By Chang Ping, published: December 22, 2014
On 19 April this year, at the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva, while Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of the democracy activist Wang Bingzhang, whom a Chinese court had sentenced to life imprisonment, was giving testimony on her father’s behalf, a man photographed her using a concealed camera. After investigating the matter, the UN cancelled this man’s UN pass. This incident revealed an “open secret” – the man who photographed Ti-Anna enter the conference room as a representative of a Chinese non-governmental organization (NGO), he and his organization in fact work for the Chinese government, and their work includes taking intimidating photographs.
The Chinese government did not have to pay much of a price for this action and, moreover, China still dispatches these so-called NGO’s to attend similar conferences. These Chinese NGO’s do not have to dissemble. As long as they do nothing more serious than intimidation, the international agencies will accept them. On 23 October, when the UN convened in Geneva a review on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, a member of the review comittee asked Chinese officials about the cocoperation between Chinese government and NGO’s. A Chinese official replied that China’s government cooperated with the All-China Women’s Federation (中华全国妇女联合会). Some NGO members at the conference expressed surprise, and asked if the Chinese official could give a different example of such cooperation. How could anyone not know that the All-China Women’s Federation was not a real NGO? Someone replied that the Chinese government deliberately makes this claim so that constant repetition of this claim would force the international community to accept the argument that the All-China Women’s Federation is a NGO.
The All-China Women’s Federation is in essence an official government agency, but the Chinese government insists on marketing it to the international community as an NGO, and the international community has to accept this. At a minimum, I did not hear public disagreement about the status of the All-China Women’s Federation at the UN review on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women from either the UN review committee or other NGOs. Accepting the All-China Women’s Federation as an NGO makes the review somewhat false, at that moment, the UN Conference Hall became just like the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
This is an example of what I have recently experienced, but it is not an isolated example. In fact, the Chinese government is in the act of using similar methods to redefine the rules of civilization.
The meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shintaro and Xi Jinping at the APEC Summit in Beijing allowed people to once again raise the concept of Japan as an abnormal country. It refers to the restrictions imposed on Japan militarily and diplomaticly since World War II. I would like to point out that, in an overarching sense, China is an abnormal country. Japan’s abnormality is punishment for invasion and military defeat, and this punishment hurts the self-esteem of some Japanese patriots. China’s abnormality lies in its challenges to, and revisions of, the rules of civilization, and these challenges and revisions hurt all of mankind and the international order.
The Fourth Plenum of the 18th CCP Congress, which just ended last month, had as its theme “the overall advancement of governing the nation according to law,” and promulgated a 17 thousand word “Decision” that proclaimed “wield state power according to the constitution,” and “govern the nation according to law.” Just as world opinion was analyzing any new changes in this “Decision” and wondering why people like Liu Xiaobo and Ilham Tothi, who called for constitutionalism and rule of law, were thrown into jail, the Chinese communist’s official media stated emphatically that China’s “wielding state power according to the constitution” differed from the West’s constitutional democracy. Not only is it different, in fact it is completely opposite: western constitutionalism seeks to restrict and balance the exercise of political power to limit the power of political parties, while China’s “wield state power according to the constitution” means the “integration of the leadership of the party, of people be the masters of the country, and governing the nation according to law,” that is the consolidation of the power of the only ruling party.
The Party’s media took it a step further, glibly criticizing western constitutionalism as “sacrificing the people’s basic interests, splitting democracy and the rule of law to realize the selfish interests of a single party and even of a single person.”
The National People’s Congress convenes in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in March of every year. Although the whole world knows that this Congress is less than even a rubber stamp congress (real major policies are all announced by conferences of party representatives), still the media gather pretentiously, and specialists analyze the Congress’ themes, the ratio of minority representatives, the percentage of women’s representatives, and the number of workers’ representatives. It’s not that these data do not have significance, but that, when people cite these data, they completely forget, or intentionally avoid, this fact: this meeting is not a real Congress, and these representatives are not congressional representatives. The Political Consultative Conference is even more unrepresentative: although it was established under the rubric of participating in governing the state and deliberating on government affairs, nonetheless, it has not one iota of decision-making power. When officials from the National People’s Congress and the Political Consultative Conference visit western countries, however, they always request their hosts treat them as members of a congress or a senate, and basically that is how they are treated.
From its inception, the Xinhua News Agency has always been a Chinese communist propaganda organ, and in this it has never changed. Still, Xinhua claims to be one of the “world’s four great news agencies,” along with the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. Xinhua has established more than one hundred branches throughout the world, publishing its press releases in many languages. Not only are Xinhua journalists controlled by the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but also they have such responsibilities as disinformation campaigns, collecting intelligence, and even engaging in espionage. Nonetheless, they still pass through the world as freely as journalists from normal news agencies.
The Global Times, an off-shoot of the CCP’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily, is a political tabloid given to demagoguery. It regularly quotes western media out of context to produce reports and criticisms that completely skewer the meaning of the original; it also publishes fictional interviews and fabricates reports. This kind of a newspaper is nonetheless treated as a serious media outlet. Global Times, together with well regarded international agencies, have organized media forums whose invitees include such German media as Deutsche Welle, North German Radio and Television, and Times Germany, to discuss world events.
What is more deceptive are education and scholarship. The Chinese government has never attempted to hide the fact that it has always implemented a Chinese communist ideological education program in kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, colleges, and academic institutions at all levels. Education in utilitarianism and populism are all the rage. If teachers criticize current affairs, they may be reported by their students, suspended from teaching, or even dismissed from teaching. The government controls the expenditures for scientific research, and it’s no secret that the approval system is widely corrupt. Even in such famous institutions as Peking University, students surfing foreign internet sites are charged by the hour. Overseas Chinese students organizations are heavily influenced by Chinese embassies. Mainland students studying at tertiary institutions in Hong Kong must report to and sign up with the Central Liaison Office, the main CCP organization in Hong Kong. If they do not sign up, their degrees will meet with all kinds of restrictions when they return to the Chinese mainland.
On 10 July, 2014, the People’s Daily published an essay titled Take a Closer Look at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) – Raise High the Banner of Marxism, Make Scholarship for the People. According to this essay, CASS’s strength is “demonstrated in its academic attitude of having a strong political stance” and “making scholarship for the people.” CASS announced that it was taking political discipline as the primary factor in evaluating its members, and that CASS was strictly implementing a one vote veto system whereby those being evaluated for political adherence could have their evaluation failed by a single nay vote among evaluators. Is an academic institution that takes political discipline as a priority still a normal academic institution? No wonder Chinese netizens ridiculed CASS’ Director Wang Weiguang for his essay Domestic Class Struggle Will Never Be Extinguished.
But CASS does appear to be a magnificent academic institution: “39 research institutes, 180 research centers, nearly 300 disciplines, nearly 4000 researchers, an average of 300 academic publications per annum, more than 3,890 kinds of scientific papers, more than 510 research reports, and more than 1,200 important policy recommendations have been submitted….”
Abnormal power structures result in abnormal social forms. For this reason, citing abnormalities in Chinese society is an impossible task because the list will have no end.
But different from previous and present autocracies loathed by people, China’s communist regime has been working to export its abnormalities. As the recent APEC meeting made it clear, China wants to be considered equal to the other great nations. But China does not want to do what it did in earlier years any more when it used concealment and deception to accord with, and mix into, international society. At present, China declares in a lofty tone its opposition to western constitutional democracy, berates “foreign hostile forces,” while at the same time compelling the world to accord with and become accustomed to China.
The original purpose of the west’s diplomatic tactics, such as engagement, negotiations and cooperation, are all meant to allow civilization to influence barbarism, to let in enlightenment, and to allow the normal supercede the abnormal. However, many a times, these efforts in reality have worked as an endorsement of an abnormal country, making the abnormal normal. When people choose not to see China’s abnormalities, the world itself has already become abnormal.
Other essays by Chang Ping on this site:
Chang Ping (长平) was the former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend whose work was censored by the Chinese government until he was expelled and all his writings censored in China in early 2011. He lives in Germany now and is a current affairs commentator for South China Morning Post. This essay is written exclusively for China Change.
(Translated by Ai Ru)