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When the scalpel gives way to the hatchet

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 6:48
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(Before It's News)

Usually when a sensitive event happens in China, the government
takes the scalpel approach to censoring it. Certain key words
target="_blank"> ""
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"{" />
are blocked from search engines and social media; and if
images or comments alluding to the event are posted, they’re
manually deleted. This is a minor annoyance, but usually just
something to scoff at and forget about.

However, the ""
target="_blank">situation unfolding in Wukan
has prompted the
government to holster the scalpel and whip out the hatchet. Entire
social media accounts of those reposting information about the
events are being systematically deleted. You can imagine how you
would feel if you lost your Facebook or Twitter account and years
of accumulated contacts.

It illustrates the graveness of the situation compared to other
“sensitive” issues like the Wenzhou train accident or the Nobel
Peace Prize. While those were embarrassing for the government, they
didn’t represent an immediate existential threat.

For all the hoopla that came out about being unable to cover up
the Wenzhou accident, the government seems to be locking down
information about Wukan pretty successfully. And the Chinese media
hasn’t featured so much as a ""
target="_blank">Global Times editorial
blaming foreigners for
hyping the event. The only Chinese friend I’ve spoken to who has
any idea what’s going on is a political science professor who
studies this kind of thing.

I asked a Chinese computer programmer friend last night about
it. He had no idea and, in pretty typical fashion, dismissed it
saying, “There are many things the government doesn’t let us know
about.” He wasn’t too bothered by the fact that rebels had taken
over an entire Chinese city for the first time in PRC history.

It’s hard to understate the significance of this. It’s not the
beginning of a system-wide collapse but it’s probably a sneak peak
of things to come. And however it ends, it will set a precedent. As
China’s economy slows and housing prices drop, local governments
who are already on the way to bankruptcy will become more
desperate. Land grabs will be more aggressive, and so will the
resistance to them.

People in Wukan are wisely trying to keep a wedge between the
national government and local leaders while avoiding too much
contact with foreigners that could be used against them later.
Adrienne Mong from NBC reported speaking with a villager who said,
“We don’t want American media to get involved. We have our great
leaders, like Wen Jiabao, Hu Jintao.”

This is a common tactic in these situations. People who’ve been
evicted often plaster pictures of Hu or Wen over the homes about to
be demolished, hoping that will save them. But you have to imagine
those leaders are scrambling for a way to make this whole thing go
away without seeming cruel or weak. While people at the local level
don’t recognize this as a national problem, they don’t necessarily
need to in order for it to spell disaster for the Communist

Outside of the big cities, China is essentially a patchwork of
fiefdoms run by local bureaucrats. In Wukan the same head had been
in power for decades. If this uprising ends with anything but a
massacre or mass imprisoning of the villagers, people in some of
the thousands of other fiefdoms across the country could be
emboldened Arab Spring-style if and when the economy goes sour –
assuming their own circumstances don’t independently lead them to
the same actions anyways. And how many fiefdoms can fall before the
authoritarian bureaucracy has to reform or die?

So I can’t say I blame the party for clamping down on news about
this so harshly. Throughout Chinese history, rebellions have often
started this way in the countryside.  But if things get too
desperate the government still has even greater measures up its
sleeves – like temporarily shutting down entire social networking
platforms or mobile phone service.

And they should do whatever they can to keep the bureaucratic
system in place with a strong state hand at the helm of each
village. As we all know, without it these uneducated peasants would
erupt into chaos. See this tweet from McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter,
who’s clinging to dear life amidst the anarchy of the police-less,
government-less Wukan:

“It’s striking that in the vacuum of security/government, life
in Wukan is pretty orderly. Worries about food [have] not led to
looting, etc.”

I’m reminded of 2004 when newly-elected Georgian President
Mikheil Saakashvili got fed up with police corruption, so he up and
target="_blank">fired roughly 80-90% of the cops
in the
country. Then, even without a police force for three months, things
got better. Turned out it was the police causing most of the
trouble to begin with.

Tom Lasseter also interviewed a 27-year-old man in Wukan who
said, “We are a civilized people. Even without a government we are
capable of behaving in a civilized manner.”

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