Chinese tycoons learn the capitalist ropes

Back in the bad old Maoist days, the Chinese Communists claimed to be building a workers’ paradise– which, of course, they weren’t. Now a new generation of Chinese Communists and businessmen seems intent on building a capitalists’ paradise– and this time it’s for real.

The Washington Post reports on an MBA program in Shanghai, cosponsored by the Chinese government and the business school at Arizona State University, which is teaching government and business leaders the ancient capitalist art of “squeezing greater productivity from the workforce for less pay.”

As massive as the transformation of the Chinese economy has been, it has so far managed to bypass such inconveniences as democracy and workers’ rights to organize. The Mao-suited Party apparatchik may have been partially replaced by the more fashionably-dressed, Audi-driving “private entrepreneur,” but there’s still no doubt who’s on top and who’s making the rules.

For an example of what happens when workers try to make their voices heard in the New China, see the latest report on Xiao Yunliang and Yao Fuxin.

Yao and Xiao were tried in January 2003 on wholly unsubstantiated charges of “subverting state power,” after their role in leading the peaceful mass worker demonstrations in Liaoyang in March 2002. On 9 May they were handed down prison sentences of seven and four years respectively. Their appeals were subsequently rejected by a higher court

Lingyuan Prison [where Yao and Xiao are held] is a huge penal colony located close to the province’s border with Inner Mongolia . Many political dissidents arrested after the 4 June 1989 nationwide crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement were held at Lingyuan Prison, and numerous confirmed reports emerging from the prison at that time indicated that the prison was one of the most brutal in the whole of China. Political prisoners there were regularly beaten, shocked with high-voltage electric batons, and placed in tiny solitary confinement cells for long periods of time for the slightest perceived “infringement” of prison rules.

It might be good to spare a thought for those guys the next time we buy a product labeled “Made in China.”