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Archive for June, 2009

It’s pretty difficult to tell whether or not such protests would be successful or not. For example, back in 1989, there were a lot of successful non-violent and violent revolutions that took place. The Fall of the Berlin War, the Velvet Revolution, and Solidarity were all pretty successful in creating democratic governments in Eastern Europe. Then, there was the Tiananmen Massacre which has led to… well… what we have right now in the PRC. A little later, there were the Color Revolutions that led to the creation of mostly democratic states in Georgia (the country, not the state) and a few others. Of course, there was also that massive failure in Myanmar where the monks didn’t really force that much change.

Protests are sometimes useful, but most of the time, they’re just around long enough for the media to exploit for ratings. If the majority of the people in a country, not just the urban or educated elite, support the revolution, it’ll probably have a higher chance of success. Like in East Germany, I would guess that there was a decent amount of support and knowledge about plans for reunification. In China back in ’89 on the other hand, the peasants in Ningxia had no idea what democracy was, let alone what the students were doing in Beijing.

I don’t know too much about Iran, but it really doesn’t seem like the faction that is supporting reform is large enough yet. At least I haven’t heard much about the peasants and the poor joining in on the protests. Marx was right when he was talking about the prerequisites for communist revolutions, except it can be expanded to revolutions in general. Development increases the chance that a political revolution would be successful. If the people are poor and starving, they can be easily riled up to protest, but at the same time it is easy to buy them off with some food or redistribution of some land. Those who have satisfied their basic needs can be riled up to protest as well, but if they are given economic mobility and consumer goods are available for purchase, they can be distracted from the revolution as they seem to fulfill their consumption needs.

Now once you got that TV and motorbike, the marginal benefit of consuming more decreases. Getting that first TV gives you much more benefit in comparison to having to trek over to a Best Buy to watch on one of those display TVs. On the other hand, a bigger TV might make you happier, but less and less as your TV gets bigger and bigger. The people can no longer be as easily bought off with economic reforms. They’re going to want a cleaner environment, a safer place for their kids, and other public goods. They’re going to demand this from the government. Kaboom. We got a civil society forming. The civil society expands from demanding services from the government and goes into immaterial things. Human rights, democracy, freedom, liberty, and so on and so on.

I’m not saying that the poor won’t want ideas like freedom and equality, but they usually have more important things on their minds. They want freedom so that they can sell their goods on the market at a fair price. They want human rights to protect their land from wealthy men and armed thugs. They want democracy so they can choose a leader that they have connections with so that they can get help. They want these ‘ideas’ to achieve material gains, not just for the sake of having these rights’. That’s why most communists are students or comfortable intellectuals. The poor inner city youth would prefer a sweet ride and a couple hos in the back.

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Another anniversary date has come and gone (at least in China). The media frenzy in the west with its coverage of human rights in China will slowly fade away and become forgotten for another year.  The thousands of protesters in Hong Kong will go back to working, eating, fucking, and sleeping, their candlelight commemoration of the massacre brought up only in casual conversations and uploaded pictures on the MSN Spaces. Tiananmen Square will become just another place for tourists to visit, to pose in front of the martyrs and gawk at Mao’s decaying body.

Peace be with those who died and those who suffered. It is important to remember what happened this day, at least for one day a year. To expect more would be unrealistic. To want less would be cruel. Let us harbour no hatred in our hearts, nor should we forgive those who do not ask for forgiveness. And then, tomorrow will be another day.

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I’ve read a couple of Orville Schell’s books and some other collected works that he edited, like ‘The China Reader’, so I was really excited when I heard he was being interviewed on NPR. For the most part, I like NPR. ‘This American Life’ is a pretty awesome, ‘Prairie Home Companion’ has made me a fan of bluegrass music, and ‘Forum’ usually has interesting guests being interviewed. At the same time, I find myself cringing every time there is a show about China. Right before the Olympics, there was a ton of specials about all this poverty and human rights abuses with a little vague note tacked on at the end about some random positive aspect about China, usually from the point of view of a migrant worker or peasant. Now that June 4th is coming around the corner again, I guess it’s time for some more noise to come up about China and human rights.

First, I have to note that I’m much more ‘pro China’ when I’m in America and very ‘anti China’ when I’m in China. The reason is obvious of course: when I’m in the United States or China, I am much more aware of the assholes that inhabit that geographic area than when I am far away. For example, when I think of China today, I drool at the thought of eating Nan Chou Rou, I think of playing frisbee in the parking lot with my friends, and I reminisce about all those nice folk I met on the trains as I traveled around the country. When I was in China, I dreamed of carne asada super burritos, going for a nice long run with my friends at the shoreline, and those long road trips down to San Diego to visit my sister. It can’t be helped, so please excuse me as I sound uncharacteristically like a Panda Hugger.

What prompted me to write his blog entry after many months MIA is this guy who called in to the show asking about boycotting Chinese goods. He went on to rant about human rights abuses, wanting to boycott Chinese products and how that would impact China, how China would retaliate if that happened, and how much he hated Chinese goods because they all break really easily even though he can’t find shoes or iPhones that aren’t made in China. He was incoherent and forgot what he was talking about half-way through, but I can’t help but respond.

That caller just reminded me of the nationalistic students I had to deal with who would stand up in class and shout anti-Japanese slogans in class, despite the fact that their ‘English’ name is actually a Japanese anime character with orange hair. What I don’t understand is how people can hate a ‘country’. I mean, a country is an idea that is made into existence by the people who live within those borders.

So what would happen if there was a successful boycott of Chinese goods? Well, the working class people in America would be hurt the most. The poor depend on cheaper products from China and they work at retail stores that sell mostly Chinese-made goods. So all the so-called ‘liberals’ who want to boycott Chinese goods should also say that poor people are poor because they’re lazy just to stay ideologically consistent. How would China retaliate? The guy on the radio thought China would sell off all of America’s debt. Why would they do that? They bought those government bonds as a form of investment. Abandoning all their investment, as well as the political leverage, would be suicide. Sure, Chinese nationalists would throw rocks at McDonalds and boycott Buiks, but let’s face it, American boycott of Chinese goods is damaging enough to the United States as it is.

But as Mr. Schell stated, a boycott is unrealistic and would probably never happen. People maximize their utility in life. If hurting China is a big part of their utility function, then sure, they’ll boycott Chinese goods. But how many people actually care? Even people who go to Free Tibet protests are usually only part-time China haters, just like those kids who boycotted Carrefour were back in that French supermarket to buy toilet paper a week later.

Politics… so dirty… I’ll try to refrain myself from writing about such subjects in the future, but this time, I just couldn’t help myself.

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