There is hope that progress in political reform could move forward in China as long as no turmoil develops. Just like the first casualty of war, first casualty of turmoil in a society will be marginalization of progressive thinkers in the government. That’s the exact thing that had happened after the September 11 attack in United States. Patriot Act and other civil liberties busting law passed without a blink of an eye from citizens that were shocked, fearful and angry. When hatred and vengeance takes hold, violence and primitive behavior dominates, thereby giving upper hand to war hawks and unsavory elements in the government. My somewhat optimistic hope on China is shared by some human rights activist as quoted in this Reuters report.
…Still, some long-time activists see a glimmer of hope, pointing to comments by Premier Wen Jiabao in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen in August calling for political reform to safeguard the country’s economic health.
“If Wen is clever, he should use Liu’s winning of the peace prize to exert pressure on the conservative faction in the Party,” human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping told Reuters.
Like other countries including well developed democracies, China’s assembly, congress or whatever you want to call it, consist of forward thinkers and backward people holding on to old ideals. Media are freer now so long as they don’t question the sacred one-party government system. Criticism of officials are tolerated. There’s also been sporadic outbreak of protest against corrupt local government officials, forcing central government to take actions and bring the corrupt officials to justice. This is not to say that all is well in China. They still have a long way to go. To influence changes in China, diplomacy by showing respect will be the most effective way. This can’t be emphasized enough because any sign of coercion, bullying and public embarrassment to get them to change something will only be treated with large brick wall. “Saving face” is such a big part of that society regardless of one’s ideology.
Here in the west, our idea of China, influenced by sensationalist media, is that China is one evil empire. It’s all black and white either you are good or bad. Or as Bush like to say, either you are with us or against us. However, Chinese leadership have changed as often as U.S. or other western democracies. There’s been discussion in China about what type of political system to adopt going forward. Nevertheless, they are quite hesitant to adopt western style democracy on fear of giving in to any sign of capitulation. Scholars have debated about having a made-in-China system and argue that western political system is not a one-size-fits-all. Opening up the political system based on Confucianism have been debated.
Prevailing anti-western government feeling could not be underestimated. A lot of Chinese still harbor ill feelings about the Opium war and “Eight-Power Allied Countries invasion of China”, which have seen some atrocities and racism being committed and Hong Kong being lost to British for quite some time. This is probably not much different from ill feelings of the people from other formerly colonized countries. Even though century have passed, mistrust persist. That’s why attempts to boycott the Olympic have received worldwide backlash from Chinese around the world. It was largely seen as an attempt by the west to subvert China.
In talking to people from countries formerly colonized by the west, you can see that history have not been forgotten as much as African-American have not forgotten the slavery part of U.S. history. So to win the heart of Chinese citizens, a low key rather than bombastic pronouncement would work more effectively. The progress might seems painfully slow but the need to tread carefully to keep war hawks and hardliner at bay is a vital part of the equation if we want to see them succeed.