The Real Threat

While the central government is busy rounding up everyone who might have once glanced at Ai Weiwei, and simultaneously instituting what appears to be some kind of “no lawyer left behind” detention policy, the rest of China is mostly ignoring it. That’s not a surprise, of course; it isn’t being reported in the media aside from the occasional screeching prose of the state-media’s shrillest news organs, which no one reads anyway.

Whether Ai is guilty or not; whether these other lawyers and writers and “dissidents” are guilty or not, they aren’t an actual threat to China or to CCP rule. Neither was the Jasmine Revolution, which — shock! — wasn’t orchestrated by any of the people they’re now rounding up anyway.

What could be a threat is the growing tension between the privileged and the non-privileged classes, the haves and the have-nots, the daguanguiren ((达官贵人)) and the laobaixing ((老百姓)). There is, at present, no push for revolution, no great Westernized uprising. There’s nothing to make a sexy headline out of on CNN. What there is, though, is bubbling dissatisfaction just below the surface of everyday life that bursts out in spurts when the inequities of society make themselves unavoidably obvious.

At present, this happens mostly with car accidents.

Everyone knows, of course, about the Li Gang incident, but there have been many like it, and when conditions are right, what starts as a traffic accident quickly becomes a “mass incident.”

Take for example, this incident in Changchun:
Essentially, what happened is that a police officer driving his own car got angry with an old woman who wouldn’t get out of his way. He eventually got out of the car, argued with the old woman, and then started to beat her, grabbing her by the hair and punching her in the face, according to an interview she gave that’s excerpted at the end of the video. The old woman’s daughter came over and he hit her, too. That was when passers-by started to gather, and they were not amused.

Watch the video. At the 1:00 mark, the narrator says “Rationally, everyone [jumped in] to prevent the [police]man’s crude behavior.” Then the video cuts abruptly to a shot of a mob going absolutely apeshit on the police officer’s car (which he, by that point, was wisely hiding inside). Even after police arrived, they kept smashing the car, and began chanting “Apologize, apologize!” Several scuffles with police occurred. Hours later, after police unsuccessfully tried to get the mob to disperse, the police finally got the man out of his car and into a waiting police van (2:19, note the people in the background still fighting to break through the police lines and attack him).

Of course, there’s more to this than privileged versus commoner (he was also beating an elderly woman, which wouldn’t win him many friends regardless of the prevailing mood of the time in any society). But the old woman he beat puts it in terms of haves and have-nots, and apparently so did the policeman. She says he told her it didn’t matter if he beat her to death or not, he could afford to pay the compensation money. She also said he looked down on thelaobaixing, the common people.

This is, of course, an isolated incident. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and moreover, it obviously speaks to deeper issues. Unsurprisingly, it spread quickly across the internet, and has been reposted many times already. This posting on, for example, has already been viewed over half a million times. So has another posting of the same video on the same site. This one, on, has over 600,000 viewings.

What’s most telling about this video is not the comments, which call for the offending officer’s head on a platter, and many of which also condemn police officers and public servants in general for their increasing lack of concern for the common people. No, what’s most interesting about this video is that it’s from early December 2010, but it’s still being passed around on Chinese social networks today.

These stories keep getting passed around beyond their news shelf life, I suspect, because they are tapping into an increasingly common feeling of anger and exploitation among those who really are laobaixing. The story may be from December, but the feeling is as widespread today as it was then, probably moreso.

Are people about to take to the streets and launch a second Communist revolution to overthrow the new bourgeoisie? Absolutely not. But instead of harassing innocent dissidents and their lawyers, China’s leadership would do well to pay more attention to these issues.

Ai Weiwei may prove to foreigners that there’s no rule of law in China, but most Chinese don’t know or care. What they care about are cases like this, and little by little, the police and the businessmen and the chengguan and the officials — all agents of the government and the Party — seem to be doing their best to drill home the message: we do not care about you.

0 thoughts on “The Real Threat”

  1. @pug_ster: you mean there are 200 dead battery phones? Yeap, those intellectuals are not good with electronics.

    @Custer… Agree with you… and remember when you have problems inside nothing better than a foreigner’s conspiracy (that’s one of the key issues brought to Ai weiwei, the Jasmine thing, the foreign reporters…) to make everyone forget about the real problems and rally onehearted behind the nonsense.

    But I am not worry our representatives in the last double meeting made a new 5 years plan to solve all our problems, Amen.


  2. kailing,

    I don’t know about the other 200 cases but this one case with Yang HengJun that was publicized by this blog, WSJ, and NYTimes, and the US state dept and the Australian Embassy “demanded” his return and these people think that his disappearance is some kind of conspiracy.

    I don’t see the issue with Li Gang as a ‘real threat.’ It is some self-righteous prick son of some high official who deserves what he get. People protest all the time in China and we know that. The fake ‘jasmine’ revolution is different where mostly idiots outside China calls to overthrow the government. People in China know when it is time to protest and when it is not.

    Meanwhile, we keep hear of these fake kidnappings in China as in this case, fake news (nytimes about hangup when you say ‘protest.’ and fake revolutions. I’m sorry, the stuff coming from the Western already lost its creditability a long time ago.


  3. I think you’re grasping at straws here, Custer. I’m not certain that this incident has as deep a meaning as you might be ascribing to it.

    Firstly, I am not sure there really is a “bubbling dissatisfaction just below the surface of everyday life” among the laobaixing of any serious magnitude. Nor am I certain to what extent they even posses, to use a Marxist phrase, a class consciousness in China today.

    And secondly, without the support of the middle class – whose support for (or at least tolerance of) the government frankly seems to have been fairly solid for a while now – dissent will never have legs anyway.

    That being said, I do think the government is aware of and concerned with the growing inequities in China – witness the focus of their upcoming 5 year plan, for example. However, let’s not get carried away here.


  4. Pug_ster,

    Chinese essays on sensitive issues are often, how can I say this, vague as shit, and this one more than usual. I think one could make at least as much of a case for his essay being a tacit confirmation of the general assumption of his detention as a direct confirmation that this was all about his cell phone.


  5. @ pug_ster: This essay, if anything, has me more convinced that Yang was arrested, and that one of the conditions of his release (and his future work in China) was that he keep quiet about it. Yang is an intelligent man, and yet this essay completely ignores a bunch of huge questions:

    -Why did he call his assistant and report people were following him?

    -Why did he call his sister and use a pre-arranged code phrase he’d set up with her that meant, “I’ve been arrested”?

    -If his cell phone battery was really dead, why didn’t he borrow someone else’s phone, or use a payphone? If he was in a hospital, obviously there are tons of people with phones available. If he was in a hotel, there would be a phone in his room. Surely, he is smart enough to know how people would interpret his disappearance following the two phone calls he did make, right? So if his cell battery actually died, why didn’t he try to find another phone to set his family, friends, and the Australian government at ease?

    -Why does he describe his time “sick” as being “the two loneliest days of my life”? If he were in a hospital, he would be surrounded by people who are literally paid to care about him. It seems an odd way to describe a period of sickness, but a pretty apropos way to describe a period of secret detention.

    -Why hasn’t he said anything about his “sickness”? What were his symptoms? Did any of his relatives or friends confirm that he appeared to be falling ill before he disappeared, or that he appeared weak after his “recovery”? What illness makes you so weak that you can’t ask to borrow a phone for two full days, but then you suddenly have a complete and total recovery?

    -Given the skepticism about his case, why wouldn’t he provide some pictures of receipts or pills or something? If he spent two days in a hospital in mainland China, there is a mountain of paperwork somewhere to prove it. Obviously, that sort of stuff can be easily faked, but my point is, he doesn’t appear particularly concerned with proving it.

    Now, of course, Yang has no obligation to provide answers to any of these questions, and some of them are personal. But he’s not a man who, historically, has shied away from personal sharing, and he’s intelligent enough to know that he could completely and totally, beyond any reasonable doubt, explain what actually happened, assuming his story about the cell phone battery and sudden sickness was actually true.

    Now, it’s possible Yang is being vague intentionally, that he really was sick but he’s addressing the issue so obliquely that it makes the government still seem guilty without making him into a liar. That’s entirely possible, and it could be what’s happening here. I have been critical of Yang in the past, and I don’t deny this is a possibility.

    But at a minimum, you’ve got to admit it’s pretty difficult to take his sickness/cellphone story at face value…


  6. how are abuses at the grassroots level different from other developing countries?

    on the other hand, i’ve recently read an interesting article by a chinese scholar who argues people like ai weiwei are ultimately a stabilizing force if the authorities could just shake off some of their outdated perceptions. his idea is if the government can bear the initial “pain” of allowing free speech it won’t need to be overly sensitive afterwards. Phoenix TV is a good example. In a lot of ways, its political stance is in line with the official view, but its coverage and editorials are so much more professional and it reports on many “sensitive” topics the chinese media is not allowed to. a lot of people in china do watch phoenix tv and it’s not a big deal any more (it was, 15 years ago).

    it’s foolish to bank on anything happening before xi jinping becomes president, but after that, since it’s exorable anyway, it’s better to embrace it and adapt.


  7. for a leadership that is among the most efficient worldwide when it comes to managing the economy, industrial upgrade and investing in new industries, the political timidity is disappointing. the arrest of ai weiwei is so unnecessary, but not surprising given the egypt effect and this being hu jintao’s last year.


  8. “ how are abuses at the grassroots level different from other developing countries?”

    Well said, but remember, ever since the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Expo, those in BJ and SH are reluctant to admit it’s a developing country 😉 This is all about China’s massive income gap (typical of developing countries) and totally predictable.


  9. If they put this on news, it means they care.If they dont put AWW on news, it means they dont care. And my opinion is that it is absolutely understandable to care about real incident and not care about people, who are trying tho overthrow state or just trying to spread the “revolutions”. And i think its absolutely the opposite of what you think, that they care about dissidents and dont care about common people. Why do you think chinese government s stupid and not aware what could be dangerous and what not? They cant loose face, so they take all the people who are not obeying and trying to show off that they are not obeying. Dissidents and activists are just making it harder for people who are trying to change something real and in the intelligent way, not just by showing off.


  10. Facts. Yang set himself up for a few days detention as a self publicity measure. He is sufficiently well connected to know well beforehand that he would probably come to the attention of the PSB after landing in China. And he also calculated that his high level connections would him afford a degree of protection, not to forget the fact that Beijing would soon boot him out of the country, what with PM Gillards impending visit. After all, China needs a reasonably good relationship with Australia, since it is highly dependent on Ozs gas and mineral resources.

    Yang is evading this central point in his latest waffle and has about as much credibility as a paper cup. Go to CMP and read each paragraph carefully. Its like wading thru an extended GT editorial, even if it pretends to be on the side of the angels.

    Now to the speculation. Yang has been feeding journalist Ross Garnaut {SMH) sordid details on financial shennanigans taking place in Chongqing and that was not appreciated. He did not enter that fact into his calculations (a couple of days in detention and then the boot back to Hornsby, NSW), and was basically told that he could go the way of the 54 or so real activists, and simply disappear into some black hotel/prison, Australia’s feeble diplomatic pressure notwithstanding.

    In brief, they scared the living bejesus out of him because he has been spilling embarrassing info which went right to the top of the Beijing food chain to Garnaut.

    Finally, Garnaut is a major opinion shaper in Australia and the guy has a very serious cv. When he publicly refers to the PRC as a mafia state, politicians and the business community here take notice.

    I could continue ranting about this verbose publicity hound Yang, but have already covered all bases on CMP.

    This creature should not be included in any discussion of those Chinese activists who put themselves on the red line.


  11. I don’t get the obsession of some people on this page with Yang Hengjun. Whether or not he was arrested or not does not change the fact that a good number of people have been arrested on trumped-up charges.


  12. brightgrey,

    It is a hoax because of how Western Media, this blog as well as the US and Australian govt presumed that he was abducted, not because why Yang Hengjun decides to cut himself from the outside world.

    C Custer,
    None of us know the travel habits of Yang Hengjun, but what you said above is nothing but conspiracy theories of something to do with the Chinese government when there is no proof.

    The issue with Yang Hengjun is nothing but a massive failure of the West to discredit China about the whole ‘kidnapping’ hoax. The Western media, this blog as well as the US and Australia seems to yell fire about this situation but none of them ever offered some kind of retraction of fake abduction story of this individual. As I said before, I just don’t believe the whole idea of China going thru some kind of crackdown mode recently based on what happened to Yang Hengjun.


  13. Well said, but remember, ever since the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Expo, those in BJ and SH are reluctant to admit it’s a developing country 😉 This is all about China’s massive income gap (typical of developing countries) and totally predictable.

    If only China was as small as Singapore. And I disagree with what you said. I’m from Beijing (currently in the US) and even though people are not dirty poor they still don’t think Beijing, let alone China, is developed. You do need to recognize the fact that there is a huge difference between “developed” and “not poor.”


  14. I think the Chinese government does pay attention to this sort of thing. Wen Jiabao specifically mentioned about lowering the income disparities between the “haves” and “have nots”, for example there are major initiatives to push taxes on people who have multiple homes. Most politicians from other parts of the world wouldn’t even talk about income disparity.

    That said, there is very little the Chinese government is doing to address the issue of check and balances. Although I also have to say that when it comes to the police, most of them are thugs no matter which country you are in.


  15. I would also like to point out the fact that contrary to what many of the China bashers like to think, this video demonstrates the fact that Chinese do have a strong sense of justice.

    Which brings on two questions: if the Chinese mobs do have a sense of justice why don’t they support people like AiWeiWei and other human right activists du jour which the Western media has put on pedestals? Also, if the Chinese government controls the media and is out to censor everything, why would any evening news bother to report this story which makes the government look bad?


  16. @ pugster, King Tubby

    I admire your skepticism, and in the case of Tubby, your creative conspiracy theory, but I completely agree with FOARP, you guys are splitting hairs.

    pug_ster, there has been a recent crackdown, its not a hoax. Even if all of the “missing” people turned out to be getting their appendixes out in unison and forgot their cellphone chargers, there has still been a large spike numbers of people who the government admits they have arrested, generally for inciting subversion of state power.


  17. brightgrey,

    You seem to talk about apples and oranges here. There are no details of the other ‘abductions’ besides Yang Hengjun and Aiweiwei. So unless there are any detailed stories about other ‘abductions’ they are a hoax.


  18. @brightgrey.

    Political movements of whatever persuasion always attract their share of self-seeking opportunists, careerists and fabricators.

    And no, I’m not a mono-maniac. Others partly share my view.


  19. @ pug_ster: Indeed, there’s no proof. But it’s not a conspiracy theory; they’re just questions. And unless you can answer them or explain why the answers to them don’t matter, I remain unconvinced.

    Regarding the other abductions, many of them have since been officially announced as having been arrested, charged. Among those that haven’t, I know for a fact one of them was indeed being held by the police, although I can’t state publicly who or how I know that because it could endanger their safety. Believe me or don’t, but this stuff isn’t a hoax just because you don’t know about it and the Chinese media hasn’t reported on it.

    You get so upset when people take the Western media at their word, or make assumptions without evidence, but you are doing the exact same thing — assuming without evidence that these people haven’t been taken by the government. Leaving aside for a moment the question of the Chinese government’s credibility when it comes to honesty about political prisoners (see Gao Zhisheng), until there’s any evidence these people disappeared for other reasons, why should you or anyone else assume the government isn’t involved, especially when a number of the disappeared people have since been confirmed as arrested by the police?


  20. @ King Tubby, okay, but you can’t exactly start expound your conspiracy theory starting off with “Fact:” can you.

    @ Pug_ster:

    “You seem to talk about apples and oranges here. There are no details of the other ‘abductions’ besides Yang Hengjun and Aiweiwei. So unless there are any detailed stories about other ‘abductions’ they are a hoax.”

    Yes there are:

    Thats just connected to the jasmine stuff. You can find accounts of isolated incidents of non-jasmine related abductions if you google the list of missing persons that Custer posted the other week.

    Additionally, only a small fraction of people who are arrested get public statements made that they have in fact been arrested. For example its well known that there are black prisons in Beijing, but its impossible to confirm them beyond the numerous unconnected individual accounts. The Chinese judicial system is not transparent – for the vast majority of missing persons we can never really get any truly solid evidence at all.

    In any case the whole “hoax” cry (hoax is not the same as unverified report by the way) is besides the point, the very fact that people do go missing in China, and that the judicial system routinely lies about who they have and have not arrested, is surely a far bigger issue than wether Yang’s case is a hoax or not (which by the way, if it was it a hoax was entirely given validity by judicial system’s record of lacking honesty and thuggish tactics.)

    In regards to the article, I don’t think the matter of income disparity is as important as the much more immediate issue of inflation. People get indignant over economic disparity, sure, but when people can’t afford to eat properly then then thats when there’s trouble, and thats whats starting to happen now. In the Tienanmen square incident, the vast majority of the protesters were peasants from the countryside who were upset over the 17% annual inflation at the time – they probably didn’t even know what democracy was.


  21. c.custer,

    when are you going to ban outright stupidity?

    and if you continue to allow outright stupidity, then how much longer are you going to deny others the happy privilege of identifying such stupidity and calling it by its real name?

    allowing such stupidity to run rampant doesn’t make your blog a better place to spend a few minutes. seriously, c.custer, ban the stupid trolls why don’t you.


  22. That sort of class division only causes problems when the poor believe they can never move up. Not the case in China right now. Even poor people believe they have a chance, that their lives are improving, etc.


  23. @ shuaige: Do they? I agree it only causes problems when the poor believe they can’t move up, but I would say that increasingly, the poor DO believe that here…their lives were improving a year or so ago. But in the past year, their salaries have stayed the same while inflation has jumped by 5%+ every month…


  24. Mr. custer, please note, It is not the first time china experienced inflation. Back in the 1990’s under zhurongji’s rein the country have had double digit inflation while the same time tens millions were layoff from the SOEs due to restructuring. Things were a lot more serious back then. Guess what, the country didn’t break up as some have wished.


  25. yeah that’s so true. and it shows how ignorant and ridiculous articles like these are. even after the turmoil ended in late 80s, there were still the inflation, the mass layoffs, the painful transition from a planned economy to a more market-oriented one, including education and health care.

    But you have to satisfy their need to feel superior when they insist “China is hell; nobody is happy!” You gotta give them something.


  26. C. Custer,

    You get so upset when people take the Western media at their word, or make assumptions without evidence, but you are doing the exact same thing — assuming without evidence that these people haven’t been taken by the government.

    I’m not upset. I just don’t believe half of the crap coming from the Western Media pertaining China. And I am not ‘doing the same thing’, amnesty international is a western backed agency so they will probably make up stories just to smear China.


    First of all, that’s less than 100 people in that list. Second, people who are involved in that fake revolution should be arrested and tried in court and I don’t see this as some kind of human rights issue.


  27. Pugster,

    Which Western media are you referring to? Le Monde? The Guardian? El Pais? The Daily Telegraph? La Repubblica? Die Zeit? Der Spiegel? The National Post? New York Times? Washington Post? LA Times? Huffington Post? The Nation? The National Review? CNN? BBC?


  28. @ Pug_ster: Right, because anyone from the West is just out to get China. These stories are all just smears.

    Actually, that’s really fucking offensive to my intelligence personally, and makes you sound like kind of an idiot. What, Amnesty International called up their friends the “Western Media” (because that’s totally a real thing) and got everyone to agree to their made up story? Then they got the Chinese people involved to hide, their families to agree to lie about it, and their friends to agree to lie about it, all for the sake of “smearing China?”

    Honestly, how fucking arrogant do you have to be about how important China is to anyone outside China to think that anyone would even bother to do something like that? (Leaving aside the fact that it’s completely goddamn impossible).

    Give me a break. You’re not stupid. You know perfectly well those guys got snatched by the cops. You know just as well most, maybe ALL of them had nothing to do with the “Jasmine revolution” bullshit. You just find this whole story horribly inconvenient in your “China is justified in its actions and a perpetual victim of Western bullying” worldview.


  29. From the last post Pugster is either insane or trolling, either way responding to him is waste of anyone’s time.

    Keisat, Jsyang: fair point.


  30. C. Custer,

    I am expressing my opinion. If you don’t agree, fine. However, being upset and resort to cussing is not professional.


    Calling me names shows your lack of maturity.


  31. @ pug_ster: neither is writing off the media of 5/6ths of the world because it has stories about China you don’t like, or assuming those stories are lies despite a gigantic mountain of evidence to the contrary. Luckily, neither of us are professional blog commenters, so it’s cool for us to say more or less whatever we feel.


  32. ” Neither was the Jasmine Revolution, which — shock! – wasn’t orchestrated by any of the people they’re now rounding up anyway”

    I don’t get why people associate the two. The round-up preceeded the calls for a Jasmine revolution. It’s real start was Charter 08, and it started to pick up after the Nobel award.


  33. I think you hit on something I’ve felt for a long time. Chinese people really DO care about this sort of injustice, but the disconnect happens when you try to put it into the vocabulary of human rights and rule of law that Westerners so often use. Westerners want to say “this is a violation of human rights!” and Chinese people want to say “It is terrible to beat up an old lady!” This has implications for how proponents of “human rights” (or whatever) cooperate on both sides of the ocean.


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