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·CHINA IN 2008
重贴旧文-CHINA IN 2008

   This article was written for The Diplomat and publish at

   A once-in-a-hundred-year snowstorm marked an ominous beginning for a supposedly magnificent year for China.
   Government insider turned dissident writer Jennifer Zeng asks whether 2008 will be remembered as the year the CCP started to lose its stranglehold over China
   A once-in-a-hundred-year snowstorm marked an ominous beginning for a supposedly magnificent year for China. In its aftermath came violent protests in Tibet, the controversial Olympic torch relay, the devastating Sichuan earthquake, the Olympics themselves, a poisoned milk powder scandal and financial turmoil.
   In some quarters, the handling of these events by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), particularly the response to the earthquake, was praised for its openness. But as someone who has suffered persecution and oppression at the hands of the current regime, my view is somewhat different.
   In 2001, after spending a year in the Beijing Female Forced Labour Camp for practising Falun Gong, I escaped to Australia to seek asylum. Electric shocks, beatings, sleep deprivation and endless hard labour had been daily ordeals, and every moment was a battle between life and death as the police used all means to force us to renounce Falun Gong.
   Once in Australia, I wrote about my experiences. Speaking at a forum, I was asked whether I saw any similarity between the suffering Tibetans have endured and my own. I suddenly realised that much of my knowledge about Tibet came from the CCP propaganda I had grown up with, such as how China had ‘liberated’ Tibetans from feudal slavery and how happy Tibetan people were today.
   Why was I so ignorant of the real state of affairs? I had a Masters degree from Peking University, and after graduating I worked as a policy researcher and consultant in the Development Centre of the State Council (China’s cabinet), even writing a speech for the then Premier. Such a background should have qualified me as informed rather than ignorant. Yet my world view had been totally shaped by the oppressive, pervasive information control in my native country.
   Olympics and PR perpetuate China’s legitimacy
   A controlled world view was the reason that thousands of Chinese students turned Canberra into a sea of red to ‘defend’ their motherland when the Olympic torch reached Australia. The students’ actions were reported to have strong Chinese government support, which is hardly surprising given that patriotism and nationalism have become the two most important weapons used by the CCP to maintain its power, and the regime plays those cards at every opportunity.
   Now that Western journalists have been allowed back into Tibet, it has become apparent that, despite Kevin Rudd’s criticism back in April, terrible things continued to happen in the region while the world was focused on the Olympics. Yet inside China until very recently, few people sought to challenge the Party’s version of events, instead applauding the government’s censure of foreign leaders who had the temerity to question China’s human rights record.
   It is this long-term absence of criticism – achieved through suppression and information control – that has historically given the authorities the licence to act with impunity in Tibet. Even the Dalai Lama now appears to have admitted defeat, announcing in October 2008 that he had ‘given up on efforts to convince Beijing to allow greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule.’
   Information control even extends to natural disasters. My parents and two sisters live only 100km from Wenchuan, the epicentre of the Sichuan earthquake. Amazingly, I managed to speak to my mother only three hours after the quake. ‘I heard rumours that there would be earthquakes in May,’ she said, ‘but I never dreamed there really would be one…’
   In his book, The Tangshan Warning, Zhang Qingzhou details how the prediction of the Tangshan earthquake that killed an estimated quarter of a million people in 1976 was suppressed by the authorities, and how a local official in Qinglong County managed to save 400,000 lives because he ‘happened’ to hear of this prediction and chose to warn people.
   The ‘rumours’ my panicked mother was referring to concerned reports that the CCP had again suppressed the earthquake forecast because it did not qualify as ‘harmonious news’ in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
   Wang Zhaoshan, Vice President of the Writers Association in Shangdong Province, claimed in his poem, ‘Accounts under the Rubble’, that even those children who were buried under the ruins were impatient to cheer together with 1.3 billion Chinese people, if only they could have a TV set in front of their graves to watch the Beijing Olympics.
   The International Olympic Committee, Western leaders, sponsors and business leaders who attended the opening ceremony may continue to insist on the importance of engaging China and that politics should be separated from sport, but that does not disguise the fact that the CCP cynically used the Beijing Olympics to enhance and perpetuate its own political legitimacy.
   For the Party, the Olympics represented the ultimate PR campaign. That is why more money was spent on these Games than any other Olympics in history. That is why the thousands whose homes were bulldozed to make way for Olympic infrastructure were considered expendable and thrown out onto the street with little or no compensation. And that is why over 8000 Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in the six months before the Olympics. Most are still in custody, many have been tortured and, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center, at least six deaths have occurred.
   Pollution, corruption, food adulteration
   The Paralympics had barely drawn to a close when news of the poisoned milk powder broke. If the Sanlu Group had not been partly owned by New Zealand’s Fonterra and launched an investigation, thousands more babies might be dying from the results of melamine poisoning. The authorities had known there was a problem since December 2007, but it was all hushed up because of the Olympics.
   Food and water contamination is a massive problem in China. Zhou Qing, award-winning author of What Kind of God – A Survey of the Current Safety of China’s Food, warned years ago that food security could ultimately spark the collapse of the CCP, and there are increasing signs that the people are less accepting of the situation. Certainly the statistics make sobering reading.
   Over 40 per cent of drinking water in rural China falls short of government standards, animal feed is almost universally tainted with melamine, excessive pesticides and chemical fertilisers are used to boost yields, and harmful antibiotics are widely administered to control disease in seafood and livestock. Talcum powder is routinely added to flour and rice is chemically whitened. And yet, miraculously, the CCP is still able to ensure access to the best-quality organically grown produce for party officials.
   Throughout 2008, the CCP has used the global financial crisis to reinforce the superiority of the country’s social system. In reality, though, China is far from immune. Its stock market has plunged by nearly two-thirds in the 11 months to September and the economy remains sluggish, with large numbers of factories going bankrupt as international demand for Chinese-made consumer goods slides. According to the State Planning and Development Commission, nearly 70,000 small- to medium-sized companies went out of business in the first half of 2008.
   It is these factors and their associated social repercussions that most threaten the CCP’s monopoly on political power. As well as the poor and hungry, beneficiaries of Party patronage, who had grown extremely rich in previous years, are known to be unhappy that their worth has been cut by 50 per cent of late.


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