The way the Chinese government is behaving right now, you'd almost think it had converted to democracy. Half a dozen times in recent weeks, government officials have backed down in the face of angry citizen protests -- canceling unpopular industrial projects, freeing wrongly imprisoned citizens or arresting one of its own for his reprehensible behavior.
That's not how a communist dictatorship is supposed to behave.
The most notorious example involves Tang Hui from Yongzhou City in southern
Needless to say, her mother was quite upset. She berated the police relentlessly until finally they rescued her daughter and arrested the kidnappers. Then, when they were put on trial, she grew enraged again when one of them, a relative of a police official, managed to avoid the death penalty or even life in prison, the sentences meted out to his cohorts. He got 15 years, causing Tang to loudly protest again. After all, her daughter was at home, a mental cripple riven with venereal disease and physically damaged so she can never have children.
Well, local officials got tired of Tang's constant complaining. So they charged her with "seriously disturbing social order and exerting a negative impact on society" and sentenced her to 18 months in her local re-education through labor center.
Another troublemaker silenced.
Word of this got out, of course.
Tang's sentence set off a firestorm of angry messaging, so much of it that every attempt to censor the conversation failed. Users found ways around the blocked words or terms. And once the story surfaced, not even the most hard-line government official could stand up to defend the mother's labor-camp sentence. So after just a week in the camp, early this month they let her go.
Explanations for this and similar cases vary. But Xinhua, the government news service, said the central government dispatched extra police around the country this summer to "ensure stability" by "settling disputes and resolving conflicts" ahead of the national leadership change this autumn.
But the way I see it,
Thousands of people protested the opening of a new paper factory in eastern
That came just a few weeks after citizens in a
But even more striking was the decision to arrest Li Xingong, a former senior party official, after an online uproar over accusations that he had raped several young girls. One Weibo user wrote: "Officials these days are all like this. It's really terrible."
Here again, once the allegations surfaced, party officials simply could not ignore them. But by striving to "maintain social harmony" now -- actually listening to the people and responding to their concerns -- Chinese leaders are encouraging their people to expect much more.
Xi Jinping, the presumed heir to the
When Xi takes office, he had better look around and realize that if he does not promote change, like his father, his own people could very well turn him out.
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(c) 2012 Distributed by Tribune Media Services