Fwd: Living Without Freedom In China

From "Yan Hairong" <hairongy@gmail.com>
Date Sat, 23 Jun 2007 17:53:43 +0800
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In-reply-to <1625.>
References <1625.>

An elderly American friend of mine once told me a little story that
when he's a child, his parents used to him that he shouldn't complain
about his food because children in China were starving. The article
below reminds me of this story.

But the essay below is much more than that little story. Prof.
Friedman is trying to resignify what China is for Americans and for
the world.

Yan Hairong

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Living Without Freedom In China
From: Foreign Policy Research Institute <fpri@fpri.org>
Date: Sat, June 23, 2007 5:02 pm
To: "sobarrys@ust.hk" <sobarrys@ust.hk>

Foreign Policy Research Institute
Over 50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation

The Newsletter of FPRI's
Marvin Wachman Fund for International Education

by Edward Friedman

Vol. 12, No. 20
June 2007

Edward Friedman  is professor  of political  science at  the
University of  Wisconsin-Madison. This essay is based on his
presentation at  Living Without Freedom, a History Institute
for Teachers  sponsored by  FPRI's Marvin  Wachman Fund  for
International Education,  May 5-6,  2007, held  at  and  co-
sponsored  by  the  National  Constitution  Center  and  the
National Liberty  Museum  in  Philadelphia.  FPRI's  History
Institute program  is chaired by David Eisenhower and Walter
A. McDougall  and receives  core support  from the Annenberg
Foundation; this  program was  supported by a grant from the
Lynde and  Harry Bradley  Foundation. See  www.fpri.org  for
videocasts and texts of this and other lectures.


                    by Edward Friedman

It's not easy for American students to know what it means to
live without  freedom. They  know all  the bad  things about
their own country-Virginia Tech, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the
Enron and  Halliburton scandals,  the  LA  riots,  elections
stolen,  federal  attorneys  fired  for  pursuing  criminals
rather than  a political  agenda,  etc.  How  democratic  is
America?, they  cynically wonder.  When you  tell  them  how
awful these  other places  are, they  ask, aren't  you  just
whitewashing your own society?

The hardest  place to  understand what  the lack  of freedom
means is  China, which  is nothing  like the Stalin model or
Cuba or North Korea. It's by no stretch of the imagination a
totalitarian society.  In  post-Mao  China,  Chinese  travel
abroad in  huge numbers.  The country  has the fifth largest
tourist population  in the world, on its way to being number
one. Hundreds  of thousands  of Chinese students are abroad;
in internet  use, China  is about  to overtake  the U.S.  as
number one  in the  world. It's  a market  society, brutally
competitive; the  economy is less state-owned than France or
Austria's, for  example. Life  is not dominated by communist
block units;  you can  buy your own house or car, there's no
forced labor.  You can  choose your  physician freely;  most
young Chinese  would say  they live  in a  free,  democratic

So what does it mean to say that Chinese people live without
freedom? First,  it is  a brilliant  system at making people
complicit with  the unfreedom.  For days  after the  June 4,
1989,  massacre   in   Beijing   of   democracy   supporters
headquartered in  Tiananmen Square,  there was great tension
in the  city between people who live there and the occupying
army. How  did the  party respond?  Teachers were ordered to
teach their students a new song: "The Army loves the people,
the people love the Army." Parents couldn't say the song was
untrue lest  their children  repeat this back at school. You
can't bring up your children the way you want to.

This is  true for  many lies  the Chinese  are forced to let
stand  uncontested.  There  still  are  committees  for  the
defense of the revolution. They have to make their own money
and often  turn into  Avon ladies,  visiting house to house,
but you  know that  if you aren't complicit, maybe you won't
get a  passport. It may be held against your child when s/he
applies for  college. You and your family will be shunned in
the neighborhood.  You could  be committed  to a psychiatric

China is  not the  worst stable  authoritarian regime in the
world:  a   North  Korean   might  consider  it  free.  Even
foreigners who go to North Korea and then come back to China
feel they are returning to a free country. But you get faced
every day  with decisions  that bring  it home  to you  that
you're not.  If your  child is  ill, should  you go  to  the
pharmacy and buy some medicine? Of course, but medicines are
often frauds  in China.  There have  been cases  where  baby
formula is  bogus and  children have  died from receiving no
nutrition. China  has a ruthless free market, no regulation,
no safety  standards, no  FDA, no CDC, no NIH. It's also the
world leader  for people  dying in industrial accidents, and
about 400,000  each year  die from drinking the water, which
is unpotable.  A Chinese  journalist  recently  went  to  10
Chinese hospitals  wanting to  get his  blood tested.  So he
complained of  certain aches  and pains  that he  knew would
cause them  to test  his blood.  But he didn't give them his
blood, he carried in a thermos with tea and poured that into
the cups.  Eight of  the ten reported to him that he had the
most serious  blood disease  and that  it  would  cost  them
endless money for treatment.

China has  people who  see the  problems  of  this  corrupt,
arbitrary society  and try to do something about them. There
are  courageous   lawyers  and   journalists.  The   leading
political crime  in China  is land  seizures. The economy is
growing at  a fantastic  rate, which means that you can sell
pieces of  land to a developer for a lot of money. You don't
want ordinary  people to  get  rich.  All  the  goodies  are
grabbed as  much as  possible by  the ruling  group. Over 97
percent of  all millionaires  in China  are relatives of the
top party  elite. There  are those  who complain and resist,
who stick  to their  guns. Lawyers  come in  to defend them.
Accordingly, China  is first  in the  world in the number of
lawyers, journalists and Netizens in prison.

These things are hard to see when one is visiting, but there
are signs  one can see if one looks hard. Go to the railroad
station at  midnight, and  you will see tens of thousands of
people sleeping  in the  street. It  is  probably  the  most
unequal stable  society in  the world. Income in the poorest
rural areas  has been  declining. There's no union, with one
exception: the  government is  now promoting  getting unions
into multinational  corporations, but  as an  instrument  of
party control,  not to  help the  workers. The Party doesn't
like foreigners  doing things  they don't  know about.  They
want their agents in the places where the foreigners are, to
control things as much as they can.

Freedom  means   the  ability   to  hold   your   government
accountable. There is no way to do this in China, and people
die. China is said to have 16 of the 20 most polluted cities
in the world, and some would say it would be 20 out of 20 if
they didn't lie about the other four. Everything is corrupt.
The  only   way  you   can  get  anything  done  is  through
corruption. This  creates a sense of no morality. But people
want  meaning  in  their  lives.  So  there's  a  tremendous
religious  revival.   All  over  China,  all  religions  are
reviving. The  Party fears  it.  How  does  it  respond?  It
crushes Christian  house  churches,  it  doesn't  like  Lama
Buddhism, it's  careful about  Hui Muslims, but beyond that,
it's  pushing   essentially  its   own  state   religion,  a
combination of  Han chauvinism, in which Chinese worship the
yellow emperor, and an authoritarian Confucianism. The state
is building  Confucian temples.  The vision is that China is
going to  explain its  extraordinary rise  to its own people
and to  the world  as  the  result  of  its  unique  ethical
religion, its  Confucianism. It's  going to spread Confucian
societies  all   around  the  world,  it's  going  to  teach
everybody that  China produces  a better  quality of  people
because it  has this  moral authority  and  all  others  are
inferior. Confucianism  is the only way to raise people, and
the world  is properly hierarchically ordered with Confucian
Chinese at the center of it.

China is  a superpower.  Its economy is rising, its military
is rising, and Chinese people in surveys are more popular in
most countries  of the  world than  are Americans right now.
China's going  to be  using  this  money  to  serve  certain
purposes. Among  them are  undercutting  the  power  of  the
United States,  democracy and  human rights  and  supporting
authoritarian regimes.  Whether it's  Sudan or Nigeria, they
can buy  up the  oil and governments don't have to listen to
any kind of international pressure about conforming to human
rights. China  has already  defeated the international human
rights regime.

China's rise means that freedom is in trouble. The era we're
in is very much like the era after WWI. Authoritarian models
are rising and are becoming more attractive. I can imagine a
future  in   which  unregulated   hedge  funds  lead  to  an
international financial  crisis and  this is  seen as coming
out of  the Anglo-American  countries, London  and New  York
being the  two centers  of these monies. But China regulates
capital, so  these things  are not  allowed in.  The Chinese
model may yet look even more attractive than it does now.

In describing this Chinese rise and how I believe it has the
potential of  being a  threat to freedom in an extraordinary
way that  we haven't  seen since  the end  of WWI,  I am not
trying to  suggest that  Chinese don't  care about  freedom;
people do  not need a Greek-Roman Christian heritage to care
about  freedom.  That  kind  of  claim  is  parochially  and
culturally very  narrow. The  Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, with  its beautiful  preamble, is a Mencian document
(Mencius  is   one  of   Confucius'  disciples).   The  word
"individual" never appears in the document. The language was
shaped by  the philosophy  of Mencius  because  one  of  the
crafters  of   the  Universal   Declaration  was  a  Chinese
gentleman named P.C. Chang. Of course this is December 1948,
the day  after  the  Genocide  convention  was  passed.  The
communists didn't come to power for another year.

There is  no trouble  in  understanding  freedom  and  human
rights in  any  culture  in  the  world.  People  living  in
tyrannies may  in fact  have a  better understanding of what
freedom is  about than  American teens,  who think it's just
that you  get your  driver's license in your late teens. The
Chinese  regime   has  fostered   a  nationalism   to  trump
democracy. People  are taught  that they  are threatened  by
democracy, that  democracy would  make  people  weak.  Party
propaganda has it, "How did Rwanda occur? Because they tried
to build  a democracy. If the Hutus had simply imposed their
will, they never would have had that problem. If it moves in
a democratic  direction, China  is going  to fall  apart; it
will be  like what happened to Russia, to Yugoslavia. Do you
want to  end up  like Chechnya  and Bosnia?  That's what the
Americans really  want. You  are fortunate  to be  a Chinese
living in  an ethical,  authoritarian system."  The TV  will
show pictures  of say  the Los Angeles riots, the Sudan, and
people are made frightened and confused. They're proud to be
Chinese and  want to raise ethical kids. They want a country
they can  be proud of, certainly not like American kids. The
Chinese are  taught that  American youth  are smoking  at an
early age,  use pot,  have  babies  in  their  teens,  watch
pornography on TV, spread AIDS, get divorced, and don't care
what happens to their elderly parents. Why would you want to
live in  such an  immoral way? This propaganda seems to work
with many Chinese.

So what  is growing in China is an authoritarian, patriotic,
racially defined,  Confucian Chinese  project which is going
to be  a formidable  challenge not just to the United States
but, I  think, to  democracy, freedom,  and human rights all
around the world. China is going to seem quite attractive to
many people.  That  is  why  it  is  so  very  important  to
understand what living without freedom really means.

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