A DEATH IN CHINA

7 01 2006

I want to talk to you about a Chinese man, recently deceased, by the name of Wang Binyu. He was the talk of China, until the government censored all print and internet discussion of his case and quietly executed him back in October.

Executed him. Yes, Wang Binyu was a criminal. He killed four people with a knife. He admitted to it, and even turned himself in to the police immediately afterwards. So what was all the fuss?

Wang Binyu was a classic member of what the communists like to call “the proletariat.” He worked at a steel mill in China and lived in a dormitory provided by the company. He was owed a couple of years of back wages, which is apparently not unusual in Chinese industry. He had been attempting to collect those back wages for several months because his father was ill and needed money for an operation. Wang’s bosses at the steel mill had not only given him the runaround, they had been downright mean to him; the local labor bureau’s efforts to help had been ineffectual. Something blew in Wang Binyu, and he killed four of the people who had been giving him a hard time.

It seems he had a particularly strong attachment to his father because his father had been the parent who raised him, after his mother died from a botched sterilization operation—which had been forced on her because she had had a second child. The family’s efforts to obtain compensation for this obvious medical malpractice case had not been successful.

Not only did the Chinese government censor discussion of Wang Binyu’s case (after it had ignited a nationwide storm of protest), they didn’t even bother to tell his father the date of Wang’s trial, and when they needed his father’s signature on Wang’s death warrant, they got him to come to them by saying they would give him Wang’s back wages—and they never did pony up the money.

Wang was not asking for clemency. “I want to die,” said Mr. Wang in an interview with New China News Agency. “When I am dead, nobody can exploit me anymore. Right?”

The thing about Wang Binyu’s case is that his situation is not unusual in China. Only the fact that he went postal about it is different. So I suppose the Chinese didn’t want to give other workers any ideas, and that’s why they censored his story, and censored the news of his execution. They also censor the number of executions that take place in China. Amnesty International has documented at least 3,400 in the last year. There were only 400 known executions worldwide last year outside of China, which would mean that nearly 90% of all executions worldwide took place in China. Other, believable estimates given off the record by members of the Chinese government put the number of annual executions in China at between ten and fifteen thousand.

So, that’s something to think about when you see the “made in China” label. The companies that buy from China are willing to accept this kind of injustice for the sake of low prices. That’s why I say economics is the prevailing religion in America—when it comes to decision making, cheap trumps human rights every time.

And, speaking of religion in America, let’s look at some details about the Christmas season just passed that may have escaped your notice. Seventy percent of all those artificial Christmas trees that are taking the country by storm come from China. The Chinese exported over a billion dollars worth of Christmas paraphenalia to the West last year. And all these tschotsckes are produced by an officially atheist workforce that gets paid, typically, about $84 a month. Eighty-four dollars a month. I don’t know about you, but I have to make that much a DAY to keep my head above water in this country. No wonder they’re taking us to the cleaners.

Asked if the workers in the Christmas decoration factories know the significance of what they are making, a company spokesman commented to the Asia Times, “Christmas is not a big traditional festival here and we don’t celebrate it.  Our workers are mostly middle-aged women who don’t need to know anything about it.”  Attaboy, Mr. Scrooge!

But Wang Binyin and those Christmas factory people are lucky compared to some workers in China. Due to lax environmental regulation, the country has become a dumping ground for the world’s electronic trash. Did you know that 4,000 tons of electonic gizmos, from hand-held video games to computer monitors, are discarded every HOUR? 4,000 TONS EVERY HOUR? EVERY HOUR!!?? Because they’re made cheaply in China, it’s cheaper to pitch them than to fix them.

Much of this electronic junk ends up back in China, where it is “recycled. “ This involves unprotected, poorly paid workers taking things apart by hand to reclaim various heavy metals, precious metals, and assorted chemicals, many of which are highly carcinogenic. Wang Binyin is lucky. He died a quick and relatively painless death compared to the cancer many Chinese are developing and will develop due to the toxic waste they are dealing with. Hey, it’s one way to control the population. Made in China. Great idea.

Economics is the state religion in China, just as it is here in America. Whatever makes the most money in the short run is the clear choice, even if it’s clearly a choice that fouls your own nest, and the Chinese clearly have no qualms about destroying the environment they live in. For another example, let’s look at the Nu River, which just happens to be one of only TWO free-flowing rivers left in the country. It has escaped entrapment so far because it is in the hilly and remote far south-west of the country, and many environmentalists thought it would be permanently saved when the UN designated it a World Heritage Site due to to its tremendous biodiversity and relatively pristine state.

But NO, the Chines have a plan to dam the Nu, and while there is more opposition to this than there has been to any other environmentally obnoxious plan in the history of modern China, I’m not betting they won’t go ahead and remove millions of people from their traditional tribal homelands (putting them in the same homeless/refugee labor pool that produced Wang Binyin) and trash the Nu valley. But hey, all those rivers, not just the ones in China but the Indian ones as well, are fed from the glaciers of the Himalayas, and it looks like the Himalayan snow pack may be gone in thirty years, turning every major river in Southeast Asia, from the Indus to the Ganges to the Mekong to the Huang Ho, into a seasonal stream—you know, one that dries up in the summer. Ain’t that lovely? More on that coming up…..

music:  Joan Baez, “A Hard Rain‘s Gonna Fall”

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