CDT Censorship Digest, July 2020: “Protecting Freedom is a Shared Mission”

In 2020, CDT Chinese editors launched the CDT Censorship Digest series. The series will collect and quote from news and online speech that was censored by Chinese authorities during the previous month, as well as summarize efforts to preserve and strengthen freedom of speech in Chinese society. When relevant to CDT English readers, we will translate the Chinese series in part or in full. CDT has translated an excerpt from the full CDT Chinese digest for July, adapted to include links to English coverage when available:

CDT Chinese Digest, July 2020: Protecting Our Freedom From the CCP’s Hands is a Shared Mission

On July 1 the Hong Kong National Security Law was formally implemented. As the first arrests under the new law were being made, Deutsche Welle commentator Chang Ping wrote:

In June of 1963, U.S. President Kennedy gave a speech at the Berlin Wall in Germany. He left behind a famous quote: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” To many in the West, this is lyricism; in the CCP’s view, this is a fact, and conversely a teaching on how to maintain totalitarian rule: Autocracy is indivisible, and when one man is free, all can’t be enslaved. [Source]

Outspoken property tycoon went missing and was later revealed to be under investigation after an article attributed to him sharply attacked Beijing’s official handling of the coronavirus outbreak. This month, Ren’s status as a Party member was rescinded. After the news broke, retired CCP Central Party School professor Cai Xia again publicly defended Ren:

The eight years of backsliding under Xi have caused the U.S. government and all sectors of U.S. society to come to a new, more sober understanding of the Chinese Communist Party. They see the Chinese people as separate from the CCP, captured by and under the control of the Xi regime. Their support of the Chinese people and opposition to the CCP is unanimous and bipartisan. I call on the U.S. government and the American people to make one more distinction—to separate the Xi gangsters and hundreds of thousands of evil, totalitarian CCP officials from the 90 million ordinary party members. Support all the forces of change within the party that oppose the Xi gangsters and totalitarianism. Promote the unity and cooperation of reform forces within the CCP and among the Chinese people. Help the Chinese people end the rule of terror of the Xi gangsters and the totalitarian tyranny of the CCP. [Chinese]

In 2016, Cai defended Ren after he was banished from social media for criticizing Xi’s domination of the media, and in May of this year sharply criticized the CCP under Xi’s rule. [Editor’s note: in August 2020, she was expelled from the Party in connection with the May speech.]

What a July. Flood, pandemic, unemployment, the implications of the Hong Kong security law, attacks on free speech, suppression of public grievances, control of the news media, and the arrival of a U.S.-China “cold war.”

This July, China faced crises both domestic and foreign. But, whether the issue was domestic or international, people gradually reached a consensus: freedom is something no one can take away from you. Protecting our freedom from the hands of the CCP is the mission of every single one of us.

There Will Always Be Voices of Dissent

In an article shared on WeChat, Professor Xu Ben wrote:  

People who speak out don’t just instantly become silent, just as the transition from disobedience to obedience isn’t immediate. It’s a step-by-step process. With each step, the next becomes a little bit easier. It’s a depressing, undignified, self-loathing thing, to become slowly aware of your increasing obedience, step-by-step. Most people choose to simply not think about it. Because of this, the road to complete silence and obedience becomes a smoother ride the further you go. Once you’re on this road-of-no-return, your will to preserve and express your own thoughts has already been lost. [Chinese]

Luckily, there will always be voices of dissent to remind us of the value of our ability to think for ourselves and express our own thoughts, to remind us that we do not need to accept the violence of totalitarianism.

According to media reports, suspended Tsinghua Law Professor and outspoken Xi critic Xu Zhangrun was detained by over 20 police officers at his home in Beijing on the morning of July 6. Authorities told his wife that had been arrested for “soliciting prostitutes” while in Chengdu. Those close to Xu believe that his was likely related to the sudden American release of “Six Chapters From the Wuxu Year,” a collection of critical essays that Tsinghua ordered he not publish. Xu was released from detention after six days, and was shortly after fired from Tsinghua.

Later in the month, when Ren Zhiqiang’s expulsion from the CCP was announced, Cai Xia immediately spoke out on behalf of both Ren and Xu, and accused the Party of “openly threatening slavery to 92 million CCP members.”

The third person brave enough to speak out this July was Dr. Yan Mengli. Dr. Yan Mengli previously worked at Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health in a WHO reference laboratory. She fled Hong Kong to the U.S. in April of this year. On July 10, in an interview she gave to Fox News, she stated that her reason for fleeing Hong Kong was that she wanted to tell the whole world how the CCP covered up the truth about the novel . During the interview, she said:

If I were to tell [this story] in Hong Kong, the moment I start to tell it I will be disappeared and killed. No one can hear me. So, for this purpose, I [wanted] to go to the U.S. to tell the truth of the origins of Covid-19 to the world, to let people understand how terrible, how dangerous it is. This is nothing about politics. This is about whether all the humans in the world can survive. [Editor’s note: taken from the English-language interview, with minor grammar corrections.] [Source]

Dr. Yan Mengli told Fox that after she learned of the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan late last year, she started a secretive investigation in accordance with and instructed by her supervisor, WHO expert Dr. Leo Poon, and that since Beijing forbid the intervention of overseas scholars—including HK researchers—she turned to her network of friends in the mainland for more information. A friend and colleague shared evidence of human-to-human transmission, she claims, and when she shared that with her superiors, received only a nod. Days later, the WHO put out their statement reiterating Beijing’s claims of no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The fourth person who dared speak out was Wang Xiaoqi, a blogger who criticized China’s dairy policies. Wang was arrested by Shanghai police on July 18.

The fifth who dared speak in July was , the human rights lawyer who was recently released  and reunited with his family after four years in prison. The lawyer, arrested in the widespread “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown of 2015, published a statement titled “Political and Judicial Persecution Must be Based on Law, and it Must Be Professional and Reasonable — My Self Defense” on WeChat. The article was deleted, but has been translated into English by China Change.

The sixth brave person this July was , a citizen journalist who was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” over his documentation of protest in China. In mid-June, he was released from prison, and now lives in Guizhou. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Lu said that as the overall environment in China continues to worsen, there is little room for continued grassroots engagement in human rights protection in the country, and that they must rely on foreign help to continue. Lu has been posting his prison memoir on Twitter and Matters as “Incorrect Historical Memory,” which CDT continues to translate.

Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was officially arrested in June after being in detention since December. In a July 18 tweet, his wife Luo Shengchun stated that there was reason to believe he was being tortured in jail.

Other July incidents worth remembering include that of Lao Lishi, a Chinese diving champion whose Weibo account was shut down for one year because of opinions she expressed online; lawyer Ma Wanjun who has already been missing for over a month; Jiang Tianyong, who continues to be held under house arrest even after release from prison six months ago; the Wuhan woman who chopped up a city government sign with an axe; or the father who this month was finally able to express his longing to see his son Wuge Jianxiong, an NGO worker who was been in detention for over a year. 

Also this month, July 12 marked the third anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death. An essay posted at CDT Chinese asks how we should best remember him and his life’s work:

I believe the correct way to remember him would be to carry on his legacy, to call for more people to participate in formulating a new constitution, to pool our collective thoughts and efforts, to undertake our mission of promoting social change for the people of this land, to let the light of justice and fairness shine upon this land. These would be the wishes of Mr. Liu Xiaobo. He sacrificed his life for us, before he got to see his dreams become reality. In my view, those of us still muddling along must begin to take action. Only then can we remember Mr. Liu Xiaobo properly. [Chinese]

“Flood Aesthetics” and Disappearing Speech

Starting in late May, the China Central Meteorological Observatory issued rainstorm warnings for 40 consecutive days (from June 2 to July 11). In June, flash flooding and water buildup in urban areas occurred in multiple provinces. According to official tallies, more than 17,000 buildings had collapsed due to flooding as of July 3.

Flooding in the south grew increasingly severe over the course of the month, brutalizing virtually the entire region. Yet mainstream media reporting never focused on the floods, nor did the flooding trend on social media. Places like Guangxi and Guangzhou, first hit by the flooding, virtually disappeared from mention in the media. In late June and early July, official media reported the flooding in Japan, while at the same time playing deaf and dumb with regards to the flooding in China’s south.

Starting in July, mainstream media began managing “flood aesthetics”—using “water coverage area” and other “positive” words to report on the flooding, which was actually a gigantic disaster. They even went as far as singing it songs of praise. From WeChat user @东瓯故人董文正:

Compared to the ferocity of the flood, online reporting on the flood from all main outlets appeared reserved and calm.

As news about the floods took over WeChat, Douyin and other social media platforms, follow-up reporting was still absent from mainstream websites. By June 7, the scale of the flood was enormous, having swept away multiple provinces. Yet detailed reporting didn’t happen until later, June 9, in a Caixin report.

Up until June 10, when discussion of the “Jiang Fan Incident” was blocked on Weibo, reporting on the flood still only focused on statistics. Reporting on the anti-flooding efforts and the status of those affected by the flood remained few and far between.

I can verify, when searching for keywords “Xiangjiang River,” “Hunan,” “Jiangxi” on Chinese social media website Weibo, you can only find reports from China News Service. “The Entire Length of the River to Experience This Year’s Largest Flooding.” CCTV’s reporting on the rainfall stopped on July 12, “Lower Xiangjiang to Experience Largest Flood in Fifty Years, 11 Rivers Exceed Warning Levels.”

Many Chinese internet users raged at officials. One sourly wrote: “Wherever there’s a natural disaster, high-level officials travel to the affected area. Even if they’re just there for show, at least it’s still some sort of expression of care for people’s lives. But as for the Jiangxi Ruijin flood, the Hunan Zhuzhou flood, the Guangxi Yangshuo flood, the Hunan Xiangjiang River breach, there’s absolutely no attention or follow-up by high-level officials or the media. They are completely unconcerned with the flooding in all of these places this year. But whenever there’s a tornado or flood in the U.S., CCTV is there very rapidly to report.” [Chinese]

But of course, natural disasters don’t simply disappear if you ignore them. The flooding in the south intensified as July went on. By July 13, there were a total of 433 rivers that had exceeded warning levels. Of those, 109 exceeded safety levels, and 33 rivers were flooded to all time highs. The upper Yangtze River, upper Yellow River, Xijiang and Beijiang in the Pearl River Basin, and Taihu Lake all successively reached “Level One” flooding. Currently, water remains above warning levels in the Yangtze River below Jianli, Dongting Lake, Poyang Lake and Taihu Lake. On June 28, the Three Gorges Dam and the Gezhou Dam released floodwater, and on July 8, Zhejiang’s Xin’an Jiang Reservoir also released water. These caused cities downstream to sustain even greater flooding. Yet mainstream media had nothing to say about this natural disaster except express positivity and delight!

The official WeChat account of Xinhua News published “Report: I am Yangtze Level Two Floodwater,” which discussed and toned down the disaster in positive terms. A post from Poyang County in Jiangxi, which was later deleted, asked, “Can you really say floodwater is an all out bad thing?” Official voices even started using cute language in their descriptions of the flood. From a censored WeChat post archived by CDT Chinese editors:

This kind of “positivity” comes from a place completely unable to recognize negative emotion. People found Xinhua’s anthropomorphic representation of the floodwaters very strange. Because no normal person would find anything “cute” about a flood. And yet, this “positivity” sometimes appears in forms not easily detectable, for example calling flooding an “expansion of water-covered area.”

Han Bingzhe, a philosopher of German descent, calls this a “world without negativity.” He believes the world has already changed, pivoted from an Era of Immunology (looking for the bad) to a “Performance Society” (everything gets converted to measurable growth). His view that the world has said goodbye to the Era of Immunology has proved laughable. However, there is insight to his observation of the world’s current trends. “Negativity” is disappearing. Praise and self-motivation predominate. In social media, beauty and “likes” have become basic etiquette.

However, a flood is a flood. It is not a metaphor. It is not a person. Nor is it “virtual reality.” It is real, it is painful, it is a disaster. [Chinese]

[…]

Translation by Bluegill.

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