Friday, June 22, 2007

Slaves to Ostriching

The brick slave case is so horrible in so many different ways that it leaves one groping for adequate language and thought processes to deal with it all. What strikes me most, however, in the accounts I've been reading, is how the whole thing was allowed and de facto encouraged by local police and authorities. A common excuse that I've heard -- echoed by friends here and media -- is that the brick kilns are isolated and remote, therefore nobody knew what was going on. Bullshit. In a country of 1 billion, 400 million people, how isolated can you get? Especially when you are in places like Henan, the most populous province in China. Also, the fact that teenage kids were disappearing en masse from the streets is only un-suspicious to the most intellectually dormant.

What is more likely: the unfortunate and pervasive trend of willfully shutting out "bad news" in hopes that it will go away. It seems that the desire for social stability is so great that many people in positions of authority here will ostrich their way into what inevitably becomes even worse news.

The following excerpt from Nanfang Zhoumo, translated by Roland Soong of ESWN, displays the kind of aggressive intransigience that is so disturbing. It describes a mother of a missing child pleading with the police for help:

At the various public security bureaus in Gaoping city (Jincheng), Hongdong county (Linfen) and other places, Yang Aizhi knelt in front of the office of the director and cried until they got a letter that asked the local public security bureaus to cooperate. With the letters, they were able to rescue several dozen child laborers.

Why do you have to beg the PSB to do something yourself that they should be pro-actively doing themselves? Are they in collusion with brick kiln owners? Perhaps occassionally. But what is more likely is simply the unwillingness to disturb the status quo, even if that status quo is child slavery.

There is, perhaps, a twisted logic to it: I can imagine an idealistic young policeman at the PSB, getting a tip that something is amiss. Telling the captain he's going out to investigate, when he gets called into the office...Do you really want to get involved in this thing? Imagine the paperwork! And what if you piss off the wrong people? You know, the local or provincial leaders might not look too favorably on a cop who shakes out all this dirty laundry... The young cop reconsiders and retires to his desk, whatever the Chinese equivalent of a doughnut is, in hand.

If they were really serious about rooting this kind of thing out here, they'd not only go after factory owners; they'd look for a PSB which had documented complaints about kidnapping and child slavery, and prosecute the PSB's leadership as well. As long as those who are supposed to uphold the law are not held accountable for doing so, the kind of willful, criminal blindness that undermines so many efforts here at progress will always win.

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