Great Leap Backward

Nicholas Kristof writes on China’s ongoing crackdown at the New York Times, concluding that “for those of us who love China and believe in its future, this retreat is painful to watch.”

Since China is in the middle of its harshest crackdown on independent thought in two decades, I thought that on this visit I might write about a woman named Cheng Jianping who is imprisoned for tweeting.

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words “charge, angry youth.” The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

So I tried to interview her fiancé, Hua Chunhui, but it turns out that Mr. Hua was recently arrested and imprisoned as well. That’s the way it goes in China these days. The government’s crackdown is rippling through the country, undercutting China’s prodigious growth and representing the harshest clampdown since the crushing of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989.

The reason? Surprising as it may seem, the government is worried that China could become the next Egypt or Tunisia, unless security forces act early and ruthlessly ….

[One] official says that the Politburo internalized a basic lesson from the Tiananmen movement: It’s crucial to suppress protests early, before they gain traction. He says that from China’s point of view, the mistake that autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia made was not cracking down earlier and harder.

In February, Kristof embarked on a brief foray onto Sina Weibo, asking in one of his first posts, “Can we talk about Falun Gong?” He received an implicit “no” when his account was terminated a few minutes later.