Beijing Tries to Control Man, Nature

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 1, 2009

NOTE: The article below was first published at WashingtonTimes.com on Sept. 30th.

(by Michael Standaert, WashingtonTimes.com) BEIJING — Chinese authorities [did] everything in their power to ensure that nothing rain[ed] on the nation’s 60th anniversary parade today – including keeping 18 cloud-seeding airplanes on standby to disperse any thunderstorms before they reach Beijing.

But six decades after Mao Zedong’s communist revolution, a robust debate continues over whether and when a regime that has blended strict social controls with increasing economic freedom will evolve toward greater democracy.

On Tuesday, much of central Beijing was on lockdown as hotels, restaurants and shops were shut along the parade route from the Avenue of Eternal Peace to Tiananmen Square. Tourist attractions including the Forbidden City, once home to emperors, were closed to the public.

Leading dissidents and human rights lawyers have been arrested or are being kept under close watch. New regulations banned petitioners from coming to Beijing to air their grievances – a practice that goes back to imperial times. Among those rebuffed were parents of some of the thousands of children sickened in China’s scandal over tainted milk.

Still, in the days leading up to the anniversary, there have been two stabbing incidents, protests by about 100 university students calling for the release of a lecturer and 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrator, a bus fire and what authorities say was an accidental gas explosion at a Muslim restaurant in central Beijing on Friday.

More than 30,000 police and 100,000 civilian volunteers have been mobilized to maintain order during the main event, which will include a military parade, musical performances and fireworks. About 200,000 soldiers, students and others are obliged to take part.

According to state-run media, two dozen new military vehicles and a dozen new flight formations will be unveiled. But residents along the route have been told not to go to their windows or roofs or take photos.

Only carefully vetted “special guests” will get tickets to see the parade and other festivities live at Tiananmen Square, Beijing Vice Mayor Ji Lin told reporters. Mr. Ji encouraged others to watch television.

Orders also were sent to other cities and provinces not to allow mass anniversary celebrations out of fear that they could become magnets for social instability.

All of this has some asking why China’s government is feeling so insecure after three decades of steady economic progress and rising living standards.

China is focusing on the economic and military aspects of the 60th anniversary because it wants to “show its power and ability to mobilize people to do things as one,” said Mo Zhixu, a writer and head of the Independent Chinese PEN Center who is also one of the founders of the popular blogging platform Bullog.cn, which is blocked in China.

“The government wants to awe and bemuse the people, to let them see how powerful China has become,” said Mr. Mo. “But I think people are having a negative reaction to the parade because it has interrupted their daily lives.”

Mr. Mo, a signatory of Charter 08 – a document originally signed by about 300 Chinese intellectuals and later another 8,000 citizens which calls for free expression and free elections – was briefly under house arrest in August.

He said his house was searched and some of his property confiscated because he wanted to start a campaign to ask people to write about how their lives and thoughts had changed since June 4, 1989, when Chinese authorities violently broke up student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Violent protests, or as China calls them “mass incidents,” have been increasing in the past few years, targeting local corruption, environmental pollution and cover-ups of health problems involving children. A repeat of anything close to the events at Tiananmen 20 years ago is exactly what China’s authorities want to prevent.

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Yu Zhihai, founder of the online NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] 1kg.org, which taps travelers to take books and supplies to rural schools, said he hasn’t seen an improvement in treatment for civil society groups.

An increasing number of people are taking part in NGOs, but these groups need to be “wiser” about how public they are about their protests and use the Internet instead, he said. ……..

Ling Cangzhou, a Beijing-based scholar and journalist and one of the drafters of Charter 08, also said China could be a democracy in 10 years.

“I view the trend of asking for more freedom of expression and assembly as irreversible,” Mr. Ling said. “The Chinese government still controls the major media, but it can’t fight against people’s aspirations to seek freedom of expression and assembly when they can use the Internet and cell phones to get the word out. That’s why there are so many mass incidents breaking out in China in recent years. The Chinese government hasn’t been ready to conduct reform, but this trend just can’t be stopped.” ………….

Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. What preparations did the Chinese government make ahead of the parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party revolution?

2. What events will take place during the main celebration at Tiananmen Square?

3. a) What is the population of China?
b) Who attended the main celebration at Tiananmen Square?

4. In what way are average Chinese citizens permitted to take part in the Communist Party anniversary events?

5. Why is the Chinese government focusing on the economic and military aspects of the 60th anniversary, according to Mo Zhixu?

6. What is Charter 08?

7. Read the “Background” and some of the information on China found in the links under “Resources” below. Do you think that Chinese citizens will ever enjoy the freedoms we have in America? Explain your answer.


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Background

The People’s Republic of China, with a population of approximately 1.3 billion, is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitutionally is the paramount source of power. Party members hold almost all top government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member political bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its nine-member standing committee. Hu Jintao holds the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. (Read more at the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eap/119037.htm.)

Resources

For photos from Beijing, go to London’s Daily Mail website.

Read about China at freedomhouse.org/inc/content/pubs/fiw/inc_country_detail.cfm?year=2009&country=7586&pf.

For background information on China, visit the CIA World FactBook website.