A brief, fiery essay excoriating totalitarianism has been censored on WeChat, and appears to have precipitated the closure of a Jiangxi-based current- and legal-affairs blog. First posted on the public WeChat account 法制江西 (Fǎzhì Jiāngxī, “Jiangxi Legal”), the ten-paragraph essay—interspersed with photographs of contemporary strongmen and vivid illustrations of the brutal emperors of old—extolled the virtues of liberal democracy and argued for the “inevitable demise” of authoritarian systems. Some aspects of the essay echo, intentionally or not, the vision for a “Beautiful China” of rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced in May to 14 years in prison for subversion. Soon after the essay disappeared from WeChat, the “Jiangxi Legal” public account announced, without any explanation, that it had been suspended and would cease posting updates. The account’s public profile described it as “a general news column, under the auspices of a legal-affairs Party media outlet, offering in-depth analysis and commentary on trending topics in the news,” and described the content as “a global perspective, a Chinese point of view, explaining current events and discussing all manner of things.”
On Chinese social media, there is routine censorship of content praising so-called “western values” such as democracy, rule of law, human rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. In recent years, there has also been an uptick in the censorship of content and works referring to failed or despotic emperors and other figures from antiquity, particularly if that content is viewed as being obliquely critical of Xi Jinping’s rule. In October, a reprint of the historical biography “The Chongzhen Emperor: Diligent Ruler of a Failed Dynasty” was pulled from bookstore shelves and online booksellers due to a cover redesign and promotional quotes that seemed to implicitly criticize Xi Jinping. (One blurb on the book’s wrapping read: “The diligent ruler of a failed dynasty, Chongzhen’s repeated mistakes were the result of his own ineptitude. His ‘diligent’ efforts hastened the nation’s destruction.”) The name “Chongzhen” and related topics were later search-blocked on Weibo, with searches only showing results from verified users.
CDT has translated the full text of Jiangxi Legal’s now-deleted essay (with the original images, and our added captions), titled “Don’t Expect Kindness and Humanity From Totalitarian Dictators”:
Since ancient times, totalitarian dictators have all acted with the same ruthlessness and total disregard for others. They show no mercy to those who threaten their power—even their own relatives and friends. Though they often claim to act in the best interests of the people, once those interests clash with their own, dictators never hesitate to sacrifice the welfare—and even the lives—of the people over which they rule, in order to safeguard their own power. This was true of the emperors of the past, and it is true of the totalitarian dictators of today.
Consequently, totalitarian societies are always rife with butchery and bloodshed—brothers killing brothers, fathers killing sons, husbands killing wives, officials killing subjects (and vice-versa), and commoners killing other commoners. In short, in these societies, might makes right. Power is monopolized by whoever is the most ruthless, the most conniving, the most bereft of an ethical or moral bottom line. Those who are upright, kind, rational, and compassionate end up as casualties of power struggles, or as pawns of totalitarians vying for control.
For this fundamental reason, modern civilization must resolutely seek to abolish totalitarian systems from the face of the Earth.
Totalitarian systems can only incite evil. They can never promote societal progress or human welfare. Most of the so-called “wise kings” and “benevolent dictators” throughout history came to power only through ruthlessness and murder. Most so-called “times of prosperity” were simply short respites between massacres, while the next wave of even more brutal killings was brewing. During these short reprieves, the common people somehow managed to find the time to develop human civilization and move society forward.
It was only after liberal democracy was born a few hundred years ago and became mainstream that human nature was truly perfected, truly liberated. Only through democracy could human society truly progress by leaps and bounds. In just a few hundred years, we have created a tremendous amount more material and spiritual wealth than totalitarian societies had created over thousands of years.
A beautiful and civilized society with a truly bright future should first be a society with humanist values. It should be a society full of friendship and love, sincerity and kindness, a society that is orderly, ethical, and just. Such a society is fully humane, rather than semi-barbaric.
It is obvious that totalitarian societies are unable to attain this state, for they are only capable of making people even worse, pushing them toward extremes of nationalism or terrorism. Today, there is a terrifying trend of totalitarian dictators conspiring with extremist terrorists.
Of course, the vast majority of civilized people in the world will not allow these totalitarian dictators and extremist terrorists to succeed. We will not allow them to continue to harm the world. And so the forces of the civilized world are fully engaged in battle against these evil forces. No matter what “axis of evil” or “unholy alliance” these evil forces form, no matter what their last-gasp attempts to resist, they cannot escape their fate, their inevitable demise.
However, this will require a process. Those still living in totalitarian societies may yet suffer for a while longer, because the forces of civilization will never adopt the vicious barbarism of the forces of evil. In the pursuit of civilization, we cannot abandon our morality, disregard our humanity, take the lives of innocents, or engage in indiscriminate slaughter.
And yet, as kindhearted people, we must harbor no illusions. The notion that totalitarian dictators can correct their evil ways and return to benevolent governance is a fantasy. Savagery, selfishness, and ruthlessness reside in their bones. They may hide their fangs for a time, but they will never belong to the world of human decency, because they lack a fundamental understanding of freedom, equality, fraternity, and the rule of law. Their happiness is predicated solely on personal privilege, and on their control and oppression of the people. [Chinese]
Translated by Little Bluegill.