September 8, 2005
Rural activist Chen Guangcheng seized in Beijing
The Washington Post reports that police from Shandong Province, where the city of Linyi is located, seized (in Beijing) Chen Guangcheng, "a blind peasant who has been preparing a class-action lawsuit to challenge population-control abuses in the eastern city of Linyi, . . . a few days after he arrived in Beijing for meetings with lawyers and journalists. He was seized just as the Chinese government opened an international legal conference here." The full story is available here.
Jerome Cohen, who had met with Chen in Beijing the night before to discuss his lawsuit and its risks, is quoted in the WP article:
"This seems to be a case of local officials who have blatantly abused their legal powers, and have no legitimate defense against the case he brought against them, resorting to extralegal methods to cut off his ability to pursue justice," Cohen said. "It's very, very sad, and another example of how rough the legal situation is in rural areas."
At least some sectors of the central government are said to be in support of Chen, thus reinforcing the familiar picture of black-hatted local officials against the white-hatted central government. But the local officials aren't forcing abortions out of sheer orneriness. They're forcing them because unplanned births are one of the many performance targets against which their performance is measured, and therefore on which their job prospects depend. And that performance target is set and measured because central policy says it should be.
As long as the central government insists that local officials be selected from above instead of elected from below, the Chinese political system is going to need a system of performance targets against which officials can be measured. As the current case demonstrates, it's very difficult to tell local officials: "Reach this target no matter what, but don't be too aggressive in how you do it." If the system doesn't reward moderation and humaneness, you can't expect local officials to have these qualities in abundance (something that might be said about any political system, of course).
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