Sunday, December 11, 2005

Eminent Domain in China

Sometimes I come across an international story like this Eminent Domain in China that touches on virtually every issue that I’ve been thinking about over the last few months.  First off, my grandparents all came from Guangdong province which was once the part of China with the largest number of young men forced to leave for California or Malaysia to avoid famine.  It’s said that for many years whole villages were supported by payments from overseas Chinese relatives.  Guangdong was also the last section of the coast to become part of what we know as China under the Ch’in and the site of much of the Opium War in 1842 (kind of an early version of the Contra drug scandal) Because so many immigrant Chinese in California in the 1960’s were Cantonese, many Americans assumed that Cantonese culture, food, and language, represented all of China.

Second, the incident which made the mainstream media linger here for about ten seconds  foreshadows one direction the “global” economy and its fifteen dollar dvd players might take.  All in one, we have social planning backed by armed force, wind power, eminent domain, and a horrific incident where the government claims that the protesting citizens rioted and threw explosives (the villagers claim it was fireworks) and the locals insist that the police simply opened fire.  In the meantime, the Chinese government has “sealed” the town from outside media. On Sunday, the commander of the police unit was arrested for his role in the shootings, suggesting that the Chinese do act somewhat faster in these matters than Americans do about torture.   link to BBC story  According to officials, 3 were shot.  According to the locals 20 people were killed.  

As with any industrialized country, China’s spectacular economic growth comes with a social price.  If one wonders how all those Shanghai skyscrapers pop up so quickly, one of the keys has been a system in which the Chinese government proclaims its own redevelopment zones, offers the residents a token amount, then shows up with bulldozers in a matter of weeks or months.  Not a lot is said about where or how these people are relocated and whether or not the compensation would be sufficient to resettle them.  This is the first time, I’ve seen the same scenario in the Chinese countryside.  With talk of no one knowing exactly how many of the protesters were killed, the incident draws ready comparison to Tiananmien.  We Americans often forget our own history of Haymarket Square, Douglas Macarthur busting up the bonus marchers, the Seattle general strike, etc.  In the midst of al the Iraq news, we also haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Connecticut eminent domain case, Kelo v. New London, that gave local governments the power to condemn private homes for the “economic” good of a private development plan.

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger toured China and assured the world that he felt human rights concerns about China were exaggerated and touted the co-development between California and China of alternative energy opportunities.  Mmmmm….

Over the last year, I’ve noted the odd convergence between America and China’s economies possibly best exemplified by Walmart.  China calls its take a “mixed economy”.  The US insists that it’s the champion of the “free market”.  There are points, however, when both places eerily look like the final days of capitalism as sketched out in Das Capital, with economies driven by nothing more than the search for surplus value and the majority of workers being ground closer and closer to the margins.  I know it’s bad form these days to talk about Karl Marx being accurate about anything.  I should also say in fairness that shooting protesters has nothing to do with free market capitalism or necessarily with Communism.  I just wonder, now that Marxism is on the wane in the world as a political system why is it that his analysis of the excesses of capitalism is looking more rather than less accurate?
The United States has been notably silent about the shootings in Guangdong province thus far.  It’ll be interesting to see how the current administration does respond.  Since we owe the Chinese huge sums of money, it’s a bit like telling your rich uncle that he did something that offended you and risking being written out of his will or our having our debt called in and being written out of G8.
Robert Reich article on China Capitalism w/out Democracy


At 12/13/2005 09:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marx was a very keen analyst. He got jobbed by 'people of power' just like the brilliantly radical [Love Your Enemy/Turn the Other Cheek] Jesus did.

Equality and happiness of every person should be the earnest effort of any social and economic system. Gigagreed simply gigasucks.

I am ashamed to say that I know nothing of substance about Haymarket Square, bonus marches, the Seattle general strike or how harsh the treatment was? Was Haymarket Square a Tiananmen Square? Any illumination you could shed would unendarken me.

At 12/14/2005 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

i'll try to fix the link above, but it's a description of the Haymarket Riot, bomb throwing anarchists, police opening fire, social/industrial change, etc.

I think the better comparison to Tiananmen would be Jackson State, but Haymarket is just part of American labor/economic history.


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