The CDT Censorship Digest is a monthly round-up of censored speech, propaganda developments, and rights defense in China, compiled and written by CDT Chinese editors. We have selected, translated, and adapted relevant and interesting portions of the digest for our English readers, and encourage you to read the full digest as originally posted at CDT Chinese.
In a 2018 interview, Historian Yu Yingshi noted that the “capitalism” conceived by Deng Xiaoping was nothing like the economic system long popular in the West. Deng’s was a capitalism under complete control of the Party, roughly along the following model: The CCP becomes a huge capitalist collective, and all important companies are all so-called “state enterprises.” In fact, they are controlled by Party committees, and so should be called “Party enterprises.” Western commentators call Deng’s model “state capitalism,” but this is inaccurate—they call it that because Westerners couldn’t imagine something as strange as “Party capitalism.”
Under Party capitalism, it isn’t hard to understand the experiences that private entrepreneurs in China had this November. In his interview, Mr. Yu pointed out that in addition to “Party enterprises,” there are also private ventures or public-private partnerships—but, in this capitalism, these are also directly under Party control. Occasionally, when an entrepreneur doesn’t listen to the Party, repercussions follow. In such a system, not only entrepreneurs, but all who question the Party, may have to pay a price. However, Mr. Yu also pointed out in the interview: from a historical point of view, “no regime that relies on violence can maintain power for long.”
“I’m Not a Hero. I Didn’t Capitulate Because of the Price I’d Pay”
After spending four years in prison for his work chronicling protest across China, in June of this year—on the day after his 43rd birthday—Lu Yuyu was released. Once free, he learned that since his arrest the space for dissent in China had almost completely disappeared. However, Lu decided not to be silent, and published a detailed account of his time in prison (translated in full by CDT). As November began, at China Change Cao Yaxue reminded readers of Lu’s story, ending on a quote perennially relevant in Xi’s China:
“I’m not a hero,” he said. “Nor am I one of those who’ve chosen to stay in China in order to continue the struggle. I worked on Not News because I liked it; I didn’t leave China because as someone at the bottom rung of society, I didn’t get the opportunity. I didn’t capitulate because of the price I would pay for it. I want to live with dignity.” [Source] [Chinese]
Through yet another month, the detention of rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong continued. After she issued a statement of support for Xu on his 100th day of his detention in late September, his girlfriend Li Qiaochu in November reflected on her 120 days under “residential surveillance in a designated location” earlier this year:
I was completely deprived, all who appeared in front of me did so to rebuke me, threaten me, or to educate me. This disciplinary system gives itself absolute power, and exercises that power to the maxim. It deprives people of vitality. It attempts to turn those that it supervises into “obedient machines” who live just to be interrogated constantly. [Chinese]
On November 26, Li tweeted that police had summoned her to a meeting.
Police questioned Xu Zhiyong’s girlfriend, Li Qiaochu, then took her computer & phone, & left with a warning of detention if she spoke up about Xu’s case again. https://t.co/PEBSOsbiqo
— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) November 27, 2020
Police released Li Qiaochu into her parents’ custody 11/27 after they detained her on 11/26 & confiscating her phone & computer. Father keeping Li isolated after signing a guarantee w/police. Li participated in the “MeToo” movement & is Xu Zhiyong’s girlfriend. https://t.co/U0u5HHyhCs
— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) November 30, 2020
Also in November, it was revealed that citizen journalist Zhang Zhan had been formally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and is looking at a likely five-year prison sentence. The former lawyer has been in detention since May, and is the fourth citizen journalist to be arrested for covering the coronavirus.
Private Entrepreneurs: “If They’re Not Committing a Crime, They’re on the Road to Crime”
“China’s entrepreneurs are either committing a crime, or they’re on the road to commit a crime.” This sentiment was expressed widely by Chinese netizens in online discussions about the difficult situation facing some of the nation’s high-profile entrepreneurs in November.
A notable example is that of Sun Dawu, a billionaire agricultural entrepreneur and outspoken political commentator who was arrested with over 20 family members and colleagues on November 10. Long praised by liberal intellectuals for his outside-the-box thinking about lending and poverty alleviation, Sun is no stranger to controversy and falling afoul of Party authorities. The words that late Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo wrote about Sun in 2003 still ring true today:
Authorities are discovering that peasant entrepreneurs like Sun Dawu are becoming more common, and especially the entrepreneurial conscience of Sun Dawu to despise money for power transactions and the courage to speak out. He has the economic resources and organizational capabilities, and also the perspective of fighting for farmers’ rights and aiding them in getting out of poverty. He calls for political reforms from the perspective of constitutional democracy, which poses a huge challenge to the current political system, and may make Sun a new type of political leader. So, it is necessary for authorities to use vague laws to bring him to heel, making Sun Dawu and his Dawu Group into victims of a “country ruled by evil laws.” [Chinese]
Online, an article signed by “Lao Hou” commented:
Unsurprisingly, the handling of Dawu Group began with the takeover of its hospital and school. This method of punishment fully explains that in the eyes of the local government the problem with Dawu Group isn’t a criminal or an economic problem, but a political problem.
Dawu Group flaunts that it doesn’t engage in bribery, meaning it never interacts or colludes with the government in private. Its involvement with social services has moved deeply into government jurisdiction, especially education, healthcare, and elderly care—the pillar industries of the regime—which they’ve turned into welfare projects. This undermines industrial policies, and also raises suspicion of a grassroots overtaking of the government. [Source]
In short, Lao Hou continues, “Acting as a child of the Party is the only way for Dawu Group, just as it’s the only way for all private firms.”
Another entrepreneur who this November was very publicly forced to be a “child of the Party” was Ant Group’s Jack Ma. Xi Jinping reportedly personally decided to shut down the firm’s IPO—which would have been the world’s largest offering to date—after the entrepreneur gave a speech criticizing regulators in October.
Other private entrepreneurs deserve attention this November, including Li Huaiqing, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “subversion” and other charges. Prior to his 2018 arrest and the freezing of his and his family’s assets, the Chongqing native was the owner of a pawn company. He was arrested suddenly in January 2018 for alleged gang activity, then months later accused of fraud, subversion, and blackmail over writings and recordings he shared on social media.
Women’s Rights in China: Don’t Forget the Most Vulnerable
In early November, a week after the violent public death of the Tibetan woman Lhamo, women’s rights activists mourned the domestic abuse victim. An essay by feminist activists Xiao Meili and Zhu Xixi explained that they “launched this campaign for Lhamo not only in hopes that everyone will remember her, but also to remind ourselves that we have zero tolerance for domestic violence and the bullying of victims. Even more, we hope that the public sector and everyone in law enforcement will forever remember Lhamo, will remember that domestic violence isn’t a domestic matter. Stop inaction! Punish Inaction!”
However, before Lhamo’s tragedy had even concluded, shockingly lenient sentencing for the brutal torture and death of another young woman outraged the country in November. Fang Yangyang, a young Shandong woman, had been arranged to marry a man in 2016. Fang, who had reportedly been diagnosed with a mild mental condition, was beaten and detained by her husband and parents-in-law for years. She died last year highly malnourished. In January, a Yucheng, Shandong court found the three torturers guilty of “abuse.” The husband’s sentence was suspended allowing him to walk that day. Marriage being an institution based on childhood, and Fang’s inability to deliver a child—potentially due to her highly malnourished and distressed state—were deemed relevant.
In late November, Xiao Meili announced another campaign, initiating a petition to the Yucheng Court demanding a new fair trial, and zero tolerance for domestic violence. Violation among the most vulnerable groups is a stain on civilized society. Let’s pledge to remember tragedies like those of Lhamo and Fang Yangyan, and hope those in power also won’t forget them.
Everyday Life Under Totalitarianism
As totalitarianism comes to define a system, those living in that system will discover that resistance has become a part of daily life. One such act of resistance that has come to define the era for Chinese netizens is “scaling the wall,” a daily occurrence for many with increasingly sharp penalties. In a “CDT Guide” in November, CDT Chinese editors looked back over recent years to show the steady criminalization of accessing information in China.
Denunciation and reporting peers is another feature that has come to define the era, as November readily showed. On American Thanksgiving, a dormitory manager at Harbin Institute of Technology was reported for handing out chocolate on the Western holiday, landing her in the middle of a firestorm. On WeChat, @骚客文艺 used the story to reflect on the trend:
That students conduct, if “over-interpreted,” is that of a closed and narrow-minded person with their eyes wide who is constantly “differentiating between enemy and friend,” constantly cutting, until in the end the good points in U.S.-China relations are less and less. Boycott Christmas because of “Religious factors,” boycott Valentines Day because it touches upon passion between men and women, boycott Thanksgiving because it’s “Western.” In the end, there’s less and less left to boycott, and the act of resisting is less and less meaningful. “Resistance” becomes merely a habit of thought–and thinking too continues to shrink. It is this that worries people. The most precious thing a young person can have is a kind and open heart, rather than eyes wide scanning for enemies. [Chinese]
On November 4, historian Shen Zhihua gave a lecture, which was also streamed live online, on the rise and fall of the Soviet model of socialism. An hour into the lecture, the stream was suddenly cut, reportedly due to “malicious reports”—tip-offs, presumably from students, that the content challenged Party orthodoxy.
November 8 is “Journalists’ Day” in China, a holiday officially established by the Party and government in 2000. Between January 1 and November 30, 2020, about 200,000 journalists passed their “Xi Jinping thought” exams. China was in 2020 declared the world’s greatest jailor of journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists for the second year in a row.