Friday, August 24, 2007

China's sudden notoriety is really old news. Will we listen this time?

The Chinaman is dreaded because of his power to under- live the white; — the white is equally to be dreaded because of his ability to over-live the Oriental.
-- The Japanese Letters of Lafadio Hearn, 1910

It's been a bad summer for China's image in the international business world. Toys with lead paint, tainted pet food, toxic toothpaste, miners dying like rats in a septic tank, bridges collapsing, and who knows what'll be coming down the pike next.

But they'll get past it. That gigantic market and that spankin' new middle class will get China back into everyone's good graces in no time. Because the very fact of China's pre-eminence on the global business scene makes them a partner the world can't refuse. Whatever happens elsewhere in the world, money and cheap labor are the balm and lever with which China thinks it can make any problems go away. And who will say that they are wrong?

Remember, communist China is the most murderous regime ever to arise in the history of the world, with a body count greater than Hitler's or Stalin's. The revolutionary bloodlust may have abated since Mao's death, but, with the exception of Jiang Qing, the original old guard were either eliminated by Mao or died in their beds. There was never anything like a Western-style carriage of justice for the communist atrocities of the Twenties and Thirties, the Great Leap Forward, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Cultural Revolution, and all the smaller, constant undercurrents of repression.

Whatever actions we can prod them into doing or stopping, via "incentives" or something, will not be because we can shame them into it. A country that massacred its own young people live on international TV is not going to be embarrassed over some south Florida bluehair's wiener dog croaking from tainted dog food.

Western firms know all this, and they still fall all over themselves to get in on China's market and exploit her workers. The big internet companies have signed on as auxillary secret police. (Where are their vaunted principles, then? I don't know, maybe somewhere in here.) I fear that, far from absorbing liberty and democracy from the West, as a result of the present engagement, China will instead give inspiration to tyrants everywhere. That it's possibly to deal with the First World on one's own terms, without making any concessions to democracy or human rights. That western businesses and institutions will become conditioned to go along with the trappings of totalitarianism, little by little, as they penetrate China inch by inch. For the few liberty-longing Chinese bloggers, getting extinguished one by one with help from Western internet companies, the coming years will be a lonely struggle indeed.

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