Yu Jie is the author of several Chinese-language books, including “China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiaobo.” He left China in January. This column was translated by Kevin Carrico.
for almost a decade. We met as participants in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program in 2003. It brought us both to the United States but also brought us together in our common interests and mission for China.
After our return to China, I put Chen in touch with a number of lawyers and intellectuals involved in human rights work and introduced him to veteran activist Liu Xiaobo. Back then, the three of us still enjoyed a certain degree of freedom. We were able to sit down together, as we did one morning in a bookstore near Beijing University, talking and exchanging ideas for hours.
The U.S. misreads the Chinese government.
How things have changed. Today, Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is serving an 11-year prison sentence. Unrelenting abuse and threats from state security forces sent me into exile to the United States in January. And barely four months later, Chen Guangcheng has made the same journey. Our three fates should remind the world that, contrary to myths and assumptions, economic liberalization and development will not inevitably lead to corresponding political liberalization and development. Economic power has only reinforced an increasingly absurd state power in China.
Rapid growth has transformed China’s party-state into the world’s wealthiest regime, thereby providing endless funds for “maintaining stability,” a pleasant-sounding euphemism for crushing dissent. The official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported that government expenses on “stability maintenance” totaled about $110 billion last year, more than even the defense budget. State expenditures targeting Chen alone reportedly ran into the millions per year, producing a rare growth industry in rural Shandong: monitoring Chen and blocking visitors to his home became the most promising career path for locals. Representing a similar mind-set, the police chief responsible for monitoring my life in Beijing once told me, “Since you moved here, our district has been able to enjoy millions in stability maintenance funds.” He did not see me as a threat or even a nuisance. He just saw me as a means of making money. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is the reality of China today.
China’s economic development over the past decade has refocused resources toward state control. State-owned enterprises have relied on monopolization and connections to realize rapid growth, while private enterprises have faced increasing policy restrictions. State-owned enterprises are not, in fact, state-owned but the private enterprises of well-connected princelings. Each important family in the senior leadership has its industrial fiefdom: former premier Li Peng’s family controls the power and coal industries; the family of former president Jiang Zemin controls telecommunications; the family of former premier Zhu Rongji is involved in finance. Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is involved in the jewelry trade. The average citizen, by contrast, has not derived similar benefits even after decades of economic growth: The gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and social inequality has become increasingly stark.