China Starts a Cold War Against Its Own People
The arrest and trial of journalist Gao Yu reflects the CCP’s contradictory propaganda measures.
On November 21, journalist Gao Yu was put on trial in a closed door procedure that lasted only four hours. That day, Gao Yu’s son was forced to leave Beijing to take an escorted “vacation,” and her brother was not allowed to leave his home for 24 hours. Friends, colleagues, and foreign media personnel waited outside the courtroom, which contained only the judge, the prosecutor, two lawyers and the defendant. When the trial ended, no verdict was announced. Gao’s concerned friends and international community are still groping in the darkness for a result.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
Gao is on trial for supposedly leaking a state secret when she provided the Hong Kong magazine Mirror Monthly with an internal circular that the Chinese Communist Party had released to its Committees. Known as “Document No. 9,” the circular listed “Seven Things That Should Not Be Discussed” by universities or the media. The seven subjects are: universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, historical mistakes by the CCP, party-elite capitalism, and judicial independence. There is no doubt that the charges against Gao are political, showing the panic and chaotic mechanisms in China’s internal power struggle. The absurd accusation that Mrs. Gao “leaked state secrets” reflects the contradictory propaganda measures of the CCP. Although the authority wants to disseminate and implement their instructions across the whole country, they do not want people talking about it. They know that the document containing the instructions is not glorious. “Seven Things That Should Not Be Discussed,” or “Speak-Not Subjects” was initially published in May 2013, and the instructions spread like wildfire, appearing online and creating dispute and resistance. By the time Gao Yu provided the document to the outside world, three months after the official announcement, it was already a notorious old piece, only mysterious because the CCP did not want to claim responsibility for producing it. To declare that the document was a state secret is a big joke: laughable, but not funny.
What does the authority have to gain by punishing Gao Yu? First of all, Gao has connections to the establishment and some members of the elite, which gives her access to off-the-record news. As a good journalist, she has an insightful instinct, enabling her to write analytic articles. Her sense of justice and courage provide momentum to her critical writing. Her pen is like a sword, and sometimes she even points it at President Xi Jinping. For example, an unused draft of President Xi’s August 19th speech at the “National Conference on Propaganda” was made available to Gao Yu. She quoted Xi’s instructions and analyzed them, calling them hard and relentless: “A handful of reactionary intellectuals use the internet to disseminate rumors, attack and insult our party’s leadership, our socialist system and our country’s politics. We must strike hard to this forces.”
Gao Yu made a mistake in judging Xi Jinping, believing she saw a Chinese Gorbachev in him. Yet Xi’s popularity as a fighter against corruption in China is only a camouflage. His campaign against comrades from his own communist front is only half-hearted and selective, an attempt to appease people in rage. Xi’s real motives are to stay in power and sustain the communist system in China. He is truly a successor to Maoism and Leninism.
Gao Yu has overestimated the tolerance of Xi’s administration. A person like Hu Deping, the son of the former Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang, can afford to criticize Zhou Yongkang on his blog. When Deping wrote, “Our media is full of lies. Always giving worship and praise, no single true word. Ninety-six percent of our officers are corrupt and have concubines. This is dangerous. We owe our people too much. Don’t treat the people like idiots. I give advice to these guys to not be too obsessed with power. Think of that vivid picture of Gaddafi: his face covered with blood, he was beaten to death. When people do not play the game along with us, the game is over for us.” In Gao Yu’s straightforward manner, she commented that Hu’s criticisms were the “finishing touch” of the CCP’s official media, to the applause of her readers .
But Gao has paid a high price for her boldness and dedication. In 1989 she was imprisoned for one year, and served another five-year sentence in 1994. This time, Gao may be punished even more severely and be sentenced to up to ten years. It is heartbreaking to think that my 70-year-old friend could possibly spend the rest of her life in prison.
At the same time, several other prominent lawyers and writers are waiting their trials. Pu Zhiqiang, the prominent human rights lawyer, who is well-known for engaging in civil rights campaigns, has been in detention since May. He was detained for attending a private seminar commemorating the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Pu is accused of “creating disturbance and illegally obtaining personal information.” The CCP invented the terminology “creating disturbance” to replace the terms “counter-revolution” or “inciting subversion.” All the unfavorable dissidents and intellectuals will sooner or later be detained under this charge. Pu did not dare touch the case of Zhou Yongkang, the former Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, who is now in detention as an example of Xi’s effort to fight corruption.
The communist government in China has an unwritten law: citizens are not allowed to get involved with government plans. Xi Jinping and his assigned officers, like Wang Qishan, are the only ones allowed to be perceived as “heroes” fighting corruption. Any common people who try to do the same thing will be put in jail, like Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi. In the eyes of the authorities who sent them to jail, demanding that officers release information on their property and wealth was “offending the law,” and therefore “creating disturbance.” That is a funny logic indeed.
Beside Pu Zhiqiang, the civil rights lawyer Guo Feixiong, the human rights lawyer Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, and Yuan Chaoyang have all been accused of “creating disturbance” and “inciting subversion of state power.” At the moment, they are all awaiting trial.
China is facing a cold autumn and winter, but rather than from nature, the coldness comes from inside. The government is starting a cold war against its people.