Tuesday, May 15, 2007

China: A cheap imitation

Published on Taipei Times

Letter: China: A cheap imitation

Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Page 8

If it weren't so tragic, it might even be funny. Not truly understanding or appreciating the subtleties of such concepts as fairness, law, justice, freedom or human rights, copyright or patent, religion or dissent, the Chinese government has designed a system bereft of independent control, and a society which lacks all self-discipline and, most importantly, any moral compass.

One result is rampant illegal copying of everything -- copying as in "imitating," and copying as in "stealing" -- and in many instances, even official government piracy.

All that widespread theft wouldn't be so alarming if there was some notion of redress in China, but there is virtually no justice that can be relied on anyway. Without an independent judiciary, the Chinese court system is merely an extension of the government, which is completely corrupt and focuses solely on perpetuating its iron grip on power. As a result, doing business in China involves as much dumb luck as anything and the ability to write off almost any amount as a loss.

At some point, a company will likely be expected (under duress, which in any other situation would constitute blackmail) to make a deal (which under any other circumstances would be unacceptable) just to be allowed to continue to have access to the capitalist's dream many believe China to be.

Just ask the Yahoos, Microsofts, Googles of this world ... and most recently, Disney.

In Beijing, the Shijingshan Amusement Park, owned by the government of Beijing's district of Shijingshan, is nothing more than a cheap and virtually complete copy of Disney, right down to the castle and characters, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Cinderella.

What is truly jaw-dropping is that the park is government run -- an overt instance of official Chinese piracy. Even more alarming is that it is done with a straight-faced denial that the park is a copy. Watching a park official try to explain why the Cinderella look-alike is different would be funny if it weren't an official government lie. The normally stridently protective Disney has kept a low profile, aside from its usual statement of its commitment to protecting its valuable intellectual property. Perhaps courting the next Chinese Disneyland requires looking the other way when Cinderella Hu skips by with Mickey Lao Shu.

But so it goes in China, where lies about freedom of the press and human rights are given almost daily with a straight face, and where the government actually insists, with conviction, that the Internet is free, that human rights and press freedoms are universal, that there is a won ton in every pot.

China also insists that its emergence constitutes a "peaceful rise." Except for Taiwan. And Tibet. And Xinjiang. And possibly Japan. And South Korea. And any country that indicates the slightest support for any of the aforementioned. Or anyone else who "interferes with China's internal affairs."

China is the paradigmatic example of "you get what you pay for," whether it is tainted salt, tainted gluten, tainted pork, tainted Disney, or tainted human rights. China is the great supplier of mediocrity, not just because it has not learned how to achieve high quality yet, but because it does not even recognize quality -- or, apparently, the truth.

But Disney, Yahoo, Google, the UN, the EU, Australia, Canada and the US, the business organizations and sweaty-palmed businesspeople, and a host of other sycophantic lapdogs awaiting the next market opportunity, will all yield to Beijing's never-ending blackmail for another shot at the pot of gold at the end of the Beijing rainbow.

They will all smile at President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the Dalai Lama, but these purported "champions of freedom" will all look the other way when they and their people are all stabbed through the heart.

Whether it's a patent right, copyright, human right, or the right thing, it's all lost in translation for the People's Republic of China -- in other words, picture without sound, photograph without color, heart without soul.

And unless we are very careful, we will wake up one day to find out that this was what Beijing had been peddling all this time -- a world of mediocrity, a cheap knockoff -- life with communist "Chinese characteristics."

No thanks. I'll just have the real thing, Taiwanese style, with extra freedom. And hold the totalitarianism.

Lee Longhwa

United States

See also this related commentary: China: Culture of Corruption a Problem

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