Freedom of speech—knowledge and strategies to address censorship in China
In a modern democratic country, it often seems self-evident and completely unnecessary to discuss the concept of freedom of speech. It is, to all intents and purposes, a ‘natural right’ endowed by Heaven. But in China, ever since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power, freedom of speech has been regarded as a luxury, and the censorship there has been among the most severe in the history of the world.
Perhaps this is a somewhat already well-known fact, but what people might have failed to realise is that apart from censorship and the denial of the right to free speech, the CCP has tried very hard to destroy traditional Chinese culture; to distort the criteria for right and wrong, and to re-write the entire human history to meet the Party’s needs.
In a word, censorship under the rule of the CCP is not strictly censorship alone. Through tight control of the entire state apparatus, the CCP has successfully established a culture of its own, making people think in the way the Party requires them to think. For example, when the whole world was condemning the 911 terrorist attacks, many Chinese youths were applauding them. In March 2004, the largest Chinese Internet portal, SINA.com, launched an on-line survey. One of the questions was, “Would you shoot at women, children and prisoners-of-war?” More than 80 percent of the 31,872 respondents answered in the affirmative. So a strong tendency towards violence and the distortion of right and wrong are more terrifying than mere censorship. Through brainwashing and ruling with terror, the CCP has made people not only exercise self-censorship, but also to think in the “Party way”.
The reason behind all of this is that the CCP is not a party at all in the commonly understood sense. Usually a party is a political organization based on political tactics and with political aims. But the CCP’s control has far transcended the realms of politics—it has reached in and seized hold of the spiritual world of Chinese people. By eradicating all of the traditional orthodox religions in China, the CCP has ultimately established itself as the only “God”. Then, after years of killing and endless political struggles, people have come to realise that the Party is not an “ever-great, glorious and correct” God at all. At this point in time, they have made the discovery that they have nothing to put their faith in; neither have they anyone or anything to trust, apart from immediate material interest. And this kind of person is the most easy to control with a little bit of personal gain, as they no longer adhere to moral values.
Thus, in China, under the CCP’s control, dealing with the lack of free speech and censorship becomes a question of spiritual independence. If people cannot free themselves from the spiritual control and manipulation of the CCP, they can never really find a way to break free of the party’s omnipresent censorship.
This is why the focus of the CCP has fallen upon Falun Gong, an ancient qigong practice based on traditional Chinese values, as its imagined enemy. By implementing “Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance” in their daily lives, Falun Gong practitioners have found a spiritual alternative to communism, and the materialism which is the now the only “belief” for many Chinese.
Within the seven years during which Falun Gong was permitted and encouraged in China, people spread this practice through word of mouth. Then, in 1999, after realising that Falun Gong practitioners had grown to outnumber Party members, the then Party leader Jiang Zemin launched a most ruthless crackdown against Falun Gong. One hundred million practitioners were immediately thrown into a situation where they were made to choose between giving up the practice or going to jail, with the possibility of being tortured to death. Perhaps Falun Gong practitioners have never before made the connection between their practice and freedom of speech. However, in an effort to uphold their right to practice their own beliefs, they have taken up “telling the truth and exposing the persecution” as their main strategy.
Technically, the Internet has proven to be as potent a tool in Falun Gong truth-telling as it has been in the dissemination of CCP propaganda. By tapping into the CCP-controlled cable TV system to broadcast Falun Gong programs, through email, or even by physically distributing printed or even hand-written flyers, they are attempting to deal with the evil of the persecution and the spectre of censorship. The world will never know how much these people have given in the telling of a simple, non-political truth. For example, after a 50-minute screening of Falun Gong films was broadcast over the cable TV network in Changchun City in 2002, over 5,000 practitioners were arrested, eight were killed, and fifteen were sentenced to between four to twenty years’ imprisonment.