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Who has the power, the people or the government?
Cao An Jushi
1/12/2004

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After China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, a spokesperson for the Chinese government stated that the Beijing 2008 Games would be the most glorious in history, with the government making $35 billion in new investments. I was shocked by this statement. I wanted to ask him, “Who gave you such power?”

If I remember correctly, the budget of the Chinese government requires approval from the Chinese People’s Congress. Thirty-five billion dollars is not a small number, yet I have not read anywhere that the People’s Congress approved this budget item. How could the administration’s spokesperson announce this decision? I believe that the Chinese government will eventually appropriate this $35 billion, since such a practice is common in the so-called “Socialism with a Chinese flavor.” Yet I still want to ask, “Where is the rule of law that the government claims exists? Why don’t government officials follow the law? Who gave them such power?”

This issue reminds me of the experience of the working class in China. China was established as a communist country in 1949, and now the first generation of workers are in their 70s. They have devoted their youth to the development of China. In the 1950's, China claimed to be a socialist country, and one’s income was allocated 70% to the country and 30% to the individual. The government promised people pensions, health insurance, housing and other welfare benefits. Since the 1990s, China’s economic reforms have met with success. Yet, the retirement benefits of the young workers from the 1950s have now disappeared.

We have a customer at our bank who is originally from Changchun, China. The first thing she did after obtaining permanent residency in the United States was to bring her parents here. After her parents moved in for a month, they started telling me their experiences in China. The elderly couple used to work for a factory in Changchun with over 10,000 employees. Since 1993, the factory was basically closed. They relied on 160 yuan ($20) as a monthly pension to survive, but the pensions were soon reduced to 100, 80 and 60 yuan, until eventually nothing was given. The couple was retired with no income, and no money for paying medical costs. Fortunately, the daughter was in the United States as a student, and with her part-time job she had been sending money every month to her parents in China.

In addition, right before the elderly couple came to the United States, the government notified them that they needed to purchase their own apartment in Changchun. At a discount price of 400 yuan per square meter, the apartment would cost 37,000 yuan. The couple’s salary right before retirement was less than 700 yuan a month. Between 1955 and 1985, their monthly income was 120 yuan, and between 1985 and 1992, 400 yuan. This means that for their entire work life, their total income was about 70,000 yuan. Yet after retirement they were required to pay more than half of their life earnings for housing that the government had promised to provide for free.

I was saddened by what this elderly couple told me. In developed countries, taxes usually take out 10-30% of an individual’s income. For high-income groups, tax rates can be as high as 50-60%. In China, the government has never paid people for what they produce. The fact that almost all industries are owned by the state is another form of taxation. The tax rate of 70% is economic exploitation of the people. What’s worse is that when these people are retired, the government uses the excuse of “reforms” to further exploit them.

Who gave them such power?

I am not against China’s reforms and openness policies, and admire the retirement welfare system used for the last few decades in China. But amidst economic reforms, the benefits of those who are not in powerful positions have to be protected. Should we ignore them just because they are elderly and ill? Don’t they deserve to be treated fairly? We recognize the many difficulties the government is faced with, but it is the duty of a government to manage a country fairly, not sacrificing the interests of the disadvantaged for economic profit. If we don’t protect the elderly now, who will protect us in the future? Why can’t the government take a long-term view and establish a good tradition of taking care of our elderly? Why do they use the excuse of economic reforms to abolish the best retirement health system in the world? Who gave them such power?

I believe that there are many intelligent, elite people working for the Chinese government. But elites should not only try to protect themselves, neither should they only protect special interest groups. The nation belongs to the people. If the country doesn’t protect the disadvantaged, then such a government is one that protects thieves. I want to ask, “Who deprived the disadvantaged of their rights? Who deprived them of their money? Who gave you such power?"

I say to the Chinese officials, “Who gave you the power to exploit others and ignore the law? History will not lie, and will not let these crimes stay hidden forever. Why don't you take a moment and think, ‘Who gave us such power?’”

Chinese people of good will, why don't you ask them, “Who gave you such power?”

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