Behind Labor Camp Exposé, Political Warfare
Chinese Communist General Secretary Xi Jinping in November 2012. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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The publication of accounts of the gruesome torture methods used against detainees in the Masanjia labor camp—most well known as a torture training ground for Chinese securities forces in the persecution of Falun Gong—indicates that something unusual is taking place at the top of the Chinese leadership, according to political analysts.
It also fits within a pattern of ongoing political antagonism between the new leadership of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party old guard, represented by former Party leader Jiang Zemin.
It was Jiang who in 1999 oversaw the expansion of Masanjia from a regular labor camp to a house of horrors targeting practitioners of Falun Gong with extraordinary torture measures.
The nearly 20,000-word exposé of Masanjia was published in Lens Magazine, most well-known for its photography, in early April.
“There is definitely something behind this,” says Heng He, a senior political commentator with NTD Television. He suggested that former leader Jiang Zemin and those who have benefitted from Jiang’s policies are the ultimate targets of the article—with qualifications.
He said that the political power of Jiang Zemin, the architect of the campaign, has withered over the last 18 months or more, but that it is likely that individuals in the Communist Party who have benefited from Jiang’s policies were being targeted with the Masanjia report.
“Many people’s interests are still linked to Jiang’s policies,” Heng He said. “So the resistance to the new leadership is still high. The new leaders have to send a strong signal to obey the current leadership.”
The perpetrators have fought back. After the article spread across the Chinese Internet, it was deleted from nearly all major news portals, and Liaoning authorities issued a sharply worded public denial. They said the article was “groundless” and contained “malicious fabrications.”
But Yuan Ling, the journalist who wrote the story, defended himself online, inviting Liaoning authorities to see him in court if they disputed his reporting, and two reporters with People’s Daily Online, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, who were part of the investigation team, refused to add their signatures to the response. Luo Changping, the deputy-chief editor of Caijing Magazine, praised them on his blog.
The timing of the publication of the Masanjia revelations is also telling, because it comes on the heels of a number of remarks by Xi Jinping and some key members of his leadership group about the politics and law system, which control the country’s labor camps, as well as the need for labor camp reform.
In January Xi made remarks at a politics and law work conference about combatting corruption. At the time Wen Zhao, a political analyst, said that the remarks were unusual because they came from the general secretary of the Communist Party, rather than the specific cadre responsible for politics and law work, indicating that Xi may be attempting to assert his control over that system. The law enforcement apparatus had previously been in the hands of Jiang Zemin and his proxies for over a decade.
Other remarks by Li Keqiang, the new premier, and Meng Jianzhu, the new security czar, addressing the possibility of reform or abolishment of the labor camp system, also received attention.