Selasa, 20 Maret 2018

Politics and the average Chinese

The man in the street simply does not care ! At least politically !!

In a country of 1.2 billion, such a sweeping  statement is an outrageous generalisation. But it is broadly true. The average Chinese does not care because (a) what is the real choice (b) she has very little access to information that is even remotely political in nature and (c) she doesn't seem to be hugely interested anyway

And this is despite a startling fact; the country with the maximum number of protests from citizens is actually China ! On any given day, there are probably 800 odd protests happening throughout China. If there is such vigorous activity, how come the assertion that the average Joe (Mrs Li) doesn't care ?

Two sweeping statements can be made about the average Chinese's views (a) she believes (and it does not matter where or who she is) that the local government is utterly corrupt and inefficient
and (b) she believes that the central leaders in Beijing are extremely efficient, working hard for the country, are the best humans on earth and if only they knew of their specific problem, it would be instantly fixed.

All the protests are predominantly on local issues, and mostly against land grabs by local officials. It is therefore mainly economic in nature, not political. There are simply no political protests of any sort.

A major issue in China is that public opinion is greatly hampered because of virtually no access to true political information. The following is the information environment in which the average Chinese lives

- There are no independent newspapers at all. Foreign newspapers are mostly not available.
- There is only government TV . No foreign channels, except in top end hotels. Even those are censored - can you believe that CNN's broadcast to China is routed through a Chinese government controlled satellite !
- All films are subject to censorship. Foreign films are severely limited in number and if you have anything remotely political in your film, fat chance of being cleared. Ditto books. Ditto music. Pirated DVDs are freely available but then the market is mostly for sexually explicit stuff rather than political content.
- The Great Firewall of China, behind which the internet sits in a parallel universe, is one of the most remarkable operations of all. The Hall of Fame of sites that are completely banned and inaccessible from China includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google plus, Maps, Docs, Picasa, Dropbox, Flickr, ..... I can keep going. Every one of these have local equivalents which are of course severely censored by the authorities
- The Chinese are avid users of social media, but only on domestic providers. These are hugely monitored by armies of machines, men and software. Every offending post is deleted . If you realise that there are half a billion internet users in China and they are as active as anybody in online activities, you can imagine the scale at which censorship takes place.

Consequently, the average Chinese is poorly informed on political matters and therefore has limited and not fully informed views. In any social gathering in the West (even more so in India), the conversation will turn political. Not so in China.  Mao has been glorified as "70% right" - very few of the younger generation know anything about the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The Tiananmen incidents of 1989 have been airbrushed from history - when I lived in China I was amazed that my colleagues knew virtually nothing about what happened.

The sum total of all this is that public opinion in China is less intense and formed than in virtually any other country. Therefore the Party and the government are under less pressure than anywhere else. You see, the true check on any government in any country is not judiciary , or the constitutional checks and balances - it is really public opinion  represented by the media. In China, that check does not exist. The Chinese have made a pact with the Party - give us continuous economic advancement and we won't care about the politics. Thus far, that pact has held good.