Liu Xiaobo

Is China's glass half empty or half full?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2012, 12:00am


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Thesis: China is a ruthless dictatorship that denies its people their basic rights, jails and tortures its critics, destroys its natural environment, rewrites history, manipulates its currency and global trade rules and bullies neighbouring states. Corruption exists at almost every level of officialdom. Misallocation of resources has made the wealth gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient, one of the worst in the world. Immorality prevails throughout society, leading to poisoned milk and tainted food, fake goods and dangerously defective consumer products.

Antithesis: China is led by a highly competent central government whose officials are capable of devising advanced economic and social policies that have transformed a poor nation into the world's second-largest economy in a single generation. They have reversed five centuries of national decline, lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and offered the younger, urban generation education, personal freedom and economic opportunities of which their parents and ancestors could only dream.

Is it schizophrenic to believe in both propositions? When I think of the first, I am glad I am a Hong Kong person. When I entertain the second, I am proud to be a Chinese citizen. I would not be able to complete a national identity survey devised by local pollsters like Robert Chung Ting-yiu.

Many people subscribe to one or the other position, and the more you argue with them, the more hardened they seem to be and the more certain of their beliefs. Their certainty is admirable, if questionable.

When we read about brave souls like Ni Yulan , Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xiaobo who dare to challenge the powerful Chinese state, we are silenced by awe and admiration. But this does not mean the causes they represent necessarily offer a better destiny for the Chinese people than the one envisioned by the state leaders. Or maybe they do?