As the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen democratization movement in June 1989 nears, China is tightening its clampdown on activists and dissidents, and enacting harsher policies for journalists and Internet bloggers. But if the government wishes to “stabilize” Chinese society, tightening social and thought controls is not the way to go about it. Chinese people’s values have diversified as they’ve become more aware of human and democratic rights, partly due to increasing use of the Internet. It will be imperative for Beijing to push political reforms that lead to greater democracy.
When Xi Jinping became president in March, some intellectuals expected that, unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, he would gradually push democratization efforts. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. After securing control over the Chinese Communist Party, the government and the military, Xi pursued a course of political and ideological regimentation in a high-handed manner, targeting not only corrupt officials but also journalists, Internet bloggers and pro-democracy and ethnic minority activists.
In July, Chinese authorities detained anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong. On Jan. 26, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court announced that it had sentenced Xu to four years’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Xu, a legal scholar and rights advocate, cofounded the New Citizens Movement, which uses the Internet to call for the upholding of rights that are guaranteed by the country’s Constitution. Since Xu was arrested, 40 other activists have also been detained.
In August, the Chinese police carried out a wholesale clampdown on online “demagogy.” Reportedly 100,000 blogs were erased and criticism of the government completely disappeared from the Internet for a brief period of time.
In October, the Chinese government’s media control section announced that some 250,000 reporters across the country would be required to attend a course on socialism, Marxism and media ethics, and that only those who passed a unified test would be given press cards.
In December, the secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee distributed printed material titled “An opinion on nurturing and practice of the core value of socialism,” and called for all-out efforts to strengthen education of socialist thought aimed at achieving Xi’s dream of the great restoration of Zhonghua Minzu (the Chinese nation), meaning all ethnic groups in China.
But such measures from above do not appear to be producing the desired results. Opinions skeptical about the feasibility of thought education, and even ridiculing it, appeared even on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper — the Communist Party’s organ. Reportedly, television programs broadcast on Lunar New Year’s Day, which included many revolutionary songs, were not well received by their intended audiences. The Chinese leadership should realize that public dissatisfaction with the party is strong due to such factors as rampant corruption, the wide gap between the rich and the poor, air pollution and food safety problems.
Xi is attempting to strengthen his power base by trying to increase people’s loyalty to the Communist Party through political regimentation. But the more he pursues this approach, the more alienated Chinese citizens feel. Xi should realize that as China becomes stronger politically, economically and militarily, it becomes all the more necessary for Beijing to begin the democratization of the nation’s political system. Increasing repression will only sow the seeds of greater dissent and lead to greater social instability in the long run. Xi should waste no time in implementing political reforms that give the people a greater say — and a greater stake — in China’s future.