[Marxism] Defending the Chinese peasantry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 9 08:25:06 MDT 2004


NY Times, July 9, 2004
Exposé of Peasants' Plight Is Suppressed by China
By JOSEPH KAHN

HEFEI, China, July 5 - In their muckraking best seller about abuses 
against Chinese peasants, the husband-and-wife authors, Chen Guidi and 
Wu Chuntao, told the stories of farmers who fought the system and lost.

The book, "An Investigation of China's Peasantry," describes how one 
farmer's long struggle against illegal taxes ended only when the police 
beat him to death with a mulberry club. It profiles a village activist 
who was jailed on a charge of instigating riots after he accused a local 
Communist Party boss of corruption.

Now, Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu say, it is their turn to be silenced.

Though their tautly written defense of China's 750 million peasants has 
become a sensation, their names have stopped appearing in the news 
media. Their publisher was ordered to cease printing at the peak of the 
book's popularity this spring, leaving the market to pirates who 
subsequently churned out millions of copies in violation of the copyright.

A ranking official sued sued the authors, accusing them of libel, in his 
home county court. In a country that does not protect a right to 
criticize those holding power, it is a case they say they are sure to lose.

Top Beijing leaders acknowledge that China's surging urban economy has 
done relatively little to benefit the two-thirds of the population 
living in rural areas. They have put forward new programs to reduce the 
widening gap between urban and rural living standards.

But the effort to quiet Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu makes it clear that 
officials will not tolerate writers who portray China's vast peasantry 
as an underclass or who assign blame for peasants' enduring poverty.

"We spoke up for powerless people, but we ourselves are powerless before 
these officials," Mr. Chen said in an interview near his home in Anhui 
Province. "The authorities will not allow peasants to have a voice."

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has ordered the government to address, in the 
latest slogan, "three peasant problems": farmers, villages and 
agriculture. But he and other officials rarely emphasize what many rural 
experts consider the biggest peasant problems: corruption and abuse of 
power.

"An Investigation of China's Peasantry" deals with little else. It 
praises the spirit of central government efforts to reduce the rural tax 
burden and raise farm incomes. But it shows how such policies are sooner 
or later undone by local party bosses determined to line their own pockets.

It also details how local officials deceive China's top leaders, 
including Jiang Zemin, the retired party chief who still leads the 
military, and Zhu Rongji, the retired prime minister. Even Mr. Wen, whom 
the authors credit with understanding rural problems better than other 
leaders, is portrayed as being unable to penetrate the local officials' 
Potemkin displays of fealty.

Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu shocked many urban readers with their tales of rural 
backwardness. But they appear to have misjudged how much shock the 
one-party system would accept.

"We had hoped that there would be some support for our work among 
central government officials," Mr. Chen said. "But it is really 
sensitive when you write that the general secretary of the Communist 
Party does not know what's happening in the country."

Mr. Chen, 61, and Ms. Wu, 41, were both born to peasant families. But 
they escaped the countryside at an early age and, like many professional 
writers in China, treated the hinterland as an abstraction. An earlier 
essay by Ms. Wu, titled "Cherishing a Faraway Place," recalled her rural 
upbringing and struck a bucolic tone about the simple, honest values of 
the peasantry.

She said her attitude changed in 2000. That year, when she gave birth to 
her son, she read that a peasant mother in rural Anhui had bled to death 
after delivering a child. A hospital had demanded a $360 cash advance to 
treat her, a sum far beyond her family's means.

Mr. Chen had written environmental tracts and novels about social 
upheaval. He and Ms. Wu agreed to work together to understand why rural 
policies had failed. Their book, which includes four extended tales of 
abuse, differed from other studies because it identified cases of 
malfeasance and named the political figures involved instead of blaming 
bad policies or generic corruption.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/09/international/asia/09peas.html

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