Ai Weiwei released

You may already know this. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei who was detained in April from boarding a plane to Hong Kong is back at home. He has been charged with tax evasion. He is not allowed to talk to any media about his arrest and subsequent release on bail.

Yes, I have heard it yesterday through Western media. I am sure non of my Chinese colleagues here at work (I work in China) know about this. Not being allowed to say anything about the illegal kidnapping, errm…detention, is the usual deal in this police state. What an outrageous story. What is most sad though is to think of the thousands of brave but unknown people who suffer at the hand of the Chinese authorities and who don’t get that media coverage in the west.

But those people will keep pushing - and good for them. Although I know some people are intimidated into silence.

So, if your co-workers don’t know about this particular case, do they at least resalize that the government does this sort of thing? Surly everyone must realize that this goes on.

I need to somewhat modify my remarks I made half a year or so ago. There are many disallusioned and angry people here. Support for the party and the government especially the local governments is not as strong as I had thought in the beginning. Most of the taxi drivers I talk to despise the political elites.

One thing that has come to my attention lately is the sabre rattling over the South China Sea. In fact I hadn’t been aware of the fact that China claims almost all of it as part of its territory, setting the region up for some heated arguments and possibly military actions. I don’t know what the official line is but people I talk to say the Chinese basically discovered and explored these waters so they are theirs (by that argument the Vikings should own the North Atlantic).

I think with this hard line position they shouldn’t be too surprised that many of these Asian countries look to the US for support.

One reason why Ai Weiwei was released just now is the coming visit of China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Germany.


nobody knows that. So far they have been relatively immune to critcism and pressure.

Yes, there are big problems with the south china sea, especially with Vietnam. China also has border issues with India and Russia. Not to mention the Taiwan issue as well as it’s frequent flare-ups with Japan. And the apparent rampant nationalism of the population…

And as for local discontent, it’s my understanding that there are thousands of small protests and disturbances in the countryside every year. It’s not reported in the media there, but it’s going on. Everybody with relatives in the provinces should know about that.

China really does seem like a powder keg. While I’d of course love to see China adopt things like freedom of the press, the right to vote, and so on, I wouldn’t want to see the country blow up. I’m sure the Chinese leadership must still remember the disaster that followed Russia’s attempt to transition out of communism.

“I’m sure the Chinese leadership must still remember the disaster that followed Russia’s attempt to transition out of communism.”

Things are not perfect in Russia, but there is a lot more freedom than in China. Inequality and corruption abound in both countries. Russia has a much higher standard of living.

I am not sure there was a disaster in Russia, although they went through some difficult periods especially in the late nineties. China benefited from an active overseas Chinese investor group and cheap labour. I also think that the legal and general investor climate seems less arbitrary in China than in Russia, all of which favoured foreign investment in China, whereas money is flowing out of Russia. Difficult to compare the two.

Somebody has said that Russia is basically Saudi Arabia with trees, referring to the absence of a diversified economy. In per capita GDP terms Russia of course ranks far ahead of China but I don’t know how good a measure that is to describe the standards of living in Russia where GDP mostly comes from natural resources.

It is true that money and investment is flowing out of Russia, from what I hear due to the disfunctional judicial system in the country. I think given the fact that Russia hit the resource jackpot they could do much better to get return for their incredible natural wealth.

As I understand it the breakdown of the USSR and the adoption of economic liberalism during the Jeltsin years are what created the oligarchs and the cleptocratic system.

@ Mark:

Authocratic systems cannot gloss over fundamental problems forever, look at communist Eastern Europe.

I am reading a book called The Oligarchs by David E. Hoffman. The book is in Russian and was given to me by a delightful couple of friends in Vyborg Russian on my recent trip.

It is not as quick a read as if it were in English. However, the reality of what happened in Russia in the 90s is a little more complicated than “the adoption of economic liberalism during the Yeltsin years”. I think the lingering power and habits of the Soviet era played a big role in the creation of oligarchs and other distortions. Most oligarchs achieved their wealth through government connections, and continue to do so. Those who fell out of favour have done less well.

On the post-Soviet period:

It seems like living standards drastically declined when the soviet union fell apart. I know that Russia has since recovered and living standards now are maybe better than in e 80s ( I don’t know for sure) but it sure seemed like an extremely difficult transition period.

On China vs. Russia:

Yes, they are very different, but Russia adopting a program of almost overnight liberalization and it didn’t work very well. China has been much more cautious. Some people also argue that the relaxation of censorship under Gorbachev contributed to the collapse because people were suddenly able to vent their frustrations. I’ve read similar arguments about what happened under Kruschev.

At any rate, I just imagine that what happened in Russia would not encourage China to quickly liberalize either it’s economy or its media. But they have been doing so over time. Perhaps they are correct to take the slow and steady approach.

The question is whether they imagine that they will maintain their monopoly on political power for the indefinite future or not.


You are correct, but the question is whether the Chinese government realizes this or not. Will they adjust in time? I think they could start by making local governments much more accountable to their residents.

@Steve, oligarchs come from the Communist Party and quickly adapt to new realities. Most of the country are outside the Moscow-St Petersburg live 2-5 times poorer.

The standard of living in our small towns is not much different from the same Chinese. From the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok, the number of the population is constantly decreasing due to migration to Moscow, or on substitution of migrants from Central Asia. We do not have a free print media and television. All TV channels are filtered by the state (although I’m not sure that just the free TV anywhere else there:)).

Very old and interesting forum on politics and economics in Russia and russian look to foreigners: (Many players on the stock exchanges / forex uses this information)

Podcasts not central TV / online news (it’s may be interesting audio material to lingq members):

Раша: Азбука Выживания/ Хрусталев / Программа на (caution! may be some non-normative lexics)
Пазл длиною в жизнь/ Данил Антоненков / Программа на (more polite version of the news than in materials written above)

Thanks Serguey, I will check out these sources. I do find that Echo Moskvi has a lot of freedom to criticize the government, although I know that they are not listened to by the majority of the population. I would like to visit the rest of Russia, maybe next trip. I really enjoyed St. Petersburg and Moscow.

I’ve just seen this on the BBC site. There’s movement up in them hills:

Chinese dissident Hu Jia is freed after a three and a half year prison term, imposed for championing human rights and Aids sufferers, his wife says.

Well, as for Ai WeiWei, he is not allowed to talk to anyone about his ordeal, he is not allowed to leave the country and is banned from using the internet (can you believe this?). So they are not really free. Furthermore, the list of less known dissidents is very long and they are less fortunate than the two high profile figures you just mentioned.

I fear you are right, but it would be good if even this relatively little gesture were to be a step forward.

I have read that China is gradually clamping down on freedom, including the freedom of economic activity. I suspect that the eventual goal is to strengthen the grip of the communist party in all spheres of activity. I think that this is in the nature of all autocratic regimes, we see it in Russia today, and the economic crisis in the capitalist world just strengthens the hands of the control freaks, and of course power corrupts as always.

Today I heard a first hand account from a Swedish reporter who had lived for many years in Greece and what she had to say was just unbelievable. Kickbacks and envelopes for surgeons if you want to be treated in time in the hospital. Corruption seems to be so pervasive in this society that it chokes all incentives to be a decent person. Now, they have elections, freedom of speech and the Euro. As much as I despise the Chinese police state, China has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. It is a complex and sometimes confusing world.

Corruption of this nature is pervasive in Russia. But there was also corruption in the old system. I think there are more things at play than the economic system.

I wonder, also, if the kickbacks to surgeons occur in the private medical sector or the public sector. I have heard that in Greece, the public sector is full of corruption, featherbedding and other distortions. Nurses in the public sector work short hours for high pay, and the nurses in the private sector do twice as much for half the pay.

Any Greeks in the house to explain what is happening in the land of Pericles, Homer, and Aristotle?