The Guardian ran an article recently entitled “‘Nobody can say anything’: China cracks down on dissent ahead of Olympics”, highlighting that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its “grip on critics to preserve ‘perfect’ image of Winter Games”. The article notes that journalists, authors and academics have all been the victims of censorship to different extents. Hu Jia, a Beijing-based human rights activist, said that “no criticism by citizens is being permitted.”
If Hu is really based in Beijing, he is putting his very life on the line. The CCP has a long track record of silencing dissidents in order to preserve the Party’s image and the communist dogma intact.
Only last year, when the Party celebrated 100 years since its inception in 1921, the surveillance apparatus was working overtime to ensure that Xi Jinping’s cult of personality was protected. The centenary celebrations were grandiose, with dramas depicting the glorious history of the Party, seminars that push the Party’s doctrine on local communities, new slogans like “Follow the Party Forever” being sung, military parades and Xi Jinping delivering a powerful speech on how the Chinese nation has been shaped into a great global force under the benevolent communist Party.
The event was important for another reason than just the centenary anniversary of the CCP: it was held in the Tiananmen Square where, just over two decades prior, the CCP declared military law and ordered soldiers to fire into and tanks to run over young people peacefully demonstrating for a less corrupt government and more freedom.
Kendal Zhu in China’s Shattered Enlightenment wrote:
“During the spring of 1989, driven by both the hope for a better future, and the imminent problem of corruption, students and citizens in Beijing took to the streets demanding democracy, as well as a true fulfilment of the rights promised in the People’s Republic of China’s 1982 constitution: freedom of speech, press, association, demonstration, and criticism of the government. […] Dr. Tong, currently an engineer living in America, was a participant in the protests as a graduate student at a university in Beijing and suffered severe gunshot wounds during the crackdown. During a recent interview, he said: ‘The students all wanted to make the country better: to get rid of corruption and increase citizens’ freedoms… nearly everyone in the nation supported the movement except those who were benefiting from the corruption’.”
To crush the protests, Li Peng, a member of the CCP, declared martial law, resulting in the tragedy that today is known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre at the hands of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Published documents from the National Security Archive reveal the terror that unfolded on the 4th of June 1989:
“[…] violent PLA clashes with demonstrators on Changan Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in the Tiananmen area, and in other parts of Beijing. Embassy officials also report conversations with angry citizens, some “claiming that more than 10,000 people had been killed at Tiananmen.” One woman claimed to have witnessed a tank running over 11 people. She also told Embassy officers that she had seen PLA troops “breaking the windows of shops, banks, and other buildings.”
For a long time, the CCP has been trying to conceal its actions during that summer of 1989. In some respects, the Party’s efforts were successful. As early as 2000, the Globe and Mail wrote an article about what Chinese students in Canada knew about the protests of 1989 in their home country:
“They defy anything called Tiananmen Square Massacre. One of the students says, “We have not seen these pictures and, even if what you say is true, what does it matter today?” “What does democracy mean to me? 1 don’t care about democracy. I want to make money.” The newspaper continues to say, “His friends nod in agreement.”
More recently, in 2019, Australian publishing houses received a list from Chinese printing companies with banned words and topics that could not appear in any books that were printed in China.
Rowan Callick from the Quadrant details that the list contained “the names of Chinese dissidents, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died excruciatingly while still incarcerated in China in 2017, are high on this list. But it also includes those of the country’s paramount leader Xi Jinping and his muse and propagandist Wang Huning, predecessors Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and references to Tiananmen 1989, the Hong Kong protests, or the Xinjiang conflict, as well as to the island groups in the South China Sea.”
The CCP’s censorship and intimidation tactics outside China’s borders have been amply explored in the recent book The Hidden Hand and extend far beyond sending a list of prohibited topics to publishing houses located in a different country. Infiltrating into several Western universities which, in their hunger for money, have shaken the hand of the CCP, crashing the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong and abusing the rules of the World Trade Organisation on trade and intellectual property have all been well-document practices through which the CCP’s surveillance and censorship apparatus has extended overseas. Not to mention the behaviour of the communist Party in covering up the SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 through manipulative tactics.
To these measures one needs to add what the CCP does in other parts of the Chinese society. From frequently changing language, a tactic of many dictators, to create doublespeak and confuse the population, sending the Central Commission for Discipline Inspections to hunt down CCP members that are suspected of being disloyal to the communist creed and silencing human rights lawyers to conducting forced televised confessions in order to humiliate dissidents, limiting internet use, using mass surveillance to enforce its social credit score and even committing genocide against the Uighurs.
Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised if the CCP attempts to censor discourse around the 2022 Olympic Games – the communist Party does what it does best: to intimidate in the name of a socialist utopia, this time with “Chinese characteristics”, as Xi Jinping likes to put it.
To read more about the history of the CCP and its violent crackdowns on pro-freedom demonstrations, visit Power of Ideas.