A Tale of Two Chinas – Stephen Glain

From Smithsonian Magazine (link):

If China’s colossal impact on world markets is now familiar, the effect of the red-hot economy at home, where it is fueling record levels of internal unrest, is less well known. Last year, China’s public security minister Zhou Yongkang reported that almost four million Chinese took part in nearly 75,000 protest “incidents” in 2004. Zhou characterized the number as a “dramatic increase” over the previous year and noted a trend toward organized, rather than spontaneous, outbursts. In response, Beijing has reportedly formed a new police force equipped with helicopters and armored vehicles.

Meanwhile in the West, starry-eyed accounts of China’s economic transformation often obscure Beijing’s contempt for basic human rights, its one-party politics, its rubber-stamp judiciary, its censored Internet and oppressed minorities, and a prison system so secretive that human rights groups can only guess at how many people may be languishing in it.

…To reacquaint myself with China, a country I had not covered for seven years, I visited two cities separated by geography, history and politics. In , I found China’s bold future, where newly made fortunes and go-go consumerism have transformed lifestyles but at a cost to the environment. In , I found a once proud government stronghold now convulsed by free-market commerce, high unemployment, anxiety about the future and a certain longing for days past. Once the crucible of Maoism, is by some accounts China’s most politically unstable region. Both cities suggest that the global economy needs a stable China at least as much as China needs the global economy.



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