Closing Rank On Reform

The door is closed, the light dimmed, the voices squelched–whatever you want to call it, recent news brings more evidence of hard-line attitudes seizing the day and using the power of the megaphone to systematically undermine more moderate voices.

I mentioned a week or so ago some speeches by President Hu Jintao advocating a moderate view of political reform. The speeches were given in the lead up to an important central party meeting, the Fifth Plenary Conference of the 17th Central Committee (planning party of the biggest bosses). The hope was that it might signal a more lenient stance coming out of the meeting.

Apparently, the opposite happened. Official descriptions of the meeting reaffirmed the status quo, and, to bring the point home, a series of editorials did the same on the front pages of the China Daily. There is even evidence in the particular style of the editorials that the message represents the policy attitude from the Central Committee.

An article in the Chinese press, that has since been censored but is available through the China Media Project, explained the connection between the editorials and the Central Committee’s stance. A combination of the extreme sensitivity of the content, their remarkably central placement, and the history of using pseudonyms as a way of presenting political opinions from influential groups of people all point to the importance and finality of the editorial’s opinion.

As if to confirm that the signal has been sent and received, one of the signers of the other an open-letter calling for press freedom, which I also mentioned last week, was censored by the government. Professor Xin Ziling was set to give a talk called “The Political Reform Question.” The event was cancelled.

Then there’s the continued criticism of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, in the form of articles explaining how he is a greedy tool of western media elites. Suffice to say the attack is almost entirely personal in nature, completely failing to mention his ideas.

Oh, and Ai Wei Wei, one of the premier artists of the country, was put under house arrest in Beijing to keep him from attending a party he had organized in Shanghai. Granted, the reason for the party was to protest a government order that his studio in Shanghai be destroyed.

It seems the voice from on high has spoken, “no change necessary,” and so life continues a pace.

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