Liu Xiaobo vs. China's Communist Government
4:50 PM, Oct 18, 2010 • By KELLEY CURRIE
The excellent China news aggregation and commentary site Danwei noted that what we are now seeing "suggests that the Party's propaganda apparatus is finally gearing up to 'lead public opinion,' a media control strategy used by the Party since 2005. Before 2005, the Party typically responded to negative events by suppressing all related news stories. Over the last five years, however, the Party's more common reaction to politically sensitive news has been to temporarily block all reports, craft an official version of events, and order media outlets to publish only the official version." And while Beijing is busy pushing its own narrative, contacts inside China report that efforts to search for information on Liu from non-Chinese sources remain heavily blocked.
Despite this sophisticated effort, the regime has not been able to keep all its citizens' thoughts in line, judging by some of the commentary that has leaked out through holes in the Great Firewall over the past week. China Digital Times has translated some of Chinese netizens' sarcastic and mocking posts directed at the authorities here. My personal favorite is a hilarious imagined conversation between Chinese president Hu Jintao and the prosecutor in Liu's case, in which the prosecutor explains to Hu how various "subversive" elements of Charter 08 (which Liu was jailed for co-authoring) have their roots in Chinese Communist Party documents and quotations from CCP leaders.
And its not just snarky Chinese tweeps who are pushing back on the party's attempts to "harmonize" this issue. A group of 200 Chinese intellectuals, activists and lawyers published an open letter supporting Liu and calling for the Chinese leadership to seize this opportunity to move forward political reforms toward democratization. Perhaps more significantly, a group of 23 Chinese Communist Party "elders" has issued its own public letter that doesn't mention Liu by name but does attack the "invisible dead hand" of the propaganda system and call for dramatic expansions of freedom of expression. This letter was actually written a week before Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize and was allegedly written in response to several recent pro-reform comments by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. China watchers are speculating that Wen, and possibly Hu, are attempting to push back against party hardliners in the ongoing leadership succession process.
The true extent and nature of what is happening in China's opaque political system right now is obviously unknown and unknowable to those of us outside its upper echelons, but it seems clear that something is fomenting and the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is playing a role.