The Chinese Communist Party has long used censorship techniques as a means to maintain political stability through suppressing dissent. Under Mao Zedong, the Communist Party exercised near total control over Chinese media outlets and severely punished individuals who publicly criticized the Party. Laogai Research Foundation founder and executive director Harry Wu, for instance, spent 19 years in labor camps as punishment for criticizing the Soviet Communist Party, an act for which he was labeled a “counter-revolutionary rightist.” Hardly an isolated case, countless Chinese citizens have been jailed in China’s vast Laogai System for doing nothing more than expressing opinions.
Today, the Chinese Communist Party continues to vigorously suppress dissent. Particularly sensitive topics include democracy, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Falun Gong religious movement, ethnic independence movements, central government corruption, the personal wealth of powerful officials, and police brutality.
The advent of the Internet brought new challenges and opportunities for the Communist Party to suppress dissent. In addition to enabling people to communicate and connect in ways previously unimaginable, the Internet has empowered public security forces, allowing them to easily monitor and track political dissidents. Dubbed the Golden Shield, China’s Internet censorship apparatus does much more than block access to information. The Golden Shield also connects the various agencies and levels of command within the Public Security Bureau and stores a wealth of information on countless Chinese citizens. This system enables authorities to identify citizens on the street through facial recognition technology and then instantaneously obtain an array of personal information. Such information includes political behavior, familial relationships, and Internet browsing history. This technology has played an integral role in official campaigns to capture and subsequently torture dissidents. As Chinese IT companies initially lacked the technological expertise to design such a vast censorship and surveillance system, Western companies, most notably Cisco Systems, Inc., equipped Chinese with necessary network infrastructure.
Chinese authorities also continue to rely on arbitrary detention methods to suppress dissent. Activists who organize public expressions of dissent and petitioners who travel to Beijing to protest abuses of power face potential prolonged detention in various types of jails. Such facilities include black jails, law education centers, and psychiatric hospitals. In addition, authorities have increasingly formally arrested dissidents for publicly protesting, subsequently putting them on trial for “inciting subversion of the state.” Examples of this practice include the jailing of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and more recently, the arrests of participants in the New Citizen Movement, most notably law professor Xu Zhiyong. Defendants accused of committing politically sensitive crimes are often denied basic substantive and procedural due process protections. Jailing activists silences dissent through physically removing dissidents from society and discouraging potential reformers from speaking out for fear of retaliation.
In addition to vigorously suppressing dissent on the street and in cyberspace, the Communist Party continues to exert control over virtually all domestic print, television, and radio outlets. Media organizations that resist heavy-handed censorship efforts, such as Southern Weekend and Bing Dian, have endured severe sanctions for asserting editorial independence. As a result of these mechanisms of control, China ranked 173 out of 179 countries surveyed in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 Press Freedom Index.