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a people’s republic of hypocrisy

by Archives September 2, 2008

China, with its rich and storied past, its first Olympic games, and its seven year old membership in the WTO, arguably now ranks as an international force to be reckoned with. But like a piece of gum stuck to an expensive shoe; there’s a whole lot of negative baggage clinging to China’s rise.
When the mayor of Beijing announced his plan to eradicate the slums scattered in and around the city, which are home to thousands of vital migrant workers, there was no reaction. The local government promised relocation and adequate compensation, yet very few workers ever received a single Yuan. They were simply kicked out.
A 2002 survey carried out by the local government found at least 330 villages with a total population of more than 800,000 migrants located in the eight urban districts of the city proper. By demolishing the slums migration to Beijing is discouraged, and subsequently the number of workers, which the city desperately needs, is reduced. Xinhua, the state controlled media, described it as a ‘renovating’ process. Likewise, the ten-foot brick walls posted in front of hundreds of local food stalls were explained as necessary to hide from western journalists. Most likely the CPC wanted to cover an eyesore that nonetheless reflects the heart and soul of Chinese culture.
A similar act of ‘beautification’ occurred at the opening ceremonies, when Lin Miaoke substituted for seven year-old singer Yang Peiyi due to her lack of ‘cuteness’ and stage presence. This hypocritical decision taken by the Politburo (political bureau) exemplifies the kind of superficiality that China takes great pride in. There is a tendency to sweep the subjects of inappropriate or unwanted foreign attention under a state rug; where there is no chance of it ever surfacing again.
We see this tendency expressed in the CPC’s treatment of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the S.A.R.S. outbreak, the Tibetan protests earlier this year, and now with the slums in Beijing. On August 7th two British graduates were deported when they participated in a pro-Tibetan protest, one of many around the city at that time. Along with dozens of foreign scalpers, more than fifty foreigners had been deported from China by the second week of the Games. But while isolated protests by Westerners can be ignored; what really irks the top brass are the increasingly frequent violent revolts by their own people.
Earlier this year in Yunnan province, three hundred people were arrested for protesting the opening of a new cement plant that had polluted their air and drinking water. It was just another example of the people being punished for demanding their basic rights. But the worst example of this censorship took place a week ago when two Beijing women in their late 70s were sentenced to a year “re-education through labor”. Their crime? Seeking permits to protest being forcefully evicted from their homes, in 2001, at one of the officially sanctioned areas established for the Olympic Games.
It all reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Marge goes to jail and the house becomes a complete mess. After sweeping everything under the rug in a fine example of Simpsons lethargy, it begins to take on a life of its own. China’s proverbial rug is nearly stretched to the limit and there’s precious little room left for more oppression.
The 1.13 billion citizens of this burgeoning entity known as the PRC are at a fork in the road. They can keep being manipulated and brainwashed by constant propaganda; and leave all their decisions to the Politburo bureaucracy. Or, they can fight back against the machine that has controlled them their entire lives. Over that decision we have no control.
The question for the international community should be whether to passively condemn China for the way it is; or gallop to the rescue. The world will be confronted with a similar dilemma in 2014 with the Olympic Games being hosted in Sochi, Russia. The belligerent tendencies in Russian policy may lead many countries to reconsider their participation. But, given that not a single country boycotted Beijing in 2008, it may be too much to hope for a different result in 2014. As it stands, we can only hope that one day “The People’s Republic” will truly live up to its name.

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