CDT Chinese Editors’ Choices for the “Most Notable Reports of 2023”

At the close of 2023, CDT Chinese has compiled a series of year-end articles on a number of special topics, including sensitive words (part one and part two), censored articles, “rollover scenes,” and people of the year. This post introduces the Most Notable Reports of 2023, as chosen by CDT Chinese editors. CDT Reports is a column highlighting various reports related to freedom of expression and human rights, reflecting those that are most relevant to CDT Chinese audiences. Below are some of the most important and informative reports of 2023.

China May Not Surpass the U.S.

The Economist: “Is Chinese Power About to Peak?” (May 11)

  • China’s rapid rise is slowing down as its economy reaches maturation, which may result in economic parity with the U.S., contrary to some of the more optimistic predictions based on China’s record-breaking GDP growth rates of the past.

Lowy Institute: 2023 Asia Power Index, by Susannah Patton, Jack Sato, and Hervé Lemahieu

  • The U.S. ranked ahead of China in comprehensive power largely due to China’s recent setbacks, such as its self-imposed isolation due to zero-COVID policies. 

Reasons Behind China’s Stagnation

Lianhe Zaobao: “The Economy Is The Problem, Its Root Is Politics,” by Lew Mon-hung (August 21)

  • Hong Kong businessman and former member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Lew Mon-hung argued in a provocative (and later, heavily censored) article of a Singapore paper that the most fundamental reason for China’s economic reversal lies in politics, notably Xi Jinping, his cult of personality, and the CCP’s failure to incorporate political reforms.

Foreign Affairs: “The End of China’s Economic Miracle” (August 2)

  • Adam S. Posen argued that Xi’s policies, notably zero-COVID, led to a Chinese economic recession.
  • Response by Zongyuan Zoe Liu, who argued that other factors include China’s exhausted growth model, stunted population growth, and Xi’s leadership failures. (October 3)


1. High youth unemployment

The Economist: “China’s Defeated Youth” (August 17)

  • Government messaging about “toughening up” contrasts with the pessimism felt by young Chinese workers who must contend with a sluggish economy and high youth unemployment.

Barron’s: “China’s Young Can’t Find Work. How That Hurts the Economy,” by Tanner Brown (May 24)

  • One reason for high youth unemployment is the Chinese educational system, which teaches skills that don’t suit the needs of the employment market, and churns out overeducated youth with devalued degrees and disappointing job prospects.

2. Intensifying labor conflicts

China Labour Bulletin: “After years of pandemic anomalies, worker strikes and protests are on the rise across industries in China” (July 28)

  • Strikes and protests by Chinese workers increased sharply after the pandemic and reached a new high in the first half of 2023, amounting to 741 incidents, compared to 830 incidents in all of 2022.

China Labor Watch: “Investigation Of An Apple Supplier: Pegatron Kunshan Report In 2023” (September 20)

  • Ahead of the iPhone 15 release, an investigation into Apple supplier Pegatron Group revealed ongoing labor rights violations, including forced overtime, workplace harassment, and discrimination, with no significant improvements in working conditions over the past decade.

U.S. Trade Representative: 2023 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (March 31)

  • While some issues such as trade barriers and infringement on intellectual property rights are not unique to China, China is one of the countries that most seriously tramples on labor rights.

Implications of the Economic Downturn on CCP Regime Stability

MERICS: “Shaky China: Five scenarios for Xi Jinping’s third term,” by Bernhard Bartsch (June 28)

  • MERICS analysts predicted that Xi’s third term would be marked by a continuation of an unstable status quo: increasing centralization of power, slower growth, and growing external pressure.

The Diplomat: “China’s Economy Might Be Down, But Don’t Expect Regime Collapse,” by Jinghao Zhou (September 9)

  • Poor economic performance may damage Xi Jinping’s reputation, but it will not fundamentally damage the regime, whose power and legitimacy are upheld by propaganda, coercive power, and pyramid-style political control.

China Pathfinder: “Running Out of Road: China Pathfinder 2023 Annual Scorecard,” by Rhodium Group and the Atlantic Council (October)

  • China’s economic reforms are reversing course and structural problems portend further economic instability and slower economic growth in the future.

Human Rights

Human Rights Measurement Initiative: 2023 Human Rights Index: China

  • While China scored very high in the “Quality of Life” category which measures economic and social rights, it scored the lowest in almost all metrics of the categories “Safety from the State” and “Empowerment,” which measure civil and political rights.

U.S. State Department: “2023 Trafficking in Persons Report” (June)

  • China was listed as one of 11 countries whose governments have a well-documented “policy or pattern” of human trafficking or other related abuses.

Rights of Women and Sexual Minorities

The Economist: “Why Chinese Feminists Are Doing Stand-up Comedy in New York City” (December 5)

  • A Drum Tower podcast episode featuring stand up comedy performers from NZZY, or Nvzizhuyi, a group of diaspora Chinese feminists who found a forum for resistance abroad.

NGOCN: “Another Fear: Writing on International Day Against Homophobia” (May 16)

  • An internet-based platform supporting volunteerism and public welfare activities published an article detailing how many members of Chinese LGBTQ+ groups have become targets of police harassment and online censorship.

Personal Freedom

Cato Institute: Human Freedom Index 2022

  • In a measurement of personal, civil, and economic freedom, China ranked 152nd out of 165 countries, up one rank from the previous index, while Hong Kong ranked 34th, down two ranks from the previous index.

Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2023

  • China was labeled “Not Free” and listed among 16 countries with the worst aggregate scores of political rights and liberties, putting it at the bottom of the 195 countries analyzed.

Freedom House: Freedom on the Net 2023

  • China ranked the lowest out of 70 countries in a measurement of global internet freedom, coming in last for the ninth consecutive year. 

Reporters Without Borders: World Press Freedom Index 2023

  • China ranked 179th out of 180 countries, dropping four places from the previous year. Hong Kong ranked 140th, a slight improvement from the previous year.

Repression Against Uyghurs

Human Rights Watch: “China: Unrelenting Crimes Against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs” (August 31)

  • Over a year after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report concluding that the Chinese government has committed “serious human rights violations” against Uyghurs that “may constitute…crimes against humanity,” Chinese officials have maintained their abusive “strike hard” policies while the U.N. and member countries have remained silent.

Journal of Communist and Post-Communist Studies: “Coercive Labor in the Cotton Harvest in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Uzbekistan,” by Adrian Zenz (May)

  • Forced labor remains and has intensified in some areas of Xinjiang, and current indicators from the International Labor Organization fail to capture the systemic nature of state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang.

Attacks on Tibetan Rights

Foreign Affairs: “Erasing Tibet,” by Tenzin Dorjee and Gyal Lo (November 28)

  • Chinese boarding schools on the Tibetan plateau have housed nearly one million Tibetan children and facilitate a cultural genocide that deprives them of their native language, religion, and culture.

Citizen Lab: “Mass DNA Collection in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 2016–2022,” by Emile Dirks (September 13)

  • Since June 2016, China’s police have conducted a mass DNA collection program in the Tibet Autonomous Region that gathered between 919,282 and 1,206,962 DNA samples, many outside of any criminal investigation, representing between one quarter and one third of Tibet’s total population.

Internet Censorship and External Propaganda

Citizen Lab: “Missing Links: A comparison of search censorship in China,” by Jeffrey Knockel, Ken Kato, and Emile Dirks (April 26)

  • An investigation found that over 60,000 unique censorship rules used to partially or totally censor search results returned on Baidu, Baidu Zhidao, Bilibili, Microsoft Bing, Douyin, Jingdong, Sogou, and Weibo.

DoubleThink Lab: “Unpacking the Power of Propaganda: The Factors in Shaping Overseas Chinese Communities’ Attitudes Towards Pro-CCP Narratives,” by Roy Ngerng, Eric Hsu, Cecile Liu, and Ai-Men Lau (June 20)

  • In a survey conducted in New Zealand and Malaysia, Chinese respondents (compared to non-Chinese respondents) had a higher likelihood of identifying with pro-CCP propaganda.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute: “Shadow Play,” by Jacinta Keast (December 14)

  • An AI-propelled coordinated inauthentic influence campaign originating on YouTube has been promoting pro-CCP and anti-U.S. narratives in an apparent effort to shift English-speaking audiences’ views. The campaign has generated almost 120 million views and 730,000 subscribers. 

Judicial Infringements

Safeguard Defenders: “Trapped: China’s Expanding Use of Exit Bans” (May 2)

  • Chinese authorities are increasingly using exit bans to punish human rights defenders and their families, hold people hostage to force targets overseas to return to China, control ethnic-religious groups, engage in hostage diplomacy, and intimidate foreign journalists.

Safeguard Defenders: “Families in Fear: Collective Punishment in 21st Century China” (December 10)

  • The CCP is increasingly imposing collective punishment as a political tool to control human rights defenders and raise the cost of speaking out in China, through exit bans, physical violence, and deprivations of freedom, shelter, education, and income.

Prisoners of Conscience

Rights Defense Network (Weiquanwang): “Index of the list of 1,666 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in mainland China”

  • These are the minimum statistics as of December 31, 2023, and include those given suspended death sentences, those sentenced to life imprisonment or fixed-term imprisonment, those awaiting sentencing, and those who have been classified as “mentally ill.”

Independent Chinese PEN Center: Court Statements by Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong

  • In April, Xu and Ding were respectively sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison for subversion of state power after undergoing secret trials, but both showed resilience in their court statements: Xu stated, “A democratic China is to emerge in our generation, and we will never pass the responsibility to the next generation,” and Ding stated that it was the “historical responsibility” of his generation to “eradicate autocracy.”


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