October 13, 2004


China Crushes Peasant Protest, Turning 3 Friends Into Enemies (JOSEPH KAHN, 10/13/04, NY Times)

A decade ago, three friends shook hands, downed a bottle of rice wine and vowed to fight to the end against Communist Party officials who imposed illegal taxes and fees on them and their families.

Wang Junbin, an army veteran, was their strategist. Wang Hongchao, eager and voluble, rallied fellow villagers. Wang Xiangdong fearlessly confronted party bosses. The three peasants, who share the same surname but were bound only by their mission, endured a violent police crackdown, got tax refunds, and even won the right to govern their own village in the arid plains of northwestern Anhui Province.

Yet power, vanity and the guile of the Communist Party tore them apart. The authorities persuaded Wang Hongchao to testify against Wang Xiangdong in court, creating lasting animosity. Neither can abide Wang Junbin. He was lured away to become a party official and is today as much a target of protest as the bosses they once battled together.

Since China's peasantry began falling far behind the urban elite in the go-go 1990's, the countryside has been a font of unrest. It is the rare village, among the 700,000 across China, where residents are not protesting something - corruption, high taxes or fees, confiscated land, punitive birth-control policies.

Like thousands of peasant activists, the three Mr. Wangs raised funds, petitioned township, county, provincial and national officials, and got some redress.

But they were also typical in their failure to bring lasting change. They were susceptible to the carrots and sticks the Communist Party uses to keep order in the hinterland and to ensure that heroism is no more than a chapter in a tale of submission. China has not yet figured out how to make its capitalist-style economic growth egalitarian. It has become one of the developing world's most unequal societies.

China does though provide the same helpful test that the EU did in the 90s, Japan did in the 80s, and the USSR did until the 70s--when you hear someone talking about how America is losing ground to them you can safely stop paying attention to that person.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 13, 2004 1:33 PM
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