02 May 2007

So China Digital Times pointed out that Guy Sorman, professional China-doubter (or basher, depending where you stand), has a new article in City Journal titled Empire of Lies. Well, I’m glad Sorman decided to use a calm, measured tone for his article. I find it deeply ironic that the article was also printed in Frontpagemag.com, not exactly known for truth-telling.

I can’t argue with Sorman’s point that China has some enormous problems, and I’m sick and tired as well of the whole “China’s Century” meme. But some of the articles points just make me shake my head, for example:

  • On the Hong Kong press, in an insert by Howard Husock: “Their press is free and delightfully rich, ranging from the New York Post-ish Apple Daily to the historic English-language South China Morning Post, one of the best sources of information about Chinese politics.” The SCMP is one of the best sources of information about Chinese politics? Not unless Hu Jintao is a horse. Considering 1) its online irrelevance, 2) that it reported Donald Tsang’s election appointment with the headline “Incumbent Reflects on a Wonderful Journey” while ignoring protesters of the sort Sorman considers important, not to mention 3) the humorless drama that was Mark L. Clifford’s tenure, or 4) the accusation that owner Robert Kuok is loyal to the CCP and that journalists Willy Lo Lam and Jasper Becker were fired for political reasons, this is a little hard to swallow. SCMP has been moving further and further into the sort of wealthy Asia expat press that caters in fat real estate listings and racetrack scores. Press freedom is certainly better in Hong Kong, and the SCMP does still have hardworking reporters, but I can’t help but think anyone who believes the SCMP is at the cutting edge is, well, reading the wrong paper. Oh, and I have been told that Apple Daily is to the New York Post as apples are to…

  • “peasants, unfamiliar with the national language, speak only in regional dialects” - uh, ever heard of Cantonese, Shanghainese, Fujianese? These dialects are also spoken in cities. But hey, lets not argue with the government’s implication that dialects are only for the backwards, uneducated and poor.
  • “The government puts the number of what it calls these “illegal” or “mass” incidents—and they’re occurring in the industrial suburbs, too—at 60,000 a year, doubtless underreporting them. Some experts think that the true figure is upward of 150,000 a year, and increasing. The uprisings are really mutinies, sporadic and unpremeditated. They express peasant families’ despair over the bleak future that awaits them and their children.” Well, if you’re gonna go with 60,000, that was the Chinese number in 2003 according to one of three different sets of mass incident statistics. And for none of those series is it clear whether a “mass incident” or “public disturbance” is a “mutiny”. It may also include “delaying delivering of the mail”. There’s nothing to suggest that all of these are “mutinies”, “sporadic” or “unmeditated”. We don’t know what they are.
  • “Were Western consumers and investors to turn away, the Chinese economy would collapse, leading in all probability to the fall of the Party.” It’s generally accepted the rest of the world would be kinda screwed as well.
  • “Yan Yfan underscores my fundamental error: “You don’t have any confidence in the Party’s ability to resolve the pertinent issues you have raised.” He’s right; I don’t.” Fair enough, but one could stand to give the Chinese people a little credit. In Sorman’s reading, Chinese people are either a) angry, voiceless peasants, b) Communist party parvenues or c) dissidents who are on “our” side. It reminds me of Jamie K’s comment on “civic subhumanity” - if they’re not with “us”, they must be for “them”.


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