Agam's Gecko
Friday, December 16, 2005

nternational human rights NGO's have called for an international investigation over the killing of Dongzhou villagers last Tuesday, in recognition of China's deeply flawed justice system and its subservience to the Communist Party. Government officials replied that everyone should just stay out of their business, this is an internal affair. Well. That's that, then. None of your business.

It is, however, some of these people's business.
In an open letter posted on the Internet, more than 50 scholars and intellectuals called on authorities to publish the names of the dead, offer compensation to their families and punish those involved after an independent investigation.

"We strongly protest the Chinese government's failure to publicly explain, clarify and investigate the killings. We protest against its gross action to forbid domestic media from reporting on the case," the letter said.


The open letter said what it called China's "social crisis" would continue unless such grassroots complaints were handled properly and the country became more open.

"If there isn't a democratic and free constitutional system, an open political space and open expression of appeals of different interests, it is impossible for China to resolve these social conflicts peacefully," it said.
This is a bold move for these brave people, and let's hope there is safety in numbers. Working for reform from inside can be extremely risky in China, but perhaps clamping down on 50+ intellectuals at one time, would be a bigger bite than the authorities would dare. Here is an inspiring story of one idealistic lawyer named Gao Zhisheng, presently in hiding somewhere in northern China. If there was ever an article to make the Times' free registration worthwile, this is it (or try BugMeNot if you doubt me). It's a very long piece, by a writer who clearly knows Mr. Gao well and is in his confidence. I won't try to summarise it -- read it all, and get the flavour of what it's like to work for truth and justice in a modern police state. As of Dec. 14, Mr. Gao is a fugitive. He continues his work in an undisclosed location, taking down testimonies of torture from adherents of the persecuted Falun Gong meditation group. He has also worked on some of the cases I mentioned here in recent articles. His last word, from his current undisclosed location, was this:
"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said. "But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."

've always felt that one of the smartest and most reliable China watchers -- with probably the best collection of contacts inside the country -- is Willy Lam of CNN. I haven't seen him for a long time as I don't have CNN anymore, but now via Timur-I-Leng I find that he's been booted from the network. Blogger Zhang Fei surmises that it has something to do with parent company Time-Warner's conducivity to do what the CCP wants, and the CCP certainly were not fans of Willy Lam. Anyway, Zhang Fei quotes extensively from an article Mr. Lam wrote for the WSJ ($ registration req'd) regarding the Dongzhou killings, and I will quote a little bit less of it right here, courtesy of Timur-I-Leng:
But no attempt has been made to seriously address the most common cause of complaints, the expropriation of large plots of land and displacement of tens of thousands of residents. Property developers as well as owners of mines, oilfields and hydroelectric stations find it easy to bully peasants, most of whom are poorly educated and have no recourse to legal help. One of the most explosive peasant uprisings last year took place in northern Sichuan Province, where tens of thousands of farmers clashed with police over the damming of the famous Dadu River for the purpose of constructing a hydroelectric facility. Again, the lowly peasants were no match for a coalition of local officials and power monopolies, in many cases run by retired senior cadres and children of senior leaders.

Despite their lip service to policies such as "putting people first" and "building a harmonious society," the Hu-Wen leadership are -- at the very least -- turning a blind eye to the scheming of such powerful local interests all over China. For example, the bulk of the coal mines -- in whose inhumane bowels at least 6,000 miners perish every year -- are run by networks of regional cadres, "red" entrepreneurs and financiers, local triad bosses, as well as the police and paramilitary officers. This explains why, as the recent peasant protest in Taishi village in Guangdong province, illustrated, officials can easily call upon armies of thugs to beat up demonstrators -- as well as Chinese and foreign reporters covering the scandals.

Even more disturbing, the killings in Dongzhou raise the possibility that the Hu-Wen leadership has gone beyond turning a blind eye to local grievances and is now willing to actively connive in their suppression. Alarmed by the recent series of "velvet revolutions" in neighboring Central Asian nations such as Kyrgyzstan, Beijing has begun taking a tougher stance against anyone deemed a threat to the Communist regime. That includes not only Internet users and nongovernmental organizations, but even peasants who have themselves been the victims of exploitation.

After all, President Hu, as an obedient student of Chairman Mao Zedong, is sure to be familiar with one of the Great Helmsman's most famous sayings: "A spark from heaven can set the whole plain ablaze." So rather than run the risk of the wrath of isolated villages coalescing, and turning the entire countryside into a ball of fire that would topple the leadership from power, the Hu-Wen team would rather err on the side of "caution" -- even when that involves aiding and abetting instances of local tyranny.
Not exactly encouraging trends coming from the "new" generation of Chinese leadership. I think it's likely that things will not remain stagnant: either political reforms begin in reality rather than rhetoric, as a means to relieve the pressure -- or the lid will be bolted on even tighter. When the Olympic Games were awarded to Beijing, the committee made a bet that the new "progressive" leaders would be encouraged to pursue openness, and that China would be a very different country by the time it welcomed the world. That now looks like it was a poor bet to make. 2008 is not so very far off, and the Hu-Wen team has wasted a lot of time on this score already.

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