For all the discussion of China's thriving economy and surging power in the international community there has been a major absence of discussion on China's internal legal and political structure. Despite major economic development, China remains a communist, totalitarian state with a single party. In most multi-party systems of governance the public tries to correct what they see as failures in government by voting an alternative party into power. The public in single-party states, on the other hand, can only change the whole government when they are dissatisfied. The Chinese Communist Party knows that there is no real avenue for change in their system. Recently a stream of events have occurred that makes one wonder: what the hell is going on in China?
China is cracking down on any possible avenues of dissent. One of the early examples from the last few weeks is the beating and detention of six priests and sixteen nuns
in separate incidents. This was followed by the first known mass protest inside a monastery in the TAR by monks in over ten years. Up to 400 monks held a silent protest inside the Drepung Monastery in response to China's policy of "patriotic education" -- which includes forcing monks to swear allegiance to China and disavow loyalty to the Dalai Lama. China responded by detaining five monks
and closing the monastery. The crackdown on religious groups also extended to the brutal rape
of two Falun Gong practitioners by a police officer in Hebei Province. All of these incidents have occurred between November 18th and December 4th.
China also received major attention last week
when police and military forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in Dongzhou.
The authorities have still not commented in any detail on the incident, in which villagers said as many as 20 residents of Dongzhou were shot and killed by security forces on Tuesday night as they protested plans for a power plant, in the deadliest use of force by Chinese authorities against ordinary citizens since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Residents of Dongzhou said at least 42 people were missing.
The villagers were protesting the construction of a power plant, specifically the lack of government compensation for land seizures and the lack of safeguards for pollution that would come from the plant. What's worse, the Chinese government didn't allow media coverage of the massacre and denied the nature of the victims:
Later, a local television bulletin here said that three people had been killed in Dongzhou, and eight injured, describing them as criminals and giving no other details. This was the first known mention of the violence in Chinas state-controlled media, and Beijings silence on the events underscored the vulnerability of a system that still practices heavy censorship in an age when sources of information beyond the governments control are readily available.
While the violent crackdown on protests and religious freedom is shocking and evident, it is accompanied by a parallel effort to stop liberalization by forcing 30,000 NGOs to reapply for their permits by the end of the year. This is move is a bureaucratic means of closing organizations working to enhance the lives of Chinese citizens and provide oversite of the government.
The Chinese government is clearly feeling threatened more now than ever before. Their actions suggest that their hold over the country is slipping and the only response they have is to try to squeeze their people. Today's NY Times
has a long article about Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer working to protect civil rights in China.
Now, the party has told him to cease and desist. The order to suspend his firm's operating license was expanded last week to include his personal permit to practice law. The authorities threatened to confiscate it by force if Mr. Gao fails to hand it over voluntarily by Wednesday.
Secret police now watch his home and follow him wherever he goes, he says.
He has become the most prominent in a string of outspoken lawyers facing persecution. One was jailed this summer while helping clients appeal the confiscation of their oil wells. A second was driven into exile last spring after he zealously defended a third lawyer, who was convicted of leaking state secrets.
Together, they have effectively put the rule of law itself on trial, with lawyers often acting as both plaintiffs and defendants.
"People across this country are awakening to their rights and seizing on the promise of the law," Mr. Gao says. "But you cannot be a rights lawyer in this country without becoming a rights case yourself."
The article makes brutally clear the extent to which Gao is fighting against the Communist Party. His attempts to protect the rights of Chinese citizens are met by forceful opposition by the government. China is trying as hard as it can to shut Gao down:
His resistance hardened. The Beijing Judicial Bureau handed him a list of cases and clients that were off limits, including Falun Gong, the Shaanxi oil case and a recent incident of political unrest in Taishi, a village in Guangdong. He refused to drop any of them, arguing that the bureau had no legal authority to dictate what cases he accepts or rejects.
This fall, he said, security agents have followed him constantly. He said his apartment courtyard has become a "plainclothes policeman's club," with up to 20 officers stationed outside.
"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said. "But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."
Gao has been ordered to return his licenspracticectise law. China's response to rule of law was to shout at the top of their lungs "No make it stop!" They seem close to stopping Gao, but thanks to the Times anything they do to him will be in full day light. Not that that's stopped them before (think Tiananmen).
All of this adds up to a disturbing picture of China's internal politics. Religious freedoms are being reduced and dissent is being met with violence and detentions. Despite the work of courageous lawyers, law is upheld only at the pleasure of the Communist Party. While maintaining a calm face to the world, China is imploding. The governments' responses have grown more drastic over the last month, as witnessed by the first mass shooting of demonstrators and the first mass silent protest inside Tibet in over ten years that we know of. I don't know where this is all heading, but it certainly looks like the Chinese government is truly fighting against the march of freedom and democracy for their people. Trade hasn't brought liberalization in China's government, but it has exposed the Chinese people to a greater notion of the freedoms they should have as human rights. In each instance we see the Chinese government pushing back hard at their people. The severity of their reaction is new and suggests that they are scared of something. It's intensely hard to get a clear picture of what that "something" is because of the level of censorship in the Chinese media, but change is afoot.Crossposted at The Baltimore Group