Karma Comedian

The editorial in The Standard a couple of days ago took a very conventional stance on the Sharon Stone Earthquake Karma incident. In summary, they expressed a desire for her to shut up about karma, earthquakes, and China and Tibet generally.

Couldn’t disagree more! Although I’m not surprised that this is their opinion. The usual response to any “offensive” criticism of China or Hong Kong is generally to try to shout the other fellow down, or tell them that if they can’t say anything nice, they shouldn’t say anything at all. Playground politics, and nothing more.

This is how free speech works: you can say what you like, but you bear the responsibility for the consequences, and nobody is obliged to give you a platform. If Sharon Stone wants to alienate an entire nation, cause herself untold commercial harm, chip away further at her already ragged career, and demonstrate that she’s ignorant of the political complexities of the situation in Tibet, then she has every right to do so. In fact, she should be encouraged to do so. That way, nobody will be in any doubt that she’s an impressionable moron who’s fallen under the spell of the Dalai Lama and his obnoxious “priestly class”.

Yes, her ramblings are offensive, but nobody has a right not to be offended. That’s a path that you simply don’t want to go down, because there’s always somebody out there who will be offended by anything!

Let her carry on talking about karma. There’s no reason to be offended, China; all you need to do is point, laugh, call her a dumbass, and then ignore her. If you stifle her now, while she still has some credibility left, how will anyone in the future know the extent of her silliness?

Part Five: Live Organ Transplants

live_organ_transplants.jpgThe Chinese Communist Party has now officially admitted that the harvesting of organs for transplant from executed prisoners is standard practice in China. Of course, this was well-known anyway, but in the Orwellian world of Chinese politics things do not happen unless the Party says that they happen. So, why have they chosen this moment to bring this out into the open?

The Chinese death penalty is undergoing a soup-to-nuts revision right now. It is accepted that, although China’s precise execution figures are a state secret (probably because they’re embarrassed to admit that they have no idea what the actual figure is), the Party executes more people every year than the rest of the world put together. This figure could soon be falling, as new laws have recently been put in place to improve the oversight of death penalty cases. The old system allowed pretty much any judge to sentence someone to death. This was obviously subject to the most appalling abuses and corruption, and there have been a number of high-profile incidents where some poor stooge has been shot in the back of the head for “murder”, and not too long afterwards the victim has wandered back into town having been away visiting his mother, or something. Under the new laws, executions must be approved by the Supreme Peoples’ Court. It is thought this will reduce executions by one-third to one-half.

That’s if the law works, of course. There is a massive gulf in China between the existence of laws and their enforcement. In fact, the sale of transplant organs from the freshly-executed is also illegal, but that doesn’t stop it happening. The rule of law, in China, is very much subject to market forces, apparently against the will of the Party who have declared that official corruption is itself a capital crime.

It doesn’t help that recently implemented changes to the way the death penalty is carried out have actually facilitated organ theft. The old system of executions involved dragging a prisoner into a stadium, or to some isolated rural location, and shooting them in the back of the head with a hollow-point bullet. The old story about the condemned’s family being sent an invoice for the cost of the bullet is true. But it doesn’t usually happen that way any more.

Back in June of 2006, the Party began an innovative new approach to executions. Mobile execution chambers. Here’s one:


(Activism sidebar: These things are made by Iveco, which is a subsidiary of Fiat. If you’re an Amnesty International member in good standing, you might want to consider boycotting Fiat for their support of the Chinese death penalty. I boycott them because they make shitty little cars.)

These ominous vehicles, at least 40 of which are rolling around China at any given time, are used for the administration of lethal injections. It is much easier to harvest organs after a lethal injection – the process leaves the body intact, and there is the advantage that medical staff are on-hand. The new procedures also make a point of delivering the body for cremation immediately after execution – making it impossible to tell if the body was intact or cannibalised for parts. The family receives only the ashes.

Is this an unforeseen side-effect of the Party’s attempts to make China’s executions more humane? Certainly, a Party official at a diplomatic event in Germany has said that the aim – in the long run – was for China to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Let’s hope that the admission from the Party heralds a concerted attempt to enforce the law regarding organ theft. The last thing that any society needs is a legal system that allows those in power to profit substantially from ordering executions.

You suck at communism

One of my online friends works as an administrator in a factory in Dongguan (just over the Chinese border, about 50 miles from Hong Kong). She’s young, ambitious, but rather naive; she’s working alone a long way from her home, family and support network, and she lives in accommodation supplied by the factory; in short, she is the very definition of vulnerable. Her primary skill – one which is in strong demand – is that she speaks and writes almost fluent English.

She’s worked for this business now for a couple of months, and has decided that it’s not the right job for her. She told her supervisor that she wanted to quit, and her supervisor told her that was out of the question. So far, she’s not been paid a penny: it’s standard practice in China, apparently, for the first month’s wages to be held as a “guarantee” – so the employees must effectively work a month for free. Now, to prevent my friend from just walking out, the company is witholding all further pay, apparently indefinitely. If she leaves, it’s forfeit.

She’s not allowed to quit, they say, until they’ve found a replacement. But what incentive do they have to look for one? They have a capable, captive employee who is helping their cashflow by working for credit instead of salary. She is very unhappy, very stressed and totally frustrated, but worst of all, she is resigned to the fact that the company are doing this. It’s normal, she says. Apparently, it used to be a lot worse.

And short of absconding and losing all her back-wages, there is nothing she can do. There are no citizens advice bureaux, no unions, no small-claims courts, and no tribunals. There would almost certainly have been no employment contract in the first place. There may be employment laws, but they are unenforceable. The employers are all powerful.

So this is China’s “communism” at its sharp end: the rich bosses taking advantage of powerless and vulnerable ordinary working people. It’s shameful.