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Spectacle of Power Cannot Conceal Deep Insecurity

September 30, 2009

To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, the Chinese government is staging a celebration that leaders claim will be unprecedented in scale. 1

Domestically, the government has expended enormous amounts of money and resources and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people for spectacular performances. The festivities will culminate in a military parade – reportedly costing $44 million2  – that will display China’s most cutting-edge weaponry, including nuclear intercontinental antiballistic missiles, in a spectacular show of power for both domestic and international consumption.

Around the world, the Chinese government has managed to greatly expand its presence by securing the support of some of the world’s most important international, cultural, and media institutions, as well as the Empire State Building, the tallest building in New York City.

China’s increasing soft power has two major consequences for human rights: it lends legitimacy to a political regime that continues to violate human rights, and it lulls the international community into forgetting the serious, ongoing human rights issues in China.

Showcasing a militarized stability

In preparation for October 1, the government has surrounded Beijing with a massive security apparatus. The deployment of more than a hundred thousand People’s Armed Police and public security officers and some 800,000 civilian volunteers3  has turned the center of Beijing into a heavily fortified zone. Residents living on both sides of Chang’an Avenue, the military parade route, are ordered not to open their windows or stand on their balcony4  during the parade. Cai Changjun, an expert on anti-terrorist tactics, who teaches at the China Defense University and the Special Armed Police Academy, said that during this period, Beijing is likely to set a national record for having the strongest police forces and “highest safety index.”5  Zhou Yongkang, a senior leader in the Communist Party and head of the Central Political and Legislative Committee that oversees law enforcement, has referred to the massive security buildup in Beijing as a “people’s war.”6   The unprecedented scale of security, ironically, reflects not power, but the government’s insecurity about maintaining it.

Expansion of not-so-“soft” power

The Chinese government is taking the opportunity this year to increase China’s presence in the world through cultural and media channels and in multilateral international venues. Some illustrative examples:

•    A celebratory photo exhibit dedicated to the PRC’s 60th anniversary is currently on view at the UN Headquarters in New York.

•    This fall, some of America’s most prestigious cultural institutions, including Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum, are partnering with China to mount a three-week Chinese cultural festival in New York that is billed as “a citywide festival paying tribute to China’s diverse and vibrant culture and its influence around the world.”7  Titled “Ancient Paths, Modern Voices,” the festival will present more than two dozen music and arts programs, including performances by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, pianist Li Yundi, programs of Chinese dance and calligraphy, and special exhibitions and panel discussions of art and cultural topics. While promoting cultural exchange and understanding, this rich cultural festival runs the risk of marginalizing censored voices.

•    China is Guest of Honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14-18) – the most important book publishing trade fair. To capitalize on the occasion, China is reportedly sending some 2,000 publishers, artists, journalists, and writers to the fair at the expense of US $15 million and has organized more than 600 cultural events that began in March.8  The official Chinese website for the book fair features a message from Liu Binjie, Director of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), the government agency that oversees all media and publishing work, urging all concerned to “Go out to let the world taste the charm of Chinese culture.”9  Yet the Chinese government has placed tight restrictions on who can attend as it pressured the organizers of a related symposium to disinvite investigative journalist Dai Qing, and barred censored writer Liao Yiwu from leaving China to go to a related conference in Berlin It has also been reported that China has put pressure on the book fair’s organizers to restrict dissemination of “sensitive” material – for example, material relating to Tibet and Xinjiang.

•    The Empire State Building will light up in red and yellow on September 30 and October 1 to mark the “60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.”

•    On September 23, 2009, the New York Times carried an 8-page, full-size insert of the China Daily, China’s state-run English-language newspaper. Though the insert is identified as an advertisement, that the Times allowed the Chinese government’s official English news outlet to use its distribution channel to reach its readers raises concerns about the independence of Western media reporting on China.

The last example also illustrates a new media strategy that has been articulated by Liu Binjie. In a November 2008 interview, Liu said that for the Chinese media to achieve international status, it must transcend national boundaries and compete in the international market. Otherwise, Liu said, China would not be able to lead public opinion and would remain a country that lacks cultural soft power.10

Human rights consequences: who pays?

Human Rights in China has identified the following areas of human rights concerns that have worsened in the lead up to October 1.

Rights defenders and civil society under attack

In the months leading up to National Day, the Chinese authorities have used various means to silence and restrict the activities of rights defenders, activists, and writers. In September 2009 alone, HRIC has documented more than two dozen cases of sentencing, arrest and detention, surveillance and house arrest, forced departure from home, and disappearance. (See attached document for more detailed information on the cases.)

In addition, two civil society groups became the target of government actions:

•    Gongmeng (公盟) shutdown11

On July 14, 2009, the Beijing-based public interest organization Gongmeng, also known as Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), received notices from state and local tax authorities ordering it to pay 1.42 million yuan (US $208,000) in fines for tax violations. Gongmeng, founded by lawyers and legal scholars and supported by a group of rights defense lawyers, had registered as a for-profit company rather than a civil society organization due to the restrictive requirements under relevant regulations. On July 17, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs shut down Gongmeng’s Law Research Center, citing its failure to register with the government. Gongmeng had recently been advising family members of victims of the tainted milk powder scandal to file suits against those responsible. On July 29, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), director and co-founder of Gongmeng, was detained and subsequently charged on tax evasion in connection with Gongmeng. On August 17, Gongmeng was officially shut down for providing “false data” when it registered as a company, and because the public interest activities of Gongmeng were inconsistent with its commercial enterprise designation.

•    Yirenping Center (益仁平中心) investigated12

On July 29, offices of the Yirenping Center, a public interest organization specializing in health education and advocacy against health-related discrimination, were raided by the Beijing Public Security Bureau and the Cultural Market Administrative Law Enforcement General Brigade. Authorities stated that the Center was being investigated on suspicion of engaging in publishing activities. More than 90 copies of the Center’s “China’s Anti-Discrimination Legal Action Newsletter” were confiscated.

Rule of law undermined

The Chinese judicial authorities continue to intensify their restrictions on lawyers and law firms by using procedural measures. Courts, in violation of the law, have delayed issuing trial decisions on three high profile cases.

•    Independence of lawyers and law firms threatened13

In 2009, about 20 Chinese rights defense lawyers and law firms were unable to receive their “annual licensing inspection and registration” (年度考核登记) approval from their respective professional regulating bodies, a requirement for lawyers to continue to practice law and law firms to operate. The lawyers and firms that failed the inspection had supported direct election of representatives of the Beijing Lawyers Association, called for lowering the annual lawyer’s registration fee, and defended cases involving Falun Gong, HIV/AIDS, peasants who have lost land, victims of the tainted milk powder scandal, Reeducation-Through-Labor, house churches, and victims of forced evictions. The law firms that were unable to have their licenses renewed include: Anhui (北京市安汇律师事务所) and Shunhe (北京市舜和律师事务所). The lawyers who were not able to have their licenses renewed include: Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Heping (李和平) and Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵).

•    Delayed trial decisions in violation of law

In August, two Sichuan earthquake activists and an advocate of political reform and multi-party elections based in Jiangsu Province were tried. But the court in each case has, as of September 29, 2009, not issued a decision, in violation of Article 168 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, which requires a court to “pronounce judgment on a case … within one month or, one and a half months at the latest, after accepting it for trial.” The cases are:

Huang Qi (黄琦)14 : Huang Qi was detained in June 2008, after publishing news about the plight of parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake. Huang, a founder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center (天网人权), was tried in a closed hearing at the Chengdu Wuhou District Court on August 5, 2009, for “illegally possessing state secrets.” The court has yet to issue its decision and did not provide an explanation for the delay. Before the trial, Pu Fei (浦飞), a witness preparing to testify for Huang, was kidnapped in Chengdu by four police officers, and was detained by the police for two days. He was released after the conclusion of Huang’s hearing.

Tan Zuoren (谭作人)15 : In February 2009, Tan, a writer and environmental activist, wrote a proposal titled “5.12 Student Archive,” which called on volunteers to travel to Sichuan to document the cases, and in March 2009, published online an “Independent Investigative Report By Citizens,” the results of a nearly three-month long investigation of families who lost their children in the collapsed schools. Tan was detained on March 12 and was tried in the Intermediate People’s Court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on August 12, 2009, for “incitement to subvert state power.” Before the trial, the well-known artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未),16   who had made a special trip from Beijing to Chengdu in the hope of attending the trial as a witness for Tan, was beaten by Chengdu police and detained in his hotel room for 11 hours. The court has not yet issued its decision on the trial and did not provide an explanation for the delay.

Guo Quan (郭泉)17 : Guo Quan was a Nanjing-based advocate of political reform and multi-party elections and a prolific writer of online articles until his detention in November 2008. He was tried on August 7, 2009 for “subversion of state power” in Suqian City Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province. Ten days later, on August 17, the court issued an “extension of decision on hearing” (延期审理决定书) at the request of the prosecution.

Increasing information control

Since the summer, the Chinese authorities have attempted to use technology as well as laws and regulations to restrict the flow of information. These measures have not only limited access to information by people in China, but have also undermined the ability of Western media to report accurately on the country.

•    Information control by technology:

“Green Dam Youth Escort” 18

In May 2009, the Chinese government issued a directive that required the pre-installation of Internet filtering software – “Green Dam Youth Escort” – on all computers manufactured and sold in China. The order prompted an uproar from software and hardware manufacturers worldwide and among Chinese netizens. The Chinese government subsequently clarified the order, stating that the installation of Green Dam is mandatory only in schools, Internet cafes, and other community and public venues.

“Blue Shield”

A July 2, 2009 press release issued by the China Business Press Release Newswire described a new filtering software, “Blue Dam” (蓝坝) – later renamed “Blue Shield” (蓝盾) – developed by Shanghai Andatong Information Safety Technology Company (上海安达通信息安全技术股份有限公司), which is 20 times more powerful at filtering content than Green Dam. On September 11, Radio Free Asia reported that many internet [service] providers were being required to install the Blue Shield filtering software. The providers were given a deadline of September 13. Thus far, no government notice requiring the installation of Blue Shield has been made public.

Access to Internet in Xinjiang severely curtailed

The Chinese government also shut down Internet service in Xinjiang in the wake of ethnic violence in early July 2009. On September 27, the Xinjiang government passed the “Information Promotion Bill,” making it a criminal offence to use the Internet to incite ethnic separatism or harm social stability. The bill also requires Internet service providers and network operators to monitor their users and report any violations.

•    Information control by laws and regulations: proposed revisions to State Secrets Law19

On June 22, 2009, a draft revision of China’s Law on Guarding State Secrets (中华人民共和国保守国家秘密法) was given a first reading at the Ninth Session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC). Although the draft revision was reviewed, it was not adopted by the NPC. Instead, on June 27, 2009, the NPC released the draft revision for public review and comment.

China’s state secrets system – with the Law on Guarding State Secrets as its centerpiece – is perhaps the most powerful tool the Chinese government has at its disposal to control access to information and to punish those who express views disapproved of by the government. As indicated by an explanation of the proposed changes in the draft revision, the revision is meant to address technological advances that have taken place since the Law on Guarding State Secrets was promulgated in 1988, and to place broader, tighter, and more rigorous control over classified information in the digital age.

As China becomes increasingly engaged with the world, the human and societal costs of these government actions will continue to expand beyond the Chinese border. The future of greater human rights protections in China depends on the Chinese government’s compliance with international human rights obligations, and the international community’s ability to not allow China’s economic and political clout, and its increasing “soft power,” to obscure the consequences of its actions.

1Zan Aizong, “The Chinese Communist Party Prepares for the 60th Anniversary Celebration: Nervous as an Army going to Battle,” China Rights Forum, 2009, no. 3.

2Michael Forsythe and Li Ming, “Beijing Streets on Oct. 1 Will Sport Nuclear Missiles,” Bloomberg News,

3“Beijing 80 wan zhi’an zhiyuanzhe zhouri shanggang bi Aoyun qijian duo” [北京80万治安志愿者周日上岗 比奥运期间多30万], Beijing Wanbao [北京晚报], September 15, 2009,

4“Shiyue yiri daduoshu Beijingren bing bu zhenzheng zai guojie” [十月一日大多数北京人并不真正在过节], Radio France Internationale, September 27, 2009,

5Zan Aizong, “The Chinese Communist Party Prepares for the 60th Anniversary Celebration: Nervous as an Army going to Battle,” China Rights Forum, 2009, no. 3.

6“Zhongguo. Zhou Yongkang: Da yi chang guoqinganbao zhanzheng. Beijing wending yadao yiqie” [中国·周永康:打一场国庆安保战争·北京稳定压倒一切], Xingzhou Ribao [星洲日报], September 13, 2009,

7See Carnegie Hall press release, January 21, 2009,

8Didi Kirsten Tatlow, “Throwing the Book at China: The Frankfurt Book Fair and Beijing’s censors,” Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2009,

9“Message from Director Liu Binjie,” China – Tradition and Innovation, Guest of Honor 2009, Frankfurt Book Fair,

10“For Chinese media to have global status, we must form a few first-class media conglomerates by global standards, which can develop across regional, media, and national lines; not like we do it now, allocating publishing resources based on administrative ranking, so that no one can get big or strong. If you want to grow on a regional level within a province, a city, or a county, it’s absolutely not possible, because the resources and the market are only that big, there is no margin for development. We must free them of administrative barriers and turn them into public corporations of community media groups that compete in a unified, open, competitive and regulated market. At present, all transnational media conglomerates engage in newspaper, magazine and book publishing, and television production in tens of countries. When one group publishes thousands of newspaper and magazine labels, of course it can influence international public opinion. We, too, should strive to move in that direction. China must train large-scale media that match its strength and international status, or else, despite its size, it will have no power to lead public opinion. If this goes on, China will become a country without spiritual and creative strength to project the soft power of its culture in the world. We have the responsibility to change reality, to create the future.” [Translated by Human Rights in China.] From: “Liu Binjie: Liang niannei jiang zujian sange shuang baiyi da chuanmei jituan” [柳斌杰:两年内将组建三个双百亿大传媒集团], Nanfang Xinwenwang [南方新闻网], November 14, 2008,

11Human Rights in China, “Gongmeng Officially Shut Down, Founder Formally Arrested,” August 18, 2009,

12Human Rights in China, “Raid of Public Interest Group Reveals Degree of Information Control,” July 29, 2009,

13Human Rights in China, “Chinese Rights Defense Lawyers Under All-out Attack by the Authorities,” June 4, 2009,

14Human Rights in China, “Authorities Kidnapped and Prevented Court Appearance by Witness for Huang Qi’s Case,” August 5, 2009,

15Human Rights in China, “Police Beat and Detain Supporters of Sichuan Earthquake Critic Morning before Trial,” August 12, 2009,

16Human Rights in China, “Police Beat and Detain Supporters of Sichuan Earthquake Critic Morning before Trial,” August 12, 2009,

17Human Rights in China, “Chinese Rights Defense Lawyers Under All-out Attack by the Authorities,” June 4, 2009,

18Human Rights in China, “Chinese Lawyer Challenges Filtering Software Order and Requests Public Hearing,” June 11, 2009,

19Human Rights in China, “China Considers State Secrets Law Revision,” July 24, 2009,; Human Rights in China, State Secrets: China’s Legal Labyrinth (New York: Human Rights in China, 2007),