Kristof’s Observation

Nicholas Kristof had a column on NYT today, started from his experiment/experience in Chinese chat rooms. He tried several versions of criticism on Wen Jiabao to test the tolerance of China’s online censors. His conclusion? “…that’s (the Internet) the frontier of free speech in China in the information age, and it reflects real progress. ” I agree with him on this note.

I also agree with him on the point that in China, fear is eroding today. However, the ending of the article troubles me. Kristof wrote “In a city in Manchuria, I stopped in a small restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee. The waiter asked whether I wanted Nescafé, Maxim coffee, Swiss coffee, Brazilian coffee, Blue Mountain coffee, mountain-grown coffee, mocha coffee, iced coffee or Italian cappuccino. I can’t help feeling that when people get multiple choices in ordering a cup of coffee, it’s only a matter of time before they demand choices in national politics.

While I cannot argue that the author’s concluding observation is wrong, but I feel he missed a very apparent fact, that is: the flip side of the flourishing consumerism in China today is the success of the strategy by China’s leaders to stay in power. The possibility of immediate political reform has been traded for immediate economic benefits. This is the “new deal” Deng Xiaoping made with Chinese people after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and it continues until today. The cost of having multiple choices of coffee is having no right to choose their leaders, at least for the immediate future. Without this point, Kristof’s observation is inaccurate and unsatisfactory to me.

December 13, 2003, 10:00 PM
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