Thursday, November 15, 2007

Should we go to China?

A reader wrote in response to my last post on the 2008 ISA conference in China:
Be interested on your views on China, read your blog. I am just a bit concerned about China - still seems to me to anything but a free country. I have a problem supporting an international meeting where your blog would probably be banned if you said anything critical of the government.
I agree that China is not a free and democratic country, and they would probably ban my blog if I said something critical. Especially, regarding my views on the Tibet and Taiwan issues. However, if I were the China ruler, I would probably also restrict freedom of speech and especially of movement of people around China with force if needed. China needs a smooth and slow transition from a state-planned economy and society to a more open society with a market economy. I suspect that the rulers follow this path even though they (have to) publicly endorse communism. But I could be wrong. Also, China is not a lawless dictatorship, and there is a rule of law in that you cannot easily be arrested without reason or evidence, thrown to prison and executed. Though the laws themselves obviously restrict political freedom and the people have no power to influence them. Russia is in a similar situation. I strongly believe that with the market-based economy leading to a greater exchange with other societies and improvements of quality of life the democratic forces are getting stronger and win in the long-term. So in a sense, I agree with both sides: keep on pointing out human rights abuses, and keep on controlling society to ensure a smooth transition.

Regarding support for a conference in China, politics does not play a direct role in my view. The conference is about people meeting up: stutterers, therapists, researchers, and others. It is a sign that China is opening up. (Of course, the Olympics is coming in 2008.) The conference could also have a significant impact for Chinese stutterers. It is important to talk about stuttering in the Chinese media, too. China has 1.3 billion people, 13 million stutter, and if only 1% reads my blog, I have 130'000 readers as opposed to 150 per day! :-)

To conclude, I support a conference in China but will not shy away from voicing my dissent on human right issues. What's your opinion?


JZ said...

I come from China, and I know, in China, you cannot visit Even if you type in some sensitive words in Google search, the connection to Google will be terminated for some time. Now Google has set up a server in China, so every time you type in, you will be connected to, and the searching results will be different.

I used to be skeptical about the possibility to have a conference in China because, since I used to be active in Chinese self-help groups, I know clearly that there is not a legal organization of Chinese stuttering association, or any legally local stuttering group. However, I still want to see the conference could be held in Beijing, because this will be a great chance for Chinese stutterers to see the world, to get some idea of the recent development in therapy and research, and to reduce some biases of most Chinese stutterers. With some help from Beijing Normal University, and Beijing Rehab hospital, which means the help from the government, this conference could be a success, though it may be different than those held in other countries.

Anonymous said...

As a therapist (OT) in the US public school system I often see the disparity of medical options for both the underprivileged (However, all qualified students receive the resources/ therapies they need to succeed ***in school***but not necessarily outside of school) and for those students who's parents choose to not pursue therapies/ opportunities outside of school even if they are free(i.e. Children with special health care needs, vocational rehabilitation centers, privately funded hipotherapy etc...or available to them via-insurance, or financial ability).
But there I work--in a setting that lets me do--just so much, a piece of the puzzle.
How much more difficult, for the student, if the laws did not allow even those services (through "Child Find" we are obligated to evaluate and serve children who need assistance).
So...should the International Stuttering Association remove even the kernel of insight that would be offered, because it was not as much as what it could be? China may not be pursuing the advantages it could be offering it's citizens, but by bringing the conference to China and by attending the conference, there may be a stronger movement to better the opportunities for Chinese citizens, not only those who stutter, but probably for many others with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

tom, please don't comment on foreign affairs any more -- this post was awful.

you trust the chinese leaders? the same ones who have one of the worst human rights records in the world???? your assertion that you cannot just be thrown in jail is totally false!

i think the chinese leaders want all the benefits of free markets and capitalism, without the free people that usually comes with it. this isn't a partisan issue (both republicans and democrats looooove the chinese -- they prop up our economy cause we buy all their stuff), it's a human rights issue.

case in point: a friend of mine got back from teaching in china yesterday. the whole year he was there, a party spy was there in the classroom, reporting on whether he was teaching about religion/politics. totally creepy.

china is a modern country which is getting better, but it started so low that "getting better" means practically nothing.

Tom Weidig said...

I commented on China because it is relevant to the conference.

So what exactly is your solution? You have none. You are politically naive in the sense that you only point out the bad things but do not say how you want to change things. However, if you were the Chinese leader, you would be severely constraint in what you can do and not do. So you would fire all spies in classroom?? Great idea, then the next moment they turn against you. You want everyone to talk freely. Great idea, then you will loose the control of the agenda to change society and a revolution will create chaos that your economy will be down for years like in Russia. You want to cut down the influence of the military. Great idea, they will turn against you too.

The best solution is similar to what the Chinese leaders currently do. And the best thing for us is to trade with them, visit their country, and keep up the pressure on human rights abuses. And, of course be a good role model though a Chinese leader would tell you that your country, if it is the US, is responsible for the deaths and human right abuses of 100'000s of people in Iraq, and refer to Guatanama Bay and waterboarding.

Anonymous said...

hey there tom, it's anonymous #2 again.

"I commented on China because it is relevant..."
I wasn't saying commenting about china is bad, just commenting about its human rights record. Like this quote: "However, if I were the China ruler, I would probably also restrict freedom of speech and especially of movement of people around China with force if needed."

In a country w/ 1.3 billion people, it ranks seventh in executions PER CAPITA. And those are the figures they release! You can get executed for white-collar crimes, for example. As far as freedom, you would imprison opposition parties? And conduct torture, forced confessions and forced labor? And censor the Internet? And restrict free movement? And prevent the practice of Christianity? Are these things necessary for the slow transition to "a state-planned economy and society to a more open society with a market economy"? No, and relying on China to make these calls with its awful history of human rights abuses is doubly dumb.

"So what exactly is your solution? You have none." I wasn't offerring solutions, as it's a pretty hairy issue. I was merely pointing out that supporting their methods seems a little extreme. They should be criticized constantly and forcefully, not defended as a way to transition to a more open society.

"So you would fire all spies in classroom?? Great idea, then the next moment they turn against you." I think that ruling by fear is a bad thing. This party allegence crap isn't like religious fundamentalism -- once people learn about freedom and open societies and band together (as they did in the 1980s), a more open society is possible. Removing fear, and the "spies," is one way to do that.

"For years like in Russia." I would choose lower growth over torture and stifling freedom. Besides, Russia has had huuuuge growth since they opened up. All these companies can invest now! China's biggest oil company stocks are priced TWICE what they should be -- because the Chinese can only invest in their own companies! China's also growing despite their sort-of command economy. The two countries have grown lots. Except for lately under Putin, Russia was becoming more open.

"Keep up the pressure on human rights abuses." Then don't say you'd do the same thing! That's crazytalk.

"Deaths and human right abuses of 100'000s of people in Iraq, and refer to Guatanama Bay and waterboarding." This is also bad. Two wrongs don't make a right. Without going into whether Iraq is a bad thing, it would be infinitely more worrysome if the US declared war on its own citizens -- torturing them, executing them for "political crimes," and controlling the press, etc.

Thanks for the response though -- sorry if my initial response was a little overboard, I was just really taken aback

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

as you might remember I m into research on the communist regimes in Europe in 1945 to 1989. International conferences in any societal sector (culture, science, sports, it doesn t matter) being organized by using resources of the communist government helps to support this government.

Anything you do is indeed political, even a conference on stuttering. It brings money and prestige.

Of course, ISA cannot solve this special problem with China - its position in the international economy. China with its dictatorship and without human rights is perfectly fitting in this globalized economy we need in order to keep the prizes low and have a cosy every day life.

But ISA is actually providing one voice in this strong discourse of China "opening up to market economy and consequently to democracy". Anyway, why should stutterers be more concerned about human rights issues than everyone else? Stutterers are just stutterers.

And another thing - I have been at the ISA meeting in Cavtat where they decided whether to go to China or to India - and you must admit that the guy from China had just a much better presentation... So thats all what it is about.

Take care, Blanka