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Jewish World Review May 15, 2000 / 10 Iyar, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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The China that
tourists don't see -- JOHN SWEENEY, president of the AFL-CIO, is eager, to say the least, to convince Congress not to grant China permanent normal trade relations with the United States. On April 13, he sent a letter to the congressmen who were planning a visit to China before deciding which way to vote. The trip had been orchestrated by President Clinton.

I saw Sweeney's letter in Forward, a Jewish, English-language weekly in New York City. For years, I've been following reports of stunning human rights abuses in China from various organizations and from scholars and students who have escaped from that land, with which the president has been conducting a "constructive engagement." Sweeney's report is in line with what I have in my files, but maybe it will help awaken Congress to the facts in the gulags of China before they vote.

Sweeney suggested, for instance, that the Congressmen ask the authorities to let them see "Li Wangyang, who was sentenced to 13 years in Longxi Prison (Hunan Provincial No. 6). His crime against the state was to lead the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation." The official press, explaining the long sentence, pointed out that this was a "completely autonomous workers' organization."

Then there is Wang Miaogen, whose subversive activities included a 1989 protest at the Asian games against the state's repression of labor unions. He was working at the time with the Shanghai Workers' Autonomous Federation. After three years in prison, he was, Sweeney notes, forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital, the Shanghai An Kang Public Security Hospital. As in Cuba, failure to recognize the redemptive nature of the People's Republic can indicate a serious mental disorder requiring prolonged treatment.

Also on John Sweeney's list of those who would surely have welcomed a visit from representatives of a free nation is Hu Shigen. His grave offense to the state is evident in the name of the group with which he was associated -- the Free Labor Union of China. He is seriously ill, and has 12 more years to serve in Beijing No. 2 prison. I expect that the president, if informed of Hu Shigen's dark present and worse future, would feel his pain. The charge against him is, of course, "counterrevolutionary crimes."

It was too late for the visiting congressmen to see Chen Zixiu. The April 20 Wall Street Journal ran what might be called her obituary in a dispatch by Ian Johnson from Weifang, China:

"The day before Zixiu died, her captors again demanded that she renounce her faith in Falun Dafa. Barely conscious after repeated jolts from a cattle prod, the 58-year-old woman stubbornly shook her head. "Enraged, the local officials ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood, said cellmates and other prisoners who witnessed the incident. She crawled outside, vomited and collapsed. She never regained consciousness, and died on Feb. 21."

Somehow, the benefits of our "constructive engagement" with her captors never reached Chen Zixiu. I am continually impressed by the efficiency of the thought-control officers of the People's Republic of China. They may never have heard of George Orwell, but they keep on verifying his prescience.

In the April 28 New York Times, Erik Eckholm, writing from Beijing, reports: "A Muslim businesswoman was dealt an eight-year prison sentence last month mainly because she tried to mail her exiled husband back copies of local newspapers, a newly available transcript of the court verdict confirms." She was convicted for "revealing state intelligence."

The proponents of intensifying our "constructive engagement" with China by granting her permanent normal trade relations insist that eventually the influence of the free market will liberate her people. But somehow, the more forthcoming we are toward China -- the head of Time Warner presented a bust of Lincoln to his counterpart CEO in Beijing last year -- the worse it gets for those extraordinarily courageous Chinese who advocate simple democracy with the hope of getting simple justice.

Zemin in American Revolutionary Era hat
The Associated Press reported last month -- this is hardly breaking news -- that China's president (the often-jovial Jiang Zemin) and other leaders have been making speeches "reiterating the Communist Party's rejection of Western-style democracy and urging party members to remain loyal to their Marxist roots." The members of Congress who intend to join President Clinton in showing Jiang the value of his loyalty to those roots by granting China permanent trade relations might consider contributing some money to Amnesty International to assuage their reputed consciences. Only two congressmen, by the way, made that "fact-finding" trip to China. They did not stop at any of the prisons mentioned in John Sweeney's letter.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, NEA