Challenging China: Struggle and Hope in an Era of Change
Sharon Hom and Stacy Mosher (ed.), Human Rights in China, New York: 2007. 313 pp.
Challenging China presents a vivid and comprehensive portrait of the trouble and hardship Chinese people face as they confront an erratic, incompetent, and often brutal communist regime. The anecdotes and essays in this book are written by Chinese activists intimately involved in environmental, political, and human rights crises. This window into their daily struggles provides a deeply moving portrayal of life in a communist country and a rare glimpse for Western readers into the perspective of Chinese dissidents and intellectuals.
Though China’s economic transformation has benefited the urban elite, “economic reform has left the vast majority of Chinese behind through unemployment, development disparity, and the collapse of social security safety nets.” A major theme throughout these essays is that the social, political, and judicial systems enforced by the CCP are so deeply flawed that there are few available outlets for dissent or channels for making change. Under the “privatized public power” system of the CCP, the public has “no legal organized means… to express its demand for rights.”
Corruption in the government and legal systems is rife, and the livelihoods of whole villages are often sacrificed for reasons of economic development (as with the displacement of thousands due to construction of the Three Gorges Dam) or international face-saving (as with the government’s decade-long denial of the AIDS crisis in Henan province). Those who protest this inequity are silenced, through such means as intimidation, torture, or imprisonment on trumped-up charges. Though this method maintains surface calm, the authors in this book suggest that widespread poverty, unemployment, and corruption are feeding mass anger and dissatisfaction among the system’s have-nots. If harnessed via organization, this energy would be a considerable force for social change. However, due to the government’s “regime of information control,” effective mobilization is extremely difficult.
Though the material mollification provided by China’s advancing economy has served to dampen the memories of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen, the CCP’s refusal to address both past and present wrongs “is an obstacle to China’s moving forward towards a democratic rule of law system.” According to these authors, the failure of Communist ideology and the government’s refusal to address issues of basic human rights have created a society “roiling with change, suffused with materialism and devoid of morality.” Unless the CCP can “reclaim its moral authority” through adopting channels for the formation of civil society and needful social change, “its downfall is inevitable.”
Real change, these authors say, can only come from within, and therefore improving China’s human rights situation depends on international organizations encouraging “the irrepressible breakthrough of [civic] consciousness” in mainstream Chinese public opinion, culminating in the formation of a civil movement or a new civil authority (159). Perhaps the most evocative expression of this call for a new civil movement is in Huang Xiang’s poem “The Power of a Red Rose,” in which he cries to his Chinese readers: “Oh how strange! Throughout the vast land of China there is not a single red rose, the red rose of life, the red rose that dares to be held high, the red rose that dares to be smashed into a pulp beneath the trampling wheel…Raise the red rose!” (163).