According to the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne, individuals convicted of serious crimes in China are currently giving televised confessions in exchange for leniency. Browne’s column describes how individuals like British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey and the owners of fast-food meat supplier OSI have been subjected to harsh, humiliating treatment by the Chinese government. Browne’s February 2 column decries this revival of Chinese communist “Jiantao Culture” by President Xi Jinping as totalitarian, and traces its origins to the practices of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
Browne’s column contains some obvious hypocrisy. While Browne sees televised confessions as extremely cruel, US society is filled with vengeful correctional procedures that are much worse by any objective measure. The United States has the world’s highest prison population by numbers and percentage. Human Rights Watch has released a recent report documenting routine human rights violations across the country.
When one compares the human rights violations of the United States with the “Jiantao Culture” Browne describes in China, an obvious difference is very apparent.
Punishment in the United States
Whether or not one approves of corporal punishment being utilized to discipline students in public schools, a practice long ago abolished in most western countries, the statistics about how it’s applied in the United States should certainly be disturbing. In the 19 US states where school corporal punishment remains legal, African-American students are more than twice as likely as white students to be struck by their teachers or principals. Furthermore, almost every school district still employing these traditional punishment methods can be found in rural and low-income areas.
As Black and low-income Americans move into adulthood, they are also incarcerated at statistically higher rates. Within the US prison system, the use of long-term solitary confinement is routine. Officials in New York recently took action to stop this practice, internationally recognized as a form of torture, from being inflicted on juveniles.
In Arizona, Joe Arpaio has made himself into a kind of celebrity by running a prison facility which he has openly described as a “concentration camp.” Hailed as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” in regular appearances on the FOX news channel, Arpaio’s prisoners live in tents under the hot sun, and are served bologna sandwiches that are painted green. Prisoners in the Arizona facility, including women and juveniles, work in chain gangs and perform such tasks as digging graves as their shoes melt from the extreme heat. Arpaio’s male prisoners are required to wear pink underwear, a policy which the sheriff credits for his political success, saying, “I can get elected on pink underwear… I’ve done it five times.”
Judges across the United States occasionally find their way into the headlines by instituting unorthodox punishments. In 2007 Lisa King Fithian, who allegedly shoplifted a lamp that cost $26.97, was forced to stand in front of a local Wal-Mart in Attalla, Alabama wearing a sign that said, “I am a thief.”
Currently, the state of California is set to execute an African-American man named Kevin Cooper by lethal injection, even though the judge presiding over his case has stated that he believes Cooper is innocent.
Sadistic, harsh, and degrading punitive practices are hardly foreign to the United States. However, whether it’s the low-income children getting paddled, the prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement or in Arpaio’s self-described “concentration camp,” the shaming of a 46-year-old woman in front of Wal-Mart, or the death penalty itself, those receiving such treatment in the United States are almost always low-income, working class people. African-Americans and Latinos are significantly over-represented among those selected for such treatment across the country.
Controlling Big Business
But what about this “Jiantao Culture” Andrew Browne dislikes so much? Who is on the receiving end of it?
This practice is primarily inflicted on high-ranking government officials. Corrupt politicians who have taken bribes, engaged in graft, or otherwise put their self-interest above the Chinese people, get on national Chinese television and apologize for their misdeeds in exchange for a lighter prison sentence or fine.
The owners of a US-based meat-distributing corporation called OSI have recently found themselves on the receiving end of harsh treatment from Chinese officials. OSI is based in Illinois, and provides meat for fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and others across China. Shanghai Television documented that OSI was intentionally serving rotten meat to the public. As a result, ten top-ranking executives from OSI were sent to prison.
China’s President Xi Jinping’s “Mass Line Campaign” involves getting the corporations and capitalists in China back in line. The Chinese Communist Party watches closely over the activities of the big corporations, and makes sure they are functioning in a manner that is consistent with the development goals of the country. If corporations are caught endangering the public, or government officials are found covering up for wealthy friends, there is harsh punishment inflicted on them.
China’s policy of keeping the rich in line has borne rich fruit. CNN, a network that is highly un-sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party, estimates that by 2020 the People’s Republic will have 2.3 million millionaires. CNN also points out that almost every day another Chinese citizen becomes a billionaire. As Chinese capitalists operating under the strict control of the party are getting richer, the working class is also steadily advancing. The average income of Chinese people has quadrupled since the dawn of the 21st century.
Between 2008 and 2012, the wages of China’s industrial workers increased by 71 percent. In 2012 alone, the average wage rose by 14 percent. Western corporations that have invested in China such as Crystal Group, which produces clothes for Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, have pulled out because of “rising labor costs.” Under strict Communist Party management, Chinese corporations are forced to negotiate with labor unions and fit their market activities into the government-established plan for the whole country.
China no longer has a state-run economy such as existed in the Soviet Union. Following the economic and political theories of Deng Xiaoping, China has allowed a significant market sector to exist. However, the corporations and private businesses in China function purely in service of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” There is no “economic freedom” for the rich and powerful. Their ability to make wealth is secondary to the overall good of the Chinese public, and the New Silk Road vision of a prosperous, peaceful, and economically connected planet.
“Jiantao Culture” in America?
Recently, it was revealed that the people of Flint, Michigan have been drinking poisoned water. In order to save money, government officials knowingly allowed people to drink water contaminated with lead and other chemicals. When people in Flint complained of illness from the contamination, they were ignored. As a result of criminal actions from government officials, conspiring with the rich and powerful, the children of an entire city will be developmentally damaged.
Perhaps here in the United States, we should adopt some “Jiantao Culture” of our own. Why not force the politicians responsible for this outrage to appear on national television and confess their crimes? Why not force the Governor of Michigan as well as the emergency manager he imposed on Flint to describe in detail to the US public how they and others knowingly allowed the people of an entire city to be poisoned? Let them appear on national television and explain how — even as Flint residents complained and begged for the water to be purified — they did nothing. Let them explain to the entire country why they thought austerity payments to the banks were more important than human life.
The government officials responsible for the Flint disaster are not the only individuals who come to mind. Alan Greenspan is largely considered responsible for the financial collapse of 2008-2009. By legalizing all kinds of harmful lending practices as chairman of the Federal Reserve, he essentially allowed the US economy to crumble. His confession to the US Senate – in which he said “I made a mistake” by thinking banks would “regulate themselves” — is hardly enough.
I’d love to watch a teary-eyed Alan Greenspan on national television explaining how he let Wall Street banks and credit card companies defraud the US public. I’d like to hear the voice of this elderly man, once part of Ayn Rand’s inner circle, explain how he allowed banks to defraud millions of American families into having their homes foreclosed.
It is almost as if the US government and legal system is made up entirely of cowards. We save our cruelty for those who are the most defenseless. Low-income people who steal a few dollars; people who suffer from drug addiction or mental illness; the descendants of African slaves or the indigenous peoples of the continent; those who have been rendered by historical conditions as the least capable of fighting back, they are the ones subjected to the wrath of a bloodthirsty legal system. Meanwhile, those who wreck the economy and destroy millions of lives, or who poison the drinking water for tens of thousands of families, face barely any consequences.
I say we close down Joe Arpaio’s concentration camp in the Arizona desert. Let’s launch a massive program of prison reform, fix our juvenile justice system, and provide treatment rather than punishment for the addicted and mentally ill. In place of the deeply flawed US justice system, I think we adopt some Xi Jinping-style “Jiantao Culture” in the United States. Let’s whip Wall Street and their paid stooges back into line. Let’s start punishing the real criminals, who have destroyed the future of millions of Americans and robbed the next generation of a future.
With the rising popularity of Bernie Sanders and concepts like socialism among the US public, I think a lot of Americans would agree with my proposal.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.