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Author of ‘A History of Brainwashing’ Is Tried in Jiangxi

China Change, October 31, 2015


Cover of "A History of Brainwashing"

Cover of “A History of Brainwashing”

The trial of Jiangxi dissident Fu Zhibin (傅志彬), author of the book “A History of Brainwashing” (《洗脑的历史》), concluded on Oct. 30 in the Nanchang City Intermediate People’s Court. Fu was tried for “illegal business operations” (非法经营罪); the court is expected to announce the verdict in the coming days.

Four defendants stood trial: apart from Fu Zhibin, there was his assistant Wu Wei (吴薇), and two print staff.

Fu, 51, was taken away by Nanchang City police on September 9 last year for selling “A History of Brainwashing”; on September 30 he was criminally detained for alleged “illegal business operations.” In December 2014 prosecutors authorized his arrest, and in March 2015 he was formally indicted.  

“A History of Brainwashing,” after its publication in Taiwan, was available for purchase in mainland China via Taobao, as well as being sold in some places of retail. Not long after it went on sale Fu was taken captive by police. At the time the book had sold over 1,000 copies, bringing in revenue of 90,000 RMB.

Fu Zhibin (傅志彬)

Fu Zhibin (傅志彬)

Fu Zhibin’s lawyer Zhang Zanning (张赞宁) said that the authorities charged that the book had no publication number, which made it illegal. But, he argued, this only violated an administrative law, not a criminal law. If the authorities wanted to charge Fu with illegal business operations, they would need to first go through the administrative agency in charge of publications, and only if that agency considered the matter to be a violation of the law would they be able to hand it over to the public security authorities. Given that public security directly filed the case, ignoring the appropriate procedures, this act itself didn’t conform to the law, Zhang argued—and the detention of Fu was therefore also illegal.

Fu Zhibin, in his defense at trial, said that his book would withstand the test of time, and that he hopes the judgement of the court will also be able to stand up to the scrutiny of the future.

Zhang said: “You must know that this is China—in China, no matter how good your defense is, they’ll still convict and sentence you.”

According to the author’s preface in “A History of Brainwashing,” the book was first conceived as an attempt to provide a brief history of the Chinese Communist Party. But what Fu had completed in two years was not merely the telling of the Party’s history, but as an exploration of the harm caused by extremist ideologies and their methods of controlling a populace.

Fu Zhibin signs copies of his book at a book fair in Hong Kong. Photo:

Fu Zhibin signs copies of his book at a book fair in Hong Kong. Photo:

“The radicalization of thought comes from monotheism: from one soul, to one leader, to one head of state, the structure of thought is the same — it’s about not allowing the masses to have any other idol or competing thoughts, so as to control and coerce them,” Fu wrote.

“It can be said that this book is the product and record of my reading, thinking, and traveling over the decades,” he wrote. “So the work is also an odd hybrid: it probes theories, narrates historical events, and includes my own observations and recollections.”

Fu could face a maximum jail time of 5 years.

Fu Zhibin was born in Nanchang City of Jiangxi Province in 1964; in 1985 he graduated from the philosophy department of Lanzhou University. He is also an independent film director, having produced “Tibet: Between Buddhism and Modernity,” and “The Vastness of the West” series of documentaries.



Fu Zhibin’s page on the Independent Chinese Pen Center webpage


Related links

《西边有海》第一集《汶川的秘密》– First episode of the “The Vastness of the West” documentary series on western China.

西藏在佛与现代化之间 – documentary series: “Tibet: Between Buddhism and Modernity”

专访《洗脑的历史》作者傅志彬 – an interview with Fu Zhibin about his book on brainwashing


We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!

By Chang Ping, published: October 1, 2015

“Why would the results of a poll conducted by a neutral, respected polling organization tally so closely with the propaganda of a totalitarian government?”


Can it be that 92.8% of Chinese poll respondents are truly satisfied with the Chinese central government, and that among these, 37.6% are “extremely satisfied”? For over a decade, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, in collaboration with Horizon Research (零点调查公司) in Beijing, has been conducting polls on Chinese citizens’ attitudes toward their government. In the most recent poll, respondents’ satisfaction with the central government was at an all-time high. The New York Times described it as a “reliable” public opinion poll.

Xi Jinping’s crackdown on “tigers” (corrupt officials and big-time economic criminals) has garnered the support of many Chinese citizens angered by corruption, but it is now abundantly clear that the vaunted crackdown is in fact a political power struggle in the guise of an anti-corruption crusade. At the same time, we have seen a continued Chinese economic slump, nightmarish losses for private investors who bought into government predictions about rising Chinese stock values, skies over Beijing that are made blue only for special occasions such as the recent troops review, a significant tightening of controls over online speech, large-scale incarceration of government critics, and mass arrests of human rights lawyers. One really has to wonder: from whence do these supposedly “high levels of satisfaction” derive?

Even more paradoxically, respondents’ levels of satisfaction with the Chinese central government have remained consistently high in every such poll taken over the last decade, as Anthony Saich, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Director of the Ash Center, explained in an interview with the New York Times. In the two years since Xi Jinping assumed office, he has had a number of powerful rivals arrested: “security czar” Zhou Yongkang (周永康), whose former posts included chief of the China National Petroleum Corporation, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, and member of the 17th Politburo Standing Committee; Ling Jihua (令计划), ex-President Hu Jintao’s most trusted consigliere and the former head of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee; and generals Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄) and Xu Caihou (徐才厚), Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (from 2002 and 2004, respectively.) In addition, Xi Jinping has sacked over 70 vice-ministerial or higher-level officials in various branches of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese central government, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and placed over 40 deputy- or higher-level officers in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (wujing) under disciplinary investigation. There are even rumors that Jiang Zemin, long at the center of collective CCP leadership, could find himself in peril. The current fight against corruption is undoubtedly a negation of the two previous administrations [of President Jiang Zemin (1993-2003) and President Hu Jintao (2003-2013)]. But how is it that Chinese poll respondents so consistently expressed a high level of satisfaction with those previous administrations? If respondents’ support for the current administration is simply a reaction to past corruption, how do we explain their sudden change of heart?

According to this year’s Ash Center-Horizon Research public opinion poll, respondents’ satisfaction with county, district, township, village and lower levels of government dropped to their lowest ebb since the poll began in 2003. Only 7.8% of respondents described themselves as “extremely satisfied” with their township-level government, while 47% said they were “relatively satisfied.” Professor Saich notes: “The hope remains for the central leaders that people continue to see the abuses as local aberrations and that the central government is still seen to be striving to work in their best interests. Local protests would thus be easier to contain.” This would also give Xi Jinping a broad base of public support for his anti-corruption campaign.

It is fair to say that this is exactly the kind of positive publicity the Chinese authorities want—poll results that can actually be broadcast on CCTV, China Central Television. I couldn’t help but wonder what difficulties the polling organizations in China and overseas would have faced had the results been different: would they have been able to publish the results so openly if their poll had shown that 92.8% of respondents were dissatisfied with the central government?

I do not mean to suggest that these polling organizations deliberately lied to curry favor with the Chinese government. I simply want to emphasize that, when analyzing and disseminating the results of such polls, we should recognize when the results are at odds with past and present realities, and endeavor to keep in mind the following question: why would the results of a poll conducted by a neutral, respected polling organization tally so closely with the propaganda of a totalitarian government?

Truthfulness in a Totalitarian Society

Some have noted that the Chinese phrase “Defend the emperor, regain supreme power, purge the courtiers, clean up the court” is a cultural tradition, while the phrase “Oppose corrupt officials, but not the Emperor” represents a kind of ancient wisdom. The main reason it is so difficult to do away with certain long-standing practices and abuses, I believe, is because they are being manipulated by real-world political power. Otherwise, how can we explain why Chinese society, supposedly so steeped in traditional culture, would allow its cultural relics, ancient texts, and long-standing tradition of respect for elders to be swept away en masse during the Chinese Cultural Revolution?

Let us imagine for a moment the same sort of public opinion poll being conducted in Cultural Revolution-era China, or in present-day North Korea: what would the results of such a survey be, and what conclusions could we draw from those results? I believe that respondents would report an even higher level of satisfaction with their central governments than in this recent poll. Although, as Professor Saich points out: “It [the Communist Party of China] has striven to render history in such a way that the party is the natural inheritor of Chinese tradition — a wild cry from the days of the Cultural Revolution, when the party was determined to undermine tradition and portrayed itself as representing a radical break with the past.”

What do we really mean when we talk about the truthfulness of a public opinion poll conducted in a totalitarian society? Although superficially, many areas of life in China seem quite open, it is one of only a handful of countries in the world where Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked; where all media is controlled by a powerful party propaganda department; where school textbooks are subject to stringent political censorship and filled with falsifications of history, a whitewashed version of the present, and exhortations to love the nation and the party. It is a country where Tibetans who receive a photo of the Dalai Lama via a Tencent messenger app are sentenced to prison; where Han Chinese who post Sina micro-blog messages in solidarity with Hong Kong “Umbrella Revolution” protesters are arrested for “picking quarrels and causing trouble”; where public intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木∙土赫提), Gao Yu (高瑜) and many others are given harsh prison sentences—not for organizing any sort of “subversive” activities, but simply for voicing criticism.

This deliberately engineered system of news blockades, fear of information and educational brainwashing is not, as many imagine, some sort of absurd joke; rather, it is an extremely effective system of control. How can we expect ordinary people raised on a diet of such limited news to disbelieve pronouncements such as: “American imperialism still seeks to subjugate China” or “The Japanese are eyeing China greedily” or “Xi Jinping, with incorruptible integrity, is leading the Chinese people to a grand renaissance”? Naturally, many Chinese people remain dissatisfied with their government, but to them, is this not a simple problem of local government officials not properly following orders from above?

To appeal to members of the middle class who are striving for a better life and believe that they have the capacity for critical thinking, the Chinese propaganda machine has reinvented or co-opted certain theories – “autocracy is more conducive to economic development” and “Chinese society requires a unique model of governance” – that sound both fresher and more profound than century-old slogans about “fighting for freedom” or “building democracy.”

A Fear That Cuts to the Bone

Although they may be subject to brainwashing, the Chinese people are certainly no fools, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the relationship between the Chinese central and local governments. But fear of information causes most people to simply choose not to think, because thinking leads to understanding, and understanding only leads to trouble. Václav Havel once offered an analysis of why a greengrocer living in totalitarian Czechoslovakia would post a sign in his shop window reading: “Workers of the world, unite!” The greengrocer, of course, did not really care whether the workers of the world were willing or able or even ought to unite. Therefore, to the greengrocer, the slogan was nothing more than a lie. Primarily, it was a lie that allowed him to feel safe. Secondly, the greengrocer was long accustomed to not caring what was “truth.”

Polling organizations will, of course, endeavor to protect the anonymity of poll respondents through the use of anonymous questionnaires and other means, but in a world where even the wealthiest and most influential global Internet corporations have capitulated to China’s “unique model of governance,” no one truly believes that the Chinese government will respect that anonymity or abide by the rules of the game. Writing something critical of China’s highest-ranking leaders – actually writing it down, in black and white – is a frightening thing for most Chinese people, a fear that cuts to the bone. This fear results in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome: “Why yes, I truly believe that my captors are bold and competent – not to mention handsome – and that they always have my best interests at heart!”

In similar opinion polls, citizens of western democratic nations typically reported much lower levels of satisfaction with their governments than did citizens of China, Singapore, Malaysia, and other totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian nations. In even more totalitarian North Korea, it is simply not possible to conduct such a poll. That fact in itself might offer some explanation for the satisfaction gap. But recent polls in Germany and other democratic nations show that this gap is beginning to close, which also raises some puzzling questions. Some might ask: are German citizens’ high levels of satisfaction with their government the result of brainwashing? Or is it that German poll responses reflect an environment that allows freedom of speech and individual expression, while Chinese poll responses reflect an environment characterized by news blocking, fear of information, and educational brainwashing? To which I can only answer: yes, that is truly the case.


长平_DWChang Ping (长平) is a veteran journalist and news commentator. He currently lives in Germany.


Also by Chang Ping:

How Brainwashing Works in China

The Triumph of Propaganda

Chinese Communist Party as the Mafia Boss


中文原文《长平观察:什么政府咱都满意!》, translated by China Change



The Triumph of Propaganda

By Chang Ping, published: September 4, 2014


The U. S. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) recently issued a report titled Curriculum and Ideology which stated that the Chinese Communist government’s ideological education was startlingly effective: the textbooks for the course “ideology and politics” used since the 2004 curriculum reform have shaped students’ ideas and minds more effectively.

This NBER report destroyed many people’s illusions. Internationally, one of the common arguments used to justify the Chinese Communists’ brainwashing in education is that even though the Chinese Communists impose relentless internet censorship, in comparison to the past, the internet provides a wealth of information to China’s internet users. For example, not long ago, Frank Sieren, a commentator for the Deutsche Welle, questioned publicly, in his debate with me about the 1989 Democracy Protests in Beijing, “How can brainwashing occur in a country [like China] where one can travel freely and, even though one faces many obstacles, one can still come into contact with the diversity of global viewpoints? In a country where information is as advanced as in contemporary China, how can brainwashing be possible?”

One of the initiators of the NBER research, Davide Cantoni, a Professor of Economics at the University of Munich in Germany, stated that the result that surprised the researchers the most was that, even though Chinese students have opportunities for exposure to other media and news, nevertheless the government was still able effectively to change students’ ideological outlook by means of altering the teaching materials.

The research target for this NBER report were students at Peking University, a university recognized for gathering China’s most outstanding young people and for its tradition of critical thinking and rebellion. The research makes clear that the students who used the new teaching materials believed even more strongly that China was a “democratic country,” and had even more faith in China’s Central government and local governments, as well as the national institutions such as the public security agencies and the courts. Moreover, these students even more strongly trusted China’s policies toward ethnic groups.

In my view, the “success” of the 2004 cirriculum reform was not altogether an accident. Since 1989, the Chinese Communists’ new ideological education has been getting “better.” The Chinese Communists’ ideological education after 1949 was of course also quite “successful.” The Cultural Revolution, however, brought China to the point of collapse, and this “success” subsequently came to an end. The 1980’s saw the Chinese people trending towards accepting values established and cherished in the west. After the June 4, 1989 suppression of the democracy movement, the Chinese Communists utilized the deterrent produced by brutality to transform its ideological education.

There were two main changes. The first change was “de-glorification.” Before, the ideological education was marked by bombastic “false, grand, and empty” (假大空) indoctrination that declared to the world that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was the greatest, the most glorious, and the most correct political party. While similar a style of propaganda is still widespread, the new approach to ideological education acknowledges that the CCP has had problems, but also stresses that political parties in other countries also had their problems, and all political parties have issues just as “all crows are black.” By declaring that putting self interest first is a universal principle, the CCP succeeded in painting such western values as democracy, freedom, and human rights as just so much empty propaganda.

The second change lies in the teaching of China’s national conditions and the teaching of patriotism. Since there is no such thing as universal justice, said the CCP, it stands to reason that a country should seek the greatest benefits based on its own special conditions. As long as we Chinese completely understand the national conditions of our own country, then the West’s observations and criticisms of China are just things easier said than done that the West uses to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

Textbooks for ideology and politics classes after the 2004 cirriculum reform strengthened these two aspects. It reduced content on introduction to western civilization, and, at the same time, increased its affirmation of progresses made under China’s national conditions. The NBER research shows that these changes were not immediately evident but subtle and effective. Based on my observations, following on the heels of China’s expanding economic power, this type of ideological propaganda has effectively transformed how China is perceived in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the West. I believe that, among the Hong Kongers who oppose the Occupy Central movement and Taiwanese who opposed the Sunflower movement, many have gotten their “understanding” of the Chinese Communists through this type of propaganda.

No one is willing to admit that they are stupid, especially the Westerners who have dominated the modern civilization over the last few centuries. It is very difficult for them to accept this fact: not only are the Chinese the victims of the Chinese Communists’ brainwashing, but also all of mankind. In the West nowadays, urging people to “see the progress of the Chinese Communists Party” has even become a sign of self-proclaimed tolerance and wisdom.

When Xi Jinping visited France [in March 2014], he was able to get President Hollande not to raise the issue of “human rights.” Please note that it was not that there was no need to discuss human rights, but rather that the decision not to raise human rights was a compromise reached after deals and threats were made. Even as things of this nature are happening, not many Europeans have a clear realization that its political civilization is being rewritten by the communist China.

I hope that there will be a research report on how Chinese government’s propaganda has been changing Westerners’ ideas and views of China.


Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping (长平) was  former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》), and his writings have been banned and obliterated by the Chinese authorities.  He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.



Understanding China’s Diplomatic Discourse, by Zhao Chu


(Translated by Ai Ru, and the translation is based on a version of the original Chinese language text revised by the author.)

Chinese original

Lies Not a Part of Diversity of Views

By Chang Ping, published: August 30, 2014


(This is Chang Ping’s fourth rebuttal, also declined publication by Deutsche Welle, to Frank Sieren’s defense of the Tiananmen massacre, the “right to forget,” and his accusation that some criticisms against the Chinese government are gross exaggerations (links in German) in the Sieren vs. Chang Ping debate earlier this year in DW about the June 4th massacre in 1989 in China. Read Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, Without the Right to Remember There Can Be No Freedom to Forget, and How Brainwashing Works in China, Chang Ping’s first, second and third rebuttals to Sieren. – The Editor)


In the two pieces he wrote in response to criticisms about how he portrayed the Chinese government, Mr. Frank Sieren never directly addresses any of the questions his critics raised; instead, he keeps changing the subject and arriving at odd conclusions seemingly as his whims take him. Mr. Sieren reiterates that “we Westerners value evidence.” Nonetheless, as he passes on numerous judgments such as “the Tiananmen massacre is a lapse in the history of New China,” “many Chinese wish to forget the massacre,” “it is easy and cheap to circumvent of censorship by VPN,” “the Chinese are more fervent about consumerism than people elsewhere,” readers fail to detect any evidence that would hold water.

For example, he had reprimanded Western media for “unilaterally exaggerating the facts in describing the incident,” which happens to be the Tiananmen massacre. After Chinese activists questioned his conclusions, the “evidence” he comes up with is to claim that his critics “completely exaggerate when they call the government’s brainwashing efforts unprecedented.” Written in a ricocheting style deprived of logic, his views are difficult to refute in one sitting given the inconsistencies.

I am not altogether surprised that in his latest article (link in German), Mr. Sieren spends an entire paragraph launching irrelevant ad hominem attacks against me. I would like to let Mr. Sieren know that, while I decline to be provoked, these attacks do but little credit to the forum publishing his piece. He even goes so far as to state that my comments are spurred by a desire to keep myself in the spotlight. Such unworthy speculation is not reserved for me alone. In the same breath, Mr. Sieren drops studied innuendos about the presumed eagerness of Ai Weiwei’s agent to see government persecution against Ai sustained, in order to keep the money rolling in. These attacks are far from original, not to say mean-spirited. Nonetheless, I don’t plan to cite from the considerable vein of Internet opinion holding Mr. Sieren’s motive suspect, or to ask him to justify himself.

Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism and Post-totalitarianism

According to Mr. Sieren, Chinese society today is so open, he can no longer apply the adjective “totalitarian” to it, but would rather call it “authoritarian.” He appears unaware that this is old news insofar as such debates go. China has seen disagreement over this issue since the 1980’s, and Germany from the 1950’s on until its reunification. At the time, some people looked for a way to draw the distinction between Stalin-era Soviet dictatorship and the “thawed” Eastern bloc. Now that the dust of history has settled, it is the consensus in Germany to describe the GDR as a totalitarian country.

If the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)’s reign in East Germany had led to the unnatural death of tens of millions, and that government had suppressed the opposition movement in a bloody crackdown using tanks and machine guns – if that very SED remains in power to this day and deals brutally with anyone who dares to challenge its authority, it is my belief that the SED would only gain in notoriety, even if it made economic progress by trading in human rights and the environment.

Whenever distinctions need to be made between the first and last thirty years of the Chinese Communist rule, Chinese political researchers usually use “post-totalitarianism” rather than “authoritarianism” to describe the current state of things. Those who use the latter usually do so as a capitulating or colluding gesture intended to curry favor with the Chinese government.

Who Forbids Chinese People to Forget the Tiananmen Massacre?

It’s not that I take much interest in what sort of concepts Mr. Sieren pegs the Chinese government under; after all, at least one-well known academic thought the term “totalitarian” inappropriate when applied to the Nazi regime. However, I do suggest that he learn not to manufacture facts in his articles. We may be able to defend unsupported and haphazard points of view for the sake of protecting diversity. Factual errors, however, are about the fundamental choices we make when writing.

For example, even though Mr. Sieren asserts that accessing information from a diverse range of sources beyond the government’s control requires “overcoming multiple barriers,” he goes on to say that “through VPNs, people can circumvent censorship easily and cheaply.” Even if we overlook the contradiction between the two parts of his statement, the assessment is not consistent with what we know about how things work in China. VPNs regularly break down during upgrades of the Great Firewall – some of the most sophisticated censorship mechanisms around. Technical interference is common, and in the worst cases VPNs put their users at risk of arrest. In addition, the authorities may camouflage viruses as popular circumvention software, and hapless users who install them find their computers hijacked or broken. Nor should we ignore the psychological impact of political taboos. Many people turn down offers of free VPN, seeing circumvention of censorship as something the government does not want them to do.

Mr. Sieren goes further to fabricate claims. For example, he writes that “everyone now can clearly see the difference between Chang Ping’s stance and mine, for indeed I believe it’s a good thing that ‘guilt by association’ is no longer the way we operate.” I would like to ask: at what point did I ever praise “guilt by association” as an approach, and how did this become the difference between our respective positions? Mr. Sieren repeatedly advocates that everyone not condemn the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to guilt by association. I am curious to ask just who has been doing so? For no individual has the power to impose a legal punishment against a regime or those who hold power within it. The fact of the matter is, it is the CCP which, to this day, abuses its own laws in the unfortunate practice of guilt by association. There can scarcely be another explanation for the fact that the lawyers and friends of the prominent rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, were arrested alongside him, or a school locking out a ten-year-old girl simply because her father, Zhang Lin, is a dissident. Mr. Sieren, given your obsession with the practice of guilt by association, I look forward with great anticipation to your thoughts on the above abuses.

The main point Mr. Sieren belabors, ““just as you cannot forbid people to commemorate, you cannot forbid them to forget,” is likewise founded upon something that does not exist – may we ask Mr. Sieren who has been stopping the Chinese people from forgetting the massacre or, for that matter, how such prevention can possibly happen?

 “Otherization” as a Brainwashing Tactic

Mr. Sieren declares that “we Westerners” differ from the Chinese in the discovery process and court judgment, using the example that a judge in the West, unlike his counterpart in China, is free to change the indictment from premeditated murder to involuntary manslaughter should the evidence point that way. This demonstrates Mr. Sieren’s ignorance about Chinese law, legal studies and the popular awareness of law, for by now the need for such changes is well-understood in China. Where willful judgments continue to be made in violation of such legal principles, it is those in power who are committing felony, and has nothing to do with differences in laws or beliefs.

Why conjure up differences where none exist? In her book, “Brainwashing: the Science of Thought Control,” Oxford Professor Kathleen Taylor terms such lies as “otherization,” a common brainwashing tactic. This is precisely why the CCP insists that Chinese people and their culture have different expectations than those in the West when it comes to democracy and freedom.

To sum  up: I staunchly support the right to a diversity of viewpoints, but do not believe that fabricated, illogical and unethical writing such as that of Mr. Sieren can be excused by appealing to this right.


Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping (长平) was the  former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》).  He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.


(Translated by Louisa Chiang)

Chinese original

How Brainwashing Works in China

By Chang Ping, published: August 30, 2014


(This is Chang Ping’s third rebuttal, declined publication by Deutsche Welle, to Frank Sieren’s defense of the Tiananmen massacre and the “right to forget“  (links in German) in the Sieren vs. Chang Ping debate earlier this year in DW about the June 4th massacre in 1989 in China. Read Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, and Without the Right to Remember There Can Be No Freedom to Forget, Chang Ping’s first and second rebuttals to Sieren. – The Editor)


In his article, “From Tiananmen to Leipzig,” Frank Sieren reproaches Western media with “unilaterally exaggerating the facts in reporting the incident,” the “incident” in question being the Tiananmen massacre. After Chinese commentators, including myself, raised objections, the example Sieren gives in response turns out to be brainwashing. “I would like to re-explain what I meant. I believe that titles such as ‘Communist Party Succeeds in Brainwashing,” or ‘Unprecedented Brainwashing of the Chinese People,’ and “Imposed Collective Oblivion’ are all complete exaggerations of the facts.” In other words, he tosses out a completely new topic.

It is quite difficult to quantify the level of success the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) achieves at brainwashing, and reasonable people may well differ in their estimates. However, from Mr. Sieren’s reasoning, we can gather that he is completely ignorant of the brainwashing juggernaut at the service of the CCP and its significant evolution since 1989. From where he is sitting, he sees some people travel freely and have access to diverse points of view from around the world, and concludes that brainwashing is impossible. Acknowledging that the Internet is under tight controls in China, throwing up “multiple barriers,” he believes that “nonetheless, people can easily and cheaply get around censorship using VPNs.”

“Scaling the Great Firewall” Is neither Easy nor Cheap

A Chinese online commentator retorts that Mr. Sieren’s conclusion is not too far from claiming that “the Berlin Wall is no big deal, since East Germans can just dig tunnels around it.” Mr. Sieren may see this as another “unfair accusation against the Chinese government,” given that using VPNs is necessarily “easier and cheaper” than digging tunnels. The only problem is that this is not true. VPNs regularly break down during upgrades of the Great Firewall – some of the most sophisticated censorship mechanisms around. Technical interference is common, and in the worst cases VPNs put their users at risk of arrest. In addition, the authorities may camouflage viruses as popular circumvention software, and hapless users who install them find their computers hijacked or broken down.

Nor should we ignore the psychological impact of political taboos. Once censorship makes such terms as “Tiananmen massacre,” “Taiwanese independence” and “Falungong Sect” politically sensitive, even in safe personal conversations, people tend to steer clear of them. The same dynamic is at work when many people turn down offers of free VPNs, seeing circumvention of censorship as something the government does not allow them to do.

The Immense System Engineering of Brainwashing

It is even more important for us to realize that the blocking of foreign websites is but a part of the immense infrastructure devoted to brainwashing, whose mission is the unabashed engineering of hearts and minds. Its other parts include education, propaganda, publishing and pop culture.

With regard to education, as early as kindergarten, children are taught to sing songs that are either nationalistic or inculcate love of the Communist Party. They are directed to draw pictures of Tiananmen Square and the red flag, symbols of New China. Elementary school curriculum, in order to meet political needs, contains so much fabrication that several scholars have published research to enumerate the fallacies. A main subject on which the all-important college examination depends, Political Thought, focuses on developing unquestioning patriotism in aspiring students.

It is a well-known secret that the CCP propaganda organs issue a variety of customized, up-to-date censorship orders on a daily basis. Again, this is only one part of the whole. Ranging from industry access, operating permits and certification to shadowy controls on the personal and professional lives of Communist cadres, the workflow of news censorship, and financial penalties, the infrastructure is integrated and well-coordinated. The system did come under strong challenges when the Internet first entered China, but ultimately proved resilient after thoughtful tinkering, and now manages the Internet in a highly effective way.

The curbs placed on publishing are even stricter. One comparison would suffice. We all know that underground publications known as samizdat played a vital role in the expression of dissent during the Soviet era; this is altogether impossible in today’s China. While some websites with a critical bent are allowed to operate, there is little to rival the unfettered rebellious spirit of the samizdat.

Mr. Sieren may have an inkling of what goes on inside the notorious censorship of broadcast media and films. The insolence of this particular form of censorship is, moreover, quite arbitrary. Before May of this year, Chinese Internet users would never have believed that the powers that be would bar them from watching American dramas that are neither political nor pirated.

“Justice-free Education” After Tiananmen

The evolution of awareness among those of my generation took a drastic turn in college [in the 1980s]. Coming into contact with Western culture for the first time, we realized that we had been consistently lied to, and felt great anger. However, both education and propaganda have been transformed since then in a process of what I call “justice-free.” To summarize, if the government had posed as righteous upholders of justice, now they openly swagger as nihilistic thugs, teaching Chinese people that nowhere else are things any different.

To further these trends, thinkers were sidelined and eggheads given the limelight in the intellectual arena, and the distribution of university research funding also toes the party line. The consequence of political pressure and bribing is a degraded educational system focused on utility, weakening the capacity of the youth for critical thinking.

Spinning on Truth, not Just Blocking It

This vast, cumbersome and complex system is not without internal contradictions. For example, even as it preaches the need to “cast off the baggage of history and look forward,” it shows no aversion to the seeking of truth, busying itself with frequent “unveiling of the hypocrisy of Western democracies” where “the truth about the US/Germany is told.” Therefore, even those under its influence are not necessarily as anxious “to forget history” as Mr. Sieren portrays.

The brainwashing juggernaut solves its crisis by a selective and interpretive approach to the truth, which it deems more important than simply blocking information. Just how successful this strategy proves is clear when we see how many Chinese graduate students abroad continue to show sympathy towards the government even after seeing the gory documentary evidence of the Tiananmen massacre for the first time. They have accepted the spin from the government, namely, that China’s rise as an economic powerhouse is contingent upon the crushing of lives under tank treads twenty-five years ago.


Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping (长平) was the  former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》).  He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.


(Translated by Louisa Chiang)

Chinese original