World

We Shouldn’t Ignore Systemic Discrimination in China

A paramilitary policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, in 2013. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
China has its very own Jim Crow system that’s largely gone unnoticed in America.

The moral landscape of America’s self-understanding is often reduced to a few easily recognizable landmarks: slavery and abolition, Jim Crow and the civil-rights movement, World War II and the Holocaust. Every dictator we confront gets compared to Hitler, and nearly every domestic controversy gets squeezed into a familiar historical mold. (The Trump administration’s child-separation fiasco at the boarder may have been terrible, but it wasn’t Treblinka.)

This is an old lament, of course. And other than doing a better job at teaching history, I’m not sure how we should go about fixing the problem. What’s more interesting to me are the cases where we decide not to use this moral shorthand.

Not long ago, North Korea, a police state, killed hundreds of thousands of its own people. But generations of people who were raised to believe that “never again” was the abiding lesson of the Holocaust in effect said, “Well, maybe one more time.” We didn’t have the appetite to fight a war.

Or consider the fact that Jim Crow is alive and well — and living in China.

America’s Jim Crow system of second-class citizenship is rightly remembered as our version of apartheid: a racist raft of laws designed to dehumanize and marginalize African Americans in the name of white supremacy. But it was also a form of economic regulation designed to prevent blacks from participating fully in the labor market and to protect business from the supposedly dire threat of rising wages. Such statist crony capitalism doesn’t detract from the moral horror of Jim Crow, but it does help put it in context.

In China, there is systemic discrimination against non-Han Chinese. Ethnic minorities — about 10 percent of the Chinese population — are routinely denied access to elite universities and urban job markets in the name of Han supremacy. Under China’s internal-passport system, many non-Han aren’t permitted to even look for work outside of their rural provinces. Tibetan and Uighur citizens are often barred from using Chinese hotels.

Not only does China have its own version of Jim Crow, it still has its own version of slavery. Under its prison labor system, laogai (“reform through labor”), millions of slaves churn out all manner of “Made in China” wares and even provide many of the organs for transplant surgeries in China.

Other ideas that arouse rage (“cultural appropriation,” “cultural genocide,” “occupation,” “xenophobia”) get much less attention in the Middle Kingdom than they do elsewhere. The Han are simultaneously erasing minority cultures and reducing them to kitsch for Chinese tourists. Mongols now make up less than 20 percent of Inner Mongolia’s population. Minority languages aren’t taught in many schools in places such as Tibet.

In America, we increasingly hear that enforcing immigration laws is a kind of hate crime. But we mint about 700,000 new citizens each year. Meanwhile, in China, it is almost impossible to become a Chinese citizen if you weren’t born there to Chinese parents. The 2010 census found just 1,448 naturalized citizens. (Yes, total, not just for the year 2010.)

Earlier this month, the United Nations reported that China is holding millions of Muslim Uighurs in a sprawling gulag of “counter-extremism centers” and “re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination.” Prisoners are forced to swear loyalty to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Bans on Muslim garb and long beards are becoming more common. Much of this has gone unnoticed in America, no doubt in part because many refuse to be distracted from their constant watch for Islamophobia here.

I am not offering any policy prescriptions here. Nor am I saying that we should turn a blind eye to our problems or shortcomings just because China’s are worse. But it does seem as though we’re most reluctant to invoke our moral lodestars precisely when they most apply.

© 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

IN THE NEWS: ‘China to Conduct Assessment of U.S. Defense Bill’

Most Popular

White House

The Hole in the Impeachment Case

Thought experiment No. 1: Suppose Bob Mueller’s probe actually proves that Donald Trump is under Vladimir Putin’s thumb. Fill in the rest of the blanks with your favorite corruption fantasy: The Kremlin has video of the mogul-turned-president debauching himself in a Moscow hotel; the Kremlin has a bulging ... Read More
White House

The Hole in the Impeachment Case

Thought experiment No. 1: Suppose Bob Mueller’s probe actually proves that Donald Trump is under Vladimir Putin’s thumb. Fill in the rest of the blanks with your favorite corruption fantasy: The Kremlin has video of the mogul-turned-president debauching himself in a Moscow hotel; the Kremlin has a bulging ... Read More
Media

Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite ... Read More
Media

Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite ... Read More

People Make New Orleans

I had my first taste of southern hospitality the day I moved to New York. A young woman from New Orleans, whom I had met only briefly over Skype (she had advertised a room in the Bronx, though I preferred a room in Manhattan), had asked if anyone would be picking me up from the airport. No, I told her. I didn’t ... Read More

People Make New Orleans

I had my first taste of southern hospitality the day I moved to New York. A young woman from New Orleans, whom I had met only briefly over Skype (she had advertised a room in the Bronx, though I preferred a room in Manhattan), had asked if anyone would be picking me up from the airport. No, I told her. I didn’t ... Read More
Elections

Lying Liz

Ever since she began explaining how her Medicare for all plan would be funded, and how she would pass it, Elizabeth Warren has been sinking. Ahead of last week’s debate, her camp leaked a story that her friend Bernie Sanders met with her in 2018 to discuss plans for 2020, and that at this meeting, Sanders had ... Read More
Elections

Lying Liz

Ever since she began explaining how her Medicare for all plan would be funded, and how she would pass it, Elizabeth Warren has been sinking. Ahead of last week’s debate, her camp leaked a story that her friend Bernie Sanders met with her in 2018 to discuss plans for 2020, and that at this meeting, Sanders had ... Read More