Chinese Dissident Gets Out of Jail and Attacks Beijing


Beijing is a beautiful city. On the surface. But Ai Weiwei, activist-cum-professional black jack player, who has suffered beatings, harassment and imprisonment at the hands of Chinese authorities, got out of jail a few days ago and scratched it for the Daily Beast this morning and found not one, but two Beijings.

One is of power and of money. People don't care who their neighbors are; they don't trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can't even imagine that they'll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they've never seen electricity or toilet paper.

Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing's slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts—and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.

Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Bird's Nest, the CCTV tower. Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants' schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches—and when they find the patients don't have any money, they pull the stitches out. It's a city of violence.

The plight of rural migrants in China is one of the most under-reported stories in the West—but also one that spells most trouble for China's autocracy. During Mao's reign, the country implemented something called hukou, an internal passport that went to draconian lengths to control the movement of Chinese people. Under hukou, every citizen is assigned a status—urban or rural—upon birth, creating a kind of locational apartheid. If people want to move outside their birth hukou, they need official permission, which was virtually impossible to get before liberalization. Now, thanks to the need for cheap labor in China's urban factories, men can get permission by paying a fee. Women have to pay—and take a pregnancy test to prove that they are not moving to evade birth control restrictions!

But the worst part, as I wrote previously, is that:

Once hukou migrants—dubbed the "the floating population"—arrive in cities, their living options are mainly consigned to ghettos, invisible to tourists. Beijing authorities are so determined to keep them sequestered that, on the pretext of dealing with rising crime, last year they began walling off native neighborhoods—erecting fences and posting guards to check identity papers before letting anyone in.

But hukou restricts more than mobility. It restricts social services too. Migrants are not entitled to any of the social services that urban residents get unless they convert their temporary visa to permanent residency, something that is exceedingly hard to do. "They can't get admission in city public schools or get adequate health insurance or other subsidized services or even city bus passes," notes Professor Kam Wing Chan, a hukou expert at the University of Washington. Hukou makes city life so hard that many couples leave their children home to be raised by grandparents, breaking up families.

 Hukou is like India's caste system in assigning destiny at birth, with one big difference: The Chinese government has created and enforced hukou whereas India's government has been trying to eradicate the caste system, albeit in a ham-handed, counterproductive way through reservations and quotas in government schools and government jobs.

However, opposition to hukou has been growing in recent years. Sometime back, about a dozen editors of government-controlled newspapers jointly signed an anti-hukou editorial in defiance of authorities. Some obviously lost their jobs. But how long the government can browbeat—and physically beat—the Chinese into submission on this topic remains to be seen.

China's one-child policy has decimated the natural, private safety net for old people in traditional societies. So its aging migrants will need a public one—just what hukou denies them. If China fails to extend hukou benefits, its large and disaffected underclass of deracinated, rural population might become a political tinderbox, ready to explode. Yet doing so won't be easy given the various asset bubbles that the Chinese authorities have to keep feeding to maintain its 9 percent GDP growth.

China might yet find itself in interesting times, all the hoopla about it whooping the U.S. economy notwithstanding.

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  1. If we could only be China for a day, gun totting Tea Partying rednecks would need passports to leave their homes and would be kept out of sight and unable to interfere with the common good. Every day the genius of the Chinese system becomes more apparent.

    1. Fuck you, I was gonna do a tom friedman post.

      1. You gotta get in early if you want to use the easy jokes.

            1. Drink!*


              *funny every time!

              1. Because I giggle every time

  2. Of course, the incipient need for a safety net for the hukou means that the Peoples Republic of China won’t rollover US Treasury and Agency debt holdings forever. Eventually, the PRC will demand repayment, and US taxpayers will be on the hook …

    unless a new sucker for the Ponzi scheme comes along. But for that to be successful, the sucker has to be even larger than China.

    1. Think they’ll take a postdated check?

      We’re totally good for it.

      1. What happened to you, China? You used to be cool!

    2. They can demand pay back all they want. At first the banks owns you but eventually you own the bank. I think it will be the US doing the demanding.

      1. Not so sure, given that our economy is utterly dependent on people buying our debt. The day we default on the Chinese is the day they don’t buy any more of our debt.

  3. I don’t believe this. I await The Truth’s great insight to set us straight.

    1. I think he is posting as dumb Indian now.

      1. I thought every troll was “rectal.” No?

        1. That is one theory. Since I don’t score at home, I lose track.

          1. Just where do you score?

  4. “But Ai Weiwei, activist-cum-professional”

    Well, most activists are.

  5. Shikha, I recently watched the Bollywood movie Aarakshan, in which the reservation policy figured prominently. I think an article that compared and contrasted the Indian reservation system to affirmative action policies in the US would be very interesting.

    1. You assume that she should write such an article just because she has an Indian name? Racist!

      1. That’s like a German writing about Hitler!

      2. No, what’s racist is that a hack like Ezra Klein has a Wikipedia page, but Shikha doesn’t. Somebody get on that.

        1. You have to be somebody to get a Wiki page. It’s a rule. Which is strange, because I thought there were no rules in anarchy. Anyway.

        2. You know who else has a Wikipedia page…

  6. China might yet find itself in interesting times, all the hoopla about it whooping the U.S. economy notwithstanding.

    There is a lot of paper in the tiger, but some people are so desperate for China to eclipse the US, that they blind themselves to the coming increase in civil unrest. I hope not too many people die.

    1. “?coming increase in civil unrest?” In the U.S., China, or both?

    2. I hope not too many people die.

      Do not worry. We have a limitless inventory.

  7. The EU, US and China. Shit’s already happening, but it’s going to spread and intensify.

    Watch in particular what happens when Obama fails his reelection bid. Hide if you are white.

    1. ^meant in response to White Lap

    2. Uh uh. I’ll be armed and ready, thankyouverymuch.

      This isn’t London, after all.

    3. Take the race war narrative back to LRC, douchebag.

      1. ^^THIS^^

        That said, hide if Obama doesn’t get re-elected because of course a fit of epic proportions will be thrown, and the media will blame it on frustrations due to the inability of non-Obama voters to rid themselves of their racism.

      2. Time will tell if I am right or wrong. I see no war, just gangs of lowlifes acting out violently. 40 years of being told that everything bad that you do is understandable and excusable because of the racist oppression foisted upon you by America does have an effect.

  8. And here I was expecting an article about a Chinese man shooting up the city.

  9. The biggest tragedy about China is how the teachings of Confucius have so dominated, while those of Lao Tzu were always on the fringe. Despite all the doom that is predicted for China, with places like Hong Kong and Taiwan to emulate, I see China having a good future.

    1. I bet the Reds’ll fuck shit up in Hong Kong soon enough   

      1. That’s the funny thing about a goose that lays golden eggs. Eventually, someone thinks the goose must have gold in its innards and slits it open, only to find that it’s no different from any other goose.

        Then you have a dead bird and no more gold. Tragic.

    2. Confucius falls into the same ideological ditch as Plato, which is to say “if only the ‘ideal man’ were in charge, and what do you know? By this set of criteria I’ve outlined, I’m an ideal man! (junzi, Philosopher-King, what have you).”

  10. I like where Beijing is heading!

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