WSJ: China’s Hooligan Government
Posted by Author on February 19, 2011
Chairman Mao said that power grows out of the barrel of the gun, and Chinese authorities have never shied away from using violence against anyone who has stepped out of line. But this wet work was usually sanctioned by quasi-legal procedures and carried out far from the public eye—for instance in the country’s vast system of labor camps.
In recent years, however, thugs acting on behalf of various levels of government have begun openly attacking Chinese who dare to complain, as well as local and foreign journalists who record those grievances. This portends a breakdown in public respect for the state’s authority that will be self-defeating for the central government.
This week the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng and his wife said they were beaten by men who have been guarding his house near the town of Linyi in Shandong province. Mr. Chen had smuggled out a video statement that was released on the website of the Texas-based group China Aid and then went viral, in which he says that the government’s reliance on violence can only maintain stability in the short term. He revealed that he was being kept under virtual house arrest, complete with shots of a man peeping through the window of his home. Foreign reporters from CNN, the New York Times, Le Monde and Radio France International tried to visit Mr. Chen, and were roughed up by the same band of enforcers.
The case is hardly an isolated one—on Wednesday, policemen beat and arrested human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong and his wife in Beijing after they met with colleagues to discuss how to help Mr. Chen. The list of such incidents is long, and they should not be taken lightly. The artist and activist Ai Weiwei was beaten in 2009 when he tried to attend the trial of a dissident in Chengdu, and as a result he later developed a brain bleed. Fortunately, by that time he was in Germany and received excellent medical care, or it might have been fatal.
Part of the story is that more information about abuses is getting out because activists use technology to mobilize support—Mr. Chen’s video being a case in point. Local authorities are held responsible by their superiors for incidents that garner national or international attention, but are not rewarded for following the rule of law. Therefore they have an incentive to respond to conflicts with greater force. The result is an escalating cycle of violence.
And the change in tactics is not confined to high-profile dissidents. For instance, urban management officers are notorious and despised for using violence against street hawkers and other poor people who violate regulations. The police are so unpopular that Yang Jia, who killed six Shanghai officers in 2008 apparently in revenge for a beating he received, has become an underground hero.
The irony is that one accusation the Chinese authorities levy against dissidents like Mr. Chen is that they are “hooligans,” undermining law and order. Mr. Chen, being blind, has little capacity for violence and has never been accused of a violent crime. Human rights lawyers like the disappeared Gao Zhisheng and Mr. Jiang have been trying to work within the legal system, weak as it is, to defend the weakest members of society.
China’s increasing use of violence against its citizens suggests that traditional measures of social control are breaking down, leading to desperate measures. Mr. Chen said in his video that after he was released from prison, he only went from a smaller prison to a larger one. As more and more Chinese resent this prison treatment, they will demand their freedom.
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This entry was posted on February 19, 2011 at 9:04 am and is filed under Activist, Chen Guangcheng, China, Commentary, East China, Human Rights, Law, Lawyer, News, People, Politics, Shandong, Social, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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