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?
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 for.
   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 thinking.
   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.
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, politically, economically?
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 the barriers.
   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 the streets.
   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.]

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