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Date Posted: 17:00 29/06/2005

Hu, Anhui and The Harmonious Society

May there be no more Mayhem

THERE WAS yet another riot this week, according to a number of excited western media reports, all of them anxious to find evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is reeling under the waves of widespread proletarian discontent. In Chizhou, Anhui Province, six police officers were wounded when a roadside traffic dispute spiraled into a large-scale free-for-all caused, according to Xinhua, by a few criminals leading the masses astray. Four suspects have already been arrested, apparently.

For the western media, it at least serves as an excuse to dig out various other tales of sporadic urban violence over the last few months and imply that they are all somehow connected. Thus, Reuters rehashes a report from Hebei in which armed hooligans attacked a number of residents protesting against a land-grab by a local power company. The implication, of course, is that there is a single force that fuels China's rage, fomenting race riots in Henan, mass protests in Zhejiang, and the manifold outbursts of public bile that have been launched against anything from corrupt officialdom to the visiting Japanese national football team.

When it comes to reporting about China, though, everything is usually a symptom of something else, and everything is usually referred directly back to the failures of the ruling elite. It is almost as if the foreign hacks stationed in China have been infected by the opium-dream Utopianism of old-man Maoism, still expecting an ideologically bankrupt government to solve all ills.

In any case, the official language, mediated as it is by the good editors at Xinhua News Agency, remains the same, and usually relates to a potential Elysium besmirched by the errors or criminal intentions of individuals. In his speech to a study session of the Party Political Bureau, General Secretary Hu Jintao blamed the growing unrest in China's low-tier counties and towns on the mistakes made by officials. Despite years of glorious economic growth, Hu said, many areas have failed to manage the transition to the market economy as a result of 'stagnation and turbulence caused by inadequate policy decisions'.

And yet, grizzled readers of the propaganda statements issued by China's leadership cannot fail to detect a change in tone over the last few years. In what appears to be a direct response to the mayhem that seems to have descended upon China's shit-poor hinterlands, Hu Jintao is calling for the construction of the 'harmonious society', 'consisting of democracy, the rule of law, equality, justice, sincerity, friendship and vitality.'

Ominously, Hu also draws attention to the fact that a new spate of 'independent thinking' is also 'posing further challenges to China's policy makers'. 'Negative and corrupt phenomena and more and more rampant crimes in the society will also jeopardize social stability and harmony,' he said.

And so, what Hu giveth, Hu taketh away. Democracy works best, of course, without independent thinking, and if 'negative phenomena' are banned, the masses will have no choice but to just grin and bear it.

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