Freedom of speech in China
Freedom of information, speech, as well as press, is an elementary aspect that is steadfastly rooted in the modern western democratic thinking. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), every individual is free to express his/her opinion, be it political, social, or religious (2). The UDHR that was adopted in 1948 supported the right to for every individual to be awarded freedom of expression, without interference. However, a communist society does not combine individual’s best interests with society’s interests. China is one of the states that relentlessly limit its citizens from enjoying freedom of speech, despite its constitution allowing Chinese citizens such freedom. Speech is a critical weapon in the increasingly networked world, but the question that many people are asking is “Why has China persisted in limiting freedom of expression while other countries are striving to enhance it?”
Restriction of Freedom of Speech and Press in China
Chinese government has maintained its authority on matters of rights, media, labor relations, and human rights organizations, which is against the UDHR tenets. Although the UDHR does not state how individuals should express their opinions in public, it awards all humans the freedom to think, and to air their voices without fear of intimidation. World Report 2014 by Human Rights Watch claimed that China’s human rights activists usually face imprisonment, confinement, torture, house arrest, as well as intimidation due to alleged misuse of the freedom of rights. On its side, the Chinese government claims that individuals should respect the government and should not demonstrate their dissatisfaction openly to avoid creating tension in the country.
The Chinese constitution has afforded Chinese citizens freedom of speech as well as press. Most Chinese scholars and activists assert that the Chinese Constitution exists only to conciliate the West and to benefit Chinese dissident internationally. According to Ford, Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution states that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” (61). This provision is almost futile because the state prohibits actions that go against state interests, which include rebellion. In addition, the Chinese legislature has not imposed the provision; hence, the state can breach the provision with impunity.
The event that happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989 depicted the commitment by the Chinese government to eliminate dissidents in the country. On June 4, 1989, Chinese students, who had been gathering in Tiananmen Square for almost a month to protest against the Communist Party’s acts of repressiveness, were brutally murder while thousands of others were arrested by the Chinese troops (Chang 9). Some of the protestors fought back by stoning the troops and burning military vehicles. Chinese government fought hard to capture the dissidents and placing others on the “most wanted” list that was displayed on national TV. According to Chang, more than 3,000 people died in the skirmish while more than 60,000 others were injured (10). The incident shocked the whole world, including the Soviet Union, which also curtails freedom of speech. The US threatened to cut its relationship with China by halting the sale of arms to China.
Chinese citizens have the right to censure their government as indicated in the constitution. It was rather unimaginable that a government that is chosen to represent people could engage in execution of innocent students, who were only acting according to the Chinese Constitution. Article 41 is quite clear on the right to petition.
However, lack of transparency in the Chinese media regulations has enabled the government to crack down on activists and journalists, who are alleged accused of exposing the state secrets, thus, endangering the country. Chinese government has frequently apprehended lawyers and human rights activists for Most Chinese citizens have been charged for what is termed as illegal online activities that include posting forbidden contents. At least 49 people were imprisoned in 2008 for engaging in illegal online activities (Zheng 39). In 2005, a Chinese court sentenced Shi Tao ten years in jail for sending an e-mail containing a state secret to a website editor in New York.
Although China has gained economically in recent years, citizenship and civil society seem to be new concepts. Chinese citizenship is largely based on communitarianism, which originates from Confucianism (Janoski 366). The rights to organize unions are heavily controlled by the Chinese government and, as such, workers’ strikes are illegal. Political rights are also being curtailed, making it hard for Chinese citizens to express their political opinions. The one-party rule, carried out by the Communist Party, does not encourage competition among elected members, as the party controls all party processes. The party possesses power over all judicial institutions, in addition to coordinating political and legal committees.
The Chinese government gags the press, the Internet, as well as all print publications, with an aim of preserving social stability. In 2010, the Chinese government, through a white paper, outlined the concept of Internet control, by advising all Internet users within the Chinese borders, including foreign organizations, to observe Chinese laws. The only individuals permitted to criticize the government or hold opinions contrary to the government are the senior Communist Party members. However, the government can only tolerate criticism that happens in a private discussion or in closed academic conferences, rather than on public domain. Additionally, the Chinese government can authorize a debate to end if it sees such debate veering off to sensitive issues, thus, ignoring the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens to publish opinions concerning political issues.
China’s internet censorship has attracted international criticism due to its strict measures meant to scare bloggers and human rights activists who exploit the platform to express their dissatisfaction. The government spend exorbitant amount of money to sensor the Internet, with methods such as keyboard filtering, bandwidth throttling, as well as occasional blocking of all websites. The government employs the “Great Firewall” to block all content coming from outside China so that Chinese citizens may not learn about their government from outside (“World Report 2014” n.p). The Southern Weekly, an investigative newspaper based in Guangzhou, was censored in January 2013 for publishing a New Year’s editorial without consent from the government. The government also exploits various tactics to censor journalists. Through its agencies, Chinese government employs demotions, fines, arrests, and closing of media outlets, to restrict journalists from overstepping the boundaries.
Several renowned Chinese activists have faced the wrath of the Chinese government as they endeavor to fight for people’s rights. Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist, who is quite popular when it comes to activism and talks that criticize the Chinese government concerning human rights. According to Ford, Weiwei has in numerous occasions handled violently by the Chinese authority, including his blood being drained from his brain in 2010, and being denied an opportunity to fly to South Korea to attend the Nobel Ceremony where Liu Xiaobao, another human rights activist from China, was being awarded the prize (64). In 2011, Chinese authority arrested Weiwei and detained him in an unknown location for 80 days. The intervention by international agencies that fight for human rights did not bear fruits, as the Chinese government claimed that Ai Weiwei was detained for tax evasion. Other human rights activists who criticized Weiwei’s arrest believed that the government’s fear of uprisings led to Weiwei’s detention.
The most popular Chinese political rebel is Liu Xiaobo, the person who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in 2008 for what the government termed as “state subversion” after pressuring the government to offer Chinese people freedom of speech, as well as an open and democratic election system (Wagner 6). He was sentenced 11 years in prison for spreading rumors and trying to overturn the socialist system. Chinese government continued to detain Xiaobo, thus, he was not present to receive his award whereas his entire family was held under house arrest. The announcement of the prize made Chinese government to shut down the Internet to restrict Chinese citizens from following the reports on the prize in Oslo. China also warned of cutting diplomatic relationship with Norway for awarding a political dissident.
Other forms of punishments that Chinese citizens face for dissident include rebuke, loss of jobs, brief confinement, or compulsory training on labor laws. The rapid growth of technology has contributed in gradual resistance against the Chinese government’s practice of taming the freedom of speech. Equally, citizens have increasingly applied pressure on the authority concerning livelihood issues that include force evictions, land grabbling, environmental deprivation, discrimination, ineffective justice, and misuse of power.
Censoring internet may offer some benefits to the Chinese government, but it encourages individuals and groups to devise other ways to express their opinions. Chinese government supports its act by stating that different countries have different interpretations concerning freedom of speech. For Chinese citizens, a person can criticize the government without offering any solution, as a call for change of government is perceived as a rebellion against the government. Freedom should be exercised with minimum restrictions, as too much restrictions amount to anarchy rather than peace.
Differences have emerged between Chinese view of censorship and the Western idea of media freedom. While Western bloggers perceive Internet as an influential device to facilitate free speech and a platform for advancing democracy, majority of Chinese Internet users do not treat Internet use with such authority (Jiang 5). China has experienced both peace and conflict; hence, administering control on Internet is seen as a major step in preventing anarchy. Chinese government ensures that certain websites are blocked during incidences that are perceived controversial, as they pose threat to the country’s political stability.
China should strive to afford its citizens freedom of speech because it enhances economic growth, democracy, as well as political stability. Peaceful political transitions are more likely to happen in countries that permit freedom of speech than those restricting such freedom. The benefit of having freedom of speech is that people can share ideas that can enhance social relationships, both in community and in the workplaces. People should be permitted to articulate their views without fear of intimidation or punishment. When other nations call for China to release human rights activists, they are only interested in enhancing peace in the country.
Chinese citizens are not held by stereotype practices that could threaten peace in their country. The growth of technology has enabled people to share numerous aspects of life, which in turn assist in enhancing peaceful coexistence and contributing towards the growth of their countries. People should never be prosecuted for criticizing the government, as opposing the government does not necessarily amount to subversion. Progressive lawyers and scholars should continue pushing for democratic changes that would rescue Chinese people from dictatorial leadership.
Freedom of speech is considered as one of the essential rights in a democratic society, but China has never perceived it as such. Western countries believe that freedom of expression is curtailed in China, but some Chinese people disagree with this notion because they believe the current level of freedom is sufficient to allow them pursue their personal goals. Although China has promised to respect human rights through freedom of speech, much remain to done to world its big population the freedom for expression. China should understand that holding human rights activists in custody may not bring solutions to its fears, but rather, it encourages other individuals and groups to emerge and strive for change. China should emulate the Western countries on matters of human rights and freedom of speech to avoid economic and diplomatic sanctions.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations Human Rights Council (n.d).Web. 20 June 2016 http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
“World report 2014: China.” Human Rights Watch, Events of 2013 (2014). Web. 20 June 2016 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
Chang, Albert. “Revisiting the Tiananmen Square Incident: A Distorted Image from Both Sides of the Lens.” Stanford Journal of East Ssian Affairs 5.1 (2005): 9-25.
Ford, Kalyah Alaina. “Hindering Speech and Halting Progress: Sacrificing Freedoms for National Control in China and Turkey.” A Thesis (2013): 1-98.
Janoski, Thomas. “Citizenship In China: A Comparison Of Rights With The East And West.” Journal Of Chinese Political Science 19.4 (2014): 365-385. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 June 2016.
Jiang, Ying. Cyber-nationalism in China: Challenging Western Media Portrayals of Internet Censorship in China. Adelaide: Univ. of Adelaide Press, 2012. Print.
Wagner, Jack. “Playing with Fire in the Dragon’s Den: Human Rights in China.” Graphite Publications. (2013).
Zheng, Haiping. “Regulating the Internet: China’s Law and Practice.” Beijing L. Rev. 4 (2013): 37-41. Web. 20 June 2016 http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf