By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
March 26, 1999
While We Were Sleeping:
China's post-Tiananmen party line
hanghai -- Visiting Shanghai is always a useful reminder of how frozen perceptions of China are in America today, and how far reality has moved here. To listen to some of the talk in Congress, one would think that nothing has changed in China since Tiananmen Square. To talk to Chinese is to understand that a "New Deal" has been forged in the past decade between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people. It is a messy, cynical, pragmatic deal, but it is the central political reality of China today, and it explains why America is winning here, not losing.
While Tiananmen marked the end of the student-led democracy movement in China, it also marked the end of the Chinese Communist dictatorship as we knew it. While China's leaders may have feigned indifference to the outside world, it's clear now that they realized that they almost lost it all in 1989, and that they needed a new bargain with their people in order to survive.
That new deal is as follows: We the Communist Party will remove ourselves from people's lives as never before. You can work where you want, live where you want, wear what you want, study abroad if you want, get from the Internet most of what you want and start a business if you want. In return, the Party will insist on only two things - that you dare not challenge its authority and that you have only one child.
This new deal, and the flourishing of personal freedoms it delivered, helps explain some of the internal stability of the past decade. In 1989, many Chinese who took to the streets at Tiananmen, or passively supported it, came from homes with a bare light bulb swinging from the ceiling, no TV, no phone, one Mao outfit and no prospects to improve their lives. That is simply not the case today.
I participated in a seminar at Shanghai's Fudan University, and was particularly struck by one professor who said: "We need a country in the world, like America, that has a dream to be perfect. And when America is telling China that it is violating basic human rights, we should admit that we have human rights problems. But today's China is better than yesterday's China. We have a way to improve. We feel our lives are better today, and we are not wrong."
Indeed, the combination of rising incomes, rising opportunities and greater personal freedom has enabled the Communist Party to rule today not only by repression, but with the passive assent of China's silent majority. The Party has bought itself some time.
But how much? That will depend in part on the Government's ability to keep incomes and opportunities rising. If it stumbles it is going to have to share power sooner. But it will also depend on a new factor the information revolution that is sweeping China. At the university and elite levels the Internet is now pervasive, and at the mass level there has been an entertainment revolution in the past two years, with the spread of cheap video compact-disk players. Virtually every Hollywood film has been pirated here and they are now being viewed everywhere in China. As a result, the gap between the Communist Party and the rest of China is now growing wider and wider. The Party is frozen and the country is running away from it.
Graham Earnshaw, who runs a booming Shanghai business designing Web pages, has been in China for more than 20 years. He remarked to me: "I was recently out visiting the Hope Group, which is a major grain company and the largest private company in China. I was meeting with the chairman and there were two other people sitting there. I asked him about the company's relationship with the Communist Party. He pointed to the two guys sitting there and said, 'They are both Communist Party members, and my aim is to make them millionaires in two years.' "
No one knows how the political transition is going to happen here. But I do know that everything from American contract law to accounting standards to cultural messages is now winning here more each day. We should keep hammering China on human rights and international norms. The Chinese leadership needs to hear that. But what is driving change here is the educational, commercial, entertainment and Internet interactions between millions of Chinese and the outside world, and that must never be aborted.
In Russia, the Communist Party tried to privatize Russian society and it failed. In China -- if we are lucky -- the Chinese people will privatize the Communist Party.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
August 27, 1999
AIPEI, Taiwan -- You just knew something like this would happen. China, unable so far to occupy Taiwan on land, has done it in cyberspace. The Internet address Taiwan.com was recently claimed and registered by China.com, an Internet portal that is partially owned by China's state-run Xinhua news agency. According to The Asian Wall Street Journal, several hundred Taiwanese professors and lawmakers have petitioned the Taiwan government to reclaim the Taiwan.com domain name by taking the Nasdaq-traded China.com to court in the U.S. for misrepresentation.