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Yaxue Cao, March 28, 2017
When on March 1 Chinese media launched a sudden and all-out smear campaign claiming that the torture of human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) was a fabrication, and that Western media coverage of it was “fake news,” many of us wondered what this outburst was all about. A UN Human Rights Council meeting? The German Chancellor’s planned visit?
Now we know. On February 27, diplomatic missions in Beijing from 11 countries wrote a letter, expressing their “growing concern over recent claims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in cases concerning detained human rights lawyers and other human rights defenders.” The letter also urged China to abandon the practice of secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). The 11 countries are: Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and seven European Union member nations: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Looking back, one has to marvel at China’s response.
The Smear Campaign: A Lightning-Fast Mass Production
On March 1, two days after the 11-country letter was delivered, the smear campaign began. Global Times (《环球时报》) led the charge with the article “The Truth about ‘Xie Yang Torture’: It’s a Fabrication Catering to Western Media”. It was quickly reposted by other print media and on major news portals such as Sina, Tencent, Netease, China National Radio, China.com, etc. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who was disappeared on November 21 last year and subsequently placed under RSDL, was shown on camera “admitting” that he was involved in the fabrication of Xie Yang’s claim to have been tortured, and that Xie Yang’s defense lawyer (Chen Jiangang) supplied further embellishments.
On March 2, CCTV broadcast (on at least two channels) a segment titled “The investigation into the truth about Xie Yang’s torture – a concoction of storytelling and imagination”. A prosecutor from the Hunan Procuratorate claimed that a team of prosecutors conducted an investigation in mid-February and concluded that the torture allegations were not true. CCTV failed to show a single full page from the “report,” except for what appeared to be the final page signed by three names.
The same day, Legal Daily, Procuratorate Daily, Southern Metropolis Daily and other papers joined the chorus of attack: that Xie Yang’s torture is a lie that has been rebuked by an investigation by the Hunan Procuratorate. The official website of the Ministry of Public Security and the official website of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate served up the same articles.
Also on March 2, the Weibo account of the Communist Party Youth League posted a 4-minute video called “The Truth About Xie Yang Torture Hyped up by Overseas Anti-China Media” (China Change subtitled the video). In addition to repeating the same smears, it made cynical deployment of several one-liners from President Donald Trump to add a veneer of legitimacy to the attack.
On March 2, Phoenix Television, a pro-Beijing broadcaster, showed two segments repeating similar content to CCTV (here and here). These video segments were reposted by provincial public security Weibo accounts.
On March 2, Xinhua’s English news website has this story: “Investigation reveals fake ‘torture stories’ about lawyer Xie Yang.”
Implicating Lawyer Chen Jiangang and his Firm
First off, Jiang Tianyong’s two defense lawyers were shocked to see their client on national television. They promptly asked: We have been denied meeting with our client for months on grounds of national security — how could a CCTV reporter, a camera crew, and God knows who else trudge in and film him? They demanded an answer but have received none.
In mid-February, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau and the Chaoyang District Justice Bureau summoned the 38-year-old lawyer Chen Jiangang — one Xie Yang’s two defense lawyers and the author of the detailed torture transcripts published on January 19 — and berated him for disclosing case information and giving interviews to foreign media. He was told to keep his mouth shut.
Following the massive smear campaign on March 1 and 2, Chen Jiangang published a long article detailing his meetings with Xie Yang and how the transcripts came about, questioning the Hunan Procuratorate’s so-called “independent report.” On March 5, he sent a formal letter to Hunan prosecutors, but has heard nothing back to this day.
He also posted Xie Yang’s own statement on January 13 affirming the fact that he was tortured. Sensing that he too is in danger of being retaliated against, Chen posted a statement: “I take complete responsibility for every character in the two transcripts I made of the meetings with Xie Yang, as well as for any other transcripts that have not yet been made public.”
Meanwhile, he has received a flow of nonstop calls and messages from municipal and district justice bureaus. “You made big troubles for us,” he was told. “The Center is extremely furious.” The authorities, he learned, approached some of his former clients and attempted to get them to smear him – an indication that the retaliation campaign is well underway.
His law firm was “inspected” earlier last week and the principals were told that they needed to “tighten management.” It’s all about intimidation.
Since February 28 both defense lawyers have been unable to meet Xie Yang despite repeated requests.
Angry Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Lashes Out
“China is always opposed to the efforts of any country to disrupt the normal case handling by Chinese judicial authorities at the excuse of human rights,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said on March 21, responding to the February 27 letter by 11 countries.
“You mentioned this expression of opinions by 11 missions in China. I believe this in itself is violating the spirit of rule of law. All sovereign states enjoy the independence of judicial affairs, and no country has the right to interfere with the independence of their judicial affairs,” Ms. Hua said in response to a question from The Globe and Mail.
The letter seems to have really rattled China and ruffled feathers in Beijing.
New Warning: ‘Be Aware, Diplomats!’
For Washington Post, the news on March 22 was that the United States abstained from signing the letter, conspicuously and inexplicably. Some suggested the omission was due to the still-unfilled senior positions and the chaotic nature of the transition, while others believed it was a decision most likely made by Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State.
The Chinese government apparently relished the fact that the United States didn’t participate. Global Times took a screenshot of the Post’s headline, though in their Chinese-language summary only drew attention to the U.S. absence, while neglecting the part about “lawyers” and “torture.”
They also had a field day co-opting Trump with images and soundbites like “very fake news” and “you’re fired!”
Global Times criticized western governments for inflating the number of lawyers who were subject to persecution, pointing out that the “Hunan People’s Procuratorate has issued a formal investigation report over allegations of ‘Xie Yang being tortured,’” and concluding that they are not true. It warned Western governments not to misjudge the Chinese judiciary due to “political bias.”
Is There An ‘Investigation’?
No, there isn’t. They know perfectly well that everything about Xie Yang’s reports of torture is true. The CCTV report on March 2 showed only half a page from the much vaunted Hunan Procuratorate investigation. Of the half page there is the title, the “Conclusion,” and in between nothing more than ellipses.
Lawyer Chen Jiangang lobbed a barrage of questions about this report, which I sample here:
- Why wasn’t Xie Yang’s defense counsel asked to join the investigation?
- Why haven’t you published the report? Publish the report!
- The torture was first reported in October 2016, but you didn’t “investigate” it until mid-February — what took you so long?
- How is it legal to place Xie Yang under ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’?
- Why not publish the surveillance video/audio recording of Xie Yang’s interrogation to prove, in the most straightforward manner, that there was no torture? By law, the authorities should have recorded every minute of it.
- The Xie Yang torture transcripts names scores of torturers. Why not ask them to state to the public that they didn’t torture Xie Yang?
- Why didn’t CCTV ask Xie Yang himself on camera whether he was tortured?
- Can you all come out and debate with me about your investigation?
What’s at Stake
China has to be seriously rattled to have launched such a furious and massive counterattack. It came right after the 11-country letter, but I suspect the letter was merely the last straw in a period of prolonged media coverage and governmental and NGO reaction to the torture revelations — not just of Xie Yang, but of Li Chunfu, and privately, of other 709 Incident detainees.
Indeed, we have yet to learn the whole extent of the 709 torture. In a letter to world leaders, four wives summarized what they had learned from talking to those who had been released and who have yet to speak out openly about their experiences in custody:
“Whether the internees were in good health or not, they were all made to take medication. ….The most they were forced to take was 20 pills per day, including barbiturates and antipsychotic drugs, along with other unidentified drugs. The victims were either forced to consume the drugs or tricked into doing so, and afterwards often felt dazed and stuporous.”
“….Prisoners were also put in cages submerged mostly in water, and left inside for seven days, the entire body underwater with a space to breath at the top. As they stood in the water and tried to sleep, rats would scurry about outside the cage, biting their nose and ears.”
Concurrent with the arbitrary detention and torture that began on July 9, 2015, China has been propagating a narrative where an evil force, led by the United States and its allies, is working to destabilize the world for its own gain: in Iraq, in Syria, over the South China Sea, and inside China. The establishment of THAAD in South Korea is also seen as a finger in China’s eye. One of the many videos Chinese authorities have disseminated on domestic websites included stealthy shots of U.S. embassy vehicles and personnel, and a French diplomat, during the first four 709 trials last August in front of a Tianjin court. All this was fitted to nefarious music and a sarcastic, hectoring voiceover. Human rights lawyers and defenders are depicted as agents of China’s subversion in a U.S.-led color revolution.
The revelations of the torture of Xie Yang were an extraordinary act of courage by both Xie Yang and his lawyer Chen Jiangang. The broader meaning of it was laid bare by they two lawyers during their long conversations at the No. 2 West Meeting Room at Changsha 2nd Detention Center. Chen related in a home recording on March 7:
“But Xie Yang refused to admit any guilt because he is innocent….. His thought was that he wanted to maintain the final dignity for Chinese lawyers as a whole. He also thought that right now a nationwide crackdown and persecution of human rights lawyers — and any lawyer who dares to resist the authorities — is taking place, and that he would spare no effort to fight his case and push back against the persecution. If they succeeded easily in Xie Yang’s case, they would unscrupulously harm and persecute other lawyers in the future. He was willing to use himself to ‘test the tiger.’ I’m not saying how wonderful he is. I know him too well, he has many flaws. But on this point, he said he wanted to use his own case to fight back and to prevent them from persecuting lawyers as a whole in the future.” [26’03”-27’36”; subtitled by China Change]
You too, diplomats and policymakers, have to hold your ground and push back. You must not be beaten off or scared away, or you will be crushed and overrun.
Bill of Indictment Against Human Rights Lawyer Xie Yang, January 11, 2017.
December 22, 2016
On December 20 the official Weibo account of the Communist Youth League Central Committee posted a short video (YouTube) targeting human right lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇). Jiang was disappeared on November 21, and the Chinese government has not formally notified his relatives of his whereabouts, which violates China’s own laws. As the Party’s propaganda juggernaut churns out videos like this, the word “shameless” fails to describe it. The Chinese narration of the video is presented, interspersed with the images and corresponding text in italics. — The Editors
As the population of society has continued to grow, the number of people using fake identities to commit crimes has increased in large numbers.
Thus, the real name-registration system is an important feature of public security in modern life.
Imagine you’re on a train and find that next to you is an individual who has falsely assumed the identity of another to ride the train. Wouldn’t you feel afraid?
If you find that this chap is carrying 7 cell phones with him, and 11 SIM cards, wouldn’t you be frightened?
If, then, you find that he has even been keeping in close contact with an evil religious organization [the official designation of Falun Gong], and has boarded your train with unspeakable motives, wouldn’t you want ‘Uncle Policeman’ to come and immediately take him away?
[On the screen, subtitles and pictures say: “The pretty rabbit’s eyes turn sharp. No criminal has ever been able to escape their gaze. Come now, the pretty rabbit will unpack everything for you!”]
On the evening of November 21, traveling from Southern Changsha to Western Beijing on the D940 train, there was just such a man. After he was discovered by police, he was taken away.
Arresting miscreants who falsify and misuse the identities of other citizens is the duty of the People’s Police as part of their job to protect law-abiding citizens.
[The picture says:
China: Forging, modifying, or buying and selling identification cards, passports, social security cards, licenses, or other documents that can legally demonstrate identity, may be punished by up to three years imprisonment, detention, supervision, or deprivation of political rights, as well as a fine. Severe circumstances could lead to between three and seven years imprisonment and a fine.
United States: Any person who for any reason uses false information to apply for a social security card or who bribes a government employee to illegally obtain a social security card, or who uses forged or stolen social security cards, all constitute severe crimes. Each charge brings a maximum of five years imprisonment, with a maximum fine of $10,000 (about 60,000 yuan), or both penalties.]
Not a single country with the rule of law would tolerate people posing under false names.
Yet when this suspect was arrested, enthusiasts around the world leapt out to say that he had been “disappeared,” crying how the rule of law in China is so awful and dark.
What was their goal? Of course, it was to fool the masses into complaining with them, trying to cook up international headlines that would draw everyone’s attention.
[Picture: Jiang Tianyong, male, human rights lawyer. Has represented Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), AIDS victims, and other human rights cases. He has been abducted by secret police several times in the past and subject to torture. Place of disappearance: On a train between Hunan and Beijing. Days since disappearance: 15.]
[VOA report: Three days ago, on China’s National Constitution Day, the wife of Jiang Tianyong, Jin Bianling (金变玲), and three friends initiated a joint petition to collect 10,000 signatures. They called on China’s Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun (郭声琨) to task the public security authorities with investigating Jiang Tianyong’s disappearance. The three other signatories to the open letter were the renowned human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, the legal scholar Teng Biao (滕彪), and the journalist Su Yutong (苏雨桐).]
[Picture: Collecting signatures globally – “Open letter to Guo Shengkun regarding the disappearance of Jiang Tianyong. Jiang Tianyong has been missing for three weeks; the whole world is looking for him.]
[Video: Chairperson of the Taiwan branch of Amnesty International Lin Shu-ya (林淑雅): “Please provide information on his current whereabouts and his health. Please provide him all appropriate physical care.”]
These enthusiasts always tell stories — but very rarely do they give any evidence.
Every time they try get a gang together, like they’re carrying out a mission, trying to spread rumors until they become facts, using cheap tricks to fool people.
[Picture: “Our slogan is to make trouble! Make trouble! Make trouble!”]
Even the ignorant masses are not buying it.
For example, the silliest claim by Jiang Tianyong was when he said that the police had broken eight of his ribs, and afterwards he hid and ran, even going back to Beijing from Heilongjiang, and then onto Tianjin.
And yet there was no X-ray and no diagnosis by the hospital. There are so many swindlers around these days, and they’ve got so many tricks — deliberately making you break something to get you to pay for it, or badger game — so who knows how many cons they’ve got up their sleeves.
It’s said that the real name of this imposter on the train is Jiang Tianyong, 46, once a lawyer in Beijing.
He’s been engaged in all sorts of bizarre and odd activities in the name of being a lawyer, even though the All China Lawyers Association issued a document years ago, back in 2009, saying that this man’s license to practice law had been cancelled.
[Picture: Statement on All China Lawyers’ Association: Recently, the Association has found a series of cases of individuals who have never obtained credentials as lawyers, or whose credentials have been cancelled, or who have been disbarred from practicing law, and who have recently been involved in activities identifying themselves as lawyers, thus misleading other lawyers and the public at large. In order to safeguard the reputation of attorneys as a profession, the following notice is now made: Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Liu Wei (刘巍), Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) are all individuals whose licenses to practice law have been revoked. Wang Cheng (王成), Jiang Tianyong, and Teng Biao are individuals who have had their licenses to practice law cancelled. The above individuals are not lawyers, and the activities that they engage in have nothing to do with the legal profession. We hope the legal community and society at large will understand the matter clearly.]
So for years Jiang has been an out-and-out fake lawyer, and a fake lawyer, of course, can’t make a living by bringing frivolous cases to court — because the court, just like a hotel or a train, needs to see your ID.
Even though this fake lawyer doesn’t have any honest income, his stubborn character ensures he’ll still do well for himself. In fact, he can just say that he’s a “citizen representative,” and even though he’s not a lawyer, he can use that to win over the victim’s trust.
[Picture: (Writing on smock of woman) Injustice! The Baoding prison in Hubei Province killed my husband Guan Xiangxing (关祥星) with impunity.]
Even though he can’t get a regular income from hyping up sensitive cases, he can still get some side income from foreign forces.
In front of the crowd of Chinese petitioners he sets himself up as a paragon of morality, then becomes a propaganda weapon for foreign forces. He instigates one victim after another, hypes up a normal case into an unresolvable dispute, and eats the “blood cakes” [making a business out of others’ suffering] of one family after another.
Some of these lawyers are real, while some are fake — but such incidents are endless.
There are so many Jiang Tianyongs in the hands of those hidden forces, ready to be used.
Jiang Tianyong has been arrested. Now what awaits the malefactor is further investigation by the procuratorial organs and being brought to justice by the judiciary.
As to how many Jiang Tiangyongs there are out there, yet to be caught — we’ll just have to see how many colleagues of his come out in support.
[The face of lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世锋) appears in the video.]
We’ll see how big the storm is that’s kicked up.
Disappeared Lawyer a Long-time Target of Surveillance, Detention, and Torture, November, 2015
Wife and Relatives Issue Statement Over Torture of Rights Lawyer Xie Yang in Changsha, August, 2016.
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August, 2015.
By Yaxue Cao, April 17, 2016
This story has been updated.
On Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the new managing director of Twitter for the Greater China region. By Saturday the news had excited a fierce reaction among Twitter users in China.
It’s well known that Twitter, YouTube, Google and other major social media networks are banned in mainland China. While there aren’t many users of Twitter in the mainland (one estimate has it that there are roughly 10,000 active users), those who do use it are among the most ardent believers in internet freedom, and have a special love for Twitter. A large number are IT experts who migrated from Fanfou (a Chinese social media site) in 2009 and became almost religious users of Twitter; another large group are political dissidents. The former group can’t stand being stifled by the Great Firewall’s internet strictures, while the latter uses Twitter as a space where they can communicate to one another freely even as China continues to ratchet up internet controls. Twitter has thus become an enclave for a group of mainland Chinese users and a sanctuary of freedom of speech online. Over the last couple of years, Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency have also opened Twitter accounts, spreading Party propaganda to the world, apparently with no sense of shame that China’s government prevents its own citizens from using those social networks. And it should surprise no one that on Twitter they’re often the butt of jokes.
It’s only natural that Chinese Twitter users were highly curious about Twitter’s new managing director for Greater China—and they were repelled instantly. According to Baike, China’s equivalent of Wikipedia controlled by Baidu, Kathy Chen (陈葵) graduated with a degree in computer science from Beijing Jiaotong University in 1987. She immediately joined the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery—China’s strategic missile force—and became an engineer in its No. 1 Research Academy. There, according to another article, she worked “as a programmer on the top-secret missile protocol design.” After seven years in the Second Artillery, she returned to civilian life and in August of 1994 became head of sales at Digital Equipment Corporation in China. DEC is a Massachusetts-based specialty computer company founded in 1957, and one of the earliest of America’s computer firms. From June 1995 to May 1997 she was Compaq’s chief sales representative in Beijing, and from May 1997 to December 1999 was the China regional sales manager for 3Com.
For the next four years, until 2004, Chen was the CEO of a newly-founded software company called CA-Jinchen, which primarily supplies anti-virus software. The firm is a joint venture between Computer Associates International (now known as CA Technologies) and China’s Ministry of Public Security, the first US-China software joint venture. Leveraging the resources of China’s public security apparatus, CA-Jinchen’s products are used in finance, government, the military, enterprises, telecommunications, education, the energy sector, and many key network systems. Reviewing CA-Jinchen’s 10-year history in 2008, Chen’s successor said: “China Jinchen Security Technology Co., Ltd. joined with the second-largest global software firm Computer Associations in a strategic partnership, promoting anti-virus technology globally and bringing ‘Preemptible Kernel’ technology into China.” She also remarked that: “Public security, the military, and the government are the troika behind Jinchen.” In 2010, CA’s 80% holding in CA-Jinchen was bought out by two Chinese investment firms (the transaction might not be as willing on the part of CA as the Chinese media portrayed it to be), and Jinchen became a corporation solely-owned by China. “Research and development is focused on preventing information leaks, designing anti-spy and code-breaking software. The user base will remain the traditional market: large domestic enterprises, government, public security, and will include a renewed focus on our roots in the military-industrial sector.”
Are there any problems here? To begin with, Chen is without a doubt a Chinese Communist Party member, based on a common sense understanding of China. She has been through the most strict and exacting process of political examination, and has been found by the Party to be reliable—all this is certain. My sense is that Kathy Chen’s rapid shift from extremely secret and politically sensitive missile protocol design work, straight to an American software company, is very unusual: in China, even a regular member of the armed forces dealing with secret information isn’t allowed to make overseas visits as they wish, either while in the army or soon after leaving (I have some anecdotal evidence here and here). They may apply, but I understand that it’s difficult to gain approval. I think it’s a fair assertion that Kathy Chen’s transition from a programmer of top-secret missile protocol to DEC sales could only have happened with the approval of a Chinese government agency. And then there are the four years with CA-Jinchen, which raises questions about the depth of Chen’s involvement in China’s public security sector.
When she was the CEO of CA-Jinchen, Chen once used the term “3S” to describe the scope of the company’s work: “Security Solution” provides the user with a complete security program, including anti-virus, firewall, intrusion detection, defense, and weakness detection mechanisms, among others, for the host machine, internet traffic, and the internet peripheries; “Security Application” provides on-demand security programs for government, telecommunications, finance, energy, and enterprise firms; and “Security Service” enquires as to the needs of the client and provides a complete, customized security service, from spec to roll-out, as well as ongoing consultation.
The main products of CA-Jinchen included anti-virus, firewall, invasion test, email filtering, mainframe protection, and etc. Describing a product called “The First Fortress Under the Heaven (天下第一关) in a 2004 interview, she said it could kill virus, block spam, and “filter Falun Gong content, politically sensitive information, or other harmful information.” CA-Jinchen also provided products for university campus surveillance on online browsing activities and other “illegal information and emails (such as Falun Gong).”
In the same interview, she also acknowledged that CA-Jinchen was the host of China’s national computer virus collecting and sampling center under the aegis of the Ministry of Public Security.
In May, 2004, Chen Kui was awarded the China Information Security Special Contribution Award (中国信息安全保障突出贡献奖) by a consortium of state agencies overseeing China’s internet security.
Following CA-Jinchen, Chen served in a high-level capacity at Microsoft, Cisco and then Microsoft again. As Cisco’s general manager of the Eastern Region, her job “included market development, and building and developing relationship with government agencies, research and educational institutions, and enterprises. In particular, [she] dedicated to maintain good relationship with government departments and their direct affiliations, engaging in broad strategic cooperation on macro level.” Cisco has long been criticized for selling advanced internet surveillance and control software to China, having allegedly helped the Party build its Firewall and Golden Shield to target dissidents, according to two legal complaints (both dismissed, one still under appeal).
During the two years at Microsoft before she takes up the Twitter position, she was responsible, among other things, “for key initiatives for Microsoft Azure in China,” according to her LinkedIn page.
Tech media outside China reported the appointment briefly and matter-of-factly. Twitter said in a statement, “As a global platform, we are already engaged with advertisers, content providers and influencers across greater China to help them reach audiences around the world. Going forward, we will look to Kathy’s leadership to help us identify ways in which Twitter’s platform and technology assets can be utilized to create further value for enterprises, creators, influencers, partners and developers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.”
The appointment of Kathy Chen was also widely reported in mainland China, even though Twitter is banned. Netease Tech reported that it learned from Twitter insiders that Kathy Chen has “three clear goals” as the Managing Director of Greater China: “the first is to tell the China story, introducing to the world the best of Chinese culture, tradition, history and tourism and making China better known to the world utilizing the Twitter platform; the second is to help large and medium-sized Chinese companies tell the story of their brands, building their names and marketing overseas; the third is to communicate and exchange in the areas of technology and advertisement with rapidly growing Chinese internet companies and mobile internet companies.”
All this may sound innocuous to untrained ears, but it’s alarming to mainland Chinese Twitter users and seasoned China watchers: In February, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping warned mouthpiece media CCTV and Xinhua that they must do a good job of “telling the China story.” CCTV responded with the notorious slogan: “The Party’s media bears the surname of the Party!” Getting Chinese companies to advertise on Twitter is obviously a revenue stream, but what does it mean to “communicate and exchange with Chinese internet companies and mobile internet companies in technology and advertisements?” It sounds unnerving to Chinese Twitter users.
While direct Twitter censorship is unlikely, the Chinese Twitter users are concerned that the hiring of Chen Kui could be the beginning of Twitter’s cooperation (it does not have to be overt) with the Public Security apparatus and mobile companies in China that will make use of Twitter more difficult for independent users, but at the same time, open up Twitter to government-owned accounts, to government-hired propaganda workers known as fifty-centers, and dubious sales accounts, thus changing – or trashing – the Chinese language environment on Twitter. After all such change has occurred already on domestic microblogs over the last couple of years.
The Chinese govt has long been weary of Twitter as a fertile ground for anti-CCP sentiments and a place where dissidents gather. The Chinese government’s fear of a color revolution and Twitter’s role in recent social changes in other countries are well known.
Until the day of her appointment, the new Managing Director of the Greater China region was not a Twitter user. In a video clip, she greeted Twitter users with the equally new @TwitterGCN account. It’s clear that she has little understanding of the Twitter ecology. Of her total 15 tweets, the 6th encouraged @CCTVNews and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to “work together to tell the great China story to the world!” The 10th thanked @XHNews with: “look forward to closer partnership in the future!”
My friend @Yaqiu was appalled. “Twitter working with CCTV to tell the story of China? I can’t believe she said this. I’ve taken a screen grab.”
Another user pointed out, “Greater China = PRC, HK, Taiwan – people in TW/HK are NOT interested in CCP’s ‘great story’.” Indeed, China story means different things to different audiences.
Chinese tweeps—though not just Chinese tweeps—sneered out of disappointment and concern. I share their disgust, but I’m also deeply saddened, because just recently these same tweeps sang the tenderest tribute to Twitter on its 10th birthday. I had been encountering these tweeps everyday on Twitter, but hadn’t until that point known that they were so smart, witty, genuine and free.
One tweep was brutal. “Twitter has between 300 and 400 million users around the world. Nobody cares about the 10,0000 or 20,000 mainland Chinese users—do whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go.” But it turns out he was deeply troubled as well.
Yaxue Cao is the editor of this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.
A Month or so in the House of Twitter, by Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
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.
Also by Chang Ping:
中文原文《长平观察：什么政府咱都满意！》, translated by China Change
By Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, published: July 27, 2015
On the heels of a nationally coordinated campaign of arrests and disappearances of rights lawyers in China, Party-run media have aggressively attacked, framed, and sought to defame the same lawyers in articles and news reports (here, here, and here).
In one CCTV segment in particular, Wang Yu (王宇), one of China’s most prominent rights defenders, was portrayed as a menace to court order as she loudly remonstrated with bailiffs.
Wang was, along with four other lawyers, attempting to defend three practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is heavily persecuted in China, in a court in Shenyang, Liaoning Province last April.
On July 19, nine days after Wang Yu had been taken away by police, CCTV broadcast the tail end of an altercation in the Shenhe District Court, which made Wang Yu out to be the aggressor as she yelled out that the court was a “pack of scoundrels.” She can be seen pointing her finger, enraged, and at one point demands that the court transcriptionist record her words: “You are a pack of scoundrels!” She is then dragged away by bailiffs.
A young female court secretary is interviewed by CCTV, giving every impression of being upset and offended at this conduct. “The law is sacred. I feel that she did not exhibit this in the least. She abused the judge, calling him a dirty scoundrel. She said we’re beasts in human clothing.”
It is an unflattering representation, and one clearly meant to undermine and attack Wang Yu’s reputation and that of right lawyers in general. The state media further alleged that the kind of behavior Wang exhibited in the Shenyang court broke the law, and that rights lawyers who confront the court are “pests.”
But CCTV did not tell the real story of what happened in the courtroom on April 22. Not surprisingly, a fuller understanding of what took place reveals a rather different picture to the state portrayal of Wang Yu.
The April hearing in which Wang was defense counsel was the fourth time that judicial authorities in Shenyang had attempted to try the three defendants, all practitioners of Falun Gong. They were being tried under Article 300 of the criminal code, “Using a heterodox religion to undermine implementation of the law,” custom-made for persecuting Falun Gong.
First, defendant Li Dongxu (李东旭) objected to appearing by herself, rather than with her co-defendants Yu Ming (于溟) and Gao Jingqun (高敬群) per court procedure. She was silenced by the judge, but persisted. So the bailiffs rushed at her, shoving her back into her seat. She cried out, struggling through tears to speak, still being gripped fiercely by the bailiffs, before one of them kicked her chair over. Injured and in tears, she was removed from the room.
Lawyer Dong Qianyong (董前勇) then stood up and objected to the treatment, Dong describing the torture that Li had suffered in custody. He was pounced on by four bailiffs, pulled out of the room, pushed down, and put into a chokehold until he lost consciousness.
And this is when the CCTV footage began: Wang Yu shouting at the bailiffs for openly beating her client and colleague and removing them from the courtroom.
Prior to the irregularities in April, the previous hearings saw similar problematic conduct by judicial officials. For example, in January Li Dongxu’s mother, 82, was dragged out of a courtroom by bailiffs, some pulling her by the hair; Yu Ming’s older brother was strangled by the judge Huang Gang (黄刚) and also thrown out of court, and his 67-year-old mother was knocked unconscious; all complaints about this conduct were referred to the 610 Office, the extralegal agency set up to oversee the Falun Gong persecution.
In custody, the treatment was worse. Li Dongxu reported that she was stripped naked, slapped repeatedly in the face, and was threatened that she would be shocked in the vagina with an electric baton if she refused to cooperate. A number investigation transcripts and confessions that prosecutors sought to use in court had been elicited from the defendants under this intense duress and torture. Wang Yu and her colleagues had sought to bring these facts to light in court.
‘Mere Words’ as State Violence
Given that this attack takes place as the security forces threaten, detain, and disappear lawyers around the country, the CCTV portrayal of lawyer Wang Yu cannot be understood in the same manner as the sort of negative or even misleading news reporting one might find in other countries and contexts.
The news story vilifying Wang Yu is a speech act that takes the form of news, but fundamentally, it is an orchestrated act that works in lockstep with the physical means of persecution of these lawyers, and the groups they defend. Because the Communist Party has a monopoly on the media, it is just another one of the Party’s tools, in addition to the police forces and the judiciary, to be used freely against those who challenge them or whom they deem enemies.
Both are required: one to physically repress the victims, and the other to smear their names and accuse them of base motives, of themselves acting as the “hoodlums.” At the same time, this attempts to deprive the lawyers of one of their most precious assets, intangible though it is: their honor, and their moral integrity for standing up to the Communist Party.
The attack on Wang Yu and other lawyers have a specific context in Chinese communist history and propaganda. Ryan Mitchell and Can Sun put the matter eloquently in a 2012 letter to the Connecticut Law Tribune, when discussing the attempt to prosecute Zhao Zhizhen (赵致真), who produced incendiary propaganda against Falun Gong during the height of the Party’s campaign against the practice:
“Although it can be difficult for those of us in the West to understand how propaganda — ‘mere language’ — might substantially assist such violations, it is the unfortunate truth that, in the People’s Republic of China, not all language is created equal. The defendant’s own statements about his propaganda work are perhaps one of the best indications of its efficacy. In one widely-disseminated statement, he described his work as effecting douzheng [鬥爭] against Falun Gong, and in another, as having a crucial role in the jiepi [揭批] of the religion and its adherents: both terms, the first meaning ‘ideological persecution campaign’ and the latter ‘public degradation and vilification,’ are at the heart of Cultural Revolution-era practices of political persecution, easily recognizable to any Chinese citizen.”
It is this ethos of hateful political persecution that CCTV has brought to bear against Wang Yu and the rights defense profession as a whole.
Clearly, it is not enough that the Communist Party disappear and torture lawyers across the country, in doing so depriving China’s citizenry of the one remaining outlet they had to attempt to seek justice. It must also use the Party’s sweeping control of the mass media to destroy their reputations, and stamp out all hope for China’s rights lawyers that the legal system will ever be an avenue of redress. In other words, the violence against them is total.
 Ryan Mitchell is a Mellon Foundation Humanities Fellow and a Ph.D. Candidate at Yale University. Can Sun, Ph.D., is a lawyer in New York with expertise in technology and Chinese implementation of high-tech systems.
Matthew Robertson is a reporter and editor at the Epoch Times, and Yaxue Cao edits this website.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post profile of lawyer Wang Yu, July 18, 2015.
China’s irrepressible lawyers, by Teng Biao, Washington Post, July 19, 2015.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu explains why Chinese government is out to get them, China Change, July 23, 2015.
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 (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.)