“Democracy must win, autocracy must die.”

According to Asia News:

In the list of charges, the Suning prosecutor shows some “evidence” of Chen’s attempts to subvert. They are four articles written between March 2009 and January 2011: “The Disease of the System and the Medicine of Constitutional Democracy,” “The Key to China’s Democratization is the Growth of a Civil Opposition,” “The Feet of the Rights Defense [Movement] and the Brain of the Constitutional Democracy Movement,” and “Thoughts on Human Rights Day Hunger Strike.”

Constitutional democracy… civil opposition… human rights… those are values our society celebrates. In fact, our Society celebrated those same values for most of the 20th century, especially after National Geographic’s brief and disastrous flirtation with fascism in the 1930s.

Autocrats maintain a strange allure, though. They manage to attract people who admire a certain kind of power. For instance, here’s environmentalist Mike Fay, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, extolling the virtues of dictators and warlords in a 2006 interview:

Women’s Wear Daily: But don’t a lot of the countries you’re working in have dysfunctional governments?

Mike Fay: Yeah, but wherever you go on earth, humans organize themselves in some way. I find often the less national influence there is in the management equation, the more successful you are, because you’re dealing with local warlords. You can go right to the guy in charge and say, “Hey, we’re seeing way too much decrease in vegetation here, way too much willy-nilly burning here, let’s do something about it.” That guy can make that decision right there. He doesn’t have to ask the president, he doesn’t have to ask some minister. I think you can make progress more easily there than you can in this country. That’s for sure. [emphasis added]

In other words: Autocratic thugs care about the planet too. They get stuff done. They “make progress.” They don’t get bogged down “asking” anyone for anything.

To sum up: If your mission is “to inspire people to care about the planet” — and you’re willing to keep your mouth shut when democracy activists like Chen Wei get thrown in jail — then you’re welcome to do business in China:

Chris Johns (Editor of National Geographic Magazine) & Terry Adamson (NGS EVP) celebrate with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

It’s worth remembering that such toasting and kowtowing have not been the norm for the National Geographic Society. Just 20 years ago — before our Society launched 30+ international editions — NGS was independent and self-confident enough to bring its members “the world and all that is in it,” including the march of the autocrats in China:


John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society

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