When I started Seeing Red in China one year ago, the plan was to write a post every weekday for a few months and see what happened. I am incredibly pleased by the way this site has grown into something beyond a typical travel blog, into a more complete guide to modern China, and that every post has been further supplemented by your excellent comments.
Through researching my posts each day, I’ve greatly improved my understanding of China, and today I’d like to share two of the major underlying themes that I wish I had known earlier, as well as my overall impression of this year spent studying China.
Scandals are all the same
While I had had some sense of this, after following the People’s Daily closely for a year, I realized that scandals in China really are all the same. They start as a murmur on Weibo, and spread faster than the censors can contain. This explains why the scandals are often so shocking, the only ones that survive the incubation period on Weibo are the ones that are not targeting issues already deemed “sensitive”.
The second phase involves a candid admission in either People’s Daily or Global Times that something did happen and it will be investigated. Many scandals disappear at this point since the gov’t knows that moving slowly allows for interest in the story to fade. If interest does not fade then they might actually investigate.
The third phase almost always involves a discovery that relevant laws were in place, but they had not been properly enforced (so it is not a problem at the national level). This means that a handful of local officials will be forced to step down from their positions for failing to enforce the laws.
Finally, several months after the incident, these officials are quietly reassigned to new positions.
China has no room at the margins
Until just a year or two ago, sign language was not taught to China’s deaf community. Instead, programs focused on teaching the deaf how to mimic speech. In fact, it was only after parents and children were taught sign language, that many parents realized their children suffered no other handicaps.
This is because there is very little room in China for those classified as “other.” This can be seen not only in handicap programs, like autistic children being trained to “act normal,” but also in how educational programs are designed for a single type of learner, or that society only accepts one kind of family (read: Why I hate the Chinese idea of marriage).
This causes China headaches when dealing with the minorities of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, since the country’s policies are generally designed for one type of person: Atheist-Han-Farmer/Factory Worker who will sacrifice themselves for economic gain. Gov’t officials seem to have an incredibly hard time understanding why everyone doesn’t fit this role (not only minorities resist the model).
One year later
At times it is hard to tell if I’ve just been following the news more closely, or if things are actually getting worse. At the end of the year though, I can say that: The number of activists detained far exceeds the number released, Weibo is becoming more tightly controlled, the gov’t is more sensitive to criticism and perceived trouble makers, and all of that will get worse if China’s economy slows down in the way many are starting to predict (I’m not certain it will). After reading thousands of articles on China this year, my confidence in the Communist Party is at an all time low.
That being said, the last year has also brought many advances: new methods of activism, both online and off; waves of bold candidates attempting to run in local elections; stronger calls for transparency and environmental protection, even in the countryside; and in many cases, open defiance of gov’t policies that deny people basic rights. I am quite pleased to say that after further discussing many of the issues facing China with co-workers, friends, and activists, my faith in the Chinese people is at an all time high.