Sunday, July 02, 2006

Rumblings from China?

The following article (reprinted here in its entirety due to the NYTimes' fascist DRM) made me think of Paddy. Kristof, if you'll recall, was the Times' Beijing bureau chief, and won a Pulitzer for his reporting on Tinanmen Square. The editorial is sobering, to say the least:

Rumblings From China


In the 17 years since the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen democracy
movement, China has enjoyed an economic miracle and remarkable
political stability. But my hunch is that that period of smooth
sailing is now coming to an end.

Wildcat protests, some violent and involving thousands of people, have
been exploding around the country. By the Chinese government's own
count, there are now more than 200 protests a day, prompted by
everything from layoffs to government seizures of land.

The protests may grow if, as seems likely, China's economic model
appears less miraculous in the years ahead.

 Labor costs are rising, and increased attention to the environment
will also raise production costs. The rapid aging of China's
population (a huge problem in coming decades) will reduce the labor
force's share of the population. It's also hard to sustain 10 percent
annual growth rates as the base becomes steadily larger.

All this is likely to mean somewhat lower growth ahead. Some low-wage
manufacturing jobs may move to cheaper countries like Vietnam,
Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Job shortages already anger newly minted university graduates. So even
a modest slowing of China's growth rate would mean more economic
frustration for people to protest about.

The upshot is that I sense more fragility in the system than at almost
any time in the 23 years that I've been visiting or living in China.
Party officials say they feel it, too, and I think that's why the
leadership is so reluctant to devalue the yuan: it doesn't want to
risk factory closures, job losses and unrest.

These protests are becoming a part of daily life. When I was outside
the No. 2 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing, as my Times
colleague Zhao Yan was being tried inside on trumped-up charges of
leaking state secrets, a cluster of peasants appeared with red banners
denouncing the seizure of their land. They pushed a wheelchair-bound
80-year-old, who was savvy enough to cry whenever a camera came near.

"We're just ordinary people with no power and no money," shouted the
demonstration's leader, Jin Xinhua. "There's nothing we can do but

It's possible to see the rise of protests simply as the evolution of
China into a more open society. Some in the Communist Party leadership
have argued for following the Taiwanese model toward greater
democracy, and one attraction for Beijing is that the Communists might
well win free elections if they held them.

But evolution doesn't seem to be President Hu Jintao's vision of the
future; he's a man who has praised North Korea's political model.

The basic problem for Mr. Hu is that the incentives have changed over
the last half-dozen years, encouraging more challenges to the system.
As one dissident told me, in the past getting in trouble would mean a
10-year term in prison, alone and forgotten. "Now, if I go to prison,"
he said, "I'll get out after a year, and I'll be a hero."

True, some people are sent to prison longer (like my colleague, Mr.
Zhao), but few people seem much intimidated.

 "I'm not worried," laughed Jiao Guobiao, a professor who was fired
from Beijing University for writing scathing essays about the
Communist Party — which he continues to write. "If they want to arrest
me, let 'em."

The upshot is a growing boldness spreading throughout the land. On
this trip, a half-dozen people regaled me with stories about State
Security (China's K.G.B.) giving them confidential warnings to toe the
line — which they scoffed at.

This boldness is significant because over the last half-century, the
times when Chinese rose up to demand broad political change (1956,
1976, 1986, 1989) have not been the times they were most upset, but
the times they were least scared. And now again, they're not very

So the country today reminds me of early 1989, before the Tiananmen
protests, or of South Korea and Taiwan in the mid-1980's as citizens
began defying the dictatorships in those places. All around China,
from Thailand to Indonesia to Mongolia, rising incomes and education
levels eventually led to major protests demanding more accountable

I'm a believer in China, and I think it will end this century as the
most important country in the world — after a wild ride. For now, my
premonition is that the ferment in China will grow, and that the long
calm since Tiananmen may be coming to an end.

Well Paddy? Do things seem tense over there? Inquiring minds wish to know...

- The Duc


sobinator said...

I think the demographic problem that the Chinese face is probably their most worrisome.

im not sure how to insert a link, or if i can in a comment, but if you link the two halves of the above address, removing the two dashes, you'll find a very interesting chart (or just go to the below link and search china) predicting China's population distribution (with regard to age) and predictions for the next 50 years or so. The most sobering part about the chart is that it shows (without telling) that much of the generation that is currently 25-30 will die prematurely (by 60 years of age).

If you wish to look at all the other country's, maybe in hopes of a comparison, go to the above address. I highly recommend these charts as they are very telling as to the future of population growth. Very interesting stuff.

MrC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paddy said...

Hmmm...difficult to give a brief response to that, but after reading through the article I thought: 'wow! What he's describing, if true, is playing out to be a quintessential de Touquevillian moment.' And if that is indeed the case, watch out!