China’s targeting of overseas students stifles rights

New chilling report out today from Amnesty International. The full report can be downloaded as a pdf at the link below. My own comment: It’s worth delving into the psychology of why so many Chinese officials and police officers actually seem to enjoy carrying out all this pointless harassment on behalf of their Great Leader and his Party.–Magnus Fiskesjö, nf42@cornell.edu

Source: Amnesty International (5/13/24)
China: “On my campus, I am afraid”: China’s targeting of overseas students stifles rights

Chinese and Hong Kong students studying abroad are living in fear of intimidation, harassment and surveillance as Chinese authorities seek to prevent them engaging with “sensitive” or political issues. This climate of fear on campuses in Europe and North America is the result of Chinese authorities’ transnational repression against overseas students, in violation of their human rights. The chilling effect engendered by these efforts prompts broad self-censorship in academic and social settings, and many affected students experience loneliness, isolation and negative mental health impacts.

New revelations on Chinese state spies

Harrowing revelations today, in text and video from Australia’s ABC, on how Chinese state spies are force recruited and how they work in countries like Australia, harrassing and abducting victims, and in victim relay countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand:

VIDEO: Unmasking the man who’s been spying for China | Four Corners. ABC News In-depth, 13 May 2024. 47:23 min.

TEXT: China’s secret spy, by Echo Hui, Elise Potaka, and Dylan Welch. Four Corners, ABC Australia, Published 13 May 2024.
For the first time ever, an undercover agent for China’s secret police steps out of the shadows to tell all about where he’s been and who he’s been targeting.

Posted by: Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Liao Yiwu on two poems and four years of detention

Source: The Guardian (5/9/24)
Two poems, four years in detention: the Chinese dissident who smuggled his writing out of prison
My poems were written in anger after Tiananmen Square. But what motivates most prison writing is a fear of forgetting. Today I am free, but the regime has never stopped its war on words
By (Translated by Michael Martin Day)

Liao Yiwu in Paris in 2019. Photograph: Yoan Valat, EPA/EFE.

Most of my manuscripts are locked up in the filing cabinets of the ministry of security, and the agents there study and ponder them repeatedly, more carefully than the creator himself. The guys working this racket have superb memories; a certain chief of the Chengdu public security bureau can still recite the poems I published in an underground magazine in the 1980s. While the literati write nostalgically, hoping to go down in literary history, the real history may be locked in the vaults of the security department.

The above is excerpted from my book June 4: My Testimony, published in Taiwan in 2011. I wrote that book three times, the later drafts on paper much better than the paper I used for writing in prison, which was so soft and brittle I had to write very lightly. Paper outside prison is solid and flexible enough that you don’t have to worry about puncturing it with the tip of a pen. Thus, I restrained myself and filled in a page of paper, and then how many thousand – ten thousand? More? How many ant-sized words can be packed on to a page? Who knows.

I spent four years in prison for two poems, Massacre and Requiem, both of which railed against the Tiananmen massacre that began in the early hours of 4 June 1989. Fuelled by extreme anger, I recited Massacre and made it into an audiotape, which was distributed to more than 20 cities across China. I worked with the Canadian sinologist Michael Martin Day, who was living in my home at the time. After mustering a mob of sorts, we made Requiem into a performance art film. On 16 March 1990, I was arrested and imprisoned. About two dozen underground poets and writers were detained and interrogated, but only eight would be named as defendants in the first indictment in the case against this “counter-revolutionary clique”.

I passed through an interrogation centre, a detention centre, No 2 prison and No 3 prison in Sichuan province. During the two years and two months I spent in the detention centre, I wrote and preserved 28 short poems and eight letters, which I hid in the spine of a hardcover edition of the medieval novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I used paste to “repair” and restore it, before it was eventually taken out of the prison after passing through many hands. In the last prison, No 3 prison in north-east Sichuan, I secretly wrote more than 200 pages of manuscripts. These were published after my release in a four-volume book with the title Go on Living. Continue reading

HK court bans democracy song

Source: NYT (5/8/24)
Hong Kong Court Bans Democracy Song, Calling It a ‘Weapon’
The decision could give the government power to force Google and other tech companies to limit access to “Glory to Hong Kong,” an anthem of 2019 protests.
By Tiffany May, Reporting from Hong Kong

People, most of them wearing face masks, gather outdoors and sing at night. Many of them are holding their phones to shine lights.

People singing “Glory to Hong Kong” during a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong in 2019. Credit…Philip Fong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Hong Kong court on Wednesday granted a government request to ban a popular pro-democracy anthem, raising further concerns about free speech in the city.

The decision, which overturned an initial ruling, could give the government power to force Google and other tech companies to restrict online access to the song in Hong Kong. The decision threatens to deepen anxiety about the city’s status as an international gateway to China, away from its censorship controls.

At issue in the case is “Glory to Hong Kong,” which emerged in 2019 as an unofficial anthem for democracy protests and a flashpoint for the authorities, who considered it an insult to China’s national anthem. The song has been banned from Hong Kong schools and has drawn angry official rebukes when played, apparently by mistake, at international sports events.

Beijing has asserted greater control over the former British colony in recent years by imposing a national security law that has crushed nearly all forms of dissent. People convicted of posting seditious content online have gone to prison.

Lin Jian, a spokesman of China’s foreign ministry, said in a news briefing that the court’s verdict was a “legitimate and necessary move by Hong Kong to fulfill its constitutional responsibility of safeguarding national security and the dignity of the national anthem.” Continue reading

Red Renaissance

Source: China Media Project (5/6/24)
Red Renaissance
China’s leadership is actively pushing culture throughout the country’s vast rural hinterland, including through hundreds of thousands of “rural bookrooms.” But the overriding goal is to push the Party’s continued dominance at China’s grassroots — to the detriment of real cultural development.
By David Bandurski and Dalia Parete

Rural Bookroom.

In early February, Chinese media teemed with stories of cultural festivities in rural villages countrywide. In a “rural bookroom” in Xinjiang’s Ha’ermodun Village, a series of events “enriched the spiritual lives of villagers,” according to a local news release. More than 4,000 kilometers away, in Fujian’s Shuqiao Village, residents held a “Rural Spring Festival Gala” featuring song and dance performances. Down south, in a remote corner of Hunan province, more than 50 residents gathered for a “village lecture.”

These and thousands of similar events across China’s vast rural hinterland are part of a concerted push to achieve what the Chinese Communist Party leadership has called the “revitalization of rural culture” — and at first glance, the ambitious policy seems to offer an unprecedented level of cultural access at the grassroots.

Take, for example, the country’s growing network of rural bookrooms (农家书屋). First introduced as a pilot project in 2005, rural bookroom growth boomed through the 2010s, their numbers soaring past 580,000 nationwide by the end of 2021. For perspective, those numbers translate to 428 rural bookrooms on average in each of China’s 1,355 counties. Given these astonishing numbers, one might assume the rapid development of rural bookrooms has put literature in the hands of millions. Continue reading

Women quietly find a powerful voice

Source: NYT (5/6/24)
In China, Ruled by Men, Women Quietly Find a Powerful Voice
Women in Shanghai gather in bars, salons and bookstores to reclaim their identities as the country’s leader calls for China to adopt a “childbearing culture.”
By Alexandra Stevenson

Du Wen sits on a motorbike parked outside a bar at night, with another women sitting on a chair next to her.

Du Wen at Her, the bar she started last year, in Shanghai. “I think everyone living in this city seems to have reached this stage that they want to explore more about the power of women,” she said. Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

In bars tucked away in alleys and at salons and bookstores around Shanghai, women are debating their place in a country where men make the laws.

Some wore wedding gowns to take public vows of commitment to themselves. Others gathered to watch films made by women about women. The bookish flocked to female bookshops to read titles like “The Woman Destroyed” and “Living a Feminist Life.”

Women in Shanghai, and some of China’s other biggest cities, are negotiating the fragile terms of public expression at a politically precarious moment. China’s ruling Communist Party has identified feminism as a threat to its authority. Female rights activists have been jailed. Concerns about harassment and violence against women are ignored or outright silenced.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has diminished the role of women at work and in public office. There are no female members of Mr. Xi’s inner circle or the Politburo, the executive policymaking body. He has invoked more traditional roles for women, as caretakers and mothers, in planning a new “childbearing culture” to address a shrinking population.

But groups of women around China are quietly reclaiming their own identities. Many are from a generation that grew up with more freedom than their mothers. Women in Shanghai, profoundly shaken by a two-month Covid lockdown in 2022, are being driven by a need to build community. Continue reading

Number of writers jailed in China exceeds 100

Source: The Guardian (5/1/24)
Number of writers jailed in China exceeds 100 for first time, says report
Freedom to Write index says there are 107 people in prison for published content in China, with many accused of ‘picking quarrels’
By Senior China correspondent

A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong holds up signs in support of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who has been in prison since 2020. Photograph: Miguel Candela/EPA

The number of writers jailed in China has surpassed 100, with nearly half imprisoned for online expression.

The grim milestone is revealed in the 2023 Freedom to Write index, a report compiled by Pen America, published on Wednesday.

With the total number of people imprisoned globally for exercising their freedom of expression estimated to be at least 339, China accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s jailed writers. There are 107 people behind bars because of their published statements in China, more than any other country on the index.

It is the first time that Pen America’s count of writers jailed in China has surpassed 100. Other databases, such as the Reporters Without Borders’ tally of journalists and media workers detained in China, passed that milestone in 2020.

The index defined “online commentator” as bloggers and people who used social media as their main platform for expression. Continue reading

Shades of Yellow

Source: China Media Project (4/24/24)
Shades of Yellow
In its latest two-month campaign against public accounts on domestic social media platforms, China’s cyberspace control body is targeting falsehood and sensationalism. The ugly truth is that the country’s state-run media, which are not to be touched by the purge, are some of the worst culprits.
By David Bandurski

Another day, another campaign. On Tuesday, China’s top internet control body announced that it was launching a two-month crackdown on “self-media” (自媒体), referring to social media accounts that are generally operated by members of the public. The action focuses on five categories of self-media content and calls on social media platforms to strengthen controls across the board.

At the top of the list of violations released by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is “self-directed fakery” (自导自演式造假), an unmistakable reference to an online scandal that unfolded earlier this month when an internet influencer was found to have fabricated a video claiming to have located the homework book of a Chinese student that had been lost on winter vacation in Paris. The emotional story had gone viral across the country before its exposure, and the authorities followed by banning the influencer’s account, which they said had “damaged the online ecosystem and wasted public resources.”

Next on the CAC’s list of no-noes is the “no-holds-barred hyping of social hot points” (不择手段蹭炒社会热点), which points broadly to the use of spurious techniques such as fictionalizing events or spreading conspiracy theories to take advantage of trending topics. The CAC reiterates the point that such online stories result in the “waste of public resources” (浪费公共资源).

The hyping of hot points is followed on the CAC list by the “use of generalizations to set the topic” (以偏概全设置话题). This includes the use of controversial or negative terms to create attention-grabbing headlines, and exaggerating negative narratives or making “extreme statements” (偏激言论), which the CAC says is damaging to social consensus. Continue reading

Taiwan will tear down remaining Chiang statues

Source: SCMP (4/22/24)
Taiwan will tear down all remaining statues of Chiang Kai-shek in public spaces
DPP government says more than 760 statues of Chiang, who ruled the island for nearly three decades, will be swiftly removed. The move is seen as a bid to erase his legacy and ‘will be seen as an unfriendly gesture towards mainland China’, analyst says
By Lawrence Chung in Taipei

There are hundreds of statues of late president Chiang Kai-shek in public spaces across Taiwan. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Taiwan’s government will remove all remaining statues of late president Chiang Kai-shek from public spaces in what is seen as a bid to erase his legacy and the historical link with mainland China.

Chiang ruled the island for nearly three decades until his death in 1975. He had led his Nationalist or Kuomintang troops to Taiwan in 1949 and set up an interim government on the island, declaring martial law, after being defeated in a civil war by the Communists on the mainland.

Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party government set up a transitional justice commission in 2018 to investigate Chiang’s rule, finding perceived political dissidents had been persecuted and he had misused government funds to benefit the KMT.

One of the commission’s proposals was to remove thousands of Chiang statues across Taiwan. Critics have branded Chiang as a dictator who sent troops to kill hundreds of civilians during unrest in 1947 and say he does not deserve to be remembered.

On Monday, a cabinet official told the legislature that the interior ministry would swiftly remove the more than 760 statues of Chiang that are still standing across the island. Continue reading

Transnational Repression event

Note the double China connection in the below upcoming event on Transnational Repression, with Rushan Abbas, the Uyghur activist (who will present her film In Search of My Sister, at Cornell cinema the evening before), and Prof. Sean Roberts, longtime writer on Uyghur issues, including on transnational repression and on how the Chinese regime has been copying, adopting, and expanding US war-on-terror rhetoric and practices. This is an in-person event but will likely be recorded and made available afterwards./ Magnus Fiskesjö, nf42@cornell.edu

Panel on Transnational Repression
Biotechnology Building, G10, Central Campus, Cornell university
Thursday, April 25, 2024 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm
https://events.cornell.edu/event/panel-on-transnational-repression

Governments engage in transnational repression when they reach across borders to silence dissidents living abroad. Tactics for transnational repression include assassinations, abductions, threats, and direct action against dissidents’ families and friends living within the repressive government’s territory. This panel will focus on this global phenomenon and its local consequences for students and faculty members at Cornell, U.S. campuses more broadly, and other communities around the world. It will include the voices of dissidents affected by transnational repression as well as scholars and experts working in the field.

This is a panel discussion following the April 24 documentary In Search of My Sister screening. The film chronicles Rushan Abbas’s relentless pursuit of truth and justice. Continue reading

Journalists document decline in media freedom

Source: China Digital Times (4/9/24)
Journalists Document Decline of Media Freedom in China, Hong Kong
By Arthur Kaufman

In its annual report on the state of media freedom in China last year, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) described how authorities used COVID prevention measures to “strangle” foreign news bureaus’ China coverage. This year’s edition of the report, released on Monday and titled “Masks Off, Barriers Remain,” demonstrates that while conditions over the past year have improved slightly due to the lifting of China’s zero-COVID policies, the government has continued to engage in heavy-handed surveillance, obstruction, and intimidation of foreign correspondents:

  • No respondents said reporting conditions surpassed pre-pandemic conditions.
  • Almost all respondents (99%) said reporting conditions in China rarely or never met international reporting standards.

[…] • Four out of five (81%) respondents said they had experienced interference, harassment, or violence.

  • 54% of respondents were obstructed at least once by police or other officials (2022: 56%), 45% encountered obstruction at least once by persons unknown (2022: 36%).

[..] Technology plays an increasingly important role in the surveillance toolkit deployed by the Chinese authorities to monitor and interfere in the work of the foreign journalist community. For the first time, respondents told the FCCC of authorities using drones to monitor them in the field.

  • A majority of respondents had reason to believe the authorities had possibly or definitely compromised their WeChat (81%), their phone (72%), and/or placed audio recording bugs in their office or home (55%).

[…] • Almost a third (32%) of respondents said their bureau was understaffed because they have been unable to bring in the required number of new reporters.

[…] • 49% of respondents indicated their Chinese colleague(s) had been pressured, harassed, or intimidated at least once (2022: 45%; 2021: 40%) [Source] Continue reading

Self-kidnappings

Source: The Diplomat (4/8/24)
Self-kidnappings by Chinese Students Abroad: Mystery Solved
The puzzle presented by these incidents can only be understood in the context of China’s police brutality and growing transnational repression.
By Magnus Fiskesjö

Self-kidnappings by Chinese Students Abroad: Mystery Solved

Credit: Depositphotos.

One of the most baffling news items in recent years has been the cases of Chinese students abroad who effectively kidnap themselves for ransom. They leave home, even tie themselves up with ropes, all on the orders of Chinese cyber-criminals – who are not even there with them.

They may be asked to put bags on their heads, or to cry on camera. They are invariably made to take kidnapping selfie pictures or videos of their suffering. The criminals then use these to blackmail their parents into depositing ransom money to bank accounts in China. Occasionally, the criminals mix in threats of pending arrest, or extradition back to China, as would-be punishment for alleged fraud or other crime said to have been committed by the students or their families. Invariably, the victims are told to cut off all contact with their family and the outside world, and to perform for the camera. Sometimes this is framed as necessary to help the consulate or the police with their “investigations.” There is no logic – except that of perceived power.

During the last few years, a long series of incidents along these lines have involved Chinese students in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States – all destinations where Chinese parents with a lot of money send their children to study.

It’s easy to see that this creates an opportunity for criminal fraudsters. The basic scheme of the student kidnappings forms part of a wider array of phone scams, and the peculiar niche of student scams seem to have perpetrators moving from country to country, perhaps as media attention disrupts their chances of success.

But why do all these Chinese students allow themselves to be kidnapped by telephone, and even go on to stage the crime themselves? How should we understand this phenomenon? Continue reading

Literature exam questions inspire nationalist outburst

Source: China Digital Times (3/29/24)
“Toxic” Literature Exam Questions Inspire Nationalist, Anti-Japanese Outburst
By 

A middle school literature exam in Chengdu  has triggered the latest outburst of anti-Japanese nationalism. Students were asked to analyze an excerpt from “Fallen Azaleas,” an amateurish piece of fiction by the virtually unknown author and educator Li Jiaqian. The selection that went viral follows a Japanese colonel in World War II pursuing a band of Chinese Communist guerillas he holds responsible for the disappearance of his son. Nationalists accused Li—and Chengdu’s bureau of education—of insulting the legendary Eighth Route Army and glorifying Japan’s invasion of China. The author of the piece was subsequently sacked from his position as principal of a school in Henan, and the head of the education department in the Chengdu district that offered the exam has been suspended from duty.

But to many, the outrage over the “toxic” exam material rang hollow. WeChat author “Very Serious Zhang Doe” (@特正经的张某某 @Tèzhèngjīng de Zhāng Mǒumǒu), reflecting on the “idiocy” of nationalism, intimated that the most truly toxic materials taught in school are the “profound and glorious” writings of Mao Zedong:

Returning to my original point: why don’t I usually write about this stuff?

Because I think that discussing this kind of thing inevitably leads back to the screenshots below.

And is it even my generation’s place to discuss such profound and glorious material?

That’s why I don’t write [about “toxic” materials]. [Chinese] Continue reading

RFA closes HK office

Source: WSJ (3/29/24)
U.S.-Funded Radio Free Asia Closes Hong Kong Office in Wake of New Security Law
News outlet cites questions about safety as the city intensifies scrutiny of ‘external forces’
By Elaine Yu

Hong Kong’s new law imposes severe punishments for interference by foreign forces deemed to threaten national security. PHOTO: JAE C. HONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

HONG KONG—Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded news operation, closed its office in Hong Kong, an early sign of the impact that a new national security law is having on some media operations in the Asian financial center.

The law, which went into effect Saturday, imposes severe punishments for interference by foreign forces deemed to threaten national security and criminalizes the possession or disclosure of state secrets.

RFA, as a publication supported by the U.S. federal gov-ernment, was potentially more exposed than commercial media outlets to provisions in the new law. In a news briefing last month, Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang criticized RFA for what he called incorrect reporting that some of the new law’s offenses target the media, and noted that the publication is funded by Washington.

RFA President Bay Fang said Friday that the news outlet closed its Hong Kong bureau in response to the law and no longer has full-time staff in the city, but it is keeping its official media registration there.

Actions by Hong Kong authorities “raise serious questions about our ability to operate in safety,” Fang said. The news outlet maintains an organizational firewall to safeguard its editorial independence from its funder, the U.S. Congress, Fang added. Continue reading

Wang Xiaoshuai draws censors’ wrath

Source: NYT (3/27/29)
Filmmaker Draws Censors’ Wrath: ‘A Price I Have to Accept’
Wang Xiaoshuai is among the few Chinese artists who refuse to bend to state limitations on the subjects they explore.
By Li Yuan

“I always strive for creative freedom,” Wang Xiaoshuai said. “But it’s become impossible because of the circumstances.” Credit…Olivia Lifungula for The New York Times

China’s film industry was operating under a planned economy when Wang Xiaoshuai graduated from Beijing Film Academy in 1989. Only a few studios, all state-owned, were allowed to make movies.

Eager to start careers as filmmakers, Mr. Wang and some friends scraped together about $6,000, borrowed a camera and persuaded a company to give them film for free. His directorial debut, “The Days,” about a despondent artist couple, was screened at film festivals in Europe in 1994. The British Broadcasting Corporation listed it as one of the 100 best films of all time.

But the Chinese film authorities weren’t happy. They barred Mr. Wang from working in the industry because he had screened “The Days” at foreign film festivals without their permission.

Mr. Wang, like many other artists in China, found ways around the ban, and he went on to become one of the country’s most acclaimed directors as the restrictions loosened. But last month, history repeated itself. When he screened his latest film, “Above the Dust,” at the Berlin International Film Festival, his company got a call from China’s censors. He was ordered to withdraw it or risk severe consequences.

“I didn’t expect that after 30 years, I would end up back in the same place,” he told me in an interview from London, where’s he’s staying for now. Continue reading