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How the Arizona Tragedy Plays in China

2:45 PM, Jan 14, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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The sentiments expressed by these Chinese bloggers and activists, and the events they reference, are inextricably bound up in the authoritarian nature of the Chinese regime and its pervasive controls on the flow information. The Chinese government's mania for information control and lack of transparency have serious implications not only for China's citizens, but also for the economy, security, public health, the environment and other issues that are high on America’s and the international community’s agenda with Beijing. 

Freedom House's 2011 "Freedom in the World" survey, which was released this week, finds democracy in retreat across the globe for the fifth year in a row, and highlights the "increasing truculence of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes, which has coincided with a growing inability or unwillingness on the part of the world’s democracies to meet the authoritarian challenge." When one considers the costs and dangers posed by the lack of freedom of expression in China, it seems obvious we should resist any impulse to apologize for the intensity of American political debate and refute any effort to link it to the murders in Tucson. Instead, we should welcome the fact that our system and political culture insists that we have a vigorous public debate about the nature of the responsibilities we have to our communities as result of the rights we enjoy, and the real tensions between liberty and public order implicated in issues such as access to firearms or laws on the treatment of dangerous mentally ill individuals.  

These are issues that should be of particular interest to President Hu, as well. Last year, China experienced a horrific series of attacks on kindergartens and young school children by kitchen knife or hammer-wielding young and middle-aged men with psychological or financial problems. At the peak of the kindergarten attacks, there were indications the ruling elite was concerned that popular unhappiness with the government's response could precipitate a real challenge to its authority. The government's public response was to order the construction of hundreds of new mental hospitals and increase security at schools, but there was no open national political debate about why these attacks happened or what should be done. For instance, there was no public discussion about why so many of China's existing psychiatric resources were tied up in the forced institutionalization of thousands of non-violent petitioners, Falun Gong practitioners, and political dissidents instead of caring for the seriously mentally ill. Mostly because average people in China don't know anything about how these individuals—who pose only a ‘danger’ to the Chinese Community Party—are imprisoned in mental wards by order of the state.  

While the events in Tucson have launched a round of national soul-searching on various political issues, as President Obama eloquently noted, our system's imperatives to address complex political challenges through public consultation and debate will undoubtedly turn out to be the thing that brings us through this nightmare, rather than the source of our problems as some Chinese officials and American talking heads seem to believe. Our messy political system and chaotic-looking national culture ensures that while we will go through noisy and possibly wrenching public disquisitions, we ultimately will come up with more durable solutions and have a deeper kind of stability than Chinese authoritarianism can hope to secure. 

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