While I'm in that area: I don't know if there's anyone left on the left who still has a soft spot for the Chinese regime - well, let's forget about Martin Jacques for the moment, shall we? - but here's a brief glimpse, courtesy of the Economist [free registration] of how things can be for people in China:
As a rule, the Majialou Relief and Assistance Centre [in Beijing] offers neither relief nor assistance. An imposing complex of red seven-storey buildings, it stands next to an expanse of rubble and a few derelict houses on the south-western fringe of the capital. Few visit unless escorted by police. Few leave except in the custody of officials or their hired thugs. It is a clearing house for Beijing's undesirables.
Majialou and another nearby centre, Jiujingzhuang, are at the hub of a network of extra-judicial detention facilities, authorised by the central government. Their aim is to keep the capital free of "petitioners" who come to Beijing to protest. The city also has many informal detention centres, known as "black jails", run illegally at the behest of local governments, but to which the central government usually turns a blind eye. The network has been accused of dealing with the symptoms of anger in the provinces rather than its causes.
Tens of thousands of people arrive in Beijing every year to petition the central government, seeking redress for local injustices ranging from land seizures to police brutality. In the capital they are often detained by police and beaten. Once back in their hometowns some are sent without trial to labour camps as a warning not to try again.
Optimists, however, see signs that the central government is waking up to their plight. On February 5th a court in Beijing sentenced ten people to prison terms of up to two years for running a black jail. They had taken a group of petitioners, who had arrived in Beijing last April from the central province of Henan, from Jiujingzhuang relief centre to two black jails on the city's edge. China Youth News, a Beijing newspaper, reported that some of the protesters were driven back to their hometown a day later. But they soon returned to Beijing where they told the police, who (remarkably) helped secure the release of the others. The sentences were not the first handed down to black jailers. But the unusual publicity the state-owned media gave to the case suggested a new determination by the central government to clamp down on the flourishing business.
Even if leaders are intent on a crack down, progress is likely to be slow. Black jails serve the interests of every level of government. Central officials want to keep complainants from coming to the capital and possibly forming a large and dangerous protest movement. The career prospects of lower-level leaders can be ruined by the appearance in Beijing of petitioners from their localities.
What a depressing kind of optimism: on the one hand, the central government may try to curb this black jail stuff; on the other hand, it's not in their interests to move too fast. Thousands detained, beaten, sent to labour camps... but 'the Chinese state enjoys greater legitimacy than any Western state'.