On Re-Education, Netizens Flex Muscles

With netizens up in arms about the China’s re-education system after the mother of a rape victim in Hunan Province was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor, Bloomberg’s Adam Minter ponders the impact of public opinion on policy in the microblogging age:

But could online opinion really change the re-education system? China’s newspaper editorialists are skeptical. Zhang Fen, writing Monday in the popular Beijing Evening News, is downright cynical about whether China’s public security officials are willing to take away the quickest and dirtiest means of suppressing dissent when it arises: “On a practical level, many officials, especially the local officials, desire to keep this system because it limits citizens’ personal freedom over the long term and doesn’t require strict legal procedures.”

On Friday, a provincial-level body ordered that Tang Hui be released from her labor camp so that she could be “re-educated without detention,” as reported by the Global Times newspaper. It was a victory for Tang and those who believed she’d been wronged. Despite the outpouring of support that undoubtedly ensured her liberation, and the national debate over re-education, no official voice — not even People’s Daily and its microblogging account — has gone so far as to suggest generalizing her experience to the thousands of detainees currently held in re-education through labor camps. Until that happens, Tang Hui will serve as little more than a heart-warming example of how China’s Communist Party has developed a strategy for handling China’s online temper tantrums.

The Wall Street Journal reports that an open letter sent by a group of 10 Chinese lawyers to the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice on Tuesday has gained a surprising amount of traction in state media:

More remarkable was the fact that among the newspapers to report on the lawyer’s letter was the state-run China Daily. The central government’s central English-language mouthpiece newspaper, China Daily rarely runs reports critical of sensitive domestic policies without the high-level approval.

“Implementation of re-education through labor, as an important method in the maintenance of social stability, is becoming increasingly random, ” Li Fangping, a Beijing-based lawyer who helped initiate the letter, told China Real Time. “Since it’s difficult to abolish the laojiao in the short term, we are calling for technical adjustments in the justice department in terms of enforcing the system.”