Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 03, 2015

No Chinese civil society

The questions center around the nature of civil society and the intolerance of Chinese leaders for independent civil society.

Since Mao Zedong and the Communist Party took power in China, there has been a general rule that all civil society must be endorsed (controlled?) by the Party (and the government). Independent civil society groups were forced to accept government sponsorship or disband.

Question 1: Can there be a civil society when all "civil society" groups are sponsored or controlled by the government?
Question 2: What is the purpose of politically monopolizing control of civil society?

A religious, mutual support group, the Falun Gong began gaining thousands of adherents in the years after Mao Zedong's death. It wasn't sponsored by the government and faced persecution.

Zhongnanhai is adjacent to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

It wasn't a big deal until 1999. One day in April that year, about 10,000 Falun Gong members strolled the sidewalks surrounding Zhongnanhai, the walled enclave where all the top government and Party leaders lived and worked. Then the walkers stopped. Ten thousand members of an unofficial civil society group standing on the curb surrounding the heart of Chinese government and politics. Just standing. (What message did that send to the government and the Party?)

Falun Gong demonstrators outside of Zhongnanhai
["April25Zhognanhai" by ClearWisdom.net  Licensed under Attribution via Commons.]

It was just a year after the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square (next door to Zhongnanhai).

The government reacted swiftly. Falun Gong was declared illegal. Many leaders were arrested. Many fled the country. Thousands of members were arrested and sent to reeducation camps.

Big deal? Ancient history? You probably won't find Falun Gong in the index of your text book any more. So why did Falun Gong make the news last week?

It seems that China denied Miss World Canada permission to enter the country for the Miss World Pageant because she is a member of Falun Gong. Somebody in China still thinks it's a big deal. Civil society? Political society?

Miss World Canada 'barred from entering China' for pageant
Anastasia Lin
Anastasia Lin, a 25-year-old Chinese-born actor who was crowned Miss World Canada in May, is an outspoken critic of Chinese religious policy and a follower of the meditative group Falun Gong, which is banned in China.

The Toronto-based theatre studies student said she was unable to board her connecting flight from Hong Kong after a Chinese official told her by telephone she would not be granted a visa on arrival…

The University of Toronto graduate has been vocal about Chinese political repression… She has raised the issue of abuses of practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese “qigong” spiritual and meditative practice with elements of Buddhism that the Chinese Communist party has campaigned to suppress since 1999, often brutally, and which remains illegal in China.

She has previously aired concerns that her rising public profile had seen her targeted for speaking out, and that the Chinese have sought to prevent her competing in the beauty pageant final, being held in Sanya city on Hainan island…

[Lin wrote on Facebook], “The slogan of the Miss World competition is: ‘Beauty with a purpose’. My purpose is to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves – those who suffer in prisons and labor camps, or whose voices have been stifled by repression and censorship.”…

In her Facebook post, Lin said barring her entry was not conduct befitting a “superpower”, especially one that hosts international competition such as Miss World and hoped to host the upcoming Winter Olympics.

“Silencing beauty queens, censoring journalists and torturing [those with] religious beliefs is not a sign of strength – it is a sign of profound weakness and insecurity.”

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