John Pomfret: Why China Sentences 70-Year-Olds

On his blog, John Pomfret comments on the recent labor camp sentence handed down to two women in their seventies:

Now, China enthusiasts will argue that, there must be a mistake, or this was obviously the action of a thuggish cop who must have gone too far, or perhaps it’s the fault of a dreaded “conservative faction” of the party in the parlance of Chinese political tea-leaf readers. I’d say, however, the grandma case is completely consistent with CCP standard operating procedure; it’s not an anomaly. Here’s why.

By setting up the protests zones, the party has done something it’s never really done before. It’s told its people that protesting is legal and here are the places you can do it. Yes, 47 applications were received, 44 from Chinese, and, according to the official New China News Agency, 44 people withdrew their applications after their problems were miraculously solved! (Several others were banned from applying; I guess Wang and Wu fell into that category.)

But as the Olympics wind down, the party is looking to the future, completely aware of how, for example, the Seoul Olympics in 1988 spurred change in that Asian Tiger. It has to send a signal to people that it won’t tolerate threats to “stability” and that if they think the Olympics are heralding a new era of freedom, they’d better think again. The party also has to inform its people that the protest application process cuts both ways; it might open the way to air long-repressed grievances, but it also can be used by the security services to ferret out dissidents and toss them in the hoosegow — a Communist tactic since the Hundred Flowers movement and before. What better way to accomplish these two goals than by sentencing two old ladies to jail? In one fell swoop you show others with grievances just how low you will go. It’s the madman theory of Chinese domestic politics. And Wang and Wu are the victims.

Read also a report from the Washington Post about the case.


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