by Yi Luo-ren
English /// 中文
Photo Credit: Reuters
Translator: Brian Hioe
The following article, by Yi Luo-ren, an exchange student from Henan, China, originally appeared in the Apple Daily, and was translated into English by Brian Hioe.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD is when Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated in the United States. In these past few years in China, Thanksgiving has become promoted as a holiday promoted in restaurants, shopping centers, and Internet shopping along the lines of Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Single’s Day, as a holiday for consumption. But while China’s middle class indulged in a craze of capitalist consumption, a large fire broke out in Beijing, killing nineteen, including migrant workers and their children. What is more terrifying is that afterwards, the Beijing government used this as a justification to clear out reportedly over 100,000 migrant workers, with Thanksgiving covering up the terror of internal colonization.
It is well known that China’s so-called economic miracle was brought about through the repression of worker’s rights, which is what has allowed “Made in China” products to be spread across the world. Worker’s rights are sacrificed to make way for large-scale manufacturing and development, including the high speed railroads which Xi Jinping often boasts about in public comments. The funds that the Chinese government receives from foreign exchange taxes and real estate is not used to provide for workers’ social welfare, but rather the household register system is used as a way to divide people between the areas they come from, with impoverished inland areas receiving less resources for education and medical care, leading to an unusually low Gini coefficient and a difference in life expectancy of up to twenty years.
In addition, although migrant workers from inland provinces are those who have built large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, these cities are not places where they can make a home. The children of many that work in Beijing cannot receive the same low-priced education as city residents, leading to the phenomenon of them becoming “left-behind-children.” Because they lack contact in the prime of their life, this lack of exchanges leads to lack of mental stimulation.
Among migrant workers, a lucky few are fortunate enough to make it into occupations working in wholesale distribution of clothes or toys, small restaurants, or express delivery services. With their relatively high incomes in working in the harsh conditions of working life, they support their children working in schools that may be demolished at anytime. But the majority of workers’ lives are still faces conditions of high exploitation, leading them to be crammed into small and narrow housing, such as the apartments which went up in flames in Daxing. This is not unlike fires breaking out in low-income housing in London this year, in which housing for low-income residents did not have fire-fighting equipment installed, something which led to harsh criticism of the Conservative Party. But the fire has led to the Chinese government evicting peaceful, law-abiding citizens, using the incident as a pretext. This is not just the Beijing city government failing to make sufficient safety measures, but using this as an excuse to speed up evictions of urban residents, forcing these poor, law-abiding citizens to to leave their homes and go into the winter.
At the same time in America, while President Donald Trump is thought of racist by many due to his accusation against Mexicans of being “illegal immigrants,” it would actually be very difficult for Trump to use violent means to forcibly clear out immigrants en masse in as short a period of time. In American history, this can only be compared to the mass expulsion of Native Americans as “non-citizens” following events such as the Indian-American War. Although in name, all of this takes place within China as a domestic issue, this household register system tinged with Chinese characteristics restricts people’s free movement and carries out exploitative high taxes while providing low social welfare. This situation of peaceful law-abiding situations being able to be evicted at any time can be phrased as a form of “internal colonization.”
It makes one feel sad is that the Chinese middle class, which has comparatively high income but limited rights, is also lacking in sympathy towards lower class workers. Once in awhile, someone will lament that this expulsion of “low-end people” has led landlords to lose out on a source of income, or loss of manpower for express delivery services, leading to small inconveniences for deliveries purchased on Single’s Day.
But compared to migrant workers, I don’t believe that the middle class of large, prosperous cities such as Beijing are those that benefit from internal colonization either, even if this has brought them a high level of social welfare like in Europe and benefits from real estate, seeing as this has given them the misconception that they are the rulers of the country. But not long after the fire, the Red Yellow Blue New World kindergarten incident in which children were suspected of being anesthetized for the sake of sexual harassment. The Chinese government’s attempt to defend the “Tiger Group” from the military rumored to be responsible is no different from the Japanese army’s defense of the atrocities of the Manchukuo Army during the Second World War, proving that they are also the playthings of the party-state and military government.
What is bitterly satirical is that the Chinese middle class has an anti-colonial awareness. Thanksgiving is the most unsuccessful of holidays in which companies have sought to encourage consumption, the major factor for this being that Chinese people may too much associate Thanksgiving with the slaughter of Native Americans during the American colonial period, something that is praiseworthy. The American government has long since apologized to Native Americans, as well as provided them with reservations and allowed for casinos as a form of economic compensation. This can be said to be at least a basic effort by the American government in the direction of transitional justice, something which can also be seen with efforts by the Canadian, New Zealand, and Taiwanese government to make reparations to indigenous, and to rehabilitate indigenous culture. On the other hand, China continues to try and extinguish the language and culture of Tibetans and Uighurs, and inland Han residents are also treated much as victims of internal colonization.
Unlike internal colonialism, it is very easy to confirm the colonial actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang and Tibet. We can see this in the destruction of Tibetan monasteries in recent years, with overinflation of stabbing incidents in Xinjiang and confiscation of Korans, and attempts to promote the teach of Mandarin so as to crowd out teaching of Tibetan and Uighur in a way not unlike the ROC government’s attempts to restrict Taiwanese, something denounced by the world as colonial oppression. But language and culture serves to disguise the Chinese government’s internal colonization of individuals from inland provinces in China, but the creation of new communal identities will lead them to be labelled enemies and there could even be an internal secession movement that overthrows the Chinese government sometime in the future.