In an essay shared on WeChat last month, investigative journalist Jiang Xue (江雪) commented on the increasingly tight restrictions on speech amid continuing security and ideological crackdowns by the Xi administration. The essay was, unsurprisingly, harmonized. CDT has translated the essay in full:
Shut Up. You Look Like An Enemy Of The State.
by Jiang Xue
When I got back from a recent trip, I realized that the airport buses have real-name registration now.
I went downstairs to mail some books to a distant friend, and the courier guy asked me to show ID. “Nothing I can do, it’s government regulations.”
I took a walk to a nearby park, and the formerly open space had been divided by a fence emblazoned with the “core socialist values” of “freedom” and “equality,” so that the old aunties had nowhere to dance or practice tai chi.
Apparently the Two Sessions had opened in Beijing; I wasn’t really paying attention. I just saw a flurry of WeChat posts spring up about how, at the meetings, they announced the introduction of “publishing market restrictions on foreign children’s books.”
Gah. Since I was small, I’ve never been able to bring myself to curse people. This time, I barely choked it off in my throat, just letting out that one syllable.
In my circle of friends, there were posts expressing discontent over the real-name registration for buses. One friend posted: “Go take a look at Xinjiang or Tibet. Everything’s already like this, or much worse.” I couldn’t help but feel my conscience stirred. Certainly, you and I might get very wound up about this, but people living in those places got used to it long ago.
How did it reach this point? You realize that in the last two or three years, the various kinds of censorship in everyday life have become more and more numerous. You have to verify your identity for this, register for that, and everywhere, you notice that you’re under scrutiny. It’s like Big Brother in Orwell’s novel “1984,” with the omnipresent viewscreens quietly nearby, attentive to every outward detail of your life.
The real-name registration for inter-province buses is a “counter-terrorism requirement.” Turns out we’re all terrorist suspects.
What are you thinking, mailing books and DVDs around? Are the thoughts in those books pure? Is the content on those discs harmful? If they’re not inspected, what if those items you’re sending spiritually pollute the masses? Even worse, what if they attack the people’s great, glorious, and correct leaders?
As for foreign children’s books, “kids who read too many only remember the names of a few foreigners.” “They could influence the development of domestic children’s literature.” Of course, foreign children’s books are lacking in all kinds of tedious martial arts stories, gender discrimination, collectivism, core values: they only contain harmful things like love, warmth, affection, and courage. How can our children, determined from infancy to be the successors of 1984’s Oceania, know only these “foreigners’ things”? The names they remember should be those of the five heroes of Langya Mountain, of Liu Hulan, and of Lei Feng.
I digress. In short, the state doesn’t have a very high opinion of you. After all, why would you have to use your mouth to speak and use your brain to think?
Before, those who spoke out might become suspect, like criminals. Now, even if you stay silent, walk with head bowed, and board a bus, the state sees you, and views you with suspicion. That’s why there’s so much “real name registration.”
At the start of this year’s meetings in Beijing, there was a photo online of a reporter completely tied up with “live broadcast equipment,” geared up just like Iron Man. Such a great battle, former journalist Chen Feng mocked: “every time I see a reporter at the Two Sessions equipped like this, it makes me think of that story of a woman giving birth on a big mountain during a natural disaster, and the child’s a rat.”
Sure enough, days after the meetings opened, I still hadn’t seen any solid information. There was just one thing, about the legal committee of the National People’s Congress proposing the introduction of civil liability for “slandering heroic figures.”
Oh, so in fact they admit that in this country whose constitution stipulates that “all people are equal,” there are some who warrant special protection, and cannot be freely criticized. Absolutely nothing like Park Geun-hye affair in our Korean neighbor must be allowed to happen here. Some reporters unexpectedly poring through old computers to uncover the president’s secrets; the public unexpectedly unforgiving; parliament actually impeaching her, and the judge really approving the impeachment; the president actually stepping down. This is really too absurd! Equally unexpected is for a country to be responsible without a great leader to help its people dig out the truth. What’s the world coming to?
Not speaking is actually great. Mute silence, no news, the whole world at peace. Speaking of news, the press has long since been glued down. As for Netease, Phoenix, Sohu and so on, their old original reporting has been cut off recently. Tencent’s “THINKBIG” WeChat account has also been shut down. Thinking, let alone sharing, is seen as problematic.
In 1984’s Oceania, sexual desire is a thoughtcrime.
On the bus I was reading Song Zhibiao’s “Commentary on Past Events.” There was one post called “When Opposition Violated the Rules: What Have We Been Through as We Are Silenced?” which contained some criticism of the mute state surrounding the current Two Sessions. The gist of it was that in the past 20 years, if he’s made any contribution in terms of public speech, it’s been to say the two words: “I oppose …”
I finished the post in ten minutes, still on the bus, reloaded, and realised that it had already been deleted. The notice said, “because it violated regulations, this cannot be displayed.”
In Guangdong, I saw teacher Li Gongming. He said that in the past ten years or more, he had published countless commentaries in the Southern Metropolis Daily. He’s an old Guandonger, who wanted to speak out loudly on behalf of his own city on issues like sewage discharge, environmental protection, and so on.
Li said that in the past, he’d written news commentaries. Some people criticized him, saying that he shouldn’t comment on issues outside his own sphere of expertise. He retorted that “in these times, the problem isn’t primarily about expertise or lack of it. The main thing is the great volume of information that the government should make public, that we know nothing about. So the most important thing is first to speak out.”
In 2013, those commentaries of his were collected and published as a book. The name was great: “Wrong.” But I reckon that its name will be lost to us for a very long time.
The most immediate consequence of not letting people speak, and completely banning “inharmonious” voices in the media, is that there’s no real news available to us. Do you still remember the 2015 shipwreck disaster? 442 lives lost! Nearly all of them were elderly, the mothers and fathers of this country! Under great pressure, the news outlook then was already bleak: do you still remember how many reports came out?
And after that, the Tianjin explosions; the Xu Chunhe incident, a frustrated man shot dead in front of his mother and children; then Lei Yang. Unknown and mute, right up to now.
Shhh. About the ravages of PM2.5, or the injustice of Lei Yang’s death, you must be carefully silent. To speak out has become the greatest danger.
And what then? A little caution, and the state views you as a wrongdoer.
Flipping through old almanacs, you see old commentary titles like “In a One-Party Dictatorship, Disaster Abounds!” and “No Transparency Without Democracy.” These weren’t sensitive before, they were open subjects in Party newspapers before 1945. They’re all in “Harbinger of History,” a book compiled by Xiao Shu. Of course, the book itself was long ago banned.
A few days ago I saw some news that both offended and amused me. A woman from Henan came to lawyer Song. She’d been detained there for 99 days in 2014, and now wanted to tell the local procuratorate, “in the detention center, I was forced to watch the children’s cartoons Boonie Bears and News Simulcast for a long time. This gravely harmed my intelligence.” The courts will naturally reject such cases. They’d bring nothing but trouble.
Speaking of problems of intelligence, that reminds me of the vigorous recent carnival of boycotts. Li Jianli, whose skull was cracked by “patriotic youth” Cai Yang in 2012, is still in the hospital today, but those people have come oozing out again. They’ve gone from resisting Japanese goods to resisting Korean, but some people say that the most urgently needed boycott is on idiots. How can idiots be reformed? Our country must admit that the existence of these idiots is related to the decades-long restrictions on speech. In truth, who is an innate idiot? I almost can’t bring myself to use this word.
If there is an intangible cage over this land, with us inside it, can it be that it is impervious to the influence of intelligence? How long can the common people be kept from the common knowledge they ought to have about the world?
It’s like with an old man I interviewed. He’d reached old age before realizing that it was all lies, because before the meeting people would sing “There’s No Savior In The World,” but at the end they’d start to sing “He Is The People’s Great Liberator.” He was very fortunate to have finally been freed from his blind devotion by this great epiphany.
Yes, this is an age that may not speak. You and I are both in prison. Before, the prison was visible; now, it isn’t. [Chinese]
Translation by Samuel Wade.