In a darkly ironic but all too familiar twist, WeChat censored an essay explaining that there is no law forbidding citizens to discuss politics. “When ‘Not Talking About ——–’ Becomes A Societal Norm,” written by @每日乐评 (Měirìyuèpíng), lamented the “political panic” that they believe has spread across society. The essay advocated against self-censorship, repeatedly asserting that there is no legal compulsion to do so—that in fact discussion of and participation in politics is a natural right. As in another essay translated by CDT this week, the language is reminiscent of the tenets of the New Citizens Movement, a group spearheaded by human rights lawyers Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi (among others) that advocated for citizens to exercise the rights guaranteed them by the Chinese constitution. Xu and Ding were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively, this April. Nonetheless, their ideas continue to have purchase in Chinese society:
These days, when attending gatherings, I often notice that the host will begin by announcing to the audience, “Today, we will not talk about politics.”
At dinner parties with old friends or classmates, there’s always someone who will propose that we steer clear of political talk, and keep the discussion friendly.” Most [WeChat] groups set “no politics-related discussions” as their first rule.
[…] Is there a law that expressly forbids citizens from discussing politics? Obviously not. In China, the criminal code has long specified who may not discuss politics: those who have been stripped of their political rights. That’s to say, as long as they haven’t broken the law and been stripped of their political rights, every law-abiding citizen enjoys certain constitutionally guaranteed political rights.
All human beings have the natural right to participate in and discuss politics, yet some are voluntarily relinquishing their political rights. This seems both pathetic and sad.
[…] Mark Twain wrote, “Every citizen of the republic ought to consider himself an unofficial policeman, and keep unsalaried watch and ward over the laws and their execution.”
China is a country with the rule of law. The Party has stated it will govern according to the law, therefore all citizens have the right and obligation to watch over and prevent any individual or government bureau from acting illegally. Why are we prohibited from discussing politics? From time immemorial, politics has been the common folks’ favorite topic of discussion, and no person or power can stop them from talking about it.
If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. Out in the farms and fields, teahouses and bars, politics is the primary topic of conversation. Politics permeates all aspects of society. Nothing in our lives can escape the shadow of politics. As long as politics exists, it will be a perennial and inexhaustible topic of discussion.
[…] Some people are fond of loudly proclaiming that they do not discuss politics. What’s more, they do their utmost to prevent others from discussing politics, and in doing so, create an artificial sense of “political panic” within society, which is a grave political issue in itself. If we turn a blind eye to this, or even accept it as the norm, the situation will deteriorate until we all find ourselves stripped of our inherent political rights.[…] The only way to create a vibrant, prosperous, and civilized society is by shouldering our responsibilities and obligations towards it. The precondition to realizing this laudable goal is that each of us must understand and pay attention to politics in order to be well-informed citizens and normal human beings. [Chinese]