Party’s Over October 9, 2018
The crackdown on expression hardens for CCP and anyone in government, even if not CCP
New Party rules to govern members’ online behavior
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is set to implement some new regulations for its members to monitor how they behave on the internet.
The new set of revised discipline rules was released by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on September 26, and is set to take effect on October 1. Party members are required to be hyperconscious about what they post on digital platforms, such as the popular messaging app WeChat.
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts. Independent, May 28, 2015
These discipline rules are meant to be more stringent than anything coming out of the Party Central Office in the last four years. But there is foreshadowing of these rules, as there often is in China. In 2013, the infamous Document No. 9 specified seven rules for CCP members to observe, including forbidding any discussion of free speech, civil society, free press, and – notably, here – any negative comments about CCP or Party history (Mao, famine, Tian’anmen, et.al.) From the Jiayun Feng piece -
According to the updated regulations, members could face expulsion from the Party if they make inappropriate remarks online. These include the endorsement of bourgeois liberalization, opposition to the Party’s policy of reform and opening up, groundless criticism of the Party’s major policies that will potentially undermine the organization’s unity, defamation of national heroes and models, and slander of the Party and state leaders. The invention or spreading of rumors regarding politics might also lead to various degrees of punishment.
My own sources suggest that the rules taking effect on October 1 will be implemented severely within universities. In the run-up to the current rules, over the last couple of months, my contacts tell stories about a university Party leader who quit his job rather than be subject to speech discipline. In another university instance, a faculty member who teaches comparative politics was left in a conundrum – she cannot say anything good about anything foreign. When she objected, she was summarily removed from her teaching job and assigned to the library – a permanent demotion. A PhD professor now stacks books, likely for the rest of her career.
Teachers are now observed, surreptitiously, either by provincial or central government jiwei, the discipline inspection bureau. My students often recorded my lectures; now, that recording of Chinese teachers can be used against them in disciplinary proceedings. In another despicable development, I have direct stories of person-to-person comments at an informal dinner, later leading to punishment. Who do you trust?
For obvious reasons, I cannot name names in these articles, and I am reluctant to even name provinces, given the environment. There was a time, back in the good old days prior to 2012, when one could conceive of the arc of history bending in the direction of greater openness in China. In general, my CCP friends were happy about the direction of change. No more.
In the past, personal exchanges on WeChat could include comments on government policy, good and bad. Now, those will be forbidden, under penalty of losing one’s job, expulsion from the Party, or at least “punishment,” which could include demotion or passover for promotion. This assumes that the government can and will listen in on WeChat messages.
The crackdown is getting far more serious. I told foreign students in 2014 to advise carefully potential future students, about whether they wanted to endure the petty disruptions and censorship that was China then. (See the prior post here). Now, the disruptions and threats are at the point where some Chinese teachers, CCP members, would rather quit their jobs than be subject to the terror of the jiwei (discipline inspection bureau). In the case of the comparative politics professor, the dean of her school and the party leader of her school were both disciplined for not controlling what she said in the classroom.
In the last year, I know of three separate incidents, two in Wuhan and one in Tianjin, in which university professors were fired (in one case, the professor reportedly kept his job after begging on his knees) for comments made in class that disturbed the local jiwei (discipline inspection) unit. Either jiwei personnel or students with an axe to grind or guanxi to gain were listening in on the class.
Consider that these new rules are part and parcel of the social credit score, which has been discussed much in the last year. If friends of yours make negative comments, not in your presence, that may reduce your own social credit score. Who will want to collaborate with another faculty member who is impure in thought?
In related developments, the National Radio and Television Administration will now forbid any foreign tv shows to be broadcast in prime time, and foreign content will be limited to 30% of the time on streaming sites. China limits foreign tv shows and streaming.
This reminds me - a liitle bit - of the level of terror in East Germany, or Stalin’s USSR, when family members informed on each other and friends informed on friends. In China, this was last done in the Cultural Revolution. Tellingly, many CCP members have been saying for years that the reign of Xi Jinping reminds them of nothing so much as it does the Cultural Revolution. Of course, now, truly, no one could say that.
I am reminded of the Paul Simon line in Sounds of Silence – “people talking without speaking.” Then, it was hearing without listening. Now, it is what we call “performative declamation” rather than communication – speech acts as performance, without intent to communicate anything of meaning. Those of you with CCP members in your wechat circle will now get only pablum as commentary.
All one need do to understand this system is read Orwell’s 1984, which describes official language perfectly. CCP members are now caught in the doublethink trap. For the most part, CCP members, particularly university teachers, are smart people. But one must now say what is correct, rather than what one knows to be true -
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.
George Orwell. 1984. Book 1, Chapter 3.
One’s speech must conform to the Truth as dictated. And truthfully, it is not too difficult for even thoughtful and smart CCP members to spout the Party line. They learned the style of speech long ago, but its use was becoming limited until 2012. Another name for this type of speech is New China Newspeak, a term popularized by renowned China scholar Geremie Barme. New China Newspeak describes a form of bureaucratic and political speech that uses history, scientific and technical jargon, vernacular references, economics, Chinese victimhood, and moral judgment to argue – seemingly interminably – for the Chinese government perspective as the only rational perspective. New China Newspeak is not always long-winded, but it is repetitious.
See Geremie Barme. New China Newspeak The China Story. Australian Centre on China in the World. August 2, 2012.
Katherine Morton provides an example in The Rights and Responsibilities of Disagreement (The China Story, September 21, 2014) She refers to the “Hall of the Unified Voice” that she experienced while teaching a group of Chinese and foreign students in Turin, Italy, in 2013. When one Chinese student ventured a comment on the Chinese Dream, each Chinese student then felt compelled to comment as well, with vacuous – and similar - statements that were a form of verbal posturing rather than attempt at introducing ideas or stimulating debate. She describes -
an example of ‘group think’ aimed at presenting a united front in the face of independent thinking. It’s just this kind of knee-jerk solidarity that also vouchsafes the individual against the ever-present threat of being reported to the authorities back home.
The current crackdown on expression is part and parcel of this old historical style of speaking and writing. Sophisticated speakers are good at this, but it takes practice. One should begin learning with repetition – war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.
I have a longer essay on Performative Declamation in the book section of the China Reflections blog. It needs a little editing – right now, too much “performative declamation.” But perhaps worth part of a look.