“It Makes China Look Bad”

August 23, 2009

I recently read a New York Times article about the closing down of a law office in Beijing. The lawyers, who took many sensitive civil rights cases, are facing disbarment. The article is pretty short, which you can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/world/asia/18china.html?_r=2&ref=asia It briefly talked about that on the day of the incident, 20 cops entered the law office and confiscated office equipments. It also mentions at the same time, a dozen other civil rights lawyers in China have been disbarred.

I sent this link to a friend (American) working in China. She replied, saying that the article is too “China bashing” and makes China looks extremely bad. Thinking that I might mistakenly sent the link of Amnesty International rather than NYtimes, I retracted the link and re-read the article. My conclusion is: it is a very brief and fair report; it does make China look bad, not because the tone or biased information it uses, but rather the substantive story itself indeed shows the dark side of China.

It is, of course, unthinkable in the US that the ABA can disbar lawyers just because they take certain kind of cases. But for one who takes this kind of “constitutional safeguard” for granted and travels around the world with it, one can find it hard to apply to other countries. Do we really need more examples? Here is one: the city of Guangzhou recently had a new regulation: every household is limited to only one dog; owners of more than one dog before the rule was made should find a way to dispose of one of the dogs or the cops will do it. Unthinkable? Applying a rule retroactively just like that? What about the underlying purpose of the law? Two dogs are more dangerous than one? Two blind and cripple dogs without teeth are still more dangerous than one? How about “disposing of” your own dog and choosing between which one to keep? Does this make China look bad? Then how do we report the story without making it look bad? How do we talk about the holocaust without making Hitler look bad? The mere verbatim citation to this regulation itself will unavoidably make China look like a barbaric country; there really is no need for further fabrication or defamation. If not making a country “look” bad is the essence of news report, then this is the best I can do about Tiananmen massacre if I were to report it 20 years ago. “Troops opened fire on civilians; Many killed; but come on, guys, China has great food! Look at the Great wall, how magnificent! Look at its history, it makes America look like a toddler! And things are as cheap as dirt here! Definitely one of the coolest country in the world!” Hope that balanced out the negativity in the report.

However, whether this NYtimes article did make China look bad or not is not the point of this post. What is more worrisome is the fact that China (or to be more precise, the Chinese government) has the ability of manipulating some foreign travelers’ views. Of course, It is more probable that it is not so much of the CCP’s power of manipulation that we need to worry about, but rather the human being’s tendency to forget and open for manipulation. One such example is the Olympics. For the readers from other galaxies, the humans think that this game stands for world peace. The last game was held at the very city were a massacre took place 19 years ago. You would think that by having the game there, it at least indirectly indicates that the massacre has been vindicated and people are truly celebrating peace. Unfortunately that is not the case; it is a taboo to merely mention the date of the massacre. Yet, most of the people are totally comfortable with forgetting it, merely 19 years later. I don’t know if I should say it is because the CCP is especially smart or that people are especially stupid and forgetful. By looking at the next example, I can only say that the conclusion might be the latter. My classmate went to Beijing for a summer program 2 years ago. He came back and told me how cool China is and said that maybe the Cultural Revelation wasn’t such as bad thing after all because the poor farmers in the countryside had the opportunity to come to the cities. What on Mars is he talking about? First of all, the poor farmers didn’t get to go to the cities during the cultural revolution; it’s the intellectuals in the cities who got to be sent to the countrysides! Second, really? I mean, really? A movement, which crippled a whole country for ten years during which the main thing in people’s mind was how to prove your neighbor was a capitalist and report him, not to mention the millions who lost their opportunity to education because schools were closed, can be justified by the mere possibility that some farmers got to come to the city to… do what by the way? Selling farm products on the street? That was punishable by the law! Even today you can be punished for setting up a small stand on the street and selling your stuff without a permit! My best guess is that his time in China was such as blast that he was still in hangover. However, if a smart American law student can be so easily fooled within such short period of time, there really is something the world needs to worry about.

PS: I just saw another piece of news about the officials closing an organization distributing free legal pamphlets to people living with Hepatitis B. The pamphlets contain nothing more than a know-your-rights compilation of the laws in China regarding discrimination. Does this make China look bad or should we just direct our attention whole-heartedly to each and every skyscraper it’s building and nothing else?