New report details China’s drastic measures to silence opposition and activists
According to the New Yorker, China has been engaging in a concerted effort to stifle anyone it considers dangers to its perception as an idyllic communist paradise that is even wider than previously reported. They do this by exiling and jailing people in a practice called bei luyou, which means “to be touristed,” and consists of systematic surveillance, harassment, and jailing that eventually causes the target to leave. Generally, those who become touristed are people who have been flagged as diehard dissidents of the State and those who are also on the radar of Western human rights organizations.
After 67-year-old veteran Democracy activist and advocate Zha Jianguo was released from a Chinese prison in 2008, he has been constantly surveilled by the police, especially during what the government determines are “sensitive” periods of time, such as the Olympics. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the police parked in front of his home every day and every night as well as occasionally knocking on his door to search his dwelling, and had a detail follow him everywhere he went. Jianguo founded an opposition party, called the Democracy Party and he and all of the leaders of the party were sent to prison in 1999.
During the years between 2012-2017, Jianguo maintained a column on the messaging and social media app WeChat, which he used to debate the state-run media outlet the Global Times. Eventually Jianguo was able to reach tens of thousands with his posts, publishing 456 posts refuting the claims of the Global Times‘ editorial board. In China, organized opposition is limited, so Jianguo’s posts provided a space for critics and bloggers to mount pressure on the Chinese government in an otherwise disconnected community of activists.
Through his reign, President Xi Jinping went from calls to “put power in a cage,” which liberals had initially interpreted as a call to end corruption, to entrenching his own power, using it to literally cage any threats he saw to his own power. The Chinese government is almost daily arresting, detaining, censoring or outright blackmailing anyone and everyone: investigative journalists, public intellectuals, media critics, college professors, editors, publishers, human rights lawyers, and environmental activists are all targets.
As a result of this political climate, dissidents and activists are leaving China in droves. But in a post discussing the nature of patriotism, Jianguo writes, “Wherever there’s freedom, there is my homeland. I’ll never leave.” He told the New Yorker, “If I’m sentenced for another nine years, or twelve, or thirteen years, I’ll just forget about the outside world and focus on my life in prison… But I trust that all free voices cannot be blocked. Even if the roosters are silenced, the dawn shall still come.”