Thursday, July 24, 2008

China offers hush money to buy silence from parents grieving from earthquake

The New York Times this morning (July 24, 2008) runs a major front page story about the tendency of the Chinese to suppress speech to cover up corruption and government problems. Authored by Edward Wong, the story is titled “China Presses Grieving Parents to Take Hush Money on Quake”, link here.

The Chinese government has been offering pensions and cash payments to parents who lost children or who have injured children. The government has sent agents door-to-door in villages offering contracts which obligate the parents to silence. The government has been criticized for its response to the earthquake; it's easy to compare on the one hand to American response to Hurricane Katrina and to Myanmar's response to the cyclone in May. The government has been allowing couples who lost their only child (under the “one child per family” policy) to have another child.

The government seems especially concerned about press from its problems before the Olympics, as it is taking all kinds of measures to look better and protect visitors and athletes from its air pollution and unsafe food practices.

The tone of the newspaper article is somewhat angry. It maintains that the Chinese government is acting like a mega-corporation itself, buying silence and immunity from product liability suits for poorly constructed school buildings and other infrastructure. The government has poured billions into Beijing, Shanghai (and now Chongqing) but allowed the poor people in mountainous area or flood-prone villages to remain out of sight.

This story appears shortly after Ted Koppel’s four-part series on the Discovery Channel, “The Peoples Republic of Capitalism,” reviewed on my TV blog (July 10).

China has been criticized for its suppression of political speech, particularly on the Internet, even forcing American and western software and Internet companies to comply with its political censorship rules when doing business within China. It’s hard to say if this is a leftover from Maoist days, or something in Confucian culture that demands more reverence for familial, social and political structures than is accepted now in the West.

I can see the censorship in my own Urchin reports from my own websites and blogs. I get traffic from the Middle East (where you would think I would be censored, but apparently am not) and even Saudi Arabia, but not from China, which considers me subversive.

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