CDT Censorship Digest, October 2020: Life-and-Death Decisions

The CDT Censorship Digest is a monthly round-up of censored speech, propaganda developments, and rights defense in China. We have selected and adapted the most relevant and interesting stories for our English readers. We encourage you to read the full digest at CDT Chinese.

“He just wouldn’t die”: Chinese Academy of Engineering’s Zhang Boli touts TCM as Covid treatment


CDT Guides: Two Deep Dives

CDT Chinese Guides (CDT导览) take deep dives into the stories behind the headlines, investigating trends in state propaganda, mechanisms of censorship, and more. In this English edition of the Digest, we are featuring two Guides published in October, including translated excerpts and links to more resources at CDT Chinese, supplemented with links to English sources where relevant.

Field Notes from a Sina Weibo Censor

When we talk about internet censorship in China, we often refer to the work of the Cyberspace Administration of China, one major player in China’s massive system of surveillance and control. The job description “internet information censor” (互联网信息审核员) was first listed in the latest edition of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security’s Dictionary of Occupational Categories (2015), eliminating the corporate taboo against recruiting censors and furthering the reality of internet censorship.

Sina Weibo censors keep daily logs, recording in excruciating detail how they censor posts. The CDT Chinese editors have produced a new report analyzing censorship operations and tactics, based on a Sina Weibo censor’s log from 2011 to 2014 and research contributed by the same. CDT English will soon post translated terms from October and November to China Digital Space, and will in December begin posting weekly digest translations.

Read the full Chinese report, and browse the full archive of the censor’s log at CDS. (Back to Top)

Traditional Chinese Medicine Pushed as Covid Treatment

Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese party-state has been pushing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for both treatment and prevention. Though the science of some of the recommended TCM treatments is still disputed, the TCM has long played an important role in China’s patriotic propaganda—a role that has expanded as part of “TCM fan” Xi Jinping’s blueprint for the “Chinese Dream.” Another October CDT Guide notes that TCM therapeutics are now used as secondary or sometimes even primary clinical coronavirus treatments—and that vast numbers of people, whether knowingly or not, have taken part in what amounts to a massive clinical trial for TCM.

On March 15, Xinhua reported that TCM was a component in 89.10% of treated coronavirus cases in Wuhan, 91.64% in Hubei Province, and 92.41% nationwide. On March 16, China Daily published on the “critical role” of TCM in “prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of the COVID-19.” They also disclosed the makeup of the “three formulas and three medicines proven to be effective in curbing the virus.” The six mixtures include various TCM ingredients, most of which have been purported valuable for “detoxification and fluid removal.” Some of these concoctions are delivered intravenously, and made it to China’s national treatment playbook despite intravenously-administered TCM having a high risk of adverse effects.

In mid-July, after the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi, the city instituted a “long-term lockdown,” during which locals were forced to take coronavirus prophylactic drugs, including Lianhua Qingwen capsules and other Chinese herbal medicines:

Xinjiang locals flocked to Weibo to express their discontent with the uniquely strict pandemic control measures, drawing attention using hashtags like #UrumqiSupertopic (#乌鲁木齐超话), #XinjiangSupertopic (#新疆超话) and even #BeijingSupertopic (#北京超话).

China’s emphasis on TCM has even affected the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 messaging. On March 7, the WHO published coronavirus prevention and treatment recommendations on its official website, including a bulleted list of “things not to do.” The English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian versions all warned that “taking traditional herbal remedies” is “not effective against COVID-2019 and can be harmful.” Only the Chinese version omitted this point. Through IP switching, netizens confirmed the “special standard” afforded the Chinese version. The results have subsequently been changed, but screenshots and backups preserve the original omission:

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, China has witnessed policymakers deviate from science, both in their implementation of “general pandemic policy and high-level directives” and in their quick adoption of TCM “miracle drugs.” A March 4 article in the journal Pharmacological Research authored by researchers at an institute associated with China’s Ministry of Education states that “treatment practice of COVID-19 showed that early intervention of TCM is important way [sic] to improve cure rate, shorten the course of disease, delay disease progression, and reduce mortality rate.” In response, an April 3 letter to the editor argues that the use of TCM to treat COVID-19 “may cause more harm than good.” As TCM extends into all aspects of coronavirus treatment, we must press the question: Do people truly have the information and agency they need to make life-and-death decisions about their health?

Read the full CDT Guide at CDT Chinese. (Back to Top)

Human Rights Review: Rallying Around Geng Xiaonan, 10th Anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize, More

On October 21, six Chinese scholars, including former professor of Tsinghua University Law School Xu Zhangrun, published a joint letter calling on authorities to immediately release Chinese artist and private publisher Geng Xiaonan and her husband, who were detained on September 9 by the Haidian District police in Beijing on suspicion of “illegal business operations”:

We believe Ms. Geng is not the one who acted illegally. Rather, it is the authorities detaining her who are acting illegally. We urge those in the relevant departments to respect the constitution and the law and immediately restore the personal freedom of Ms. Geng Xiaonan and her husband. [Chinese]

Geng and her husband Qin Chen’s detention was officially “approved” by the procuratorate on October 14. They were allowed to meet with lawyers after 21 days of detention, reportedly for only 40 minutes. According to Ms. Geng, early on in her detention, she underwent intense interrogation nearly every day.

The detentions of Xu Zhiyong continued, as did that of fellow New Citizens’ Movement activist Ding Jiaxi, who remains held at the Linshu County Detention Center in Shandong Province. Ding was initially detained in December 2019 after joining a gathering in Xiamen with Xu. Over the last 10 months, they have not once been allowed to meet with lawyers. On the 100th day of rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong’s detention, his girlfriend Li Qiaochu issued a statement issued a statement in support of him:

They can prevent us from posting anything, but they can’t control our experiences, our memories. When we start fighting again, do not forget to keep a smile on your face and sing a song of freedom in your heart. [Chinese]

On the afternoon of October 23, 13 lawyers, including Professor Xu Xin, went to the Law Enforcement Supervision Office of the Guangxi Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC) to report on the “Banmeila” case, in which 19 people could face prison sentences of 12-20 years for running a pyramid scheme that embezzled upwards of 4.3 billion yuan. The lawyers had previously submitted materials related to the Banmeila case to the Guangxi PLAC, but their trip to the PLAC offices that day were to personally deliver the information, and to gain a better understanding of the progress of the case. Law Enforcement Supervision Office director Jiang Liangfeng drove the lawyers out, refusing to meet with them. Not long thereafter, the lawyers were arrested.

On the morning of October 19, human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was also detained following involvement in a December 2019 gathering in Xiamen that included Xu Zhiyong, continues to hold a license to practice, was arrested in his Fengxiang County home by Baoji City police. The police followed no procedures or formalities during his arrest. That night, police announced Mr. Chang was being held in “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL)  This is the second time Chang has been subject to this form of detention since he was released on bail pending trial for his alleged involvement in the December 2019 gathering in Xiamen with Xu Zhiyong, which was followed by a mass arrest of participants. In the 10 months since his release, Mr. Chang chronicled his life out on bail in short YouTube videos. In an October 16 video, he affirmed his innocence and detailed torture by police while under RSDL in January, and days later was again in detention. Amnesty International has since called for action towards Chang’s release.

Shanghai East China Normal University Law School professor and doctoral supervisor Hu Xuemei in October submitted a request for information letter to the National Health Commission (NHC). The letter, which Professor Hu made public, has been circulating widely on the internet. In the letter, Professor Hu requests that the NHC publicly disclose 10 key pieces of information related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. When Professor Hu visited the NHC website, her letter explains, she discovered that request forms only allowed for one information request at a time, so she submitted 10 in total. Professor Hu’s letter has garnered widespread support from many internet users.

On October 12, Xi Jinping visited Chaozhou Ancient City in Guangdong Province. There, he delivered a speech on the street and interacted with “local people.” The next day, a suspected “tea-drinking photo” began to circulate on Twitter. A WeChat user called “Little Mark” (小mark哥)celebrated Xi’s visit in his WeChat friend’s circle. Underneath “Little Mark’s” statement, another user, called “Ah Le” (啊楽), commented:

Welcome my ass. Take your little stroll and get out. Don’t bother us any more than you need to. [Chinese]

It appears this “Ah Le” was taken by police for questioning. Presently, it is still unclear to what punishment this “turret-rushing” netizen has been dealt. (Back to Top)

New Southern Tour: Xi Jinping’s Global Influence and the International Response

This October, Xi Jinping took a high-profile tour of southern China, spending a good amount of time commemorating the Korean War. In addition to the Fifth Plenum—a big personal victory for Xi—this October saw Xi putting his ambitions on full display once again to the world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping toured Guangdong Province from October 12 to 15, his third visit to Guangdong since ascending to China’s highest leadership position. On October 14, Xi delivered a speech at the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, remarking that “the world is in a state of great changes unseen in a century.” As many noticed, this was not the first time Xi used the phrase “great changes.” In 2018, Study Times wrote that “Shenzhen must understand and thoroughly grasp the world’s great changes unseen in a century that Xi Jinping has talked about,” optimistically adding that “these great changes generally trend in China’s interest,” and that this represented a great opportunity to “pass other cars on the turns.”

According to Radio Free Asia, “While in Shenzhen, Xi Jinping met with Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as a number of other prominent Hong Kongers and Macanese. Scholars believe Xi’s trip was meant as a demonstration to the outside world of Beijing’s total control over Hong Kong, while also highlighting the stability of his personal control.” As the report pointed out, it is highly unusual to have advanced notice for such trips by senior leadership. As for why Xi’s trip was announced in such a high-profile way, former Tsinghua University Department of Political Science lecturer Wu Qiang told RFA that Xi is shaping himself as the “standard bearer of Reform and Opening”:

Over the last eight years, he has been shaping himself into the new standard bearer of Maoism. Now, as this trip to Shenzhen shows, he wants to fashion himself as the standard bearer of Reform and Opening, essentially combining the two into one. Now, facing no opposition inside or outside the Party, nor any other forces challenging his authority, over the last eight years, Xi has taken control of everything—both the gas and the brakes. [Chinese]

Signs of a Xi Jinping cult of personality began to surface during his southern tour. On October 6, a petition to “mount a portrait of General Secretary Xi Jinping in Tiananmen Square” was started on The two authors of the petition hoped for “Xi Jinping’s selfless love to shine over every square inch of every person’s heart in the whole world.” They created an image of their “national helmsman, leader of the people” navigating the Titanic through wind and waves.

In fact, since the start of the school year this September, 37 of China’s top colleges and universities began offering new courses in political ideology that cover Xi’s New Era Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Some scholars believe that this incorporation of “Xi Jinping Thought” as a stand-alone course into China’s political education curriculum represents authorities’ efforts to cultivate loyalty for current Party leaders among China’s current generation of young people and to prevent Hong Kong-style youth protest movements in the mainland.

Xi then participated in more high-profile Korean War commemoration events in late October. In his public appearances, he adopted a tough posture towards global criticism.

Earlier, on September 3, Xi spoke on his “five absolute refusals” at a symposium to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression/World War Against Fascism. On October 23, Xi’s hawkish foreign policy posturing was once again on display at an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War: “The Chinese people are not to be provoked”; “Any separatist forces that encroach on Chinese territory will immediately be hit head-on!”

Chu-cheng Ming, professor emeritus of political science at the National Taiwan University, believes Xi’s “five absolute refusals” actually reveal five fatal flaws. Meanwhile, netizens had a field day with Xi’s declaration that “the Chinese people are not to be provoked.”

Whereas official high-profile commemoration of the Korean War focuses on Chinese military forces “protecting the homeland,” everyday citizens tend to remember the war by focusing more on its forgotten veterans and their families. Reporter Sun Chunlong has spent years researching and reporting on Chinese war veterans. His report “How Should We Remember the Korean War” (我们应该怎样纪念朝鲜战争) records the stories of many forgotten war veterans and their families. Another report, “When POWs Come Home” (战俘归国), details the stories of Chinese POWs. In the grand, official narratives of the war, the role of these people amount to nothing more than “cannon fodder,” unworthy of mention. As one netizen put it, “Who’s really worthy of celebration, at the end of the day—the people of China, or those ‘organizing’ them?”

The fifth plenary meeting of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was held in Beijing from October 26 to 29. At the meeting, Xi’s singular, core role was on full display. In a sense, the fifth plenum could be regarded as a personal victory for Xi, according to current affairs commentator Deng Yuwen. This is evidenced not only in  the “Two Plans” coordinated under his leadership; more importantly, praise for Mr. Xi and the brilliant success of his leadership in achieving the objectives of the 13th Five-Year Plan, was explicitly written into a long section of the Plenum’s communiqué: “As the results once again prove, with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core of Central Party leadership, at the helm of the entire Party… we will overcome any and all difficulties and obstacles we may encounter along the road of progress.” Language like this was not present in past communiqués.

In September, Xi Jinping was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world, where Amanda Bennett attributes his rise to purges, draconian crackdowns, and “the Mao Zedong–like cult of personality Xi allows or encourages.” As @hkfool put it on the overseas forum, the “real reason” Xi Jinping was selected is because he is “totally evil.”

(Back to Top)

Translation by Bluegill and Anne Henochowicz.


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