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Democracy, ethics, and China’s post-Olympic challenge

In a “mini-debate” posted at Dissent Magazine, Daniel A. Bell and Michael Walzer contend the question: Should the international community do more to support democracy in China? 

Bell establishes the parameters for the discussion by defining ‘democracy’ as “free and fair competitive elections at the national level” and ‘promotion’ to mean “moral criticism of a non-democratic status quo.” Unsurprisingly, given his other writings, Bell’s answer is no, and he argues this by comparing China to despicable regimes in Burma and Zimbabwe, while outlining five conditions which he feels do justify ‘moral criticism’ in the service of democratization.  

I’ve listed the five below and sketched out Bell’s defense of the Chinese system with Walzer’s responses: 

  1. The target country must be led by an outlaw regime. (Bell: Not when compared to the Burmese junta or the Robert Mugabe. Walzer: What is the threshold for moral criticism? Need it be so rigorous?)
  2. Outsiders can confidently predict that the rulers would lose democratic elections. (Bell: The urban elite LOVE the CCP. Walzer: If full political freedoms were granted, the CCP would lose power with two to three election cycles.)
  3. There is an obvious political alternative. (Bell: Been in China awhile and haven’t found one yet. Nobody seems to be getting organized. Walzer: Democratization is a long process and alternatives at their inception might not be so obvious when they develop in an authoritarian regime.)
  4. Regime change would improve the people’s material well-being. (Bell: China has lifted millions of out of poverty. Walzer: How would things such as independent labor unions or democratic political parties undercut economic growth in China?)
  5. The transition to democracy won’t be bad for foreigners by which Bell means “the rest of the world.” Bell: Democratically-elected leaders are bound by the narrow vision of their local constituents, whereas oligarchies made up of morally superior elites have the wisdom to think globally. Walzer: Democratization in a great power has benefits for its immediate neighbors citing Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania, as well as (less convincingly) Georgia and Armenia.

In the end, Bell has narrowed the debate such that it’s a bit of a trap. He agrees with Walzer about “the need for more freedoms of speech and association in China,” but adds “the argument here is whether the international community should support national level elections in China: meaning that the democratically chosen leader would hold all the trump cards.” 

Surely there is more to democracy than this? What of local or provincial elections? What about encouraging China to end its tight control on the media, permit open discussion of sensitive topics, allow for free assembly and the right to peacefully demonstrate, and to provide its citizens unhindered access to the courts to pursue these rights while at the same time freeing the judiciary to make decisions on the merits of the case rather than the political requirements of the local Party secretary?  Do these not count as forms of democratization?

Looking at this question as a historian, I am struck by a few things not specifically touched upon in the original piece. First of all: What is and what is not a “truly awful” regime? Bell defines it here as one that violates “basic rights,” of which he lists one: ‘right to food and basic means of subsistence.’  This of course cuts to the heart of a larger debate: Is there a set of basic (inalienable, if you will) human rights to which all human beings are entitled and that cannot be sacrificed to satisfy other ends? 

Viewed from another angle, that of historical comparison, how much credit should today’s CCP receive just because it’s less repressive than before? In a recent essay, Theodore Dalrymple describes how the Russian author Vladmir Voinovich once satirized (the sadly and  recently departed) Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn for the latter’s romantic attachment to a pre-Soviet Russian nationalism.

Dalrymple writes:

“Voinovich was alluding to the fact that, were it not for the horrors of Bolshevism, the pre-revolutionary Russian political tradition would be regarded as so brutal that no sensitive person of good will could be a Russian nationalist.  As it was, the Bolsheviks regularly killed in a few minutes more people than the Romanovs managed in a century, giving pre-revolutionary Russian history the retrospective luster of decency, wisdom, and compassion that it did not in the least deserve.”

This can go both ways. Hu Jintao is not Mao, but does the Chinese government and the Communist Party get a free pass because imprisoning dissenters seems quite minor compared to the millions who died and suffered under the Mao regime? Are we to commit ourselves to a moral race to the bottom, establishing the lowest common denominator of misery and suffering before finding the gumption to speak up and say “Enough”?

By way of wrapping up an admittedly disjointed essay composed of the orts and leavings of last night’s bedside reading, Orville Schell has this to say on China’s “Post-Olympic Challenge“:

“I fear that China’s leaders and people will continue to feel a certain gnawing, inchoate sense of deficiency and incompleteness in their quest for global respect until they find the strength to begin addressing the crucial, but elusive, issue of making China an ethical, as well as an economic and military, power. For a country steeped in millennia of Confucianism, the need for ethical leadership should be clear.

To fully address the question of the moral and ethical base of a new form of Chinese governance, China’s government and its people must be able to look back freely and come to terms with their recent history: the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the events of 1989, Tibet, and other sensitive issues. They must also freely be able to discuss the future and what kind of society they wish to see rise from the ashes of Mao’s revolution.

I make these somewhat critical observations about China not with any sense of moral superiority or a wish to relieve myself of the responsibility to level the same critique at my own country’s recent failures. As most of the world knows, America’s quest to maintain its claim to the title of “greatness,” has, of late, also been elusive.

Arriving from different staring points, both the United States and China now find themselves confronting a similar challenge: restoring global trust and respect. Their success inevitably requires directly confronting their evident moral failures.

If many of those same viewers who have been impressed by China’s successes in Beijing now also find themselves recoiling at the idea of a stronger and more prideful China, that is understandable. For strength unalloyed by checks and balances — and by a capacity for self-critical reflection about the rightness and wrongness of state action — can be unnerving. Many Americans, too, have recently had to learn this.”


22 Comments on Democracy, ethics, and China’s post-Olympic challenge

  1. Really nice piece. One criticism of Bell I have is his assertion that the urban elite “love” the CCP. First of all, this is not my experience- I know a lot of well-off urbanites who dislike the party for its corruption (though only people who knew me well were willing to discuss this in front of me), and I think no one can say for sure what the masses of Chinese peasants feel. In a country as diverse and populous as China it seems foolish to sum up the views of the whole country.
    Also, it’s disingenuous to cite the lack of an organized opposition as a reason China isn’t ready for democracy when the lack of democracy allows the CCP to prevent any attempts at organization.
    I would like to see the issue of whether or not the West should criticize China, and whether or not it does any good, debated again. I think the main points (do we have the right to criticize? exactly how critical can/ should we be, and of what sort of issues (eg, religious freedom, Tibet, censorship, etc.)? do we have an obligation? does it do any good, and for that matter what effect does it have?)
    I also like Schell’s point- there’s a difference between criticism, constructive criticism and critical observations.

  2. In his writing, Bell’s larger point tends to be that we should let the Chinese arrive at more freedom in their own way and in their own style. Bell is right that it’s difficult to argue in favor of moral arrogance, especially when western countries’ records are so grim. But it’s also difficult to stand by while various outrages are committed – not just arresting grannies but the systematic and purposeful effort to stifle critical thinking. The progress that a country like the US has made – which, as Schell points out, must learn similar lessons as China – did not happen automatically under the guiding hand of its rulers, but precisely the opposite.

    Bell’s vision of Chinese arriving at their own solutions for democracy can only happen when they are allowed to speak about it freely.

  3. The Communist Party does not exist in isolation, but in contrast to a hypothetical democratic government for China. It’s difficult to argue that such a government would be similar to those in liberal western democracies, that it would be peaches-and-cream from here on out.

    India, for example, has a democracy where politicians are so hated that they have a *disadvantage* in elections compared to challengers. Isn’t the benefit of democracy that you get to “throw the bastards out” at elections, and thereby obtain a better government? If you throw them out at every election, and replace the bastards with new bastards, where’s the benefit in democracy?

    Another alternative is what happened to the Soviet Union. Basically, the biggest successes have been the three Baltic countries, which have already been independent in the past. Even a country like Ukraine, with the much-loved (in the west) orange revolution, is now back to sordid patterns in politics.

    As for arresting grannies, or stifling critical thinking, you cannot take individual incidents (even seventy thousand incidents of village unrest) define the broad picture. Peter Hessler makes a great point in his second book, Oracle Bones. Suppose someone read only about Guantanamo, and New Orleans, and welfare, and gang shootings. Is that an accurate picture of America? The question is: are Chinese, in general, freer now than ten years ago? Freer to work, freer to travel, freer to talk? In other words, is China moving in the right direction, or the wrong direction? Is the West moving in the right direction, or the wrong direction?

    To pose a hypothetical: If China becomes like Singapore, will we be satisfied? The police aren’t going to come knocking on your door if you tell your neighbor that you think there should be elections for mayor of Beijing. If you organize a demonstration on the subject, then *that* is when the . It’s basically a much more extreme version of Singapore. Suppose China loosens up [a lot] on this area, but never really gets rid of restrictions — is Western-style free speech really a human right, or does free speech intrude into the public arena and collide with the aim of a stable society?

  4. It’d be interesting to compare the “authoritarian” China with the “democratic” India, in terms of political freedoms, economic development, people’s living standard, etc. It’d also be interesting to compare the “Communist” China with the “post-Communist” Russia in the similar fields.

    Then you can put things into perspective (can you?) and probably still can’t easily draw any conclusion about China’s democratization prospect.

    [Ed Note: I added the “II” to distinguish you from another Wu Ming, a long time commentator, Song historian, and colleague of mine. Sorry for any confusion]

  5. Just a few questions and reflections:

    Local Democracy

    I have thought for a while that democracy at the local (by this I mean provincial and below) would do more good in terms of fighting corruption and giving people what they want than any kind of National Elections. The type of corruption that affects people the most, skimming off public contracts so that infrastructure becomes degraded, nickel and diming people for pubic services, etc. happen at the local level. Local democracy would be an imperfect safeguard against that.

    To answer a question:

    “. . . are Chinese, in general, freer now than ten years ago? Freer to work, freer to travel, freer to talk? In other words, is China moving in the right direction, or the wrong direction?” From Tom

    A better question would be are post-Olympic Chinese freer that they were a year or two ago, and the answer would have to be no.

    What got me is that China had been making progress, until the run up for the Olympics, where they showed their moves towards openness was predicated on a twisted view of political expediency. If there is no real dedication to freedom and openness, even when China agreed to allow such, how can one say there has been real progress?

    As long as freedoms are contingent on the whims of the powerful, people have no meaningful freedom. The progress of freedom does not matter when it exists without guarantees, arbitrarily given and taken away.

    To make a personal remark, I had been relatively impressed by China’s track record of slow but steady improvement in openness, freedom of, assembly, speech, etc. in the last five years. The Chinese governments preparations for the Olympics disappointed me greatly, and soured me on the whole concept of China making slow progress in these areas as a sign of improvement. What could have been a high point in Chinese freedoms, a slightly more open press, a few limited protests in protest zones, turned into a crackdown, with a backsliding Chinese government as the star of the show.

    Another question that perhaps deserves further treatment than I could give it is this: Is the type of freedom we are talking about a more or less unlimited good? Would it be good for China and its people in almost every circumstance? It is a question I remained divided on.

  6. Excellent read.

    Orville Schell in particular makes a lot of sense.

  7. Thank you for all of your comments. I think they’ve been great. I might suggest a few additional points:

    1) As Tom mentioned, there is a continuum of democratization from a slight relaxation of more draconian social and political controls to full-scale national elections, universal suffrage, and the whole bit. (I believe Singapore was cited as one example of a move along such a line.) In this I might agree, I’m not sure how a freer media, greater judicial independence, and allowing people to speak, write, assemble, and peaceably demonstrate harms the status quo. Does it have to be all or nothing?

    2) At the end of the day, one question that can be asked of any system is: How is power checked at the different levels of government?

    3) While after Tom’s example, I mentioned Singapore above, I tend to resist simplistic cross-national parallels in this debate. For example, Singapore is a small island, essentially a city-state, surely the political demands are very different from governing a continent sized country such as China. India too presents challenges. The argument usually goes:

    a) India and China are large, agrarian Asian nations with 1 billion people.

    b) India is a democracy, China is not.

    c) India is a mess, China is rising.

    d) democracy does not work.

    I hear/read variations of this argument all over the place, but I think most people can see the fallacies and flaws in this line of reasoning, not the least of which is that it ignores the enormous differences between China and India, differences which might well dwarf superficial similarities.

  8. Well, when you get ethical leadership, please send it here to the US. While China appears to be making at least slow progress toward democratization, our government has gone from a democratic republic to capitalist (i.e., everything is for sale) government ruled by a hidden corporatist oligarchy. In fact, we’ve gone back to cronyism and patronage.

    So, from what I can see, at least China appears to be going in the right direction, though it may be that the US government and the Chinese government wind up achieving the status of “acceptable corruption” without actual regard for the freedoms of their respective citizenry.

  9. Rick,

    I would hardly hold up any one country, the US or other, as a ‘model’ for the development of another country. I think the question is: are there certain systemic features–not necessarily characteristic of any one tradition–that might have universal applicability or usefulness?

  10. Daniel Bell is utterly out of touch with China.

    For one, he teaches in English to students at an elite university–the majority of whom wish simply to go overseas to study and pursue opportunities. He extrapolates from them, in many of his writings, what the new generation of Chinese think. Pretty thin evidence, and eminently misleading. When he writes that they do not talk about ’89 and that means they do not care, he neglects to add that they would not be aware of it, having been too young or simply not told. But why allow facts stand in the way of an argument–philosophers surely do not.

    Bell also likes to tell people that he is the only foreign professor teaching at a Chinese university, something that is simply not true. The fact that he owns two restaurants in Beijing and therefore has to play nice with the powers there goes unmentioned in his work.

    Bell wants a moral authoritarianism for China, and goes around finding evidence to support his view, ignoring other material that flies in the face of his work. The fact that he owns two restaurants in Beijing and therefore has to play nice with the powers there goes unmentioned in his work.

    It is a mystery why anyone takes Bell seriously, for Chinese scholars and many Westerners who actually study China–instead of simply giving advice and excusing its many shortcomings, as he does–find him amusing at best and always both cloying and annoying.

  11. Daniel A. Bell // August 31, 2008 at 10:24 pm //

    I don’t normally respond to anonymous comments on websites (because critics often use anonymity as a cover for ad hominem attacks), but I happened to come some personal attacks on this website and against my better judgment I will do so. Let me correct some wrong assertions by “Congwen” who does not seem to have read what I actually wrote:

    “Congwen” claims that I teach in English. Actually, as described in chapter 8 of my book China’s New Confucianism, I also lecture in Chinese and the discussion with students takes place in Chinese.

    “Congwen” claims that I say students do not talk about 89 and that means they do not care. Actually I never said that they do not talk about 89 and I never drew the conclusion that they do not care. My own students are in fact aware of what happened in 89 — they find out via the internet and discussion with friends and family members. Here’s what I wrote about it:

    I never made the absurd claim that I’m the only foreigner teaching at a Chinese university.

    Congwen claims that I own two restaurants in Beijing and “therefore has to play nice with the powers there goes unmentioned in my work”. Fact: I’m a minority shareholder of two restaurants and I’ve made explicit my role in that business (e.g., China’s New Confucianism, p.195n18, 204n26). As far as I know, I haven’t been constrained from saying what I think because of my role in that business, but perhaps Congwen has deeper insights into my motivation than I do myself.

    Let me also correct the author of the blog’s claim that I say the “urban elite LOVE the CCP”. What I actually say, unsurprisingly, is more nuanced:
    “But there is substantial support for the CCP even among independent intellectuals. In private conversation with Chinese academics, I’ve met very few who say they hope the CCP will lose power in the next decade or so. Capitalists in China also seem to support the Communists and would likely provide support and funding for the CCP if there were elections in the country.” Here’s a link to the debate with Walzer:

    Anyway, it’s boring to have to write responses like this and I’d rather debate the substance of the arguments. But it’s hard to debate with people who feel the need to distort what I actually say.

  12. Dan,

    Thanks for stopping by and for providing the link to the Dissent article in case anyone missed it in the first line of the post.

    I’ll let you and “Congwen” hash out whatever differences you have between you, but as for the “author of the post” (who does have a name, albeit one derived from a pop song about an amphibian) and the “love the CCP” comment: it’s called a ‘satirical paraphrase.’

    As for a humorless debate on the substance of ideas, be sure to check out my review of your book to be posted this week on The China Beat.



  13. ” I think the question is: are there certain systemic features–not necessarily characteristic of any one tradition–that might have universal applicability or usefulness?”

    Jeremiah, I happen to also be interested in principles with universal applicability– unfortunately in this case, the particular principles you are prescribing are deeply rooted (both historically and philosophically) in one specific tradition– your’s! And, much damage has been caused in the name of “spreading the good news of liberal democracy” as well. (A sometimes unfortunate utopian missinary impulse– starting with Christianity and continuing on in liberal democracy that Chris Hedges or John Gray have, for example, spoken persuasively about, I think).

    It is because of this last reason that perhaps your readers who have been on the other side of the “impulse to share” in the past may get annoyed. Indeed, Bell makes an important point (to my mind) that productive dialog on this issue might be more affective speaking in Chinese and working alongside Chinese friends (otherwise, you are either singing to the choir– or worse).

    This points not only to the history but also to cultural differences (which have absolutely nothing to do with the Chinese politburo, but rather just speak about cultural views in non-pluralistic societies– ?) Yes, a foreigner is always a foreigner in most place in the world.

    Regarding, your question as to when the “international community” (ie community of liberal democracies” ) should stand up and say enough is enough– well, I would posit that such a united voice “should” occur when there is a moral imperative (which is quite different from prescriptive statements) such as free speech or rights to gather. Why? Because, even if you were to argue that humans have an inherent right to freedom f speech or gathering, you would quickly see why this is not a moral imperative and remains mainly prescriptive when you try and impose it– since of course, liberal democracies themselves are in the minority of world governments– and even among those governments where to draw the line is well, let’s say ambiguous– (that is, it does not seem to be in fact a CLEAR, unequuivacble moral imperative).

    This is not in any way to state one shouldn’t speak up, but rather it is about better ways (more effective, more interesting, or even more coherent) of speaking up. As I have mentioned I agree with you in conetnt. It’s just statements such as “when do we say enough” or “universal principles” that strike me as troublesome….

    I wanted to comment in the name of dialog and friendship.

  14. Finally, before I sign off for the evening, did you happen to catch this on last week’s philosopher’s zone with gloria davies? If you did, I wonder what you thought.

  15. Jeremiah: Appreciate your response (Aug 28, 2008 at 12:52 pm). Comparisons can certainly be simplistic, but I use “India” and “Singapore” to refer to specific features of those systems, rather than “India is a mess” or “Singapore is great.” Namely, I refer to elections-without-results and authoritarianism-with-some-freedom, to show the flip side of the picture.

    To some extent, the argument against immediate democratization is a loss-aversion argument. We know that democracy can be wonderful, we also know that democracy can fail miserably. Given that China is moderately stable at the moment, better to be the tortoise than the hare. Arguing against rapid change is not a rejection of slow change. If you’re pushing rapid change, you’ve got to realize that your opponents are not necessarily disagreeing with you about the desirability of rule-of-law, or independent judiciary, or public involvement in the legislative process.

    NateT: I would caution against drawing any conclusions about the long-term direction of movement in China based on the tightening-up for the Olympics. The Olympics were treated as a Major Event (TM) (C) (R). To conclude that China is moving backwards due to the Olympics is like saying that Seattle moved backwards just because the police tear-gassed some anti-globalization protestors at the WTO summit. It’s an exceptional event, and reading anything out of it is as productive as reading tea leaves.

    So you say: “A better question would be are post-Olympic Chinese freer that they were a year or two ago, and the answer would have to be no.” But it’s way too early to answer that question yet — heck, we haven’t even reached the end of the Paralympics yet. See what happens a year from now, or even better, ten. Looking at these individual events, or short-term trends, delivers a highly misleading picture.

  16. i’m probably drifting OT here, but this sentence jumped out at me:

    To conclude that China is moving backwards due to the Olympics is like saying that Seattle moved backwards just because the police tear-gassed some anti-globalization protestors at the WTO summit. It’s an exceptional event, and reading anything out of it is as productive as reading tea leaves.

    given the long term trend towards militarization of american police forces, and the increasingly authoritarian response to what used to be considered the constitutional right to assembly and free speech in this country (e.g. the recent arrest of democracy now journalist amy goodman and preemptive police raids on people’s homes in minneapolis, both on laughable charges of “intent to riot” during the republican national convention), the 1999 police riot in seattle looks more and more like a bellweather.

    time will tell if beijing 2008 was a blip, or part of a trend, but it’s not unreasonable to ask whether increased police control of the populace and repression of fairly innocuous dissent isn’t a sign of things moving in that general direction, and not just an exceptional event. after all, the state rarely cedes exceptional powers after it arrogates them, regardless of the country it’s located in. these things have their own inertia.

    mostly, to get back to the topic at hand, i think that “western” discussions of china and democracy tend to be painfully short on specifics. are we talking about contested multiparty elections, freedom of the press, right to dissent in public, influence of popular sentiment on public policy direction, internal party organization, corruption and popular abil;ity to remove problematic officials or have redress of grievances, form of trials, etc? or is it the equally amorphous topic of “development,” economic policy, shiny buildings in pudong, conflating capitalism with democracy (or movement toward same)?

    sadly, most of the discussion i come across of americans (or “the west”) critiquing china’s lack of democracy, freedom, whatever, is that it tends to focus on the broad sweeping statements rather than specific points of contention, and barely ever seem to be part of any internal chinese conversation about such things. that being said. as jeremiah pointed out, not having effective freedom of the press or the right to protest without reprisal makes gauging internal sentiment pretty difficult, and tempts most china watchers into the tom friedman/nick kristoff-esque rhetorical trick of using a pithy quote from an anonymous native informant who stands in for the whole of china (or chinese youth, CCP, what have you).

    perhaps “china” is just too big or a frame of reference to really get at what’s going on (or what should, for that matter)? should these discussions be focused on provincial or municipal levels, given reform-era china’s significant degree of political decentralization?

    in beijing, it’s easy to conflate the olympics, china, and the government. would the discussion look the same outside of the capital?

  17. to be clear, i’m actually pretty impressed with the way that the granite studio couches its discussion of china in specifics (and even better, historical perspective). my complaint here is more general than anything else, borne of several weeks of irritation from reading/hearing far too much uninformed commentary on china during the olympics.

  18. I’m glad this discussion is continuing as I think these are important issues to consider, with a range of perspectives being brought to the table.

    Just a couple of quick points:

    1) The ideas I suggested are not uniquely mine nor are they uniquely “Western,” we can find similar prescriptions in Chinese writings both of yesterday and today. It should also be noted that free speech is enshrined in the Chinese constitution, despite current practice.

    2) @Tom: I agree the issue of ‘not if, but when’ these reforms take hold is at the heart of this debate. Though there are those in China who argue that rule of law, free media etc. are forever ill-suited to “Chinese culture.” Where I might quibble on the speed perspective is whether issues of corruption, economic inequality, environmental degradation etc. might require more immediate drastic action than a ‘wait and see’ approach. It all depends, I suppose, on how one views the severity and acuteness of China’s current challenges.

  19. With regards to India, it’s a commonly-held belief that democracy combined with the special interests of economic minorities is holding it back (at GDP growth rates of 8%!). For example, recently in the New York Times, it was detailed how the Tata Nano factory has been derailed by protesters against what they argue is unfair land seizure. In the same way, it’s very hard to get any infrastructure built because of the entrenched bureaucracy and squatters sitting on land.

  20. @Tom

    My point was that the Olympics indicates a general attitude in Chinese government. If freedoms are inconvenient, then they can do away with them. Indeed, if rights can be swept way arbitrarily, then there is no real progress.

    In other words, if a decade’s or so worth of progress on freedoms can be pushed aside for the Olympics, even if it is a “big event,” what does that say about the substance of that progress, the commitment of the government to rights? Rights require a deep dedication and China has proven it does not have that in them, at least right now. What will be the next “big event” that will justify this kind of crackdown?

    Rights require the commitment of the government and the ability of a government to face injustices and problems, a capacity for self criticism and self evaluation China does not have enough of currently, in my opinion. If reporters can be bribed not to cover something, if rights lawyers and reporters jailed, criticism smashed on the internet, then how can this consciousness develop?

    People have been saying for at least two decades that they do not like how China is handling rights, but it is getting better. This is like saying, “Yes that man beats his son, but the way he is treating his daughters is getting better.”

    Indeed, gradualism was not an answer to the American Civil Rights movement, at least when Dr. King railed against it, and I doubt its validity in China. Do Chinese citizens have less of a need for rights than African Americans? If not, then what possible reason could there be for denying them? Rights come when people demand them and the government chooses to respect them. Many reports and books like Philip Pan’s “Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China” shows that when people stand up for their rights, they are beaten down.

    While it might not be fair to depict China according to individual incidents or events, how many occurrences does one need before there is a pattern established?

  21. One more thing

    From Jeremiah: “@Tom: I agree the issue of ‘not if, but when’ these reforms take hold is at the heart of this debate. Though there are those in China who argue that rule of law, free media etc. are forever ill-suited to “Chinese culture.”

    I would disagree that an evolution of rights is an inevitable outcome of current circumstances in China.

    I am not one of those that says that freedoms are ill-suited to some inherent “Chinese Culture,” culture is amorphous and ever-changing, which is precisely why I would disagree that an evolution of rights is an inevitable outcome of current circumstances in China, rejecting the “not if but when” argument.

    Again, it goes back to the ability of those in government to wield arbitrary power without consequences. Rights are inherent checks against the power of the state, and the State in China does not seem to want to have these kinds of checks to its power.

  22. NateT, ultimately it comes down to a question of half-full or half-empty. If a man is still beating his sons but treating his daughters better, then you’re outraged over his sons, but I’m happy for his daughters. Furthermore, I would suggest that this bodes well for his sons in future.

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