Do you dare deny China’s success story, her social stability, economic growth, cultural renaissance, and international restraint?
200 million of her subjects, fortunate to be working for an expanding global market, increasingly enjoy a middle-class standard of living. The remaining 1 billion, however, remain among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services. Popular discontent simmers, especially in the countryside, where it often flares into violent confrontation with Communist Party authorities. China’s economic “miracle” is rotting from within.Much More at the Source
The Party’s primary concern is not improving the lives of the downtrodden; it seeks power more than it seeks social development. It expends extraordinary energy in suppressing Chinese freedoms—the media operate under suffocating censorship, and political opposition can result in expulsion or prison—even as it tries to seduce the West, which has conferred greater legitimacy on it than do the Chinese themselves.
....Since 1967, I have visited the country regularly, and I spent all of 2005 and part of 2006 traveling through her teeming cities as well as her innermost recesses, where few Westerners go. I make no claim to know China fully, an impossibly ambitious task. I merely want to record the words and impressions of some exceptional Chinese men and women, who mostly suffer in silence, raising when they can the demand for a free nation—a “normal” nation.
....The village had a dilapidated school, without heating, chalk, or teacher. In principle, schooling is compulsory and free, but the Party secretary, the village kingpin, made parents pay for the heating and chalk. Then a teacher came from the city. He held that his government wages weren’t commensurate with his status and demanded extra money from the parents. Half of the parents, members of the most prosperous clan, agreed to pay; the other half, belonging to the poorer clan, refused. A skirmish erupted between the two clans, and the teacher fled. The Party secretary tried to intervene and was lynched, the Party office plundered. Then the police roared in with batons and guns. The school has reopened, the teacher replaced with a villager who knows how to read and write but “nothing more than that,” he admits.
The government puts the number of what it calls these “illegal” or “mass” incidents—and they’re occurring in the industrial suburbs, too—at 60,000 a year, doubtless underreporting them. Some experts think that the true figure is upward of 150,000 a year, and increasing.
...The lack of medical facilities is another common cause of peasant complaint. The district hospital is five hours away by bus, and admission requires a payment of 600 yuans, a small fortune for a farmer—and that’s before the doctor’s fees and medicine costs. “When we are sick, we don’t bother about treatment,” my hostess says. “Yet we would like to relieve the suffering of our elders.”
Villagers often told me that it wasn’t the local Party secretary whom they most hated but rather the family-planning agents. To ensure the proper implementation of China’s single-child policy (in some provinces, the limit is two children, if the first is a girl), the agents keep close watch on childbearing women, often subjecting them to horrific violence. In 2005, a family-planning squad targeted the city of Linyi and its surrounding rural area, in the Shandong Province, because the population had far exceeded the Party’s child quota. The agents kidnapped 17,000 women, forcing abortions on those who were pregnant—in some cases, immersing seven- to eight-month-old fetuses in boiling water—and sterilizing those who weren’t. The agents tortured the Linyi men until they revealed the hiding places of their daughters and wives.
....The current growth rate isn’t sustainable, he believes: natural bottlenecks—scarcity of energy, raw materials, water—will get in the way. China can import energy and raw materials, true, but water, which isn’t readily importable, could soon become a massive problem. The Chinese government doesn’t view purification plants as useful investments; already, hundreds of millions of Chinese lack access to drinking water, with many dying as a result.
Many goods that China produces are worthless, Mao Yushi reminds me—especially those made by public companies. About 100,000 such Chinese enterprises continue to run in the old Maoist style, churning out substandard products because they’ve got to hit the targets that the Party sets and provide employment to those the Party cannot dismiss, not because they’re responding to any market demand. Most public-sector firms don’t even have real accounting procedures, so there’s no way of ascertaining profitability. “China is not a market economy,” Mao says bluntly.
The Party gives the banks lists of people to whom loans should go, and the rationale is frequently political or personal, not economic. Indeed, in many cases, banks are not to ask for repayment. That investment decisions obey political considerations and not the law of the market is the Chinese economy’s central flaw, responsible at least in part, Mao Yushi believes, for the large number of empty office buildings and infrequently used new airports and an unemployment rate likely closer to 20 percent than to the officially acknowledged 3.5 percent.
People who harbour wide-eyed fantasies of a futuristic China, poised to lead the world into the 22nd century, may find themselves badly disabused of such notions, should they ever take the trouble to look behind the facade.