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China Steps up Nationwide Crackdown to Silence Twitter Users – the Unmediated Story

Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018

 

IMG_4660

I printed the tweets that are translated below for my record, for they can be disappeared any time.

 

If you have been with Twitter’s simplified Chinese community long enough, you know it’s nothing new that handles disappear and in some cases the persons behind them go to jail – it’s a freedom tunnel that the Chinese Communist regime is leery of.

But over the last few months, and still ongoing, we keep hearing mainland tweeps reporting that they have been summoned by police who ordered them to delete tweets or accounts altogether. AFP’s Eva Xiao and Human Rights Watch’s Yaqiu Wang reported on the trend early on.  I myself reported one particular instance – the deletion of Wu Gan (吴淦)’s account.

As of today, I collected 42 tweets from users themselves tweeting about what had happened to them. Some are well-known journalists, dissidents and intellectuals. Others are average tweeps who may or may not be anonymous. Some have been on Twitter for several years, others are new to it. In a few cases, tweeps were given administrative detention of 10 or more days; in at least one case, a user in Chongqing has been criminally detained awaiting charges. Some faced the run-in with police with composure, and others with defiance; still others were scared and quit, or made to quit. Together they tell the unmediated story.

The tweets are arranged chronologically. A few are excerpted for brevity. Necessary explanatory information is provided in [brackets and italic].  A link to the original tweet in Chinese is embedded in the last two words of the translation. If the link is broken, it means, in most cases, that the police came back to the tweep pressuring him or her to delete it.

 

9/17/18

康哥‏ @nongkang5

Today I was summoned to my neighborhood police station for retweeting political rumors. I was reprimanded, and made to write a statement of repentance and another statement guaranteeing that I wouldn’t do it again. They deleted my tweets. This handle is going to be abandoned. Goodbye friends. I love you all.

9/19/18

王法展‏ @wangfazhan0

Just moments ago, a policeman from my hometown (Chengshuang Township police station, Dangshan county, Suzhou municipality, Anhui province) called me and said they are going to come to Shanghai to look for me again (they did during June 4th). I guess it’s about my Twitter. Now, since they are monitoring my posts, let me tell the internet police and the domestic security police right here and now: It’s impossible for me not to speak. Speech is my last line说话是我的底线. You can come to arrest me if you want to charge me for my expressions. It’s no use to come to talk to me. Why don’t you save the money and use it on keeping people safe.

9/21/18

李蔚WayLee‏ @azurewaylee

Beijing tweep Quan Shixin (全世欣 @Sarah_chinaBJ) has been administratively detained for 10 days for “attacking leaders of the communist party and the state.” She was released around noon and returned home on September 21.

10/01/18

He depu @HeDepu 

On October 1, 9 am, two guobao police summoned me to the neighborhood police workstation for a talk, which was transcribed and also video recorded. Their key points are: 1). Recently I posted too many original tweets and retweets on Twitter as well as WeChat, and the content is all negative; 2) Who called for the group trip to Tiananmen Square on Sept. 20? 3) They once again issued a warning and criticism.

[He Depu (何德普) is a veteran dissident and served an eight-year sentence during 2003-2011 on charges of inciting subversion.]

 

Twitter purge, 漫画

Update: A cartoonist in Nanjing @blogtd marks his 10th anniversary with this cartoon. He describes his Twitter experience as “like bathing in a hot bath, enjoying momentary peace and freedom.”

 

10/23/18

黎学文‏ @lixuewen7575

A police officer from my hometown called, asking me to delete tweets. He said the higher authorities investigating internet speech found my posts. I was somewhat puzzled because I had hardly said anything. The call was made to my father’s house, so my old father, who is in his 70s, was frightened once again. Feeling so bad about it, I called home to comfort him.

[Li Xuewen is a Hubei-based dissident writer. He was detained for taking part in the seaside commemoration of Liu Xiaobo in Guangdong in 2017. ] 

10/27/18

 文涛‏ @wentommy

On the afternoon of October 27, three police officers from the neighborhood police station made a surprise visit. The guests and the host quickly exchanged views about Twitter. The police asked me to “delete account” and stop using Twitter. I said that is unacceptable, but I voluntarily promised to self-censor what I say in order to reduce the waste of police resources and avoid upsetting loved ones so frequently. After communicating for an hour, the meeting ended in an awkward but still friendly atmosphere. For the record.

[Wen Tao (文涛) is a journalist who was disappeared for 83 days and subjected to torture in 2011 for his association with artist Ai Weiwei.]

10/29/18

舒廖志‏ @cctvWeb 

Per appointment, I met with Shenzhen guobao this afternoon, and the subject was not to badmouth the Party and state leaders. We also exchanged views on international and domestic affairs. This must be a nationwide operation. Now, my question is: what move is this preparing for?

[This is one of the earliest Chinese Twitter users – since May 2009.]

10/31/18

王亚军北京‏ @wyjaaa

October 21, 2018, lunar calendar Sept. 13, was my birthday. It was unforgettable! Goodbye, Twitter.

[Wang Yajun describes himself as a “renowned joke teller, independent commentator, Taobao store owner, and internet Big V verified by CAC.” He’s been an active presence in Beijing’s intellectual circles for years. He was detained in Keshan county, Heilongjiang province, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 30 for “provoking disturbances. A couple of days after he posted this tweet on Oct. 31, his account was deleted. ]

11/2/18

王法展‏ @wangfazhan0

Twitter purge_五哥放羊逮捕通知书.jpg

Liu Jichun (刘继春, @wugefy1) is formally arrested this morning after being detained for 30 days. Lao Liu ran a small, 40 square-meter eatery in Shapingba area in Chongqing. He was the chef and his wife the assistant. A lawyer has met him a couple of times, and found out that the charges against him have to do with him retweeting various news. Request for bail was denied by the public security bureau, and a request for dismissal was denied by the prosecutors. It’s pretty clear that his is speech crime.

11/4/18

活在魔鬼中的难民‏ @real_refugee

How do you speak freely on Twitter from the evil Communist-ruled land without being summoned by the police for ‘drinking tea’?

章立凡‏ @zhanglifan

I drank tea just two days ago.

[Zhan Lifan is an independent historian and commentator in Beijing.]

11/6/18

亓11‏ @273170335

Hometown police called and said I cursed the leaders on Twitter. I only have a few posts and they were not posted on Twitter. I hereby state: I have not cursed them!

11/7/18

野渡‏ @ye_du

For the last year or so, I have posted nearly nothing on Twitter. Lately there have been tweeps I know who were summoned and forced to delete their Twitter, including quite a few of my friends. So I’m compelled to talk again. Throughout history, in China or elsewhere, the tyrants always think the day will not break if they kill all the roosters that crow at the dawn; everything will be fine if they could make people too afraid to speak. No matter how long the night, we will live to see the dawn.

[Ye Du is a dissident and writer living in Guangzhou.]

11/08/18

李詩銘 @zwitterion2018

I was detained, and made to sit through the night in the cold. Goodbye, Twitter, be safe. Maybe I should just be one of those people who think life in China is peace and quiet.

[I spoke to @zwitterion2018. He lives in a central province. “I don’t know how they found me,” he said. “They came all of a sudden. They asked me questions, took me, and detained me for a night. Then they investigated me and found that I had no associations. So they let me go. At the same time they deleted my Twitter feed.” He said they threatened him that if he tweets again he’d be put in jail. They also explained that they were local police carrying out an order from the national security, and they themselves don’t want to detain him. “It was my first time,” he said, “I’m very afraid.” I asked why he was still on Twitter, he said the worst that could happen to him is jail.]  

Robin‏ @Ruby16674510

This was end-of-the-world maniac: I received a call from guobao who demanded that I pledge not to get on Twitter anymore. How is it possible for me not to get on Twitter? They may as well kill me.

[This is a new tweep joined in May, 2018. In another tweet, he said that, to avoid being harassed by the “Zhao family’s dogs”, he took out his sim card and uses only Wifi to surf internet.]

被中国大陆公安勒令注销推特‏ @wongzheng2017

Officer Zhou, of Donghu police station in Chaoyang District, Beijing, do you call yourself the ‘people’s police’ when you prohibit people from speaking out about their thoughts, their grievances, their call for justice so that you can serve the Party you belong to and its leaders with all your heart and mind? When you shut people up, how are you different from the Nazis during 1937 – 1945?

11/9/18

佛州倪妮‏ @ni1hannah

Lately Chinese tweeps have encountered a widespread crackdown. No wonder they went to my former employer to look for me in early September. Thank goodness I have left.

[This tweep seems to be living in Florida now.]

11/10/18

五哥‏ @realwuge

Guobao had an appointment with me this evening. I was forced to pledge that I would not post any political expressions on any online platform anymore. The fact is I haven’t for the past year or so, but still there have been so many eyes staring at me. Huh, we all know it anyway. So I’ll just leave it now.

沈良庆 @sliangq 

Friend said to me privately that the whole country is campaigning to extinguish Twitter. Guobao twice asked me to delete all my tweets. I promised I won’t retweet anymore and deleted retweets of the last two days. Guobao said I ought to pay attention to my own safety. I said, “Unless you physically cut off the internet or put me in jail, or I’m going to follow the teachings of Deng Xiaoping. That is, the horse will run as usual, the dance will go on, and the one-country- two-systems will be upheld.”

[Shen Liangqing is a former prosecutor and dissident living in Hefei, Anhui.]

11/11/18

蔡慎坤‏ @cskun1989

Twitter purge_蔡慎坤

I have written more than 4,000 commentaries of current affairs over the past 15 years using my real identity. But now, to live on, I have to give up writing and thus bid goodbye to hundreds of thousands of readers in China and beyond. I don’t know when I will be writing the most timely and accurate commentaries again. I hope it won’t be too long, won’t be too long; I hope the night will pass soon.

欧彪峰‏ @oubiaofeng

This is my chat with tweep @419041838 in a WeChat group. We have known each other for a long time.

@419041838: “They deleted all my tweets. Several thousands of them. While deleting, they also videotaped the process. They had talked to me twice about it, and almost took me to jail.”

@oubiaofeng: Why?

@419041838: Deleting all was not enough; they took it to the municipal government for their superiors to check in person.

@oubiaofeng: When? What were the reasons they gave?

@419041838: You guys still don’t get it: using Twitter is very dangerous, more dangerous than street demonstrations.

@419041838: Not me; they did the deletion. They took it away for a night. A few days ago. Several people came from higher level government.

欧彪峰‏ @oubiaofeng

Sun Desheng (孙德胜 @sds8964 )’s tweets were all deleted. The Party-state have never relaxed control of online expression, but recently it has become even more pronounced. Weibo was once a bustling platform but it’s no more. Deletion of post or account has become a commonplace on WeChat. Lately a lot of tweeps have been summoned by police. Some announced quitting Twitter, others were forced to delete their tweets, and still others went silent. There are more than a few who have been detained for tweeting!

[Sun Desheng is an activist who was jailed for 2.5 years from 2013 to 2016.]

11/15/18

Twitter purge, 潘细佃

Freeman‏ @xmyhm

According to the latest news, Xiamen tweep Pan Xidian (潘细佃 @congweiyonghu) has been given 15 days of detention for refusing to delete his account. He’s in Houxi Detention Center, and his account has been deleted.

11/18/18

贺江兵 @hejiangbing01

Around noon, I drank four liang (两) liquor. In the evening I drank again. When I got to six liang (两), I heard knocking on the door. It was cold, so I opened it promptly. What should come would come – three police officers from Shuangjing police station, Beijing Chaoyang District, came for a talk. Officer Gao alone asked questions; another videotaped the entire visit, and the third one stood aside. I said I hadn’t attacked the Party and state leaders since March last year, nor had I defaced the image of the country. I forgot to say that I hadn’t even registered a Twitter account March last year. They didn’t beat me, nor threaten me. I was much relieved. After they left, I finished drinking the remained two liang (两). Now I can sleep in peace. [Edited for clarity. Links are here and here]

That was a fright. Next time I will remember to video record them and also ask to see and photograph their police ID and search warrant. (What about governing the country according to the law that you have been touting?)

[He Jiangbing is a Beijing-based economist who came to Twitter in July 2017 and has been commenting on the Chinese economy since then.]

 

The storm has come indeed. I was asked to delete a total 802 tweets.

[Ye Du told Deutsche Welle that, “Guobao showed me a form with 802 tweets of his that have been put together by internet police. They were categorized into ‘promoting western democracy,’ ‘concerning June 4th,’ ‘inciting social movement,’ and etc. Very detailed. They demanded that I delete these tweets. Ye Du said that he was not the only person who was asked to delete tweets.]

11/19/18

心悦白云‏ @Xybaiyun2018

Ms. Wu Huaiyun from Huoshan County, Anhui Province was given 10 days of administrative detention on Nov. 1. The Public Security Bureau’s written decision on the punishment said, “Since May 2018, Wu Huaiyun used her mobile phone and computer to publish statements defaming our Party and major national leaders on the overseas social platform ‘Twitter’ via her account, @xybaiyun2018. The remarks are serious.” The following is Wu Haiyun’s own account of the event, which she published on Twitter after her release.

Twitter purge, 吴怀云

On October 31, 2018, the Ministry of Public Security and the Anhui Provincial Public Security Department issued an order, and twenty or thirty domestic security police officers (guobao) from Liu’an city came to my home and duped me into handing over my mobile phone. Then several of them forcibly put handcuffs on me and took me away; they also beat me in the police car. Then I was taken to the Liu’an detention facility, where I was detained for 10 days. The police also searched my home, took my computer’s hard drive, pried open my suitcase, and even the mattress on the bed was turned upside down. I hereby request help from international human rights organizations and caring people!

They also found the password for my Twitter account on my computer hard drive, and deleted all the content from my Twitter. After I was detained, they only notified my family by phone, no written notice of detention was given. My family members asked the police for the detention notice, but they refused to provide it. I obtained this written punishment decision by insistence. If they’re reasonable and lawful, then why were they unwilling to give a written detention notice and written punishment decision?  And detain me without trial? I never mentioned the names of national leaders on Twitter, how could I have defamed anyone?  If I disappear again, it’s them–– it’s what they do.

I said that my Twitter content was basically all retweets, and that I just had a few original tweets, which did not involve the content they claimed. They said that reposting is also illegal, especially when retweeting Guo Wengui’s posts–– that was even more unlawful. I asked them, doesn’t the law stipulate that false information must be retweeted at least 500 times before the security punishment regulations apply? Not one of my retweets reached the “500 times” threshold. They actually said that mine were different.

During the interrogations, they assumed I used Twitter on my computer. The written punishment decision also stated that I used Twitter on my computer. When I said that I used Twitter on my mobile phone only, and not on the computer (my computer could not scale the Great Firewall), they all seemed a little surprised! This shows that they found me (on Twitter) by monitoring my mobile phone; the whole thing was a fucking trick!

劉強本‏ @liuqiangben

A few days ago, I received a threatening text message from someone claiming to be the police, demanding that I delete my Twitter account.

王译‏ @wangyi09  

The day before yesterday [on Nov. 17], both Chairman Hua @wxhch64 and I were summoned for a “chat” by authorities in Wuxi and Henan for our use of Twitter. I think this big Twitter cleanup is nationwide, not specifically targeting us, so I didn’t say anything[“Chairman Hua” is Wang Yi’s husband.]

烟台张忠顺‏ @zhangzhongshun

Recently, there’s less and less information on Twitter, mainland Twitter users have either left Twitter, or they’ve been silenced. I was also required to delete more than 500 tweets, and now I dare not post any new tweets. We don’t know the scale, and at every turn the police want to meet; we still have to work, no?

梁太平‏ @liangtaiping123

A few days ago, the domestic security and Internet police came and asked me to delete the relevant posts from Twitter, saying that I couldn’t target national leaders. They were really proactive about this; the Internet police held a screenshot and had me delete tweets from the designated date.

都市放牛娃—邵重国‏ @chongguoshao

Recently I caused a lot of trouble for my friends and family because of my use of Twitter; therefore, I probably will not be on Twitter again for a long time. To my friends who have consistently shown me their concern and care, here I can only offer my apologies. Goodbye, friends.

欧彪峰‏ @oubiaofeng

Lately a number of tweeps have been visited by police who demanded them to delete tweets or not post or retweet anymore. In Hunan, I know there are tweeps in Zhuzhou, Changsha, Shaoyang and other cities who have been summoned by police. Most of them kept quiet afterwards.

二哥‏ @brother_second

I thought only Big Vs were qualified to be summoned for interrogation, but finally it was my turn. I thought this would just be a little intimidation before [Guo Wengui] ‘s press conference and that would be all, because last night the police summoned me but then I was able to return home after only one hour, which didn’t interfere in my watching the live broadcast of Guo’s live broadcast. However, I just now received a phone call from a police officer in the district, who said that the higher ups were not satisfied with our discussion yesterday and that the bureau would send people to have another talk with me. They were somewhat polite, and we agreed to meet at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. It won’t interfere with drinking, so it’s OK.

 [Later, reply to self] Just came back, it was nothing. It had nothing to do with Mr. Guo. It involved political commentary. The domestic security officers’ attitude was good. During the interrogation, there was a moment when we clashed, but we circled back.  They had a stack of printed and bound tweets, and the evidence was undeniable.  I wrote a letter of guarantee that I would delete sensitive posts on my own. Done. It’s time to feed the stray cats…

王冰‏ @tom2009cn

The domestic security police stopped by today, mainly because of what I said on Twitter.  What is certain is that Twitter is no longer a place where you can freely express your thoughts. I don’t know what other communication tools are available abroad to replace Twitter? Which are more private and safer? It has been several years since [human rights lawyer] Pu Zhiqiang was convicted for his Tweets. Twitter has never been a safe harbor for speech, and we are now in an era of total repression.

11/22/18

[Tweep @asn_213 gave a friend the following account in DM, and the later published it.]

砂器Protected Tweets @asn_213

Twitter purge, 砂器I’m back. Yesterday it was the Guobao who summoned me via neighborhood police. They printed all the stuff from 5-6 years ago regarding the same-city meal gatherings [part of the New Citizens Movement], and they also printed all of my tweets and retweets. They said these were evidence of my criminal activities. At 10 pm, their political officer interrogated me again, giving me a notice for 15-day administrative detention. It describes me as defaming the national leaders and attacking the current political system on Twitter. They asked me to sign it. I wrote my dissent on it: I have never used my Twitter handle to defame anyone; expressing views on events and people is a citizen’s most basic freedom of speech, and it’s ridiculous that this is even happening in the 21st century. Then I signed it. …… He talked a lot more, finally he tried to use my daughter as a leverage. He said, “Look, at our age, who is going to do what we like to do that make our own daughters suffer. Now I’m going to give you a way out. As long as you stop tweeting or retweeting and delete your Twitter account, we will withdraw this penalty.” I said okay. So he let me go home. I might not be able to keep this account anymore.

11/27/18

Yaxue Cao @YaxueCao

I just found out that the Twitter account of 陈年老酒 @old_wine has been deleted. He was taken away by police on November 7, and it probably had to do with Twitter. I don’t know how many more tweeps have simply disappeared without a peep. We don’t even notice when @old_wine, a sage on Twitter, took leave.

覃永沛律师‏ @l8EcGICDJBhTMUh

This month I have been coerced to delete about 1,250 tweets. The darkest moment has come before the dawn breaks. No need to say more.

11/28/18

真回安然 ☪‏ @ismaelan

In Shandong, Jinan, Hui poet An Ran (安然) was taken to Dongguan police station by five policemen (two of which were Guobao) on November 27, 2018. He was interrogated for his Twitter expressions. He was ordered to delete his Twitter account, but he refused to do so, stating that his Twitter feed is personal property and it is sacred. (Read his tweets here and here.)  

He also posted Page 2 of the three pages of interrogation transcript that concerns the part about his Twitter:

Twitter purge_真回安然笔录Q: How do you get on Twitter?

A: It’s my privacy; I don’t want to reveal.
Q: Do you often post on Twitter?
A: Almost everyday.
Q: What do you post there?
A: A lot of different things – my own takes on current affairs, photo and video sharing, and etc.
Q: Have you posted lately on Twitter?
A: There are a lot. I can’t remember each one of them.
Q: In what language have you been posting/
A:  English.
Q: You posted that “Religion and traditional culture have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), then the morality disintegrated. Now the Chinese Communist Party began to strike down on religion again.” You also posted that “China’s suppression of Hui Muslims is worsening.” Correct?
A: I posted these this year (can’t remember the exact time) in English.
Q: Why were you posting these?
A: I saw in the news that a new Mosque in Weizhou Township, Tongxin County, Ningxia was ordered to be demolished. It was a grand Mosque built by local believers who had raised 100 million yuan. The government ordered its demolition because it said the dome did not meet the Sinicization requirement. The Mosque was saved only because local people protested in large scale.
Q: What’s the purpose and motivation of posting these two tweets?
A: I wanted to stop the local government from demolish the Mosque, because it was built with believers’ contributions, and it’s such a new, magnificent Mosque…..

11/29/18

Inty‏ @IntyPython

Today my parents in Xinjiang called, and fearfully they asked me to shut up in the U. S. “If you talk anymore,” they said, “the higher-ups will make sure that you will never be able to speak to your parents again.” CCP bastards, come to get me, leave my parents alone! Stop threatening my family! I hate to shut up, but they have turned my loved ones into hostages. For their safety, I decide not to get publicly involved in politics anymore for the time being.

12/1/18

The Shenzhen-based dissident and businessman 陈年老酒 @old_wine, whose name is Xu Lequn (许乐群), posted an account of his encournter with police on another platform on December 1:

Twitter purge, 老酒.jpg

At 10 am, Nov. 7, I was taken from home by policemen in Shenzhen to a police station where they photographed me, took my finger prints, and tested my urine. From 3-4 pm, they interrogated me about my expressions about Xinjiang on Twitter, and they demanded that I delete my Twitter account. I was released at 10 am, Nov. 8, after sitting on a metal bench for the night.

At 5 pm, Nov. 10, I was again taken from home to the police station. At 6:30 pm I was interrogated. They chastised me for still using Twitter the past few days. I again was made to sit on the metal bench for a night. At 9:30 am, they released me saying they’d gotten the wrong person.

On Nov. 26, they called and said their surveillance found that my Twitter account was still alive, that my name is still on the list they’d received from the higher-ups, and that I must get rid of my account immediately. I didn’t know how to delete my account; so I deactivated it.

[Note: His account appears to be active though there have been no new tweets since Nov. 7.]

Twitter purge,老酒2

12/3/18

黎建君‏ @jianjunli1974

This morning I was summoned to the neighborhood police station. I was asked to delete two retweets, one of which is about Guo Wengui. I refused to write a repentance statement.

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on  Twitter @YaxueCao and China Change @ChinaChange_org

 


Related:

Deletion of Wu Gan’s Twitter Posts Reflects the Urgent Need to Protect Chinese Human Rights Activists’ ‘Data Ownership’, November 11, 2018.

#LoveTwitter, a Special Place Like No Other for Mainland Chinese Netizens, March 24, 2016.

Chinese Twitter Users Unsettled at Appointment of New Managing Director, April 17, 2016.

Young Chinese Twitter User Arrested For Proposing Method To Spread Truth About June 4th Massacre, June 9, 2014.

A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.

 

 

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Chinese Students at Bard College Offended By Art Exhibit

Yaxue Cao, October 18, 2018

 

Art exhibit at Bard, title pic

 

Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is a small liberal arts college with around 2500 students. The Campus Center is the central meeting place with a bookstore, a cafe, a post office, computer terminals, a small auditorium, lounge areas and art exhibit space. On October 1, a photo exhibit was mounted along the hallways of the center. It is called, adopting a well-known Mao Zedong quote, “Weightier Than Mount Tai, Lighter Than a Feather: Human Rights Experience of Chinese Contemporary Art.”

Featuring ten artists (all but two lived in China), the exhibit includes photographs, conceptual compositions, negative images of Tiananmen Square in 1989, and photographs that depict a wide range of life in China: the student movement in Beijing, migrant workers in the slums outside Beijing, prostitutes and homesexuals. Photographs of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan the same year are also on display. It is a traveling exhibit and was first shown at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. It ends on October 19 at Bard.

 

手枪指头.JPG

 

On October 3, Siyuan Min (闵思渊), who goes by the name ‘Frederick S. Min,’ a political science major and chair of the Chinese Student Organization on campus, wrote a long letter to one of the two curators of the exhibit, Patricia Keretzky. Keretzky is Oskar Munsterberg Lecturer in Art History and author of more than 10 books about Chinese art, religious and secular, medieval and contemporary. From his letter, we gathered that the exhibit stirred quite a bit of sentiment from a WeChat group that consisted of current Chinese students at Bard, recent graduates and visiting scholars from China. In his letter to Ms. Keretzy, Mr. Min summed up this “vibrant and highly intellectual conversation” on WeChat, China’s popular but heavily censored and surveilled online messaging platform.

The community of Chinese students (currently over 100) and scholars at Bard took issue with the exhibit on three points: the topic, the date and the offensiveness of it.

 

.jpeg

Photo: Chen Chuangchuang.

 

They objected to the sensitive nature of the topic, singling out “the images of protests,” “an armed person waving a gun in front of Mao Zedong,” and “a Statue of Liberty photoshopped to be on Tiananmen Square where the Monument to the People’s Heroes actually stand(s),” the last of which implying that the two symbols of struggle contravene each other.

They took issue with the date. Why launch the exhibit on October 1, our National Day, “the equivalent of July 4th”? When “a rather reckless man insisted on attending a military drill” on the Serbian national day, he said, a diplomatic crisis ensued causing World War I. He then walked back a little bit from the parallel between Archduke Franz Ferdinand causing World War I with his assassination and the two curators provoking Chinese students at Bard, but we get the idea: it’s a grievous provocation.

Mr. Min went on conveying how Chinese students felt: they feel ‘ambushed’ by such an exhibit at the student center; they feel embarrassed when asked questions by their curious American friends; their pride in their nationality is hurt; they feel “a certain sense of betrayal” because at Bard the atmosphere has been “pluralistic yet always respectful.”

 

.jpeg

 

So the photo exhibit is a deviation from the pluralistic and respectful atmosphere at Bard according to this junior. When Chinese students at the University of California San Diego opposed the Dalai Lama giving the commencement speech, they applied the same awkward, brain teaser logic.

Because of the exhibit, the Chinese students and scholars feel, Min went on, judged by “our nationality, our ethnics, the history of our country or the policies of our government.”

But isn’t it the case that the Chinese students and scholars have all these hurt feelings precisely because they themselves identify with the repressive regime, with the policies of the Chinese government and its political sensibilities? They do not seem to recognize that each and every Chinese citizen has the right not to identify with the government. As a political science student, young Mr. Min should know better.

In reply, Ms. Keretzky invited the junior and the Chinese students to come to the screening of dissident films by Chinese artists and a roundtable discussion afterward on Saturday at the Campus Center. None of them came. She also ask Mr. Min to post her response on WeChat. I don’t know whether this has been done. I doubt it, because the words ‘human rights’ and the name ‘Liu Xiaobo’ will not pass through the censorship, even if Min tries to. I doubt he would try in the first place.

 

.jpeg

Photo: Chen Chuangchuang.

 

“I want to have a dialogue with the Chinese students on campus,” Wu Yuren (吴玉仁), a participating artist, said on Saturday at Bard. “This is a serious exhibit. In 2015, Patricia met with us in Beijing and we had a discussion about it. We know why we do this. Today’s China is undergoing a massive transformation, and artists have the acutest sense it. As freedom of speech is being choked off and art creation faces more and more restriction, it’s only natural that artists are going to express such repression.”

I asked Mr. Wu what would happen to these artists living in China, he said, they are used to regular police summons known as ‘drinking tea,’ forced evictions, and shutdowns of exhibits. “Under dictatorship, artists who explore its manifestations face big dangers.” Wu Yuren himself was detained for ten months in 2010 for using what they called the “rights defense performance art” to oppose forced demolition of art districts in Beijing where he and hundreds of artists had their studios.

“By the way,” he said at Bard, “I want to state a common sense here:  October 1st is not the birthday of our motherland.”

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao, or follow China Change @chinachange_org

 


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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

 

85-Year-Old Mother Fights For the Release of Her Son, Renowned Human Rights Defender

Yaxue Cao, October 15, 2018

 

Huang Qi_mother in line outside petition office_title photo

Outside the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing on October 11, 2018. Photo: Twitter.

 

On the morning of October 11, Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清) arrived in Beijing accompanied by a couple of supporters. Ms. Pu is 85 years old, a retired doctor living in Neijiang, Sichuan province (四川内江市). As soon as she stepped off the train at Beijing West Railway Station, she spotted six people who had followed her all the way from Sichuan. In China, they are known as “jie fang renyuan” (截访人员), or local government workers whose job is to trail, stop and take back to their hometown petitioners who have gone to the capital on a quest for justice.

That is what brought Ms. Pu to Beijing –she was seeking justice for her son. With the help of activists, Ms. Pu got rid of her minders, but they kept texting her demanding to know her whereabouts.

In the afternoon, she went to the Ministry of Public Security and stood in line, along the gray wall encircling the Ministry’s compound, to submit documents detailing how the case against her son was a miscarriage of justice. Then she went to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and did the same.

 

Huang Qi, 与访民合影

Huang Qi, second from left, in April, 2016. Photo: RFA

 

Ms. Pu’s son Huang Qi (黄琦) is a renowned human rights activist who runs the website 64tianwang.com (六四天网) which reports human rights violations and social injustices. This is not the first time the 55-year-old Huang was in jail. An electronics engineer by training, he founded the 64tianwang website in 1999. He was arrested in 2000 for his human rights activities and sentenced to five years in prison. Following the Wenchuan earthquake in May, 2008, Huang Qi worked to provide humanitarian assistance to victims and at the same time wrote articles exposing shoddily constructed school buildings that killed thousands of children. In June 2008, he was arrested again for “illegally possessing state secrets” and later sentenced to three years in jail.

This time around, Huang Qi was arrested on November 28, 2016, for allegedly “illegally providing state secrets to overseas.”

The incident that led to the arrest of Huang Qi, Yang Xiuxiong (杨秀琼) and Chen Tianmao (陈天茂), ostensibly anyway, went like this: in early April 2016, at the office of a Neighborhood Committee in Youxian District, Mianyang city (绵阳市游仙区), a low-level communist cadre showed Chen a report by the Party’s Political and Legal Committee about Chen’s petition, and asked him to photograph it. Yang Xiuqiong passed on the information to Huang Qi. In April, Huang Qi ran an article on his website citing what that document says about the authorities’plans to crackdown on 64tianwang and Huang Qi.”

Such are the ‘state secrets’ and how they were ‘provided’ to overseas — the server of the website is overseas to prevent government hacking.

The ‘top secret’ document, as Ms. Pu would point out over and over again, has no red official heading; contains no label of ‘Secret’, no official markings or document codes, and no signature or date. “They fabricated this document to frame Huang Qi and jail him,” she said.

The same night the police took her son, a swarm of 20 plus policemen also came to Ms. Pu’s home, literally carried her off and shoved her into a car that took her first to the rural guesthouse and later to the 15th floor of Neijiang People’s Hospital where she had worked as a doctor of  internal medicine until 1991. About ten people watched her in three shifts, 24/7, for nineteen days. They told other patients that she was a ‘political prisoner’ so that no one would dare to talk to her. When she was released nineteen days later, she found that her doorway was fitted with surveillance cameras and she had to get a locksmith to open her sabotaged door lock. Every time she came back from outside, someone would poke in to see who else was with her. One evening she sneaked out of her apartment in the dark and stayed the night with a friend. The next morning she got into a taxi and went into hiding in Chengdu, the provincial capital.

She hired two human rights lawyers for her son.

For eight months, lawyers were denied permission to meet with Huang Qi. Police told them that Huang’s case was a special one overseen by a special team; they were the ones who decided whether Huang Qi could see his lawyers.

Ms. Pu, anxious about her son’s health and whether he had been mistreated, sent an information request to the Sichuan provincial Department of Public Security and the Mianyang Municipal Bureau of Public Security, but got no answers. She wrote an open letter to Chinese leaders asking for medical parole for her son who suffers from a host of illnesses, including chronic nephritis.

At the end of July, 2017, lawyers finally met with Huang Qi for the first time since his detention eight months ago and learned about grueling interrogations that had lasted long hours and night watch that required Huang Qi to stand on his feet for six hours. At lunch after the meeting, everyone ate, but the mother who had accompanied the lawyers on each of their futile visits sat quietly and didn’t touch the food. She was despondent.

In the fall when the weather turned, she went to Mianyang again to deposit warm clothes and cash for Huang Qi.

Huang Qi, 存衣单

Receipt from the detention center. Photo: RFA

On November 6, 2017, when lawyer Sui Muqing met with Huang Qi, the latter told him how two inmates had beaten him.

Ms. Pu couldn’t take it anymore. She embarked on a train all by herself and went to Beijing, where she mailed letters, postcards and documents to the Minister of Public Security, to the Ministry’s office for supervising police enforcement, and to the office that monitors official abuses at the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. She demanded that they correct the abuses and discipline the perpetrators. She met with foreign diplomats for help, pinning her hope on President Donald Trump who was visiting Beijing that week. She gave an interview to Radio Free Asia: “Investigation has concluded with Huang Qi’s case, but an officer continued to interrogate him, illegally, a dozen times and threatened 12-15 years of imprisonment in order to force Huang Qi to confess. Instructed by detention center officials, two inmates beat Huang Qi repeatedly.” Huang Qi was denied treatment, and wasn’t allowed to spend money deposited for him by his mother and supporters – all to break him and force him to admit guilt.

He reportedly told the interrogators that if they forced him, instead of a confession, they would get his dead body.

On January 15, 2018, Huang Qi was indicted by the Mianyang municipal procuratorate. In the months followed, Ms. Pu filed requests with the court in Mianyang and the superior court of the province for an open trial. She supported her son in sueing Tencent – the company that provided Huang Qi’s private communication with Yang Xiuqiong which was used as evidence against both of them. When the CCP Central Committee’s disciplinary team visited Sichuan, she submitted letters to them reporting the misconducts of the police and prosecutors in Sichuan, and asked for the release of her son. She submitted an application for her son’s medical parole to the Mianyang Intermediate Court. On Mother’s Day of this year, she appealed to Chinese leaders to correct the wrongdoings of the local authorities.

By mid-year, the trial neared and still the lawyers were denied permission to see the so-called “top secret documents.” Ms. Pu feared that the authorities, with the intent to keep Huang Qi locked up, would convict Huang Qi without even showing the documents during the hearing. She requested that the Sichuan Public Security re-evaluate the “secret documents.”

The trial, scheduled for June 20, was canceled. By then Huang Qi has been detained for nearly nineteen months without trial, beyond the statutory limitation for pretrial detention.

In late June, Ms. Pu mailed a complaint to China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate in Beijing refuting the nature of the “secret documents” and asking the body to correct the mistakes of the local judiciary and release her son.

In mid-August, three officials from her former employer Neijiang People’s Hospital visited her. They told her that higher level leaders had asked them to come to check on her.

Scribbling on her cellphone laboriously, she wrote one open letter after another,  arguing point by point what a sham the case against Huang Qi was, and how it was a deliberate act to imprison Huang Qi. “How is a petitioner’s letter to the government a top national secret?” She asked. “If the neighborhood director who had given the document to Chen Tianmao is still going to work every day and wasn’t charged with leaking secrets, how are those who received the document ‘leaking secrets?’”

 

Huang Qi mother, composite 1.png

 

It is indeed a deliberate act, and it is part of a broader campaign to wipe out rights advocacy websites in China. In June 16, 2016, Lu Yuyu (卢昱宇) and Li Tingyu (李婷玉) were arrested in Dali, Yunnan. They ran the 非新闻 (Non-News) website that searched, collated, and published information about mass protests across China. Lu has since been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” In Suizhou, Hubei, Liu Feiyue, the founder and editor of minsheng guancha, or Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, was arrested in November, 2016. He was tried in August for “inciting subversion of state power” after 20 months in detention. No verdict has been delivered. Also in November, 2016, citizen journalist Sun Lin (孙林), known for videotaping human rights activism, was arrested in Nanjing, and has since been tried and sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” and “illegal possession of firearms.” In September, 2017, Zhen Jianghua (甄江华), the founder and editor of hrcchina.org website, was arrested. He has been denied legal counsel, and recently there were reports that he had been secretly tried.

In late September, lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) received a reply from the Mianyang Public Security, denying his request for Huang Qi’s medical records. The records, it reads, “do not fall within the scope of free government information.”

On October 8, lawyer Li Jinglin visited Huang Qi and learned that his condition had deteriorated. He suffers pain and swollenness and decreased urination. The detention center has kept the testing results from him. Based on her son’s description, Ms. Pu believes that Huang Qi is showing symptoms of late term uremia which is life threatening without treatment.

On October 9, Ms. Pu, accompanied by lawyer Li, went to see Judge Zhou who presides over Huang Qi’s case. At the entrance, court bailiffs grabbed her arms and prevented her from going in. She shouted, “My son Huang Qi is gravely ill! Give him medical parole!”

On October 11, she came to Beijing again with a renewed urgency.

 

 

On October 13, a decision by the prosecutors to bring more charges against Huang Qian was made public. It was mailed to lawyer Liu Zhengqing in Guangzhou via EMS and it was dated September 12. But one can never be sure that was the real date, and if it was, no explanation has been made as why the lawyers were not notified sooner. In addition to charges of “illegally providing national secrets to overseas,” Huang Qi is now also charged with “leaking national secrets.” “Given that Huang Qi is a repeated offender,” the revised indictment says, “he will be subjected to more severe punishment.”

So, what is going on? Instead of addressing the 85-year-old mother’s appeals, the Chinese government has just raised the stake higher for her and for her son.

They won’t release him, and they want to stop her.

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao, or follow China Change @ChinaChange_org. 

 


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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

 

Testimony: American Universities Are Chess Pieces in China’s Grand Quest for Advanced Science and Technology

Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of ChinaChange.org

House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee Hearing: Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China’s Influence on U.S. Universities?

June 25, 2015

(This is an abbreviation of the full testimony)

 

Dear members of the Subcommittee,

I’m pleased to have this opportunity to speak today about the Chinese government’s policies on joint higher education ventures, its mechanisms of controlling them, the Party’s presence in these ventures, and the regime’s severe suppression of academic freedom in Chinese universities.

Chinas national policies on joint ventures in higher education

In 2003, China first issued the Regulation on Chinese-foreign Cooperative Education (《中华人民共和国中外合作办学条例 》) to set the rules for joint-venture higher education programs. Between 2004 and 2007, China issued several follow-up regulatory documents regarding the implementation of the initial regulation.  In 2010, China promulgated the National Plan for Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development (2010 – 2020) (《国家中长期教育改革和发展规划纲要(2010-2020年)》) . The National Plan devotes a chapter (Chapter 16) to joint higher education, which gives a more detailed, and more visionary, description of its purpose and implementation. In 2014, the Ministry of Education issued a document reviewing the joint higher education ventures over the past three years, since the promulgation of the National Plan (《教育规划纲要实施三年来中外合作办学发展情况》).

The purpose of joint ventures in higher education is to bring the best international higher education resources to China. This includes: “bringing world-class experts and scholars to China to engage in teaching, research, and management; conducting joint research with first-rate foreign universities on advanced basic research and high technology, especially in the areas of science, technology, agriculture, and medicine; and introducing educational ideas, content, teaching methods, talent training models and management expertise.”

The Regulation encourages foreign education institutions to primarily use their intellectual property as their investment in the joint venture.

When admitted into WTO in 2001, China promised to open its education sector to foreign universities, and allow “foreign majority ownership.” But China has had no intention to deliver that promise. Meanwhile, it has sought to take advantage of the best education, research, and knowledge resources from foreign institutions.

The solution to these opposed goals is to set up a joint venture with the Chinese government being the controlling party.

The Regulation stipulates that the board of these joint ventures must have a Chinese majority, and the president must be a Chinese citizen. “Courses and imported textbooks in these joint-venture programs or universities must be submitted to government review and approval organs for record.” And “the joint-venture programs and universities must provide courses about the Chinese constitution, law, citizen morality, and the current state of the country, just as similar domestic institutions are required.”

The most insidious part of the control mechanism probably lies in the finance of these joint-venture universities. It is also the least transparent part. Financial dependence on the Chinese government, even if it is partial, puts foreign universities in a vulnerable position where they may feel the need to conform to China’s expectations, not only on the joint-venture campuses, but also on home campuses.

According to the Ministry of Education, the near 2,000 joint-venture programs in China focus on advanced manufacturing, modern agriculture, and modern service sectors. And China wants more talent in the fields of energy, mining, environmental protection, and finance. Of the near 2,000 programs, 37% are engineering, while literature, history, and law are less than 2% each.

Recent developments show that China’s quest for advanced knowledge and technology is coming to this country. Just a few days ago, newspapers reported the launch of a technology institution called the “Global Innovation Exchange Institute” in Seattle, a joint venture of China’s elite university Tsinghua University, the University of Washington, and Microsoft, that focuses on technology and design innovation in the areas of the Internet of things, intelligent cities, mobile healthcare, and clean energy. U.S. media reported that Microsoft was the investor, but in the Chinese press it was described as “an important step and a milestone of Tsinghua University’s international strategic deployment.”

Two other recent reports in Chinese newspapers indicate that China is seeking investment in the research triangle of in North Carolina. In an innovation forum at the University of Maryland, a Chinese official expressed the desire to build the first innovation incubation platform on the East Coast, with Chinese investment and research expertise from American universities.

Another component of China’s strategy is theft. Reports on this abound. For example in May, Penn State University disclosed that its engineering school had been invaded by Chinese hackers for more than two years. Penn State develops sensitive technology for the U.S. Navy.

China’s intentions in the world of higher education were made clear in two instances involving UC Berkeley. In November 2014, Peking University gave the President of UC Berkeley an honorary professorship, and expressed interest in “cooperation” on big data processing, a new and important computing technology with wide application. In February 2015, WSJ reported the forced closure of a labor center in Guangzhou jointly established by UC Berkeley, and Sun Yat-sen University, as part of the systematic suppression of rights activities and civil society.

The presence of the Communist Party in joint-venture programs

CCP presence in Chinese universities is thorough, from top leadership down to student cells. Reports in Chinese press confirm the CCP presence on joint venture campuses as well. From the Ministry of Education’s review in 2014, I quote: “Joint-venture universities have established Party committees so that there would be the Party’s work wherever the masses are, and there would be a Party organization wherever there are Party members, achieving the Party’s no-blind-spot coverage on a grassroots level. Some universities have also established overseas Party cells  to ensure that the Party’s work remains synchronized with its work at home when students….study abroad.”

Academic freedom pummeled at Chinese universities

In China’s current political system there has never been academic freedom as understood by Americans, though the level of repression has fluctuated. Much has been written about the Chinese Communist Party’s Document No. 9, issued in the spring of 2013, which prohibits Chinese universities from teaching ideas about constitutional governance, universal values, free press, civil society, and the rule of law. This edict is shutting down what little academic freedom was enjoyed before. Articles, such as a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor, have reported that professors were fired, or pressured to quit their jobs, for espousing liberal ideas and teaching them in the classroom; Party officials cut or constrained trips to academic conferences; student reading lists were vetted for ideological content. A media professor told the paper that, “There are topics I know that as soon as they are mentioned in my classes, I would be sacked immediately.”

For the record, I would like to quote a social media post of the well-known law professor He Weifang (贺卫方) at Peking University from last December. The post was later deleted by China’s Internet censors, but I was able to read a preserved copy and have confirmed its authenticity:

【Universities are as silent as the winter cicadas】 When lecturing, it is like walking on thin ice because there are surveillance cameras overhead. Gingerly we conduct research. We are not supposed to write papers on constitutional democracy; even if we do, there is no place to publish them. To take part in an international conference, we have to file a request with the authorities one year in advance, and the request would be denied if it is deemed even slightly sensitive (there are no transparent criteria for what is sensitive). Many on-campus academic lectures must be approved by the propaganda department of the university’s CCP Committee. It’s a mystery which faculty members are on the “black list.” They have been incessantly talking about making Chinese universities world-class universities. How do they do that?

Conclusion

Over the past three decades, China has benefited from an unprecedented transfer of knowledge and know-how from Western countries, much of it through joint ventures and through theft of intellectual properties. Many such relationships have soured in recent years, and the trend is likely to deepen. Now, the Chinese government is attempting to duplicate its successes in the business realm and apply them to the world of higher education. Its aim is to extract the knowledge and expertise from the world’s most prestigious and successful research institutions, all the while pursuing a political agenda that tramples on the very principles that set the human mind free and that are the basis of higher education as we know it.

I have no problem with free exchange of knowledge and technology. But I have a problem with freely providing knowledge and technology to the communist regime in China, which has no other effect than to strengthen it and its grip on power. I have a problem with our institutions of higher education looking the other way as terrible human rights violations take place in the country.

The US-China relationship for the last 30 years has operated on the premise that the US should engage with China, help her grow economically, and that economic development will lead to the Chinese Communist Party’s embracing human rights and democratic values. Instead, today we have a monstrous combination of state capitalism, the kleptocratic marriage of power and money, and broader and harsher suppression of the Chinese people’s legitimate demands for political and civil rights. Internationally, we are witnessing an increasingly aggressive China, a rising threat to the global peace and security, and a challenge to the existing world order.

One can argue about all the defects of the current order, but I assure you with absolute certainty that you do not want a global regime set up and dominated by the Chinese Communist Party.

The CCP has mastered the game of taking advantage of a free society like ours. It is sad to see how easily our universities can fall prey to the Party’s scheme. It is my wish that American universities are able to see the full picture, where they fit into it and what end they are serving when becoming a business partner with the Chinese government.

 

———

Related:

Innocent Abroad? Liberal Educators in Illiberal Societies, by Jim Sleeper. Ethics & International Affairs, the journal of the Carnegie Council, summer issue, 2015.

A 6,000-word assessment of American universities’ joint ventures with regimes in Singapore, China, the Emirates, and elsewhere, accompanied by an audio interview with the author.

Testimony of Jeffrey S. Lehman, Vice Chancellor of NYU Shanghai, June 25, 2015.

New York University Shanghai: What Is the Deal? by Yaxue Cao, February 5, 2015.

Testimonies in the first of the series of hearings (more to come): Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China’s Influence on American Universities? December 4, 2014. Prof. Perry Link; Prof. Cushman; Prof. Xia Yeliang.

 

(According to the Subcommittee Chair, most of the university administrators called upon to testify have declined to do so; President Sexton of NYU was given 16 dates to choose from, but has evaded the hearing so far.)

 

Silence without violence – How the Party applies pressure to activists and reformers

While instances of violence and coercion in China are well-known overseas, they actually make up a small percentage of the total cases that are silenced in less visible ways. For every Chen Guangcheng, there are likely hundreds (thousands?) of others who never dared to speak, or shut up shortly after first opening their mouths. In a great series of papers from Kevin O’Brien and Rachel Stern, they show that China has developed a wide variety of tools for maintaining stability (the following sections are a combination of information from the papers and my own observations).

Relational Repression (link)

As O’Brien shows with a case study of an environmental protest in Zhejiang, people’s family members and friends are often mobilized to apply pressure to activists. In many cases elderly pensioners are threatened with a loss of benefits and family members holding gov’t jobs are threatened with being fired if they fail to convince the activists to stop their actions. This kind of repression is especially trying because of the psychological pressure it applies to the individual, not only are they risking their own safety but their family’s as well (and we all know how important family is in China).

In virtually every case of well-known dissidents, their families have suffered. In Chen’s case his wife and daughter were imprisoned in their home with him. After his escape his extended relatives have continued to be harassed and threatened by local officials, most notably his nephew Chen Kegui. This can only be seen as an attempt to continue to apply pressure to Chen Guangcheng, even though he is now out of the country.

Mixed Signals and Control Parables (Link 1, Link 2)

Another way that activists are kept in line is by making the boundaries unclear. As Rachel Stern demonstrates in her papers, this murkiness leads to self-censorship and caution with a very minimal amount of work by central authorities. Some regions encourage reporting on environmental problems while similar stories can lead to serious punishments in other regions. This causes many lawyers and journalists to completely avoid supposedly “risky” issues. Furthermore, topics that are unsafe can cause problems retroactively, so while it may currently be safe to discuss certain issues, it may not be so in the future.

As we learned last year through Wikileaks, Twitter may have very well been blocked because of the BeijingAIR twitter feed rather than its ability to spread information, and Google may have suddenly been blocked because of one official unhappy with the results he found when searching his own name. These rare glimpses behind the scenes are a reminder that even when we think we know where the line might be, there could be something else pushing the resolve.

Additionally, because punishments are rarely explained activists draw their own conclusions from events. These conclusions may be far more restrictive than whatever the actual reason may have been. For example, Stern cites a pervasive rumor that the PSB in Beijing has a color coded list of foreign funding organization broken in to green (safe), yellow (somewhat-safe), and red (dangerous). The speculation of which organizations fall into which category has led many groups to refuse funding from sources that may very well be safe. According to figures from international rights groups, only .2% of Chinese lawyers and journalists face jail time, but the parables others draw from these punishments create much larger ripples through their professions. As one source told Stern, the arrest of the managing editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily in retribution for their coverage of SARS, led to a cooling effect on investigative journalism throughout the country.

Internalizing the unwritten rules

In my short time working with Yaxue Cao and others on sensitive issues, these methods have featured prominently in our discussions when we’ve posted such material. I asked if she had family here that could face repercussions, we’ve tried to figure out how close to get to the line (we don’t even know if we’ve crossed it, we seem to be blocked in parts of China), and we’ve drawn dark lessons for ourselves from what’s happened to the activists we consider friends. Even though these tools were never made explicit, one can’t help but internalizing them after reading through numerous cases online.

What has surprised me even more is the way in which this system is self-propagating. Friends from the U.S. tell me to be careful, co-workers remind that posts could endanger their work, others remind me that my visa could be taken away, and my parents ask what would happen to my career if I am ever blocked from returning to China (I’m sure every blogger in China has faced these questions at some point). Do I really think I’m in any real danger? No, but the thing with fear is that fear isn’t rational. Fear isn’t something that can be controlled, no matter how foolish you tell yourself it is. In the end Yaxue always reminds me that the risk others have taken are much bigger and I click “publish*” (Ge Xun calls this “shared courage”), but my irrational brain whispers in my ear, “Easy for her to say, she doesn’t live here.”

Having a deeper understanding of these tools though helps activists understand and weigh their choices when seeking change. When a name is given to a tool, like “relational repression” and “control parables,” it gives one a sense of regaining control over their emotions and the resolve to continue on.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the recent protest in Shifang, and look at how these different methods of control failed to suppress the protesters, and how they may actually be beneficial for activists.

*I’m proud to say that we have never cancelled, delayed, or altered a post out of fear.