Article 35 in China’s constitution, states that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”1 This article appears to be right out of the American constitution, that is — until it comes time to put it in practice. Chinese media police interpret a vague law governing free speech and journalism by claiming that free speech may endanger the country because it “shares state secrets.”
What exactly constitutes a state secret in Communist China is far from the traditional meaning of the term. Anyone with a modicum of common sense understands there are real secrets regarding national interests that should not be common knowledge.
However, in China, “state secrets” can mean just about anything. It can be an opinion that sees the party line in less than a favorable light. It can mean expressing an opinion or analyzing and reporting on political events that might demonstrate problems within a country. Such things should not subject people to imprisonment or death. After all, if one authentically desires to improve, one must be open to criticism.
Chinese authorities see it differently. They have always kept a tight rein on the media so as to nip any adversity in the bud. If anyone even appears to be a slight threat to the disastrous failures of Communism, they must be silenced. In China, this may result in a prison term of several years to life in deplorable conditions or even death.
China’s media police, that number anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000, subjectively apply Stalinist-style controls, which include, but are not limited to, the closing of publications and websites, communication monitoring systems and jailing dissident journalists, activists and bloggers. A dissident can be described as anyone who might be suspected of disagreeing with the party line.
Two recent cases have brought much international attention to China’s paranoid censorship: jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out in favor of human rights and the compliance of Wikipedia and Google with the Chinese government’s censoring of the Internet.
In the case of many Internet providers and news venues, they have put profit before principle and caved in to Communist demands for control of the Internet. China continues to filter foreign and domestic Internet content, and in many cases, uses American technology to do so.
Just how much freedom does Article 35 allow journalists? Reporters without Borders ranked China 174 out of 179 countries in its 2012 worldwide index of press freedom.2 Journalists are pressured into “self censorship” through physical and psychological harassment, imprisonment and the arbitrary destruction of physical and digital archives. The way journalists work in China is by lying to promote the fallacy of Communism’s success and the only countries that ranked below China in 2012 were Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea — one communist and three Muslim countries.
The great firewall of China is now causing a huge problem. China’s economic expansion requires access to information and a reasonable degree of transparency in government policy and business procedures. Without this freedom, commerce suffers. However, open trade communication also allows for free speech with civilized countries that clash with China’s Communist doctrine. All this touches a raw nerve in the likes of China’s new dictator Xi Jinping.
During the Socialist Marketing Economy in the late eighties, then-dictator Deng Xiaoping said, “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” He was of course referring to competing ideologies that China would have to deal with. The Chinese solution has been to show intolerance for anything that does not jibe with their own agenda.
The free speech, right to assemble and protest guaranteed in Article 35 have resulted in the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.3 Chinese authorities made these arrests because they are paranoid that journalists will communicate with organizations at home or abroad, sign online petitions or call for reform to end the corruption and destruction of their country.
Chinese authorities have escalated their effort to quash all conflicting opinions, especially online. They appear most sensitive to topics that touch upon Tibet, the spiritual movement of Falun Gong, the protests in 1989 and the crackdown associated with Tiananmen Square. Their paranoia has only increased in light of a series of anti-Japanese, anti-pollution, anti-corruption protests and ethnic riots, many of which were publicized or organized using text messages, chat rooms and instant messaging services.
Communist party members have recently gathered throughout China to become appraised of a secretive warning issued by senior leaders. This document warns that the party risks loss of control unless it eradicates seven “subversive” currents present in China today. This warning clearly indicates the failure of Communism to attract people and how the great firewall is not working.
These seven dangers were detailed in a memo titled Document No. 9, a directive that appears to have originated from Xi Jinping and calls to mind the bygone Maoist era. Some of these dangers are as follows: Western constitutional democracy; promoting universal values of human rights; Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation; ardently pro-market neo-liberalism and nihilist criticisms of the party’s traumatic past. This last reference involves the criticism of China’s record of brutally murdering as many as 65 million of its own people!
Xi Jinping should be afraid because China has a lot to hide and even more to lose if the Chinese mobilize against the repressive regime. By maintaining an iron fist controlling “free speech,” journalism and especially the Internet, China shows itself to be nothing more than a paranoid behemoth with clay feet; unable to withstand the slightest critique. Unfortunately, the West has not noticed. It carries on business as usual despite the gross violation of human rights that scandalously continues.