Thursday, April 07, 2005

Chinese Communism: Not Dead Yet

There is no question that China has undergone an enormous social and economic transformation over the last 30 years. Despite all the changes, however, politically China remains a one-party Leninist dictatorship. An article from Wednesday's Christian Science Monitor examines the communist regime's continuing efforts to control free thought and expression in the age of the Internet:

In a surprisingly broad and deep targeting of thought and expression here, authorities across China have shut or drastically curtailed college Internet message boards - a powerful vehicle for free exchange, and one used far more by non-students than students.

The message boards are popular among educated Chinese as a "virtual community" for discussing film, dating, sports, politics, and jobs. They have become an unofficial news alternative to state-run TV, radio, and newspapers. Moreover, a single college message board may have hundreds of thousands of users, even though the host-school has only 10,000 to 20,000 students.

The crackdown is another phase of a broad and zealous campaign situated inside the central propaganda department that advocates a "strengthening of ideology" through stricter control over culture, education, and media. Significantly, the campaign runs concurrently with one of the most extensive political ideology programs for party members since the Cultural Revolution.

Since early March, and following a confidential "Circular 17" issued by the Education Ministry, almost all prominent college Web boards have been censored and closed to non-students. Two weeks ago even Shuimu BBS, a 300,000-user bulletin board system at Tsinghua University here, where China's next generation of leaders attend, was gutted.

The censorship of online message boards is just one example of a broader and intensifying crackdown on dissent:

Evidence of a larger ideological campaign is growing. Last fall, media in China were told to restrict the expression of "public intellectuals" who speak or write independently. The activity of nongovernmental organizations has been officially pared down. The teaching of school history is more tightly controlled. And last month, colleges began "strengthening" the four ideology courses students must take.

In addition to suppressing free expression, the Chinese Communist Party is resorting to good old fashioned ideological indoctrination:

Along with the ideology campaign is an extraordinary new party-member education program. It involves three-phase, 18-month meetings designed to "maintain the progressiveness of party members," notes Xinhua state-run media, and to improve members' "ruling capability."

The new campaign is designed to create greater faith in the party among ordinary Chinese. It is also an effort to bring results that communist Eastern Europe was unable to achieve as it became freer during the 1980s, informed sources say. The party in China intends for the country to achieve a high-growth economy, but without the dissent and uncontrolled openness found in the Warsaw bloc prior to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

"At the root of this campaign is a phrase, 'Learn the lessons of 1989,' " says a Beijing source. "But they aren't talking about Tiananmen. It is all about the east bloc. What seems clear is that the Hu Jintao government are serious about control. They are all about being the un-Gorbachev."

"For the first time since the Cultural Revolution, and perhaps even further back, all members of the party must participate in these meetings and be involved," says a senior diplomat. "This isn't fly by night, it is serious. The classes aren't optional."

Beijing enforces the party line

The Chinese Communist Party clearly has no intention of moving towards democracy or loosening its grip on power. Whether they can continue to successfully combine Leninist dictatorship with the imperatives of a globalized, free market economy is an open question.


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