A 24-year-old Swedish student at Shanghai’s Fudan University was expelled by Chinese authorities Saturday. He wrote two open letters online to Chinese President Hu Jintao in April and June, slamming China’s lack of democracy, but this barely got any notice. In late June, he made online calls for a protest in Shanghai. This time, he attracted the attention he wanted, and had his visa revoked.
A few Western media outlets praised his behavior, saying that the deportation indicated the Chinese government’s “deeply-rooted fears” toward democracy. Such analysis depicts China as having no experience in dealing with problems in modern governance, and implied that a 24-year-old Swedish student could shake Shanghai, or even China, at his whim.
China is full of social complexities at the moment. It does not really make a difference if there emerges one more foreign dissident such as this Swedish student. A few China observers gave his voice too much credit.
When talking of democracy, Westerners largely talk of issues like government budgets, social welfare and gay marriage legalization. Similar debates exist in China, sometimes all the more fierce. Nevertheless, when talking of China, many Western analysts define democracy primarily as protests against the government.
It is not fun to play with political antagonism. Politicians in the US and Europe have taken centuries to play it well. Emulating the Western path has led to social turmoil in more than a few countries. China adopts relatively strict limitations on political antagonism, which has contributed to its current prosperity and social stability.
Only history will evaluate China’s path.
We cannot expect foreigners, such as the Swedish student, to grasp the complexity of China’s realities and the difficulty of social governance here. It is normal that a few foreigners do not like China’s political system and seek to challenge the social governance here. However, it is also normal that the Chinese authorities deal with these problems while weighing up the benefits for all of society.
Those who do not really understand China misjudge the nation’s political future. They are confused by increasing complaints among ordinary Chinese, which emerge along with greater civil participation. They underestimate China’s political vigor, and the nation’s capacity to head forward while improving itself.
China will surely face challenges when building itself into a developed country with comprehensive prosperity and democracy. But the nation will upgrade itself in this process and become stronger. Those who misjudge the trend and make the wrong choice will end up paying the price.