Fear of Red China

(Ming Pao)  Fear of China.  By Leung Man-tao.  March 13, 2008.

[in translation]

In Hong Kong, politics is often stuck between two kinds of fear.  The first kind is the fear of "outside forces" which is an extension of the wariness of outsiders instilled in the Chinese ideology.  International relationship is therefore always viewed with a cold war outlook whereupon a secret outside force is constantly set to destroy us.  So when Martin Lee and others go and visit some politicians in the United States or write some articles in The Wall Street Journal, people regard this as evidence of treason against China.  The second kind of fear is the traditional fear of "Red China."  The emphasis here is on a "Red China," because the scope expands beyond just the Communist Party but covers all of China.

A firm anti-Communist friend found out that I published articles in mainland Chinese newspapers and so he said to me with some surprise as well as disgust: "Have you been 'turned'?"  This is all the more the case when he learned that the respective newspapers belong to groups that fall under the Guangdong provincial Communist Party Committee, because he thought that these were all mouthpieces of the Party.  Mouthpiece?  I have a vision of the mainland Chinese colleagues who are toiling hard every day to open up more opportunities in their restricted spaces.  I see their young faces, their passions, their helplessness and their smiles.  Mouthpiece?

On another occasion, I gave a talk in which I described the reformists within the system and the numerous Non-Government Organizations that are feeling their way through the gray areas.  Afterwards, a member of the audience challenged me bluntly: "You said a lot of things, but you cannot cover up a basic fact -- there is no freedom of speech and no freedom of association in China.  China is still the same old China."  Yes.  But is the severe lack of freedom of speech and freedom of association the fault of these earnest people?  Under what circumstances do you imagine they are working?  Why are they doing this work?  Can a single phrase "neither democratic nor free" wipe out all their efforts?  What do you want anyway?  A revolution?

For those who hold this kind of fear, the Chinese government is still that omnipotent big government from which no one can escape.  Thus, an editor who is trying his utmost to introduce different voices into a newspaper cannot avoid the fate of being a mouthpiece.  The several thousand Xiamen citizens who "strolled peacefully" down the streets to protest the PX project were also wasting their time.  China is still one big dark cloud.  If we cannot change China, we should at least preserve ourselves and make sure that we don't get contacted or infiltrated by them.  We need to erect a solid firewall so that we won't come into contact with them.

More bluntly, a certain number of Hong Kong politicians and their supporters have this fear of "Red China."  On one hand, they believe that apart from a few democracy activists who are either under house arrest or serving jail time, nobody else in China is worthy of support and encouragement.  On the other hand, they have reduced the keywords to understanding China into simply three terms: "Democracy, freedom and rule of law."  They appoint themselves as judges and instructors.  No matter what transpires in China, they will apply these keywords.  So if the municipal administrators beat someone to death in some city, they point out that the ultimate cause was that there is no democracy and no rule of law and they see no need to analyze the process.  If someone says that China has become a stronger country, they sneer and say that this means nothing because China still has neither democracy nor freedom.  Therefore, we need to be wary of anything that comes from north of Luowu, including the media and all else.  We also regard everything that happens in China with wariness and caution, because they are a big piece of undemocratic machinery whereas we are the pioneers who have traveled down the avenue of democracy.

Two years ago, the Taiwan scholar Zhao Gang wrote an essay to refute Lung Ying-tai's essay <Please use civilization to convince me -- an open letter to Mr. Hu Jintao>.  The title of Zhao's essay is <Understanding and Settlement: Responding to Various Critical and Regionally Critical Intellectuals>, which is not necessarily very attractive.  Professor Zhao may not be fair in his criticism of Professor Lung, but his essay contains some views that deserve to be quoted:

In China today, it is a daily occurrence for businesses and governments to collude and exchange power for money.  Under the pretext of attracting businesses to invest capital in order to create prosperity, farmlands are forcibly requisitioned from the outlying areas of cities.  It is also a daily occurrence for worker rights to be sacrificed when state enterprises are unloaded into private hands at unfairly cheap prices.  But can all these problems be solved by the textbook solutions of liberal politics?  Based upon my shallow exposure to these issues after six months in mainland China, I feel that certain intellectuals and activists on mainland China are more concerned and fervent about solving such problems and they understand the complex historical nature and difficulty of action far better than outsiders.  I feel that they are working hard in a low-profile fashion to find the smallest quivering motion, the tiniest crack and the smallest correctness in order to move ahead inch by inch.  In this sense, their approach is very similar to what the opposition in Taiwan did in their early days to find a method to resist the system.

Conversely, we see certain Hong Kong people who still think that they live outside of China even though Hong Kong was returned in 1997.  Well, they seemed to be living easy lives.  When they see some rights lawyers get arrested or peasant petitioners get suppressed in China, they are not thinking about the hardship of those people, they are not admiring the relentless courage and will and they are not thinking about what they can do to help to improve human rights and open up China politically.  On the contrary, they only use the blood and tears as more evidence of the shocking evil known as Red China.  By comparison, they show that Hong Kong has excellent rule of law and freedom of speech.  Thus, they congratulate themselves.  But the problem is that you will eventually realize that China is not going to change and the rottenness will never fade.  Then what can you do?  Will you erect an even stronger border wall?  Or will you wait in vain for the next revolution to explode?  More significantly, these people often showcase Hong Kong's model role.  They think that we are superior, we are further down the road of history and therefore we should be emulated.  But if you want nothing to do with that Red China that you have conjured up in your mind, then how can you become a model?  How can Hong Kong serve the historical function of showing the way?  Do we think that when Hong Kong goes down the boulevard of democracy, it will naturally set off a lighthouse effect that will illuminate the vast piece of backward land now covered in darkness?

Finally, I want to talk about certain people who have the chance as well as ability to accomplish things.  They should make good use of their good positions.  For example, consider the people who represent Hong Kong at the National People's Congress and the Political Consultative Conference.  So maybe it is too difficult for you to go to Beijing to fight for the implementation of democracy in Hong Kong.  But can you move away from automatically standing with the Hong Kong businesses on the <Labor Contract Law> and instead give some consideration to the powerless mainland migrant workers who have been exploited over the past ten years?  If you care about the "big picture" and you are "pro-China," then shouldn't you have exactly this type of concern and vision?