[Marxism] Defending the Chinese peasantry
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
"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
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.
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