It is two weeks to the start of the Beijing Olympics and while the athletes settle into their spanking new village, they might spare a thought for the thousands of Beijing residents who normally earn their living by picking and recycling rubbish. The city authorities this week rounded them up and shipped them out for the duration.
And while authorities claim journalists can interview any willing citizen, they won’t hear the stories of the hundreds who used to head for the capital to petition central government over local abuses. Last October, the authorities bulldozed the shanty town where most out-of-towners end up and since then made sure these malcontents don’t make it to Beijing.
The Olympic village is fully-equipped with broadband wi-fi. But throughout 2007, the censors took down hundreds of websites and blocked access to thousands of others for Chinese citizens. Human Rights Watch has tested the “improved human rights” promised to the Olympic authorities, and found that:
“Ordinary citizens face immense obstacles to accessing justice, in particular over issues such as illegal land seizures, forced evictions, environmental pollution, unpaid wages, corruption, and abuse of power by local officials, a situation that fuels rising social unrest across the country.”
There is a continuing revolt against the corrupt bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party, with hundreds of demonstrations, strikes and protests across the country. A ruthless Stalinist-style resettlement programme is uprooting whole populations for both economic and political reasons. Tibetan herders are forced to resettle in cities for no other reason than to destroy the culture and cohesion of Tibetan society. And around four million people will be forced from their homes by the gargantuan Three Gorges Dams project.
China will field the biggest Olympics team with 639 participants and some will become famous worldwide. But there is another roll-call of Chinese heroes – the many hundreds of political prisoners. Like Chen Yuping, sentenced to one and a half years hard labour in May 2008. Fellow workers elected Chen to represent them during lay-offs by the state-owned Jilin petroleum company. He applied to the city authorites for the right to organise an independent trade union and was jailed as a punishment.
Kong Jun got two years for “disrupting government institutions" and "disturbing social order". She and a fellow activist from Shandong province organised protests against managers at the Huamei Garment Company. They had not paid workers’ wages or national insurance for over a year before declaring the firm bankrupt.
Kong Youping got 15 years in September 2004 for “subversion of state power”. Formerly chairman of the official trade union at a state-owned enterprise in Liaoning province, he supported laid-off workers and criticised government corruption. He was sacked, and then joined others in the struggle to form an independent union.
Jiang Cunde was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1990, commuted to 20 years in 1994, on trumped up charges. Jiang was working at the Dong Xin Tool Repair Works in Shanghai, when he called for Chinese workers to “imitate the model of Poland’s Solidarity Trade Union to overthrow the present political powers”.
These and other brave individuals represent many millions of Chinese workers in struggle against the arrogant and corrupt Stalinist government. The word for “solidarity” in Chinese is tuandui jingzhen. Learn what it sounds like – we could be hearing it voiced by millions in the near future.