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HD China: The People’s Activism

March 30, 2011

互联网. hùliánwǎng. internet

Beijing 2009

During a rare interview in October 2010, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister further affirmed Liu Xiaobo’s belief:  “I believe I and all the Chinese people have such conviction that China will make continuous progress and the people’s wishes and need for democracy and freedom are irresistible. I hope you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.” [i]

Those familiar with the political rhetoric of China have distinguished the party’s use of the word “democracy” from the traditional notion of how may commonly understand the word as a form of government.  In their view the party often uses the phrase “democracy” simply “to refer to greater public participation in decision-making, without universal suffrage.” [ii]

Nomenclature aside, this sense for greater freedom to interact and communicate information and knowledge is real and penetrating.  A well-renowned Chinese intellectual and blogger, Han Han, stated his view during a November 2010 interview when asked about his own influence on the political psyche of China’s youth [iii]:

“I can’t really influence them in any way, but I hope that when the country is one day in their hands they will remember the past and take good care of this nation. In that world there is no capitalism, socialism, communism or feudalism; there is also no Easternization or Westernization. There is only right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, good and evil.”

Take for instance the launch of a Chinese Magazine in January 2010, Century Weekly with the following ‘Helsinki-like’ goals: “To support professional journalism, push forward reforms in China, and protect the public’s right to know while chronicling, objectively, and thoughtfully, our nation in transition.” [iv]

Pioneering editor of Century Weekly, Hu Shuli, in a 2010 interview contended “China cannot wait any longer for reforms to its political system.  The sense of personal independence is growing among our citizens, as is consciousness of their rights and the appetite for participation in current affairs.” [v]

As of June 10, 2010, there is an estimated 420 million Internet users in China [vi].  Like many nations the country has tried to implement a balance between explosive Internet growth and other national concerns.  Unlike many other nations however, they have attempted to strike a balance between allowing the vigorous growth of the Web and preventing it for becoming a tool undermining Communist party rule.

Censorship and Related Controversial Issues

The phrase “Great Firewall of China” is no myth.  The foreign media portrayal of China’s policies relating to “internet filtering” and “propaganda control” is saturated with overwhelming criticism.  For example, although imperfect, the firewall effectively blocks a wide array of foreign websites by groups like Amnesty International, popular social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and a number of Chinese-language media sites in Taiwan. Algorithms weed out postings that include words like “democracy,” “Dalai Lama”, “Liu Xiaobo” or “Tiananmen massacre.”  When those fail, the legions of censors employed by privately owned Web sites are ready to step into the breach. [vii].  Just recently I posted an article about shaky access to Google services.

If you lived in Mainland China now it would be immensely difficult to access information about Falun Gong—a Chinese spiritual movement founded in 1992.  Also known as Falun Dafa, the ancient form of cultivation practice was officially banned by the Chinese government in 1999 after 10,000 adherents staged a silent protest outside gates of the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing to complain about reports in the state run media.  It follows that alleged human rights violations endured by Falun Gong practitioners over the past couple of decades are of the very worst kind—murder, torture, execution, enslavement and so on. [viii] Even today, one can walk all the way to the west-side of New York City to the Chinese Embassy and witness Falun Gong adherents sitting in silent meditation—a wordless cry for justice right across the street.

And then there are those brave enough to listen to these cries of injustice, and more, to take action.  Perform an online search on Chinese search engines for “Gao Zhisheng” and you’ll get this legal disclaimer: “some of the results won’t display according to the law and regulations.”

Gao Zhisheng is a prominent human rights lawyer who was recognized for his legal work on behalf of marginalized citizens, including practitioners of Falun Gong.  In 2006 Mr. Gao sent letters to President Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister Wen Jibao, accusing the government of persecuting Falun Gong members.  As a result he was stripped of his law license and sentenced to prison on charges of “inciting subversion.” [ix] Upon his release, and as recent as April 2010 Mr. Gao has simply disappeared.

These high-level efforts to suppress the spreading of Falun Gong and other “dark spots” in a nations history seem unnatural towards the progression of a just society.  I recall asking a Chinese friend in Beijing this past summer about Falun Dafa, and all he could do was shake his head and with an uncomfortable laugh say, “no, no, no.”  In other words, we don’t feel comfortable speaking about that.

Human Rights Watch, an International human rights group has what seems like a laundry list of violations concerning Chinese government censorship of its citizens and journalists.  To name several: [x]

  • In March 2010, Zhang Hong, a deputy editor with the Economic Observer newspaper, lost his job within days after co-writing a March 1 editorial carried in 13 Chinese newspapers calling for the abolition of the discriminatory household registration system.
  • In March 2010, China Economic Times editor Bao Yuehang was fired in apparent retaliation for a March 17 story that exposed vaccine quality shortfalls in Shanxi province linked to the deaths of four children and the sickening of at least 74 others.
  • On July 23 2010, Gheyret Niyaz, a Uighur journalist and the editor of a popular website called Uighurbiz, received a 15-year prison sentence on charges of “endangering state security.”

So what does all these mean for the future?  For now?  If the Internet, in the words of Liu Xiaobo is “Gods gift to China”, is this what God envisioned?  Who is responsible for these alleged human rights violations that have taken place, and that are taking place now?  And how to bring these individuals to justice?  Does international law have any role at all?


[i] Malcolm Moore, Wen Jiabao Promises Politcal Reform for China (Oct. 2010), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8040534/Wen-Jiabao-promises-political-reform-for-China.html

[ii] id.

[iii] Aleks Krotoski, The Internet’s Cyber Radicals: Heroes of the Web-Changing World, (Nov. 2010), http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/28/internet-radicals-world-wide-web

[iv] China Digital Times 2010.  Crusading Editor Fights War on Censorship, http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/century-weekly/

[v] id.

[vi] Internet World Statistics, Section on World Internet Usage and Population Statistics, 2000-2010, available at http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[vii] Andrew Jacobs, Chinese Learn Limits of Online Freedom as The Filter Tightens (Feb. 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/world/asia/05beijing.html?pagewanted=1&fta=

[viii] Falun Gong Human Rights Watch Group, Section on ‘What is Falun Gong’, available at http://www.falunhr.org

[ix] Michael Wines, Chinese Rights Lawyer Disappears Again (Apr. 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/01/world/asia/01gao.html?_r=1

[x] Phelim Kine, China’s Journalists Under Threat (Sep. 2010), http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/09/02/chinas-journalists-under-threat

[xi] Andrew Jacobs, At Reading in Beijing Noted Writer is Stabbed (Feb. 2009), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/world/asia/16china.html?fta=y

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