A CAULDRON OF LOOMING CONFLICT
YAN Hairong <email@example.com>
Thu, 29 Sep 2005 23:10:02 -0500
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A CAULDRON OF LOOMING CONFLICT
By Carlito Parungo
28 September 2005
It is April 2001 and the people of Ta-ching are restive.
northern China, Ta-Ching is witness to a series of
launched by its 700,000 workers, almost half of whom were
off from their jobs.
The workers are incensed at the factory owners who never even
to offer those fired any compensation and at the government
to ignore their plight and cries for justice.
Perhaps out of sheer desperation, some disgruntled workers and
supporters resort to a radical action: they decide to put a
bomb at the
local government office. The bomb explodes, killing the mayor, the
deputy mayor, the local Party secretary, and nine others,
three workers who took part in the incident.
The government finally responds by sending some 50,000 Army
were ordered to encircle the factories and “restore peace”. To
surprise, it is they who are encircled by the workers and the
people. The people of Ta-ching are ready to fight.
Eight months later the impasse will be resolved, with the
factory owners forced to pay the workers higher separation pay.
“Most probably you never heard of the Ta-ching incident in the
Pao Yu Ching, a retired professor emeritus of Marygrove College in
MIchigan, USA, and a well-known China scholar, posed this
her audience during a lecture she gave last September 10 in
Netherlands. The lecture was sponsored by the International
Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and was attended by a "multi-national"
audience, some even coming from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg
She said many of such incidents were never reported before
newsworthiness. But of late, Ching observed that media people
choice but to report on the peasant uprisings and workers’
demonstrations because of their increasing frequency and scope.
“Mass actions in China now average 70,000-80,000 a year,” said
“That means that every day not fewer than 200 demonstrations
place all over the country.”
Workers’ and peasants’ grievances are long, asserted Ching.
workers, these are massive retrenchment and high rate of
unpaid back wages, absence of housing benefits, decreasing
the lack of it), and other economic issues confronting them.”
In the countryside, the peasants’ main issue is their continuing
displacement as a result of massive landgrabbing and
The situation of the workers and peasants is really terrible
lamented Ching, who has gone to China twice this year. “To an
China is one country that is on its way to becoming a
That couldn't be farther from the truth, and judging from the
dissatisfaction of its toiling people, China may soon find
deep trouble,” Ching averred.
Ching described the Chinese people’s growing impoverishment and
discontent as resulting from the series of reforms that the
instituted immediately after its successful power grab in 1979.
She explained: “The first policy was to break up the communes,
individual peasants again. Deng succeeded in implementing this by
increasing the purchasing price of rice, wheat, corn, and other
agricultural products by 20 percent, and another 50 percent if
was selling above quota.”
“Until 1984, or five years after the policy was put in place,
income was climbing by 15 percent a year. So the peasants were
They were even exclaiming that it was a good policy because
doing better now that their income was increasing,” added Ching.
But that would prove to be shortlived and unsustainable. In the
succeeding years, the increase in income slowed down from 5
percent to 1
percent. From 1997 up to now, with the total farm output
same, the purchasing price of agricultural products has even
by 30 percent.
With the high taxes imposed on their income, many peasants became
bankrupt and were eventually forced to find jobs in the
said that 100 million peasants are now working in the cities
there is little to do in the rural areas. Ching thought of
a “smart” one because “it was easier to do reforms in
in industry”. She added: “By dissolving the communes, Deng
broke up the basic alliance of the workers and peasants.”
…and the “iron rice bowl”, too
Deng moved on to implement the so-called economic structure
1985 and labor reform in 1986.
The economic structure reform was a key change in the
said. “In the past, state-owned enterprises did not have any
of profit or loss. If there was profit, it went to the state;
was a loss, the enterprise would get a subsidy. This was the
the state could plan the economy. If it wanted to develop heavy
industry, more money would flow to it, even if it was not
There was no calculation of profit or loss. There was no
reason to do that.”
With the introduction of the profit-and-loss concept, however,
investment priorities favored those enterprises that were making
profits. Ching added that managers, whose salaries and
raised tremendously, were also given blanket authority to sell
out state assets that were performing poorly. This resulted in
of workers losing their iron rice bowl or permanent employment
until then was guaranteed under a socialist state.
Aside from being retrenched as a result of bankruptcy, workers
freely fired by the managers even with flimsiest of reasons.
hiring workers for permanent appointment, managers could also
contract workers. This, according to Ching, is what the 1986 labor
However, the implementation of the labor reform met rough sailing
because of the strong resistance offered by the workers. Faced
prospect of losing their iron rice bowl, the workers initially
in frustrating the attempt of the state to apply this policy
enterprises at that time.
In the course of time, though, Ching said the state managed to
this resistance by selling out state assets, at giveaway
people who had connections. There have also been many cases of
taking the profitable part of state enterprises and setting up
companies, thus bankrupting state enterprises and displacing
Since the middle of 1990, Ching said more that 10 million
lost their jobs as a result of Deng’s labor reforms.
“If one goes to China today and sees all those high-rise
will immediately think that prosperity is everywhere. In the
supermarket, he will find everything and may conclude that
really having a good life,” Ching related. “Yes, in fact some
have a good life. A very good life.”
After June 4, 1989 (the Tiananmen uprising), Ching said the
made a conscious decision to “bribe” the intellectuals and those
occupying high government positions by making them partake of
the good life.
She said this has only increased the gap between the haves and
have-nots, a situation that a recent report of China’s
agency Xinhua acknowledged as “provoking alarm”.
“The most affluent one-fifth of China's population earns 50
total income, with the bottom one-fifth taking home only 4.7
The income gap, which has exceeded reasonable limits, exhibits
widening trend. If it continues this way for a long time, the
may give rise to various sorts of social instability," the
Ching: “But the super-rich live extremely well. And what they
from legal sources.” What is not visible, according to Ching,
income coming from corruption especially in the government and
remaining state enterprises.
“There is a joke in China that if you line up all government
and kill the even numbers, say 2, 4, 6, etc., that means the
of guilty ones will go free,” Ching said in jest.
The workers on the other hand, Ching said, earn an average of
renminbi (US$ 74) a month, or sometimes it can go up to 1,000
they also don’t enjoy any housing benefits or health care, she
Aside from living the hard life, workers and peasants have to face
police brutality, which Ching described as 10 times worse than in
Taiwan, where she is currently based.
“I remember a story shared to me about the two Chinese girls
who were on
their way home. One was not carrying a proper ID for her
bicycle and the
police decided to arrest her. When seen again, the girl was
said to have been raped before being killed. The town was in
demanded that those involved be punished. But instead of
guilty policemen, the police hierarchy found someone else, a
and bought his life from his family for 10,000 yuan.”
According to Ching, life in the countryside is no better
because the new
bureaucrats are far worse than the old-time landlords. She
have more power today and are more abusive.
“There was a case of peasants who organized themselves to
exorbitant taxes being imposed on them. They elected 12 people to
represent them in asking the management to check the books and
taxes were being spent. Instead of being heard, three of the
were beaten to death. Just like that.”
Many peasants used to take the train to Beijing to seek redress,
thinking the central government would do something about police
brutality and landgrabbing as well. But Ching said there have
that some peasants failed to reach Beijing because they had been
kidnapped along the way.
She said that the ruling Communist Party has practically stopped
recruiting members among the workers and peasants, adding it
is now the
intelligentsia that is lured into it because of the many perks
to being a Party member.
Ching was also surprised that many of today's generation of
students are not even aware of the revolutionary tradition of
The Party's work among the masses has been reduced to
tours to some historical places that were visited by Mao
time, for example Yenan, in order for it to have a semblance
of being a
communist party, Ching said.
“In fact, to many average Chinese I spoke with during my
the ruling Communist Party is everything but communist,” Ching
“And if you ask
me, today’s China has totally lost all its socialist elements
kind”, she added.
Big capitalist power?
To the question whether China is set to become the next capitalist
powerhouse, Ching’s answer was a big no. She enumerated six
China would not develop capitalism successfully:
1. China’s agriculture is backward. It is not modernized.
reform did not succeed. Irrigation is gone. The forest is in
shape. Farmers did not want to give up their land. All this
added up and
failed to attract capital to invest in agriculture.
2. There is a small internal market because the salary of
the income of peasants are kept to a minimum. Ninety percent of
factories have overcapacity.
3. China is using exports to create employment and income. The
US is the
biggest importer. It is borrowing money from China to buy from
4. China depends on import of technology and of parts.
5. China gave up so much to enter the World Trade Organization
The service industry was given up. The computer, medical, and
industries were opened up. By 2010 foreign banks will be just like
national banks. Of the top 1,000 banks, China has 16. Of
these, 15 are
already controlled by foreign banks. Bank of America and Royal
Scotland are investing billions of dollars to take over local
6. In the last 25 years, China’s environment and natural
been severely damaged. The country is overutilizing its own
Water is now very scarce and there is even shortage in oil.
Ching concluded that the growth of capitalism in China is not
sustainable. “China becoming a superpower is nothing but US
In fact, the Chinese economy is overheated. It is due to burst
With the increasing number of working people realizing the
the Deng clique, Ching said that China is in for interesting
said the efforts of some people there to study and do
the current situation in the country are encouraging.
Ching expressed her wish that someday all the scattered mass
the country take a more organized form and gain more success,
the Ta-ching uprising.
Anyway, to end the Ta-ching story…
To celebrate their victories, the workers erect a memorial in
their three co-workers who died earlier and the four others
arrested and executed for the bomb explosion. These fallen
be criminals in the eyes of the Chinese government, but for
workers they are martyrs who died for their cause.
Carlito Parungo is a freelance journalist and web designer. He is
currently based in Amsterdam.