China's Rumors Crackdown Heralding an 'Online Cultural Revolution'

A commentary by Bao Tong
2013-09-12
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china-cultural-revolution-feb-2013.jpg A woman walks past an exhibit of Cultural Revolution photos in Wangfujing, Beijing, Feb. 21, 2013.
AFP

All you need to attain enlightenment is to put down the butcher's knife. Even the manufacture of knives gives rise to the desire to use them. I grew up in a generation of sheep, so I know how it goes.

And so, from the seven taboos [universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens' rights, the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party, the financial and political elite, and judicial independence], we get an interpretation from the two highest judicial powers in the land, all aimed entirely at the Internet. Actually, no; this is a butcher's knife taken to the whole of society and public opinion.

This all stems from a tradition inherited from Mao: the domain of ideology must be occupied by the proletariat. Of course, it also carries on [Mao's] great opus: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was heralded by a big character poster: so is this interpretation by [the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate] ushering in an Internet Revolution?

The Cultural Revolution can be traced to a single line in Vol. 1, Chapter 1 of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong: "I am the proletariat. I am the great savior. I decide whether those I face are revolutionary or criminal. Those who are with me will sing. Those who are against me will die."

That is what revolution is. Why should the Internet be any different?

Who can say for sure what constitutes a rumor? Yesterday's designated successor is tomorrow's traitor. We don't know what to say today, or what's to be done tomorrow.

What constitutes a "rumor," or a "malicious attack," and what does not? What constitutes "harm," and what doesn't? Because all the rumors and all the instructions have their source in official documents anyway! The Party is sick and the gods know it.

This same Party moves heaven and earth to spread rumors about itself, and then to refute them. All along, they have been hitting themselves in the face.

Or, we could agree that historical truth takes time to become clear. This means that all historical rumors must also be protected. But surely the authenticity of current events should be readily available? What, then, will become of the two major culprits who fabricated rumors about which city would host the 2020 Olympic Games? How should they be brought to justice?

The presidents of Xinhua news agency and CCTV [which misreported the results of the Olympic bid] can rest assured: the police will never catch you, nor prosecutors ever sue you. So, the reality of rumors is also to be protected. An armed dictatorship must use arms to protect its own right to create and disseminate rumors. That this is only right and proper will never be fully comprehended by we of the stinking ninth category [of intellectuals].

So, we're not going after officially generated rumors; only those that come from the general public. That is the meaning of the butcher's blade being held so high.

As for what constitutes a public rumor, the right to decide this will always belong to the orchestrators of the main theme tune [in the propaganda department]. If they say you are a criminal, then a criminal you are. Even if you're not. Because of this, universal values and a democratic and constitutional government, as well as civil society, are all criminal. Any of the seven taboos are. The seven types of crime give rise to seven types of rumor, and your right to free speech and independent thought has been stripped from you "legally," when it comes to the seven taboos.

Some say that this is less harsh than the Cultural Revolution. Yes, indeed. The Cultural Revolution just cut our windpipes; the Internet Revolution may seem more gentle, [but] it's scraping away at our brains.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing
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