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China's Leaders on Wrong Side of History

Roger McCormick ’14, Columnist

A changing of the guard is occurring in China for the first time in 10 years, operating concurrently with the state’s vicious recriminations and crackdown on dissidents. Chinese statesmen operate on an increasingly Orwellian form of governance, with dissidents across the country being “vanished” into the state’s ubiquitous penal system.

The politburo’s leadership transition was significantly marred by the controversy surrounding disgraced politician Bo Xilai, after his wife’s killing of a British businessman, a case shrouded in secrecy with the government profferring little information in response to contradictory views on the case, given the Chinese court system’s overwhelming high issuance of guilty convictions. Bo Xilai’s misfortunes are just one face of a political party that displays increasing dissolution.

Heir apparent to the presidency is Xi Jinping, who mysterious failed to appear at significant meeting before a military commission, and missed meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spawning a slew of rumors ranging from a supposed heart attack to a politically engineered ploy in lieu of the state’s desire to deal effectively with the Bo Xilai situation. Xi has subsequently made public appearances, but the information regarding his absence is fanatically guarded by the state.

If Xi’s poor health is confirmed, a nebulous party, with various factions vying for control, could be seriously upset, lending uncertainty to the state’s vision of governance. This has led to a crackdown on information pertaining to the party and, perhaps more intensely, on brave dissidents, vocal in their criticisms of the party’s stultifying and immoral edicts.

Heavily controversial in China is the country’s law regarding childbirth, in which a woman may have only one child, or deal with the callous consequence of forced abortion. Activist Chen Guagcheng spent four years in prison, and after his release Chen and his family were placed under house arrest without any official charges or any arrest taking place (reminiscent of certain U.S. policies) for his role in magnifying the morality of the challenges to the forced abortion system.

The system came under scrutiny this summer when photos circulated of a woman lying in a hospital bed with her child’s body. Feng Jianmeni, in her seventh month of pregnancy, was forced to have an abortion because she could not afford the fine imposed on those who violate the state’s one-child policy.

Interestingly enough, an abuse of this magnitude would previously have been surreptitiously concealed, with Western media lacking the means to inquire into the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of China. This change is due to the pervasiveness of social media and its success in circulating the photos.

As the party knows, one man is easy to stifle, but a collective force is increasingly difficult to combat. The burden for the Chinese people lies in the intransigence of the state’s control, operating at every level of the state, and the difficulty involved in throwing off this yoke. China has responded meekly, with reparations for the murder, though is a telling indicator of a development of change in a three-decade-long policy, revealing a bureaucracy no longer able to operate completely independently from its people.

No one exemplifies the brutality of the contemporary Chinese regime more than artist Ai Wei-Wei, a vociferous critic of the country’s policies. Due to his calls for democracy, coupled with his harsh criticisms of the state, such as its role in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake (the state’s shoddy building regulations causing the death of children), Ai’s studio was destroyed and he was beaten, suffering severe cranial hemorrhaging, an occurrence the state denies involvement in.

This degenerate bureaucracy treats any form of dissidence with similar strokes, reliant on an oppressive tenacity that supposedly protects the state’s interests, while displaying the seedy underbelly lying directly beneath the postured mechanisms of the state. While Ai is a high-profile example, other dissidents and average citizens continually incur the brunt of the state’s punishments.

The Guardian reports that China has recently detained 23 dissidents and 12 have gone “missing,” with no information being given to their families in regards to their whereabouts or whether formal charges are being leveled against them. Pang Jinhua, mother-in-law of lawyer Teng Biao, who has been missing since mid-February, is quoted in the Guardian: “We are worried and can’t eat well or sleep properly each night. They are doing good deeds for people; why should they be taken away?”

Many more critics of Chinese power are worried that the state is rapidly rolling back human rights gains that have been hard won over the last 10 years. Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua foundation said, “One of the things disturbing about this latest crackdown is how apparently routine it has become for security agents to essentially ignore the legal procedures in their treatment of activists.” Evocative of the U.S. suspension of habeas corpus for terror suspects, the state’s dominion is seeping further into the lives of average Chinese citizens, not just outspoken government critics.

Cab drivers on major thoroughfares in China are being forced by the government to lock their windows, lest passengers toss incendiary pamphlets or other materials out the windows. Perhaps this is merely feverish paranoia over the shifting leadership, but it also suggests a state nervous about its grasp, one that cannot be assumed to remain in the same incarnation of control, if a reading of “The Wealth of Nations” or “The Road to Serfdom” produces such anxiety. Then again, maybe this fear has a tangible basis.

Time reports that 18,000 protests occurred throughout China in 2010 over the people’s perceived notion of corrupt alliances between corporations and the state, combined with multitudinous abuses of political power. This is expected to increase.

The key to the state’s dominance, defying the common analogue to the Arab Spring, is the ascendancy of the Chinese economy. However, this does not suggest that brazen power hierarchy will remain in its current form, perhaps unpalatable when history, exploitation, and deprivation are viewed.

Mao Zedong’s apotheosis in the 1940s and ’50s was fueled by rapid, destructive industrialization, eliding with malignant policies in which millions were killed in Mao’s Five Year Plans and infamous Great Leap Forward, which rapidly mobilized industry in the region, but stripped farmers and innumerable other individuals of their land.

These plans lead to mass starvations, with the state predatorily exploiting its citizenry for self-advancement. Mao released “quotas”specifying how many persons should be arrested in each region, to squelch political protest, the slightest perceived affront to The Five Year Plans viewed as reason for imprisonment, a sentence highly probable to be death inducing. The quotas attained a hellish fame, with police in China’s Anhui province given a quota of 45,000 people.

The Chinese government continues to deny the existence of these sins, in which 45 million people were eradicated in Mao’s swath. George Orwell, author of “Animal Farm,” castigated totalitarian measures, undeniably similar to the current Chinese state, in the following: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” The situation today is a shade of the aforementioned bleakness, but with the continued abrogation of individual freedoms in exchange for an aggressive state, the buck must stop eventually.

The present is not the 1950s, and the state may find that sadism will continue to be an untenable position to assume. Borders are growing more and more permeable with a global flow of information generating solidarity among those who have begun to realize the treatment that China and other nations mete out is not a sustainable position if stability, health, and longevity of society are viewed as laudable goals.

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