The tightening squeeze on freedom of speech

It used to be confidently asserted by many that there was a lot of freedom of speech in China provided only that you said things privately and didn’t get organized. Now a lot of this was apologist nonsense, but it was not entirely unfounded: I had heard Party members in coffee shops exclaiming that China would have been better off not only had the KMT won in 1949, but also had the Qing dynasty not been overthrown in 1911!

Whether it was ever true in the past, it’s certainly not true now. Two recent cases show it.

  1. Last month, a man was sentenced to two years (two years!) in prison for referring disrespectfully to Xi Jinping as Xi Baozi (习包子 steamed-bun Xi) in WeChat and QQ posts. He was sentenced under a provision in the Criminal Law that prohibits “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” More details in the RFA news report here.
  2. If that wasn’t bad enough, last month another man was sentenced to 15 days of detention under the Security Administration Punishment Law (SAPL) for saying disrespectful things about a judge on Weibo (Chinese twitter) because the judge had made a decision he didn’t like. The relevant provision of the SAPL, like the Criminal Law, prohibits “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” More details here (in Chinese).

The cases show pretty clearly the importance of rank. Look at the difference in the sentences.