Crack down in China Worse and Worse
Despite its undeniable status as a global economic superpower, China has been heavily criticized in recent years for an apparent return to a Leninist-style leadership under Xi Jinping. Though the Chinese Communist Party has long been the only significant political force in the country, it abandoned the ruthless dictatorial style of Mao a while ago. However, Jinping’s style of government has raised fears that he’s actively working to restore the very same political philosophy that terrorized the country in the 1970s.
One of the General Secretary’s initiatives, the targeting of “tigers and flies” (corrupt officials and businessmen), has by now transformed into a mass political purge aimed at all those who oppose the government. The Party controls an extensive network of surveillance in the country, which has become even more active during this initiative. As a consequence, the media has found itself under even stricter censorship than before. In August 2015, a financial journalist for the business magazine Caijing was detained after having reported on government manipulation of China’s stock markets. He was forced to refute his own words on China Central Television.
The media hasn’t been the only victim, however. Religious minorities have been targeted, with “hundreds of crosses ripped from the steeples of Christian churches”. Even women’s rights activists and human rights lawyers have been affected.
At the same time, the domestic changes are perhaps less surprising than the foreign ones. The government is denying “unfriendly” foreign journalists entry into the country and blocking websites that disagree with the Party’s policies. Even more shocking is that instead of denying all this, the CCP publicly refutes Western liberal values, viewing them as obstacles to strong leadership and immediate economic growth.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) is the government agency in charge of overseeing the new anti-corruption campaign. It’s headed by Wang Qishan, an old friend of Xi Jinping, who essentially acts a grand inquisitor. Under Wang’s leadership, the agency has gained so much power that it’s allowed to hire and fire outside the Organization Department, which generally oversees high-level appointments. One reason for his agency’s success is of course the level of corruption that exists in the country; as officials are poorly paid, they often tend to accept bribes. As a result, they’ve had a lot of targets. Worryingly, their investigations seem to be above the law; they only stage show trials at the end of high-profile investigations. They’ve even designed a smartphone app that lets people upload photo and video evidence of officials violating the law.
For the Chinese themselves, this all is highly reminiscent of chilling rein of the Ming dynasty. The court went through several such agencies like the “Embroidered Guard” and the “Eastern Depot” (even a “Western Depot”, eventually), that gathered secret files on officials. Though Jinping’s approval rating is the highest of any world leader, the people are slowly realizing the danger he poses to even the most basic of freedoms. Heavy criticism is finally finding its way through the extreme censorship. Zhou Fang, a reporter for the New China News Agency, published an open letter criticizing censors for their violations of online freedom of expression. It was soon taken down, but not without causing a stir.
Jinping’s authoritarian style isn’t just a danger to China, of course. It directly affects everyone who depends on the Chinese economy. His aggressive foreign policies ensure that the Chinese economy will encounter many obstacles in its path to reformation. Though some are finally waking up to the threat, it could already be too late.
Schell, Orville “Crackdown in China: Worse and Worse.” The New York Review, April 2016, 12-14