Thursday, June 4, 2009

change in China

From an interview with Wuer Kaixi, one of the leaders of the Tienanmen student protests in 1989:
I can see China at least is becoming a better place. After 1989, the Chinese Communist Party decided to make a deal with the Chinese people—to have political cooperation from Chinese people, in exchange for economic freedom. And it’s a lousy deal because those political freedoms and economic freedoms belong to the Chinese people to begin with. Nevertheless, the deal worked. Chinese people took the deal and the Communist Party withdrew from Chinese people’s daily lives. So there is no longer an ideological state, and that is the only way they can keep Chinese people settled for a little freedom, even if it is only economic freedom. The Chinese people started to enjoy the newly-given freedom after 1992, which needed to develop and boom.
This was very much my impression of China. The government interferes with daily life no more than any other government, and the people get on with their lives without worrying about big political questions.

I wonder if the success of this arrangement has more to do with traditional Chinese culture, the terrible experience that many older Chinese have had with "politics" from the Great Leap Forward to Tienanmen, or the decline of ideological fervor in the world as a whole. Another explanation, which I have seen in the news lately, is that the middle class of many developing nations is very nervous about the voting power of ill-educated peasants. You can see this playing out in Thailand, where a government elected with the support of poor, rural voters is regarded by the urban middle class as a giant theft ring. So it may be that most of the leaders in Chinese urban society, whether technocrats, businessmen, or intellectuals, is more comfortable with rule by the Communist Party than with rule by the majority of their fellow citizens.

But whatever the reason, my impression is that most Chinese are as happy with their government as most people in the US or Europe (that is, not very), and that things in China will go on as they have been for at least the next 25 years.

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