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Biting the Hand That Feeds Us

In Guest Writer, International on October 9, 2010 at 17:54

By Fran Sleigh

mongst the triumphant touting of this years awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese pro-democracy activist few voices of reason have yet spoken.  Nick Young at the Guardian is one of the few to have raised the issue that having the world police publicly slap China on the wrist does little to advance the cause of human rights in China.

The standard attitude in the west is that China needs democratic reform, by adopting a western-style representative democracy they would release the press, correct the institutional human rights abuses currently occurring and could work to equalize the development disparity between the rich coast and poor interior.  The presumption being that this strategy which worked in Europe and America can work in China.

However there is no reason for this to be the case and this is not what China wants.  This western-oriented view holds nothing for a country with four times the population density of the U.S and a thousand year history of central, dictatorial rule.  Their idea of modernization and reform does not necessarily follow western democratization but instead is trying to forge a new route with Chinese characteristics.  As Young points out, the key issue within this modernization is how to keep China stable, whilst acknowledging the conflicting opinions and forces within.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an activist who openly opposed the Chinese government does nothing but further impress upon many young educated Chinese that the west, and always by implication America, is interfering, destabilizing and playing a two handed game with China.  They both exploit Chinas weak human rights stance by using their factories for cheap produce and then publicly condemn them for the same human rights abuses.

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Whilst this ritual of humiliation and abuse continues China is still pursuing modernizing reform based on its economic successes.  This reform is not quick, as with any political power the battle between conservatives and moderates is fierce but their modernization and continuing reform relies on still attracting western investment.  Investment that only flows whilst labour and production are cheap and the exploitation of people continues.

This dilemma is not one that can be solved simply.  However good the intentions of the Nobel Peace Prize committee were they have again contributed to the discourse of east vs. west.  Reports that China are blocking all searches for Liu Xiaobo simply give us another chance to roll our eyes and sigh about how badly China treats it’s people, but that isn’t progress.  If we in the west want China to become a fairer and more equal society we should spend more time looking at our international affairs and where the base of our economy lies and less time tutting and condemning a country that is trying to reform despite our interferences.


Fran is a Chinese Studies major at the University of Manchester and has just returned from her second year living in China. Articles from her time abroad can be found at her blog http://dixietalking.blogspot.com/ .

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