Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The outrage that has been directed at Chinese mine bosses and authorities in Shandong is incredible to watch (see the BBC video on Youtube). But it is even more incredible when contrasted with the bewilderment of people in Huntington, Utah, who seem unsure whether to buy the words of Crandall Canyon mine co-owner Bob Murray or the United Mine Workers---and seem, understandably, just weary above all else.

Time and again, there seems to be LESS tolerance for elites misbehaving in China than there is in the U.S. This is, of course, not what one would expect of an authoritarian country where, it is assumed by outsiders, the government exists only because people never do anything about it and are scared as lambs.

Maybe it's the incredible power of American spin to place seeds of doubt in even the most commonsense reaction to events that makes us tired and confused. The U.S. media is cowed by press secretaries and dithers over torture or wire taps or unsafe mines--"Was something wrong REALLY done? Or do we just not understand the complexity of the issue?"

Or perhaps the boldness with which China's revolutionaries once pledged themselves to "serve the people" still resonates back over the ages, casting into sharp relief today's dull, selfish bureaucrats and spurring Chinese to rally against polluting factories, refuse to leave condemned homes to make way for shopping centers, fight with thugs for fields, and smash every piece of glass in the mine company's office.

Or maybe there is simply a stronger tradition of challenging authority---really spitting on it and dragging it through the streets--- in China than in the States, absurd as this may sound to some. And the Chinese government is lucky to have stayed on top of the wave as long as it has.

At any rate, the facts are there, brutal in both countries, in both mines.

No word yet on 181 miners in China who were trapped in a flooded mine several days ago; the government's most recent statement suggests they were victims of a "natural distaster." Meanwhile, Boss Murray is about to give up on recovering the miners in Utah or even their bodies. Documents obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune show the risks that his mine took before the tragedy:

Records of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that, after Murray acquired a 50 percent ownership in the mine on Aug. 9, 2006, his company repeatedly petitioned the agency to allow coal to be extracted from the north and south barriers - thick walls of coal that run on both sides of the main tunnels and help hold up the mine.

That stands in stark contrast to statements Murray made Monday asserting that his company's mine plan, and that of the previous owner, were one and the same.

So, what should we do?

[The above photos are from China Digital Times and Fox News].

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


New York-based China Labor Watch (CLW) has hit toy companies hard with a new report on factories in the Pearl River Delta. With attention on Chinese product safety, the report landed on CNN, Reuters, The New York Times, and Bloomberg.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reforms---market and otherwise

Like my mixed feelings about the Clinton wing of the Democrats at home (Mr. or Mrs. Clinton), I never know quite what to make of the market reformists in China, a country where the distinction between "liberal" and "left" is as clear as day and night.

Hu Shuli has a piece in Caijing magazine, in which he complains, in typical market reformist fashion, that people who think China has become too imbalanced or worry about further marketization leading to social instability are missing the forest for the trees.

He dismisses those who "suggest solving all our social problems once and for all, simply by expanding China’s social welfare system," but then hedges by saying that "current projects that should continue include efforts to establish a strong social-security system."

Then he slips in a little gamble:

Current efforts to deepen reforms of the economic system face many challenges. Therefore, it is high time that we continued on political system reform actively and safely. The core goal for political-system reform is to accelerate democratic change and establish a modern, socialist country with democracy and a full-fledged legal system.

Efforts to reform the political system and other arenas should proceed shoulder-to-shoulder.

A friend of mine said that China will definitely begin democratic reforms before too long; the only question is who will come out on top: liberals or the left. His words had an ominous ring to it, a little like Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads in Iraq gearing up for the show-down that will come when America leaves.

But, really, where should workers and farmers stand? How much should they cooperate with market reformers who, like Hu Shuli, also advocate a common goal, political reform?

There isn't a ton of history to rely on here. The United Front---during the revolution and immediate post-revolution years---managed to draw on a range of energies for reconstruction, but didn't give liberals much of a real voice. The liberal Tiananmen students, on the other hand, didn't give farmers and workers an equal stage.

And Clinton II isn't likely to give labor any important seat at the table.