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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Some Different Benchmarks of Change

China's Report CardI really liked the article I link to below. It was written by a journalist who according to his bio has spent several years reporting in China.

Essentially he puts forward an alternative report card for the liberalisation and democratisation of China. A report card with some different benchmarks than those normally used by the international community.

I like them firstly because they are a bit novel but secondly because they are very good indicators.

His first benchmark is the Return of Talent. In this he argues quite rightly that the net result of the "talent" leaving and the "talent" returning is an excellent indicator as how the "intelligentsia" view what is going on in China and the way the trendlines point.

This group of Chinese, educated and savvy, are motivated by opportunity. Opportunity to make money, opportunity to learn and opportunity to express their freedoms. If, for example, the economy maintains it's rush, if freedoms of learning, interaction and expression are enhanced this group of people will return from abroad in significant numbers. If these factors worsen they will continue to leave China to find them as they have done so in the past.

I like this one particularly as this class of Chinese are not only educated and should be attuned to change but generally have the ability to move very quickly unlike the millions of migrant workers, for example, whom are shackled generally by a lack of education and severe financial constraints. This more mobile intelligentsia therefore are a better "liquid test" as to how things are really going in China.

The government too, recognises this "benchmark" and has been very pro-active in programmes to entice the "wanderers" to return home.

His second and third benchmarks concern Migrant Workers. This much maligned and exploited class of China numbering by some estimates 130-150 million are, in the words of the author, the most widespread case of human rights violations in China.

Treated as aliens, devoid of state protection they are exploited mercilessly receiving in many instances less money than a Shanghai beggar makes. They work the hard manual jobs in high risk industries such as construction and mining where injury and death is part and parcel of their world. Recently I commented on the sad story of a migrant worker woman who gave birth to a stillborn child because two doctors attending her walked away when she couldn't afford the bill

Many of these "migrant workers" or "floating population" as they are alternatively known, go unpaid and just recently Premier Wen Jiabao was taken enough by the plight of one such worker that the issue of unpaid wages to migrant workers (and others) was pushed up the list on the political agenda. It is estimated that 94 million migrant workers are owed over 100 billion Yuan in back wages.

Thus migrant workers human rights, wages and condition are, it is argued by the author, an excellent barometer of social change in China and bear close scrutiny.

I am a little lost on the authors fifth benchmark which relates to Children of laid off workers.

In China there are many hundreds of thousands of workers who have been laid of by the Chinese SEO's (State Economic Organisations) in recent years. Made redundant by the shut down of inefficient state run enterprises they received scant benefits and do not have a great opportunity for re-employment. This heretofore "elite"of the working class are none too happy with their new situations.

I think what the author is trying to say is that if the children of these workers can go well in education and life then the "laid off workers" will be less unhappy and will cause no great concern to the state. They could however become quite a destabilising force if their level of dissatisfaction as to the future for their children rises. How you track and quantify such a benchmark is beyond me but nonetheless the author has identified, in my view, a very important indicator in China's "report card".

His sixth report card indicator is the "yuppies" or "dinks" call them as you will. This group of young nouveau riche Chinese are blissfully enjoying the full fruits of China's rush to a market economy.

Driving imported cars, living in new and expensive housing, this group the author argues, bears close watching as an excellent indicator of where China is going and more importantly how it is going.

Unless checked some how by the government this new middle class will demand greater and greater freedoms. How the government reacts to those demands will be an important index of political and social change in China.

The next of the seven indices is the ubiquitous Chinese "web surfer". This ever growing group of Chinese are interested in information and gaming and have see the internet as a method of disseminating ideas and discussing social issues. The government's response to this group is important in assessing change in China.

Already this year we have seen several crackdowns on chatrooms and bloggers and China reportedly employs some 30,000 people to monitor and censor the web.

Some overseas websites are classed as "forbidden" and are blocked from being seen in China. The BBC, the Catholic church and even innocuous small time sites like my Uygur website (ranked 2,000,024 in the world) are blocked from viewing in China. My site for example whilst blocked still gets "spidered" on a weekly basis from China (why they do this when the Chinese people can not see it is beyond me but I suppose it keeps someone in work)

Put simply, liberalisation and relaxation of censorship of the net is a good indicator of positive change, the reverse is bad.

Finally a very novel one.

Beijing Dog Pic courtesy NY TimesDogs are not allowed by law to be on the streets of Beijing in daylight hours apparently and their owners have always been upset by this longstanding rule. The author says (and don't laugh this really is a great indicatorto watch) that how this issue goes so does the nation.

When these dog laws are repealed China will be finally free!!

Linked Article Read Rating: A Must

The New York Times > Week in Review > Political Progress Scale: How's China Doing? Yardsticks You Never Thought of