Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square protests in China. On this day in 1989, the Chinese government mobilized the armed forces to put down peaceful protests, killing hundreds and wounding thousands in Tiananmen Square and around other parts of the city of Beijing. The brutal crackdown on protesters was followed by the imposition of martial law across the country, mass arrests, expelling of foreign journalists, and a purge of Communist Party officials who were thought to be sympathetic to the protests.
About two weeks ago was also the anniversary of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in China, where the founder of the Communist Revolution in China, Chairman Mao, announced that he had directed that the country be purged of remaining opponents of the Communist Party. This was a massive crack down, lasting for years, that touched every part of Chinese society. An estimated two million people were killed, and tens of millions of people were forcibly taken from their homes and relocated to the countryside, in an attempt to rid the cities of the educated and upper classes for no reason other than they were educated and so considered ‘capitalists’.
These two anniversaries are reminders of the roots of the Communist regime that rules China. Unfortunately, not much has changed in how the Chinese government deals with dissent, or potential dissent, that they view as a threat to their power.
News stories about China that we hear these days are mostly about the trade talks and, on occasion, about Chinese companies spying for Chinese government. Much less so do we hear about the ongoing abuse of human rights and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.
Looking at a high level, the Chinese government is a dictatorship of the Communist government. We know that. But what we don’t hear as often, is what that means. During the days of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, we had dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others that were able to raise awareness outside of the Soviet Union’s Communist world (Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize). However, Chinese dissidents have not gotten the same publicity and incidents of Chinese oppression is not as well known or publicized. It has however been the topic of discussion in formal international forums, including the United Nations. The Chinese government routinely denies the abuses. However, they are so widespread that it’s difficult to keep up the charade and more and more western media are reporting on it. The Economist magazine devoted an issue last year (entitled “The Surveillance State”) to documenting the extensive efforts that China has made to watch and monitor its citizens and to punish them (‘re-educate’ as they put it in softer terms) when they don’t conform. (Note: much of the specific information below is taken from their reporting and that of other media sources such as The Wall Street Journal).
Never in the history of the world has there been a Communist government that has not been a violently repressive dictatorship. However, its size and its use of modern technology to oppress its people has made China unlike any other Communist country.
The government of China uses surveillance on a mass scale. They control social and other media to keep information that isn’t approved from getting out. Conversely, they monitor social media in ways that people in the West can’t imagine, looking for things as simple as posts that are not in the Chinese language, which is an indication of potential ‘subversion’. In areas of the country, government surveillance cameras are located in every shop and restaurant.
In a disturbing and chilling development, the government has developed a ‘social score’ that it assigns to citizens. Yes, the government gives you a score on how ‘well behaved’ you are and this score is attached to you and affects every aspect of your life. The score is based on such things whether you are religious, if you speak a language other than Chinese routinely, if you express any dissatisfaction with the government or any government institution or even whether your neighbors may consider you disloyal to the Party. This social score is then used to help determine what job you can get, if you will be admitted to school or, if so, which one. Any form of dissent will potentially impact every aspect of your life, including how or whether you can earn a living.
Probably nowhere is the oppression in China more widespread than in Xinjiang province in north-western China. The province is home to roughly 10 million Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic language minority that also is the largest Muslim group in the county. As such, Uighurs are quite distinct from Han Chinese and have been the brunt of widespread persecution.
Surveillance of the population in the province is even more intrusive and out in the open than elsewhere. In cities, police have built what they call ‘convenience police stations’ every 350 yards or so, targeting to have one for every five hundred people. In rural areas, the government targets the same ratio. All shops and restaurants in Hotan, one of the larger cities in the province, are required to have a policeman on duty.
The Chinese government has built literally thousands of ‘re-education’ camps in the province. People are detained and sent to these camps by the police or local Communist Party officials, not as part of a judicial proceeding or court trial. And the detentions can be for anything viewed as ‘subversive’. In one reported case, a woman undertaker was imprisoned for washing bodies according to Islamic custom. Others have been detained because they were ‘suspected’ of wanting to travel abroad or not singing the national anthem in Chinese. More, when people are detained, it is often done without informing their family. There have been reports of people ‘disappearing’ for many months, only to later show up after they have been ‘re-educated’ and their families never knew where they had been.
And the numbers of people sent to be re-educated from is massive. Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch has put the number of detainees in the hundreds of thousands, approaching a million. Other sources have put it higher. And the situation is Xinjiang is not nearly unique, though it may be the most extreme.
China is not just a country that competes with us economically. The dictatorship is harsh, cruel and its biggest priority is maintaining its power and the power of the Communist Party.
China is still bad and communism is still evil.
Update: This week there have been massive protests in Hong Kong against a proposed law that would allow easier extradition to China. The proposed law would set a low requirement for transferring Hong Kong citizens to mainland China when China says they are wanted for crimes.
The protests had tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets for several days. The government responded with a show of force and tear gas, followed by promises to speed up passage of the bill.
Why do Hong Kong people fear extradition to China more than extradition to other countries? Whatever you think the reason is, it’s enough to bring masses to the streets even when facing tear gas and arrest.