The Communist Party of China is finding itself in a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, the government has promised to improve working conditions and modernize the economy and how society is managed. On the other hand, the CPC still hasn’t figured out how to cope with China’s increasingly vocal and viral protesters. A recent rash of crackdowns on internet activism reaffirms that the government won’t be loosening up the reigns on dissent anytime soon.
China doing away with background checks on leaders
The most recent crack down has been on “flesh searches”, which are essentially internet driven background checks. Ordinary citizens have been able to use these searches to track down information about government officials and other important leaders. The government claims, however, that these searches can be used to stalk people and inflict harm.
The Chinese government is now targeting flesh searchers and trying to eliminate flesh searching all together. How precisely the government could accomplish this remains unknown, but censors will likely try to eliminate the existence of personal information online. The campaign against flesh searchers is part of a larger effort to crack down on activism through the internet.
Xi Jingping driving internet crackdown
While Chinese President Xi Jingping has garnered international support for his efforts to modernize the Chinese economy, he is also known for his draconian stance on free speech and internet activism. Mr. Xi has made it clear that the Communist Party will remain unchallenged in its leadership and will not tolerate public dissent. He also has reportedly tasked Chinese surveillance agencies with building up an “army” of online social media supporters and has also been ramping up the government’s surveillance and censorship methods.
The Chinese government regularly detains people for “rumor-mongering” and closely monitors online message boards, search activity, and website visits. After a recent drive to cut down on people spreading rumors, some 450 people were arrested. Universities are banned from teaching or encouraging debate about universal values such as free speech, while criticisms of the government are rarely tolerated.
The Chinese government has tried to position the campaign as necessary to protect the people. Several false rumors have already been spread by people looking to increase their fame, while some Chinese citizens have been adversely affected by flesh searches. Reportedly, a few Chinese individuals have even killed themselves after their private information was spread online.
While the Chinese government does appear to be serious in its intent to liberalize the economy, this liberalization won’t be extended to the media and free speech. The Chinese government has long operated under the ideal of a “peoples’ dictatorship” and recent crackdowns on internet activists suggest that it will continue under this banner in the near future. Still, the growing power of the Chinese people may eventually force social reform on the Chinese government just as it is already driving economic and political reform.