Monday, April 28, 2008

More than skin deep

Recent unrest in Tibet has brought the struggles of ethnic minorities in China once again to the forefront of news from China. While Tibetans are now recognized as a persecuted minority, many in the West are unaware of many other ethnic minorities in China and the prejudices that still exist in this vast country. The majority in China, 97%, are Han but, many other ethnic groups are represented by China’s population. As occurs in every other country there exists prejudice against any group that is deemed “different.” Lian Yue, a blogger from China, recently addressed some of the prejudice that still exists in China. One comment left on his site reflects the strong feelings. “I slowly discovered that we all more or less have a deep-rooted concept that Uighurs are thieves, Tibetans are brutal, Shanghainese are shrewd calculators, Hunanese are hot tempered, Northeasterners love fighting, Northern Jiangsuers are very country, and so on …. .. Before getting to know the people we already divided them by this or that kind of identity.” We tend to divide people that we do know but, from a western viewpoint we tend to lump everyone together when we don’t know them.

Another man, who lives in Inner Mongolia wrote, "The Mongolians around me in general feel very lost. They are in conflict with the Han Chinese sentiments, but get along very well with Han Chinese in daily life. But the feeling of being lost is strong there, I can sense that. I think I may be alarmist, but if there are days when the intensification of ethnic conflicts arise, the two sides will immediately turn on each other.” While our western media often covers the problems between Sunni and Shia, between black and white, and between Catholic and Protestants, we have not been as aware of the deep seated feelings that still linger in the People’s Republic of China.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

One Thing in Common

As the United States remains embroiled in a bitter Presidential primary season, we can begin to see similarities emerge between the rust belt of the U.S. and the rust belt of China. Hillary and Obama have been courting the voters of the North Eastern states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have been hoping to gain political advantage by courting the North Eastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. Both the North Eastern quadrant of the US and the North Eastern quadrant of China have become industrial centers because of their close proximity to coal. They both reached a pinnacle during the fifties and sixties but since then have seen a steady decline in manufacturing and production, particularly in the areas of steel production. Both areas are faced with unemployment. Both are politically pivotal areas. China’s previous president, Jiang Zamin, concentrated his efforts in revitalizing the southeast coastal region including Shanghai, Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta. He was able to also center much of his political power in this area. President Jintao hopes that by seeking solutions to the problems of the industrial northeast he too will be able to draw support from workers in these areas. At a time when stability is of outmost importance to the CCP, the high unemployment problems and lack of social safety nets in these provinces are of particular concern. An extensive 10 to 15 year plan has been laid out that will attract development to the area. The Hu/Wen team, perhaps taking a few tips from the Hillary/Obama ticket, has also laid out a plan for pension insurance to replace the safety net of former SOE’s. We often hear that China is taking all of our jobs. Workers in Ohio and workers in Jilin may find out that they have more in common than they think!

Monday, April 21, 2008

I love my land-

In China, today’s younger generation missed the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They were just children or hadn’t even been born during the Tiananmen Square uprising. They weren’t raised with Mao’s Little Red Book. Communistic ideology is quickly giving way to western consumerism. Yet every generation needs something to believe in, something to stand for besides the latest cell phone technology, Enter, nationalism. Today’s youth believe in China. How could they not? Look how “China” has improved their lives.

One of the largest demonstrations of China’s nationalist pride took place in April of 2005 when violent student demonstration erupted in twenty-five cities against Japan. This is a group of youth that has been raised on patriotism. In 1994, the CCP had launched a “patriotic education campaign” in the schools and mass media. Students won awards for reading 100 patriotic books or seeing 100 patriotic movies. Rather than feeling like the party is imposing patriotism, today’s youth see patriotism as an act of self-assertion.

Enter the Olympic Torch! National pride is running high as Beijing looks forward to hosting the 2008 Summer Games. Great preparations have been made to insure that the games go off without a hitch. Then last week in Paris, in response to the Tibet crisis, things began to unravel. A disabled Chinese athlete, Jin Jing was attacked while sitting in a wheelchair. Several times the torch had to be extinguished and put on a bus as the athletes made their way through the city. Western youth are used to protesting and then sitting back and watching things change. What they hadn’t counted on was the nationalistic spirit of today’s Internet savvy Chinese youth.

In response to the Paris torch debacle, Chinese youth everywhere are passing the word to boycott French goods and companies. Headlines for the past week have included “From now on do not buy a Peugeot, do not wear French perfume and do not eat French food.” Citizens are being asked to boycott the French owned department store, Carrefour. A similar protest to the torch run occurred in San Francisco, the one U.S. stop for the torch.

While many in the world are disturbed by the issues surrounding , an attack against a Chinese athlete, as was seen in Paris, will do nothing to help the Tibetans. However, it will do much to increase the nationalistic spirit of today’s younger generation. We have all experienced the school pride of a rival football game. We may work someone from the other school, go to a workshop at the school across town and even date someone from a rival school but come game day our blood runs with our school colors. We must understand this principle with today’s Chinese youth. As the torch passes to a new generation, an understanding of this intense nationalism will do much to furthering peace and opening dialogue to the many issues that divide us.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Shaky Foundation

Throughout history, China has been very good at building walls. The Great Wall has been built on several different occasions to protect the Northern Boundary from invaders. Built from stones, pressed soil and later bricks it has been estimated that one millions lives were lost in the building of the wall. During the twentieth century, the Bamboo curtain was raised to further isolate China from the rest of the world. Slowly, one brick at a time this wall of isolation is beginning to come down as China is opening its doors to economic development and communication with the rest of the world. However, before China can be afforded status as a World leader they need to not only ‘tear down the wall’ but also repair the foundation.
Like many of her buildings that have been thrown up overnight, China’s entrance into the global economy has evolved at a breakneck speed. The facade of China’s new urban cosmopolitanism is built on a cracking foundation. Two of China’s greatest challenges are corruption and human rights violations.
Corruption is rampant in China. From the highest to the lowest ranks of government, corruption exists. A free market system, even one with Chinese characteristics, cannot continue to grow and expand when hampered by graft. According to the PBS Frontline presentation, China in the Red, Chinese companies receive 12 billion per year from the World Bank. It goes into a bottomless pit, squandered by government officials, managers, and even the banks. Corruption is higher than at any previous time in China’s history.
The second crack in China’s foundation is its continued Human Rights Violations. Even on the eve on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, human rights violations are increasing. China’s human rights record shows little signs of improvement, according to an Amnesty International report. “It was hoped that the Games would act as a catalyst for reform but much of the current wave of repression against activists and journalists is occurring not in spite of, but actually because of the Olympics.”
One case in point is the dissident writer Hu Jia. Hui was arrested in December. His wife and baby have remained under house arrest since December. Hu has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations and China’s handling of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Last week Hu Jia was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison.
The Beijing Olympics will give China the opportunity to “tear down the wall” throw back the curtain and show the world that they are interested in being a player on the world stage. It will also need to show the world that it has the foundation to support this demanding role. China needs to show the world not only a market system with Chinese characteristics but also a system with moral characteristics.