Real estate tycoon turned commentator Ren Zhiqiang, known as “the Cannon” for his online outspokenness, was one of the few liberal “Big V” microbloggers remaining on Weibo after a 2013 rumor crackdown leveled prominent voices on the platform. In February 2016, Ren was banished from social media after criticizing a Xi Jinping’s speech emphasizing the media’s duty to serve the Party. Ren was also given a one-year probation from the Party and attacked by official media. Several months later, he reemerged in the public spotlight expressing far less contentious opinions at a forum on environmentally friendly enterprises.
At Radio Free Asia, Qiao Long reports that Ren has disappeared and may be detained in connection to an article he is believed to have written criticizing the government for their response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan:
Citing “friends in mainland China,” Han [Lianchao, overseas democracy activist] said Ren was detained on Thursday, and is being held at a CCDI training facility in a suburb of Beijing.
[…] Private entrepreneur Wang Ying posted to his friend circle in the social media app WeChat: “My friend Ren Zhiqiang is incommunicado! … Where are you?”
[…] Ren’s detention comes after an article hitting out at the government response to the coronavirus epidemic circulated online. The article was attributed to one “Ren Zhiqiang,” but RFA was unable to verify whether he wrote it.
[…] The article, titled “The lives of the people are ruined by the virus and a seriously sick system,” doesn’t mention President Xi, but it takes aim at decisions made under his direct command, nonetheless, including the decision to go ahead with a mass Lunar New Year banquet for thousands of people that resulted in a huge cluster of COVID-19 cases in the weeks that followed. […] [Source]
CDT has translated excerpts from the essay attributed to Ren “the Cannon” Zhiqiang, in which he again took aim at a Xi Jinping speech. Four years ago it was Xi’s call for the media to serve the CCP that irked Ren; this time it was a February 23 teleconferenced address to cadres nationwide, which brimmed with the the “positive energy” that Xi is known to promote:
[…] This outbreak of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic has verified the reality: when all media took on the “surname of the Party” the people “were abandoned” indeed [a reference to a forecast Ren made in his response to Xi’s declaration that the media should “bear the Party surname”]. Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system.
[..] I too am curiously and conscientiously studying [Xi’s teleconferenced February 23] speech, but what I saw in it was the complete opposite of the “importance” reported by all types of media and online. I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his “new clothes,” but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor. Despite holding a series of loincloths up in an attempt to cover the reality of your nakedness, you don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor, or the determination to let anyone who won’t let you be destroyed.
[…] This conference [speech] may also reflect a crisis of governance within the Party, but it didn’t show people that there were any critical opinions at the meeting, it didn’t investigate or reveal any facts, it didn’t clarify the cause of the outbreak, and still nobody was reviewed for or admitted their responsibility. Trying to cover up the true facts with various “great achievements,” as if this epidemic began with your written instructions on January 7. So, what happened in December? Why wasn’t information made available promptly? Why did CCTV on January 1 investigate news about eight rumormongers? And how could we have the January 3 admonishment? Why was the United States notified of the outbreak on January 3? Why not mention the various crises that happened before January 7? Why haven’t the January 7 instruction been made public, not yet even today?! How were various national-level meetings able to gather after January 7? Why are you still traveling abroad? Why did you celebrate Spring Festival in Yunnan?
[…] No longer is the question about why the situation wasn’t announced in a timely fashion being asked. This is precisely because those who have grasped power want not to shoulder any responsibility, and refuse to allow society to hold them accountable. Just wanting to use “great accomplishments” to cover up their own embarrassment, while at the same time using all sorts of Party media for so-called public education and public opinion guidance; standardizing and updating information release mechanisms; publicizing the Party’s decision-making deployment, charming and moving deeds, leading public opinion with “positive energy,” and other methods to firmly block all traces of truth. Resolutely stop investigating the views that are responsible for this outbreak, while firmly refusing to acknowledge the action of the whistleblower, or the fact that the system and decision-makers are incompetent!
But this type of propaganda to hush a scandal will probably only deceive those who are willing to be deceived, it can’t work on those who believe in truth and facts.
[…] The reality shown by this epidemic is that the Party defends its own interests, the government officials defend their own interests, and the monarch only defends the status and interests of the core. Precisely this type of system is capable of a situation where only the ruler’s order is obeyed with no regard for the people. When the epidemic had already broken out, they wouldn’t dare admit it to the public without the king’s command. They wouldn’t dare announce the facts of the matter, and instead used the method of catching and criticizing “rumors” to restrict the spread of truth, resulting in the disease’s uncontainable spread.
[…] China’s ruling party concealed the cause of the outbreak, then using the power of the entire country, followed up by sealing a city, deceiving the trust of the WHO, and winning international praise. But, it was harder to again deceive the Chinese people caught in the epidemic. Those who live in a democratic country with freedom of speech perhaps don’t know the pain of the lack of a free press and free expression. But Chinese people know that this epidemic and all the unnecessary suffering it brought came directly from a system that strictly prohibits the freedom of press and speech.
No matter how many shortcomings exist in China’s system of administration, if there was freedom of speech, citizens would take active measures to protect themselves. If they new the truth up front, it would prevent such a massive loss of control and spread. For example, Li Wenliang’s WeChat warning family and friends to take precautions against the spread of the epidemic was considered a “rumor”! If this were not taken to be a rumor, and instead turned into a government announcement to society, then what need would there have been for the January 7 instructions and all that came after? Maybe simply trusting the people with freedom of speech could have already achieved a great victory in preventing and managing this epidemic, and there wouldn’t be such a huge price to pay!
No matter what you go out bragging about the Party leader and his “personal command” [of the outbreak and response, as Xi assured the WHO’s director general on January 28], it’s impossible to explain the January 1 CCTV broadcast on the capturing of “rumors,” nor can it alter the whole of society’s investigation into the responsibility behind this outbreak. Maybe not today, but at some point, the responsible parties’ debt to the people must be repaid!
I was unable to cheer for the February 23 speech, because in it I saw a bigger crisis, one that ferments even faster in [the context of] that speech and the cheers it won. When shameless and ignorant people attempt to resign themselves to the stupidity of the great leader, society becomes a mob that is hard to develop and sustain. […] [Chinese]