China after Tiananmen: money, yes; ideas, no

tiananmenexilesThe New York Review of Books reprints a chapter by Perry Link in Rowena He’s Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, in which he discusses the legacy of the June 4th, 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Beijing, 25 years later, China Digital Times reports:

The Tiananmen massacre, as if having a will of its own, seems to come back to undermine whatever the regime claims as its legitimacy. In 1989 it killed the “socialist idealism” claim once and for all; then, when Deng shifted to nationalism, stressing that the Party and people are one, it was impossible not to recall when the Party and the people were on opposite ends of machine guns. So the regime still needs to list massacre-memory as one of the kinds of thought that most needs to be erased. It uses both push and pull to do this. “Push” includes warnings and threats, and—for the recalcitrant—computer and cell-phone confiscation, passport denial, employment loss, bank-account seizure, and the like, and—for the truly stubborn—house arrest or prison. “Pull” includes “invitations to tea” at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres; advice that it is still not too late to make this kind of adjustment; comparisons with others who are materially better off for having made just that decision; offers of food, travel, employment, and other emoluments (larger if one cooperates by reporting on others); and counsel that it is best not to reveal the content of all this friendly tea-talk to anyone else.

The “pull” tactics have been especially effective in the culture of the money-making and materialism that has pervaded Chinese society in recent times. The emphasis on money, in combination with authoritarian limits on open discussion of other principles, has led to a poverty in the society’s public values. Vaclav Havel wrote about the “post-totalitarian” condition as one in which a pervasive web of official lies comes to constitute a sort of second version of daily life. Echoing Havel, the Tiananmen student leader Shen Tong observes that “the reality of living in a police state” is that “you live in a huge public lie.” The scholar and fellow Tiananmen leader Wang Dan, in explaining the behavior of people who, from no real fault of their own, become inured to lies over time, finds that they “lie subconsciously.” China’s celebration of money-making does make it different from Havel’s Czechoslovakia, but hardly better. Far from melting the artificiality (as the theories of optimistic Western politicians have held that it would), the money craze in some ways has worsened it.



Nepal: increased pressure from China threatens Tibetans

Nepal has imposed increasing restrictions on Tibetans living in the country as a result of strong pressure from China, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published today. The new Nepali government should make it clear to China that it will accept Tibetans who flee persecution as refugees and will not restrict basic rights of peaceful expression, assembly, and association.

The 100-page report, “Under China’s Shadow: Mistreatment of Tibetans in Nepal,” shows that Tibetan refugee communities in Nepal are now facing a de facto ban on political protests, sharp restrictions on public activities promoting Tibetan culture and religion, and routine abuses by Nepali security forces. These include excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment in detention, threats and intimidation, intrusive surveillance, and arbitrary application of vaguely formulated and overly broad definitions of security offenses.

“The situation for the Tibetan refugee community in Nepal has markedly deteriorated since China’s violent crackdown on protests in Tibet in 2008,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While Nepal continues to offer some protections to Tibetans, it is succumbing to Chinese pressure to limit the flow of Tibetans across the border and imposing restrictions on Tibetans in violation of its legal obligations. China cloaks its demands as security concerns, but they are really just an extension of its repression in Tibet and aimed at making it harder for Tibetans to tell the world of their plight.”

U.S., EU criticize China on rights, cite activist Cao Shunli’s death


The United States and European Union (EU) have accused China of using arrests and harassment to silence human rights activists, also voicing consternation at the death in custody of a prominent dissident, Reuters reports:

During the debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, China’s delegation tried unsuccessfully to stop a speech by Ti-Anna Wang, daughter of Wang Bingzhang, a physician serving a life sentence for his role in overseas Chinese democracy movements.

“China has increased arrests, forced disappearances, and extralegal detentions of those who peacefully challenge official policies and actions, including Xu Zhiyong and Ilham Tohti,” said Peter Mulrean, U.S. charge d’affaires.

The Chinese government had increased Internet controls, media censorship, and continued to limit religious freedom, particularly in Tibetan and Uighur areas, he said.

“We note with profound sadness the recent death of Cao Shunli [above], an activist who urged independent civil society participation in China’s Universal Periodic Review process and was detained until recently,” Mulrean said.

Greece, speaking on behalf of the EU, said it was deeply shocked by Cao’s death after her detention for “supporting the participation of independent civil society” in the U.N. review.

Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong, members of the New Citizens Movement, are detained for peacefully advocating social justice, while Ilham Tohti is in jail for peacefully promoting the human rights of minorities, he said.

See Human Rights in China’s feature “Cao Shunli’s Living Legacy: International and Domestic Responses”

Blogging China’s ‘slow-motion revolution’


Credit: Ian Johnson

Huang Qi is best known in China as the creator of the country’s first human rights website, Liusi Tianwang, or “June 4 Heavenly Web,” Ian Johnson writes for the NYRB blog.

A collection of reports and photos, as well as the occasional first-person account of abuse, the site is updated several times a day. It documents some of the hundreds of protests continually taking place in China, many related to government land seizures.

The forty-nine-year-old Huang launched his site in 1999, at first concentrating on human trafficking and abuses of workers. Initially lauded by government media, he was detained in 2000 when he broadened his scope to include the plight of people still suffering from their participation in the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen protests. He also documented abuse by the authorities of members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong. In 2000 his site was blocked by authorities in China so he moved it to US-based servers. A few months later, he was detained and imprisoned for five years on charges of “subversion.”

Since being released from his second prison stint a year and a half ago, Huang has lived in a series of apartments in the southwestern city of Chengdu. All are lent by supporters, and are near hospitals so he can have dialysis for his ruined kidneys. Most recently, he has been living on the sixteenth floor of a high-rise, and when I went to see him in January, he was sitting out on the balcony in the early spring air, fielding a string of calls from China’s farmers and lower middle class—the people driving the country’s slow-motion revolution to make the government more accountable. Fueled by cigarettes and green tea, he listens to their stories, cuts them off when he has to, gives curt advice, and types out a few lines for his website on the latest protests and beatings. 


How to help China’s anti-corruption reformers


Proposed new bilateral investment treaties would improve transparency and help tackle corruption in China, says Robert Zoellick, a former World Bank president, US trade representative and deputy secretary of state:

Chinese reformers believe that bilateral investment treaties will help them fight favouritism and corruption, remove onerous regulations that choke market competition, improve uneven law enforcement, and shrink the advantages enjoyed by state-owned enterprises. As one Chinese official told me, if the authorities offer equal and fair treatment to foreigners, China’s private sector can demand the same. Reformers recognise that small and medium-sized enterprises would be the biggest winners from fairly enforced economic rules.

“Bilateral treaties, technical though they might be, can be potent tools,” says Zoellick, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “They can assist China’s market reforms, deepen constructive economic ties with the west, and strengthen the international rule of law. They also offer a positive agenda to buffer inevitable differences,” he writes for The Financial Times.

But reports suggest that the ruling Communist Party is resorting to more familiar and less technocratic approaches to curbing corruption, while cracking down on grassroots anti-graft campaigners, including Xu Zhiyong, the “quiet lawyer holding Beijing to account” and the broader New Citizens Movement (see above).

Brutality yields graft confessions

The anti-corruption crackdown has netted officials at most levels of government, many of whom have been investigated and questioned under an internal disciplinary process called shuanggui, China Digital Times reports. While stories have emerged about mistreatment and harsh conditions in shuanggui facilities, the AP’s Gillian Wong gives a detailed account of torture from four local officials held in Hunan:

Zhou, land bureau director for the city of Liling, was confined in the party’s secret detention system at a compound in central Hunan, touted as a model center for anti-corruption efforts. Nobody on the outside could help him, because nobody knew where he was.

In a rare act of public defiance, Zhou and three other party members in Hunan described to The Associated Press the months of abuse they endured less than two years ago, in separate cases, while in detention. Zhou said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned, whipped with wires and forced to eat excrement. The others reported being turned into human punching bags, strung up by the wrists from high windows, or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet.

All said they talked to the AP despite the risk of retaliation because they were victims of political vendettas and wanted to expose what had happened. Party representatives contacted by the AP denied the abuses had taken place.

[…] Wang Qiuping, party secretary of an industrial park in Ningyuan, said he was slapped often and forced to stand and kneel for hours during a detention of 313 days. His deputy Xiao Yifei told the AP he was hooded for more than a month and beaten up by an interrogator who went by the nickname “Tang the Butcher.” Xiao provided the AP with a receipt from a local party discipline office showing his sister paid 35,000 yuan, or $5,700, in “violation fees” to secure his release after 208 days. And Fan Qiqing, a contractor, said he was kicked and lashed with a metal whip and wooden plank during his 431-day detention and forced to take hallucinogenic drugs.

A Ningyuan party official who refused to give his name said the investigation involving all three men was carried out in a “civilized manner” and no one was tortured.

In April, a suspect died during a shuanggui investigation. Read more about the anti-corruption drive and about shuanggui, via CDT.