For Former Propagandist, Communism in China Is Not Deadâ€¦ Yet
NEW YORK—In China he would visit karaoke bars after work and get bundles of fresh lamb delivered to his doorstep for bribes. Now, living in the Chinese enclave of Flushing, New York, he works a menial job and hardly scrapes by.
Zhang Kaichen, 55, has been in the United States since late 2009. His visa for political asylum is still in the pipeline, he has gained no support from the U.S. government, and has received no interest from American intelligence agencies—which is surprising, given his former life: Zhang is a defector from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and for decades was one of its chief propagandists in the northeastern city of Shenyang, Liaoning Province.
Over a recent lunch at a restaurant in Flushing, he told his story to The Epoch Times.
As director of the Liaison Branch of the Shenyang Chinese Communist Party Committee’s Propaganda Department, Zhang’s job was to make sure the Party Line was being implemented across all media. He would arrive at the sites of forced demolitions—where, for example, someone may have been beaten in an attempt to make them leave their home, or someone may have set themselves on fire in protest—and tell the journalists to scram.
“What work unit are you with?” he would first snap at them. They would tell him. “There’s no news here. If you report this, our City Party Committee will deal with you,” he would say. He didn’t need to say more; everyone knew what that meant.
Now he is on the opposite side of the fence, penning blistering polemics decrying what he calls the Chinese communist menace that controls China, appearing on dissident television shows to reveal the inner workings of the secretive propaganda apparatus, and giving public speeches on how the march toward democracy in China is inevitable, and that the Party must, and will, collapse.
One of his first gestures upon getting out, in fact, was to publicly renounce the CCP through the Tuidang movement. Tuidang is a volunteer organization that solicits withdrawals from the CCP and its associated organizations, from both Party and non-Party members. Zhang was a guest of honor at one of their meetings, and he received an official certificate severing his ties. He believes, essentially, that the Communist Party is nothing more than a sinister mafia that seeks to expand its own power.
The germ of dissent entered Zhang’s mind in 1973, as he witnessed the insanity of Maoism running rampant in China. It lay dormant with little chance to fester until 1989, with the massacre of students during the Tiananmen demonstrations. At that stage, however, he needed a job, and his superb command of the Chinese language made the state propaganda industry an attractive option. Benefits extend far beyond the official remuneration, and one enters a kind of old boys club that rules the roost.
He was satisfied with the lies, karaoke bars, and fresh lamb until 2006. A colleague gave him a subversive piece of software called “Free Gate,” which allowed unrestricted access to the Internet. He began exploring the real news about China’s current predicaments under CCP rule, and at the office every day would secretly look at websites like the Chinese edition of this newspaper, Radio Free Asia, New Tang Dynasty Television, Voice of America, and others. At night he would go home and continue reading.
The germ of 1973 was given a chance to grow, and by 2007 Zhang was emerging from disillusionment with the system to a recognition that it was broken beyond repair.
“In my youth I understood the CCP’s essence, the system and its ideology,” he said. He had vague notions that things changed over the decades. “But later I realized,” he said, that the CCP of his youth is the CCP of today. “It was precisely this: Deng Xiaoping is Mao Zedong. Jiang Zemin is Mao Zedong. Hu Jintao is Mao Zedong.”
He felt that he could not stay in China. “This society doesn’t need people who speak the truth or thirst for knowledge. The Party is the truth. The Party leaders are knowledge. They’re the standard. You have to unconditionally follow them,” he said.
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