Sunday, March 04, 2007

Democracy: Not Just a Legal Framework

I don't know much about China--its history, culture, how the Communist Revolution happened, why, etc. When I started subscribing to Monthly Review, the first issue I received was entirely devoted to the question of "What happened to China's Socialism?"--how its neoliberal reforms had transformed the country and so on. And here I knew very little about why and how China went Communist in the first place! So it was necessarily way over my head. (I'd love to read a book-length history of this, by the way, as well as on the Cultural Revolution. Anyone have any recommendations that are neither fawningly Mao-ist, or dismissively and/or comprehensively anti-Communist? One that treats it seriously?) There was, of course, some interesting material in David Harvey's book A Brief History of Neoliberalism (which, again, I whole-heartedly recommend), but that's about it for me. I do recall fairly vividly many of the images of Tiananmen Square, though I can't say I understood what was going on, or why.

Ok, the point. Apparently there was some thread controversy over at Crooked Timber. I don't care about that (I haven't read it, so I won't link to it specifically), but in response to it, CR at Long Sunday (cross-posted at his own ads without products blog) posted an excerpt from an interview with Wang Hui in 2003. I want to reproduce it here, because it feeds into my ongoing democracy discussion:
In 1989, why did the citizens of Beijing respond so strongly and actively to the student demonstrations? It was largely because of the adventurist reforms to the price system that Zhao Ziyang had twice imposed, without any benefit to ordinary people. Their earnings suffered from the agreements they were forced to sign by factories, and their jobs were at risk. People felt the inequality created by the reforms: there was real popular anger in the air. That is why the citizenry poured onto the streets in support of the students. The social movement was never simply a demand for political reform, it also sprang from a need for economic justice and social equality. The democracy that people wanted was not just a legal framework, it was a compreshensive social value.

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