Mission Accomplished. Now What?

Simon Elegant reports in the Time Magazine, from Beijing:

As most Chinese media were celebrating Beijing’s Olympics successes, a magazine named Southern Window — a highbrow biweekly with a circulation of 500,000 — broke from the pack. On the cover of the magazine’s Aug. 11 issue, there is no photograph of the sparkling Bird’s Nest stadium, no triumphant Chinese athlete fondling one of the country’s 51 gold medals. Instead, there is an illustration of law textbooks and a teacher with a wooden pointer giving instruction to a businessman and a government official. The cover line: “Rule of Law Starts with Limitation of Power.” Sounds boring? In China, it’s almost revolutionary.

The Chinese Communist Party wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but since it holds virtually all of the power in China, the articles are clearly about curtailing the Party’s all-pervasive reach and allowing the Chinese people some wiggle room. Anything that touches on limiting the power of the Party is extremely sensitive — and often very dangerous. So amid the euphoria of the Olympics, it was pretty gutsy of Southern Window to publish stories with headlines like, “When Administrative Power Obstructs the Law” and “Putting Boxing Gloves on Police Powers.”

Southern Window was effectively firing the opening salvo in a debate that started the minute the closing ceremony’s last firework exploded: What now for China? Will Party hard-liners, emboldened by the world’s timid response to their heavy-handed pre-Games crackdown on dissent, continue to tighten their grip on power? Or will the spirit of civic activism that arose from relief efforts after the May earthquake in Sichuan be revived? Could reform-minded Party officials — like those who approved the publication of Southern Window‘s special issue — gain ground in their drive to ease control over areas such as the courts and the media?

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