In a scene that could have been lifted from the Cultural Revolution, 17 Chinese villagers who petitioned against government land-grabs were recently subjected to a public humiliation session by district officials, in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province.
The outcries over the Nov. 2 event on the Internet were a multitude, from fellow petitioners, bloggers, educators, legal experts, human rights advocates, and religious leaders, who all wondered whether they were seeing a resurgence of the tactics used during more chaotic times, 50 years ago.
‘Educating’ the Masses
The officials involved in the incident claim that their actions are for the good of the people. Their stance is that they are promoting knowledge of the Chinese legal system, and “showcasing” the importance of obeying authority.
The methods, although dated, have been used successfully during different political movements to maintain the supreme power of the Communist Party. The return of these methods may signal the strengthening of efforts to quiet the increasing number of protests against the regime.
The propaganda department in Shaanxi, in its statement to the media, said it was a case of “desperate times call for desperate measures.” They said in a statement to mainland media, available online, “In publicly and openly frightening and shocking the criminals, educating the masses, and promptly expurgating unhealthy societal phenomenon, the social impact is very clear: it achieves a very good effect in popularizing and propagandizing the law.”
Nor was the November rally the first of its kind this year. A report in the newspaper New Beijing recorded another episode of the so-called “showcase” of two farmers in Fuping County, also in Shaanxi Province. On March 5, after returning home from petitioning in Beijing, the farmers endured the jeers and derision from their community, in what the Chinese authorities called a “public showcasing.”
These local events are meant to shatter the spirits of the petitioners, leaving them depressed and anxious from the experience of being humiliated in front of their family, friends, and neighbors, causing them to become less outspoken about issues in the future.
The officials and police state that from their perspective, they are merely doing their jobs of keeping the public aware of who is in charge, thus preventing more serious incidents. The goal is to send a cautionary message to the public by putting a black mark on the petitioners’ reputations, in addition to the black marks they wear on the placards around their necks.
The public response was vehement, however. One angry petitioner from Shanghai told The Epoch Times: “The right to petition is stated in Chinese law, yet the Communist Party demonizes petitioners and uses the media to promote their own status and power. They knowingly violate the law and use cruel methods of controlling people. … The very same techniques that helped the power elite during the Cultural Revolution.”
Miao Jue, a respected Buddhist monk and longtime advocate for AIDS victims, voiced similar concerns: “These are the same methods used during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese people have endured too much under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, and in the end, I believe the CCP will see divine retribution.”
Li Jinlin, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer, said: “There is absolutely no reason for petitioners to be publicly shamed. The local government has broken Chinese law by committing defamation of character, by illegally detaining petitioners, and also by depriving them of their constitutional right to seek redress.” Li suggested that the victims could sue the county Communist Party secretary.
Wang Lin, an associate professor of Hainan University’s Law School, wrote on her blog that: “The will of the officials has become more powerful than the will of the law. This event is a manifestation of the fractured relationship between the government and the people.”
In her view, the point of the public shaming is not to educate people about the law of the nation, but about the law of local Party bosses. For careerist apparatchiks, the successful suppression of public dissent—through shaming, intimidation, or violence—is linked to promotions. Wang Lin believes the real reason behind these public shaming events is to “showcase” the power of officials.