12 October, 2005

China is one messed up place

I've been following the story of Lu Banglie, and the push to a more representative China, in the British press recently. It is pretty compelling and messed up.

See, this dude has been a poor village farmer his whole life, living in a hut with his mother. After China began allowing villages to "oust their chief should the need arise." (The Guardian, Oct. 11) So this dude gets the chief in his village ousted last year and was elected himself, speaking out against land seizure, corruption and rising healthcare costs.

Recently, villagers in Taishi asked him to help oust their chief.
Mr Lu said: "I'm a villager myself and I know the election law so I gave them ideas [about] legal means." But he also knew that the stakes were high if Taishi succeeded, and others followed suit. "This is what the central government is scared of."
Banglie, whose approach of non-violence and education was culled directly from a film he once saw on Gandhi, has been a rallying point for others who have witnessed his success in his own village. However, it is also a red flag for authorities who are less than willing to accept a more representative society. The upcoming elections in Taishi have sparked a rift.
"It has led to beatings and mass arrests among its population as well as for observers who ventured into its environs."
As he entered Taishi on Oct. 9, Banglie's car was surrounded by a large mob of people who dragged him out of the vehicle and beat him in the street. Benjamin Joffe-Walt writes:
"The last time I saw Lu Banglie, he was lying in a ditch on the side of the street - placid, numb and lifeless - the spit, snot and urine of about 20 men mixing with his blood, and running all over his body."
Though he knew his life was in danger, Banglie continued his trip to Taishi. Joffe-Walt's entire article comments on Banglie in the past tense. His vivid depiction of the beating is as follows:

"The men outside shouted among themselves and those in uniform suddenly left. Those remaining started pushing on the car, screaming at us to get out. They pointed flashlights at us, and when the light hit Mr Lu's face, it was as if a bomb had gone off. They completely lost it. They pulled him out and bashed him to the ground, kicked him, pulverised him, stomped on his head over and over again. The beating was loud, like the crack of a wooden board, and he was unconscious within 30 seconds.

They continued for 10 minutes. The body of this skinny little man turned to putty between the kicking legs of the rancorous men. This was not about teaching a man a lesson, about scaring me, about preventing access to the village; this was about vengeance - retribution for teaching villagers their legal rights, for agitating, for daring to hide.

They slowed down but never stopped. He lay there - his eye out of its socket, his tongue cut, a stream of blood dropping from his mouth, his body limp, twisted. The ligaments in his neck were broken, so his head lay sideways as if connected to the rest of his body by a rubber band....

...Random people came up to Mr Lu and kicked him in the head, clearing their nose of snot on his body, spitting on him, peeing on him, showing off for each other. I had no idea what to do."

Indeed after the incident, authorities took the remaining members of Banglie's party to be questioned, informing them that they were beyond their rights to be in the town in the first place, and that Banglie was indeed fine.

Joffe-Walt writes in the conclusion of his article:
The last words of Mr Lu I wrote down were: "The police cover their arses. They employ all these thugs whose lives mean nothing to them to kill you. That's why once we are in this we can't go out."
Unfortunately, Banglie's aggressors made two huge mistakes: they performed the beating in front of a well-connected Western Journalist, and they didn't kill Banglie. The day after the beating, the story ran, and Banglie emerged in his own village, with only visible injuries on his arm.
"Although the attack was witnessed by the Guardian's Shanghai correspondent, the local propaganda department insisted there had been no violence and provincial officials said it was too early to respond to requests for a full investigation...
...The Pan Yu propaganda office said there had been "no violence" and that Mr Lu had "pretended to be dead."
So the guy got beaten by a large mob in the street with a ton of witnesses, including a journalist, and the government tries to say that there wasn't any violence and that he was pretending to be dead. Wow. I would say his cause against corruption is pretty justified.

It's incredible to think that people here in America complain as much as they do about oppression. I mean, this dude was beaten by a mob that was
"...thought to be a group of thugs hired by the local authorities to put down an anti-corruption campaign against the chief of Taishi village."
and then the same authorities deny that he was beaten up at all. That's pretty messed up. Imagine trying to hold any kind of organized protest there for say, better (or any) healthcare. Kind of a lost cause, because after you get the shit beat out of you how are you going to pay your hospital bill?

Nicolas Becquelin, of Human Rights in China, writes the following:

"It is becoming more and more dangerous to be a rights activist because of the increase in intimidation using unlawful means," he said. "There are some areas that are totally lawless. This is one reason why insurance companies rate journalism as the second most dangerous profession in China."

The problem, he said, is that Beijing makes promises about improved democracy and legal rights that it fails to fulfill.

"The government lifts the expectations of the population by saying they are moving towards the rule of law, but it looks like they have stopped legal reform mid-stream. People in China are increasingly aware of their rights, but they cannot get justice. This creates a very volatile and dangerous situation."

I think that what Banglie is striving for is admirable, and his methods of non-violence stand out in the otherwise violence-ridden cause.

As a side note, Chinese Blogger Anti wrote the following (found here in translation):
"As for The Guardian's Benjamin Joffe-Walt, how the fuck did he still have to nerve to write this kind of report? Perhaps he is young and does not yet know that reporting in certain areas of China is just like in a war zone. He should not have gone there against the advice of others, and he should not have brought Lu Banglie to the village. Since he was being taken out by the police, why didn't he insist on rescuing Lu Banglie as well? It is alright to beg for mercy when it happened. But the more important thing is that you have a duty and you must assume responsibility for your companion. Or is that Chinese person just a guide dog?

Thus, we the Chinese people are treated like dogs by the government and we are also treated like dogs by certain arrogant and ignorant foreigners. I have no idea how this tragedy can be changed."

It's interesting that a Chinese citizen is criticizing the efforts of Joffe-Walt, for without the journalistic presence of someone as connected as he, the story of Banglie may never have been told in the first place. It is clear that the Chinese authorities are trying to cover their tracks in the presence of increased media attention. Attention brought into wide-scale focus by the efforts of Joffe-Walt. I think that both sides have some talking to do. Foreign influence and media coverage by a free press may be of huge assistance to a country with such stringent control over all aspects of communication.

Rebecca MacKinnon, in her political blog, makes a good point hitting at the issue I was just speaking on:

"There are indeed some serious issues about a Western reporter's responsibility for endangering and/or protecting the safety of their sources, interpreters, and guides. There were many times, when I was working in China, when I opted not to report certain stories because doing so would endanger the lives of people involved.

At the same time, I hope this question of a foreign correspondent's responsibility will not become a convenient way of distracting people from the core issue: one of human rights and the suppression of a democracy movement in Taishi.

Will Chinese netizens be successfully manipulated into foreigner-bashing as an acceptable alternative to communist party-bashing?"

Anyhow, sorry for the long political entry, it's just something I have found myself engrossed with over the past few days, and it's my blog so I'll write what I damn well want. I wouldn't be able to do that in China.


Blogger GonzoMC said...

That is certainly a crazy story. It's good for you to keep on pointing the spotlight at these kinds of issues. As journalists ourselves, as well as human beings, this issue should be of top importance. I think the closest I came to being hurt in the line of duty was getting elbowed by a punker chick at a Bouncing Souls show.

3:52 AM, October 12, 2005  
Blogger Bevan said...

If you think that will be bad just wait till 2008. The commie govt will have a big round-up of those it wants to keep quite

5:00 AM, October 12, 2005  

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