Have you ever heard a Chinese adage "Going too far is as bad as not going far enough" (过犹不及)?
A few days ago an American journalist reporting on the crackdown wrote me from
, asking for help finding local people to interview, so I called a few Chongqing friends who I think might have something to say. One friend first could barely contain her discontent with the latest death sentences and then politely turned down my request. "We'd better not talk about this sensitive topic," she said. "We don't want to get any trouble." Her words surprised me because not long ago she had happily praised the crackdown. Chongqing
The second friend said, "If speaking truthfully [about the crackdown], then everyone has psychological hindrance. If speaking untruthfully, then what's the point?" His conclusion: better not speak at all.
The third person advised me to stay away from politics (remotely familiar advice I haven't heard expressed since the early 1980s!). "Don't you see the left wind in the media all the time now? Sweep yellow [porn], crackdown black [gang crime]. But what's yellow what's black is not up to us laobaixing [ordinary names] to decide. We are afraid to be trapped again, like the anti-rightist campaign in the '50s. Chinese know about fear. Things now don't smell right; to involve one more thing is not as good as to involve one less."
All those people are ordinary citizens not in any important position. I haven't seen this amount of fear for quite some time. In
, this seemed to have begun with the Li Zhuang case, with which Bo Xilai's image is turning from that of an enlightened leader to a Maoist despot. He might be neither, but the campaign-style move is what frightens people, because it recalls bad memories of the Mao era. Only the youngsters who have no knowledge of (and are not told about) that time stay enthusiastic – and this is equally scary. Chongqing
There is also a rumor that Bo Xilai might be out of favor with the central Party, because his name did not show up in a recent high-rank event where all other politbureau members appeared. This seems to me more a wish than concrete evidence. Analyzing name appearances in the media was what people used during the Cultural Revolution to guess which direction the political wind would blow, much like technical analysis is used on Wall Street to guess which way the stock market will move. Neither is really predictable, but the return of such guesswork in politics may be another warning sign.