How can government bring about a better society?
The question should not be whether China or the United States is better, but which form of government can bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people in each country.
"A man of clear ideas errs grievously if he imagines that whatever is seen confusedly does not exist: it belongs to him, when he meets with such a thing, to dispel the mist, and fix the outlines of the vague form from which is looming through it."
Dear Lao Da-ye,
The best part of your dark Heaven's Gate-like home page is the claim that you like to answer questions. So, if you would, please enlight me on the following questions:
1) Do you call the killings of native Americans, the establishment of slavery, the exploitations of Chinese "coolies", and the annexation of Texas, California, Hawaii, etc. the foundation of American democracy? If so, why? If not, what?
2) Do you call the social, political, and economical disparity between the white and ethnic Americans in US today an exemplary democracy at its best? If so, why? If not, what?
3) How do you justify calling China an expansionist aggressor when she has not even a single aircraft carrier to speak of, and no overseas military bases to brag about? Can you say the same about the US?
4) Howcome you guys got excited rumoring the Chinese attempt to influence the US election result, while no one bothers to say a thing about US sending two naval battlegroups to influence the Taiwan election?
5) How much do you really know about China? Have you ever been to China?
6) More questions to come than I care to list them all.
Provided that you are all entitled to your own opinions, and that you may paste all the snapshots of Tien An Men to cast your own spins on that tragic event of China, you would sound a lot less self-righteous if you first take a look in the mirror before screaming "ghost!" In other words, better mind your own business than acting up to advise China about her own future.
Differences of opinions aside, I would like to hear what and how you may answer the above questions. By the way, try not to casually dismiss these questions by calling them "clever". This is a direct challenge to you, a saleman of American democracy, to market your product in a world where not everyone is as willing as you like to believe to buy from you. Not by way of your remarkable display of arrogance anyway.
I receive your e-mail with more than a little regret, as I agreed to discussion about China but your comments have more the air of an interrogation. This is unfortunate, especially since you pose questions and do not reason out your arguments at length. Anyone can attempt to explain what is wrong with something; not everyone can offer arguments for its repair and/or envision a better model. This is the essential difference between simple criticism and mature reasoning. You do the one, and not the other. As a result, I still have not received one cogent defense of the system of government in China today. I am beginning to think this because one does not exist - that Chinese government is really a mix of expediency and naked power cowering behind a crumbling ideology. What will come next?
And most of all, I dislike having this come to a America vs. China debate. The root of my objections to Chinese despotism does not primarily come from an affection for my own country as a democracy-in-work, but from a long-time love affair with humanitarian individualism in the classic liberal tradition from the Greeks, Seneca, Erasmus, the great artists and thinkers of the Italian Reniassance on up to Montaigne, Condorcet, Montesquieu, Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, J.S. Mill up to Sir Isaiah Berlin and Paul Johnson of our times. Although they may (or may not) intersect at various points, this tradition is much larger than the nation of the United States of America. In my desire to see a more open and less repressive China, I do not act as a citizen of the USA (although I am so) but as a member of the human race. I have sought to outline my argument and reasons with a minimum of ad hominem reasoning (unlike yourself) and won't stoop to reply in similar fashion to your unkind e-mail and paint myself as a "mal educado" (as the Mexicans say) in public.
But I will answer you. Before proceeding to talk about what I really want to talk about (political philosophy and not Sino-U.S. politics), I will attempt to answer as briefly as possible your questions:
First of all, nowhere have I called China an "expansionist" government. I did say "if" China becomes expansionist. Anyone with a mind to think with and eyes to see knows this is a distinct possibility, even likelihood. Chinese economic growth combined with recrudescent nationalism brings up the distinct possibility that China will play a more robust role in the diplomatic and military arena. Her neighbors fear this, and some in the United States are even beginning to notice.
China is a classic "expansionist power" flush with new cash and economic leverage and eager to play a commensurate role regionally and globally. China has various grievances with a whole host of actors because of what happened in the "century of shame" (1800-1900) when foreign powers carved out spheres of influence in their country. Starting with Hong Kong, China wants to re-draw the map at least with that city and the un-resolved question of Taiwan, and maybe even press territorial claims by force in other quarters (ie. the Spratly Islands). Disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, and deep anger towards Japan from WWII are all just below the bubbling surface of present Chinese nationalism. To me, mainland China resembles post-WW I Germany in that it seethes with anger under the humiliation of past defeats and holds them close to her heart. On the other hand, the United States is a "status quo" power happy with the current balance of power and seeks no major changes in the power structure. It would prefer things to stay as they currently as U.S. troops guarantee various security arrangements in Korea and Japan as has been the case since virtually the end of WWII. The United States is the pre-eminent military power in the area, and that is not likely to change until well into the century even if China builds up her military rapidly.
Even as hardly any Americans know or care about it, United States military forces are in the area to provide stability to the current balance of power. In assuming the military security of Japan and Western Europe and other areas of the world, the United States has uptil today helped create an environment of peace that has let other countries concentrate on economic gains resulting in a world which fully two-thirds of is populated by countries which are democratic, market-oriented, and marked by prosperity and peace. There have been no major wars since 1945 to rival the first two world wars of this century, and trade and capital have come to flow across national boundaries and finance and production have been integrated on a global scale largely as result of the pax Americana. The South Koreans can develop their country without excessive worry of an invasion from the North because U.S. troops in that country symbolize American secuirty guarantees. Japan doesn't need to spend billions of dollars on national defense because the United States will defend her if attacked. Taiwan knows somewhere that should China suddenly decide to attack that country the United States would probably not sit on its hands. Nobody feels threatened by a United States without any plans for expansive military action and the Asian economies continue to grow.
The unilateral withdrawal of American military power is the last thing any Asian government (except maybe China and North Korea) wants to see, as the result would me a major re-alignment of power in Asia, political instability, and an end to this profitable status quo. The East Asians, for instance, don't want to criticize China out of are fear of attracting her wrath but don't want to see the Chinese without a check in the region. The result would almost assuredly be a resurgent Japan militarily and an arms race or worse in the region. A re-armed Japan awakens old nightmares of Imperial Japanese occupation, and an un-opposed Chinese government with a less than pristine international reputation could pose an equally dangerous risk. And, most importantly for many, it would be bad for business. It is all these strategic political and economic realities which I had in mind when I said "if" China becomes expansionist.
This is why your interpretation of the rationale behind the U.S. sending two aircraft carriers to the waters near Taiwan proves so disingenuous. An attempt to influence the Taiwanese elections? Com' on, be real! The rest of the world clearly saw the deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers to the area as a response (and a belated one, at that) to mainland China launching missiles into the waters off Taiwan and forcing the re-routing of shipping and air traffic in a blatant attempt to intimidate the Taiwanese before their first ever democratic presidential elections. Although that effort ultimately failed, such behavior could without much difficulty be described as "aggressive."
Although I thought the U.S. effort less than timely by a Clinton Administration undecided in its role, the European magazine "The Economist" reviewed it as such:
"This time, to its credit, America has responded swiftly and prudently. By moving two aircraft carriers close to Taiwan, it has sent an unmistakable signal that it will not allow Taiwan to be toyed with at China's whim. If China steps up the harassment, America could do a lot more, from patrolling the Taiwan Strait to helping Taiwan get hold of more of the equipment, including missile defenses, that it needs to protect itself. And if China is bent on war, America could muster enough firepower to disrupt any attempt either to blockade Taiwan or to invade it.... helping America to hold China to the rules of peaceable behavior is the only way to preserve the stability on which the region's continued prosperity depends."This is how I see the situation now, since you have asked me. Beijing may claim that Taiwan is merely a "renegade province" that is a part of China and that she has the right to use any and all force necessary to bring her back into the fold, but China would be practically the only country in the world to do so. If the Chinese were to persuade Taiwan to peaceably re-integrate with China, that would be entirely different. Yet perhaps nothing has energized Taiwan's determination to stay separated from the mainland as much as the unattractive nature of the mainland Chinese political structure. Since the Tiananmen massacres of 1989, the Taiwanese have asked themselves why anyone would want to reunify with a government that disparages the very sort of democracy they have only recently cultivated.
March 16, 1996
With a population of 1.2 billion people, nobody can ignore China in any Asian political issue of any magnitude - whether China be ruled by faceless and unimaginative Communist bureaucrats or otherwise. Yet it is precisely because of such brittle and unimaginative leadership that people fear Chinese intentions whether it concern the South China Sea and disputed islands of the coast of the Philippines, human rights violations, or the question of Taiwan itself. I see China as a possible aggressor who, if she makes any major military moves in the region, will come into conflict with the United States. The Chinese government talks tough and demands respect with all the finesse of a schoolboy who only yesterday was the class wimp but who today has grown taller and bigger than all her schoolmates and demands the respect and courtesy which accompany greater physical force. Only the future will tell us how China manages her rise in economic power. Only time will tell if China becomes a source of stability at peace with herself and her neighbors in Asia as she grows, or if she becomes merely the latest bad boy of Asia with a roaring economy, old grievances, and an attitude (like Imperial Japan in 1900). I very much hope it is the former.
An attempt to seriously answer your queries about American history would require an entire other essay and so I will respond to them in only a cursory manner. The thorny problems of race are well known to the world as the United States wrestles publicly and loudly with its many problems in public. I do not accept your eclectic description of American history as little more than enslavement and annexation on a grand scale. But even in light of the injustices that did occur and continue to occur, these are not what makes America great and I seriously doubt that is what the world will remember about that country long after it has disappeared from the earth. In my opinion, it will as of today be remembered for:
I think nearly everything else in the larger scheme of things secondary in importance.
- The first nation to attack monarchy and proclaim individual liberty and freedom as "inalienable rights" and codify them in a constitution.
- The first country to escape widespread poverty, famine, and disease (by means of a large and prosperous middle-class) in history after the end of the Second World War.
- A bulwark in standing up and helping to defeat the major totalitarian movements of the left and right during the stormy 20th century.
- A prime developer of new technologies which have both enormously helped and injured the earth and human societies.
Since you have deigned to make your e-mail personal ("take a look in the mirror before screaming 'ghost!'" Why descend to racial slurs, Lao?), I will discuss some of your charges about American racism and ethnic minorities by resorting to autobiography. Although I am "white" and come from an affluent background, I taught myself Spanish after graduating from the university and volunteered to spend 3 years working as a teacher in the most impoverished and violent immigrant neighborhood I could find. I did this primarily out of a desire to help other people, but also out of a sense of patriotism which led me to want to welcome graciously new immigrants to the United States, provide a good example, teach the basics of the English language, and help them adapt to the larger American culture. It is no easy thing to immigrate to a foreign country where they speak a strange language and have different laws and customs. I always understood perfectly well that these immigrants would be the Americans of tomorrow. In a democracy, education is everything.
As a teacher of often scared newly-arrived Latin American school children, I knew I was an ambassador of sorts and might even be the first impression of "America" for many. I considered this a serious responsibility (even a privilege!) and I genuinely did my best to make the introduction of America a happy one in my classes. I never regretted the years I spent working with immigrants and, years later, I am sure many of my former students are now productive members of American society. Their children born and raised in the United States will be as completely "American" as I am. This is an important dynamic as the United States groans under the weight of massive immigration. For example, there are an estimated five million immigrants from Mexico alone living in the United States!
Life for them is often hard because of low levels of education, income, cultural and legal problems, etc. Yet most will eventually find their place in the United States, as have immigrants since long before the Revolutionary War and independence from England. In a sometimes anti-immigrant and occasionally anti-Latino country, I never forgot the words of Franklin Delanor Roosevelt when he said: "Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionaries." The effort need be made to try and include immigrants into the democratic family of America. My own great-grandfather in Kenmare, Ireland, worked as a gardener in the castle of an English aristocrat before he came to the United States an immigrant with hardly a dollar to his name ninety years ago. I am sure some teacher helped him, even as he was poor, uneducated, and from a culture not universally appreciated at the time ("the nasty and brutish drunken Irish!") in America.
Trying to deal with the influx of such large numbers of mostly poor and often desperate people fleeing from less auspicious locales to the United States in the hopes of finding better lives for themselves and their children argues against your description of the United States as a Spartan state with a racist soul. If this were the case, so many millions of people would hardly be flocking to American shores. Immigrants vote with their feet and risk everything for a new life and a possible future in the United States. An immigrant might face serious obstacles in their new life in the United States, but their children and grandchildren have the opportunity for a better future. In fact, they are the future. I always kept this in mind as a teacher of immigrants in Los Angeles. I suspect Hong Kong - constantly swelling with refugees from mainland China and other places - has also learned this.
Similarly, I just finished taking some classes at the University of California at Irvine, a campus which boasts a student body more than 50% of Asian descent. I was very impressed with those Asian students I encountered in my classes who were almost entirely well-prepared, courteous, studious, erudite. The majority are American citizens - many first-generation immigrants whose parents fled the chaos of post-Cultural Revolution China or the tyranny of the Vietnamese communists. Those young people are taking advantage of the opportunity in the United States through their own hard work and are well on their way to successful lives for themselves and their families. They are as much a part of the American story as any poor Chinese immigrant in the 19th century exploited to help build railroad lines.
With so many millions of foreign-born immigrants, the United States today is a microcosm of nationalities - a microcosm of the world itself. My own native Los Angeles is something like approaching 50% Latino (over a million people in L.A. city alone), and there are more Koreans in Southern California today than in the rest of the world outside Korea combined! One hardly need go to the United Nations in search of diversity - you already have it in the United States! Having grown up in diverse and cosmopolitan Los Angeles, I have never wanted to be limited or conditioned by geography or boundaries or culture or creeds. If a man really wants to be free, he has to be able to circulate freely not only in physical space but among cultures, languages and beliefs. It is has always been my ideal to be a citizen of the world and to explore ideas or countries anywhere and everywhere. I have never wanted to feel like a foreigner anywhere and I never let geography or culture or dogma limit my imagination or curiosity. This is what civilization and being a civilized person means to me. The globalization of culture taking place in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and many other places in the world is only presaging what will happen in other locations with time.
At times I despair that the United States will ever resolve its various racial problems; there is perhaps no more bitter or intractable issue on the American agenda. The United States faces unique challenges as it deals with cultural mixing that in unique in scope and breadth. This notwithstanding, there are millions and millions of persons from minority backgrounds in the United States working as doctors, police officers, secretaries, businessmen, laborers, soldiers, nurses, politicians, carpenters, and lawyers who are as American as anyone. They are people whose lives and careers bring honor and distinction to their country. They are citizens who vote and participate in the democratic process and feel the United States is as much their own country as that of anybody else.
China is also a country which embodies different cultures, if perhaps not to the same extent. Can anyone claim that China makes a similar effort to include the masses of immigrants into public life? With her present mania for security and stability at all costs - with many of the best people in the gulag and the leaders fearful of unrest - can China say it really reaches out to the majority of the inhabitants of Tibet or the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region? At least the United States is grappling with its problems by attempting to bring more people into the process. I can hear the Chinese autocrat's thinking: "The good people in those areas will not oppose us. As for the rest, China needs oppression if it does not want to descend into anarchy, poverty, and misery. This is the only way!" Look at the difference between how a democracy and a totalitarian government seeks to attempt to solve problems of ethnic unity. Does China truly wish to make minorities a part of the national political process? Or does it really only require obedience and deference from them to the power of Beijing?
Let's look at two women both 50 years of age: one a Latina from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the other a Uighur from the Xinjiang province of China. The Mexican woman immigrated to Los Angeles twenty years ago and raised her children in the United States. Under the threat of anti-immigrant legislation, she decides to become an American citizen. She enrolls in citizenship classes which instruct her in the basics of the English language and American government and history. She finally swears an oath of allegiance to the United States of America and her constitution and is a citizen. Now she is empowered to study the political issues of the day and vote her conscience and interests. Taking into account the anti-immigrant mood in California presently, one can rest assured she will make her voice heard in the electoral process!
On the other hand, let's look at the Uighur from China. She is no better educated than her Mexican counterpart and is only semi-literate. She cannot vote and has little or no chance of ever participating in Chinese political life. The little the Chinese government will expect from her is the following: obedience. Or, at least if not obedience, it will not tolerate defiance. Is this attitude on behalf of the government going to bring out the best in this woman? Will it make her feel any more a part of the Han-Chinese dominated political community of mainland China?
This is the difference between a system of government which depends on the personality of one man or a small circle of men and one which actively attempts to involve the entire population. The latter (democracy) functions according to the following rationale explained by Adlai E. Stevenson: "Democracy cannot be answered by supermen, but only by the unswerving devotion and goodness of millions of little men." (Working with immigrants in Los Angeles as a teacher was my own small contribution as a "little man" to helping to make democracy more of a reality in my country) The former (dictatorship) is dependent on the unpredictable talent, judgement, and vision of an enlightened few who must lead the masses to a "better" place and are ready to commit each and every crime necessary to get them there. Stalin, Lenin, Kim Il Sung, Hitler, and Mao are such men. Disgrace will be their legacy.
But I think Deng Xiaopeng different, less willing to lead China into madness like Mao over ideology. Deng had a pragmatic streak, even if he still had to operate within the limitations of the Communist Party structure. Coming to power in a China on the verge of collapse after 30 years of Mao's unpredictable helmsmanship, he seemed to offer a Faustian pact with the Chinese people: the party would open up and liberalize the economy and try to improve the lot of the Chinese (and at least not terrorize them as in the Cultural Revolution!), if in return the people would abstain from raising any untoward questions about the monopoly of political and ideological control on behalf of the Communist Party.
"In republican governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic governments: in the former, because they are everything; in the latter, because they are nothing."
Baron de Montesquieu
A less than perfect arrangement in the long-term perhaps, but it worked for the majority of Deng's tenure. The economy grew exponentially with year upon year of steady growth resulting in the amelioration of the crushing poverty which had been the reality for most Chinese in modern times. This is an accomplishment of incredible - maybe even worldwide - importance and should be heralded in the most positive terms. Today China is "socialist" in name only as capitalism seems to be the order of the day. Quoting Guizot, Deng urged the people to enrichissez-vous and the Chinese people went to work! Yet Deng had less luck reforming China politically and Tienanmen was perhaps the inevitable and tragic result.
And now that Deng has died, what will be his legacy with regard to the future? The present seems to me a time of great uncertainty in China. What kind of government is China? I think the current regime would prefer to camouflage the present confusion by trying to replace the tired "socialist" label with nothing more than an expedient nationalism conveniently dredged up. One gets the impression the Chinese leadership would prefer everyone to simply be patriotic and obey the government rather than ask any awkward questions about what is the nature of their government and who really holds power and why. I wonder if this can be more than a temporary strategy. The communist party (only "communist" in name these days) seems to indicate that there will certainly be no lessening of political control as they have in recent months arrested even more dissidents, separatists, and religious missionaries. They want people to know they are in control. One suspects strongly they to keep the country unified, the army and political authorities would perform just about anything and everything necessary. Anything less, they would traditionally argue, would herald a return to national disintegration, anarchy, and starvation yet again. The communist party unfortunately frames political change in all-or-nothing terms. This is unfortunate. In August 1980 Deng laid down the usual Communist Party line about how multi-party democracy will only bring luan (disorder) back to China:
"Democracy without socialist legality, without the Party's leadership and without discipline and order is definitely not socialist democracy. On the contrary, that sort of democracy would only plunge our country once again into anarchy and make it harder to truly democratize the life of the country, develop the economy and raise the standard of living."It is a political worldview born out of fear, temerarious and grasping. It is as if China were still embroiled in the misery and chaos of the Cultural Revolution or battling warlords of earlier this century! China is maturing, but can one say the same about the current Chinese government? These high Communist Party bosses -- never having run for office in an open election in their lives! -- who claim to be democrats? These leaders who think a breath of freedom will sweep away all the work of fifty years! This need for so much discipline and control!
China today is a very dynamic place and what might have been true yesterday is not necessarily true today. Never before have relations between government and people been as complex as they are today in China. In the dynamically changing realm of Chinese economic growth, outside influences are more pervasive than ever - be it Hong Kong or Taiwanese popular culture, Japanese animation or comic books, American/Western movies or sports, etc. In opening up their country to the world market, the Chinese communists make it increasingly difficult (impossible?) to control all aspects of Chinese life. It comes back to control and the free flow of information. As Chinese civil society becomes more complex and varied as it opens up to the world relatively speaking, the Chinese government loses relative power to control all aspects on life. The economic success has taken the country a long way from the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution with a rabidly xenophobic society closed to the outside world and teetering on the brink of chaos and anarchy: A totalitarian China with every citizen required to carry Mao's "Little Red Book" with them at all times; every Chinese man, woman, and child commanded to learn, breath, and live his philosophy. Mao's belief that culture should serve as propaganda for the state is not workable in the relatively more open China of today. The cat, so to speak, is already out of the bag.
Rising economic standards will bring with it sooner or later a call for relaxing political control; it may be easy to control a starving or terrorized man by offering him food or threatening to kill him, but it is more difficult with someone with a certain level of material comfort. A man whose stomach is full feels himself free to deal with certain higher level needs such as freedom. As pro-democracy activist Martin Lee summed up the antiquated communist Chinese view of "rights": "There is only one right in China - the right to be fed. It's the sort of right that all dogs and cats enjoy." But Edmund Burke describes below the difference between what China is and what China could be:
"To make a government requires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power; teach obedience; and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form a free government -- that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind."It is this kind of regulated liberty I would urge for China. I hope the Chinese people might rise to the occasion.
While a good sight less evil than the Stalinist Soviet Union at the heighth of that disaster, China today still cannot seem to move beyond that nasty communistic tendency of sending people who protest, write subversive essays, demonstrate on the streets, and perform any of a variety of so-called "counter-revolutionary activities" to far-away labor camps where they live in horrendous conditions and work themselves to the bone. As Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin explained the practice at the dawn of communist power: "Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period." Currently Chinese political prisoners in the vast laogai system produce products with their labor which are then sold internationally (including the United States) for the profit of their masters. How ironic that "communism" has come to such an end!
I recently read an interview of Qiao Shi, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, who sounded like any other liberal politician in the world: "The Cultural Revolution was not democracy, it was turmoil that brought about great suffering. An important reason why the Cultural Revolution took place and lasted 10 years was that we had not paid enough attention to improving democracy and the legal system... To ensure that the people are the real masters of the country, that state power is really in their hands, we must strengthen these institutions and give them full play." Wow! It seems to good to be true that perhaps one day a man who thinks this way might head the Chinese government! Qiao Shi is considered to be a rival to President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Deng and many others who undoubtedly would find his assertions unduly liberal and dangerous. And words remain only words until they are backed up by actions.
Make no doubt about it, Lao, although you seem to want to take the easy route and dismiss me as anti-Chinese, etc. I want what is best for the Chinese people. Think about a possible future with a vision of China akin to that of Qiao Shi. As China modernizes, she will very much need creative political leadership and not more of the same unimaginative commissar culture-think. The Chinese people deserve better than a Corporatist State which pursues unbridled economic growth without considering the effect on the environment or the workers. How do you bring some level of prosperity to the countryside? How to make government truly accountable to the Chinese people? How do you remove corruption from government? China is arguably making some of the same mistakes as did the West in modernizing: the rampant consumerism, environmental damages, materialism, disparity in opportunity and income, etc. The present Chinese leadership seems no less interested in confronting many of these challenges as have been too many Western politicians. Deng used to say, "To get rich is glorious." Life is - or at least should be - more complicated than that. Look at how many people both in the West and East are rich and yet still are miserable. There need be more than crass materialism and money.
The Chinese people deserve a more mature political culture than one that simply tells them to do their work and not raise any awkward political questions. One gets the feeling that the bosses are making good money in China so why fix what ain't broken? Political freedom, nuisances like a free press or freedom of religion... all those niceties simply get in the way of our efficient money making machine! Many Western business are all too willing in the name of making money to look the other way, be unwilling to look to deep into the country, etc. They also want to make money and up to a point hardly care if their partners have blood on their hands; it is a fine line between simply doing business with a less than scrupulous person and being their accomplice. I have no problem with people making money but that cannot be the only consideration. Yet businessmen like Tung Chee-hwa sometimes seem so concerned by the exigencies of business that they could care less about political principles such as justice, freedom, or the dignity of the individual. One gets the feeling they find such ideas more as obstacles than as boons (Their Western apologists often hold the incredibly condescending view that Chinese people per se don't want or appreciate political freedom and hence their government should be held to a different standard!).
But I have faith in China and the Chinese people. The relative rise in material income is a beneficial development of nearly epic proportions for the average Chinese (at least those in places to enjoy it), as poverty and squalor have been at least as great an oppressor as any government (although the two be inextricably linked). I recently heard an interview with a Hong Kong schoolmaster who was being questioned about what he thought of the impending handover of his city to the mainland Chinese. He said he welcomed it, since they were, after all, Chinese themselves in the heart of Asia and it made no sense that the British should govern them. He also said that the majority of Hong Kong residents that he knew felt the same way and looked forward with excitement to July 1, 1997, when they would once again be a part of mainland China. They felt this way even as many of them had come to Hong Kong to flee communist tyranny! He claimed that if there were problems in China, it would be up to the Chinese themselves to resolve them. In listening to this man of integrity and honor speak in his educated English, I began to feel confident in the future of Hong Kong and China (and, yes, I just return from a visit to Hong Kong, Lao. I do have first hand experience there. And I know a few things about China, much less than do many others who also support the idea of democracy and political freedom in that country). Sooner or later, China will clean house.
With persons like that schoolmaster and characters like Emily Lau, Martin Lee, and untold more who will come in the future, I have high hopes that in 20 or 30 years China might be a very different environment than that which produced Tienanmien Square - a China where anyone holding "incorrect thought" would not find themselves in the laogai. And not only do I have faith in political activists - I have no doubt that what many business leaders feel in their hearts they simply do not feel is possible to articulate in public at this moment in China. That, of course, may very well change as the winds of change continue blow across Asia in the next few decades. As Ding Zilin described the ideal: "Each and every citizen living in this land not only should have the freedom from fear, adversity and misery but should have the right to choose the kind of society, political system and individual lifestyle that is compatible with human dignity. These were the dreams of those who gave their lives at Tiananmen Square. There are the goals for which we, the living, strive."
I think about Zilin's message and then I re-read your unhappy e-mail. What a contrast! Zilin with her call for respect for individual dignity and you resorting to a personal attack against me and attempting to place the entire question in a narrow context of American-Chinese relations. You try to paint me as a "salesman of American democracy" when in truth it goes very much deeper than that. I hope in my own small way to be a proponent of freedom in general, finding the roots of such principles going all the way back to the Athens of Pericles, and make no apologies for it. In hoping that China and the Chinese might enjoy greater political freedom, I do so not so much as an American but as a fellow human being. This is the spirit in which I designed not only these pages about democracy in China, but all the rest of my webpages. I doubt that Chinese people of good conscience will fail to understand this (as you fail to understand). If this be "arrogance," then so be it.
Although you choose to attack me personally, I do wish you peace, happiness, and even freedom (if you care for such a thing) in the future.
P.S. Having never met you I don't know why, but there is something in the angry tone of your voice and small-mindedness of your accusations which brings to mind the following quote by Milton: "None can love freedom but good men; the rest love not freedom but license, which never hath more scope than under tyrants."
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 15:55:33 GMT
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Subject: Feedback and or Questions
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You are a remarkable person. It gives warmth to my heart to see a private citizen in another country cares so much about democracy in China. I enjoyed reading your webpage and your responses to those not atypical paranoid Chinese who care more about their own feelings than democracy in China. I want to say, the majority of Chinese people are no different from people in other parts of the world. We want freedom and democracy as much as other people in the world. It is really shocking to realize the extent to which we, the chinese people, have been brainwashed to believe that since repression has been common in our history, we should allow it to continue. It is also shocking to see people pointing to wrongdoings or maybe improper handlings of mass movements by governments in other countries in order to whitewash the crime committed by the government in our own country. This is why I think your webpage is necessary. I think most of us Chinese people need to throw away our traditional, nationalistic, and emotional face saving sentiment and confront and admit to the world that there are fatal problems in our political system and that we welcome advices, suggestions and comments from people from all over the world. The narrow mentality that people are different and some people only care about bare animal needs, such as food and housing, and democracy is only a luxuary for other people, is going to be proved wrong as we will see. So in short, I truly appreciate your webpage and salute you effort. I will continue to visit your webpage and wish you the very best."
How is life treating you?="Surprises and challenges, but at the moment, just fine."
Findout="Just surfed on in!"
City?="New York City"
"To want to be free is to be set free."I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
Der ewige Jude
"Culture without freedom never made a large and liberal mind."
"Free? Understand that well, it is the deep commandment, dimmer or clearer, of our whole being, to be FREE. Freedom is the one purport, wisely aimed at, or unwisely, of all men's struggles, toiling, and sufferings on this earth."
The French Revolution
"Liberty, next to religion, has been the motive of good deeds and the common pretext of crime, from the sowing of the seed at Athens, two thousand four hundred years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered by men of our race.
"In every age its [liberty's] progress has been beset by its natural enemies, by ignorance and superstition, by lust of conquest and by love of ease, by the strong man's craving for power, and the poor man's craving for food."
The History of Freedom and Other Essays
"It is not true, as Lenin contemptously asserted, that "freedom is a bourgeois prejudice." Freedom is a good which any rational man knows how to value, whatever his social origins, occupation or economic prospects. Throughout history, the attachment of even the humblest people to their freedom, above all their freedom to earn their livings how and where they please, has come as an unpleasant shock to condescending ideologues. We need not suppose that the exercise of freedom is bought at the expense of any deserving class or interest - only of those with the itch to tyrannize."
Enemies of Society
"Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period."
"I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant."
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made out of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I believe -
But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.
Henry Louis Mencken