The "stainless-steel mouse" is her cyber nom de plume. Her name is Liu Di, and in the one picture available, she has a young face and a wide, shy smile. Until the authorities tracked her down a year ago Friday, she was one of the most famous Internet web masters in China.
A third-year psychology student at Beijing Normal University, Ms. Liu formed an artists club, wrote absurdist essays in the style of dissident Eastern-bloc writers of the 1970s, and ran a popular web-posting site. Admirers cite her originality and humor: In one essay Liu ironically suggests all club members go to the streets to sell Marxist literature and preach Lenin's theory, like "real Communists." In another, she suggests everyone tell no lies for 24 hours. In a series of "confessions" she says that China's repressive national-security laws are not good for the security of the nation.
But since Nov. 7, 2002, when plain-clothes police made a secret arrest, Liu has not been heard from. No charges have been filed; her family and friends may not visit her, sources say; and, in a well-known silencing tactic, authorities warn that it will not go well for her if foreign media are informed of her case.
The government of China does not tolerate criticism. The average Chinese citizen does not have freedom of speech if that speech challenges the central party. Not only do they not have freedom of speech, once they are caught up in the legal system they are granted no rights and no access to the outside. Of course we need to be concerned about human rights when dealing with China.
Glenn's reaction is:
Hmm. A bit late for that. I don't think I care to buy any more Chinese goods (especially, you know, computers and electronics) while this sort of thing goes on, and I suspect a lot of others may feel the same way, which should worry some people.
The "some people" referenced are the Chinese embassy, Wal-Mart, and later McDonald's with their Happy Meal toys. There's also a follow up post at Instapundit here that links to a Samizdata post here. I especially recommend reading the comments.
If I may be so bold, I'm writing this post, (and will be e-mailing it to Glenn), to ask him to reconsider if a boycott is the best option to help the Chinese people. Based on my first hand experience, I would argue that boycotting Made in China goods hurts the cause of human rights in China for many reasons. (In the spirit of full disclosure my business is trade with China.)
First, let's not forget that since 1997 Hong Kong has been a part of China. Under the Basic Law, citizens of the former British colony have retained their rights for 50 years, including a free press. China callls it One Country - Two Systems. Any boycott of China goods will directly impact Hong Kong.
Usually the citizens of Hong Kong are not very politically active, but that may be changing. One half million of them demonstrated in the streets due to concern about a new law, Article 23, they felt would limit the free flow of information, and possibly lead to sedition charges. In an unusual move, the SAR backed down.
What does Hong Kong mean to China? Consider this post from Gweilo Diaries:
Joseph Kahn, the generally first-rate New York Times China reporter, performs an interesting exercise, traveling to Guangdong to report the reaction of its inhabitants to recent political events in neighboring Hong Kong. An excerpt:
"Hong Kong has become the symbol of human rights and democracy for us," said Lian Jie, a 24-year-old office supplies salesman. "There is no place in China where you could stop traffic or stop ordinary business activity the way people did there. It shows that we don't really enjoy human rights."
Like millions of people in Guangdong, Mr. Lian watches Hong Kong television every night, getting uncensored updates on the crisis. In contrast, most people farther removed from the airwaves of southern China get almost no news about developments in Hong Kong, which the state-controlled news media has almost entirely suppressed.
But with relatively open access to information about Hong Kong here, few people hesitate to discuss their views about what is happening across the border. Even teenagers in Guangdong are familiar with the basics of the national security legislation that Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was trying to ram through a reluctant local legislature until popular unrest made him back off.
As a side note, Hong Kong also recently relaxed its regulations, thereby allowing mainland Chinese the opportunity to visit Hong Kong more easily.
As to the effects of trade, China liberalized the laws on foreign investment in the 1980's. It was the beginning of a huge transfer of wealth from the state to the people. As bureaucratic state enterprises foundered they were replaced by new factories privately held by Chinese and by foreign investors. For example, every company I met with in Hong Kong in the late 80's had either just opened their China factory or were in the process of building their China factory.
Consider how information in China was limited prior to the economic boom.
At one time, you could walk through Shenzen, which is across the border from Hong Kong, and see individuals who had set up phones on a table in the street. People would line up to use the phone for a fee, because very few people could afford their own phone.
After Tiannamen, factories hid their fax machine because it could be used to communicate to the outside world.
Now, what kind of changes has trade brought to the people of China when it comes to their access to the outside world? Consider changes in the last five years according to the People's Daily:
More than two decades ago, it was only a dream for most Chinese households to communicate with each other by telephone. Until five years ago, one had to pay several thousand yuan to install a telephone and spent at least 10,000 yuan (1,209 US dollars) to buy a mobile phone due to limited telecommunications services.
Today, it is quite common for each household to have two fixed telephones.
The information technology industry has grown by an increase rate three times that of the national economy over the past five years, developing into the pillars of the Chinese economy.
At the end of January, the number of China's fixed phone subscribers reached 218 million and the number of mobile phone users in China grew to 212 million, according to statistics from the Ministry of Information Industry.
Five years ago, less than 1 million Chinese people surfed on the Internet, which figure has increased to nearly 60 million at present. In 2002, more than 10 million computers were sold in China.
Today in China the average office worker has access to the outside world on their desk at work. While true some sites are blocked, I was able to access major US newspapers on my last trip there. Text messaging is bigger in China than it is in the US.
The transfer of wealth to the people of China due to foreign investment and trade has broken the government monopoly on the information available to the citizens of China. It has also given the population the ability to easily communicate on a larger scale with each other. As a new middle class grows in China, they also gain politicial power. Even the Chinese government is concerned according to this article by Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute.
A recent study by the Chinese Communist party’s Central Organization Department noted with concern that “as the economic standing of the affluent stratum has increased, so too has its desire for greater political standing.” The study concluded that such a development would have a “profound impact on social and political life” in China.
Leading the author to conclude:
By maintaining normal trade relations with the world’s most populous nation, we bolster our economy, guard our security, and encourage the “affluent stratum” that is making China’s rulers increasingly nervous.
Concerning Wal-Mart's role in China. Large retailers in the U.S. do not want to be "Kathy Lee'd", accused of buying from sweat shops by the U.S. press. As a result, it's common practice to have local staff inspect the factories that produce the goods to be exported to the U.S. This inspection includes reviewing the factory itself, the dormitory, and the cafeteria. In addition, they ensure there is no prison labor involved, no child labor, and interview a percentage of workers, (their choice), privately to ensure they are being treated fairly. So our free market and free press help to ensure good treatment of China factory workers that make goods for U.S. retailers.
In summary, it's my experience that the people of China want more freedom, and more importantly they are confident that it will happen. However, they also acknowledge that China will change in its own time. I firmly believe the effects of free trade are overwhelmingly positive for the Chinese people, and will only increase with China's entry into the WTO.
Of course the U.S. should continue the dialogue to encourage China to improve human rights, including publicizing cases like Liu Di's, other dissidents, and the persecution of Christians. It's been proven before that outside pressure can lead to the release of those who have dared to question the status quo. We also need to be very cautious in the area of technology transfer.
When I've tried to explain the changes in China in the last 15 years words fail me. The best advice I can give is to visit China yourself. You'll love the people and China is rich with both history and the future at the same time. The sleeping giant is awake and the world will never be the same.
Update: As I finished this I found Glenn has also written about China in his MSNBC column.