Re: Fwd: Living Without Freedom In China

Date Mon, 25 Jun 2007 02:02:29 -0700 (PDT)
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I'm sorry, but I feel the need to respond to professor Friedman's (no 
relation) framing of the problem, which I find somewhat problematic. He
starts out the article in a promising fashion: by questioning just  how
democratic and supportive of human rights the United States
government really is. This is not just an important moral issue, but, 
given America's (and other Western country's) rulers' assumption that we 
are democratic exemplars, it calls into question the definition of 
democracy. If we are to criticize the Chinese political system (which we 
should), we need to be clear on what the ideal is. Clearly it is not the 
Anglo-American asocial freedoms which sacrifice the rights to education, 
health care, mobility (as a result of the mass incarceration of
minorities) and even subsistence while upholding the illusory right to 
individual choice and self-determination.
In any event, professor Friedman's article quickly shifts gear to engage 
in the same old fear mongering and China bashing that echoes positions 
widely held in the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom. The unfortunate effect of 
this is that instead of an engaging conversation on what constitutes 
"freedom" or "democracy" we end up with the same old argument that the 
West is free and China is oppressive, authoritarian, patriarchal, etc., 
and that its rise threatens our treasured liberties (curious, given that 
he starts the article questioning these very liberties). Perhaps the  most
curious part of the article is when he envisions a world where the 
freedom of unregulated capital flows leads to financial crises, London 
and New York get blamed, which then makes Chinese authoritarianism seems 
more attractive. This would have been a perfect opportunity to say,  "Huh,
maybe freedom of capital mobility isn't such a good thing after  all," but
he misses the chance. Finally, it offers no possibilities for  furthering
practice. Given that the article contains no analysis for the 
possibilities of Western engagement with domestic social movements, the 
implications of this line of argument for practice seem to be limited to 
the strengthening of American military might to contain the China  threat.
Clearly this is not a position that leftists can support.
I am not saying that we should abandon criticism of the Chinese state, 
its role in crushing dissent, the labor camps, or the neo-fascism that 
has resulted from corrupt authoritarian politics and the "freedom" 
capital has been given to run roughshod over the lives of countless 
millions of workers and peasants. However, I believe that we should be 
trying to engage progressive currents inside of China, both within and 
outside of the state structure (they exist!), in order to create a more 
equal, just, and democratic China. In the process we may realize that 
poor people in every country in the world are consistently denied  freedom
and justice, and that it is not China or any other country which 
represents a threat to freedom, but rather the ruling classes in each 
My two cents.

Yan Hairong wrote:
> 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
> Yan Hairong
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: Living Without Freedom In China
> From: Foreign Policy Research Institute <>
> Date: Sat, June 23, 2007 5:02 pm
> To: "" <>
> Cc:
> Foreign Policy Research Institute
> Over 50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation
> Footnotes
> 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  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
> society.
> 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
> hospital.
> 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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Eli Friedman
Graduate Student
Department of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Phone (USA): +(1) 917-991-1292
Phone (China): +(86) 135-2035-2343