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Peter Arnett Visits The Geezers

PETER ARNETT 7-22-2010

Yesterday our guest at the Geezer's Book Club meeting was the intrepid journalist, Peter Arnett.  Ray Herndon, one of our regular members, has known Peter Arnett for over  40 years. They were friendly competitive reporters during the war in Viet Nam, and the friendship has survived several wars since. Peter began speaking with an overview of his time in  Viet Nam, and then briefly related a few highlights of the first 1st and 2nd war in Iraq.  After taking a deep breath, Peter focused on the intended subject of the day, China and the Chinese people. 


Peter is now teaching journalism at a college about 400 miles north of Hong Kong, near the Chinese coast. Peter is 76 years old, in good health, full of energy and enjoys his job as an educator. In that capacity he is able to travel unhindered (not everyone can) throughout China. He has personally observed the daily trials, troubles and opportunities that abound in this huge and complicated country.  

Peter described a rapidly modernizing China. He presented information that gave each of us an  improved perspective.   Peter's knowledge,  his scholarship and observations, were absolutely fascinating.  Granted, we had a bit of a head start.  At his suggestion, and prior to the meeting, we all read  "OUT OF MAO'S SHADOW" by Phillip P. Pan. The author and Peter have similar observations.  It's a terrific book, and helped to lay the foundation for Peter's comments. He used several excerpts from the book in his presentation.  China's population is so mind-blowing-huge it is very difficult to visualize. Every problem in China is multiplied by the numbers. China is racing forward as it's government attempts to improve their entire society, their industrial ability, and their political administration. Fortunately, while pulling themselves up by the boot straps, the government discovered the very real benefits of capitalism and foreign trade. They have used this discovery (?) in recent times to boost the surge of their economy. Growing access to TV and other worldwide communications challenged their government and encouraged it o hurry. They are doing so - and in the process they've made a few mistakes. Like Tianamin Square.  

Regardless, in most respects the China of today is nothing like China just 10 years ago. The pace of change is staggering. The present day Chinese circumstances are vaguely  comparable to the [rural-to-city-to-industy] growth of America about 70 years ago.  Americans think of that time as their [industrial revolution].  Well, right now is the time of China's.


Today the Chinese Communist Party does not actually practice Communism as we have come to  know it in Russia. Chinese Communism has always been different. Under Mao Tse Tung it was routinely changed to fit what he saw as [the needs of China], but it never was  successful. It failed despite the changes.  After Mao died the succeeding government was free to discard Communism altogether.  In the world today, Chinese Communism would be better understood if it was known as : 


Before listening to Peter I was not aware that communism had been so thoroughly erased, nor that  authoritarianism had so completely taken it's place. The original version of communism has been soundly rejected. After Mao died, the government, almost immediately, dismantled the failed communes and collective farms. They introduced a rapidly evolving Authoritarian Controlled Capitalism, and  citizens are again allowed to own land and encouraged to develop businesses. Students are now being sent abroad to learn and bring back knowledge to China. As you read this, China continues it's fast pace forward and, as expected, Chinese problems are of monumental size. The people of China are probably served better by their present form of government than they could be by any other. The Chinese have very unique problems. For example:

1.    1/3 of the population is relatively advanced and rich.
2.    another 1/3 generally considered the middle class,
3.    and about 1/3 are living in absolutely awful poverty.

These figures seem not so unusual . . . until you realize that:


It is the overwhelming numbers that make China unique. Any Chinese government must walk a narrow tightrope. Because of the shear number of discontented Chinese people living in a condition of terrible poverty - the government is in constant fear of the revolt of it's own population. It fears revolt as much as any external threat. For these reasons, among others, the government firmly believes it must be stern and authoritarian to maintain control.  Yet, despite the problems, the government is metering more and more freedoms (and privileges) to Chinese citizens. This is happening at a time when China is racing toward modernization. 

It should be said that the Chinese government is aware that it is sometimes over-controlling, brutal, and unfair.  They are convinced that it can not be otherwise.  They want to quiet criticism (with censorship) while sternly controlling the elements of change. They want to improve Chinese lives as fast as they possibly can, and they are forced to proceed rapidly - with caution.   

Peter Arnett discussed the [THREE T's] in China today. The government  doesn't  tolerate negative comments on these delicate subjects:

1.    Taiwan. The island of Formosa/Taiwan
      is considered part of China and it always
      will be a part of China. End of discussion.

2.    Tibet. The country was once part of China
       and never was not. It is a critical element
       of China's protection. It is now, and always
       has been, a buffer between India and China.

3.   Tianamen Square. It is history best forgotten
      and not to be discussed or commented upon.




Rain said…
Interesting to get a perspective from someone who has lived there and sees it from an experienced viewpoint. I have seen the potential of problems with China someday but if they do go to capitalism and depend on it, it will lessen that risk. If we could all work together, sure wanting to surpass the other in marketplaces, then violence is not a probability.

China didn't regard Tibet as separate but the world did but the world looked the other way when China overran it and occupied it. From what i read, they want the water as much as a buffer.

Taiwan could send us to war with China if they ever decide to take it by force but if it can be done as they did Hong Kong, maybe it will be peacefully resolved.

It seems the world has always settled its issues with violence. One would like to think it didn't have to be that way.
Greybeard said…
I'd certainly like to meet Peter, Bumps, but I don't think he'd care much for meeting me.
Like Rain, he's the kind of guy that has helped our enemy, causing the names of many of our troops to be carved into granite.
Rain said…
And what did I do that caused that to happen, Graybeard? I really resent how you label anyone who disagrees with you to be a traitor. I won't be back here, bumps. sorry but i don't go places I get called nasty names by someone who doesn't know me and when there is no justification for it. It's why sites end up all of the right or the left which maybe is how most want it to be. Sorry. I don't need the ugliness.
Bumps Stump said…
Rain . . . I really hope you will change your mind and come back now and then. I know my blogs are slanted toward conservative/libertarian ideas, but at no time (I hope) have I ever called you names or a "traitor" or any other nasty moniker. You are one of my favorite bloggers. Your pictures and commentaries on nature and philosophical subjects are excellent. In addition I must admit that I enjoy your presentation of left wing political bias. I don't understand it, but I appreciate it. For some reason, probably buried in the distant past, you tend to block alternative points of view. This is interesting to me, perhaps because I try so hard to understand how you arrive at your opinions. Yes, I think you are wrong on a number of issues, but that doesn't bother me at all. There are a huge number of Americans who believe as you do. There must be some merit deserved by your "side". I really hope that there will come a day when you will realize that the entitlements we have voted for ourselves will ultimately ruin us. There really is no free lunch. The new Obamacare medical concept may help more people to affordable health care, but at what cost? And who exactly pays for Obamacare? And Social Security? The Constiturion and Declaratioon of Independence and Bill of Rights all promote individual initiative, efforts, responsibility and so forth. When did we decide that taxing success in order to pay for someone elses failure is a good idea? I enjoy debating and discussing my thoughts just about as much as I enjoy trying to figure out the people with opposing views. Anyway, sorry to see you go - and you are welcome back any time. Bump
Greybeard said…
I've asked you this question before, Rain, and you ignored it because you don't want to admit you and others like you have blood on your hands...
Why do you think General Giap decided not to lay down arms after Tet of '68 when the North Vietnamese had such a catastrophic loss?
Because he saw the attitude of the general public was turning against the war and knew all he had to do was continue to bloody our nose, and we'd quit.
And that's exactly what happened.

When our enemy comes and reads your blog, do you think they are disheartened or encouraged?
You are aiding and abetting Rain. You're just to boneheaded to admit it.
I hope one day you get to talk with someone who has lost a son or daughter protecting your freedom to be stupid, and they make you understand what I cannot.
Greybeard said…
Isn't it amazing?
When they find their positions are indefensible, these lefties either change the subject, blame George Bush, or take their football and go home!
We don't need no stinking logic!
Ingineer66 said…
Interesting stuff. I like learning about China since now is their time and they are going through such a rapid change.
And I like the Authoritarianism name. That is what we are heading to here. Obama may not be able to take us completely into socialism, but he certainly is creating a strong central government that has control over more of our lives than ever before in this nation.
Greybeard said…
"You want the truth?
You've been lied to, by commission and omission.
And the Nation will suffer for your ignorance.
Maggie Thornton said…
Bump, very interesting post. I won't be forgetting Tianamen Square. We have these billions of people, 2/3 of which are doing well, and what is next? I'm wondering if China uses the poor as an army?

I need to learn a lot more about China. You've done a great job presenting Arnett's chat with the Geezers.
Anonymous said…
Peter Arnett is an idealist whom I respect. He has so much courage, nerve, and backbone that makes him a role model for anybody, left or right. If Americans were turning against the Vietnam War and Peter reported it, then he was only reflecting America which is like a person looking in the mirror at themselves either liking what they see or not but having to live with themselves and accept their own looks. As for hiding the way oneself looks or America looks to their enemies, why be a phoney? Face up to it, all of the Vietnam War problems arose due to dishonesty, secrecy, and intrigue which was alot worse than what Peter did. Peter is my hero for standing up for truth, goodness, and the American way like Superman, so good like apple pie, a folk hero, and etc!
Greybeard said…
Horse manure.
I understand why you're "anomymous", voicing that kind of crap.
Are you a Viet Nam Veteran? Are you even old enough to have lived through that time?
Do you have any idea how many Vietnamese died because of idiots like you?
Be ashamed of yourself.
Hi Greybeard . . . I've a small problem with "anonymous" but not with his or her comments. On my blog I accept every point of view except the really nasty ones. My problem is that I have always been wary of people that refuse to take responsibility for whatever they say or write. It isn't a good recommendation and diminishes the value of the comment. . . . Bump
Bruiser said…
Is it possible please for someone who is close to Peter Arnett to forward with his permission, an email address so I can contact him? I'm filmmaker in NZ hoping to produce a documentary about his life and his NZ connection. My email is Thank you.
Bruiser said…
Hi everyone. Since last writing a request to contact Peter Arnett in 2011, I have come a long way in producing a theatrical documentary about his life called 'Words of War'. A number of people contacted me from this forum and I thank you. I've already filmed with Peter in his homeland of New Zealand and right now I'm raising some funds to get over to China where he is teaching journalism. This is the 1st main stage of the project as I want to film with him in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the USA also. For anyone interested in the film or those can contribute or know of those within your own networks who could give me boost I need to get to China they can go to a crowd-funding site that is taking donations right now (60 days): See and look for 'WORDS OF WAR'. There are links there to the film website and Facebook page also. Thank you all and here's hoping Peter's story can be told.

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