28 June 2007

Spotted in Rebecca MacKinnon’s del.icio.us bookmarks: Living Without Freedom in China, based on a presentation by Edward Friedman given at a seminar for secondary school teachers intended to help them teach students what it means to “live without freedom”. In a brochure sporting Tank Man on the cover, the goal is

“Students grow up in a free society; it is the only kind of society they really know. To appreciate and comprehend the benefits of freedom, students need to know what it’s like to live without freedom—or worse, in conditions of harsh repression, even genocide.”

Learning about the rest of the world is great. And genocide and repression are bad. This is all very well and good. But Edward Friedman says the Chinese government tells its kids:

““How did Rwanda occur? Because they tried to build a democracy. If the Hutus had simply imposed their will, they never would have had that problem. If it moves in a democratic direction, China is going to fall apart; it will be like what happened to Russia, to Yugoslavia. Do you want to end up like Chechnya and Bosnia? That’s what the Americans really want. You are fortunate to be a Chinese living in an ethical, authoritarian system.” The TV will show pictures of say the Los Angeles riots, the Sudan, and people are made frightened and confused. They’re proud to be Chinese and want to raise ethical kids. They want a country they can be proud of, certainly not like American kids. The Chinese are taught that American youth are smoking at an early age, use pot, have babies in their teens, watch pornography on TV, spread AIDS, get divorced, and don’t care what happens to their elderly parents. Why would you want to live in such an immoral way? This propaganda seems to work with many Chinese.”

Um, there are such messages, but isn’t telling American teachers to teach their students about all the horrible things in China to make them love how their society is organized the, well, exact same thing? Oh, sorry that’s right, I forgot: we’re the good guys.

It doesn’t help Edward Friedman’s argument at all that his article has a few inaccuracies. For example:

  1. “China has a ruthless free market, no regulation, no safety standards, no FDA, no CDC, no NIH.” - um, it has an FDA, they just sentenced its ex-chief to death. And they have a CDC as well. Perhaps they’re toothless, ineffectual, and are ignored during foolish face-saving maneuvers (see: SARS), but factually, this is still wrong.

  2. “It’s also the world leader for people dying in industrial accidents, and about 400,000 each year die from drinking the water, which is unpotable.” - As far as I know, 400,000 die of air pollution, while millions drink unclean water but the number of deaths attributed to this is unclear.

  3. My personal favorite: “A Chinese journalist recently went to 10 Chinese hospitals wanting to get his blood tested. So he complained of certain aches and pains that he knew would cause them to test his blood. But he didn’t give them his blood, he carried in a thermos with tea and poured that into the cups. Eight of the ten reported to him that he had the most serious blood disease and that it would cost them endless money for treatment.” - actually, it was not a test for blood but urine, which looks more like tea, it was six not eight out of ten hospitals, and five of which detected a urinary infection, for which they prescribed a maximum of $50 worth of drugs. A great deal for most Chinese, but not a “serious blood disease” or “endless money”. But who needs accurate facts when you’re talking to young’uns? Just as long as they know who the good guys and bad guys are. Y’know, there’s a reason DARE is joke among my generation.

Then there are the head scratchers:

  1. “You can choose your physician freely” - huh??? Yeah, and the socialized medicine is fantastic. It’s freaking cash and carry, people.

  2. “most young Chinese would say they live in a free, democratic society.” - What? How can they say its democratic when they’re all taught democracy is a bad word?

  3. “There still are committees for the defense of the revolution. They have to make their own money and often turn into Avon ladies, visiting house to house, but you know that if you aren’t complicit, maybe you won’t get a passport.” - I would love to hear more on this, she didn’t seem to terrorize my neighbors.
  4. “The state is building Confucian temples. The vision is that China is going to explain its extraordinary rise to its own people and to the world as the result of its unique ethical religion, its Confucianism. It’s going to spread Confucian societies all around the world, it’s going to teach everybody that China produces a better quality of people because it has this moral authority and all others are inferior. Confucianism is the only way to raise people, and the world is properly hierarchically ordered with Confucian Chinese at the center of it.” - I’m sure teaching the entire world they are inferior will go over well. Those Goethe Institutes must be some sort of Neo-Nazi front too.
  5. “I can imagine a future in which unregulated hedge funds lead to an international financial crisis and this is seen as coming out of the Anglo-American countries, London and New York being the two centers of these monies. But China regulates capital, so these things are not allowed in. The Chinese model may yet look even more attractive than it does now.” - Yes, I imagine letting giant unregulated hedge funds stock up on sub-prime mortgages and screw the economy might make regulation look more attractive. Bear Sterns must be serving their Chinese paymasters, right? Cause China is responsible for our mistakes. Because they’re bad.


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