(I took this photo during my Peace Corps service in rural China. It shows the aftermath of many grand celebrations during the Spring Festival in 2011)
A recent Newsweek article by Rosemary Righter highlighted the Maoist policy from 1957, loosely interpreted as “reeducation through labor,” and canonized as a convenient way to get enemies – or problematic individuals out of the way.
In the wake of increasingly controversial victims – a mother seeking harsher punishment for the gang who raped her 11-year old daughter, really? (though many of the stoic hand would quickly pronounce that she has been released), Laojiao itself has met the microscope.
While Righter argues for the abolition of the policy altogether – after all, isn’t China becoming freer? Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the possibility might just be around the corner (in the most preliminary sense, naturally). While he did give an official announcement that the policy would be terminated when the National People’s Congress stamps the proposed reform in March, this is easier said than done; government censors shut it down.
The official rewording in a prominent news publication from Guangzhou stated a “reform” of the policy, opposed to termination. The connection not shown was how the machine has apparently developed a mind of its own.
How is it, in the era of unprecedentedly aggressive calls for anti-corruption and transparency in the aftermath of the Bo Xi Lai scandal, that the censorship can so bluntly revise the most notable of politician’s rhetoric in such an obviously doctored manner? As hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people eagerly awaited the official printed version of the speech, what makes the official censor would even presuppose they could sneak such a cascade by so many spectators.
In the country where “death vans” are on the rise – kidnapping prisoners condemned to death row, unawares, and executing them by lethal injection (to save their provincial governments the extra transportation fine to Beijing, where all previous executions took place), it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Article 73, the controversial new law that enables government officials to secretly arrest individuals suspected of security breeches isn’t so much of a stretch.
During my Peace Corps service in the rural northwest (2010-2012), a federal prison facility opened in the city where I lived. During the transition period, the government shut down any and all activity for two consecutive nights, imposing a mandatory curfew on the entire city after 6pm, threatening severe legal ramifications for any disobedience.
As Righter sums up nicely, “caught between soft-cop propaganda and tough-cop instincts, Beijing looks ridiculous.”☼