|Traditional Chinese state propaganda (dating to pre-communist times) has stressed the idea of rulers being like parents to the ruled. It's a weird conflation of Confucian ethics. Confucius said that loyalty to family trumps loyalty to state. Chinese propagandists have tried to sidestep that distinction by saying that loyalty to state *is* loyalty to family (i.e. the state is your family). There's even a pithy four character saying that if the state dies, your family also dies with it. This is of course, nonsensical, given the continued existence of Chinese families through the demise of the Yuan, Ming and Qing states. But you hear Chinese parroting this silly line all the time, as if it's some deeply meaningful thought.
I think what it really represents isn't all that complicated - the average Chinese has lost his belief in traditional religions. The response has been to put up this new god - the central government - as a benign and benevolent deity that has his best interests at heart. In 60 years of communist rule, traditional religions have withered on the vine with one exception - emperor worship is alive and well in China.
The riots last weekend in Guizhou province – an estimated 30,000 people converging on a police station to protest the alleged cover-up of a teenage girl's rape and murder – illustrate something important about China today. In the United States, we generally like our local governments, our mayors and even our city councils. But we’re deeply split about the feds. In China, it’s the other way around. No one trusts the local potentate. The local cops? Worse than dogs.
The girl, Li Shufen, was a high school student. Her body was recovered from a river in Weng’an county on June 22. The police said she had committed suicide by drowning, but her relatives disagreed. The rumor was that Li was raped and killed by people related to local government bigwigs.
It’s important to note that among the people remonstrating with the Communist authorities, no one criticized the central government or, more broadly, China’s system of government. Yes, they attacked all of the Communist Party organs in the county – the cops, the government and the secret police. But throughout, in their letters to the party-state, they drew a clear distinction between the local thugs and Beijing. The implication from the remonstrators was clear: the center – Beijing – is good, but it’s just been led astray by local apparatchiks.
I’ve seen this attitude expressed throughout China’s countryside, where the bulk of China’s protests occur. It is, I think, one of the perverse reasons why the Communist Party can maintain power in China. The Party has generally succeeded in creating this distinction between local and central authorities – even though none really exists.
The tendency of Chinese to buy into this distinction is known to Chinese as the “blue sky” syndrome. The term comes from Judge Bao Qingtian, or “Blue Sky” Bao, a famed incorruptible judge in the Song Dynasty. Bao is revered in Chinese history as an idealized “pure official.”
Some have suggested the “Blue Sky” syndrome is a tactic used by Chinese protesters, who figure that if they damn the whole system, they’ll be crushed by its weight. I disagree. And time has shown that the local Party bosses are as tough with “Blue Skiers” as they are with any other protesters. I think their support of the central government, while perhaps misguided, is genuine. They really believe in a “Blue Sky” Bao who will fly down from heaven (or Beijing) and sweep away the local trolls. Dream on, my nongmin friends.