Free Press in China?

Tom Avitabile, Free Press in ChinaI once recommended to an economic expert on China a trailer for an upcoming book. My vision was to have the economist standing on the Great Wall of China, explaining to the camera that seven centuries ago this was the technological achievement of mankind.

Then the economist holds up an iPad, explaining that this is the current technological achievement of mankind. Both from China. Interesting, I thought, that the technological impetus has come around full circle from the Great Wall to the Great iPad.

But when you look deeper, look at all the things they missed.

For example, we have the Bill of Rights. All the greatest (and wealthiest) men of the day had the notion that it was necessary to specifically enumerate the rights that were at the heart of the conflict of England and the Revolution, and they eventually got it down to 10.

Extra credit reading: Look up the original Bill of Rights.

If you go to the National Archives in Washington, DC you can see that there were actually 12 amendments in the original Bill of Rights.

  • The original 1st amendment set out rules for districting the House of Representatives – a scheme that would have made today’s Congress 6,000+ members strong.
  • The original 2nd amendment stated that Congress cannot ratify its own proposed pay raises until after the next Congressional election. This would eventually become the 27th amendment, ratified in 1992.

The elimination of these two amendments cleared the way so that right up there at number one, which the Chinese never considered, was a nasty little thing called Freedom of the Press. (Now as a writer, I think it’s inherently unfair to reveal the Founder’s early draft, after all, they didn’t publish until they had the 10 and if you saw any of my earlier drafts I’d dig a hole and hide.)

Freedom of the Press (along with Speech and Religion) was a founding part of this nation’s psyche, government and culture. Last month that little notion of freedom arose again in a small revolution in South China. Not exactly the Redcoats against the farmers, but a small local newspaper dared to print something close to the truth. This brought upon it a hefty dose of scorn and consternation from the old party apparatchiks of the ruling elite in Beijing.

But then, with the internet and with the world going the way it is, those old Chinese guys in the Politburo must have said to themselves “Hey wait, what’s so bad about this?” or “Hey, maybe if we give them just a little, we can keep a lid on this thing.”

Perhaps they had this old Chinese proverb in mind when they decided to loosen up a bit:

That which doesn’t bend, breaks.

So they bent a little. A seemingly tacit allowance of what would, five years ago, buy you a ticket to the reeducation camp or a bullet in the brain – a bullet your own family would be billed for after your death – Communist Party family values being what they are.

But here is the most tantalizing question of all, if the Chinese Communists were to suffer a come to Jefferson moment and, more unbelievably, grant a Bill of Rights to their billions of subjects which of our 10 would never see the light of a Chinese day?

Send me your answer vis-a-vis the comment section.  I’ll give you my ‘forbidden amendment’ next time.

Tom Avitabile, Free Press in China?

Tom Avitabile