The China Syndromes continued
Gazette: What's your gut feeling about Jiang? He seems to have
a reasonably personable, non-threatening political persona, at least to
Western eyes. How deep does that go, and how will he be able to translate
that into policy?
Goldstein: People had a pretty low opinion of Jiang before Deng Xiaoping
died. The only reason that he held the position he did was that he was
a non-threatening guy Deng had brought in from Shanghai after Tiananmen
Square, and the chances that he would outlast Deng's death usually were
estimated to be pretty low. So he surprised people by his ability to at
least play the political game of building a base of support for himself,
both in the military and in the party.
Reaction I heard from Chinese when I was there this
summer was, "Well, you know, he turns out to not be as bad as we
had feared." So it's one of those situations where he may not be
a brilliant guy, but he seems to be a capable politician.
And one of the mysteries is -- what's the saying? "Still
waters run deep" -- whether that's the case with him. There are some,
anyway, who believe -- it may be wishful thinking; you hear it mostly
from more progressive young Chinese -- that Jiang Zemin thinks that Deng
Xiaoping's accomplishment was to reform the economy, and that Jiang Zemin's
legacy will eventually be to reform the political system. He's not ready
to do it yet, but some think that this might be what he hopes to be known
There were reports this summer that, in fact, a group
had been set up by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to draft an
outline for political reform in China. The government immediately denied
these reports, but they were probably accurate. So just like "only
Nixon could go to China," it may be the case that only this guy that
seems safe and reliable is the sort of person that, if he chooses, can
really try to shepherd more dramatic changes. But that may just be wishful
The real question is whether he and the premier, Zhu
Rongji, can continue to co-exist. Zhu Rongji, unlike Jiang Zemin, everybody
knows is brilliant. And the question is whether any jealousy develops
on Jiang's part.
Gazette: The government has stepped up its arrests of dissidents lately,
with longer sentences meted out. Why?
Goldstein: The people they arrested were organizing a party, the
Chinese Democratic Party, which some of these folks hoped would be able
to get candidates on the ballots in local elections. That's a red flag
for the more conservative members, the older guard, in the Chinese Communist
Party leadership. And the concern that they can raise now is that, with
the economy going through a difficult stage of the reforms and the Asian
financial crisis contributing to a slowdown, they're worried about labor
unrest. If there is some economic reason for social unrest to grow, the
one thing they don't want to have is a group of intellectuals that can
serve as leadership for whatever develops.
The formation of an independent political party, or
labor unions that are independent -- those are the two things the Communist
Party has just consistently cracked down on, whether they do it immediately
or wait a few months.
The other question that people have raised is, "Why
were the sentences so harsh?" It's really two things. One is the
belief that nobody's paying attention right now, so they could get away
with relatively harsh sentences because the U.S. has been busy with Iraq
and impeachment. Also, if they could mete out a few very harsh sentences,
that may scare off others who might have thought about joining in with
this movement. And they're probably right about that.
Gazette: Are there still any committed believers in the system
below the age of about 70?
Goldstein: In China? No, not even over 70. No. The line that I've
heard is, you're more likely to find a true communist in -- pick your
city -- Berkeley, California, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, than you
are in China.
I'm sure there are a couple of real old guys, but I've
never met one. The problem is -- I guess cognitive-dissonance theorists
would help explain this -- it's real tough for this older generation.
They know, basically, that they lived a lie for a long time, and they're
not willing to admit publicly that they lived a lie, because most of them
believe it's a necessary myth to preserve -- because they believe it is
critical that order be maintained while they're freeing up the economy.
And it's a real problem. If the economy ever goes sour, they've got nothing
to fall back on. Nobody's willing to suffer through hard times because
"at least we're building socialism" or something like that.
Gazette: What sort of effect is the Internet having there -- culturally,
Goldstein: The Chinese government publishes figures about how many
people are using the Internet, and I think the latest one has something
like 1.5 million users. Everybody knows that you have to multiply that
by some other number, because each account is used by more than one Chinese.
So nobody's sure, but it is having a profound effect in terms of the ability
of the outside world to communicate with China. When we have Chinese students
apply to Penn -- the graduate programs in particular -- I routinely interact
with them by e-mail to try to gauge their interests and the level of English
ability and whatnot. So on that personal and direct level -- and scholars
exchanging research ideas -- China is very much accessible to us and I
guess the outside world is relatively accessible to them.
In terms of Web sites, however, it's much more difficult.
The government wants to control the Internet as much as it can. And the
way they've done it so far is to limit the -- I don't know what the right
Internet term is -- the nodes, or whatever: the entry points into China.
So, for example, I've been told that in Beijing there's only one exit-point
and entry-point for all information coming in on the Internet. And what
the government tries to do is select the sites it wants to block.
That means two things, actually. One is, it slows down
transmission, which is a headache for everybody. The second thing it does
is create a cat-and-mouse game. In China, as everywhere, if you're resourceful
enough, you can always work around the rules. When I was there they'd
block access to The New York Times Web site.
So I decided to do an experiment, try to get The
New York Times. I got the response, "server not available."
But it turns out that there's another site you can go through, and no
one can know what else you're accessing. So I went to this site, and again
tried to access The New York Times, and sure enough, I could
get right to The New York Times, a very simple matter.
My guess is that the government is usually one step
behind, but they'll try to block what they can. The problem is that the
Internet's so redundant that eventually people are going to penetrate
Near Beijing University there's a block and a half they
call their own Silicon Valley, with rows and rows of computer shops. You
go in, and there are used computer parts -- when I was there, Windows
98 wasn't out in the States yet, but bootleg versions were already on
So the Internet and its technology are penetrating China.
The government's trying its cat-and-mouse game, trying to control it,
but they're failing and they will fail. Just like they failed to control
satellite dishes. [Note: a couple of weeks after our final interview,
a Shanghai court sentenced a man to two years in prison for subversion.
His crime: sending 30,000 e-mail addresses to an electronic publication
based in the U.S.]
March/April Contents | Gazette
Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 2/16/99