Concentrating Effort on Major Tasks
By Jin Zhong
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”; the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel by Charles Dickens set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, may seem applicable to today’s China.
With the success of the Beijing Olympic Games in August, the wide-spread saying that “It is the best of times in the history of China” has become even more popular. From the Xinhua News Agency to spokespersons of various organizations, from leaders of the overseas Chinese community to returned exiles such as Liu Zaifu, everyone is promoting this idea. Referring to two great events in China this year, Premier Wen Jiabao started his speech at the recent UN General Assembly meeting in New York City by observing that China had successfully overcome difficulties in both the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics. Without a doubt, China showed improvement in its handling of these two incidents, compared with its performance in the Mao era. They at least demonstrate the sharp contrast between the policy of openness today and the closed-door policy of the past. There is no denying that the prosperity in China's major cities and regions is unprecedented in Chinese history.
Still, this improvement is only relative, and “the best of times” is an overstatement. Take the recent tainted milk product scandal. The negative effects of the scandal are unprecedented in the world and in the history of China. It is no different from the collapse of numerous school buildings in the Sichuan earthquake, which resulted in the needless death and injury of thousands of children. The milk scandal has seriously damaged China's food industry throughout the world, and even tourism. It is incredible that China, as a modern country, is losing tourists to fears over unsafe food. “A government that requires people to test the safety of their food should be run out of office," complained a mainland netizen. But this Government is much more stable than almost any other in the world.
Immediately after the Olympic Games, the Beijing Government successfully launched Shenzhou 7 and achieved what it considered the ultimate historical endorsement: a “spacewalk.” The media hold that the burst of applause for the success of China’s space program almost drowned out the negative news of the toxic milk incident. In a country where the people are easily controlled with no forums for expression, no one knows the authorities' secret of governance. The authorities use the method of “concentrating effort on major tasks,” which allows them to launch a space program that costs the state billions of dollars, but fails to manage a basic livelihood issue such as food safety. Doesn't that cast some doubts on the “best” achievements of the authorities?
In his recent book, Tombstone, Yang Jisheng compares the 36 million deaths caused in the Great Famine of the 1960s with “dropping 400 atomic bombs into China's rural areas,” while Zhang Rongmao’s essay details the development of China's first atomic bomb in the 1960s. Former Premier Zhou Enlai claimed that it cost only a few billion RMB to make the bomb, but experts estimated the cost at US$4.1 billion, which “could have saved 38 million lives in the Great Famine.” Certainly, the principle at that time was also to “concentrate effort on major tasks,” the timeless motto of totalitarian governments.
The CCP has not only trained its people to forget, but also to be hypocritical. This is evidenced by the three symbolic “image projects” this year, including the Beijing Olympics, the Shenzhou 7 mission, and the competition of the Shanghai World Financial Center as the tallest building in the world. All three projects earned China international acclaim. With a skyscraper completed and milk powder tainted, the whole nation is united in presenting an image of unprecedented harmony. How good, really, is such a time?
Translated by Isabella Lam