The Chinese Government and the Management of Dissent

By Steven W. Mosher

Are there moral issues affecting the contest in the Pacific?

The Chinese Crackdown Carried Out by the Neo-Red Guards Predates the “Jasmine Revolution.”

Steven W. Mosher

President, Population Research Institute

Excerpts from Testimony Presented to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

May 13th, 2011


The revolution in Tunisia and, later, Egypt sparked hope in the hearts of Chinese democracy and human rights activists. They saw how online connectivity enabled people to overcome fear, rapidly organize, and bloodlessly, or nearly so, bring down a tyrannical regime within a few weeks. But when they attempted, rightly, to emulate this model they found that the Chinese government had preempted key elements of their plan and suppressed others.

It is clear that the government’s response to the call for a Chinese “Jasmine revolution” was not ad hoc, but was a continuation of an ongoing campaign to suppress all expressions of civil society, including religious and ethnic affiliations, that could conceivably—at least in the minds of conspiratorially minded senior Communist Party officials—pose a threat to the power, wealth and privileges that they currently enjoy. The neo-Red Guards who dominate the upper reaches of the Party and government, because of their Maoist “education” in deadly power politics during their formative years, seem much more likely to brutally confront dissent than to compromise with it.

China’s Aborted Jasmine Revolution

I will only briefly summarize recent events in China, not only because there are others testifying here today who will ably do so, but because it seems to me only the latest chapter in Beijing’s long and increasingly sophisticated campaign to quell all manner of dissent.

The revolutions in the Middle East, especially the successful and largely bloodless outcomes in Tunisia and Egypt encouraged Chinese human rights activists to go and do likewise.  Tunisia, which had languished in the grip of a dictator for 23 years, was especially instructive in illustrating how modern means of communications enabled the mobilization of tens of thousands of people who took to the streets, overcame fear through sheer numbers, avoided a Tiananmen-style massacre, and were successful in overthrowing the regime in 18 days.

It is not surprising that Chinese dissidents sought to follow this same formula in China. Sometime in mid-February—the exact date depends upon what news source you rely upon–the first call for a Jasmine Revolution for China appeared.  In any case, on Saturday, February 19th, the organizers released a very specific plan for the following day. The plan named 13 Chinese cities and gathering places, directed participants to appear at 2p.m. on Sunday, February 20th, at 13 locations in as many cities. It even outlined specific slogans for them to shout, to wit:

“We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness, we want justice, start political reform, end one-party dictatorship, bring in freedom of the press, long live freedom, long live democracy.”

The regime responded quickly—so quickly, in fact, that it is clear in retrospect that contingency plans for just such an event had long been in place, dating back to at least the 2008 Olympics, and probably first devised, in their most rudimentary form, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre itself.

Pre-emptive suppression

Even before the first calls for a Jasmine Revolution for China were voiced, Chinese President Hu Jintao, as the Commander-in-Chief of the PLA and the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, had issued a directive to the military to be prepared for contingencies.  The directive, issued on February 10, specifically instructed Party cells within the military to study a document entitled Regulation Governing the Works of the Party Committees in the Military, whose ostensible purpose is to strengthen the Party’s control over the military.  According to an explanatory note, “Each one of the 33 articles in the regulation centers on ensuring the absolute control of the party over the military.”

In urging the military to study the regulation at that time, Hu was anticipating that the unrest in the Arab world might potentially spread to China.  If circumstances required him to send in the military to put down demonstrations, he wanted his commanders ready to follow orders—whatever those might be. Was Hu concerned that some military commanders might refuse to enforce orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators, as they did initially in Beijing 22 years ago?  Was Hu concerned that the military might shift allegiances in the event of a conflict and prove to be, as happened in Tunisia and Egypt, the most potent opposition weapon in overthrowing the current regime?  Probably both. The document pointedly reminds the military that all its members owe their allegiance first and foremost to the party, and then to socialism, then to the state and, finally, to the people.  If the Party finds itself in a major confrontation with the people, this prioritization intimates, the military is to support the Party at all costs, even to the point of shedding blood.

Then on February 19th–the same day that the dissidents issued a detailed plan for peaceful demonstrations in 13 major cities—Hu Jintao held a meeting of top officials to combat the perceived threat of unrest.  According to the officials Xinhua News Agency, the meeting not only included all nine members of the CCP’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee, but also provincial heads, ministry chiefs and senior military officials.

Such a high-level meeting could not have been organized overnight, suggesting again the preemptive nature of the Chinese government’s response to the upheavals in the Arab world and to their possible spread to China.  Hu referred to “new changes in domestic and foreign situations” and to the need for senior CCP cadres to adopt a unified response from the outset.  The divisions in the top leadership that had for a time blunted the response of the CCP to the Tiananmen demonstrations were to be avoided.

In his surprisingly blunt address, Hu stressed that the Chinese Communist Party must strengthen its “management of society” in order to stay in power.

Hu defined the “management of society” to be “managing the people as well as serving them.” This formulation marks a major departure from standard Communist rhetoric, first devised by Mao Zedong, that the CCP exists to serve the people.  The purpose of this societal management, according to Hu, is to “maximize harmonious factors and minimize non-harmonious ones.”  In other words, those who adhere to the Party line are to be encouraged, while those who depart from it are to be crushed.

Hu went on to outline specific ways in which the “management of society” could be strengthened.  These included heightened control over cyberspace, specifically better monitoring and control over Internet-transmitted information and improved guidance of public opinion over the Internet.  He also called for the establishment of a national database of migrant workers and of “specific groups of people,” which is communist parlance for political dissidents, religious leaders, and other questionable groups, so that these groups could be better “managed.”

The following day—the very day, in fact, slated for the demonstrations—the Politburo member in charge of national public security weighed in.  Echoing Hu Jintao, Zhou Yongkang called on the Party not just to serve the people, but to manage the people as well, and announced specific ways in which this “management” would be carried out.

First, a national database containing information on everyone in the country, with a special focus on Hu’s “specific groups of people,” would be set up.

Second, with strong leadership from the Party, cyberspace was to be brought under strict government control with strict enforcement of anti-sedition laws.

Third, foreign non-governmental organizations in China will be subjected to a “dual system of supervision,” which can only mean that they will be subjected to heightened scrutiny by several different Chinese government agencies.  Fourth, an early warning system will be put in place to alert the authorities to social grievances, so as to allow them to defuse problems before they deteriorate into outright social unrest.

None of this is really new, but rather merely an elaboration and deepening of what has gone before…..

The Preemptive Strike

As these policy pronouncements were being made, the Chinese authorities were already preemptively moving to suppress dissent by arresting human rights lawyers, shutting university students in their campuses, banning the use of keywords on mobile phone messages, and by deploying an overwhelming police presence.  The China Support Network reported that some dissidents were taken away, while others were placed under house arrest.

According to the Hong Kong Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, over 100 people were detained in this way.  Other dissidents were warned against attending any of the demonstrations, and questioned about their possible role in organizing them.  The word “jasmine” was blocked by Internet filters. According to the Associated Press, service was suspended in Beijing for multi-recipient text messages.  The 13 protest sites were cordoned off by hundreds of plain clothes and uniformed police.  On the day of the planned demonstrations, small crowds gathered in Beijing and Shanghai.  In the other cities the massive police presence seemed the only response to the Internet calls for protests.

Some foreign observers have called these moves on the part of the regime an “over-reaction” to events.  This is a misinterpretation of what happened.  The government wasn’t reacting to events at all, but rather anticipating them.  These actions were all taken in advance of any major public demonstrations, and are more properly characterized as a kind of “preemptive suppression.” The speed and thoroughness of the Chinese government’s action suggests years of planning and preparation for just such a potential mass uprising, as much as it does the determination of those in power to squelch all dissent using all of the manifold tools of “social management” at their disposal.

This interpretation is also supported by the speed at which the Chinese government went on the offensive, attacking websites overseas that carry information about, or in any way encourage, a Chinese-style Jasmine Revolution.   Online calls for a “Jasmine revolution” in China apparently first appeared at the web site A few days later, Boxun announced that it would no longer carry Jasmine-related information, because of actions taken by the Chinese government against their servers, and threats made against their staff and their families.  In response, a federation of dissident websites announced in early March that they would carry such material. ….

Actions Prior to the Jasmine Revolution

Well in advance of any unrest in the Arab world, the Chinese government was tightening controls on civil society using its five-tiered social monitoring network.  This can be seen from the increased persecution of Christians in China, including the Catholic Church and the House Church Movement, as well as in the continuing vigorous enforcement of the most intrusive and barbaric population control program the world has ever seen.

The Intensifying Persecution of Christians

In the case of the Catholic Church, the Chinese government over the past couple of years has moved away from an accommodative stance to a more dictatorial one.

On November 20th, the Chinese Communist Party broke its tacit agreement with the Vatican not to attempt to ordain bishops without papal approval.  The incident occurred in the county town of Pingquan in northern Hebei province, where a Father Joseph Guo Jincai was installed as the “Bishop” of the Diocese of Chengde.

Attempting to give a semblance of legitimacy to the illicit proceedings, the government went to great lengths to assemble as many bishops as possible to conduct the ordination.  Days before the event, a number of North China bishops in communion with Pope Benedict XVI were placed under house arrest, then taken under guard to the Pingquan church.  Eight laid hands on Father Guo during the sham ordination, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News, though with what mental reservations we can only imagine.  Others, like Bishop John Liu Jinghe of Tangshan, refused to attend despite all the pressure, and the government has since announced that he has been removed from his post—an act comparable to that of attempting to install an illicit bishop.

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who attended the pope’s creation of 24 new cardinals at the Vatican Nov. 20, said he was saddened that some bishops had been forced to participate in “Bishop” Guo’s ordination. When Beijing last carried out illicit ordinations, Cardinal Zen told me that the attending bishops, “were not there not there by choice, and most contacted the Holy See as soon as they could to apologize and ask forgiveness for their actions.”

It was a bizarre parody of an ordination in other ways as well. A good many of those present were government officials and plainclothes police. The laity in the congregation were subdued, which may have had something to do with the fact that the church was surrounded by about a hundred uniformed and plainclothes police, that cameras were banned in the church, and that mobile phones were electronically jammed.

I visited this area last year, and I have no doubt that the laity and the priests are strong in their faith and loyal to the Pope. Still, it would be dangerous for them to in any way protest Beijing’s heavy-handed actions. One Pingchuan Catholic did offer a veiled protest to UCA News by saying “After all, Guo’s reputation among the local faithful is not bad.” In Chinese, saying someone or something is “not bad” is tantamount to damning it with faint praise.  Note also his omission of the ersatz bishop’s new title. In a country where titles are extremely important, such lapses do not happen by chance.  It suggests some skepticism as to Guo’s legitimacy.

Why would Beijing proceed with actions that Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, had criticized in a statement released on November 18th “as grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.  … [and] as illicit and damaging to the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See.”

It seems to me to be part and parcel of the gradual tightening of social controls that we have seen over the past few years.  One reason why the government suddenly elevated Father Guo to a bishopric without a papal mandate became crystal clear two weeks after his illicit ordination when on December 8th he was unanimously elected the secretary general of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC).  Since this position is reserved for a bishop, and since Beijing wanted someone they could control, Beijing decided to elevate Guo, with or without Rome’s approval

As secretary general, Guo will be based in Beijing and will run the day-to-day operations of the Bishops Conference.  Note that, unlike bishop’s conferences elsewhere, the BCCCC is what is called in Chinese Communist parlance a front organization.  Like its sister organization, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the Bishops Conference is for all intents and purposes run by the Chinese Communist Party.  This is why neither organization is recognized by the Vatican.

Guo has a long history of collaboration with the party.  Previously, he served as vice secretary-general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.  Pope Benedict’s letter to Chinese Catholics of 2007 indicates that holding the CCPA position was incompatible with Church doctrine. He was also appointed to the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, as a “Catholic representative.” All in all, an impressively meteoric rise for a young man only ordained in 1992.

I am not suggesting that Guo is an underground member of the Chinese Communist Party, although it would be surprising if the Chinese Ministry of State Security, like the former Soviet KGB, did not have some agents posing as priests.  More likely, he has merely proven a willing accomplice to CCP longstanding desire to create a schismatic church in China answerable not to Rome but to Beijing.  This, after all, was the reason the Patriotic Association was set up in 1957.

His election took place at the recently concluded Eighth National Congress of Catholic Representatives, which was as carefully choreographed as a Broadway musical.  Aside from the 45 bishops present, there were 268 carefully selected and vetted priests, nuns and laypersons.  The Party had done its work well.  There was only one candidate for each position, and the voting, which was by a show of hands, was nearly unanimous.

Those few who abstained from voting for the Party-approved candidates will undoubtedly have to account to their Party handlers for their actions.  But their problems are minor compared to those of Bishop Joseph Li Liangui of Cangzhou, who went missing rather than participate in this charade.  His whereabouts are still unknown. After ordaining Father Guo, Beijing in December chose a man the Vatican had excommunicated, Ma Yinglin, to head the country’s Catholic bishops.

The increased scrutiny and control of the Catholic Church in China over the past two years is of a piece with the larger crackdown on home churches that is underway in China.  People of all Christian faiths often meet in people’s homes because of a shortage of churches, which the government is reluctant to give permission to build.  Such meetings are being subjected to an ever greater degree of scrutiny, with meetings often invaded and participants arrested.  This will have a chilling effect on evangelization, since many parishes send out missionaries to meet in peoples’ homes and share the Gospel.  If the Chinese Communist Party is not trying to drive Chinese Catholics back into the catacombs, it is trying to keep them corralled in the state churches, discouraging them from sharing their beliefs with others.

The One-Child Policy, Minorities, and Child Abduction

Beijing continues to vigorously pursue its infamous one-child policy, ignoring the massive human rights abuses that this entails, and the labor shortages that it has produced.

Over the past two years, PRI’s investigative teams have spent a total of two weeks in China visiting UNFPA Model Birth Control Counties. During this period, the teams spent over 80 hours interviewing several dozen witnesses to, or victims of, China’s coercive one-child policy.  Over 30 hours of testimonies were recorded on audiotape, and approximately 5 hours of testimonies were recorded on videotape.  Additional photographic evidence of birth control directives was obtained.

The term Model Birth Control Counties originated with the UNFPA, which in 1998 formally communicated to the U.S. House of Representatives that it had reached an agreement with the Chinese government to take over the management of birth control (jihua shengyu, in Chinese) programs in 32 counties.  In these Model Birth Control Counties, the UNFPA assured the Congress that the program would be “fully voluntary” and untainted by coercion. UNFPA also made even more specific guarantees.  It stated that in these counties that (1) targets and quotas have been lifted, (2) “women are free to voluntarily select the timing and spacing of their pregnancies”, and (3) abortion is not promoted as a method of family planning.[i]  Several years later, maintaining that the original program had been a success, the UNFPA added another 40 counties to the list of model birth control counties, bringing the total to 72.

The goal of PRI’s independent investigative teams was to carry out an in-depth analysis of several UNFPA “model birth control county” programs.  We deliberately limited our recent visits to counties that had been included on the original 1998 list, where the UNFPA would have had more than a decade to end abuses and bring the birth control programs into line with generally accepted international standards of human and parental rights…..

Our complete report will be published shortly.  Here I summarize two important findings of our research.  First, contrary to the claims of the Chinese government, minorities appear not to be exempt from the one-child policy.  Second, the extraordinary police powers given to the population cadres have resulted in numerous abuses, including the abduction and selling of “illegal” children…..

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