I wrote a post about how native English speakers should understand the Chinese when they say their “feelings” are hurt. I’m not sure if my idea has sunk in well for people who have read it.
After having linked to the post in his blog, justrecently read my May 3, 2008 post about whether Chinese fenqings can think for themselves and followed it with a post that focuses on freedom of speech in China.
He said that it’s okay for Chinese people to exercise their freedom of speech to foreign countries and foreign people. But doing so inside China is dangerous and carries imprisonment as Hu Jia has suffered.
It’s true, but it is only half-true.
Because people around me and everyone I know personally haven’t shown any signs that they oppose the Chinese government’s policies on Tibet and the Beijing Olympic Games, I had to google for a long time to find those people who have been put in prison because of their verbal opposition to the policies. Though I haven’t found anyone who have suffered the ordeals Hu Jia has, I did find a guy who is verbally against the hosting of the Games on economic grounds and thinks that the economic resources should be saved for primary education in poor Chinese areas and another who thinks China should abolish all preferential policies towards minorities and put every Chinese citizen on an equal footing. Whether these two people are now behind the bars, I have no way to know.
However, I did find others who were jailed just because what they said ruffled the feathers of local Party bosses or their employers.
“Freedom of speech” is a citizen right enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, though China is far from being a country governed by its Constitution – the biggest violator of the Constitution is the Chinese governments and the Party.
Article 35. Freedom of speech, press, assembly
Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration. (Source)
But, this doesn’t mean China is still like what it was more than three decades ago, when a single disrespectful murmur against the Party and the Government resulted in the loss of freedom with or without a verdict of “anti-Revolution”.
Freedom of speech is being exercised in China, though to a limited extent. This explains why the reports about the jailed people are run by private websites and even websites whose URLs end with gov.cn. In those reports, their writers did not mince their words to save the faces of the governments. This means that freedom of speech is a citizen right recognized by the public opinions, the Party and the Government.
Then, why those prisoners?
China is now in a changing process that has at least lasted three decades and will continue. Its economy has become capitalistic and its society’s values and interests are diversified like any Western country. And, the Chinese people is not one with only one voice.
But, though its economy has long become capitalistically democratic, its Government hasn’t changed that much and continues its monopoly on the State’s political power. It only wants to share this power with trusted people outside of the Government, not those (e.g. Hu Jia) who want to replace the Government leadership with a non-Party-led one. Exercising the freedom of speech in areas other than challenges to the Government’s grip on political power is encouraging. That’s why China has been a largely successful economy and society.
Most Chinese people don’t want drastic government leadership change. They think they need a strong Central Government empowered to govern its 1.3bn people who live in a vast country literally divided into population groups, classes and regions sharply different from each other in terms of social and economic development stages.
Even under its One-Party rule, China’s local provinces are more than willing to fight the Central Government’s policies and rules for their provincial interests. China would be doomed, if its government was organized in the Western way, which is only good for well-developed countries with a strong middle class living in an economically balanced society. A strong middle class means stability in a country because it doesn’t want revolutions or upheavals. China doesn’t have that blessing.
China does not need yet another Revolution to start all over again. It needs a non-disruptive path leading to democracy based on an economically, socially, and politically sound society. This is exactly what China has been trying to build since 1949. China doesn’t like the kind of democracy in Thailand where coups are routine in changes of government leadership.
This process is an interactive, changing one. China should be viewed as and actually is a country in change for the better.
You will be hopelessly wrong, if you think China is a fundamentalistic “Communist” country as how you may look at it through Cold-War glasses. It’s a capitalistic one with strong government control. That is about it.