Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pray for Li Hongfang, and for the Chinese. UPDATED

I stumbled upon this story today, and it made me so sad. (Warning: Li Hongfang's face has been severely distorted by facial tumors, and children might find the pictures frightening).  Her plea to be seen as a mother, not a monster, is heartbreaking.  Perhaps most sad-making of all:  buried in this story of a woman who cannot afford surgery that would help her are a few details about the Chinese health care system.  They don't have one, apparently.  I don't mean their health care is bad, which it is.  I mean that for people like Li Hongfang, there essentially is no way to receive medical care locally, and the care she could get even if she traveled to a city is completely beyond her means. This is in China:  you know, that up-and-coming superpower we in the U.S. ought to look to as an example.

Please.  Am I the only one who is just so tired of the posturing by politicians and the press about how awesome China is?  (Remember Thomas "I just want to be China for a day" Friedman?)

Am I the only one who has found the coverage of the courageous Chen Guangcheng dispiriting, to say the least?  This May 19 article from the IHT, for example, examines his arrival in the U.S. in terms of  its effect on diplomacy, noting that

Of course, the relationship between China and the United States is not the epoch-defining test that the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union was, yet. And many students of international relations argue it does not have to be.

After all, who could imagine The Empire State Building being adorned in the colors of the Soviet Union’s flag on 60th anniversary of its founding, as it was for China’s?

Yes, indeed, who could imagine that?  Allow me to ask another question, though: why are we adorning the Empire State Building with China's colors?  I understand diplomacy, I really do.  I understand that we're enmeshed with China in ways we never were with the Soviet Union.  But I don't understand celebrating a country whose main health care service seems to be providing 13 million abortions per year.  I really don't.  I don't understand the mindset of a colleague of mine who said to me recently that Americans really need to get on board with a "different strokes for different folks" approach when it some to Chinese "culture."  Forced abortions, sterilizations, poisoned workers, foul air?  Just a different culture.  Don't interfere--but do send all your factories over, by all means.

One thing that was not mentioned in the Li Hongfang story was charitable organizations who might help her out.  As Justin Rorlich points out here, there are reasons for this.  In the initial heady days of the 1949 Communist Revolution, charity was dispensed with, because the government could do it all, except it couldn't.  Unfortunately, the ancient Chinese tradition of private charity has not been easy to revive:

When the Chinese Communist Party issued its 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) last year, it emphasized “innovative social management,” which the ICNL says refers to changes in “the way it regulates or manages society and societal organizations (China's term for nonprofits).”

So, they're clearly talking about change, but as yet there doesn't seem to be any way, at least as a Westerner would perceive it, to give money to a (non-government) charity based in China.

Of course, the fundamental disconnect regarding charity under socialism will always exist. As Eileen Heisman noted, "A lot of other countries have higher tax rates, and the government takes care of the needs of individuals that private philanthropy takes care of here [in the US]."

Except, as the Li Hongfang story demonstrates, the government does not actually take care of the needs of individuals.

It's hard not to see a warning here, as we in the U.S. view, for the first time, the possibility of a government takeover of charitable institutions that serve the least among us, which is one possible outcome of noncompliance with the HHS Mandate.  I have faith that this will not happen; that the 43 lawsuits recently filed will be successful, that we'll retain our ability to do what we do best.   I'm sorry that they are necessary, as they waste time, money and energy.  But I'm grateful we're not China, and that we have a Supreme Court to which we can turn. May it always be so.

UPDATE:  Apparently, I'm not the only one with China on my mind today.  At Catholic Vote, Kathryn Lopez writes:

Some images should make an indelible mark. Don’t click on this link unless you’re prepared to keep this image with you.
The photo is of Feng Jianmei and her dead child. She was reportedly taken from her home by government officials while her husband was at work and after refusing to pay fines, their child was killed on June 3.
At a ceremony today in Washington at the Victims of Communism Memorial, Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Borders, told this mother’s story, and put what has been done to her family in its historic context.

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