Cry Freedom: Charter 08 = Tiananmen 89 Rehash?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/04/2009 09:04:00 AM
That sour economic times foment activism is nearly axiomatic. Those with long memories will recall that the Tiananmen protests of 1989 occurred against a backdrop of rising food prices. So it is in 2009 that China's ruling Communist Party finds newer expressions of discontent. One of the most troubling for the Party has been slowing employment in China's industrial sector. With jobs drying up for migrant laborers--an estimated 4 million have lost their jobs--criminal activity related to unemployment is rising.

Something all too common among totalitarian regimes is dislike of dissent that can lead to what they regard as "civil disturbances," regardless of their cause. Alongside China's concern for not living up to the tacit economic deal which has been in place since Deng Xiaoping's ascent to power--follow us and we can provide you with livelihoods--other sources of dissent are mounting. Regrettable but not surprising are China's recent attempts to muzzle milk scandal victims. More recently, I have become aware of an effort by Chinese activists to press for changes eerily familiar from the Tiananmen protests. There is potential for escalation here. From the Financial Times:
The Chinese government is moving to crush a group of prominent dissidents and intellectuals that has released a rallying call for democracy, human rights and rule of law. The group of about 300 writers, peasant farmers, students, professors, journalists, economists, and political activists from across the country all signed a document, known as Charter 08, that provides a detailed and wide-ranging blueprint for peaceful political, legal and economic reform in China.

Since then, nearly 7,000 Chinese and foreign intellectuals inside and outside the country have signed Charter 08, which warns of “the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions” if Beijing does not quickly move to reform the one-party authoritarian state.

Chinese intellectuals and dissidents are calling the document the most significant of its kind for at least a decade and possibly since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Its name is a reference to Charter 77, the 1977 call for human rights issued by dissidents in former Czechoslovakia.

It has provoked increasing concern among China’s leaders. Since it began circulating one of the organisers has been detained without charge and friends and relatives had no word of his whereabouts until Friday. At least 70 of the Charter’s 303 original signatories have been summoned or interrogated by police and China’s powerful Central Propaganda Department has warned all domestic media not to interview or carry articles by anyone who signs the charter.

The interrogations gathered momentum this week and all those called in have been ordered to retract their support for the Charter. The government appears to be concerned by the heady language and the prominence of many of the signatories, who include mid-level government officials and Communist party academics.

The charter was made public through the internet on December 10 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and comes on the eve of the 20th anniversary, on June 4, of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which it explicitly mentions.

Senior officials have shown increasing public concern over the potential for unrest as a result of lay-offs and crumbling growth. The charter could serve as a rallying call for up to 1.5m unemployed recent graduates...
The potential of this movement to appeal to college grads who may have difficulty finding work should be particularly troubling to the Party. Fortunately, Perry Link of the New York Review of Books has translated the Charter 08. What follows is the introduction although the rest is worth reading, especially for China followers:
A hundred years have passed since the writing of China's first constitution. 2008 also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the thirtieth anniversary of the appearance of the Democracy Wall in Beijing, and the tenth of China's signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

By departing from these values, the Chinese government's approach to "modernization" has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse. So we ask: Where is China headed in the twenty-first century? Will it continue with "modernization" under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions.
It is no surprise that another economic dislocation is propelling a reprise of Chinese activism. When the Party has difficulty delivering livelihoods, these calls regain momentum.

PS: By concidence, the reformed Guns N Roses recently released its long-delayed album, Chinese Democracy--its first in 17 years. Think about it: a band with "guns" and "roses" coming out with an album entitled like so whose last release was definitely Tiananmen-era.