The Truth About China's Regime
—————————hina will break your heart," the old China hands used to say, and of course they were right. You can never be too pessimistic about China. I periodically slip into a vague cheerfulness about the way things are going over there, mainly as a result of reading American and European newspapers. Then some actual fact brings me up short, and I find myself wondering if anything fundamental can ever change in that nation. Talking with some recent arrivals from the mainland early this summer, for example, I learned that the noxious dang-an system is still in full force, at least in universities and research institutes. Dang-an means "file." In Maoist days every Chinese citizen had a fixed place of work, and the Party branch at that workplace kept a paper file recording his life history — including, of course, any reports of "counter-revolutionary" tendencies. (There was, by the way, no requirement that such reports be verified, so a great deal of unsubstantiated gossip and slander ended up in your file.) To transfer from one job to another, or from one place to another, the Party branch holding your file had to release it to the new location. If they were not willing to do so — a decision that was entirely at their own discretion — you could not effect the transfer. Well, I had thought this whole horrible business of dang-an had been washed away by the tides of reform. Not a bit of it, reported my new acquaintances. You still can't get anywhere in the academic world, or in government employment (most urban Chinese still work directly or indirectly for the government) without your file; and if your Party Secretary feels inclined, he can hold on to it, blocking any chance of job movement. Another specimen of how little has changed in the People's Republic came my way recently. It is an official white paper titled "50 Years of Progress in China's Human Rights," put out by the Chinese government in February of this year. If you're curious, it can be inspected on the Internet. The document lays out in great detail (it is over 11,000 words long) the Chinese Communist Party's view of its own record on human rights these past 50 years. Those 50 years have, of course, been tumultuous ones for the Chinese people, and fatal ones for a great many of them. Courtois, Werth, et al.'s Black Book of Communism gives the following highlights. • Land reform: 2-5 million dead, 4-6 million landlords and kulaks sent to camps. • Urban purges to 1957: At least 1 million dead, 2.5 million sent to camps. • Hundred Flowers and the Anti-Rightist campaigns: 770,000 dead, 400,000-700,000 sent to camps (mainly intellectuals). • Great Leap Forward and consequent famines: 25-40 million dead, unknown number of peasants sent to camps. • Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Several hundred thousand dead, unknown numbers (probably 1-2 million) sent to camps. • Annexation of Tibet: Death toll "could be as high as 800,000". (Note that the authors of the Black Book pooh-pooh the higher figures put out by the Tibetan government-in-exile.) "Perhaps as many as one in ten Tibetans" interned, with about 2 percent surviving that process. Massive and prolonged attempt at cultural annihilation: Of 6,259 places of worship in metropolitan Tibet, only 13 remained open by 1976. Now, I confess that I feel life too short to read 11,000 words of commie propaganda, translated in that way they have. (The London Daily Worker famously offered one of Stalin's edicts as: "The organs of the Party must penetrate the backward parts of the proletariat.") I did, however, do some keyword searches on the entire text, a process that yielded the following conclusions. • Mentions of land reform: 1 ("The People's Government carried out land reform.") • Mentions of the Great Leap Forward: 0 • Uses of the word "famine": 0 • References to Tibet: 5, all boasts about progress in religious freedom, education, maternal care, etc. • Mentions of the Great Cultural Revolution: 0 Given that there is no mention at all of any of the human rights calamities of the past 50 years — the Great Leap Forward famine was the greatest in human history — how did the authors of this white paper manage to fill out 11,000 words? Why, with commie-speak. "China's total grain outpur increased from 110 million tons in 1949 to 510 million tons in 1998 ... the Central Government has allocated more than 30 billion RMB as relief funds for serious natural disasters ... Statistics show that in 1998, some 361,000 convicts were given reductions of sentence or released on parole ..." Ah, "statistics show." These are still commies, and they still love their statistics. (It was Arthur Koestler, I think, who observed that the one thing a Communist country could reliably produce was statistics.) Other old tricks are in evidence, too: Articles published in October 1999 in the New York Times and in September 1999 in the International Herald Tribune, published in the United States, point out: "The great achievement made by China of solving the problems of food, clothing and housing for one quarter of the world's population will be written in the annals of history." And: "Today, ordinary Chinese citizens enjoy better health, nutriment, education and living standards than in any period in the Middle Kingdom's long history." What happens here is that the Chinese government puts out some mendacious, self-flattering statement in such a way as to get it printed in a Western newspaper. ("According to the Beijing authorities, ....") They then recycle it into their own propaganda material. ("Articles published in the New York Times point out ...") Theater reviewers have nothing on these guys. And so the Chinese people march forward into the radiant future under the leadership of their Party — the only one that is permitted to them — and its unpublished slogan: "Never apologize, never explain." The horrors of the past fifty years, that have washed away upwards of 60 million lives, have been shoved down the memory hole. China has "moved on".