Sen Nieh: Inside China’s Draconian Lockdowns and Tuidang, the Underground Movement That’s Disintegrating China’s Communist Party From Within
“They want to control everything. They want to not only control resources, they want to control the behavior of the people, they also want to control the mind, control people’s thoughts.”
In this episode, we take a look at one of the largest grassroots movements in the world. For the past two decades, millions of Chinese have been secretly renouncing their affiliation to China’s Communist Party and its affiliate organizations. The movement, called Tuidang, or Quitting the Chinese Communist Party, has recorded nearly 400 million such renunciations.
I sit down with Sen Nieh, vice president of the Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party. He’s also a professor at the Catholic University of America.
“It’s about how Chinese people try to break out of the bondage of communism,” says Nieh.
We discuss this movement and we also take a deeper look at the draconian lockdowns in China. It’s a decades-old playbook, Nieh says.
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Sen Nieh such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Sen Nieh, Ph.D.: It’s my great pleasure and honor to be invited to join your program.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Nieh, I’ve wanted to do this interview for some time. You are vice president of the Global Service Center to Quit the Chinese Communist Party, where almost 400 million people now have volitionally decided to quit the party. There’s a whole incredible story to be told, which we’re going to do today. Because of your work, everybody wants to know about the realities of these lockdowns in Shanghai and Shenzhen and with a huge number of the population in China right now. You and the organization have your ear to the ground in China. What are you seeing over there?
Mr. Nieh: The Tuidang movement is to help the Chinese people learn the facts and truth about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party,) their crimes and what they have done to the Chinese people, families, and culture. The Chinese people have been brainwashed for decades. They may not know about it. Once they know about it, most of them want to withdraw from the organization. They don’t want to be part of it.
The things happening recently, like the COVID-19 pandemic in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, Changchun, Guangzhou and many places is an opportunity for the Chinese people to really experience the CCP firsthand. With the lockdown of Shanghai, there are many people who realize that the communist leaders only worry about political stability. They turn this pandemic into the political task of maintaining stability so they can hold onto power, but not to really benefit the 26 million residents of Shanghai.
Mr. Jekielek: We’ll go through all of the details of how the Quit the CCP center works, and what it actually does. What does it mean that 400 million people have actually quit the CCP? What we really want to know, what a lot of people are asking me is, what’s really happening there right now?
Mr. Nieh: This lockdown in Shanghai, in CCP terminology from the top, is about zero tolerance of COVID-19. It means that they don’t want COVID-19 in Shanghai, or in any place in China. But regarding how they do that, we have a long history of how the communists do things. In the old times they talked about zero tolerance of sparrows, the bird which caused damage to the agricultural crops in the late 1950s.
There was zero tolerance of swine flu, zero tolerance of the avian flu, and this time zero tolerance of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this time the carrier is a human being, human beings are infected. They have zero tolerance of those people they suspect to be infected. They want them to be quarantined, to be locked down or to be removed from the city, so that the city is clean with no COVID-19.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re basically saying that this exact same terminology, the zero tolerance that’s being used right now for COVID-19, is the same as was used in the 1950s during the Great Leap Forward, for example?
Mr. Nieh: Yes. That’s my observation. They still follow the same philosophy of communist rule. When they don’t want something, they don’t tolerate it—zero tolerance of this and that. It happened many times in the past. This time it happened around COVID-19. So they lock down the people or relocate the people from the city to contain the virus. Unfortunately, those people infected or suspected of being infected lost their basic rights and freedoms. You hear about people screaming from the balconies of apartment buildings, one after another, needing food or needing medicine.
Mr. Jekielek: This is the extreme version of lockdowns, which are also implemented in many places in the West. Now, there are actually people being removed from the cities. The people that test positive are being put in quarantine. Tell me about that.
Mr. Nieh: Yes, in Shanghai they cannot tolerate the infected people. So some of the people are being relocated to nearby provinces, so that they can claim zero infection in Shanghai. That’s a very strange philosophy, but Shanghai is recognized more than other places in China. They call these infected people troublemakers, and they relocate them to other places. It is no longer Shanghai’s problem.
I don’t know how many people die of COVID-19. But I do know there’s possibly a lot of people dying of secondary causes from the lockdowns, quarantines, and lack of regular medical care. But to the communist leaders, if there’s very few people dying of COVID-19, then that’s good. If people die of non-COVID things, that’s secondary.
That’s the mentality. They have not cared about the welfare of the people, or residents of the city and the community. Sun Chunlan, who is the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, went to Shanghai and told the leaders of Shanghai communist party to do this and that. Then she returns to the city again to make sure they follow the central orders to control the pandemic, keeping the zero tolerance policy on COVID-19. She’s not saying take care of the people, she’s just fighting against COVID-19. Maybe the people will benefit, or maybe they will suffer.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s dive into this. As we speak, there are tens of thousands of people a day quitting the Chinese Communist Party. This is something not generally known in the U.S. and the West. First of all, how did this start?
Mr. Nieh: Tuidang is from two Chinese characters, which is short for tui-chu-gong-chan dang, meaning withdrawal from communist party. So tui and dang, the first and last words, mean withdrawal from the communist party in China and its affiliates; not only the party, but also the communist youth league, and the communist young pioneers. These are the three organizations people are associated with, or have been associated with in the past. Cutting ties with the three organizations is called Tuidang.
It’s really a very quiet phenomena, particularly because of the individual’s identity and safety concerns. So it’s not something designed for Western journalists and scholars. It’s different from some better known Chinese citizens’ manifestos, or calls for change, like the student demonstration in Tiananmen Square that the West knows about. The Tuidang movement is a quiet, nonviolent, grassroots phenomenon happening in China. Primarily, it is about the individual’s choice to not associate with or identify with CCP affiliates anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, there is a strong connection with the Epoch Times. The Chinese edition of the Epoch Times published the “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,” which is the book that sparked the beginnings of the Tuidang Center or Quit the Communist Party Center. Please tell me about that.
Mr. Nieh: Yes. The Nine Commentaries, it’s the book of truth that talks about what is the communist party? What is the nature of communist party? What have they done to Chinese culture? They have killed Chinese people, destroyed the Chinese family, and the natural ecosystems, all of this. And the very conclusion of nature itself is that this violent, deceptive, and evil organization is doomed to fail and collapse.
Millions and millions of copies got into China, and people were shocked, including the overseas Chinese abroad. Some of them said, “Due to the nature of this darkness and the crimes of the CCP, I don’t want to be part of it.” They sent the statements to the Epoch Times, one after another, and they said they wanted to be out. So we set up a special website to help them publicly post that they want to be out.
Typically, these Tuidang statements, withdrawal statements, involve the name, the time, the locations, the region, the reason for their withdrawal, and which organizations they want to withdraw from. Typically, the reason can be the frustration they have, or the sad story of their suffering under communism. Some even seek forgiveness for something they have done wrong in the past, and that they will not do it again.
So there were all kinds of statements with different content just flying in. The global service center helps to post and count the statements. The numbers go from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands to millions. In the past 17 years, it’s about 394 million, larger than the population of our country.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s hard to imagine those numbers. That translates to tens of thousands of people quitting every day. There must be an infrastructure helping to facilitate that. There’s one website where all these statements are posted. Are they quitting with their real name, because you said it’s a quiet movement? That would be a pretty big statement to make.
Mr. Nieh: Some of them quit with their real name and real location on the website, but many of them use a nickname or alias to protect their identity, their safety, and possible retaliation from the communist party.For the past 17 years, all these statements were posted on the website. For people who withdrew in the past, he can always review his statement, because he knows which statement is his or hers. In this case, he consciously seeks to regain his traditional values.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to touch on this, actually. This is very interesting, because most people would imagine that doing something like quitting the communist party is a strong political statement. But what you are describing here is almost like a spiritual cleansing or something in this realm. What do you think?
Mr. Nieh: Yes, Tuidang is an individual choice, a free choice from the heart of the participant. They don’t know each other. For their personal safety they don’t want to be known by others because of retaliation. So they are not people who know each other from a group that has some common thoughts. It’s just an individual choice. Yes, the communist party is a political organization. Okay, we know that. This is not necessarily a political movement. It’s really responsible for an individual’s inner peace and moral awakening. It concerns an individual’s inner self. But the numbers accumulate more and more. There’s almost 400 million right now, 400 million people collectively. It means a lot to the Chinese people and to the world too. We don’t want communism.
Mr. Jekielek: This is incredibly fascinating. It doesn’t fit nicely into any kind of box that we typically think of in the West. What is the cost to someone who is known to have quit the communist party? Is there a cost to that?
Mr. Nieh: Yes. There are many common last names, like Lee or Wong or Sung, all these large family names. There are many people with common first names too. So it is not surprising to have two Chinese people with the same name, and/or who use the same nickname like leader Wong, or the old Sung. This kind of thing is very difficult for the ruling communists to trace back to those who are in a big city or in the big regions.
In this way, they protect their identity, but they know that statement is his or hers. In this totalitarian system of China, they try to control everything. But the Chinese have a wisdom of how to do things and minimize retaliation. When people make a choice to quit the party, most of them feel that there’s a risk. Even if they use the nickname, there can be some risk.
So they make a brave step forward, and say, “No more communism, I want to be out.” That means a lot both to the individual and to the whole population. Regarding the Tuidang movement, there’s nothing similar in the West. It’s more like a Chinese version of the civil rights movements of the 50s and 60s, Martin Luther King’s movement. It is similar to Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence movement in India. In a sense, it is similar to Moses bringing the Hebrews out of the bondage from Egyptians,the big exodus across the Red Sea. This is the contemporary Chinese version of an exodus from the bondage of communism.
Mr. Jekielek: What is the consequences of being found with a copy of the Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party?
Mr. Nieh: The consequences are very serious. Anyone found in possession of the book will go to jail for a few years, naturally. So the consequences are very serious. People try to use their wisdom in spreading the contents of Nine Commentaries. They may pass along the whole book, or they may break it into nine chapters and pass it along one chapter at a time. So again, the risk is very serious. The understanding of the volunteers at the Tuidang center is to keep a low profile and be as low key as possible to protect both the participants and the volunteers.
Mr. Jekielek: Please tell us about the global service center. I can imagine the communist party propaganda that would say, “This is a foreign movement to destabilize China.” What would you say to that?
Mr. Nieh: Yes. The Tuidang center is called, Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party. So we provide the service, we are not really leading the movement. The Chinese people lead the movement. Primarily, we provide two services to them. One is to help them know more about the communist party, which is the content of the Nine Commentaries, plus news about what is happening right now, including the pandemic.
We have found that people who get out of China are not necessarily interested in learning more about their own country right away. Like if you leave America, you have no interest in knowing more about America, because you have been there, you already know everything. The Chinese people know they’ve been brainwashed, but they just don’t know how brainwashed.
But once they have a chance to look at the free information outside China, then they want to learn more about their own country, their own phenomena. The CCP is a totalitarian system that wants to control everything. Not only do they want to control resources, they want to control the behavior of people, and they want to control the mind. They control people’s thoughts through their educational system, through media control. They have been brainwashing people in the direction they want for decades.
The Chinese people, what they learned from watching that media in the past, they know it may not be true, but they don’t know what is wrong about it. For instance, Shanghai is locked down. The media still says there’s a surplus of food for everybody, but in reality, that’s not the case. There’s a big difference between reality and what is being said in the media. So in general, Chinese people know, but they don’t know everything. They want to know more about it.
Whenever there’s a chance to get through the firewall, or when they get out of China, they want to learn more about it. The Tuidang center helps them to learn and understand more about that. At the tourist locations, with the Chinese tours coming through, you will see our volunteers holding posters or banners or the pictures showing what’s going on in China. And the people on these Chinese tours have an interest in seeing them.
Our other service is to help people to post their statements. Younger people may not need it, they can post themself. Senior citizens, particularly those people living outside the city, may not be very computer-savvy, and they are not very good with the internet or smart phones. They need people to help them post their public statements. There are volunteers doing that inside China, and also outside of China for the overseas Chinese.
These are our two services. The Tuidang center provides the services, but not to lead the movement. We follow the movement, and what’s happening in China. We are very encouraged and very happy to see that with this movement, more and more people are making their choice to reject communism. They are rejecting communist party culture with all its violence and deception, in order to regain their conscious, traditional values. That is very encouraging.
Mr. Jekielek: What portion of the people that are quitting are inside mainland China?
Mr. Nieh: Yes, we had a chance to do some analysis in the past and trace back the IP addresses of people who post the statements. We found that it’s coming from all parts of China, all of the 30 provinces and autonomous regions. The statements come from all walks of life, all religions, all ethnic groups, and every social status. There are all kinds of people posting their statements. Those IP addresses can be traced.
One thing we are interested in is whether people who are opposed to this movement can manipulate the data. We didn’t find any evidence of that. The number 394 million may not be scientifically exact, and we know that. But the order of magnitude of the numbers tells us something. It gives us hope that this is the way that the Chinese people solve the communist problem from within.
Mr. Jekielek: One thing you mentioned, in communist China, there’s a big distance between reality and what’s in the media. In the West, we also see that distance increasing quite a bit. What is the lesson when the distance is that big?
Mr. Nieh: There was a joke about the media in China, about the People’s Daily newspaper. Everything in there is a lie, except the date of the newspaper. That was a joke. That tells you about the kind of information that the government feeds to people. They want you to know this, but not to know that. It’s the number one newspaper, and the other newspapers and magazines follow that tone. When something happens, you don’t see different opinions. Like the way they report on the pandemic in Shanghai, they always glorify the communist party. It is always correct, glorious, and doing good for the people.
But the screaming from the balcony of an apartment building will never be reported. Only if you are within the city, and you are hungry, and you don’t have food, will you know this is true. But outside there, it is not reported. The censorship of the information, and what the government feeds to the people is very worrying and bad. Because those people are brainwashed, then they end up supporting the government in doing something bad to its own people.
Mr. Jekielek: I am wondering about the infrastructure required to manage and deliver tens of thousands of these withdrawals every day to the website. There is the great firewall of China, of course. These things have to get through that firewall somehow, so there’s some specific infrastructure required there. Then there are volunteers that are talking to the people that are not internet-savvy, and are connecting with them. We’re talking about like hundreds of thousands of people. What does all this look like?
Mr. Nieh: Yes. In the recent year, because of the pandemic, on average, it was about 50,000 people withdrawing from these communist organizations every day. Just yesterday, it was 43,700 brave Chinese who renounced their ties with communism. It’s about one-and-a-half million Chinese every month. But there was a time before the pandemic, like in 2015, 2016, when there were many more. It’s could be more than 100,000 people withdrawing from the communist organizations every day.
We have 86,400 seconds in a day. So pretty much it’s one Chinese quitting the communist party every second, 24 hours around the clock. In recent months, it’s been about one Chinese withdrawing every two seconds. That is a huge number of people. What people in the West can understand is this is the people’s choice. The people’s choice is the most respectable and powerful choice. Choosing to withdraw from the party is the Chinese people’s choice. Whether you like it or not, it is the people’s choice and you should respect it, and give it your blessing.
Mr. Jekielek: How many Global Service Center volunteers are there in China?
Mr. Nieh: Within China, we don’t know, because it’s a very risky thing to identify volunteers. They are brave volunteers spreading the truth and they help people post their statements. We don’t know. We don’t want to know how many of them there are. The moment we know, the communist party will know too, and they will retaliate on the people.
Mr. Jekielek: You provide all the resources and these people grab these resources. How are they getting through the firewall to get the resources?
Mr. Nieh: There’s the big CCP firewall they call the Golden Shield Project. There are billions of dollars spent to raise this firewall. But we have anti-blockage software, and all kinds of VPNs. There are free anti-blockage techniques, like UltraSurf and other different things. The Chinese people can get it for free, then break through the firewall to get information from the outside.
Mr. Jekielek: Presumably the center volunteers are actually helping people get access to this software to break through the firewall and gain access to broader information.
Mr. Nieh: Yes. It is not only that kind of service. The volunteers are arranging the phone calls into China, the random phone calls by machines to call the random numbers. The volunteers have been doing that for more than 10 years, with an average 0.6 billion phone calls every year.
Mr. Jekielek: What is in these phone messages?
Mr. Nieh: Those are the volunteers abroad. There’s the group of volunteers making the phone calls to Chinese inside China, and first is by the machine call. So the machine called random phone numbers and then played a recorded message of three to five minutes on the nature of the communist party, their crimes, or some current news in China. So Chinese have an interest in listening too.
Every year, they made about half-a-billion such calls into China—for more than 10 years, about six billion or seven billion such calls into China. The percentage of success is about 27 per cent, which means 27 times out of a hundred, that phone call is being picked up and listened to. Some of them listen for a short period of time then hang up, but some of them listen to the end. Then after the listening, there were choices that if you want to hear more, you punch one; if you want to withdraw from the party, you punch nine; if you want to talk with a real person, you punch eight, those types of choices.
Then their choice is recorded. If the people want to hear more, they punch the button requesting to talk with a real person. Then our volunteer has the numbers to call, and will call back the person to talk and explain things for a much longer period of time. Another case is when a Chinese person comes out of China and does a travel tour or is doing some business or studying abroad, they want to know more about the real things happening in China. So our volunteers—you probably have had a chance to see this—are holding the info posters and pictures at the famous places where the Chinese tourists or the Chinese people go.
After these Chinese tourists saw these materials, some of the volunteers would say, “Can I help you to withdraw from the party?” And people would agree and do it on the spot. We do this kind of thing in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in South Korea, more than we do in the United States, but you can still see some of that here. For instance, in Washington DC, volunteers have been placing the info posters in front of the National Air and Space Museum for more than 10 years. Then, our volunteers there will help them if they want to withdraw, and they will help them to post their statements online.
Efforts like these, particularly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, have helped so many Chinese withdraw the party while they are outside of China. Taiwan has a very good record of doing that. In 12 years, they have helped more than three million people quit the party.
Mr. Jekielek: Obviously, this is a very significant infrastructure that is required to send these robo-calls from the call centers, for volunteers to return the personal calls, and also to coordinate the volunteers going to famous sites and tourist destinations. In the West, the question people always ask is, “How is all this funded?”
Mr. Nieh: The Global Service Center for Quitting the Communist Party is a nonprofit organization, an NGO with a 501-C3 status. We receive donations, and anybody who supports our philosophy and our work can donate. We have an English-language website, https://global.tuidang.org. Tuidang is spelled T-U-I-D-A-N-G. We also have a much larger website in Chinese, so Chinese speakers can visit that website. On the home page, there is a green button for donations. So the Tuidang centers are important, and people support our work. But as for the volunteers, nobody is paid, it’s all purely volunteer service.
Mr. Jekielek: I have seen these volunteers in many cities around the world and at many tourist sites. Probably a lot of people wonder, “What’s their motivation?”
Mr. Nieh: Most of them do it part-time and they are using their extra time to do it. Only Chinese who have suffered from injustice and persecution under CCP know how important it is to get the truth to the Chinese people. They are willing to spend time to help more fellow Chinese understand the truth about the CCP. These volunteers are from all over the world, trying to help. Most of them are Falun Gong practitioners, trying to help to end the persecution of the Falun Gong community in China.
Mr. Jekielek: You, yourself, are a part-time volunteer, because you are a professor of mechanical engineering at Catholic University, and the chair of the department for some years. People might wonder how you find the time to do all this.
Mr. Nieh: Yes. I have a regular, normal job at the university. I’ve been a professor doing research and teaching. I have served as chairman of the mechanical engineering department for 14 years. I squeeze in time to help as a volunteer, and once in a while I donate money as well to help more Chinese understand the truth about the CCP. Most of our volunteers have regular jobs, and they squeeze in time to do it. So it’s not a full-time commitment.
The Tuidang Center welcomes all kinds of help—even one hour a day, or five hours a week will be appreciated. Fortunately, we do have retirees who can volunteer for the whole day. It’s all volunteering, no one is paid. We do not have the funding for paid staff.
So our volunteers are true volunteers. I appreciate being interviewed on your program to raise awareness about this. There were three resolutions supporting the Tuidang movement introduced to the U. S. Congress. There was Senate Resolution 232, expressing solidarity with the participants of the Tuidang movement. Soon after that, there was House Resolution 416, sponsored by Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, also supporting the participants and volunteers of the Tuidang movement.
The recent one in 2018, was House Resolution 932, introduced by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, supporting this Tuidang movement. It helps to raise awareness and says, “You are doing a good job. We in the free world applaud your brave work.”
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts as we finish up?
Mr. Nieh: Yes. The Tuidang movement is probably the biggest and longest grassroots, peaceful, non-violent movement in Chinese history. Primarily, it’s about how the Chinese people are breaking out of the bondage of communism. It definitely means a lot to the Chinese people, the society, and the culture. As this movement grows, it helps people to see that China could be a country without communism. It also has an indirect impact on neighboring countries in Asia around China. It could be that communist infiltration or confrontation will be gone in the entire world. We are very optimistic there could be a new China without communism, and a new world without communism.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Sen Nieh, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Nieh: Yes. I’m very happy and honored to join your program.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining myself and Dr. Nieh here on this episode of American Thought Leaders, I’m your host, Jan Jakielek. We live in an era of censorship and disinformation, and it can be really hard to know what’s true and what’s false in this information climate. To get honest information and insights you can trust, join us on Epoch TV. You can sign up for your 14 day free trial at https://ept.ms/freetrialjan.
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