Dissent Grows Beyond Government Control in China
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been thinking about President Bush's recent trip to Asia, specifically his time in China.
During the visit, President Hu Jintao assured President Bush that he was committed to raising the level of human rights enjoyed by the Chinese people, but American correspondents seemed to have little trouble learning from Chinese sources how this was being honored mainly in the breach. The Chicago Tribune learned that Chinese security detained, monitored or silenced a vast array of government critics before Mr. Bush arrived. The Washington Post reported that in the recent past a peasant activist was kicked and pummelled until he passed out, which didn't keep villagers from campaigning against their allegedly corrupt village chief.
But perhaps the most dramatic recent development in the Chinese grassroots march towards democracy was what happened in Harbin after an explosion in a state-owned chemical plant. Like Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 after the deadly explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the Chinese authorities first engaged in a cover-up. They said the water supplies had to be shut down for five days for routine maintenance of the pipes, but the media--and that is the Chinese media--didn't buy it. The New China News Agency reported an inspection team on the way with indications that irresponsible acts had been committed. By today, as a 50-mile sheet of benzene washed down the river towards Russia, Chinese newspapers talked of lies and betrayal of public trust. One newspaper in Shanghai demanded a transparent public information system.
Just after running water was restored in Harbin, an explosion in a state-owned coal mine nearby killed more than a hundred miners and left others trapped underground. In the past, that would have been treated as a state secret. Instead, the provincial governor, who had just been shown on television visiting a home where tap water was now running, then rushed to the scene of the mine disaster. In the spirit of investigative reporting, the official China Youth Daily quoted an unidentified city engineer as saying that party officials were told of the chemical spill in Harbin eight hours after the explosion. Unidentified sources--a novelty in a controlled society--are good for democracy in China, too. This is Daniel Schorr.