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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2004

China changes its strut

When a society as closed as the People s Republic of China has been decides to open up a little, it s interesting to see what comes first.

During the early years in China s case it was business and industry and tourism.

There are three manifestations of this openness. All appear designed to promote personal and public agency responsibility.

First is the start in three cities of a sex education program for girls, of special importance in a socially conservative society such as China s.

Second was the official announcement that negligent workers were responsible for a Dec. 23 gas well explosion that spewed toxic fumes over 10 square miles. Unspecified punishment was promised.

Third, and important for a society that expects to profit from openness, is the edict from the Ministry of Public Security that local police departments issue regular news releases (weekly or fortnightly), their first by Jan. 22. Most of these will deal with criminal cases, vehicle accidents, disasters, and public protection.

These days in China police often hang up on reporters and others seeking information, or claim not to understand what they want. Or they refer them to party officials who know nothing. Sometimes reporters on police events and natural disasters are even held and punished.

Frustration with this behavior coincides with China s recent and most important edict that the state-controlled media exert more editorial independence. China can t have local police slapping them down.

The sex education program, underwritten by the government and Procter & Gamble (China) Ltd., if successful, will expand to 302 cities.

This program appears to address the subtle physical, mental, and emotional changes of puberty with a goal of helping girls to better understand themselves and their bodies and thus exert more responsible behavior.

With regard to the well explosion, the crew handling the well erred, the government said, mishandling anti-blowout equipment, misjudging the level of gas in the well, failing to spot the blowout, and then not igniting the fumes to halt their spread. The leak took four days to plug.

It takes time to break old habits of secrecy so characteristic of closed societies. But the success of democratic countries relies on the openness of those who control the public destiny.

China s first steps deserve commendation.



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