Street Heat in China

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Over the last few months, the world’s attention has understandably been focused on the events rocking the Middle East. The West has been kept busy with diplomatic efforts in Egypt and the Gulf states, with a war in Libya, and the possible descent of Syria, a major geopolitical player in Middle Eastern politics, into civil war. While the world has been watching the Arab world, however, other oppressed peoples have also been rising up.

No doubt to the surprise of many, this includes slow but steady reports of mob violence in major Chinese cities. China continues to present itself to the world as a superpower in waiting, as a country ready to stand alongside the United States as joint masters of the world. But unless they can get their social problems under control, though they might not follow several Arab regimes into disgrace and exile, they certainly will struggle to command the international legitimacy they clearly crave.

China is a country obsessed with being seen to be powerful, and constantly worries about losing face. Examples abound. China’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics, for which no expense was spared, was a coming-out party for all the world, showing that China had arrived. Before the party began, China carefully gave its capital city of Beijing a makeover, deporting laborers, erecting modern facades to conceal old neighborhoods, investing billions in new sports facilities, and virtually shutting down major industrial regions so that the infamous smog Beijing is known for would clear out. Even spitting in public was banned.

China has also pursued a manned space program, aggressively sought to develop (some might say colonize) Africa, and recently announced it will soon launch an aircraft carrier. The carrier, Chinese officials note, is intended to showcase China’s power. “All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers — they are symbols of a great nation,” Lieutenant General Qi Jianguowas said while announcing the carrier. And, of course, the growing economic power of China cannot be understated.

But all these admitted triumphs, carefully stage-managed by a Chinese regime eager to impress and fearful of international embarrassment, are threatened by the protests sweeping the country. The causes of the protests differ from place to place. Some are religious, others, ethnic (sometimes it’s unclear where one begins and the other ends). Many protests concern Chinese citizens feeling that they have been unfairly compensated for land now being used for industrial or commercial ventures that are making other people rich. Some seem to be simply based on the clash of interests between China’s pampered ruling class and its hundreds of millions of poor. But whatever their cause, the protests reveal plainly that despite China’s financial and military might, it is a country facing serious issues.

The latest report of mass violence emerged last week from the city of Zengcheng, and reportedly began after security guards beat a pregnant migrant worker. This sparked a riot, with migrant workers attacking government buildings. China has responded with overwhelming force, sending in troops, extra police and armored vehicles into areas beset by violence. They are not necessarily seeking to crush the protests, but to smother them with a display of power. They are also apparently willing to make concessions to the mob — the firing of corrupt officials, replacing unpopular local leaders, and the like. It’s the classic carrot-and-stick approach: Yes, we understand your frustration and will remove this crooked cop, they might say, while also moving thousands of paramilitaries with heavy weapons into the city in case the conciliatory gestures aren’t enough.

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  • Cephas

    What happened to the Great Red Hope of the "Progressive" Left? Time was when an American liberal, humanist pacifist would break your glasses and nose with it for suggesting that Mao was a Tibet

  • Chezwick_mac

    There was a narrative that gained great currency in the 90s and the first decade of the 20th century that as China modernized and developed a middle class, there would be an irresistible momentum to democratize…that true economic prosperity was impossible without a commensurate level of political freedom. I was skeptical from the beginning.

    In point of fact, one of the great failures of democracy is its emphasis and dependence on short-term results. Our insoluble debt crises is a perfect example of this. Conversely, China's ruling 'technocracy' is not subject to the rigors of re-election campaigns and therefore is free to pursue long-term agendas and (potentially) more far-sighted public policies.

    I've always been ideologically committed to the utility and virtue of human freedom and I'll go to my grave defending the democratic model. But even I have to admit that democracy – as represented in Europe, Japan and America – has left us bankrupt…and entrenched voting constituencies continue to preclude us from doing much at all about it.

    Just witness the riots in Greece, the demonstrations in Spain, and the fall in popularity of Gov. Walker in Wisconsin, who had the audacity to actually fulfill his campaign promises. The democratic model brought us all our wonderful entitlements, which in turn have brought us to insolvency. Do we have the political will to dig ourselves out of this mess? I have serious doubts.

    If we're honest, we'll admit that the jury is still out on whether or not democracy is the most effective model for governing human society. Certainly freedom is more HUMANE than authoritarianism,,,and this in-and-of-itself MAY be the salient point, but it may not. Is democracy more practical, more utilitarian, more EFFECTIVE than alternatives? Is there an historical curve in which democratic societies inevitably ossify and collapse under the weight of the entitlement state?

    All I know is that China's rise and the West's decline are facts on the ground with macro-systemic implications that can in no way be readily dismissed as inconsequential. I'm hoping and praying that an educated electorate in the West will have the wisdom to vote the right people in (those committed to fiscal reform) and accept the bitter medicine needed to revitalize our society. But deep down, I'm very skeptical.

    I'm looking at the developing world and I'm wondering out loud…is the West, in the throes of demographic, cultural and economic decline, REALLY the model to be copied?

    • WilliamJamesWard

      Not the subverted model foisted on free Americans by the leftist, communist
      shills of the Democratic Party and RHINO moles. What it is to be a free
      man is no longer understood by government indoctrinated individuals who
      will not be able to stand up for what they are ignorant of. We must work
      towards educating where it has been blocked, lucidating freedom of the
      individual that is served by a government subject to citizens and not
      elites. Government has been strangling our freedoms inch by inch for
      years and we must throw off the opressive yoke, they are in our business
      like it was theirs and we are subjects and not free citizens………..William

  • Steve Chavez

    "Made in China!" I bought some Mexican bowls and a couple of famous Mexican wedding shirts. "Made in China!" Even the Mexican's are going to China?

    SOLUTION: Let's bring all our factories to our hemisphere to help our area of influence that directly affects all of us. Bring factories to the U.S. and our southern neighbors like Mexico, Haiti, and Central America. ***Maybe if they have jobs there, they won't come here!*** That would solve many of our problems. ***Isn't it cheaper to ship goods across the Rio Grande than it is to ship it across the Pacific?***

    To H*** with the Prison Society of China! They are building up their military including a new missile that its only purpose is to attack our aircraft carriers! They aid North Korea and probably gave them the nukes that they tested only to keep us from invading even as North Korea now does anything they want knowing we won't, and can't, do anything about it!

    But with a Communist in the White House, no action will be taken against his comrades except for State dinners while he spits on our true friends like Nethanyahu!

    • WilliamJamesWard

      Exactly, and until the White House is free and disinfected with conservative
      normalization and the return to Constitutional restraints with upholding
      of our Bill of Rights, no future can be had for our posterity………..William

  • g_jochnowitz

    I lived in Baoding, China, for four months in 1989–during Beijing Spring and the Tiananmen Massacre. China had not yet become of a victim of its own success. The students in Tiananmen Square were committed to democracy and honesty. After crushing Beijing Spring, China's leaders decided to bribe China's citizens with capitalism–Marxist capitalism, a combination of Marxist suppression of thought and capitalist pursuit of wealth. The result was a society very prone to corruption, as I wrote years ago in this essay in THE WEEKLY STANDARD:

  • g_jochnowitz

    On June 5th, the day after the massacre, countless parents and other relatives and friends went to the Square to look for survivors. They were killed in large numbers.
    On San Huan Lu (Third Ring Road), a beltway around Beijing, there were many burning army trucks on June 5th. I never have read about this anywhere. I mention it in this memoir:

  • Jim

    Might I suggest the Chinese leaders read Milton Friedman and institute the negative income tax to reduce the pressures on the poor and as a consequence on them selves.

    Might I also that our glorious leaders do the same and like China build a great wall.

    Read the CFR report on globalism and take a lesson from it.

  • pagegl

    "These workers often face housing shortages and low wages, but are daily faced with the reality that millions of other Chinese have ascended to a comfortable middle-class life or become outright millionaires thanks to the low-paid work of these armies of migrants." Once again Marxism/Communism shows that it does not and will not work. Too bad the leftists in the West can't see this reality. Perhaps they think they are smarter or better than Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, et al and work the miracle the heavy hitters couldn't.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    A Constitutional Republic is what we are supposed to be and it is the
    movement away from the Constitution and men putting their wants
    ahead of the restraints inherent in limited government that drives
    our economy and citizenry over a cliff. The leftists in America have
    done their subversive work well, I know to many people that think
    that they are in a land of entitlement rather than a land of opportunity
    to advance and grow. More than one spoiled generation, compounded
    with the idea that all must be pleasure and self aggrandizement has
    weakened the moral fibers and character of our people. America's
    strength has always been in our Churches and they have become
    houses of fad rather than prayer, somehting I can not go into here.

    In history past when a society was pushed to the wall with it's
    problems and they being identified and needing removal a
    dictator would be put in place for one or two years to correct all
    that was undermining the basic idea of family, community and
    National life. A strong President could be and outside chance,
    maybe Perry………………………………………………………William

  • SevenThunders

    The problems with democracy in the West are fundamentally moral and not a structural problem with a democracy or a constitutional republic. Unfortunately certain change agents over the last 100 years or so have carefully undermined the Judeo christian ethic that was the foundation of the West's success.

    Thus it is impossible for a group of self absorbed materialists to make the necessary sacrifices to halt the slide into the abyss. This will end with wars and massive upheavals. The libertines will self destruct, as they always do and take a good chunk of the rest of us down with them.