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October 10, 2005

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» Taishi, China: Lu Banglie lives, will his cause die? - Rebecca MacKinnon from China Digital Times
From RConversation blog: When Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt last saw Lu Banglie, the local democracy activist who was beaten by local thugs for leading him to Taishi village where villagers' demands for democracy had caused such a ruckus the... [Read More]

» Lu Banglie lives, will his cause die? - Rebecca MacKinnon from China Digital Times
From RConversation blog: When Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt last saw Lu Banglie, the local democracy activist who was beaten by local thugs for leading him to Taishi village where villagers' demands for democracy had caused such a ruckus the... [Read More]

» Lu Banglie Update from The Peking Duck
Good news: Lu Banglie, the Chinese democracy activist who was savagely beaten at the weekend, has been found injured but alive. Mr Lu has told the Guardian that he was battered unconscious and later driven hundreds of miles to his... [Read More]

» The hazards of being an activist, or a journalist, in China from Shanghaiist
Go here to read a gruesome, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking first-hand account of Shanghai-based Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt's attempt to report from Taishi, a village in Guangdong, site of what Joffe-Walt calls "perhaps the most significant gr... [Read More]

» a defense of benjamin joffe-walt from asiapundit
First the good news. Lu Banglie, the Chinese activist who was beaten to near-death outside of Taishi village is alive. Whether or not he's 'fine' has yet to be fully determined. Lu, a People's Congress representative who had fallen [Read More]

» a defense of benjamin joffe-walt from asiapundit
First the good news. Lu Banglie, the Chinese activist who was beaten to near-death outside of Taishi village is alive. Whether or not he's 'fine' has yet to be fully determined. Lu, a People's Congress representative who had fallen [Read More]

» key points of the Benjamin-Guardian debate from Bingfeng Teahouse
key points of the Benjamin-Guardian debate [Read More]

» Forests and trees from Simon World
And I'm back. Thank you to all the guest posters during my break. As usual, a wide variety of posts that will likely result in top billing for some strange Google searches. I particularly like this blog being referred to as "semi-formal". I was aiming ... [Read More]

» Forests and trees from Simon World
And I'm back. Thank you to all the guest posters during my break. As usual, a wide variety of posts that will likely result in top billing for some strange Google searches. I particularly like this blog being referred to as "semi-formal". I was aiming ... [Read More]

Comments

Joseph Wang

There is a much more serious problem. Lu Banglie was indeed beaten up, but his injuries seem to be fairly minor and were never life threatening.

The Guardian has just shot its credibility to hell in the Chinese blogosphere. The problem is that if the Guardian got these facts wrong, then that completely opens up the question of what is really going on in Tashi.


Brian Kennedy

This guy has no business covering China. If you have to rely on translators/interpreters in China, you will find yourself at a constant disadvantage an unable to get to the bottom of anything other than your whiskey glass.
My bet is, had this guy gone *alone* he would have been fine, may have actually *been* to Taishi and could then perhaps further enlighten us with regard to what he purports to be "perhaps the most significant grassroots social movement China has seen since the Cultural Revolution." Which is taking place in a town he's never been to.
The whole (Guardian) piece reeks of hyperbole (quelle suprise).

Joseph Wang

I should point out that from what I have seen I'm on the side of the villagers. What it looks like is that you have local officials which have are trying to cover up the fact that they've got their hand in the cookie jar. Having said that.....

Hyperbole does not help thing.

The political reality is that the only way you are going to get anything done is provincial and central officials decide to step in. (And there have been cases in which they have done so. Tung Che-Hwa and the SARS scandal are two.) Overstating the case of the villagers makes it less likely that this is going to happen.

The other issue is that the way the story is being played is that "Tashi shows that all of the rhetoric about the CCP wanting to help the poor is a sham." The trouble is that Tashi is one village, and we have no idea based on press reports what is happening in the tens of thousands of other villages. Of course you can make assumptions based on your beliefs about how the world works (i.e. the CCP is evil therefore of course things are worse elsewhere), but the whole point of journalism is to get the facts.

There is another huge blind spot in the traditional press. The Tashi incident has already gone on for about three months. It's likely to continue to go on for another several months if not years. Newspapers tend to be horrible about covering stories like that.

richard

Just what Rebecca said she hopes doesn't happen is happening, right here in front of our very eyes: mischievous commenters, here and on multiple blogs, are diverting attention away from the heart of the matter (what's happening at Taishi) and instead chanting in unison about the Guardian for the reporter's error, as though that's the big lesson to take away from this horrific story. Rebecca, your prescience astounds me once more, and I look to you as the oracle of the China-focused blogosphere. Really. Thanks so much for your diligence.

Joseph Wang

IMHO, the big story is how the traditional Western media has just totally messed this one up. The Communist Party censors and closes blogs, yet the coverage on this story in China has been hundreds of times better than in the traditional Western media. That has far more disturbing implications than what is happening in Tashi.

If the Western media is messing up coverage of a tiny village in Guangzhou, what the hell is going on in Iraq? or New Orleans? or Iran? or North Korea? or Afghanistan?

I can read Chinese. I've been to China. I think I can make a pretty informed opinion about what is going on there. But I can't read Arabic and I don't have any clue what is going on in the Middle Eastern blogosphere.

Also, I'd be careful of the "everyone who disagrees with me is a CCP minon" attitude. I saw that a lot with the Tiananmen democracy activists. The trouble with thinking that way is that pretty soon everyone gets labelled an CCP minon, and you find yourself totally alone and ineffective.

One of the problem that I see with trying to fit this into the "good villagers raising up against the CCP" point of view is that you miss some questions.

Three questions I have are:

1) Lu Banglie along with other activists are members of local people's congresses. Is he is a party member? What sort of political protection does he have? One weakness that he has is that he is from Hubei and so can't pull too many strings in Guangdong. At the same time, the people who beat him up are going to be in much more serious trouble if he comes to any major harm.

2) Did the local committee offer any sort of carrots to get the villagers to withdraw?

The standard operating procedure in this sort situation is for the officials to offer *both* carrots and sticks (i.e. we'll start arrest people but if you cooperate we'll give you all cash from this special fund).

3) What has been the censorship like in other stories? The Taishi story has been heavily censored since about 9/16. This could be because the Central Propaganda Bureau has issued a censorship order relating specifically to Tashi. However, it is also the case that the Propaganda Bureau issues a general "do not report bad news" order in late September because of National Day and the Party conference. Also the Party conference means that the Central Government is pretty much paralyzed for about two to three weeks and one wouldn't expect intervention in any local situation.

Some digging ought to be able to get you some good information, since people who know are on the internet.

Joseph Wang

One pet peeve that I have is when newspapers do not get titles right. Liu Banglie is, according to ESWN, the NPC deputy from Zhijiang, Hubei. Titles mean a lot since they are a rough indication of the amount of political connections someone can pull. The Guardian identified Liu Banglie was a village head, which has considerable less political pull than an NPC deputy.

An NPC deputy is largely a ceremonial position, but the positions are vetted by the CCP Organization Department, which means that he does certainly have some political pull (at least in Hubei). RFA identified him as a member of the Zhijang "parliament" which is different. If he were a member of the local city people's congress, the amount of political pull he would have would be different. A local people's congress delegate would have more real power locally, but less pull nationally. It's also possible that he is both. (That's why I'm curious of Lu is a party member or not.)

What I find appalling is that no one has asked him the really important background questions. What I would be interested in knowing is his experiences in trying to enforce the Village Election Law? Is Taishi the first time he has tried something like this? How typical is Taishi? How atypical is Taishi? All of that would give a much better idea of what is going on in that corner of the world.

There is a danger of overgeneralization. We seem to have a good idea of what is happening with Taishi (thanks to ESWN). With some questioning of Lu, we might be able to get some insight into what is happening in Hubei and Guangdong. This still doesn't give us a general picture of what is happening all over China.

One other bit of data. I do recall a paper on the implementation of the village election law. Basically the Chinese system of government effectively gives very broad powers to provincial governments to implement (or not implement) national laws. The paper was trying to make a connection between factors such as the law implementation and factors such as economic growth. It concluded that a great deal of how the Village Election Law gets implemented depends on the personality of provincial government and in some cases the personality of the provincial governor. Some provinces are very enthusiatic about village elections. Some are not, and there is no coorelation with much of anything. Among the provinces which are not enthusiatic is Guangdong. (Zhejiang and Fuijan by contrast are very enthusiatic about village elections.) I'll try to dig up the paper.

Also from the Chinese viewpoint whether Lu is minorly injured or dead matters a great deal. Basically if Lu is seriously injured or dead, he becomes a heroic martyr and at that point the central government is forced to come down hard on the Taishi local government (see Sun Zigang which was also very poorly covered)

If Lu is not dead or seriously injured, then he is not a heroic martyr. At this point his guangxi networks in Hubei can't do very much, and Beijing can't do very much either if the Guangdong provincial government does not want to act (which it may or may not do.)

sun bin

"At the same time, I hope this question of a foreign correspondent's responsibility will not become a convenient way of distracting people from the core issue: one of human rights and the suppression of a democracy movement in Taishi. "

The best way to quell the diverting of attention and 'manipulation' is for us (and the Guardian) to face it squarely ourself, before lending CCP such ammunition.

What Richard asked for here, is exactly the opposite. To employ the CCP tactic of self denial and censoring the seeking for truth is playing into CCP's hand. This is the best way to hurt the Taishi cause.

I seem to have read that Lu himself is a success story of a case parallel to Taishi. So there might well have been a few sucess stories of village re-election already. Perhaps our journalists could cover the story of these cases (e.g. that of Lu himself)

Joseph Wang

Some more cultural observations....

The "cult of the heroic martyr" has very deep resonance in Chinese culture, and if someone dies in the process of righteous resistance, all hell breaks loose. The script goes that someone with privilege and power is willing to sacrifice that privilege and power and stand with the people in righteous resistance.

I think that some of the invective that is being aimed at the Guardian is because the reporter didn't follow the script. His "role" is to come in and get beat up. He wasn't.

There's also a long history of "fake martyrdom" which the Guardian inadvertently tripped over. So what really happened to Lu Bangjie is not a minor detail at all.

I don't detect any anti-foreign sentiment at all in this at all. Same thing would have happened if you had a Chinese reporter involved.

The CCP knows this, and is very, very careful not to execute dissidents. The perferred action by the CCP toward most dissidents is to send them to the United States at which point they stop being martyrs, and lose all popular support.

It is also very fortunate that in Chinese culture unlike Islamic culture it is essential that to be a martyr that someone else has to pull the trigger. Suicide is highly frowned on. This also poses a dilemma for political activists in China because if you do something that is clearly suicidal, then people think of you as "crazy" and again you don't get much popular support.

The Western narrative I think in place is the "Star Wars" narrative (rebel band overthrows evil empire). This is similar to the Chinese narrative, but there are differences. The most important one is that in the Western narrative the martyr comes from outside the system, whereas in the Chinese narrative the martyr comes from within the system. Also the Western narrative tends to say that once the rebels overthrow the empire there will be this wonderful new world and people will live happily ever after. In the Chinese narrative, the rebel overthrow the dynasty, becomes the new emperor, and over time the dynasty will become corrupt and things will happen all over again. Personally, I think the Chinese version tends to be closer to what actually happens.

The other difference is that in the Western narrative, it is essential to overthrow the evil empire. In the Chinese narrative, often the story ends when the emperor listens to reason comes in and gets rid of the corrupt officials. That would make a bizarre ending to Star Wars.

The Western narrative causes reporters to miss a few things.

Basically the future of the Communist Party depends on how well the Party can incorporate people like Lu Banglie (and the fact that he is an NPC deputy means that someone in the Party likes him), and the degree to which people like him believe in the system. This could be determined by asking a few questions, which I haven't seen asked.

sunbin

I just found that there had been at least 52 cases before 2003 of village mayor impeachments. Probably a lot more by now.
Taishi seems to be among the 'failed' cases which probably involves local corruption or incompetence

http://sun-bin.blogspot.com/2005/10/taishi-and-village-impeachment.html

bobby fletcher

And of course, being labeled a "mischievous commenters", I must live up to it by asking questions contrary to the prevailing generalization of China.

Is Beijing really involved?

Has anyone see the Chinese news and website reporting of Lu's farmer's rights activity in previous years?

Specifically the scuffle and fights he gets into in his own village? I think this has something to do with Joseph's "martyr" comment. This seems to be his trademark, a "bitter flesh" strategy of sorts. It's a "charge against windmill", I read on one blog.

It reminds of Mississippi Burning in our own history. Would anyone say the local's treatment of civil rights wokers were at the direction of the Whitehouse? Many of those racists certainly were Republican and/or Democrat.

Only the most unreasonable person would reach such conclusion, so why should it be any different when it comes to China?

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