July 25, 2005

China's War On Dissent

The Internet is making it increasingly hard for the Chinese Communist Party to keep a lid on political expression and dissent. Therefore they are cracking down to a degree not seen in recent decades. Chronicle.com has the story of Jiao Guobiao, a journalist, professor and advisor of graduate students who was fired from his job at Peking University for an essay he wrote that was critical of the government propaganda ministry. That wasn't even the tip of the iceberg:

Mr. Jiao is the latest casualty in the Chinese government's war against academic dissent, a campaign that has caught many scholars by surprise. Shortly before a new, younger generation of Chinese leaders took office in 2002, intellectuals in Beijing were hoping that Hu Jintao, who is now the country's president, would be a force for reform.

Since taking the reins of power, however, the new regime has launched a bitter attack on freedom of expression. Newspapers have been shut down, books banned, journalists and dissidents imprisoned, and scholars brought under increased pressure to toe the official line. The political situation is the worst it has been in years, many scholars say.

"I'm very pessimistic," says Xu Youyu, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "I'm sure that these harsh policies are not just for a short time."

The crackdown comes as a growing number of academics around the country are speaking out, in part thanks to new channels of expression like the Internet that the government finds difficult to control. Scholars are also abandoning research in the humanities in favor of the social sciences, and are thus more likely to be critical of their own society. Mr. Xu says that change dates back to the student protests of 1989, when Chinese soldiers opened fire on student activists and citizens.

And the repression of intellectuals has its historical precedents in China...

Intellectuals are well aware of the danger of speaking out in China, which has a long history of persecuting scholars.

Paul Ropp, a Clark University historian who is working on a book on dissent, says that throughout Chinese history the Confucian literati -- members of the scholar class who held positions in the imperial bureaucracy -- believed it their sacred duty to rectify abuses in government, even at the cost of their own lives. He cites the case of the Han historian Sima Qian (145-85 BC), who was given the option of committing suicide or facing castration for criticizing Emperor Han Wudi. (He chose castration.)

"It is too seldom recognized that all of these traditions have survived to the present day in the Chinese popular consciousness," Mr. Ropp says.

Intellectuals suffered bitterly when they were brutally denounced during the 1957 anti-rightist movement and the Cultural Revolution. During those "10 years of chaos," as China now calls the period, universities were closed throughout the country, books destroyed, and intellectuals persecuted and killed. Mao even once gushed about his mistreatment of intellectuals, boasting that he'd outdone the infamous Qin Shihuangdi, who buried hundreds of Confucian scholars alive in 215 BC.

"Well, and what was so remarkable about Qin Shihuangdi?" Mao is said to have asked a Communist Party gathering. "He executed 460 scholars. We executed 46,000 of them." The remarks were reportedly greeted with laughter.

yuk yuk

Posted by dan at July 25, 2005 12:46 AM