Monday, April 25, 2011

A lesson from history

A few weeks ago I was editing an academic article which described a nexus of factors leading to socio-political dysfunction and mass unrest... in China.

A few decades of particularly rapid population growth put pressure on food security, and lead to friction not only with the country's neighbours but even more with the minority peoples of its "internal border regions" - as internal migration sends huge numbers of Han Chinese into the more remote or inaccessible areas of the country to try to exploit previously marginal or under-utilized land. Food shortage, environmental degradation, and ethnic tensions are exacerbated by a central government which is simultaneously arrogant and heavy-handed in trying to impose its authority yet unable or unwilling to allocate sufficient funding to the task.  Endemic corruption through every stage of the chain-of-command fatally undermines the government's ability to assert its will effectively at the local level.  Repression of perceived 'subversives' only serves to breed greater discontent.  And eventually there is a succession of mass uprisings, following one upon another in a cascade.

Sound familiar?  Of course, this is the last few decades of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, more than two hundred years ago.

Plus ├ža change…


JES said...

It's almost too much to hope for, but I don't suppose the irony escaped the article's author?

Froog said...

I wouldn't like to say "The Chinese don't do irony" (that's the Americans, haha), but... they do seem to have a remarkable blindspot about the connections between things sometimes.

Frankly, I doubt if this article will get published in the present climate here. The government doesn't want to acknowledge that mass revolt is possible in China, now or in the past.... certainly not under Qianlong, who is usually revered as one of the most successful emperors.