China’s Great Leap Backward

This week, Chinese Communist Party leaders are meeting in Beijing for a plenary session centered on one topic: the rule of law. But the crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, association, and movement now unfolding in China casts doubt on the credibility of the government's commitment to political modernization.

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders are meeting in Beijing for a plenary session centered on one topic: the rule of law. Yet, in recent days, several groups on WeChat (a popular Chinese social network) have described the arrests of nearly 50 Chinese activists who support the protests in Hong Kong. Others have reported on an official order to ban the publication or sale of books by authors who support the Hong Kong protests, human-rights activism, and the rule of law. This casts serious doubt on the credibility of the government’s commitment to its stated goal of political modernization.

Among the banned authors is the economist Mao Yushi, who received the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2012. This is not the first time that Mao’s books have been banned. In 2003, his work was proscribed after he signed a petition appealing to the government to exonerate the student protesters whose democratic movement ended with the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

China often does not even issue an official public notice of censorship; an “anonymous” phone call to a publisher, understood to be from an official agency, will suffice. A couple of articles in one of my own books were deleted without an official explanation, and phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs have regularly been removed from my columns and commentaries in journals and newspapers.

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