The price of tyranny is always corruption and the trampling of the human soul. These costs are now evident to the world, but more significantly, to the Chinese people, in a decimated Sichuan Province and in the shattered ruins of a thousand classrooms.
When the earth opened up in central China two weeks ago, and the extent of the devastation and suffering became apparent, the world forgot about politics for a while and concentrated on the human dimension. Central committees and secret police forces, two functions long associated with communism, were the last thing on anyone’s mind. Many countries offered praise toward the Chinese regime for the openness it showed in permitting the world’s media to report on what happened. There were hopes expressed that things were changing for the better in the governance of the world’s most populous nation.
But all that came to a screeching halt when Beijing announced that it would allow families who lost their only child in the disaster to apply for a certificate permitting them to have another. So it is in this country, whose authoritarian regime regulates all aspects of society with no accountability or opposition, that human life is now subjected to the ultimate bureaucratic indignity. Like so many other things in China, childbirth is relegated to a mere transaction that requires some official stamp of approval. Perhaps it is a predictable Orwellian-style turn in a state where the government has such a formal antipathy toward organized religion and the practice of religious rights. One need look no further than recent events in Tibet for that evidence. But the larger question is: How short is the step between making decisions about birth and making them about the last frontier of human existence? Will it someday become inconvenient for the regime to permit older people who are sick to have the care they need? Once a government crosses the bridge and begins to dabble with decisions about birth, will it have any compunction about making the ultimate determination at the closing stages of life?
When, in North America last year, store shelves were stocked with poisoned dog food and tainted toothpaste, contaminated vitamin pills and children’s toys painted with lead -all the result of wrongdoing in China- the world was properly outraged. Some suggested, as we did on these pages, that such defects were the inevitable result of a society that lacked transparency, accountability and good government. With revelations that many of the buildings that collapsed in the earthquake, killing thousands of children, were the result of shoddy construction, now even some Chinese are beginning to look inward at their own system. The government’s spirit of openness in showing the world the aftermath of the tragedy has suddenly been shut to its own media’s examination of the corruption issues that led to such devastation.
The party officials and central committees, the policies that favor the friends of those in charge while muting dissent on the part of others, all have far-reaching consequences in the lives of ordinary people. The shameful misconduct of those responsible who allowed the construction of such substandard buildings is part of a longer litany of betrayal, from carcinogenic air pollution to contaminated lakes and rivers, that is leaving the Chinese people and their children a legacy of pain and disease that the world has seldom experienced on such a scale. It is being done in the name of profit, which, first and foremost, is about enriching the party bosses in Beijing and their friends, regardless of the costs.
What the rulers at the top do not grasp (as juntas, central committees and tyrants rarely do) is that it is not possible to indefinitely buy the loyalty of a society with the prospects of greater economic wealth while denying it the larger privileges of citizenship and basic human rights. The world, and in this respect the great people of China are no different, is not just the sum of its transactions and accounting statements. No amount of money can console the grieving parent of a lost child. Double-digit economic growth, which China’s regime has trumpeted for years, is no substitute for honesty and transparency in public governance. The price of tyranny is always corruption and the trampling of the human soul. These costs are now evident to the world, but more significantly, to the Chinese people themselves, in a decimated Sichuan Province and in the shattered ruins of a thousand classrooms.
Freedom and democracy are the only tools that give people the ability to hold the powerful to answer for their actions. Without the discipline of accountability, no organization, whether it is a corporation or a government, will function in a manner that serves anything but the vested interests of those on the inside and at the top. It is possible now, in their moment of national sadness, that this understanding will begin to gain new adherents among the Chinese people. They may well come to see that something of the old (but still very current) regime collapsed and fell into the rubble on that terrible day as a result of its endemic corruption and lack of transparency.
Many of the people in China who lost their only child must now look upon the government for their hope of another. But in that mournful gaze they might also begin to question if humans are not entitled as a fundamental right to make such decisions on their own, without the stamp of some government official posted on their bedroom door like a local building permit.
To live under the all-snooping eyes of such a corrupt regime stifles more than family life. It is an offense against human nature itself.