December 24, 2005


Vast dam proposal is a test for China (Jim Yardley, DECEMBER 23, 2005, The New York Times)

Far from the pulsing cities that symbolize modern China, this tiny hillside village of crude peasant houses seems disconnected from this century and the last. But follow a dirt path past a snarling watchdog, sidestep the chickens and ducks and a small clearing on the banks of the Nu River reveals a dusty slab of concrete lying in a rotting pumpkin patch.

The innocuous concrete block is a symbol of a struggle over law that touches every corner of the country.

The block marks the spot on the Nu River where officials here in Yunnan Province want to begin building one of the biggest dam projects in the world. It would produce more electricity than even the mighty Three Gorges Dam but would also threaten a region considered an ecological treasure. This village would be the first place to disappear.

For decades, the Communist Party has rammed through such projects by fiat. But the Nu River proposal, already delayed for more than a year, is now unexpectedly presenting the Chinese government with a quandary of its own making: Will it abide by its laws?

They're a long way from the central Judeo-Christian insight, that certain rights precede the State, which then exists on the central Anglo-American insight of the sufferance of the citizenry, but perhaps they can at least accept the basic notion that the state too is bound by the law.

China's Probe of Mining Disasters Finds Corruption, Chaos (Edward Cody, December 24, 2005, Washington Post)

The Chinese government announced Friday that it found "astonishingly serious" corruption, chaotic management and lax enforcement of safety rules in investigating coal mine disasters that have killed thousands of Chinese workers this year.

Li Yizhong, who heads the cabinet-level Work Safety Administration, said at a news conference that 96 people have been turned over for criminal prosecution this year for their roles in the explosions and floodings that occur with relentless regularity in the coal industry as mine owners race to keep up with demand. In addition, 21 mine managers and 105 government and Communist Party officials were demoted, fired or otherwise sanctioned, including two deputy provincial governors, he said.

More than 6,000 workers perished in Chinese coal mines during 2004, making mines here the most dangerous in the world. More than 4,000 miners were killed in the first nine months of this year, and the rhythm has continued unabated, including 171 who died last month at the state-owned Dongfeng Coal Mine in Heilongjiang province.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2005 8:57 AM

On the positive side, all these mine accidents may make a dent in China's gender imbalance.

Who knows, maybe it's a policy.

Posted by: Bruno at December 24, 2005 10:23 AM

Bruno, Do you really think the Chinese government would sacrifice peasants and scenery for cheap electricity in this day of instantaneous communication round the world? This one will be really tricky. It'll be very edifying to see which way they'll go.

Posted by: erp at December 24, 2005 11:28 AM

"Will it abide by its laws?
... but perhaps they can at least accept the basic notion that the state too is bound by the law."

That has never been a big idea in China, and the legacy of Communism works against it also. Look at Russia where the idea of the rule of law is having a very rough time catching on.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 24, 2005 2:54 PM

What boggles me is how China could ever be, and still be called "communist", when it to me seems more like completely unrestrained capitalism. Wouldn't Republicans be more inclined to side with deregulating the mining industry, trashing the environment, and government not needing to abide by its own laws?

Posted by: Grog at December 25, 2005 4:25 AM


And letting the state do it all? What's funny is the way you guys can never accept your ideals in action.

Posted by: oj at December 25, 2005 8:38 AM

"Trashing the environment" isn't a side-effect of capitalism, it's a side-effect of lack of democracy.

The late Soviet Union, the former Eastern Bloc nations, North Korea, and China are among the most polluted nations on Earth, and none of them got that way through capitalism.

The Soviet Union, for instance, used to dispose of nuclear waste by simply THROWING IT INTO A LAKE !!!

If you multiply Chernobyl a hundred times, you have a picture of what happened in Chelyabinsk. [...]
[T]he disaster at Chelyabinsk has been going
on far longer and has involved a far larger amount of radiation than Chernobyl. [...]
Through intentional dumping of nuclear waste into the Techa River and Lake Karachay, an explosion at a nuclear waste storage tank in 1957, and the spread of irradiated sediments from Lake Karachay in 1967, Mayak has come to be known as the most polluted place on Earth.

The nuclear waste dumped into the Techa River was contaminated and untreated wastewater, the Lake Karachey waste was actual nuclear waste, the kind that the U.S. is planning to bury in Yucca Mountain.

Up to a million people have been affected by this intentional and human-made disaster, going back to 1945.

Compare that to the capitalist and democratic United States, and the public and governmental reaction to the mild nuclear crisis at Three Mile Island, where NO actual harm has been shown to have occurred.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 25, 2005 2:18 PM