November 17, 2007
The gerrymandered National People's Congress
A little-remarked passage (part VI, numbered para. 1) in Hu Jintao's work report to the 17th Party Congress [Chinese | English] last month calls for the gradual bringing into line of the different ratios of representation of rural and urban residents in China. I checked with a colleague who's very well informed about China, and it turns out that even well-informed people don't generally know that Art. 16 of the Election Law provides that urban residents shall get four times as many NPC seats per person as rural residents:
This electoral discrimination against rural residents has a long history and arises, unsurprisingly enough, from the view that this was after all supposed to be a revolution led by the proletariat, and we can't have them swamped by all those peasants.
The concept of differing representational weight appeared in the first Election Law of 1953, when urbanites were given eight times the representational weight of rural residents. This was reduced to four times in the 1995 revision of the Election Law. In 1953, the ratio of urban to rural residents was 13:87; in 1979, 18:82; in 1995, 30:70; and in 2005, 42:58. This reflects both genuine urbanization and possibly changes in the definition of who counts as what.
Some interesting results follow from putting these numbers together. If we think of the countryside as a unit and the cities as a unit, the NPC representation of the countryside has in fact gone down over time even while the ratio has been adjusted to be less discriminatory. Doing the math, it turns out that in 1953, the cities had 1.2 NPC deputies per rural deputy; in 1979, 1.8. In 1995, when the ratio was changed, this went down slightly to 1.7, but by 2005 it had climbed up to 2.9 urban deputies per rural deputy. In other words, NPC deputies are about 75% urban. Interesting!
My source for these numbers is this interesting article. Of course, if any reader knows these numbers to be wrong - I have not independently verified them - please let me know.
November 16, 2007
Disappointed "Lust, Caution" moviegoer sues theater and SARFT
Dong Yanbin (董彦斌), a doctoral student at the Faculty of Law of China University of Politics and Law, brought suit on Nov. 13th against Huaxing International Cinemas and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. His complaint against the cinema where he saw "Lust, Caution" (色|戒) is that in showing a bowdlerized version (seven minutes of sex scenes were cut), it infringed on his rights as a consumer to information and fair trade. His complaint against the latter is that it has not established a movie rating system and thereby has hurt the public interest.
Dong argues that the right to make judgments about the film belongs to consumers, not to the cinema showing it. He is requesting an apology, 500 yuan in emotional damages, and the availability of the uncut to adult audiences, including himself.
The manager of the cinema has responded, understandably enough, that it's out of the cinema's hands. Every cinema in the country is showing the same cut version, and the decision on that came from SARFT. He also states that it's not SARFT that makes the cuts in these cases, but the director himself, failing which the film will simply not get permission to be shown.
The court's response? They won't hear the case until Dong provides an uncut version as evidence. Clever.
Here's the full story from the Chinese press and another one from the International Herald Tribune. And below is a trailer for the curious. By the way, if you're curious about the lovely music, it's Ella giammai m'amo from Verdi's Don Carlo.
November 13, 2007
Shi Tao et al. suit against Yahoo settles
Here's the CNN report. The amount was undisclosed.
November 11, 2007
Yang and Callahan testimony in Congressional hearing
Last week I posted here about the hearings before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding Yahoo's role in the prosecution of Shi Tao. Here are some more useful links:
- Jerry Yang's testimony (not much of substance)
- Michael Callahan's testimony (much more interesting)
- Webcast link (be sure to have RealPlayer configured to run SMI files)
Callahan's testimony reveals that he learned in October 2006 that his earlier testimony to Congress - to the effect that Yahoo had not known the nature of the investigation of Shi Tao - was inaccurate. He apologizes for not informing the Committee of this.
A puzzle remains in that Callahan, speaking for Yahoo (the US parent), continues to insist that the request for information was received by Yahoo China, and that the information in question was provided by them. Thus, the issue as framed by Yahoo is whether a Chinese company can be expected to resist Chinese government orders. The documents uncovered in litigation and posted on the Duihua Foundation's web site, however, seem to show that the request was to Yahoo Hong Kong (specifically, its representative office in Beijing), and that it was Yahoo Hong Kong that provided the information. (For more on this, with relevant links, see my previous post here.) The House Foreign Affairs Committee has focused solely on whether Yahoo knew of the nature of the investigation of Shi Tao, and seems to have overlooked this other problem.
Strategic toleration of public protest in China
Here's an interesting game-theoretical analysis of public protest in China. The author, Peter Lorentzen, argues that such protests do not necessarily indicate regime weakness; instead, they are tolerated (in some cases) because they can increase the government's effectiveness. Here's the abstract:
The occurrence of protests in authoritarian countries is often seen as a harbinger of regime collapse. Yet China since the 1990s has seen a significant rise in popular protest while maintaining economic growth and its reform trajectory. Furthermore, the Chinese government has shown its ability to effectively suppress dissent when it chooses to. This paper argues that deliberate toleration of narrow economic protests serves the Chinese government's purposes in two ways. First, it allows the government to identify and defuse discontented groups. Second, it provides a useful signal of local government corruption that can be used to supplement and direct limited administrative monitoring resources. This mechanism has become particularly useful to the government of contemporary China as the processes of decentralization and market reform have made identification and investigation of local corruption more difficult.