying basic necessities, such as food and shelter, for China's population, rather than upholding "individual rights."

Tell that to Mrs Wang. Tell that to millions of other Chinese who are turned out to starve when the state wants the land they farm.

If you have no individual rights, including the right to own property, you cannot expect that you have a right to food and shelter or to earn those necessities. Such are not "rights" in China; they are privileges bestowed by the state and easily revoked by the state.

So it's a joke to speak of economic "progress" for Chinese; all those new cars, all those new homes and appliances -- all those possessions, easily revoked at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen.

Another myth is that the CCP isn't all that powerful anymore. The name of the political party doesn't matter; what matters is the system of government, which is totalitarian and communist; the system transcends all parties.

If you want to trade with China's system of government, if you want to invest in it -- hey, it's a Darwinian world. But don't lie; don't say you're helping 1.3 billion people move toward democracy.

And get it straight: That China's rulers have embraced mercantilism does not make that nation a baby America.

1) H/T The China Beat

2) The Big Steal by Jonathan Watts

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