China Rising

The Globe and Mail has published a special edition that focuses almost entirely on China and includes articles about modern Shanghai, migrant workers, the environment, China’s spiritual vacuum, sex, drugs, and China’s potential to influence global culture. Links to all stories are here.

A commentary in the paper begins with the question: “If Chinese are getting freer and richer, why do they need democracy?” then offers a persuasive response, first by comparing China today to Indonesia under Suharto ten years ago.

“Chinese society is already showing signs of stress,” the piece argues. “Headlong economic growth has brought big problems, from rural-urban migration to rising income inequality to massive layoffs at outmoded state-run companies. Every year, China has scores of riots, sit-ins, strikes and other protests over problems ranging from layoffs to property expropriations. The paradox is that China’s people have been schooled to associate democracy with disorder. In fact, it is the lack of democracy that threatens China’s stability. Its leaders argue that the country needs stability much more than the vote. But China cannot have the first without the second…

“When we in the West consider the impact of undemocratic government in China, we tend to think of how Beijing jails dissidents, censors journalists or harasses religious movements such as the Falun Gong — all grave abuses of human rights, certainly. But for most ordinary Chinese, the effect is much more direct. In a growing economy with no firm rules and poorly applied laws, those with power and access to power have a huge advantage over common citizens. The favoured minority get permission to start a business or buy an apartment at a cut-rate price. The rest can be laid off without notice, squeezed out of business by a competitor with connections or robbed blind in a corrupt real-estate deal — all without effective recourse.

“In time, Chinese will revolt against that kind of unfairness. That is what happened in other Asian ‘tigers’ as they grew rich in the 1980s and 90s… If China really wants to sustain its remarkable progress, it must embrace modern politics as warmly as it welcomes the other wonders of the modern world. ” The full piece is here.

UPDATE: The Chinese government has lauded the Globe and Mail’s special edition, while ignoring the substance of the reporting, which exposed many of the major problems facing Chinese society, or the above commentary. A Xinhua report says: “China is rejoining the modern world, determined to restore the wealth, power and status in the planet’s most populous country and oldest continuous civilization,Canada’s major English newspaper the Globe and Mail said Saturday. In its special weekend edition, the newspaper carried dozens of reports on China’s achievements in the fields of economy, social development, culture, business, sports and education. ”

October 23, 2004 11:15 AM
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