Why did China arrest and then release Xu Zhiyong? Xu’s legal center was one of the least challenging, most by-the-book human rights law centers in China; while they took on cases that challenged government officials, like the one against the victims of melamine poisoning, they were scrupulous about obeying the rules. Why pick on Xu, rather than on more radical human rights oriented lawyers?
One suspects that we tend to underestimate the degree to which dictatorial regimes make decisions randomly in ways that don’t make any sense. We all know that our own democratic regimes concentrate on issues in an arbitrary and politically motivated fashion, that people are treated unfairly for no apparent reason, etc. But for some reason we think that dictatorial regimes are all animated by some secret super-rational plan for preserving their own power that all makes sense if you could just understand what was going on behind closed doors. We thought that about the USSR; it didn’t become apparent until glasnost got started that actually the whole thing was a giant incompetent bureaucracy making irrational decisions out of pure incompetence and fear. I’m sure much of what takes place in China is similar.
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