About Li Datong

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper. In 2006 he was the recipient of a Lettre Ulysses award for reportage on his experience at Bingdian:

“As a professional journalist, I am completely incapable of understanding or accepting the suspension of ‘Freezing Point’ … To those who made this decision, what do the readers count for? What does the prestige of a large mainstream newspaper count for? What do the laws of the country and the party constitution count for? What does the reform and the opening up of China count for? They see this public instrument as their own property, thinking they can dispose of it as they please.”

 

Articles by Li Datong

This week's editor

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Adam Ramsay is co-editor of OurKingdom.

China: Xi Jinping's new generation

The imminent transition of power in Beijing will see a new ruling group arrive in power. But does its background and formation prepare it for the scale of China's political and economic challenge, asks Li Datong.

Wen Jiabao: the verdict of history

China’s elite is preparing for the succession of power in 2012. But there is still time for the current generation to shape its legacy. In particular, says Li Datong, prime minister Wen Jiabao is an increasingly bold and outspoken figure in China’s political establishment.

China: a tide of workers’ protest

The growing militancy and confidence of China’s industrial workers are rooted in the epic social experience of the reform decades, says Li Datong. 

China’s unstable stability

The Beijing leadership’s obsession with order and control in face of citizens' search for justice highlights the dysfunctional nature of China’s political system, says Li Datong.

Beijing’s credibility crisis

The People's Republic of China (PRC) was declared on 1 October 1949. The authorities seek to hold an especially large celebration on every tenth anniversary. This is carefully designed to give the people the illusion of possessing strength and wealth - and to project the rulers' own vanity. This year's sixtieth anniversary will be the biggest yet.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Freezing Point, a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's articles in openDemocracy:

"The CCTV fire: a voice without restraint" (5 March 2009)

"China: democracy in action" (19 March 2009)

"China's Tibet: question with no answer" (16 April 2009)

"Tiananmen: the legacy of 1989" (4 June 2009)

"China's civil society: breaching the Green Dam" (17 July 2009)
The celebrations over the last three decades have not always gone according to plan. In 1979 the damage wrought by the cultural revolution begun in the mid-1960s had not yet been repaired, and there was no money for major centrepiece events such as a military parade. By 1989, the reform and opening-up policies had brought some improvement to people's lives - cause enough, it was thought, for a splendid party. But in May-June of that year, the events of Tiananmen Square shocked the world, and China found itself more isolated than ever. Beijing was put under a strict military curfew, and the more flexible policies were set aside in place of noisy rhetoric about "opposing western peaceful evolution". It no longer seemed the time to celebrate, and the PRC anniversary events were low-key. For a while the Chinese believed they would never again see an extravagant and wasteful military parade.

In spring 1992, Deng Xiaoping's famous "southern tour" inaugurated a second round of reform in China. Deng himself passed away in 1997, bequeathing a mixed legacy of achievement and failure. His successor as party general-secretary leader was Jiang Zemin, a figure who combined commanding power with a love of performance. He decided to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the People's Republic in 1999 with a grand military display.

The problem of governance

The aim of that second round of reform was to establish a market economy - an aim achieved by a partnership between power and capital, with numerous state-owned enterprises sold off to the "able", creating a large cohort of capitalists. But many employees were forced out of work, with no social welfare to rely on - leaving them marginalised. Residential areas of cities and surrounding farmland were forcibly purchased at risible prices, and the rich-poor gap started to widen. The seeds of the social crisis that China faces today can be seen in this period, but there was not yet fierce confrontation. So the extravagant fiftieth anniversary celebrations went ahead - with the cost said to run to over RMB 100 billion ($14bn).

A dampener on the celebrations came in the form of an article entitled 50 Years of Trials and Hardships, by well-known liberal intellectual and former vice-president of the China academy of sciences, Li Shenzhi. The language was pointed: "1999 is not just the fiftieth anniversary of the People's Republic of China - it is the eightieth anniversary of the May 4th Movement" (a reference to the student-led protests of 1919 sparked by the unfair treatment of China embodied in the Versailles treaty which grew into a wider call for scientific advance, democracy, and social progress).

"The aim of the emancipation of the individual embodied in the demands of 1919 has today yet to be realised", Li Shenzhi continued. "1999 is also the tenth anniversaryof the June 4th incident which brought the Tiananmen protests to an end - a date that the authorities could use to declare an amnesty, in order to offer comfort to the victims and bereaved. This would restore public morale, lay the foundation for further reform, and also do wonders for China's international standing - thus improving the external conditions for reform. But those in power ignore this and the opportunity passes by."

It is a matter of record that Jiang did nothing for political reform. The seeds of social crisis planted during his reign have exploded, one by one, during Hu Jintao's leadership.  In 2008-09 alone, tens of thousands of people have been caught up in often violent protests.  There has been disorder in Tibet, Weng'an, Shishou, Urumqi and at the Tonghua steel mills, among many other incidents.

When public anger explodes, the authorities have no response but violent suppression. This crisis of governance is characterised by a loss of government credibility - particularly that of the authorities at the grassroots. A survey by the official publication Insight China found that government officials were rated as less trustworthy than sex-workers - surely the most devastating of verdicts.

The rot of corruption

The loss of government credibility is symbolised by two incidents. The first occurred on 17 July 2009, a million residents of Qi county in Henan province started to flee their homes. In only two or three hours, tens of thousands of vehicles flooded onto the roads, causing gridlock. Traffic police set up roadblocks and attempted to persuade drivers to turn back, but panic continued. The scene could have been taken from a Hollywood disaster movie, with the county left empty.

The reason? An accident with an industrial source of radioactivity - but there had been no leak of radiation and the situation was entirely under control. The local government did not view the incident as important and made no statement about it; but the public believed that government silence indicated a cover-up. The spreading rumours of an imminent explosion caused a spontaneous evacuation - with many public servants among those taking to the roads.

The second incident was the jailing for three years of a Hangzhou youth - the son of a rich family - for killing a pedestrian on 7 May 2009 while racing his car along the street. Many online commentators insisted the defendant was not the guilty party, but a stand-in; a bizarre belief, but one that earned much support, less because there was any evidence to support it than because people believe the rich can use their money to circumvent the law.

Such events are supplemented by constant tales of government untrustworthiness - which can seem exaggerated but often turn out to be true. For example, 1,500 people were arrested in a single crackdown on criminal gangs in Chongqing: the detainees included the deputy head of the city's public-security bureau (who had been in his post for a decade), the head of the justice bureau, other senior officials and several mega-rich businessmen. Many of these were local, or even national, "people's representatives".

The people cannot be expected to believe that only Chongqing is this corrupt. In recent months alone the vice-president of the supreme court, the mayor of Shenzhen, the party secretary of Zhejiang and the vice-ministry for railways have all fallen from office due to corruption.

The unavoidable clash

What of central government? The financial crisis has worsened China's employment concerns. Beijing has called for all levels of government to seek to combat unemployment, particularly among new graduates. The news provoked bitter humour among those affected: graduates responded to the publication of official figures on graduate employment by joking that they'd "been employed", internet-users reacted to the data from the statistics bureau showing increases in income by saying their incomes had "been increased". The public is dubious about any official and "authoritative" information.

Meanwhile, the record of a conversation with an "old comrade" has appeared online as the sixtieth anniversary celebrations approach. The identity of the source is not revealed, but the content suggests he must have been a member of the Central Political Bureau Committee, or higher. The article spread feverishly online; there were 300,000 hits within a few days. The source, speaking with particular authority, was frank in pointing out that sixty years of party rule have not been glorious - many of these years saw the people suffer at the hands of the ruling party. The party has turned its back on the commitments it made when it came to power: to "build a democratic, free, China". It has still not established basic political ethics.

The document sent shockwaves through the party. The analysis and the response to it reflect a crisis of credibility that is rare in the history of the People's Republic. At root, the cause lies in people's rising awareness of their rights and their desire to participate in politics - and the conflict between this and a closed, unsupervised and unfettered political system. This conflict is no longer merely theoretical; it is a living fact.

So the celebrations will take place against a background of fear that something will go wrong. There is tight security on a par with that for the Beijing Olympics, with three layers of monitoring to check people and vehicles entering the capital. Besides a large contingent of police and armed police, an army of 700,000 citizens has been mobilised to participate in security work - as if the country faces a dangerous enemy.

What air of celebration can there be? How long can these days of fear go on?

 


openDemocracy writers track China's politics in 2009:

Perry Link, " Charter 08: a blueprint for China" (5 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, " China in 2009: a year for surprise" (14 January 2009)

Wei Jingsheng, " China's political tunnel" (22 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, " China's giant struggle" (5 February 2009)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, " China's anniversary tempest" (24 February 2009)

Kerry Brown, " China local, China global" (11 March 2009)

Henryk Szadziewski, " Kashgar's old city: the politics of demolition" (3 April 2009)

Kerry Brown, " China's coming struggle for power" (14 May 2009)

Kerry Brown, " China's Tiananmen moment: the party rules" (3 June 2009)

Emily Lau, " Tiananmen, 1989-2009" (4 June 2009)

Yitzhak Shichor, " The Uyghurs and China: lost and found nation" (6 July 2009)

Henryk Szadziewski, " The discovery of the Uyghurs" (10 July 2009)

Kerry Brown, " Xinjiang: China's security high-alert" (14 July 2009)

Dibyesh Anand, " China's borderlands: the need to rethink" (15 July 2009)

Temtsel Hao, " Xinjiang, Tibet, beyond: China's ethnic relations" (23 July 2009)

Igor Torbakov & Matti Nojonen, " China-Turkey and Xinjiang: a frayed relationship" (5 August 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China's shadow sector: power in pieces" (14 September 2009)

China's civil society: breaching the Green Dam

China's ministry of industry and information technology (MIIT) announced on 8 June 2009 that all computer manufacturers would be required, from 1 July, to install the Green Dam filtering software on machines sold in China - in order to "protect the psychological health of the young." The unprecedented measure met with uproar. Internet users were virtually unanimous in viewing this as an attempt to control access to information.

Tiananmen: the legacy of 1989

The fourth day of June - written as "6.4" in Chinese - never used to have any special significance. But in the last twenty years, since the events that culminated in the early hours of 4 June 1989 in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, it has acquired particular import. For the authorities it stands for resistance and turmoil; for the people it represents the democracy movement, and also suppression and slaughter. Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"The Weng'an model: China's fix-it governance" (30 July 2008)

"The Olympics: was China ready?" (22 August 2008)

"The Beijing Olympics: the last award" (29 August 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

"China's power, China's people: towards accountability" (29 September 2008)

 "China's stalled transition" (19 February 2009)

"The CCTV fire: a voice without restraint" (5 March 2009)

"China: democracy in action" (19 March 2009)

There is a paradox in the commemoration of 2009. A rigorous clampdown by the authorities means that on the internet a search in China for reference to the Tiananmen events returns not one search result; yet in other ways the comparative silence of years past has been lifted. Some intellectuals even risked holding a "Tiananmen Square 20th anniversary seminar" - on the grounds that, as one attendee said, "if we stay silent, we become accomplices to the authorities' concealment of the crime."

But the biggest stir has been caused by the posthumous publication (in both Chinese and English) of the memoirs of the Chinese Communist Party's former general-secretary, Zhao Ziyang. An electronic version of the book is rapidly circulating among Beijing's intellectuals. Some compare its publication to that of the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev after he was deposed as leader of the Soviet Union: both figures, after all, were reformers who lost internal party struggles and went on to dictate to tape memoirs which were published abroad after their death.

The hard debate

Such uncomfortable reminders have led an edgy Chinese government, aware of the potency of a "round figure" anniversary, to continue with the precautionary measures it started to put in place in early 2009. It has confined many "potential troublemakers" to their homes, and sent Zhao's former secretary Bao Tong on an enforced "trip". Some Beijing employers, responding to rumours of a "white memorial" on Tiananmen Square on 4 June, even forbade their workers from wearing white clothes that day.

The mix of fear and farce here is revealing. For two decades the government has prevented any record of the incident in the media, with the result that young people today do not even know who Hu Yaobang (the former party head whose death on 15 April 1989 sparked the first student protests) and Zhao Ziyang are. But the government officials themselves cannot forget, and every year impose severe measures nationwide to prevent real or imaginary "mishaps". It is the political elite, the "victor" of the 1989 contest of nerves and (in the steel), that finds itself sick with nerves.

It is left to the defeated - the former student leaders, the party reformers, liberal intellectuals and exiled democracy activists - to examine in retrospect the surge of public protest of these unforgettable weeks. Why did it fail? Why were the students and party reformers unable to communicate? Could the political deadlock have been broken, and everything ended differently? Can China's government and people ever be reconciled, and how? Such questions suggest that the "losers" have long moved past anger and onto rationality. Amid sometimes sharp internal criticism, they are deepening their understanding and drawing lessons.

The debate continues outside the circles of power. One conclusion is that the tragedy of 4 June 1989 was unavoidable, in part because of the effects of the the sheer longevity in power (in some cases almost five decades by that point) of the first generation of party leaders. Deng Xiaoping saw himself as part of a second generation, but in reality was an important member of the earlier cohort; before the cultural revolution he had been more powerful than Zhou Enlai.

A common characteristic of the first generation was familiarity with violence. Their political experiences - be it the war with the nationalists, or political struggles within the party - never considered compromise and mutual benefit. Differences were always irreconcilable, fights always to the death. When the party arrived at the pinnacle of state power in October 1949 that culture permeated society - including the education system. This culture inflected (and indoctrinated) too those who opposed the party, among them some of the university students demonstrating for democracy on Tiananmen Square for whom compromise was anathema and death in the pursuit of justice (even at the cost of bloodshed) could be glorious. 

The root of reform

In this absolutist environment, it is harder than it looks to identify the true architect of the decade of change and reform in China that contributed to the events of 1989. Deng Xiaoping's blueprints have not been found in the archives, nor any reform proposals he originated. His role in reform is more complex than is often recognised.

Deng Xiaoping had had a turbulent career. He fell from power (along with Liu Shaoqi) at the start of the cultural revolution in 1966, was reinstated in 1973 and established his authority within the party and society with a series of order-restoring "rectifications". But in 1976, he was again stripped of power by Mao Zedong following mass protests on Tiananmen Square, an event that became the political capital on which he would base his future rise. This political experience meant that by the time he acquired supreme power he had come to understand the need for urgent reform - albeit to maintain party rule.

The people were poor, and thirty years of communist government had only made them poorer. A public that dared to protest at Tiananmen was clearly running out of tolerance for its leaders. Deng often said that a failure to reform would lead to disaster; he knew the people had to get richer, and quickly. But he did not know how to make that happen, or what to do afterwards. Like Mao, he was no economist.

It was Zhao Ziyang, of the second generation of party leaders, who had both the best understanding of economics and the strongest ability to learn. In his time in Sichuan he had made a reputation for policies that increased industrial and agricultural output (a local pun on his name had him as the "go-to" man for grain). The historical evidence suggests that the real architect of China's reform was Zhao Ziyang, with Deng's contribution to history the provision of support.

Moreover, Deng's approval for economic changes was combined with consistent upholding of Mao's one-party rule. Deng, after all, had been part of the first generation of party leaders and shared its errors and even crimes. He maintained, for example, that the "anti-rightist" campaign was not an error but merely too wide in its scope (so wide indeed, that all but the five most prominent "rightists" were eventually rehabilitated). The Deng era also saw the end of the Xidan (democracy wall); the campaign against "spiritual pollution"; the denunciation of "bourgeois liberalisation"; opposition to the separation of powers; and violent suppression of peaceful public protest.

The long aftermath

Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang are emblematic of the second generation of party leaders. Their experiences taught them that there must be limits to the power of the ruling party - for example, that the party should have no role in "approving" works of art. They also knew that the public's rights should have legal protection. On different occasions in the mid-1980s, both Hu and Zhao said that the party must learn to rule even amid demonstrations and during periods of "small or medium disorder". This acceptance of public protest was one of the most important shifts in thought between the two generations - but unfortunately it was never consolidated.

The people paid for their protests in blood, but it was the party and the army that were most deeply damaged. No longer could they claim to be the "people's government" or the "people's army". No government can slaughter its citizens and escape opprobrium from the democratic world, and the atrocities committed then - despite the efforts to suppress their memory - will never be forgotten. Sooner or later there will be a reckoning for both the ruling party and political leaders.

A baleful legacy of 4 June 1989 is the habitual use of violence by local governments faced with difficult issues - there have been many subsequent "Tiananmens", large and small. Just as the party's culture of intolerance implanted itself into some of its student opponents in 1989, so official violence has to a degree generated a similar response from elements of the public. Yang Jia, who killed six Shanghai policemen, and Deng Yujiao, who killed a local-government official, received support and praise online. The inclination to meet violence with violence is growing. Tiananmen casts a long shadow.

Among openDemocracy's many articles on China:

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Chang Ping, "Tibet: looking for the truth" (8 May 2008)

Li Datong, "China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananmen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Li Datong, "Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's long march to modernisation" (7 October 2008)

Perry Link, "Charter 08: a blueprint for China" (5 January 2009)

Wei Jingsheng, "China's political tunnel" (22 January 2009)

Li Datong, "The CCTV fire: a voice without restraint" (5 March 2009)

Li Datong, "China: democracy in action" (19 March 2009)

Temstsel Hao, "Dharamsala: forging Tibetans' future" (29 April 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China's Tiananmen moment: the party rules" (3 June 2009)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2009" (4 June 2009)

China and the earthquake

Just before 2.30pm local time on 12 May 2008, Sichuan province was hit by an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale. Most people across China were aware that something had happened, as the tremors were felt around the country. But three weeks after the event, the question people are pondering is: where has the biggest shake-up really occurred?

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of
Bingdian
(Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics"
(22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's Youth League faction: incubus of power?" (31 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007)

"Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth" (12 December 2007)

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will"
(16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)
In the past the Chinese media have not provided instant coverage of such great natural disasters. Rather, they have always waited for guidance from above on how to report the event. But this time was different. After I felt my building shake I went online to see if there was any official report on what had happened. To my surprise, the epicentre of the quake and its size had already been announced, and there were even preliminary casualty estimates. Half an hour later, China Central Television (CCTV) began continuous rolling broadcasts on the disaster. The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, rushed to the scene the same afternoon to direct and symbolise the relief work; by the next day media outlets were all publishing their own exclusive interviews. The speed and transparency of reporting was unprecedented, and the performance of Chinese media outlets came as a huge surprise to their counterparts in the west.

As a result of all this, I received many calls from journalists overseas asking about the reasons for the sudden change. These colleagues wanted to know whether or not there had been a huge shift in official policy, and whether the Chinese media were starting to become freer, and what will be the impact of the quake on Chinese society. The answer is in three parts, requiring both historical context and an assessment of the current situation.

A media surge

The first point to note is the significant change that reporting on natural disasters is no longer a politically sensitive issue. In the 1980s such disasters were still considered out of bounds as a subject of news or inquiry. The authorities thought that such events harmed the country's national image, to the extent that even when a civil airliner went missing no reporting was allowed. In the 1990s China gradually became more open, and by the middle of the decade reporting on disasters had become less of a taboo.

But the shift that took place was within the system of control rather than a straight line from a blanket of silence to openness. Under the new policy, reports were required to play down the losses and human suffering of disasters and focus on praising government relief efforts and acts of heroism. Journalists were not permitted to identify those responsible for problems, and linking the events to senior officials was out of the question. This meant that Chinese reporting of disasters became something of an ode to heroes.

The media reporting of the Sichuan earthquake (the "Wenchuan" earthquake in Chinese designation, reflecting the precise main area affected) has closely followed this pattern, as is apparent in successive phases. In the chaotic aftermath of the quake, the central-propaganda department either recycled its old control-orders or was too rushed to issue detailed instructions on how the events should be covered. This gave the Chinese media three or four precious days in which they could act according to their professional instincts and the demands of their trade.

In this initial phase, many people outside China were surprised to see that in its operating reactions and procedures the Chinese media was hardly any different to the west's. Indeed, western media and other organisations used many Chinese reports in the post-quake period, and journalists awarded high praise to those responsible. This itself indicates the progress that has been made in China, after more than a decade of change (and indeed after thirty years of the more open policies heralded by Deng Xiaoping in 1978). The Wenchuan earthquake was a test of the Chinese media's ability, once it is assured of the freedom to operate, to demonstrate both that it can work and that it is aware of the need to work to international standards. It clearly passed this test.

After these first three or four days had passed, an another phase began. The central-propaganda department delivered its familiar edicts, and establishment coverage was soon filled with material singing the praises of the heroes that had the disaster had called forth. More considered reflection - as well as blaming officialdom for its failures before or after the tragedy - was widespread online, though hardly anywhere to be seen on CCTV. But what is more interesting than this dichotomy in coverage is that the controls over official media coverage are not popular, and that the government knows this: it thus did not dare officially to announce the censorship measures, nor to try to restrict the access of many people to information about the quake through the internet. Chinese politicians are increasingly aware that in the online age, trying to control the distribution of information only succeeds in damaging the government's image.

Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

Kerry Brown, "Beijing's political tightrope-walk"
(12 March 2008)

Robert Barnett, "Tibet:
questions of revolt
"
(4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang,
"Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens"
(7 April 2008)

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report"
(8 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

James A Millward,
"China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's political colours: from monochrome to palette"
(14 May 2008)

Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing"
(23 May 2008)
A far distance

This is the second significant lesson of the Chinese response to the earthquake. The Beijing government has received many compliments for the way it has reacted (and indeed this looks even more exemplary when compared to the Burmese government's attempts at disaster-relief in the wake of cyclone Nargis on 3 May 2008). But the most impressive feat is not (as is sometimes cited) the Chinese government's capacity to mobilise huge resources and expertise; after all, the government also mobilised large numbers of people after the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976 (including as many as 100,000 soldiers taking part in relief work).

Rather, the difference between 1976 and 2008 is that the government today has become far more open to the outside world. As well as accepting foreign aid and relief workers, China has also been completely open to the foreign media (with casualties and figures for those missing updated daily, for example). The overriding principle of the relief effort has been "to save lives whatever the cost". The government responded correctly to the national mood by announcing three national days of mourning (19-21 May 2008); for the first time in the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Chinese flag was flown at half-mast. This shows the government has realised that an authority that does not respond to public wishes has no legitimacy.

The contrast with the government reaction to the Tangshan earthquake is profound. Then, the government refused foreign aid, hid most news of the disaster from the public and did not publicise the death toll for many years. Most unbelievable of all, newspapers called for people to "push forward relief work by criticising Deng Xiaoping" (then an enemy of the ruling "gang of four", to which indeed Tangshan proved a harbinger of political defeat). By comparing reactions to these disasters, it is clear to see one just how much China has changed in these thirty-two years.

A new player

The third part of the impact of the Wenchuan earthquake lies in the completely new phenomenon that has emerged in its aftermath. For the first time the Chinese public has shown its ability to organise itself, and in doing so has displayed a considerable sense of responsibility. Within a short time, donations from business people, celebrities, intellectuals, and everyday people surpassed the amounts set aside for relief work by the government. Even beggars donated money. Streets became blocked as people queued to donate blood, and regional blood-banks quickly became full. Clubs and societies across the country turned themselves into voluntary organisations, and large numbers of people set off for affected areas at considerable personal risk - some even quit their jobs to take part in relief work. All of this was unprecedented in China.

Such actions show that a civil society is beginning to emerge - a society that is more than just utilitarian and pragmatic. With support from national institutions, China's transition from a traditional dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself society into a unified civil society can accelerate. It is encouraging that the spontaneous actions of volunteers were able to continue without interference from the government.

Disasters can offer a stage on which a nation can show itself. China's government and China's public are both actors on this stage - which is now, also, a world stage. At the moment, the two have not come into conflict. How will the performance end: in comedy, tragedy, farce or cathartic resolution? That will be decided by how far the government has evolved, and its ability to learn.

China's Tibet: question with no answer

China's Tibet has been given a new holiday to mark the passing of a half-century since the events it commemorates: Serfs' Emancipation Day. Several groups of senior politicians, including Hu Jintao - general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's central committee - have attended an exhibition marking these fifty years of democratic reform in Tibet. The official media have decried the evils of

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Freezing Point, a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's articles in openDemocracy

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

"China's power, China's people: towards accountability"
(29 September 2008)

"China's stalled transition" (19 February 2009)

"The CCTV fire: a voice without restraint" (5 March 2009)

"China: democracy in action" (19 March 2009)

"serfdom" in historical Tibet, while trumpeting the accomplishments of today. China's foreign minister and prime minister have presented criticisms of the Dalai Lama's "independence stance" (one he has long since renounced) to reporters both foreign and domestic.

This orgy of celebration of the moment in 1959 when Chinese troops "liberated" Lhasa and sent the Dalai Lama and many of his followers into exile in India shows that the Beijing leadership has abandoned the policy of "negotiations" with the Tibetan figurehead, one it was forced by world opinion to undertake in the run-up to the Olympic games. The successful completion of the games is itself one reason for the government's tougher position; the western countries' search for help from China to survive the ongoing global financial crisis is another. China no longer need bite its tongue. The Tibet question is deadlocked. 

The hard line reflects widespread misunderstanding of the Tibet question; even those in China who do understand the issue seem not to know where the crux of the problem lies. After all, the Dalai Lama has abandoned calls for independence; repeatedly stated that Tibet is a part of China; accepted the rights of Beijing over foreign relations and national defence (including, naturally, the right to station troops in Tibet); and agreed to seek greater autonomy only within the framework of China's constitution and "law of regional national autonomy". So why does the Chinese government refuse to acknowledge even the basis for negotiations? What happened to Deng Xiaoping's approach - stated when he met the Dalai Lama's brother in 1979 - that "everything can be discussed, bar independence"?

An ideology against itself

The Communist Party had an entirely different stance on national autonomy before it came to power in 1949. It adopted wholesale as part of its ideology the idea of "national self-determination". This arose from the modern European idea of the nation-state, and was given its widest interpretation in Lenin's essay "The Right of Nations to Self-Determination" (1914): that any group with common cultural characteristics and regarding itself as a nation had the right to autonomy in its permanent homeland, and to found an independent sovereign state.

It is clear that for any empire this can end only in fracture. The Soviet Union made strenuous efforts to avoid this fate. It identified one hundred different nationalities, each of which on paper had the constitutional right to leave the Soviet Union; but sought to create the image of a happy socialist family in which all these national members were united by ideological belief in a higher, unifying goal. In reality, the "multinational family" was held captive by single-party rule, violent suppression and economic exploitation; not even autonomy was granted. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) followed closely the Soviet blueprint. In 1928 its sixth congress (held in Moscow) declared "only when we admit the right of nationalities to independence and separation, that all nationalities within China's borders can secede from China and form their own countries, will we be true communists." On 7 November 1931, the party founded the Chinese Soviet Republic in Jiangxi. Article 14 of the 1934 constitution of this republic reads: "The Chinese Soviet Republic acknowledges the right to national self-determination of minority nationalities within China's borders, to the extent that even minor nationalities have the right to secede and found independent countries." 

The party's years in power after 1949 saw it continue to learn from the Soviet Union by "identifying" - or inventing - nationalities. The five nationalities of the Republic of China - the Han, Man, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan - had by 1986 become fifty-six. The arrangements for regional national autonomy were also adopted from the Soviets, although China's historical tradition of unification meant "countries" became "regions". This creation and strengthening of national differences meant that members of minority nationalities came to identify more with their ethnicity than their country. Even today not one single party secretary of a national autonomous region is actually of that nationality - the so-called autonomy is always under the leadership and supervision of a Han party secretary. If the party is so worried about fragmentation or loss of authority, what was the point of the system in the first place? 

A policy against movement

There are two issues at the heart of the "national autonomy" issue. The first is the relationship between different nationalities (for if the principle of national autonomy is accepted, this creates the possibility of friction and logically includes national independence). The second is the issue of political mechanisms that might become a route to self-determination (for the will of the majority of the nationality is a

permanent threat - since autonomy can only be founded on democracy, on voting for a leader and his or her policies). Both aspects of "national autonomy" thus pose difficulties for official policy: the first is incompatible with the ideal of a unified China that the party inherited and carries forward, the second is incompatible with the one-party political system.  

In this light, whatever the Dalai Lama does - proclaims himself a loyal Chinese citizen, refutes independence, or declares himself willing to achieve Tibetan autonomy within the scope of the Chinese constitution - the Chinese government cannot respond. It is bound by the contradictions of its official ideology to evade the question.  

The policy is stuck in another way too. It lacks any foundation to engage with the Dalai Lama's view of the Tibetan government-in-exile as the natural representative of the Tibetan people. For fifty years the party has been carefully selecting and training a Tibetan elite, many members of which have been educated in China or even Beijing before returning to take up government posts, and are bilingual in Chinese and Tibetan. Many of these are the descendants of past "serfs".

By contrast, those in the exile government have often never lived in Tibet, have been educated in India or the west, and speak fluent English but not a word of Chinese. Even in a free election the local elite may have the advantage - they would have arguments to persuade people not to hand over power to those "incomers". I suspect the greatest opposition to the return of the Dalai Lama is that rising Tibetan elite. Chinese control of Tibet relies on them; they are able to influence central policy on the region; they have a stake in power.  

The accumulated result is stasis. China's political systems and institutions of nationality mean that the Tibetan issue cannot be solved.

Among openDemocracy's articles on Tibet and China:

Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2009)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008)

Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008)

George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008)

Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008)

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008)

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

openDemocracy, "Chinese intellectuals and Tibet: a letter" (15 April 2008)

openDemocracy, "Tibet scholars and China: a letter" (22 April 2008)

Chang Ping, "Tibet: looking for the truth" (8 May 2008)

Fred Halliday, "Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

Woeser, "The Fear in Lhasa" (10 March 2009)

Tsering Shakya, "Tibet and China: the past in the present" (11 March 2009)

China: democracy in action

The busy Chinese political calendar in 2009 has already seen two high-level sessions draw to a close. The "two meetings" as they are routinely referred to - the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) - are held simultaneously in Beijing every year. The whole spectacle offers a valuable insight into one of the world's oddest parliamentary systems.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Freezing Point, a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

"China's power, China's people: towards accountability" (29 September 2008)

"China's stalled transition" (19 February 2009)

"The CCTV fire and the ‘post-80s generation'" (4 March 2009)
A report to the NPC by the chair of its standing committee, Wu Bangguo, outlined the congress's guiding principles. It stressed that China's institutional reform path will not imitate the west: no "system of multiple parties holding office in rotation", no "separation of the three powers", and no "bicameral system." He also said that China's people's representatives are fundamentally different to the parliamentarians of other nations: they are "broadly representative, unlike in the west where they represent a certain party or clique."

The National People's Congress is - on paper - China's "supreme authority", the apex of public power and the source of legitimacy. In reality it is a carefully manipulated rubber-stamp. Each year, more than 3,000 representatives arrive in Beijing from across this vast country; but those from different provinces are sequestered in their own hotels, unable to meet or hold discussions with each other. Inside the "great hall of the people", the profusion of empty talk and dull rhetoric also produces moments of unintentional humour that zap derisively around cyberspace (the proposal to name prime minister Wen Jiabao as a "national model worker"; the suggestion that Unesco might designate the "spirit" of Lei Feng, the posthumous soldier-hero of the 1960s, as "intangible cultural heritage"). More shocking was a plagiarism scandal involving a delegate whose contribution was exposed as having been copied from an academic paper.

How it works

How did these people come to represent us? As a Chinese citizen and a resident of Beijing, I do appear to have the right to vote - for a representative to the "people's congress" of my local Beijing district. Every three years someone at work hands me a "voter's card" and a piece of paper telling me about three or four people. But with no more than two hundred Chinese characters per person, all I learn is their gender, age, party affiliation and what they do. I know nothing of their political views, their ability to express themselves or take action, or anything else they've done - good or bad. I am more interested in knowing how, and thanks to whose nomination, they became these sure-to-win "candidates". But nobody will tell me that, or even what the final count is. I wasn't willing to allow someone I didn't know, didn't like and didn't trust to represent me, so I abstained. I had no other choice.

The sham election of these local "people's representatives" is as far as voters' rights go. I have no idea how representatives to the Beijing People's Congress are chosen, much less those to the National People's Congress. I only know that citizens like me have neither vote nor choice at that level.

Yet the internet makes it possible at least to find out who the national people's representatives are. I had a look at the list for Hubei, a mid-ranking province. No less than ninety of the 121 representatives - 74% - are party members. Forty-three are party secretaries, seventy-two are government officials, and forty are company chairmen. The smallest delegation, from Hainan, is made up entirely of party or government officials, none lower-ranking than a county party secretary. The so-called People's Representative Congress is virtually a congress of party members or officials and businesspeople.

Moreover, almost all of China's highest-ranking and best-known officials - from president and premier to provincial governors, city mayors and county heads - are people's representatives. Who exactly are they getting together to represent or supervise, when they themselves are part of the governing system?

But the problem lies in more than the make-up of the representatives - it is also that the congresses do their best to eliminate, rather than encourage, differing opinions.

Among openDemocracy's recent articles on China:

Perry Link, "Charter 08: a blueprint for China" (5 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China in 2009: a year for surprise" (14 January 2009)

Wei Jingsheng, "China's political tunnel" (22 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China's giant struggle" (5 February 2009)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's anniversary tempest" (24 February 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China local, China global" (11 March 2009)

Tsering Shakya, "Tibet and China: the past in the present" (18 March 2009)

In 2003, a colleague of mine somehow got himself nominated and elected to the district congress. He has no party affiliation, and was excited that he might be able to do some good. But at one vote during the first full session of the congress he was the only attendee to raise his hand to indicate abstention - and that was when the trouble started.

At the end of the day, officials came to speak to him. "Don't you understand you can't just go around raising your hand! You can't just vote any old way!" "Don't abstain or vote against anything. Understand?" "You think having opposing or different views is democratic? Don't be so naive!" He realised then that people's representatives are not allowed to have their own ideas or opinions. After that he always found himself sitting next to a police representative during votes, and he never again abstained - much less objected. When his period of office ended he was not given the option of continuing: he had a "bad voting record".

How it ends

The designers of the system have used two methods to ensure that the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference become pure ornamentation. First, they make certain that 70% of delegates are party members (compared to only 6% of the population). Second, they consistently filter the nomination process to remove any representatives of conscience who might dare to speak out, thus guaranteeing no unexpected votes.

This may all look safe and secure from the standpoint of those in power. In fact it is loaded with danger. A governing elite that never hears opposing or even differing opinions will inevitably favour its own interests in policy decisions, which over time will create social concerns. Officials who do not incur questioning and criticism will gradually become arrogant and foolish. More worryingly, the status of congresses as an appendage of government means they cannot function as an intermediary in the event of any major social unrest. The result of all this is that both government and people will suffer.

I have, however, just heard some good news. Three hundred members of the CPPCC refused to attend, a new record. One hundred of them did not even ask to be excused, as good as a public expression of scorn. It is a signal that this fake democracy will ultimately be abandoned.

The CCTV fire: a voice without restraint

The fact that China is one of the world’s largest economies means that it is deeply affected by the financial crisis enveloping the globe. The Chinese media is full of bad news of a severe downturn: the stock markets crashing, property prices falling, car sales declining, businesses disappearing, 20 million migrant workers retreating homewards after losing their jobs, up to a million new university graduates struggling to find work.Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Freezing Point, a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper Among Li Datong’s articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

China’s power, China’s people: towards accountability” (29 September 2008)

China’s stalled transition” (19 February 2009)

The government announced in November 2008 a huge stimulus package worth $586 million; and economists have prescribed their own solutions. But even the plan’s architects or these other experts don’t know what it will achieve or what 2009 will bring. As for everyday Chinese citizens, the issues are for many complicated to the point of being incomprehensible. They can only accept their fate, holding tight to their wallets and (if they are lucky enough to have one) to their jobs as they wait for the crisis to hit…and pass.

Meanwhile, their economic and social discontent multiplies – and looks around for an outlet.

A burning icon

Just after 8pm on 9 February 2009, one of the buildings at China Central Television (CCTV’s) new complex in central Beijing caught fire. The odd-looking towers and the other high-rises in the $730-million complex, designed by the modernist Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, are one of the trophy buildings of the 2008 Olympic games. The towers loom over one of the city’s busiest road arteries, allowing local Beijingers to point them out to visiting friends by their nickname – the “big pants”.

A fire in this prime news location is itself by any standards a huge news story– and there is no way it could be covered up. At about 9pm that night, I got a text message from an unknown sender: “The CCTV building is on fire!” But CCTV itself was silent on the matter, as if the incident hadn’t happened. It was a stark contrast to the official outlet’s relative openness when the Sichuan earthquake struck on 12 May 2008.

By early morning the news was all over the internet, complete with numerous photos and videos taken at the scene – though users were not allowed to add their own comments. But bloggers faced no such restrictions; and most of the views I saw expressed amusement at CCTV’s misfortune. I found out later that word of the fire had spread quickly, with many people rushing to the scene to capture images that were soon uploaded to their own blogs. Many photos show onlookers smiling, as if watching a firework display.

Indeed, as the facts behind the fire emerged, it became clear that an illegal firework display at the company marking the end of the lunar new-year celebrations had sparked the blaze; CCTV itself was the arsonist. This revelation was met by an eruption of mocking public comment. Meanwhile, on state instructions the official media remained silent; and most China’s intellectuals also stayed quiet, as if unable to say what they really thought about the huge damage to a “state asset”.

An independent voice

But one person did speak out with notable boldness and clarity. He was a young “post-80s” writer called Han Han, who posted on his blog an article entitled “Bash CCTV when it’s on fire”. That such a piece came from a “post-80s” figure might be thought all the more surprising in that the neologism describes those born in the 1980s who (it implies) care only about themselves. But Han Han is different.

There were repeated efforts to delete Han Han’s article, but it was widely reposted and in the next few days was to become famous. It says: “I tried to suppress my own ‘dark thoughts’ and to look at the incident with sympathy. However, I have to admit that I gloated over it as well.” The courage to confess to such feelings is a striking contrast to the sanctimonious intellectuals who preferred to wait and see which way the wind was blowing. But is Han Han just a child enjoying the show? Not at all – he is talking pure politics.

Among openDemocracy’s recent articles on China:

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008) Wenran Jiang, “Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens” (7 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Chang Ping, "Tibet: looking for the truth" (8 May 2008)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananmen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (10 July 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's long march to modernisation" (7 October 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China's nervous transition" (22 September 2008)

Perry Link, "Charter 08: a blueprint for China" (5 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, "China in 2009: a year for surprise" (14 January 2009)

Wei Jingsheng, "China's political tunnel" (22 January 2009)

Kerry Brown, “China’s giant struggle” (5 February 2009)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, “China’s anniversary tempest” (24 February 2009)

“If you commit injustice, you’ll pay a price”. If you play with fire all the time, you will get burned”, he continues. “CCTV is a news outlet, but it has no journalistic ethics. This combination would be illegal in almost any other country. But here, it is not just legal – it represents the law. How many evil things has CCTV done in the past decades, such as supplanting truth with lies, manipulating public opinion, persecuting intellectuals, abusing facts, concealing wrongdoing, covering-up problems, and creating fake images of harmony?”

“So CCTV needs to take a look at itself – though it won’t. Today, an increasingly sophisticated public opinion and continuing social development have taken CCTV’s credibility from zero to negative. That is, if CCTV says something, we can assume the opposite. Yet even in this situation it has not gone bust – in fact, it is the national leader. This can only mean the nation itself has also lost its credibility.”

Han Han takes direct aim at the heart of China’s official media system. “This is the state of China’s media – the news we see is selected and filtered for ulterior purposes, as the script and the director require. . . The government needs to realise that mouthpieces such as CCTV, the People’s Daily, the Guangming Daily and Xinhua, operating as they do today, are in fact damaging its own image. Even a truth, spoken by these voices and sent out on a Xinhua wire, appears false . . . as younger people mature, they come to mock the content of these reports.”

A public beacon

The 26-year-old Han Han is an outstanding example of a new Chinese generation. He first burst onto the scene after entering a writing competition hosted by a literary magazine, and then abandoned traditional education and focused on his creativity. There is a huge market for his novels among his contemporaries; each sells hundreds of thousands of copies. The success of his books has made him a millionaire, dependent on nobody. The trappings include a racing-car, of which he has become an accomplished driver.

Han Han’s blog, criticising the evils of modern-day society and poking fun at authority, is one of China’s most popular. It received over 100 million visits in 2007, with thousands of readers and comments on each article – a response that even a large newspaper would be proud of.

After the Sichuan earthquake, Han Han ignored the risk of aftershocks and personally delivered food and clothes to the victims, saying this was merely his duty as a citizen. The initiative was characteristic of his independence: he doesn’t need a salary from a boss or the government, nor to hide what he thinks, nor does he care about criticism. He is that very rare phenomenon in China – fully authentic. After the CCTV fire, he spoke truths that many were thinking but could not say.

When discussing Han Han with my friends, we all agreed: hopes for change in China depend not on the appearance of a single wise and brave leader, but on the emergence of thousands of people such as “Han Han”.

China's stalled transition

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of China's reform policy towards opening up the economy, whose formal launch is traced to a party meeting in Beijing on 18 December 1978. It is an occasion for both government and the people to look back. It is unfortunate, then, that official reviews are full only of praise for the policy, with no mention made of errors and failures. The successes of reform then become proof of the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and former editor of Freezing Point, a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)

"China's power, China's people: towards accountability"
(29 September 2008)

In contrast, popular discussion is more enlightening. China's academics, for example, debate how many of these past thirty years actually experienced "reform". The answers differ: some experts identify three periods of reform, others two, but none claims that reform has been constant across these decades. There was, for example, no reform worth the name between mid-1989 and Deng Xiaoping's "southern tour" of 1992. At the time, anti-reform forces were at their peak; they could have ended the entire process had Deng not come out of retirement to attack his former allies, declaring that those who failed to reform would fall from power.

In general, there is a consensus of popular opinion that China's reform has been limited to the economy, and that it had the core aims of shifting from a planned to a market economy and integrating with the global economy. The development of this reform process can be divided into two stages, each having different motives and benefiting different groups.

The two stages

The first stage of reform was powered by the desire of the people to escape poverty. Indeed, the overriding impetus of reform in this period - and impetus is an essential precondition of any reform - can be summed up in one word, for both rural and urban populations: poverty. Nobody wanted to stay poor.

There was another fuel for reform, however: the party's sense of impending crisis. The party's leaders had come to realise that the gap between China and the western developed nations presented a threat to the very legitimacy of their system (and not simply to its claim of superiority over capitalism), and that China was at risk of losing its place among the community of nations. The governing clique came to accept Deng's view that a failure to reform would lead only to a dead end.

Today, Chinese academics of a liberal persuasion are unanimous: the whole of Chinese society profited from the first decade of reform, with the only opposition coming from a small number of party officials who cleaved to their traditional ideology.

The second stage of reform was launched in 1992 by Deng's tour of southern China, and continued until China's formal accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001. Its impetus came from both government and business, forces that combined to promote reform and became interlocked in the process. Government officials were promoted on the basis of their economic performance, while businessmen initiated a wholesale takeover of resources.

But farmers and many workers found themselves gradually marginalised, and their interests suffered. This second period of reform resulted in rapid economic growth, but also increased social stratification and a concentration of wealth in the hands of government and the rich. There was a clustering of new interest groups, with 90% of wealth gradually coming under the control of a powerful 1% of the population.

When reform began in 1979, the state (or "collectives") owned all industry and fixed the prices of 97% of commodities. By the late 1990s, less than 30% of businesses were state-owned, and the market set the prices of 97% of commodities. Those figures hold true today. As far as the key economic factors of business ownership and market pricing are concerned, reform ended with the 1990s and WTO entry.

Among openDemocracy's recent articles on China:

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Chang Ping, "Tibet: looking for the truth" (8 May 2008)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananmen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (10 July 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's long march to modernisation" (7 October 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China's nervous transition" (22 September 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China in 2009: a year for surprise" (14 January 2009)

Wei Jingsheng, "China's political tunnel" (22 January 2009)

The next process

Is China still reforming? It is hard to say. If it is, what is the main impetus of reform today? The finding of a survey by the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD) of central and local party and government officials with an academic background, academics at universities and research institutions, and other experts (including businesspeople) is interesting in this respect: 84% of respondents agreed that "current reform lacks the needed consensus, is lacking or missing motivation, and is seriously impeded by vested interests." A closer look at the purposes of reform, then and now, suggests that this judgment might be far more widely shared.

At the birth of the reform and opening-up process in 1979, the party set the aim of quadrupling GDP and achieving a good standard of living for China's people by 2000. The goals were thus limited to the economy, and not altogether clear. But this was the first time China had opened its doors and made such changes: both government and society were finding their way in unfamiliar territory, and it is understandable if the elements of a modern state were not fully understood. Thirty years on, GDP has multiplied by a factor of ten rather than just four. Yet the economic crisis engulfing the world has finally revealed that China's people lack purchasing power. The country is rich, but its people remain poor - that is also the outcome of the broken reform of these decades.

The party's general-secretary Hu Jintao made a new commitment in a statement marking the December 1978 anniversary. He promised that by 2021, China will have "a more affluent, well-off society"; and by 2049 "build a rich, strong, democratic, civilised and harmonious socialist modern country" Are these goals able to inspire the people? Perhaps three decades ago they might have been, but not now. They are too vague; society needs concrete targets and timetables.

What, for example, does "democratic, civilised" signify here? The CIRD survey also asked respondents to identify the most important goal for the next stage of reform; 67.21% opted for the "comprehensive start of political-system reform, and progress in democratisation". It is not clear that China's ruling party is considering such options. But the very suggestion raises a number of questions:

▪ when will China's constitution become more than a mere piece of paper?

▪ when will Chinese people be able to rely on the constitution to defend their rights in court?

▪ when will Chinese people be able to vote for government leaders - even if it is just a county head?

▪ when will China's taxpayers be able to oversee the government's use of their money?

▪ when will there be an end to the government's spending of billions on wining and dining; overseas travel; luxurious vehicles and extravagant offices?

▪ when will the people be able to criticise the government or officials without fear, or the risk of being accused of attempting to overthrow the state?

There are more such questions, which bear on the point that this "civilised" nation does not enjoy a constitutional government. China's society is still highly polarised (between urban and rural, rich and poor); the country is still ruled by an authoritarian one-party regime. The crises of government China faces stem from these facts. Reform is stalled, and social discontent is increasing. Nobody knows what 2009 will bring China.

China’s power, China’s people: towards accountability

The world sees two Chinas: one that can host a stupendous Olympic games and send astronauts on a successful space-mission, another that is inured to crisis and disaster. Much of modern China's predicament lies in the need to understand the reasons why the "second" China is so enduring and persistent - and what must be done to change it.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"The Weng'an model: China's fix-it governance" (30 July 2008)

"The Olympics: was China ready?" (22 August 2008)

"The Beijing Olympics: the last award" (29 August 2008)

"Death in Shanghai, law in China" (15 September 2008)
Even before the glow of the great sporting events of August-September 2008 in Beijing had faded, a series of major incidents struck China:

  • on 8 September in Shanxi, a wall holding back a reservoir of mining waste collapsed, causing a mudslide that killed 268 people

  • on 20 September in Shenzhen, a fire at an unlicensed nightclub killed forty-three people

  • on 21 September, a fire at a coalmine in Heilongjiang killed thirty-seven people

  • even more shocking than the above, the Hebei-based Sanlu company's illegal addition of melamine to milk-powder left several babies dead and 50,000 with kidney-stones. An emergency-testing programme found that virtually all of China's well-known dairy brands contained the chemical. The result was nationwide panic, in which worried parents besieged hospitals and supermarkets were overwhelmed by customers seeking to return products. There were many arguments and even violence amid the overall confusion.

An unhealthy collusion

Indeed, it is arguable that food-safety is the most important of all public-security issues. A popular online post - entitled "China eliminates chemical illiteracy through food" - makes the point:

"Through rice we learned about paraffin-wax. Ham taught us about DDVP. Salted duck-eggs and chili sauce educated us about Sudan Red. Hotpot brought us knowledge of formalin. Silver-ring fungus and candied dates let us study sulphur dioxide. Wood-ear fungus told us of copper sulphate. And now, Sanlu is using milk-powder to teach the Chinese nation the chemical functions of melamine. . . When foreigners drink milk, they get strong. When Chinese people drink milk, they get kidney stones!"

The statistics compiled by Chinese netizens show that in the last decade there have been at least sixty cases of contaminated food - from pigs being fed detergents to turtles fed with contraceptives. China's role in international trade mean that some of these, including the milk-powder case, have wider reverberations. Each revelation, if and when it does come to the light, is in its own way a shock to Chinese people; but the abrupt shift from the intoxication of the Olympics to alarm about the toxins they and their children may have been consuming is an especially rude awakening.

China's rapid economic growth has now lasted for three decades - but it has still not been accompanied by the establishment of sound commercial ethics. Methods of production which increase profits but harm consumer interests are adopted wholesale while going unreported. But the problem is not just one of business practice, for in many areas the government offers protection for fake and/or poor-quality goods.

Some years ago, CCTV reporters acting on a tip visited a certain county, where they found the streets lined with shops selling sub-standard raw materials for food production to merchants from around the nation. Only after filming the scene did they inform the local industrial and commercial authorities of their presence - and within five minutes uniformed officials were on the street telling shopkeepers to close for the day, in order to conceal the evidence as far as possible. The profit-motive means that local government and traders in fake goods are on the same side - then and now, for the authorities in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, have played such a role in the Sanlu milk-powder case.

Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's political colours: from monochrome to palette" (14 May 2008)

Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing" (23 May 2008)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananamen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (11 July 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China changes itself: an Olympics report" (20 August 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China's nervous transition" (22 September 2008)
A landscape of interests

The dislocated performance of the Chinese government, at all levels, is a prominent feature in all such public-safety incidents. To understand its behaviour is to get closer to addressing the heart of the food-safety and fake-goods problems.

The main purpose of government is to provide public order, infrastructure, a fair legal environment and safeguards for vulnerable groups. In the last thirty years in China, local government has acted rather as if it is the CEO of the local economy rather than the protector of the public interest; senior officials have given priority to economic development, and provincial and city officials have regarded negotiations with domestic and international investors as part of their job. Academics have described inter-provincial competition as one of the unique features of the Chinese economy, with cadres acting like the departmental heads of a large company - each vying to ensure his own department outperforms the others in order to win promotion.

This naturally leads local officials to protect large local companies - after all, they contribute to the wealth of the area and often form its main source of taxation income. The result is that the local government perceives it as being in its own interests to cover up illegal behaviour by these companies. Thus, Sanlu's annual income from milk-powder sales - amounting to 10 billion renminbi ($1.46 bn)- is one of the main sources of taxation income for the Shijiazhuang authorities; so when news of the scandal started to leak, the city government was able to keep a lid on it for a month. If not for the role of out-of-province media reports and the spread of the story online, the affair may never have come to light.

Another factor in these developments is the collapse in governmental ethics. In relation to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), for example, official supervision is often closer to extortion that forces firms towards bankruptcy. In Mao Zedong's era, many officials had joined the revolution out of genuine commitment to the nation and its people; the ethical standards of public officials reflected this. It is also true that at the time, officials earned a high income compared with the rest of society, so material temptations were less of an issue.

The new, post-reform generation of officials has grown up in a more stratified society which has turned the structures of morality as well as income upside down.A rich minority possesses more than one half of all society's wealth, and the officials are no longer at the top of the pile - they have become "poor". But they have found it easy to exchange the power they still hold for the privileges of the rich - even if ethics and compassion fly out of the window. So what if there's a little of something else in the milk powder, affecting even children's favourite sweets?

The people's right


If officials were elected by the people, if there was a free press watching their every move, if there was the deterrent of an independent judiciary - then the Sanlu and other incidents would be much less likely to occur. If and when they did, they would be much more quickly dealt with. The fact that none of these conditions exist makes recurrent tragedies inevitable.

But the exposure of recent incidents in the media has had one positive effect: central government has begun to punish those responsible. In the space of a fortnight, many officials - including the governor of Shanxi, the head of the administration responsible for supervising food-quality, and the party secretaries of Hebei and Shijiazhuang - have lost their jobs. The media have described this as a "storm of punishment". Yet even this response is far from enough: sanctions emanating from central government will not end corruption.

The real step forward, rather, would be if the principle embodied in the punishment - that those who harm public interests should be held accountable - becomes a principle of governance. The sacking of officials will not guarantee that their successors will work for the people; what will make the difference is an acceptance by China's most powerful leaders that their legitimacy rests on the people's decision and consent.

The Olympic and Paralympic games, and the Shenzhou-7 spacewalk, are signs of one China; the milk-powder affair of another. The first cannot put the second to rights. The party secretary of Hunan has bravely stated the only thing that can: "giving power back to the people". There is a long way still to go.

Death in Shanghai, law in China

China was shaken on 1 July 2008 by a rare attack on its police force. Yang Jia, a man from Beijing single-handedly stormed a police station in the Zhabei area of Shanghai, stabbing six officers to death and seriously wounding three others and a security-guard. This was an unprecedented attack on the police by a citizen, which left the nation shocked. There was extensive media coverage, which included tens of thousands of online postings. The deluge of reportage and comment can be compared with the case of the former American football star OJ Simpson in the United States in 1995.


Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"The Weng'an model: China's fix-it governance" (30 July 2008)

"The Olympics: was China ready?" (22 August 2008)

"The Beijing Olympics: the last award" (29 August 2008)

Both the media and internet users were soon asking the same questions. Yang was effectively committing suicide. Why; what were his motives; was he mentally ill? The initial results of the investigation were surprising. Yang was quite normal. He was born in 1980, in a Beijing courtyard near Nanluoguxiang, a street that is now a popular haunt of foreign tourists. After his parents divorced when he was 14, he stayed with his mother. He graduated from elementary school, then junior middle school, then technical school - a normal education for a child from an average family.

But after leaving school he never found stable work. Perhaps surprisingly, as a child he was known for sticking to the rules - he never cheated at games, put his father's discarded cigarette-butts in the bin, and told his mother off if she ignored a "keep off the grass" sign. Chinese netizens found his weblog, which revealed  that he liked to read and would "often sit in the library all day"' He enjoyed hiking and savoured the feeling of exhaustion after a long day's walk. He wrote of a wish to meet more people and make friends, to find a beautiful girlfriend. He might not have been rich or happy, but there were no signs of anti-social tendencies.

A dark road

So media attention turned to a "minor" confrontation that took place on 15 October 2007. Yang had taken a trip to Shanghai and rented a bicycle. As he waited at traffic-lights in the evening, a policeman called him over. His bike was unlicensed, and Yang was asked for his identity-card. There were thirty or more bikes at the lights - why was Yang stopped? The policeman was not able to confirm that all the other bikes were licensed. From a four-minute recording of the event released by the police, Yang can be seen refusing to provide identification and demanding to know why he had been singled out. At 9pm he was taken to the local police station, where it was quickly determined that the bike was indeed rented. Normally Yang should have been released immediately, but he was detained until 2am. What occurred in those five hours?

Whatever happened, it was something that Yang could not accept, something that he considered illegal. It was not his first experience of this nature. While waiting for a train during a 2006 trip to Datong, he suffered a broken front tooth after an encounter with police. Yang complained, ultimately receiving an apology and 30,000 renminbi (RMB) in compensation. After the incident in Shanghai he returned to Beijing and complained in writing and by email to the city's public-security bureau and the ministry of public security, making numerous phone-calls to the Shanghai police. The Shanghai public-security bureau twice sent staff to Beijing to discuss compensation, but Yang refused the offered amount. It may be asked why the police, who have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, would agree to pay compensation.

In any case, the police eventually lost patience. A month before Yang's attack an official at the Zhabei public-security bureau reportedly said that if he caused further trouble he would be arrested, and that not a penny of compensation would be paid. With that, the legal channels that Yang had been pursuing for nine months were cut off. But Yang's personal convictions would not let him leave the matter at that. A month later, the attack took place.


Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's political colours: from monochrome to palette" (14 May 2008)

Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing" (23 May 2008)

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananamen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (11 July 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China changes itself: an Olympics report" (20 August 2008)


An open question

I draw parallels with the OJ Simpson case not just because of the media attention both incidents received, but also because the earlier drama in the United States was subject to detailed reports and interpretation in the Chinese media. This indeed was when the Chinese public became aware of the idea of "procedural justice";  and since that time the concept has become progressively stronger. It is said the majority of Americans believe that Simpson was guilty. But in America evidence not obtained legally is inadmissible in court; even the integrity of those who collect the evidence will be examined. Simpson's defence team used this angle of attack to obtain a not-guilty verdict. A strict adherence to legal processes may result in some criminals escaping justice; but if those safeguards are not in place, the legitimate rights of the majority will suffer. All cases of wrongful conviction which have been seen in China for many years have been the result of the police ignoring proper processes, or even forcing confessions.

But because of that awareness, China's lawyers, media and public have been raising questions about Yang's case. Why haven't his letters of complaint been made public? Why aren't the recording of his five hours of interrogation available? Why did his mother disappear just after the attack? Why was a legal consultant to the Zhabei authorities a pointed as Yang's lawyer? With the Shanghai public-security bureau a party to the case, why wasn't it handled outside of Shanghai - as, legally, it should have been? Why was the Beijing lawyer employed by Yang's father not able to see the defendant, instead receiving a "written" rejection? Why did the lawyer employed by Yang's mother in Shanghai just happen to be the one chosen by Shanghai police? Why was the hearing held in private, with neither media nor public allowed to attend?

With so many questions, who can believe that Yang received a fair trial? It is notable that the Chinese public, usually supporters of the death penalty for murder, have in this case raised voices of disagreement - with some online even proclaiming him a hero, a warrior who fought violence with violence. What does this all mean?

Several media reports indicate that in the run-up to the Olympic games, the Chinese government employed a number of overseas public-relations firms to create a positive international image. The generally favourable coverage of the event reflects the success of this strategy. But the Chinese government should be aware that a genuinely positive international image will come from protecting human rights, preventing interference in the legal process and ensuring transparency and freedom of reporting. That would improve China's international image no end - but no public-relations firm can do it for us.

Yang Jia was sentenced to death on 1 September 2008. He has been allowed to appeal, and the death penalty must then be confirmed by the supreme court. Is there any chance the truth will come out in time? The public have little hope. But if and when Yang is executed, when the truth is finally known it will be the government itself that suffers most.

The Beijing Olympics: the last award

Against a background of fireworks and celebrating athletes, the Beijing Olympics of 8-24 August 2008 drew to a successful close with another spectacular ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium.

But what of the controversy, criticism and media attention that accompanied the games? This too must have set new records; the surrounding atmosphere was so highly politicised as to make some forget that this was at heart a sporting competition, an international celebration of both body and soul.
Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"The Weng'an model: China's fix-it governance" (30 July 2008)

"The Olympics: was China ready?" (22 August 2008)

In this, the Beijing Olympics was indeed an unprecedented success. From the magnificent opening ceremony to the venues and facilities, from event organisation to back-end logistics, neither athletes nor journalists found reason to complain. Even the air quality in China's capital - cause of more concern than any other single factor - was, thankfully, up to standard. The attentiveness and enthusiasm of the volunteers stationed throughout the venues and streets were applauded by both athletes and tourists.

In track and field, pool and gallery, on mat and arena, an astonishing thirty-eight world records and eighty-five Olympic records were set. American swimmer Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and broke seven world records, while Jamaica's Usain Bolt went home with three golds and three world records - achievements that may never be matched or exceeded. The men's basketball showdown between the United States and Spain ranked alongside an NBA final for edge-of-the-seat thrills.

The United States's synchronised-swimming team unfolded a bilingual banner reading "Thank You China" in both English and Chinese - presumably not under Chinese government instruction, but as a genuine message from the athletes. In many countries new viewing records were set as fans tuned in to watch the Olympics. The international media was unanimous: in almost every aspect Beijing had given a performance that future host cities will be hard pressed to beat.

There is no doubt then that China has left its mark on the Olympic games. But the point can be turned round, to ask whether the Olympics can and will change China. Indeed, the west's pressing wish to see political change in China was reflected in the number of reporters posing just that question. But have the Olympics ever changed a host nation? I don't think so. Even the Seoul Olympics in 1988, often held up as an example of the power of the Olympics to promote reform, did not change anything. South Korea's democratic movement was already strong and the military government close to collapse. at most the Olympics gave the final push. So what basis is there for suggesting that they could change China: how, after all, can sixteen days of sporting contests change such a huge nation with a 3,000-year tradition of autocratic rule? There should be no surprise or dismay if no immediate effect is visible.

The new normal

At the same time it should be possible to see that Beijing's effort to host the Olympics of itself reveals a change: for it shows that the rulers of modern China wish to join international society and gain its respect. To this end they were willing to compromise politically and spend massively. The Olympics, moreover, reinforced this shift. The games left China closer to the world, not further away; and they removed some of the mystery surrounding the nation (see Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment", 10 July 2008).
Among openDemocracy's articles on China's Olympic year:

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's political colours: from monochrome to palette" (14 May 2008)

Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing" (23 May 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China's Olympics: after the storm" (6 May 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (10 July 2008)

Kerry Brown, "The Olympics countdown: Beijing to Shanghai" (6 August 2008)

Martin Vielajus, "China, NGOs and accountability" (4 August 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China changes itself: an Olympics report" (20 August 2008)

It is natural that the process was not without elements of reluctance and embarrassment, and that actions did not always match words. Designated "demonstration zones" were opened for the first time in accordance with "international practice"; yet despite over seventy applications to demonstrate being made, not one was granted. But this is still a step towards international norms. After police prevented an international reporter from covering a protest the authorities ordered that there should be no repeat occurrence - and there wasn't. Long-blocked websites became accessible during the games. A reporter from a well-known American newspaper told me that after the attack on police in Xinjiang, the Chinese authorities asked if he needed assistance to visit the scene - in the past, this would have been unthinkable.

Overall, the Olympics have been part of a desensitisation process for the Chinese government. Faced with new events and unfamiliar scenes, a certain amount of nervousness - even panic - is understandable. This was China's first Olympics, with over 10,000 athletes from 200 different countries, over eighty heads of state, 30,000 reporters and tens of thousands of foreign tourists in attendance. China did not know what would happen, but was convinced that something would; as one senior official put it in a speech: "It is impossible that nothing will go wrong."

This fear gave rise to bizarre precautions such as positioning surface-to-air missiles by the Bird's Nest stadium. But apart from two or three demonstrations by a dozen or so foreign protesters and one isolated attack on an American tourist, nothing actually happened. China's government will not be so nervous about holding other international events on this scale in the future, and will find that having demonstrations in the designated demonstration zone is entirely normal (see Kerry Brown, "China changes itself: an Olympics report", 20 August 2008).

The last contest

But the response to the Olympics not just of China's government but of China's people themselves that is notable. Many foreign commentators were once concerned that the games would strengthen nationalist sentiment, but this now seems unfounded. Indeed it seems to me that the public showed much more tolerance than the government during the games and treated the whole event as entertainment. They enjoyed the competitions and applauded the athletes regardless of nationality (see Yang Gengshen, "China's welcome change of heart earns respect", Shanghai Daily, 29 August 2008).

When Usain Bolt smashed the 100-metre record on his birthday, the entire Bird's Nest - 90,000 people - sang "Happy Birthday". Has that ever happened anywhere else? American basketball star Kobe Bryant said that playing in China felt like playing at home, and that he had been treated like the domestic basketball superstar Yao Ming. An internet poll to select the most admired "non-winners" placed foreign athletes in the top three places. Lang Ping, the Chinese-national coach who led the US women's volleyball team to victory against its Chinese opponents would a decade ago have been vilified as a traitor - but not a single criticism was heard. Tourists from around the world witnessed the friendliness of the Chinese people for themselves.

Most gratifyingly, despite China finishing with fifty-one gold medals (beating the US by a significant margin) and 100 medals overall (close to the US tally), the Chinese people did not, as they may have done a decade ago, conclude that the nation had risen up to become a sporting superpower. Instead the media emphasised that being the nation with the most gold medals is not the same as being the best at sport. There has been pointed criticism online of the implementation of a "gold-medal strategy" when public sporting infrastructure is inadequate and fitness levels are dropping. These are signs of the Chinese people starting to mature.

Overall, the government did keep an over-tight grip on the games. But the richest immediate legacy of the Beijing Olympics is the sheer thrill of sporting excellence. In the end, sport defeated politics.

 

The Olympics: was China ready?

One of the questions I was asked in an interview with the BBC the day before the Olympics opening ceremony threw me a little: "What do you expect from the games?" After thinking for a moment I replied: "I hope to see the very best of sporting competition."

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper.

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008)

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008)

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008)

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008)

"The Weng'an model: China's fix-it governance" (30 July 2008)
It may not have been the answer the reporter wanted, but it was an honest one. The Beijing Olympics of 8-24 August 2008 are no doubt the most political such event for decades. The Chinese hosts have a political motivation - to showcase China's arrival as a world power by organising the most spectacular and impressive games in history (see Kerry Brown, "China changes itself: an Olympics report", 20 August 2008). International media reports on the Beijing Olympics have also been highly politicised. Both are responsible for bringing politics into the Olympics. This bickering - born of differences in culture, understanding of history, political systems and levels of social development - has taken the shine off humanity's greatest sporting event. This is regrettable and irritating.

The opening ceremony itself also received wildly differing evaluations in the media (including online) - and even among my own friends. For the vast majority of viewers in China and abroad it was a spectacular success - but for intellectuals critical of China it was "all body and no soul", "all about the ancient and avoided the modern" and "only looked at China, not the world." Zhang Yimou, chief director of the ceremony, did not have full artistic freedom; in a documentary on the approval process for the ceremony, a senior government official is shown criticising Zhang's initial proposal as "failing to show off the accomplishments of reform." The appearance of the character he depicted in the representation of movable-type printing was a nod to the Chinese government concept of a "harmonious society" - and thus, in effect, Zhang's compromise between politics and art.

Despite tight security, foreign protestors were still able to hang their "Free Tibet" banner on poles near the Bird's Nest stadium. On the internet I saw photos of peaceful foreign protestors being roughly held to the ground by police. On the first day of the games an innocent tourist from the United States was murdered by a mentally unstable Chinese man (who went on to kill himself). Then there are the terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. All this has cast a shadow over the games, and it is clear that psychologically China is not yet mature enough to hold the Olympics - and that the west is not yet ready to allow China to enter the Olympic club.

The old dream

Since 1896 only sixteen nations have hosted the Olympic games. Almost all bar Mexico are industrialised nations (and in some cases) even superpowers. The scale of the modern games means that only the powerful and rich nations will be able to hold them for some time to come. The west does not understand China, and is uncomfortable with its sudden arrival in this class. The doubts raised about China's suitability are almost entirely political.

In 1908 an article in Tiantsin Young Men asked three questions: when would China participate in the Olympics? When would China win a gold medal? When would China host the Olympics? (see Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing", 23 May 2008). These questions demonstrated concern for China's status among intellectuals. Today they prompt the Chinese media's description of the Olympics as a "century-long dream". For China the Olympics are not a symbol of sporting prowess, but of becoming a powerful nation. The country renewed itself through three decades of economic reform and became capable of hosting the Olympics and winning the medals - and China's leaders decided it was time for the dream to come true (see "Beijing's Olympics, China's politics", 22 August 2008). Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008)

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananamen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008)

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (10 July 2008)


But this decision, based only on the "hard-power" ability to organise the event, quickly faced challenges. First, Tibetan protestors used the global focus on the Olympics to win an unprecedented public-relations victory and force the government to reopen talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama. Several incidents of disruption to the torch-relay as the Olympic flame was carried around the world turned its journey into a humiliation. The western media continued to apply pressure on China on the issues of human rights and freedom of the press. Domestically, protests triggered by a range of social injustices became a nightmare for the authorities, and essential anti-terrorism measures were unnecessarily expanded to control political dissidents and members of the public giving voice to the unfair treatment they had suffered.

The new normal

History is, for China's leaders, a source of both pride and shame, and so they are overly concerned about their and the country's "international image". Hence there were at the opening ceremony miming 9-year-olds and computer-generated fireworks being broadcast to the screens of the world, while the "protest parks" were empty. The leaders fail to understand that the fakery casts genuine achievements into doubt, and their clumsy cover-ups bring only greater dishonour.

In fact, China's leaders did at one time better understand the reality of the political scene. The late politicians Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang once openly said "we must get used to governing while the public oppose and demonstrate", and "we must learn to govern despite small or medium-scale disorder." Unfortunately this vision and psychological readiness was brought to an end by the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 and has not yet returned. China's leaders need to reform their own view of what is the "normal" state of a nation.

But when frictions have arisen with the west, the Chinese government has always compromised - even in a way that is forced, unwilling and inauthentic. This reflects the government's desire for acceptance and respect as an important member of international society, a sentiment that itself is essential in helping to make further reform possible.

When China's leaders can calmly face up to domestic and international protesters, and when China's president can get as excited about a sporting event as his United States counterpart, rather than sitting ramrod straight . . . then we can say "China is ready"!

The Weng'an model: China’s fix-it governance

A constant feature of the extraordinary social flux of contemporary China is the occurrence of serious clashes between the public and the police. A few examples from May-July 2008 indicate the extent and variety of this phenomenon:

* on 26 May, police in Chengdu arrested people who witnessed them attempting to steal tents meant for earthquake-relief work; this sparked a confrontation between members of the public and the police

* on 28 June, over 10,000 people attacked government and party buildings and set fire to a police station in Weng'an county, Guizhou province; this action was related to a belief that a local high-school girl had been raped and killed by people with links to the government

* on 5 July, family members of a drowned driver in Fugu county, Shaanxi province attempted to seize the body of the deceased from police; this sparked a riot in which three police cars were smashed and seven people arrested

* on 9 July, several police officers in Yuhuan county, Zhejiang province were injured when over 1,000 migrant workers attacked their building; this was related to problems migrant workers had had in obtaining temporary residence permits in the county

* on 17 July, dozens of people were injured when members of the public clashed with the police in Boluo, Guangdong province; citizens had suspected the police of beating a motorcyclist to death

* on 19 July, rubber-plantation workers in Menglian county, Yunnan province held a protest; police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing two and injuring one.


Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of BingdianFreezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper.

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008),

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008),

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008),

"China: after the quake, the debate" (16 June 2008),

"China's leaders, the media, and the internet" (4 July 2008),

"China's digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire" (16 July 2008).


When a conflict between the public and police occurs, the Beijing authorities routinely classify the event under the broad heading of "mass incidents". Media workers in China know that the term "mass incident" in fact refers to any incident which has to be quelled using the police. How many such incidents take place in China each year? The estimate for 2007, collated by weighing a number of sources, is 80,000. But this number is hard to verify. The authorities strictly prohibit reporting on where incidents take place, their causes, the extent of casualties and the outcome of the conflicts.

Even if media outlets become aware that such an event is taking place, most will not send anyone to investigate it because they know that their reports will not be publishable. In this light the fact that so many reports on "mass incidents" have seen the light of day in the first seven months of 2008 is a real sign of progress. Of all the incidents that have been reported, the one that has been covered in most detail, and which has been most discussed online, is one of those listed above: the Weng'an incident of 28 June 2008.

A change in the climate

The riot that took place on 28 June in Weng'an county was even more serious than the protests in Lhasa in mid-March 2008. In Weng'an, over 10,000 people directly attacked the party committee and government building, and the local police station. Images of the chaos spread quickly across the internet. The official media - perhaps as the result of some modification of the censorship system - broke with the tradition of covering up such events. At the same time, the news stories that did appear were full of familiar, hackneyed phrases (such as "a minority of people incited the masses, who were ignorant of the true situation" and "attacked the party and government.") The establishment media stuck to this line even though China's netizens all knew that such reporting was inaccurate and thousands posted comments questioning the official story.

After three or four days, however, there was a change in the climate. The Guizhou provincial party secretary Shi Zongyuan made a personal inspection tour of Weng'an and offered his views on the fundamental reasons for the unrest. His comments suggested that these went far beyond the ostensible trigger of the assault on the high-school student: Shi Zongyuan instead cited the way that the process of developing the mining industry in the area, accommodating migrants and relocating residents after their homes had been demolished had repeatedly infringed people's rights.

In dealing with the disputes that these changes had provoked, local officials had acted brutishly, and even made indiscriminate use of police power. The county government's failure to implement strong and fair policies, the party secretary implied, had brought public resentment to boiling-point."Local authorities have failed to pay sufficient attention to the concerns of the public", Shi Zongyuan said. "They have failed to crack down on dark forces and serious criminality. The crime rate is high, arrest rates are low, and this has created an unsafe environment."


Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

Kerry Brown, "Beijing's political tightrope-walk" (12 March 2008),

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008),

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008),

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008),

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008),

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008),

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008),

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "China's political colours: from monochrome to palette" (14 May 2008),

Susan Brownell, "The Olympics' ‘civilising' legacy: St Louis to Beijing" (23 May 2008),

Emily Lau, "Tiananmen, 1989-2008" (4 June 2008),

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "Tiananamen's shifting legacy" (26 June 2008),

Kerry Brown, "China on Olympic eve: a globalisation of sentiment" (11 July 2008).

Shi Zongyuan apologised three times to the people of Weng'an for the situation in their county. Even more surprising, the primary target of official sanction was not the rioting townspeople but the local officials. The county head, county party secretary, chief of police and commissar were all dismissed from their posts. In the end, even the more senior prefectural party secretary was sacked over the incident.

The significance of Weng'an is that this is the first time that local officials have been the first to come under scrutiny following a "mass incident" (see Simon Elegant, "China Protests: A New Approach?", Time, 4 July 2008). After the initial riot, Hu Jintao himself - general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and state president - issued a memo on how the incident should be handled. This evidence suggests that the highest authorities were dissatisfied with the initial response to events in Weng'an at local level, and demanded an investigation into their root causes. The contrast between the immediate official reaction and what was to follow within a few days shows how the party's style of governance is evolving.

A power beyond law

China's breakneck economic development since the mid-1980s has to a certain extent been founded on the premise that the state's monopoly on violence will protect the government and official institutions even as unfair burdens are imposed on the public. For two decades and more, Deng Xiaoping's mantra of "stability above all else" has been the highest article of faith at all levels of government. Those who protest or petition to the authorities - no matter the cause - can according in principle be accused of "breaching stability", and subject to legal repression.

The most common examples of this are the forced relocation of urban residents whose homes are to be demolished, and the appropriation of farmers' land in the countryside. The lack of any balancing power or democratic accountability has led to officials using ever cruder methods to deal with disputes. At the scene of almost all conflicts, the police tend to be out in force - as an instrument of state rather than of social protection. The use of state agencies as a tool in official hands is reflected in the way that the party secretary of Xifeng county, Liaoning province sent police to Beijing to arrest a journalist at a large newspaper who had written an article that the secretary found offensive (see Edward Cody, "Move to Arrest Journalist Sparks Backlash in China", Washington Post, 9 January 2008) . This is but one classic example of the abuse of police power with no regard for law or principle.

It is obvious that this form of governance cannot persist. Weng'an helps to show why, in three ways.

First, citizens have more access to information and freedom in circulating it than ever before. The fact that so many members of the public knew that the authorities' version of events in Weng'an was untrue or deficient, and were able to post their own stories and experiences, means that the total monopoly of information that was a bulwark of state power no longer holds (see Geoffrey A Fowler & Juliet Ye, "Chinese Bloggers Score a Victory Against the Government", Wall Street Journal, 5 July 2008).

Second, the Weng'an riot is revealing in that none of the rioters were themselves affected by the incident which sparked their protest. After all, the death of a girl in suspicious circumstances directly affects at most a few families. At a deeper level, however, an environment where public anger and frustration have been bottled up for a long time can lead to any available incident becoming the occasion for an eruption of mass fury. The commentator Xu Zhiyong, who said that "Weng'an could be any county in China", was right.

Third, local governments often act with wanton disregard for the law and public opinion. In the past the central government has chosen to tolerate this situation in order to maintain a united front. This has meant that the actions of some local officials have come to reflect on the government as a whole. The inevitable result - evident in Weng'an in the disparity between initial and eventual official reactions - is a crisis of governance.

A new rulebook

The central government will do its best to address the first two points, however difficult this may prove. It also appears to have understood and begun to take action to meet the third - by, in effect, refusing to be held to ransom by local officials. Beijing is conscious that if local officials are not held to account, it will be the object of the public's accusations: it needs to act to defend itself.

Thus, the logic of the central government's demand for an investigation of "the root causes of events" in Weng'an is an examination of the culpability of officials at all levels. Indeed, three government departments have (independently of the Weng'an events) jointly released a set of regulations on punishments for the violation of rules on dealing with petitioning. A close reading of these makes it plain that they aim to lay responsibility for any unrest with local officials. If a "mass incident" develops, the local officials responsible will be punished. A single line speaks volumes: "Those who make indiscriminate use of police power during mass incidents will be stripped of party membership and dismissed from their posts."

The new rules appear already to be having some effect. The media has reported on some meetings between local officials and petitioners. Such gatherings are often extremely crowded, an indication of how deep and complex the task of solving the problems petitioners raise will be. True, neither this new approach nor the specific response to the Weng'an riot can solve all the problems the party is facing. However, the fact that officials as well as the public are now being held responsible for "mass incidents" is at least a step in the right direction of solving China's crisis of governance. 

China’s digital nationalism: Kung Fu Panda under fire

The Hollywood movie Kung Fu Panda has in the past month caused a stir in China, the homeland of the panda itself. The story begins on 15 June 2008, five days before the film's official release in the country, when an artist called Zhao Bandi from Chengdu in Sichuan province wrote a letter to the state administration of radio, film and television (SARFT). Zhao described his firm opposition to Kung Fu Panda

China's leaders, the media and the internet

Hu Jintao, general-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus the country's most powerful leader, has once again been lauded by the official media for a performance which "received worldwide attention".

China: after the quake, the debate

In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake on 12 May 2008, many stories of individual acts of heroism have emerged. People have been moved to tears by the bravery of teachers who used their own bodies to protect students, shielding the children as classrooms collapsed around them. But what would the public make of a teacher who abandoned his students and ran for his life? A teacher who then publicly claimed he had done nothing wrong, and that his own life was just as valuable as those of his students?

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of BingdianFreezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's Youth League faction: incubus of power?" (31 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007)

"Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth" (12 December 2007)

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

"China's soft-power failure" (16 May 2008)

"China and the earthquake" (2 June 2008 (

This is not a hypothetical situation. It actually happened in a privately run school in Guangya, in the city of Dujiangyan. As the tremors began, teacher Fan Meizhong yelled "earthquake!" and fled from the classroom, leaving his students behind. Fortunately the school was well constructed. None of its buildings collapsed and no student was injured. In all the confusion no one actually noticed what Fan had done, and in fact he was not the only teacher to escape ahead of his students.

But for reasons best known to himself, Fan wrote an account of his experience and posted it on the internet. He made no attempt to hide the facts of his early escape. On the contrary, he made a case for his own defence, saying: "I aim for freedom and justice, but I'm not brave enough to sacrifice myself for others. In a moment like that, with my life hanging in the balance, the only person I would consider sacrificing myself for would be my daughter. Anyone else - even my mother - I would leave behind." Fan's defence stirred up an internet storm, and before long he was drowning in the vitriol of thousands upon thousands of internet users. As people drew comparisons between Fan and those teachers who made heroic sacrifices, it seemed as though Fan had been placed in the stocks, humiliated for all to see.

China's two faces

This short episode is highly symbolic. It is widely acknowledged that since establishing its government in 1949, the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to instill its morals in the people have been unceasing. The classic method of propagating moral values has been the creation of "heroes", of whom Lei Feng is the most well-known. These heroes all share similar characteristics: they do as the party says, they are selfless, they "serve the people with all their hearts", and in times of crisis they bravely sacrifice their lives for the good of the people. Even during the cultural revolution, when traditional values were completely overturned, these "heroes" were never criticised. But in real life, the vast majority of people cannot live up to such ideals.

This reality, in combination with forceful moral education, has led to Chinese people becoming two-faced. In public people mimic the official line and are full of fine words. Only in private, among friends and family, can people stop pretending to be so noble and just be themselves. This split personality remains one of the defining national characteristics of the Chinese. In some ways this shows their great survival skills.

Within this context, one can see how Fan's behaviour - publicising his self-preservation and then righteously defending his actions - could touch a social nerve. Besides hurling insults and accusations at Fan, netizens demanded that he be dismissed from his job at the school. Indeed, past experience would suggest that Fan's quick and inevitable dismissal would be followed by his being forced to live the rest of his life under a shadow of shame.

This time, however, the process - if not in this case the ultimate outcome - had unexpected twists. Fan has not been cowed and has not disappeared from view. On the contrary, his repeated defences of his actions have been published in great detail and hotly debated. He appeared as a guest on the Hong Kong television station Phoenix, where he came face-to-face with his critics. This programme aroused huge public interest and recordings appeared all over the internet.

People watched as Fan was viciously berated by a man named Guo Songmin. Guo seemed to believe that he had to speak for the whole of China in attacking Fan. With no respect for common decency, Guo called Fan "shameless, an animal, and a mongrel." In response to this, Fan maintained his composure and calmly explained his actions. The moral pressure was ratcheted up when the headmaster of Fan's school joined the debate by telephone. Guo Songmin demanded that the headmaster give his views on Fan, and advised that this man who was "not fit to teach" should be fired on the spot.

The headmaster responded extremely rationally, arguing that Fan's actions were understandable and the result of "an instinctive reaction in the heat of the moment", although he conceded that some of Fan's later comments had been inappropriate. The headmaster said reactions from the school's students had given him no reason to fire Fan. He added that the real focus should be on the quality of schools' construction, and on holding emergency-drills to ensure that that teachers and students would not panic when disaster struck.

The headmaster's rational approach was impressive. Only six years ago a teacher in Hunan was fired merely for telling pupils that the aim of study was "to get rich and marry a beautiful woman" - and then public opinion was not nearly so hostile.

An agenda on the run

After the Phoenix television programme, an internet questionnaire was carried out which asked: "Between Fan Meizhong and Guo Songmin, who would you choose to be your child's teacher?" The results were amazing - most people chose Fan. People thought that Guo Songmin was just a moral enforcer who under the same circumstances might not have reacted any differently to Fan. Although many did not agree with Fan's defence of his actions, they at least believed he was honest. Most people agreed with the headmaster's opinion that it was not right to ask a teacher to be responsible for the lives of his students.

One comment on an internet message-board read, "Fan Meizhong, you got your timing right. If you'd done the same thing during the Tangshan earthquake [in 1976] and made the same comments you would have been executed on the spot." The commenter is right. Although at first the Chinese media took a moral viewpoint, they did not destroy Fan. On the contrary, they gave him the right to express his views.

Among openDemocracy's articles on China in 2008:

Kerry Brown, "Beijing's political tightrope-walk" (12 March 2008)

True, this has not been enough to save Fan Meizhong's career; it was reported on 16 June 2008 that local education authorities have revoked his teaching certificate. Yet out of the discussion over Fan's actions and morals, the public and media views on the events concerned gradually became more rational; a tolerance for minority opinion and for those who go against the grain emerged. This is the advantage of free and fair debate - a debate which demonstrates that Chinese society is indeed changing.

China's soft-power failure

The Chinese government planned the year of the Olympic games in Beijing on 8-24 August 2008 as a demonstration of the country's pride and confidence on the global stage. So far, it has not turned out that way. The Tibet protests in mid-March, and the disruption of the Olympic-torch relay that followed, have created confusion in government circles. Now, the earthquake in Sichuan on 12 May has presented the authorities with another severe challenge of management and public relations. A triumphal year is becoming ever more tense.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007)

"Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth" (12 December 2007)

"Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008)

The official reaction to this series of events is part of a pattern that reveals much about how China is ruled and how its leaders think. In this sense, their response is not random but a case-study in the nature of modern governance in China.

The torch of merit

The Olympic-torch relay suffered unprecedented disruption in Britain, France and other countries, and has at times descended into chaos. In response, the Chinese government, through the media, launched an unprecedented counterattack. Now that the torch is back on Chinese soil, the media war has abated.

The Chinese government's fury is easily understood - the protests were a total humiliation for China. This is the biggest blow to the country's image for twenty years. The only comparable setback came after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. Then, China's reputation suffered almost irreversible damage in the face of international condemnation and sanctions from the United States and Europe.

But at least the government was prepared for the consequences of its post-Tiananmen repression. Chinese leaders were ready to make the sacrifice necessary in order to hold onto power. Deng Xiaoping knew that sanctions against such a large country as China could not go on indefinitely, and that China could ride out the storm. Deng also understood the importance of repairing China's image, and as early as 1990 put forward the plan for China to apply to host the Olympics.

The Chinese government never expected such embarrassment over the torch relay. Over twenty years, the influence of Tiananmen has been diluted, and to international amazement, China's rapid economic development has made it one of the world's largest economies. Every major country has been affected by China's development. After its unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Olympics, China was favourite to be awarded the 2008 games, and emerged victorious. As a country of over a billion people, a member of the United Nations Security Council and of the World Trade Organisation, China had no less right to be awarded the games than had the Korean military regime in 1988.

Also, China's size means that it will be unlikely to slip into debt due to the Olympics, unlike Greece. In terms of hard facts and figures, China was definitely one of the best-qualified countries to host the games. The Chinese government was full of confidence, and in principle the torch relay was an idea that would be welcomed by the rest of the world. But things did not go according to plan.

The claim of right

What the Chinese government didn't realise was that "soft power", rather than hard power, has become key. Soft power stems from a country's human-rights situation. It depends on the progress a country has made in maintaining universal values, and trust in the country from the international community. However much the claim is made that the Olympics are and must be separate from politics, there is at least a political minimum that countries have to achieve to qualify as hosts. It would be hard, for example, to imagine the games being awarded to South Africa under apartheid.

To be fair, China's human-rights situation has improved since 1989. The situation now is the best it has been since 1949, and this is why the Chinese government feels that is has been treated so unjustly. "Why does no one talk about our achievements?" the government wonders. The answer lies in the rule of law and institutions. The increasing freedom and improving human rights of the Chinese people lack any substantial legal or systemic foundation. The government's overarching concern is still to keep the ruling party in power. Unrestrained government power can be relaxed and contracted at will.

Also in openDemocracy on China's Olympics and Tibetan tensions:

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "One, two or many Chinas?" (15 February 2008)

Kerry Brown, "Beijing's political tightrope-walk" (12 March 2008)

Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008)

Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008)

George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008)

Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008)

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Kerry Brown, "Taiwan and China: an electoral prelude" (4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008)

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008)

Ramin Jahanbegloo, "Olympics of shame" (9 April 2008)
That is to say, the progress China has made is not necessarily a one-way street. When things are good, progress can be allowed, but at the first sign of trouble the one-party totalitarian system automatically reverts to type. It is at these times that the government's obtuseness and crudeness shocks the world. For example, as the preparation for the Olympics began in earnest, at a time when the whole world was looking at China's human-rights record, the government locked up Hu Jia - a fragile young man who has done nothing but publish some articles on the internet - on charges of "subverting the state".

Questioned on this by foreign media, the normally eloquent Chinese premier Wen Jiabao could only respond that China "is a country with the rule of law". In light of the fact that freedom of speech is protected by the Chinese constitution, this answer seems both weak and ridiculous. Why the government acts so idiotically is beyond comprehension.

The call of Tibet

The recent Tibetan troubles could also have been handled differently. If a few people want to come out of the temples and protest, what is the problem? If the route and time are arranged in accordance with the law, and the people conduct their march, shout their slogans and then go home, why should this cause trouble? The more people are repressed, the more they want to rebel, and the consequence is chaos.

A country ruled by law should guarantee its citizens' right to protest. In those circumstances, if citizens break the law, they should be stopped without hesitation. But China has things the wrong way around. The lawful right to protest of a number of monks was crudely taken away, and then when trouble started there was no timely intervention due to fears over international opinion. This allowed the riots to get out of control and resulted in loss of life and damage to property.

This theme is exemplified in other respects. There was a lack of information and preparation on the Tibet issue before the violence broke out, and then after the events the government went into its conditioned response of shutting out foreign journalists, before bringing them back in on organised tours. The government first blamed anything and everything on the Dalai Lama, and then - after coming under international pressure - announced that it would enter into talks with him. All of this demonstrates both the government's passivity and the stupidity ingrained in the totalitarian system.

Whereas some Chinese have been stirred to nationalist emotions by the problems with the torch relay, the Chinese government is in shock. It needs time to digest the facts. It needs to ask itself: in the eyes of the world, why are a few people shouting "free Tibet" more persuasive than the hundreds of billions of yuan that the government has invested in Tibet? Why does the western public put more trust in information from the media than from the Chinese government? Why is an increasingly powerful China seen as a threat rather than a force for peace?

The bond of law

The tragedy in Sichuan has made headlines across the world. An intense effort of search and rescue is underway in very difficult terrain. The Chinese government is acutely aware of the need to perform this task efficiently. But now that it is more exposed than ever to the scrutiny of its own people as well as foreign media, the mechanisms of control and persuasion it is used to operating by are newly vulnerable. The problem of trust is just below - and occasionally emerges above - the surface. The tensions between hard and soft power are on display.

So when will the Chinese government finally wise up? The answer is simple - when it does things by the law. When it unconditionally guarantees the rights of citizens set down in the constitution, and cracks down on those who break the law. The Chinese government needs to understand that in response to the western media, an independent and free Chinese press would be much more credible than a government spokesperson. The truth lies not in one voice, but slowly becomes apparent amidst a diverse range of voices. An understanding of this underlies the effective deployment of soft power.

Whatever happens, the Beijing Olympics will provide many lessons for the Chinese leadership. If they still have the ability to learn, China's leaders will be able to turn this would-be triumphal year's early humiliation into a force for change.

Xiamen: the triumph of public will?

In November 2006, a project to build a xylene (PX) plant in the city of Xiamen, Fujian province, got the go-ahead. Investment in the project stood at 10.8 billion renminbi (RMB) [$1.5 billion], and the plant was scheduled to go into production in 2008. The project, Xiamen's largest ever, was expected to add RMB80 billion to the city's gross annual product. Planning for the so-called "industrial project", appeared to be correct: the National Development and Reform Commission had given its approval, and the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) had agreed "in principle".

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"The root of slave labour in China" (26 June 2007)

"Beijing baozi and public trust" (25 July 2007)

"The next land revolution?" (8 August 2007)

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's Youth League faction: incubus of power?" (31 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007)

"Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth" (12 December 2007)

The completion of the project was also set to bring prestige to local government officials. In January 2007, a piece appeared on the Xiamen local government website proudly proclaiming that the new plant was "a world-class petro-chemical giant emerging on the west bank of the Taiwan Strait." Under the auspices of local authorities, the project progressed at a rapid pace, and in only forty days, 2000 mu (133 hectares) of land was requisitioned.

But the city officials had "forgotten" one vital thing - the views of the millions of residents of Xiamen and its environs who would be most directly affected by the plans. In March 2007, Zhao Yufen - member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), academician at the Chinese Academy of Science, and a professor at Xiamen University - raised a motion on the project at the meeting of the CPPCC in Beijing which addressed their concerns.

The motion, signed by 105 members of the CPPCC, argued that the PX plant was set to be located too close to residential areas. Any leak or explosion would put over a million people in danger. Regrettably, the motion was not adopted by the relevant departments at national level, or by the local government. In fact, construction of the PX plant accelerated.

The stick bends

Only at this point did the people of Xiamen - who originally had no idea what PX was - realise that plans were afoot to build an industrial monster that threatened to destroy the environment of their beautiful resort city. They learnt that PX had been the culprit when, in November 2005, explosions at a chemical plant in Jilin led to severe pollution of the Songhua river. The public could not tolerate the situation any longer. Citizens of Xiamen, knowing that the local government would not approve an application for a protest, used the internet and mobile-phone text-messages to organise a march.

On 1 June, over 10,000 people took to the streets to protest the plans for the plant. The official media did not report on the event, but online "citizen journalists" from all over the country flocked to Xiamen to cover the demonstration. They posted real-time reports on the internet, including photos and video. The accuracy and depth of their reporting put the official mainland media to shame.

The government eventually realised that it could no longer ignore public opinion. The PX project was suspended while a third-party environmental appraisal took place. The public was to be allowed to participate. However, the local government made attempts to place restrictions on the public's ability to exchange information. In July 2007, it prepared a by-law which would prevent people posting "damaging or unhealthy" information on the internet. The result was a public outcry, and the Xiamen authorities were forced into a U-turn and dropped the proposed law.

A public meeting was finally convened on 13-14 December 2007, with 106 "citizen representatives" present. 90% opposed the PX project. At last, the provincial leadership released a statement outlining its own stance. It said: "In the face of such public opposition, we need to enter into careful consideration of the matter. We should look at the problem using the principles of the scientific view of development, democratic decision-making and valuing public opinion."

On 19 December, the official People's Daily newspaper declared: "Expert opinion on the matter is tending towards unanimity, and abandonment of construction is the preferred course of action." The decision to abandon the PX project has now been taken.

The next mountain

Also on China's politics in openDemocracy:Andreas Lorenz, "China's environmental suicide: a government minister speaks" (6 April 2005)

Lung Ying-tai, "A question of civility: an open letter to Hu Jintao" (15 February 2006)

David Wall, "The plan and the party" (29 March 2006)

Christopher R Hughes, "Chinese nationalism in the global era" (18 April 2006)

Kerry Brown, "China's top fifty: the China power list" (2 April 2007)

Kerry Brown, "China's party congress: getting serious" (5 October 2007)

This was a rare victory for Chinese public participation in politics. The Xiamen local government has admitted the need for "government and people to grow up together", and the media has praised the events as a "victory for public opinion."

The eventual outcome was beneficial for both sides. The public will not be put in danger by the plant, and the local government was seen to be improving in governance and evolving in policy-making. However, if we go further and think of the issue in terms of the political process, we see that there is still huge room for improvement in the way things are done.

Article 99 of the constitution of the People's Republic of China states:

"Local people's congresses at different levels ensure the observance and implementation of the Constitution, the statutes and the administrative rules and regulations in their respective administrative areas. Within the limits of their authority as prescribed by law, they adopt and issue resolutions and examine and decide on plans for local economic and cultural development and for development of public services."

Within the current framework, it is clear that the Xiamen people's congress has the power to investigate and decide on large construction projects. It is a shame that the people of Xiamen did not make any attempt to transfer the right of decision out of the grip of party and government departments, and into the hands of the local people's congress. They missed out on a good opportunity to put the constitution into practice.

In modern society, there will never be unanimity in public opinion. There will always be conflicts of interest and opinion, and decisions cannot be taken just by looking at whichever group sends more people onto the street to protest.

Under the Chinese system only the people's congresses have the right of final decision. They are filled with elected representatives and decisions are taken by vote. The people of Xiamen should have demanded that the representatives they chose acted on their behalf. They should have asked their people's congress to investigate and decide on the PX plant case; if the congress failed to act according to the will of the people, then the people have the legal right to impeach their representatives.

If the aim is to turn the people's congresses from rubber-stamp organisations into genuine fit-for-purpose legislatures that abide by the constitution, the only option is to repeatedly force them to prove themselves. Only then will they become a legitimate force for balancing the autocratic power of party and government bureaucracy.

The occasional triumph of public opinion is not the mark of a reliable system (see Jianqiang Liu, "Planning failure in Xiamen", chinadialogue.net, 12 December 2007). Victory for political process is true progress. The people of Xiamen have already become a symbol of public expression. Let's hope that in the future they can also become a symbol for advancement of the political process.

Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth

In 1995, a group of historians from the People's Republic of China (PRC) visited Taiwan to take part in a conference marking the fiftieth anniversary of victory in the war against Japan. As they entered the Academia Sinica, a young Taiwanese scholar jokingly called out: "The communist bandits are here!" Although the words were only spoken in jest, academics from both sides of the Straits found them extremely interesting and made them a subject of discussion.

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"The root of slave labour in China" (26 June 2007)

"Beijing baozi and public trust" (25 July 2007)

"The next land revolution?" (8 August 2007)

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's Youth League faction: incubus of power?" (31 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007)

At its conclusion, the mainland scholar Yang Tianshi said: "In the past, both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang referred to each other as 'bandits'. History has shown they were both wrong." For his part, the Taiwanese academician Chang Yu-fa argued that the words reflected what he called the "bandit view" of history, and that this view had coloured the work of scholars from both sides for decades. Both mainland and Taiwanese scholars agreed that this prejudice had to be broken down, and modern Chinese history rewritten.

In spring 2006, an opportunity for just such a rewriting was provided by the release of Chiang Kai-shek's diaries.

The history man

Chiang Kai-shek is the most important historical leader of the Kuomintang, barring only Sun Yat-sen. His ideas, his policies and his personality shaped the fate of China for half a century. Luckily for future historians, Chiang kept a diary every day for fifty-five years, never allowing affairs of state or war to divert him from his task. He always had a strong feel for history, and knew that an accurate personal record would be of immense historical value. His awareness of the secrets they held led Chiang to stipulate that the contents of his diary were only to be released after his death.

The diaries that Chiang kept up to 1945 have now been released. The mainland and Taiwanese historians who were scrambling to be first to read the diaries have come to surprisingly similar conclusions on their worth. Mainland scholars have said that "modern Chinese history has to be revised", while their Taiwanese counterparts have stated that "Kuomintang history has to be rewritten."

This response shows that the diaries are highly honest and truthful, and Chiang's records will help to solve many historical mysteries. As his more recent diaries continue to be released, more historical truth will emerge. What's more, the diaries kept for forty-three years by Chiang's son and heir, Chiang Ching-kuo, are due to be released soon. They too are certain to be revelatory.

It is impressive that, in 2004, before the release of the diaries, the Kuomintang came to an agreement with the Hoover Institution in the United States, whereby that body would arrange and preserve microfiches of the Kuomintang records from the past hundred years, and gradually release them to the world. This proves that the Kuomintang has completed the transition from secret society, to dictatorial political party, to modern democratic party. The publication of party records means that the Kuomintang leaders have finally relieved themselves of a heavy historical burden, and no longer need fear the past.

The amnesiac party

In comparison with the Kuomintang leadership, senior Communist Party figures continue to maintain an air of mystery. There has never been any hint that Mao Zedong ever kept a diary. Moreover, he was always very wary of those around him writing their own records. Yang Shangkun once made secret attempts to record meetings with Mao, in order that he would not forget any of the Chairman's important points. When Mao found out, he was furious, and had all the equipment and recordings destroyed. Yang's attempts at "bugging" the meetings later got him into serious trouble.

Also on China's politics in openDemocracy:

Andreas Lorenz, "China's environmental suicide: a government minister speaks" (6 April 2005)

Lung Ying-tai, "A question of civility: an open letter to Hu Jintao" (15 February 2006)

David Wall, "The plan and the party" (29 March 2006)

Christopher R Hughes, "Chinese nationalism in the global era" (18 April 2006)

Kerry Brown, "China's top fifty: the China power list" (2 April 2007)

Kerry Brown, "China's party congress: getting serious" (5 October 2007)

No evidence has ever emerged that any of Mao's contemporaries at the top of the party, such as Liu Shaoqi or Zhou Enlai, kept a diary. After Zhou died, a report emerged that on the most recent page of his desk calendar were written the words "Afternoon: meet Chairman." Checks revealed that he indeed had a one-on-one private meeting with Mao on that afternoon, and the two had talked for two or three hours. It was the last meeting they ever had, and no one knows what they discussed. Communist Party history is full of such tantalising morsels that fuel speculation about what really happened.

Why didn't the Communist Party leaders keep diaries? Is it because they did not realise the historical value of such documents? Of course not. My own guess is that with all the cruel power struggles that went on within the party, any honest diary would contain too many unpalatable truths, and reflect badly on its author. Who would want to leave behind such a negative historical image? None of the top party figures, whether Mao, Liu, or Zhou, or the more recent Deng Xiao-ping, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang have even written a memoir.

There are still many taboo areas in research into party history. Even specialist researchers find it hard to get hold of primary source material, and secondary sources, such as essays, books, films and documentaries, have to receive approval from the Party Literature Research Centre before publication. A professor from the Central Party School once reeled off a whole list of obscure areas of party history. They included:

* the party founder Chen Duxiu

* the elimination of counter-revolutionaries in communist-controlled areas

* the long march

* the Yan'an rectification campaign

* the Korean war

* Gao Gang and Rao Shushi's anti-party group

* the anti-rightist movement

* the great leap forward and people's communes

* the Lushan conference

* the reasons for the cultural revolution

* Lin Biao's attempted escape from China

* the gang of four.

All of these issues and events are shrouded in mystery, to such an extent that even senior party leaders are not really sure of the details.

History's balance-sheet

The former chairman of the Kuomintang and its presidential candidate in the 2008 elections, Ma Ying-jeou, once publicly apologised for the crimes committed by his party during the days of totalitarian rule in Taiwan. The Taiwanese authorities have carried out substantive rehabilitation and compensation of dissidents, including Communist Party members who were illegally persecuted by the regime. In doing so, they have unburdened themselves. The new generation of Communist Party leaders need to understand true party history in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, all we see is the mistakes of previous leaders being covered up. It is forbidden to discuss the mistakes made by the party; even the cultural revolution, which has been universally and comprehensively repudiated, cannot be mentioned. The result is that history has become a millstone around the neck of the party, and will one day drag it to its knees. The Kuomintang may have lost the mainland to the Communists, but in facing up to their party's past, its leaders have scored an impressive victory.

China’s modernisation: a unique path?

A few days ago I was invited to dinner with a western diplomat. In the course of a discussion about China and its future, the diplomat raised a very interesting question:

Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper

Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"The root of slave labour in China" (26 June 2007)

"Beijing baozi and public trust" (25 July 2007)

"The next land revolution?" (8 August 2007)

"Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007)

"China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007)

"Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007)

"China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007)

"China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007)

"China's Youth League faction: incubus of power?" (31 October 2007)

"China's age of expression" (14 November 2007)

"I think a lot of the criticism of China in the western media is excessive and unreasonable. The critics are using western values to judge China. But what if China can find a new path to modernisation and development, totally different to that followed by the west?"

It seems to me that, in terms of economics, China has already discarded central planning in favour of a western-style market economy. Therefore, I interpreted the diplomat's question to be: can China follow a path to political development that is different to western-style democracy?

The Qianlong inheritance

Scholars from across the world have endlessly debated the issue of China's development since the first Opium war in 1840. The predominant "stimulus-response" view was that China itself lacked internal stimuli to promote change, and that all the transformations in recent Chinese history have only taken place as a response to economic, cultural and military incursions from abroad. However, more recently, some academics have begun to argue that even without foreign input, China would sooner or later have begun to modernise under its own impetus. Many of my academic friends hold this view.

I understand that these academic theories all have their own logic and reasoning, but, from my own layman's point of view, I don't believe China will ever manage to find its own uniquely "eastern" model of development. The past is the past, and there is no room for "what ifs". More than 2,000 years passed between the country first being unified under a central dictator in the Qin dynasty (starting in 221 bce) and the overthrow of the imperial system in 1911. In this period, what did China actually develop on its own? Virtually nothing. In the words of Hegel, China "has no history", but merely the cyclical rise and fall of various monarchs, out of which no progress can emerge.

True, Hegel never actually went to China. He made his observations based on second-hand accounts, so there may be inaccuracies in what he says. In recent history, the first case of someone going to China to make observations of behalf of his country was that of Lord Macartney in 1793. He made his journey when the Qing dynasty was at the height of its powers, under the Emperor Qianlong.

Macartney's mission ended in abject failure. The reason for this was said to be Macartney's refusal to perform the "three kneelings and nine prostrations" in front of Qianlong, but in fact the failure was due to Qianlong's imperial arrogance and ignorance, which resulted in his refusal to see foreign countries as equals.

Macartney's mission may not have succeeded, but he at least had a chance to carry out a detailed first-hand survey of this oriental empire. In Macartney's view, the Qing empire was a giant with "feet of clay" that could be knocked to the ground with the lightest of touches. He wrote that since the Manchus conquered China, not only had there been no improvement or progress, but in fact society had regressed. He bemoaned the fact that while Britain had been struggling daily for advancement in the fields of art and science, the Chinese were becoming half-savage. As far as Macartney was concerned, Chinese society was founded on an idiotic officialism which made the people "cowardly, filthy and cruel". He predicted that China would eventually regress to savage depravity and poverty - a prediction that history proved to be all too accurate.

The French historian Alain Peyrefitte, author of The Immobile Empire, once wrote: "In around August or September 1960, I set off from Hong Kong on my first exploratory trip to China. I was immediately shocked by how similar this society was to the one described by Macartney and his companions. One could say that the genes of every Chinese still contain all of the hereditary information of the Qianlong era."

The wall of power

Repetition, immobility, regression, and the hereditary information of an unchanging society - all of these are particular characteristics of autocratic China. China's leaders since the overthrow of imperial rule - whether Sun Yat-sen, Yuan Shikai, Chiang Kai-shek or Mao Zedong - have, without exception, been worthy successors to the imperial dictators. They all represent China's traditional internal stimuli.

Chinese academics see surprisingly similar motivations for the reform policies of the past thirty years, as for the reform period of the late Qing. They see that in both periods, China had reached a point where a continued failure to reform would mean losing even more ground on the west - a point where the country was on the verge of losing its security and status as a large power. The Tiananmen demonstrations of 1976 showed that people were angry enough to challenge Mao Zedong's absolute power. Reform stemmed from the fears of those in government that they were about to lose control. The basis of the reforms - "accepting western science and technology, rejecting the western political system" - was simply a modern twist on the slogans of the Qing reforms.

The reforms were aimed at consolidating power, rather than improving the welfare of the people. This truth is exposed every time the government uses military violence to crush peaceful protests. This is the true essence of Chinese political tradition.

Also on China's politics in openDemocracy:

Andreas Lorenz, "China's environmental suicide: a government minister speaks" (6 April 2005)

Lung Ying-tai, "A question of civility: an open letter to Hu Jintao" (15 February 2006)

David Wall, "The plan and the party" (29 March 2006)

Christopher R Hughes, "Chinese nationalism in the global era" (18 April 2006)

Kerry Brown, "China's top fifty: the China power list" (2 April 2007)

Kerry Brown, "China's party congress: getting serious" (5 October 2007)

The introduction of the market economy has released the Chinese people's previously-repressed desire for material wealth, and given them the means to attain it. China is more powerful than ever before. But rapidly-growing wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy people, and this is causing social problems. Bureaucratic corruption has reached unprecedented levels, and in response, incidents of mass protest are becoming more frequent. The government is increasingly resorting to violence to deal with resentment at all levels of society.

In 2,000 years of Chinese political tradition, there has never been one enlightened sovereign who has been able to come up with policies leading to a long and peaceful reign. Violence from rulers is met with violence from the people, and dynasties fall after two or three hundred years, only to be replaced with something similar. I just don't believe that there is any internal stimulus that can release China from this cycle.

In the same way as Macartney carried out an in-depth survey of China, in the late Qing era Chinese ambassadors and officials stationed abroad made their own observations of Europe and America. They saw that economic and technological prowess stemmed from the political system, and in particular from constitutions which empowered the public. Sadly, officials who advocated learning from the west were branded traitors.

Things are slightly different today. China is now integrated to a large extent into the global economy, and as a World Trade Organisation member, has to act according to international standards. However, changes in China still only come about as a result of international pressure. If this pressure recedes, China will revert to its "traditions", and will be left with the worst kind of market economy - crony capitalism. Therefore, international pressure on political reform is essential to China's future development. Without it, China's rulers (whether emperors or the party) instinctively reach out for the familiar comforts of unlimited power.

A market economy combined with a democratic political system is now the only choice for countries looking for long-term peace and stability. It will be impossible for China to produce this under its own steam. The lesson of history is that in China, change only occurs as the product of intense pressure.

 

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