Friday, December 15, 2006

The Party and the Prostitutes

In 1957, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping famously reminded the Chinese Communist Party ("CCP") that, as the party in power, it must be willing to accept supervision. Deng Xiaoping, The Communist Party Must Accept Supervision, in I SELECTED WORKS OF DENG XIAOPING, 1938-1965 (People’s Daily On-Line ed.) . For Deng, the issue was how to best appease the masses and avoid the problem of “big democracy.” Deng did not expect perfection, just a pragmatic balancing of the realities of human nature and the needs of a satisfactorily running state. Particularly, in connection with its relations with the masses, the CCP should expect that “occasional disturbances are unavoidable. This still is no cause for alarm; in such situations we should just stay calm and try to face the masses, rely on them and explain things to them painstakingly. Then, disturbances will subside.” Id.

A report from China on December 9, 2006 and reported in the foreign press (Edward Cody, Public Shaming of Prostitutes Misfires in China, The Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2006 at A-10) provides a glimpse into the way that the Chinese Communist Party may be open supervision, and thus supervised, to the institution of a rudimentary rule of law culture at the core level of social organization. The story relates a curious incident in Shenzhen. It seems that local officials were faced with a dilemma. Provincial girls were flocking to the city, many of them then reduced to prostitution to service a growing population of factory workers. Because of its proximity to Hong Kong, the prostitution trade was particularly lucrative, since Hong Kong residents found the Shenzhen prostitutes an acceptably cheap substitute for their delights of Hong Kong.

This presented the authorities with a problem: how to control vice in this rapidly growing area. The authorities chose an age/old method, common, in its own way, in the United States as well as in China, apparently. The authorities chose to humiliate the prostitutes and their clients. In the United States, the authorities or others sometimes publish the names of people arrested on vice charges in the local newspapers. In Shenzhen, the authorities, in the form of the Futian Public Security Bureau, chose to parade “about 100 women and their alleged johns in the street, using loudspeakers to read out their names and the misdeeds they were accused of committing. News photographers snapped away while thousands of residents lined up to take in the show.” Cody, supra.

But this time, the popular reaction to this attempt at vice control was unexpected. Rather than react against the spread of vice in the area, local groups quickly denounced the local authorities for the violation of the privacy rights of the victims of the parade. A local lawyer wrote to the National People’s Congress to protest what he considered to be the unlawfulness of the Futian Public Security Bureau action (illegal under current law and likely to have a baneful influence on the people and China’s reputation abroad). Id. In particular, the lawyer suggested that the humiliation violated the legal process rights of people accused but not yet convicted and that the humiliation itself was uncivilized (and thus, slyly implied that it ran contrary to the thrust of the great ideological campaigns of the Chinese Communist Party—from Sange Daibiao to ba rong ba chi).

In addition, the All China Women’s Federation complained that the parade constituted an insult to all Chinese women. Id. Again, slyly suggesting the dissonance between the action and the ideological basis of Chinese political society, the federation noted that such parades damage “the development of human civilization [and] has no place in a modern society.” Id. Others suggested that the tactic was uncomfortably close to the tactics used during the worst days of the Cultural Revolution and that the parade exceeded the penalties currently on the books for prostitution (administrative detention). Id.

But Xu Desen, the Futian District Communist Party secretary, “endorsed the parade as a good way to discourage prostitution. Speaking to local reporters, he praised police for the crackdown and said it would continue.” Id. Not that what he suggested is aberrational by U.S. standards. Indeed, similar tactics have been used in the United States and praised by American police officials. “For instance, St. Petersburg achieved a first when it premiered "John TV," a cable television program that broadcast the names of johns and prostitutes. The program caused a furor and generated widespread publicity on radio, television and newspapers. But it also brought accolades and public support. NBC Nightly News featured St. Petersburg on its "American Closeup" segment highlighting communities that are trying new ways to halt prostitution. The British Broadcasting Corporation dispatched a television crew from New York to "see how the Americans do it," officials said.” Ronald J. Getz, High-Profile Program Successfully Drives Prostitutes Out of Town (Long Version) Community Policing Exchange, Nov/Dec 1996. They have been criticized in the United States as well. See Marty Levine, Three Year Protest Against Publishing Names of Arrestees Continues: Publishing lists of arrestees may do more harm than good for the hood, protesters say, Pittsburgh City Paper, Nov. 9, 2006.

Edward Cody, who wrote the article, drew as a moral of this episode, the idea that China has come a long way and, quoting Kang Xiaoguang, a sociologist with the Rural Development Institute at the People’s University of China, that “the public has a stronger sense of human rights and privacy protection.” Id.

I would draw a related moral from this story. The Chinese masses have been listening to their political elites. They have been absorbing the substantive meaning of the ideological campaigns that have pointed almost uniformly in a single direction since the leadership of Deng Xioaping in the late 1970s. The masses have absorbed the important message of rule of law, at least in its raw state. The masses grow less tolerant of activity that tends to ignore rule of law as applied. While the masses may not interpret the application of rule of law accurately all the time, or well, the common people are developing a sense of actions that suggest arbitrary activity. They demand a justification in law for action that does not appear to be in conformity with it. Even the Party is subject to its won rules. Rules that do not work ought to be abandoned through a formal process rather than ignored at the whim of local officials. The Party has accepted the supervision of laws of its own making. It must now, as Deng Xiaoping suggested a long time ago, also accept the supervision of those whose welfare is their primary concern. If the Party wishes to avoid the dangers of big democracy, if the Party seeks to remain the party in power, it would do well to follow Deng’s advice and accept the supervision of its own laws and the insights of its own people.

Without lesser democracy there would have to be greater democracy, because the masses need to find outlets for their anger. Our idea is to provide places for the masses to vent their anger, places for them to speak their mind and places to make appeals. The suggestions of the masses fall into the following categories: Some are reasonable and should be accepted and put into practice; it would be wrong to ignore them, which would be bureaucratic. Others may be basically reasonable, in which case the reasonable part should be put into effect and explanations offered concerning the part that cannot be put into effect. Still others may be totally unreasonable, in which case we should explain to the masses why. In brief, the masses should have plenty of opportunity to air their views, offer suggestions and give vent to their anger -- at people's congresses, political consultative conferences, workers' congresses, students' congresses, and so forth. Greater democracy can be avoided if there is lesser democracy. Nobody would demand greater democracy and no workers or students would go on strike once the masses have vented their anger and every effort has been made to solve their problems. Deng, 1957, supra.

The officials in the Futian District ought to have a lot of explaining to do, to the Party, to the State, and to the masses, all of which he serves through law bounded by the substantive ideology of the people expressed through its party in power.

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