Sunday, January 16, 2005
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How much has China changed in fifteen years?
Zhao Zhiyang, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party until the Tiananmen Square crackdown, has died. Jasmine Yap has an obituary in Bloomberg; here's a link to the New York Times obit by Jim Yardley.
Combined, the obituaries make a telling point about China in the eighties -- and set up a test to see how much China has changed.
Yap's obit points out the initial trigger for the Tiananmen protests:
If Hu's death triggered Tiananmen, one wonders whether Zhao's death will trigger any similar kind of political mobilization against the government.
To be honest, I'll be surprised if it does. This is for one of three reasons:
UPDATE: Looks like the Chinese government is attempting to try hypothesis no. 2 out, according to the New York Times' Joseph Kahn:
posted by Dan on 01.16.05 at 10:14 PM
I agree with your comments on a macro level. But let me relate a personal view of how China changed over a similar period of time. I first visited China in Jan 1981. My last trip was in 1994. The changes on the ground were dramatic.
In 1981, over a fifteen day visit, I saw only two Chinese women wearing western style clothing, thousands of bicycles and almost no autos unless they were in the use of a ranking government official. In 1994, only officials were still wearing the so-called "Mao suits". BMWs, Mercedes and other non-domestic autos seemed to be everywhere. Most important, however, was the sense of opportunity that the average person believed was available to them.
I returned from that first trip convinced that China would be our main competiton in the future. I still believe that to be true.
The economic freedom made available to the citizens of China is not enough. In fact, in 1994 I told one of my Chinese colleagues that, given what I had seen on that visit, political freedom was inevitable. He wondered why I had reached that conclusion. My response was simple. For the first time in my experience, you could get a burger your way - McDonald's and other like restaurants (?) had moved in and were relatively available to the people. That kind of choice could only mean more would come.posted by: Jack (CommonSenseDesk) on 01.16.05 at 10:14 PM [permalink]
Given that there's no free press or free speech, how could you possibly know that the Chinese are more nationalist, or fonder of their government, than they were 20 years ago? Weren't we told endlessly during the Soviet era, by the experts of that period, that the Soviet government had acquired legitimacy by its defeat of Nazi Germany, that the Russian people, while unhappy in certain respects, would support their government etc.? And didn't it turn out that the Russian people had no interest in their government or in preserving the Soviet Union, which collapsed with a whimper? For myself, I will never believe what Western journalists and other experts, half of whom don't even speak Chinese, tell me the Chinese people are thinking.posted by: y81 on 01.16.05 at 10:14 PM [permalink]
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