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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Politics can be good

Hyperlink to source text in Chinese: 政治可以是美好的
Translated by @krizcpec

Listened to a talk by economist Mr Chen Zhiwu yesterday morning. What a talk! At noon my friends and I had lunch with Mr Chen, then in the afternoon I was occupied with other things. As a result, I didn't get the time to watch Obama's inauguration ceremony. But with advanced communication channels available, I can watch a recap this morning after I woke up.

Obama's philosophy is rooted in the liberal and democratic tradition of the United States. I knew this without having to watch the ceremony. Such is the rational expectation people can have with the protection of a good system. His speech began with economy, security, foreign relations, and sense of responsibility—nothing particularly impressive. But look at the way he spoke, and his political ideas, compare with those the living-dead faces of our officials, and the zombie-like sameness of words they use in speeches – and one would see what a difference there is.

An inaugural speech is not a lecture. It is not an instruction either. The speaker does not reproach the people with a stern face. Instead they would outline their promises in a cordial and pragmatic manner. Whatever is said, the specific plans in particular, must be honored. 

To overcome stiffness in delivering public speeches may not be easy for Chinese officials today, but that's not the most difficult part. What the Chinese officials need to work at, most importantly, is to fulfill the beautiful promises they made. Most of the promises the authorities made in the past sixty years ended up as lies.

I said before that if one percent of the self-praise and promises of the government in the past sixty years had been realized, China would be a human paradise. Sadly, that didn't happen. China becomes a hell on earth instead. 

That's to say, beautiful words and moving promises, without the good system that makes them happen, will only become nothing. You cannot but put a big question mark on the good promises the officials made when there is no genuine supervision of the government; no freedom of speech; and restriction on newspapers and political parties remains in place.

In our country where officials see fabrication as the norm, their speeches to refute rumors or to smooth things over are just ridiculous—and they think they succeeded in what they do. Just like the films made from the official perspective that tend to portray the KMT as idiots and so total victory become possible. The officials think the public are irredeemably stupid and they can keep lying without bearing any consequences. There is no behavior more foolish than this.

As societies evolve to this day, people have spent ample time to prove the doubtless universal suitability of a free and democratic system. Whoever coming up with excuses not to move a country toward freedom and democracy are enemies of the people. In his speech, Obama would of course not forget to remind us our victory over fascism and communism, and convey a message to countries that are superstitious about imposing violence on their own peoples. This is his ongoing perseverance in promoting democracy and freedom. 

In his article “On Obama's inaugural speech”, Xu Zhiyong wrote that his focus on Obama was not out of high expectation of him. Rather, he intended only to point out through this election a matter of common sense—politics can be good. Two millions Americans watched the inauguration ceremony with heartfelt good wishes. What a saying, it can serve as a wake-up call for today's Chinese populace to get to understand the meaning of politics. 

For thousands of years, China has been a social jungle; even to this day, China is still not a modern country with civilized politics, it is only a state where people have to give anything to get what they need to survive, where their way of life is governed by hidden rules and the law of the jungle. These naturally entail the ugly politics that we see.

Politics under the influence of the law of the jungle would of course endorse all sorts of tricks, and take the greatest advantage of information asymmetry. Politics that favors the use of trickery to destroy opponents instead of creating a situation in which all parties win and that prefers victory by force to peaceful co-existence is certainly bloody and ugly.

But if we put politics out in the open, and make sure that various check and balance forces are in place, then, like Xu Zhiyong said, “politics can be good”. I have no intention to deify the system of freedom and democracy. But when it comes to handling public affairs, a better alternative is yet to be found.

Politics is not innately dirty. It is the ugly policies put forward not in compliance with universal values that is dirty.

The Chinese people like to say that they do not like politics, that they have developed political apathy syndrome. This is exactly what those in power in dictatorship would want to see.

It's okay not to work as a government official. But it's not okay to turn a blind eye to politics, which is related to our rights in a myriad of ways. Politics is everybody's business, the officials have no monopoly on it. Unless our attitude toward politics has changed, we would not be able to put an end to the fate of being enslaved and exploited. 

Seeing Obama's “American dream” of becoming the president came true, and looking at the seemingly indefinite wait for the Chinese to realize their dream of being a free people, I think we should keep working at that without slackening off, not even at times of cheers and happiness like the lunar new year.

January 21, 2009, 8:58 in Chengdu

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