Liang Jing: Trigger for an Earthquake in Chinese Society

Thanks to David Kelly, researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, for translating the following opinion piece by overseas political commentator Liang Jing:

Liang Jing, Trigger for an Earthquake in Chinese Society*

A year after the Sichuan earthquake, any hopes that the celestial “warning” would make China’s leaders relax their oppression of society have been dashed. The authorities stepped up a last campaign against civilians carrying out disaster relief before the anniversary of the earthquake, forcing out NGOs that they believed to be beyond their control; at the same time, the administration also stepped up control of the news, unconcerned about the bad press their harassment of foreign journalists was causing. [1]

The government’s sole concession to the civil sector was to publish a list of the dead students. If Ai Weiwei hadn’t led the way to put such a list together, they would never have done so. However, the Government publicly announced at the same time that, “the quality of housing was not found to be the main cause of collapse in the earthquake,” transmitting this information in the most shameless manner. The authorities were not going to give in to the parents of the dead students, and would not to assume any responsibility for the quality of construction of the schools. [2]

Acting on Hu Jintao’s ideas of “no flip-flopping” and “scientific development,” the authorities staged a campaign against all negative media, one of which was probing the man-made factors in the Wenchuan earthquake. In January this year, an article in the US magazine Science entitled “A Human Trigger for the Great Quake of Sichuan?” aroused great concern around the world by pointing out that “the Zipingpu reservoir in close proximity to the earthquake epicentre at Wenchuan may to some extent have led to this massive earthquake.” The officially sponsored China Daily therefore set up an interview with Chen Houqun of the Chinese Academy of Engineering to refute this challenge [3].

The “science” that China’s rulers believe in is in fact no different from that of Hitler and Goebbels. However, they consider themselves more intelligent, able to use “smart power,” and can make more people to accept their idea of ‘truth’ without the need to build large-scale concentration camps. Some Chinese intellectuals, however, seeing more and more people succumb to the despotic power authorities, believe that China will be in darkness for a long time.

The basic evidence for this is that the Chinese government now has too many resources, and so can very effectively and “scientifically” digest all of those who challenge its power in the embryonic stage. This is the true meaning of Hu Jintao’s “non flip-flopping” and “scientific development concept”.

The Zipingpu reservoir probably triggered the earthquake; what it shows, though, is that the regime’s constant piling up of resources, on a society riddled with fault-lines, and building large-scale government projects—including tens of billions of dollars for so-called cultural industries—is likely in the end to trigger an earthquake in Chinese society, just like the one the Zipingpu reservoir triggered in Wenchuan.

No doubt the government, thanks to the vast resources it commands, can on the one hand trap and imprison people of integrity in the society like Guo Feixiong and Chen Guangcheng, and isolate or completely marginalise dissidents like Liu Xiaobo. On the other hand, it can bring the professionally educated and the wealthy into the system to support the Government as far as possible.

The problem is, however, that this huge “loyalist force” is itself increasingly out of control, and is turning out to be the central rulers’ real problem. One political earthquake recently taking place in China was the purge of Guangdong CPPCC Chairman Chen Zhaoji due to his implication in the Huang Guangyu case [4].

Chen is recognised as a godfather figure in the Guangdong political arena, one of a few hundred people with their hands on real power in China, and the real head of the local forces faced by rights defenders like Guo Feixiong. It was thanks precisely to the clout exerted by local forces typified by Chen Zhaoji that Guo Feixiong’s struggle to safeguard Guangdong peasants’ land rights not only failed to gain Hu and Wen’s support, but was brutally crushed. Guo Feixiong being sent to prison and Chen Zhaoji subjected to Party discipline lifts the lid on China’s political game, a game in which there is in fact no winner. It is but a matter of time before Hu and Wen become losers in this game.

I believe that Chen Zhaoji’s fall was not simply due to a political conspiracy, but can be trace to the domino effect generated by Huang Guangyu. Once the richest man in China, Huang Guangyu is an extremely audacious rogue; for Chen Zhaoji and other politicians in power to dare collude directly with such a hoodlum reflects their belief that they can do whatever they want provide they stay politically consistent with the Centre. It’s precisely these rules of the game that will ensure that an all-out social collapse will ultimately be brought about by the brazenness of the crowd who are enthusiastic about playing it in China, while their decision to bring about the fall of a local “godfather” like Chen Zhaoji shows that Hu and Wen’s were feeling heavy pressure. Hu and Wen are not likely to come to their senses, of course, nor will their efforts to attract more people into their “loyalist forces.” The authorities are currently allowing hundreds of thousands of college students go to the rural grass-roots as “village officials.”

When will China’s social earthquake happen? It’s equally difficult to predict social and natural earthquakes. However, there was a very interesting detail in the experience of Zipingpu reservoir triggering the Wenchuan earthquake: the earthquake didn’t occur at the time of year of the greatest storage pressure, but was triggered when the authorities, feeling the danger of an earthquake, suddenly released the water.

* Liang Jing, “Zhongguo shehui dizhen de jili” [The earthquake mechanism of Chinese society], , 12 May 2009 [梁京: “中国社会地震的机理”, ,2009年5月 12日 ().].

[1] “Foreign journalists interviewing in earthquake-stricken areas rudely obstructed,” “Waiguo jizhe caifang dizhen zaiqu shoudao cubao zunao” [Foreign journalists interviewing in earthquake-stricken areas rudely obstructed], RFA, 7 May 2009 [: “外国记者采访地震灾区受到粗暴阻挠” 2009年5月 7日 (here).].

[2] “Sichuan Government: quality of housing not found to cause earthquake collapse,” Xiamen wang, 8 May 2009 (here).

[3] Richard A. Kerr and Richard Stone, “A Human Trigger for the Great Quake of Sichuan?” Science, (here); unidentified source (here).

[4] “Zhejiang sheng jiwei shuji Wang Huayuan Guangdong zhengxie zhuxi Chen Zhaoji: shexian weiji jieshou diaocha” [Zhejiang CDIC Chairman Wang Huayuan and Guangdong CPPCC Chairman Chen Zhaoji investigated over discipline ], Nanning wanbao, 17 April 2009 [: “浙江省纪委书记王华元广东省政协主席陈绍基 涉嫌违纪接受调查”, 南宁晚报,2009年4月 17日 (here).].

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