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The coming peasant uprising
March 8, 2006 5:36 AM   Subscribe

China's next great uprising. Folks in the countryside are mad. Real mad. Hence the not-so-"new socialist countryside" plan. Welcome to the dark side of China's rise.
posted by js003 (31 comments total)

 
Against a background of rising rural unrest, China yesterday unveiled ambitious plans to help the 800 million people living in the countryside catch up economically with people in the cities.

Well, ambitious is certainly the right adjective. 800 million people is a lot of catching up to do.
posted by three blind mice at 6:30 AM on March 8, 2006


According to the World Bank, the policy is a significant shift away from the previous focus on economic development. Greater weight will be given to the redistribution of resources and a rebalancing of income.

That's good, they need to do something. The problem is basically corrupt local officials. Like the rest of the government, local officials are appointed, not elected (In most cases, in some cases they are elected, I believe) and there's very little oversight.

Imagine if your local sheriff, mayor, and city console were appointed and unaccountable, as you can imagine that could get real suck real quick.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 AM on March 8, 2006


Villagers say a 13-year-old girl who tried to hide behind a woodpile was beaten to death, and they estimate that 20 or so others were seriously injured. (A spokesperson from nearby Zhongshan city claims the girl died of a heart attack.)

Yeah, 13 year olds are at a real risk of heart attack!
posted by delmoi at 6:44 AM on March 8, 2006


But Beijing’s brand of authoritarian politics is spawning a dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant corruption, and widening inequality

Sounds much like Washington, but for the rethoric.

After a quarter century of gradual economic reform, has China succeeded in transforming its old command economy into a genuine market economy? Not nearly as well as most people would guess.

That's true of US and most european economies, except we have been drowning in capitalism since its inception and market economies remain a dream, exactly like the model they seek to achieve.

As China continues to open itself, they predict, state control will ease and market forces will clear away inefficient industries and clean up state institutions.

And the ballerinas will lift cement pallets while tapdancing, because we really believe they could.

An incestuous relationship between the state and major industries can doom developing countries, and China is more susceptible than most.

And not advanced nations ? Cough..subsidies to farmers ..cough..meat industry..cough..energy industry...
posted by elpapacito at 6:45 AM on March 8, 2006


A public statement from the lead engineer of China's latest rocket in this article:

Huang said he, who dragged himself up out of poverty from a village in the southeastern province of Fujian, understood why not as much money as he would like could be spent on space.

"The cities in China are like Europe, but the countryside is like Africa," he said.
(emphasis mine)
posted by Ryvar at 6:49 AM on March 8, 2006


The Wasinghton Post had an interesting article about one of the few successful peasant protests, about pollution in Huaxi. Good post, lots of interesting sources, thanks.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:50 AM on March 8, 2006


I read the Time article last night and recall their allusion of how China's revolutions in its past have always come from their countryside. Yet, I would say that at the moment, rural China has never been weaker. They have little economic power, no political power, and no military power.
The driving engine of China is in its urban society, they are the producers and consumers of the economy. Rural Chinese participate in this through migration and in find their own stake in it with remittances back home. At the moment and for an extended future, Rural China simply is just not that important to the powers that be unless they significantly disrupt Urban China. Which, with their growing reliance on Urban China as a means to find income, grows less doubtful.
posted by Atreides at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2006


Ops on preview:

Imagine if your local sheriff, mayor, and city console were appointed and unaccountable, as you can imagine that could get real suck real quick.

Are you referring to political accountability, I guess ? Because that's the level of accountability elected politicians are subject to, as far as I know. Yet even if the system of making an officier risk re-election worked, there are ways around it and one example is given today by italy.

The electoral system was recently (and conveniently) reformed by the ruling italian government (currently right wing) so that the elector can't express personal preference any more. I would have liked to vote for person XYZ because I happen to know he sucks slightly less then others, but I no longer can do that and I now should vote for his party.

Yet his party didn't give him top priority in electoral list, certainly because of internal party power favors, therefore even if the party wins, he is very unlikely to obtain enough repartition votes to be elected.

Even worse then this, people with extremely questionable past are being enlisted again, so that if I vote for the symbol I risk voting for that ordinary delinquent that disappointed me in previous nominal elections.

Fucked once and then twice.
posted by elpapacito at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2006


mmmmm cheap accoutrements on brightly lit shelves in stores surrounded by acres of parking.

This is why the Chinese state will remain in power for the foreseeable future. They are funded by the same Western consumers who wish for a magical transformation to a free society. They have more natural and human capital than any other nation on the planet and have shown no qualms in doing whatever it takes to harness this capital to satisfy our demands. In my overly simplified worldview, the only danger to the Chinese state is transportation costs becoming too large for Western governments to subsidize, making it at least as expensive to produce and ship merchandise halfway across the world as it does to produce things locally.

Good articles. Great links. Thanks!
posted by Fezboy! at 7:14 AM on March 8, 2006


Sounds much like Washington, but for the rethoric.

For all its problems with abuse of power and protectionism, the US government is still vastly more efficient and humane than the Chinese government. To suggest that China's political and economic failings are comperable to those of any western government is inane.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:20 AM on March 8, 2006


What's wrong with comparing governments? Afraid of what you'll see?
posted by melt away at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2006


Oh, comparing is fine. It's just foolish to suggest there is some kind of basic equivalency.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:36 AM on March 8, 2006


Between Chinese and western governments, I mean.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:36 AM on March 8, 2006


At risk of derailing the thread, I've wondered ever since reading Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age to what degree the "one-family/one child" draconian birth-control policy has collided with a cultural preference for male children over female to exacerabate a gender imbalance in China's population. (I did a quick Google on "china gender imbalance" and I find that I'm not the only person who's thought about this.)

If, on top of the economic problems, millions of Chinese men can't find wives, how does that affect China's future? (I almost mentioned what happens in the novel, but I didn't want to spoil it for people who haven't read it.)
posted by pax digita at 7:48 AM on March 8, 2006


Comparing the US to China:

China has a per-capita car ownership equivalent to the US in 1912.

China produces as much steel today as the world did in 1960.
posted by stbalbach at 7:55 AM on March 8, 2006


Even worse then this, people with extremely questionable past are being enlisted again, so that if I vote for the symbol I risk voting for that ordinary delinquent that disappointed me in previous nominal elections.

Well, in the US you also have primaries, for example this recent democratic primary in texas seeking to oust a very pro-bush 'democrat'. Of course, the most populous county just happened to have touch screens and just happened to have election "problems" that prevented them from return the vote until very late at night.
posted by delmoi at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2006


China has a per-capita car ownership equivalent to the US in 1912.

Is that really a bad thing?
posted by delmoi at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2006


Great post, thanks.

Another thing to think about regarding china is that in addition to the massive gender imbalance, the birth rate restriction will massively skew the age distribution in the next generation or two.

Think about all the problems in the US over any change to the Social Security administration. Now imagine that the number and cost of caring for retirees has tripled and the number of workers has halved. In a decade or two, China is going to be a nation of old men and women being supported by a tiny minority of working men. Add to that the gender imbalance and you have the possibility for a massively screwed up demographic.

I especially loved the FP article, the insight into the actual numbers of, e.g. China vs India from the perspective of foreign investment is fascinating. I would be very wary of putting my money into China.
posted by Skorgu at 8:00 AM on March 8, 2006


I agree with Delmoi's observation: these problems are due to government unaccountability. There's no effective check on mistakes and corruption. Rural Chinese protests may force far more sweeping change than the money currently handed out. The farmers aren't demanding democratic rights though. What China comes up with in the next few years could be some democratic reforms, but it could just as well be a purge of corrupt local officials and greater centralization of power-- and government legitimacy based on nationalism and xenophobia.
posted by Loudmax at 8:12 AM on March 8, 2006


great post. While most chinese think instability comes from the minzu/nationality problem, they often underestimate the anger of the peasant...probably because the peasant was a bastion of party support not only during the maoist days (even after the great leap forward/dayuejin), but after the begining of economic reforms. However, the rising income gaps means people have no choice but to go to the cities. You can go to villages where almost every able bodied male has gone off to the costal cities to find work. But this floating population has fewer rights than his fellow denziens, and no access to the social services china's urban dwellers enjoy. When their boss says "sorry, can't pay you brah, maybe at new year's" there's not much they can do..

I wish elpapacito or melt away would go to China, and visit something other than Shanghai or Beijing, or any other Tourist friendly sight. Go to the countryside, or maybe even Xinjiang or Tibet, and see what China's really like. talk to people about what corruption really means in a state where media reports on corruption is only a seldom used tool of power politics.

I encourage people to be critical of the United States, but when you compare China to the US (in an attempt to draw parallels about rights, corruption, etc.) you are necessarily downplaying what is going on in China and that annoys me to no end. It also exposes the fact that you've probably never been to China, or elsewhere besides Europe/Canada, or other "1st world" states.
Do you know anyone who's been imprisoned for sending newspaper clippings abroad? Rebiya Kadeer (Ribya Qadir) was, for over 5 years. Go talk to villagers, who see their homes destroyed, or property and/or beasts of burdern confiscated for having an "out of plan" (chaosheng) birth. Local officials can literally get away with murder, because no one can complain about them. Wanna go to the higher authorities? You can, but just make sure you don't get arrested after the informal meeting you had, or at the train station in your town, or your provincial seat, or beijing. Muslims can't do ANYTHING religious before the age of 18. Tibetans have similar restrictions. and you're complaining because a vote count was delayed a couple of hours? Is this simply antipathy toward the people of other nations, or a lack of perspective?

PS: China's sex-ratio at birth imbalance is 115.9:100, which translates into something like 30 million extra men. Homosexuality, wife swapping, and trafficking of women from southeast asia are all options on the table.
posted by hurting.the.feelings.of.thechinesepeople at 9:18 AM on March 8, 2006


I wish elpapacito or melt away would go to China, and visit something other than Shanghai or Beijing, or any other Tourist friendly sight.talk to people about what corruption really means in a state where media reports on corruption is only a seldom used tool of power politics.

I live in Italy and corruption here is the second name of any government. Expecially in the past corruption was an habit, an even now
people know that corruption isn't to be discounted as unacceptable. Our state television (RAI TV) was divided between the political parties and even know it's under heavy influence from parties and practices self-censorship regularly, except for a channel that still manages to host very controversial documentary that touch MANY political interests.

Yet it's 1% of production, the rest is in my opinion halfway between commercial private tv manure and something with interesting..it's a faaaaaar cry from PBS and light years away from BBC...but then again an english person would probably value BBC better then me.

So I guess I don't need to talk to people in Shanghai, even if I always like to hear from people.
posted by elpapacito at 9:47 AM on March 8, 2006


Western Media: Revolution Impending in China!

Wishful thinking?
posted by Laotic at 9:53 AM on March 8, 2006


PS: China's sex-ratio at birth imbalance is 115.9:100, which translates into something like 30 million extra men. Homosexuality, wife swapping, and trafficking of women from southeast asia are all options on the table.

War is also an option. And the usual course these things take historically speaking. Though not sure how you can burn off 30 million men in anything but a large nuke exchange.
posted by tkchrist at 10:19 AM on March 8, 2006


There was a recent article on the effect of the surplass of men versus women. I wish I could recall where I read it, it may have been Time, or a more scholarly magazine. It essentially said that China's leaders may use nationalism as a means to control the excess population of men without wives, which could then lead to an outbreak of war. Another aspect was a surge in homosexuality in China, the article went on to surmise that Shanghai might become the San Francisco of East Asia. Hrm.
posted by Atreides at 11:14 AM on March 8, 2006


Though not sure how you can burn off 30 million men in anything but a large nuke exchange.

A big hole in the Three Gorges Dam might do it.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:29 AM on March 8, 2006


What China comes up with in the next few years could be some democratic reforms, but it could just as well be a purge of corrupt local officials and greater centralization of power-- and government legitimacy based on nationalism and xenophobia.

Judging by what I saw while I was there, I would say the central government already bases its legitimacy on nationalism and xenophobia. What really disturbs me are all the teenagers who are eager to fight what they see as an inevitable war with Japan.

Excellent post Hurting, this thread needed some perspective.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:51 AM on March 8, 2006


Of course, the only way a war between China and Japan could occur would be if the Communist leadership lost control of the military. Japan is among the largest, if not the largest, investor in China. At the same time, Japan consumes a whole lotta of China's exports. Meanwhile, a war between China and Japan negates the presence of the United States, in which such a war would most certainly draw the U.S. in on the side of Japan. This, in turn, would throw China at war against yet another one of its biggest investors and importers of Chinese goods.

If anything, it just reflects on the unpredictable future of China and the means by which the Communist party will attempt to keep control of it.
posted by Atreides at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2006


Laotic hits the nail on the head. The people living in the countryside in China are quite aware of the growing gap, but they are also quite aware their their lives are much better than they were in the past. Because people view their lives today better than their lives in the past the chances for revolution in the near future in China are very low.
posted by wobumingbai at 4:25 PM on March 8, 2006


I've wondered [..] to what degree the "one-family/one child" draconian birth-control policy has collided with a cultural preference for male children over female to exacerabate a gender imbalance in China's population.

A significant degree, as others have noted. That is also the case in Korea, though thanks to the fact that Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world these days, the government is pushing like mad (and propagandizing like crazy) for people to pop out more puppies. People aren't listening much, all too aware of the environmental degradation, economic difficulties, and systemically broken education system.

So post-ultrasound revelation of the gender of a fetus by a doctor is not permitted in principle, because if it's not a boy, it may well be aborted. In practice, money changes hands, and the expected happens in some cases, and the male to female ratio in elementary schools is upwards of 120:100 these days.

Given the Korean obsession with bloodlines and public revulsion towards homosexuality, I expect reunification of the Koreas will happen about 20 years from now, when all those young man are in desperate need of a mate. I'm only half-joking.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:37 PM on March 8, 2006


So ... China Ha Ha Ha, is it?

Seriously, much of this is exactly why I had my skepticism in that thread. China has great potential, but its basic political problems are unsolved, and leaving them unresolved will not allow China to reach its potential -- and dangerously, attempting to resolve them could introduce instability into the system that will allow it to consume itself.

If, on top of the economic problems, millions of Chinese men can't find wives, how does that affect China's future?

Wild prediction: gay marriage. Brokeback Mountain sold out in Hong Kong. Coincidence? But really, an increase in at least situational homosexuality seems inevitable. Whether China will adapt socially to allow men to save face while being unable to start a family, that's the question no matter what the solution is. In a way I'm almost more worried about the "little emperor" syndrome that one-child families are discovering -- basically, raising spoiled brats who lack certain cooperative skills that having siblings tends to give you naturally.
posted by dhartung at 6:08 PM on March 8, 2006


china = poor quality product
posted by farnastic at 7:25 PM on March 18, 2006


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