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Musings on the future of China - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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October 19th, 2009


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02:15 am - Musings on the future of China
Here's a fascinating NYT article on China's official (and dissident) presence at a major European book fair. The heart of the issue was
A symposium preceding the book fair titled “China and the World — Perceptions and Realities,” became a major confrontation. Fair organizers withdrew invitations to two dissident writers the Chinese wanted to exclude, Dai Qing and Bei Ling, but welcomed them at the last minute after criticism by journalists and politicians. When the writers made statements, the Chinese delegation walked out, only to return after an abject apology by the fair’s director, Jürgen Boos.
The upshot was that the official Chinese representatives did not withdraw, but stayed, despite there being Chinese books presenting openly negative views of China there. It's a very small step, but hopefully an important one.

I've been fascinating with China for many years – back when I was in graduate school studying cultural anthropology, I was planning on doing research in China, and my interest has been recently rekindled after amberite spent most of a year teaching in the Chinese city of Yangzhou. China also has some recent trends that both fascinate me and make me quite hopeful. It's a thriving progress-focused generally technophilic nation which is also home to the SF magazine with the world's highest circulation SF magazine, with a circulation of over 320,000 (which after adjustments for population is almost 3 times that of the best-selling US SF magazine) and an estimated readership of more than one million (sadly, not reading Chinese, I can't read any of the stories). According to this article, there's even Chinese-written cyberpunk.

As I mention in this post, China is starting to invest heavily in alternative energy, which combined with their small, but growing environmental movement, will almost certainly significantly reduce the (very high) level of pollution.

Also, here's a fascinating article about the internet, censorship, journalism, and freedom in China. One of the more interesting bits is this:
I referenced this quote when asking Michael a question after his talk. I wanted to know what percentage of Chinese users he thought were interested in getting around censorship and expressing themselves freely online, observing that the rise of the internet in China has already created a great deal more freedom than most Chinese people had a decade ago.

Michael’s response began with a story: “When I first came to America, I thought it was very conservative. In China, it’s easy to have sex before marriage, and we are more open to homosexuals. We have no conservative party, and we have no God.” He asks, “Why does the China government allow people to have so much freedom in sex and business?” The answer is that the government wants to exchange personal freedom for political freedom. You’ve got a life now that’s so much better than your parents’ life was. “There’s a generation gap. The children of the 1970s want social change. They remember Tiananmen. But the newer generation simply accepts this exchange” of political freedoms for personal freedoms. As a result, “only very weird people care about political freedom. At least 95% of people don’t care about censorship.”
China is very different there from the first world, and it is also changing rapidly. It's not someplace I'd remotely consider wishing to live now, but I'm definitely wondering what 10 or 20 years will bring. I suspect that freedom of expression will become a bigger issue within a decade, but it's impossible to say what the result will be.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(14 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:jiawen
Date:October 19th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
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Have you seen our (my, oyceter and Vandana Singh's) handout for the Not Just Japan panel at WisCon? There are some Chinese SF sources in there.
[User Picture]
From:amberite
Date:October 19th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
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It appears to be locked. :-(
[User Picture]
From:jiawen
Date:October 20th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
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My anonypost hasn't been cleared yet, so: Sorry, I used the wrong URL. Should be this one.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:October 19th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
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It's odd and fascinating to think of a Communist country as having more personal freedom than the US. Growing up in the 1980s, I was taught in school that Communism doesn't work and is evil and repressive. I also read many stories about people being arrested in the middle of the night and taken to labor camps, etc.
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From:mindstalk
Date:October 19th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
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Communist countries often tried for more freedom for women and minorities (though often oppressing minorities instead.) But the claim

"In China, it’s easy to have sex before marriage, and we are more open to homosexuals"

isn't very convincing. In the US it's pretty easy to have sex before marriage, unless you're dating someone pretty conservative, and I take "more open to homosexuals" as an unsubstantiated claim.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_China#Modern_China
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 19th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
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"In China, it’s easy to have sex before marriage, and we are more open to homosexuals"

isn't very convincing. In the US it's pretty easy to have sex before marriage, unless you're dating someone pretty conservative, and I take "more open to homosexuals" as an unsubstantiated claim.


I'm mostly inclined to agree, but from both the wikipedia article and amberite's experience talking with people in China, it does sound like homosexuality is somewhat more acceptable in China than in the most reactionary US states, which is admittedly not saying much.
[User Picture]
From:jiawen
Date:October 20th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Being GLBT in China isn't as likely to get one killed or hurt as it is in certain areas of the US, but the kind of low-level, non-violent discrimination that makes life miserable for a lot of GLBT people in the US is just as prevalent in China. Firing people for being gay, social pressure to get married, cutting off your kids for being lesbian, general societal expectations that all trans women will be prostitutes, etc. are all at least as prevalent in China as they are in the US, in my experience.
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From:heron61
Date:October 20th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
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*nods* that sounds about right. Effectively, the situation is noticably better than much of the "Bible Belt", and especially non-urban regions of the "Bible Belt", but still wretched.
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From:heron61
Date:October 19th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Although it was once somewhat true, for the last 15 or so years, communism has been a largely meaningless word when used to describe China. Authoritarian capitalism seems vastly more accurate. During the 70s, China had it's labor camps and suchlike (although it never got as bad as the USSR under Stalin, which was almost up there with Nazi Germany in terms of oppression and mass murder). However, from the 90s onwards, China has changed radically.
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From:kadath
Date:October 19th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Communism did pretty well by China for 15-20 years from the late 30s to early 50s. It's largely due to the Communist resistance that China isn't essentially a Western colony the way it was for a great deal of the 19th century, and the land redistribution efforts in rural villages improved the lot of peasants considerably.

Then Mao lost his fucking mind and the Great Leap Forward happened. That's usually how leftist revolutions go. The revolutionaries become the ruling class and get concerned with political infighting, because they came to power by overthrowing the old government, so they're paranoid that the same Zeus-Uranus thing is going to happen to them.

It didn't help that Stalin was trying to hammer the square peg of Chinese agrarian society into the round hole of industrialist Marxist theory the whole time, either.
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From:heron61
Date:October 20th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
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Well said. The problem the USSR wasn't communism, it was that Stalin was a vile monster. Meanwhile communism did much good for China, for a while. The Great Leap Forward was (at least from my PoV) nothing more or less than the sort of reality-defying optimism that can easily infect small ruling elites on all sides of the political spectrum (Shrub and company were certainly deeply into their own reality-defying optimism trip). After that, things went downhill due to the typical reluctance of such ruling elites to admit they were wrong, leading to further idiocy and ugliness with the Cultural Revolution, where the leaders played the (both personal and ideological) blame game for the failure of the GLF.
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From:slothman
Date:October 19th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
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One thing that worries me about that area is that both China and India have been selecting for an excess of males lately. There’s a traditional way to deal with that, but both countries have nuclear weapons, and the fallout would show up on the West Coast.

I’m hoping that the Chinese environmental movement will grow a lot faster in the near future; the country has been wrecking its own environmental capital in its pursuit of growth.
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From:comingin2day
Date:October 22nd, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
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It's been years since the article was written on China in the National Geographic magazine. The article itself was very enlightening; the country itself has lost it's natural beauty from all the polution and gross neglect by its government. I for one after reading the articles and seeing the pictures, felt no need to want to visit.

Just this past weekend, there was a show on organs for sale through the Black Market. The death of 10,000 people a day in China by the government? or some rediculous short amount of time, says the government makes money by selling their organs. The black market itself uses vendors to buy kidneys with promises of thousands of dollars, while the actual donor received only 700 dollars. There was no recourse or anything she could do, now her son is dying and needing a kidney and she doesn't have one to donate.

Though, many complain of America and the lack of appreciation toward American freedoms, it is obvious that we all could learn a thing or two about what is happening outside, in other countries.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 22nd, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
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Amnesty International estimates of executions (which seem to be the most accurate) in China are between 5,000 & 10,000 per year. As a rather grim comparison, per capita, that's only between 3 and 5 times the yearly execution rate in Texas. So, while not good, it's hardly like those of us in the US should feel particularly superior.

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