29 December, 2005

stalin’s labor camps a workers’ paradise

How bad are things in North Korea?

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin used to send dissidents and political prisoners to slave labor camps in Siberia as punishment. Today, North Koreans think being sent to a slave labor camp in Siberia would be a dream job. Bryan Caplan interprets an LA Times article.:

LaborcampThe key to this story is that despite everything, working abroad is considered a good deal. It’s one of the few ways to save some money to help their families back home. And only the “most loyal” North Koreans qualify, with their families left behind as hostages:

By far the largest number of North Koreans working outside their country are in Russia, where they do mostly logging and construction in military-style camps run by the North Korean government. When the camps were set up in the early 1970s, the workers were North Korean prisoners. But as the North Korean economy disintegrated in the late 1980s, doing hard labor in Siberia came to be seen as a reward because at least it meant getting adequate food.

It follows, then, that as wretched as the lives of North Koreans working in Russia or the Czech Republic are, life in North Korea is far worse. In short, it’s pretty bad even by the standards of other Communist regimes.

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by @ 1:03 pm. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, North Korea

sympathy for the devil

Roland, largely in reaction to anti-Mao birthday messages posted here, at Simon World and the Peking “Mao sucked the brains out of his people’s skulls” Duck, posts a translation revealing the source of much of the nostalgia felt toward Mao Zedong.:

Pla51In today’s China, we must say that it is much more open than that bygone era. Society has progressed, people have greater freedom and life is more prosperous. There are tall buildings everywhere, there are neon lights everywhere and there are the sounds of music everywhere. Compared to that bygone era, this seems to be a different world. Most people now live differently from back then, so why are people still nostalgic about that era?

Someone gave me an apt analogy as the answer: “When there are too many rats, people naturally think about the cat.”

The rat is one of the “Four Pests” in China. Today, there are “Four New Pests” in China, and they are respectively:

1. Public security/procuratorate/court of law

2. National and local taxation

3. Doctors/teachers

4. Organized criminals

Actually, while the organized criminals are bad, their damage is much less than that from the preceding three groups.

In that bygone era, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” were both imperfect, but they did not persecute people. In fact, public security was even a very respected occupation. Today, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” are disaster areas for corruption.

In that bygone era, “doctors and teachers” once assumed the role of victims. The synopsis of that era may be “If you have to work with a knife, you are better off being a butcher than a surgeon; if you have to manage a herd, you are better being a sheep shepherd than a school teacher.” But today, even city workers cannot afford to send their children to university, as education expenses have become a huge family burden. If you are sick, you won’t dare visit a hospital because it isn’t big news if a few days of stay cost you a few hundred thousand yuan.

Someone said that in the Mao era, people lived in relative poverty. However, the social order and security situations were extraordinarily good. Everything was simple and people lived in a relaxed fashion. Nowadays, things are more complicated. People feel bored and oppressed. A counter-argument was that since everybody was so poor back then, there was nothing to steal or rob. “Sameness” was obviously a characteristic of that era, but the severe inequality of wealth today has affected social stability in China.

Actually, no matter how people argue about the pros and cons of the person Mao Zedong or the era of Mao Zedong, the fact is that Mao has returned to Chinese society, whether it is on the altar of a peasant home or by the city taxi driver’s seat. Mao images proliferate among the people. Yet, there is a difference. In Mao’s era, we treated him as the Absolute God. Later on, we determined that he was a person who could make mistakes. Today people are looking at Mao as a god who could provide peace and security.

This is a fairly common line of reasoning among contemporary Chinese, and it is worth noting for other reasons than sociology. While it is true that many Chinese do want more freedom, prosperity and a representative government, there are others that would like to see a return to the ’security’ that was offered by the Mao era. And there are, of course, people who will claim to want both. There’s no opinion polling here so how large each of the respective groups are would be guesswork.

But those who do want to see a downfall of the CCP should keep that in mind. There is no guarantee that the contemporary CCP would be replaced by the liberal forces.

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by @ 12:51 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

taiwan’s democracy is a form of defense

Michael Turton, quite correctly in AsiaPundit’s view, notes that Taiwan’s democracy and developing adoption of liberal principals are a deterrent against Mainland Chinese military action against the island.:

China’s foot-dragging on giving Hong Kong democracy provides a good indication of what Taiwan can expect if it is annexed by China.

"But just as in any country and any region democratic development is a gradual historical process, Hong Kong’s democratic development must also be pushed forward in a stable, sure-handed and systematic way," state media quoted Hu as saying.

Despite mass protests and widespread calls for democracy in Hong Kong, China has been unwilling to let the territory decide for itself when it can elect top leaders.

Except, of course, that we in Taiwan already have democracy. This raises a very interesting issue: if the island is annexed by Beijing, how can China exist half-free and half-slave? China will either be required to crush the island’s democracy — which might have grave international and internal repercussions — or else it will have to live with "one country, two systems." And when ordinary Chinese visit Taiwan and see how much different things are here than there…

Be careful what you wish for, eh? Perhaps our democracy here is a better insurance against annexation than we think. Perhaps that is why China fulminates against it, and exhorts the local pro-China parties to take steps to curtail it. Because not only does every democratic election establish Taiwan as an independent state, but the deeper democracy entrenches, the thornier the problem it presents for the occupation planning.

AP’s view, which is much more optimistic than Michael’s, has been that Mainland China will not attempt an invasion unless it was assured victory or if some idiotic notion of saving face (ie, reacting against a formal independence declaration) was involved. Victory would not just mean taking the island, which cannot be guaranteed, but also subduing the population.

Taiwan’s rambunctious democracy makes it unlikely that the island could be easily forced back into an authoritarian system. Plus, it strengthens the resolve of allies to come to its defense.

And AP commends Michael for the Lincoln reference, which is also well used as a tag line by another of his favorite Asian blogs.

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by @ 12:09 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

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