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January 30, 2008



Actually,the "小萝卜头"(little radish head)cannot be called a baby martyr,he died at eight,called a boy martyr better,but the tragedy is same.


Excellent article as usual, Rebecca. One point though:

"Why can't China accept that dissent and argument are part of being a normal country?"

Perhaps we could re-phrase that:

"Why can't the Chinese accept that dissent and argument are part of being a normal family?"

Dissent and argument are not part of traditional Confucian values. This is a characteristic within families, businesses and government in China (and Asia in general). I know I'm painting with a rather wide brush here, but I honestly feel that at least part of this attitude stems from these millennia old perceptions of proper human interactions.

Yiu-cho Chan

I suppose the old expression works here: The tighter one closes their fist, the more that slips through their fingers. Ever since the beginning of the Communist Party with Chen Duxiu, they've been pretty paranoid of losing their hold on people, which is understandable when your party history was truly forged during a civil war. But they need to understand that the times, they are a-changin'.



Are you familiar with the United States' Foreign Agents Registration Act? Chinese-American engineer Chi Mak was found guilty of this law, apparently due to his association with what the prosecution painted as Chinese government representatives.

I'm not suggesting a broad equivalency between the Chinese and American justice systems. But I, for one, understand that even in this day and age the liberal-minded, progressive, United States government remains very concerned about the activities of her citizens acting on behalf of foreign governments... enough so that the FBI finds it appropriate to monitor the private communication, of such individuals, and even seek jail-time for those found sufficiently guilty.

I don't mean to imply that jail time is appropriate for Ms. Zeng or Mr. Hu. But at the very least, I think the American case is enough precedent that I feel morally justified demanding that Ms. Zeng and Mr. Hu publicly and completely describe the sources of their financial support, as well as anyone that they may have contact with overseas. I too would like to know if they are potentially unregistered agents of an organization affiliated with a foreign government.

When questioned on the issue of financial support by someone claiming to be Zeng's former middle-school teacher... (how are they able to afford their upper middle class existence while under "house arrest" without any obvious form of employment?)... Ms. Zeng suggested that in the Internet age, they're able to make a living simply by "writing essays" and other online activities.

I personally find that defense less than convincing, but I'm open enough to want to at least hear the details. Using the United States as our moral compass, let's have a thorough study of who they've been talking to, and who's paying their mortgage and subsidizing their political activities.


True. In Spain with Barcelona Olympics there was many people who dissented and criticized, and it was a sensitive issue due to Spain's Madrid-Catalonia political, economic and nationalistic rivalries. Also with Madrid's bidding for the 2012 games many people openly expressed in their blogs, newspapers, magazines... their disagreement with the bid due to many different reasons: expenditure, white elephant, more important issues (housing, health, unemployment...), by the way same reasons I am hearing from some of my Chinese friends. In the end it is a Political thing, that is, a politician telling the world and his own country comrades in power "I did what you can not, host the Olympics during my mandate". Politics are basic in Olympics.

Really many intelligent Chinese people is on the countdown... but in the "alternative"one, like the Flash image.



Simply perfect. Thank you for expressing the sentiments of so many so cogently and passionately.

And the line "Seriously, if the Chinese security apparatus intentionally wanted to subvert state power, they couldn't be doing a better job" just made diet coke come out the old nose.


Rebecca MacKinnon

@CCT you write "the liberal-minded, progressive, United States government"... Honestly I have never described the U.S. government under Bush in such terms. Never have I ever attempted to argue that the U.S. ought to be held up as some kind of gold standard for human rights - particularly given the Bush administration's odious policies on surveillance, not to mention torture. Honestly, I have relatives who were under surveillance in the 70s for their stances on the Vietnam War and for visiting China, and I believe that what freedoms we have in the U.S. are only preserved because enough people keep pushing back hard against those who would like to take them away. I would also point out that Hu Jia was not arrested on state secrets charges, which is the charge normally used when a person is suspected of espionage. If they have undeclared income, perhaps that is a tax matter? Does it justify holding a woman and a newborn baby under house arrest? Or are you arguing that they should not have a right to engage in non-violent political activities, and that it is correct to define non-violent political speech as crime? That's kind of like saying the Bush administration is justified in jailing everybody who is actively advocating for a Republican-free white house in 2009.

@Aron - how do you explain Taiwan then? Or Korea which is a very Confucian society, perhaps even more so than China? My mother's relatives are Norwegian. They hate arguing and when she was growing up her family never tolerated dissent or expressions of contrary opinions. Yet as a society the Norwegians have figured out how to tolerate dissent and debate without resorting to human rights violations. Likewise the people of Taiwan and the Koreans - it took a while, but both societies have come to realize that they don't have to shed their cultural identity in order to put an end to state violence or thuggery. I just dont see how this cultural relativism argument justifies treating citizens with dissenting opinions like crap and violating their human rights.


Dissent and criticism is tolerated in China. Don't you remember the Cultural Revolution?

During the cultural revolution, even students criticized their professors, dragged their professos on the street and shamed them.

It is a perfect example of dissent and criticism. Just look at the Cultural Revolution.


The Chinese government is rather harsh against dissidents because they believe that if you allow people to cross the red lines then everyone will end up crossing the red lines and that things will fall apart. So you draw lines and anyone who crosses them gets stomped on, but you draw them in such a way that most people don't cross them.

The thing that has people in Beijing spooked are the color revolutions.

RMackinnon: Then it becomes a big story, regardless of whether or not the dissenters are even making a coherent or logical point, or whether they have much of a following.

In which case it appears on the front page of the New York Times and then two weeks later, everyone forgets about it. People have rather short memories, and arguing that China needs to change a major part of state policy to avoiding looking bad in the NYTimes, I think overestimates the power of public opinion. People know that China is an authoritarian regime that behaves badly at times, but given the mess in Iraq, people are less willing to oppose authoritarian regimes than they were a few years ago.

The other problem is compassion fatigue. Yes you can bring up heart-rending stories about Chinese dissidents fighting the system, but those are the same stories as existed last year, and they are likely to be the same stories that you will get next year. After a while, people lose interest.

RMackinnon: Why can't China accept that dissent and argument are part of being a normal country?

It does, but the question then becomes the limits of that dissent and argument. Most of my time is spend in talking about economics and when it comes to policies like the RMB appreciations and monetary policy, there is no shortage of dissent and argument, and this is because all of that argument and dissent gets channeled into areas that ultimately strengthens the ruling system.

RMackinnon: The only rational conclusion can be one of the following: a) China's security and law-enforcement apparatus is out of control, unaccountable, power-hungry, and can't be reined in by the other branches of the government; b) the Chinese government really is on the verge of losing its grip at any moment and thus really has more reason than we realize to fear all of its citizens.

I pick b)

The fear of the Chinese government is that you will end up with another Tiananmen in which everyone shows up on the streets and they have to start shooting people to stay in power. This is something that they don't want, and by showing that they can keep a few dissidents in jail, the Chinese government is sending a message that whatever red lines it draws needs to be respected.

Personally, I think this does pose a dilemma, because I really do believe that if the Communist Party were to say tomorrow, you can say what you want, that you'd end up with mass demonstrations, and by the end of the year you'd could have the government out of power. A triumph for freedom and democracy!!!!! No, since there is no particular reason to think that any government that follows is going to be more competent or even more friendly to human rights than they current one.

The question that I have to ask human rights activists is what do you do if the Chinese government happens to be right? Suppose it were the case that if China suddenly relaxes dissent then you'd end up with the government collapsing followed by another government which is worse than the current one. Ten years ago, you could argue that this just wasn't going to happen and that any democratic transition was going to bring peace and happiness forever. You just can't win that argument now by ignoring it.

You can bring up Taiwan and South Korea, but those areas took decades to come up with systems that could handle dissent without collapsing. It's not as if the KMT or the Korean general's just one day said, fine, everyone can do what they want.

There is a wonderful short story by Ursula Le Guin called "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" that really captures the basic moral issue involved.


"I pick b)"

Wrong. Why don't you go to chinadaily.com and make pro-Communist comments. They'll remove you too.

Please do not think that because you make anti-China comments, they censor you. They'll censor you even if you make pro-Communist comments.

I do not think that they are pro or against dissent, rather they are against extremism. They fear Communists who are extreme as much as they fear the capitalists extremists.

And btw, they didn't go in and start shooting people at Tiananmen. NOBODY DIED AT TIANANMEN SQUARE.

See minute 5:57

where student leader who was on the square until 6:30 that morning did not witness any massacre. He further implied that those who claim there was a massacre are creating lies.

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