China has once again proved itself to be a paranoid, Orwellian regime following the arrest of four people accused of “spreading rumours” about a man perceived as a hero and cultural icon [BBC / Shanhaiist].
Lei Feng [雷锋] was a soldier of the People's Liberation Army of China and after his death was characterised as a selfless and modest person who was devoted to the Communist Party, Chairman Mao Zedong, and the people of China. In 1963, he became the subject of a nationwide, posthumous propaganda campaign "Follow the examples of Comrade Lei Feng" [向雷锋同志学习] and portrayed as a model citizen. The masses were encouraged to emulate his selflessness, modesty, and devotion to Mao. Even after Mao's death, Lei Feng remained a cultural icon representing earnestness and service; his name entered daily speech and his imagery appeared on t-shirts and memorabilia.
But in the Internet age many question the lies and propaganda spread by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and some are so bold as to air their thoughts on social media platforms.
However, to question the party line is dangerous in a totalitarian dictatorship. Views which question official history are not considered to be open and free debate. Instead individuals who deviate from official viewpoints are considered to be spreading rumours or even attempting to incite revolution.
State media was quick to condemn the four individuals who have not been named. "Information that seriously harmed the image of Lei Feng was rapidly transmitted across the Internet," the People's Daily reported, "and Lei Feng's glorious image was quickly brought into question."
According to CNTV [Chinese] the individuals arrested had questioned how Lei Feng, who earned only around $6 per month in 1959, managed to acquire a leather jacket, woollen trousers and black leather black shoes which would have, they asserted, cost considerably more than Lei could have afforded.
It is not the first time the facts surrounding Lei Feng have been called into question. The New Yorker published an article earlier this year which raised a number of issues concerning the authenticity of many photographs taken of the Chinese ‘hero’. Much of Lei’s image has been built around his diary which was itself made public prior to his death in 1962. However many western historians, such as Orville Schell see the document as “almost certainly at least a partial forgery.”
The China scholar Michel Bonnin told the New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos, “I had always harboured doubts about the reality of the existence of a soldier called Lei Feng, but I have now changed my mind.” Bonnin has since come to believe that “Lei Feng was real and fake.” He was a man, most likely, but also a myth. “This is testimony for the propaganda genius of Mao’s China,” Bonnin says. “It is a pity that Mao and his comrades were less inspired, at the time, in solving problems of the real world.”
Perpetuating myths & lies
Perpetuating the lies, myths, and false histories is important to the CCP. Their authority would be further undermined should all that people have been led to believe was revealed as a fabrication of the truth.
Many young netizens do question the history taught to them, and some have discovered the brutal truth of Mao, the millions he persecuted and countless millions he allowed to starve in a failed campaign to reassert his hold on power with the so-called Great Leap Forward, and which brought about the incident now often referred to as Mao’s Great Famine.
But while there are some who will privately call Mao a ‘fascist’ and a ‘disaster for China’, they recoil at airing such views publicly. The fear of the state is significant. “I wanted to donate money to Ai Weiwei,” one man told tvnewswatch, referring to the time when the dissident artist had run into trouble with Beijing authorities over alleged tax evasion. “But my wife was pregnant, so I feared for her and our unborn child.” This could in some countries be classed as paranoia. But in China it is a reality that should be realised.
Monitoring & surveillance
In fact China is very much a state almost perfectly modelled on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The Telescreens may not exist, but with a massive state run surveillance system in operation watching almost every keystroke made over the Internet, every text sent by a mobile phone and with a growing number of ANPR and CCTV cameras dotted all over the country, China has become one of the most Orwellian states in the modern world.
For those living in China as Chinese citizens, and even some foreigners, every move is logged and monitored. All citizens, and those visiting the country, must register at their local police station, providing ID cards or passports as well as proof of where they are living. Most tourists do not see this red tape since details are taken at the hotel where they are staying and handed on to authorities later.
Orwell spoke of memory holes in his book, a way of deleting unwanted history or even persons. A memory hole simply refers to any mechanism that allows for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a website or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened.
In China this happens frequently. Comments posted on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular micro-blogging website, may be deleted within minutes or even seconds of having been posted. In fact some may never even get posted if certain keywords are identified beforehand.
People themselves might find themselves deleted from history too. There are many Chinese politicians, dissidents and so-called enemies of China whose names will not be found on any Internet search. In recent history Al Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan found herself disposed of in a memory hole only to become an unperson when she effectively told to leave the country when her reporting was deemed too sensitive and critical [tvnewswatch: Doubletalk & memory holes as Melissa Chan expelled - May 2012].
Newspeak & thoughtcrime
Newspeak, a controlled language created by a totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, peace, etc., is also strongly evident in news broadcasts in China. The country does not have a Ministry of Truth but there does exist the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an organisation which provides briefings for journalists but rarely offers much truth and very little information.
Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as "thoughtcrime", yet another idea dreamt up by Orwell. Thoughtcrime is merely is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party. And it is the job of the Thought Police to search out those who may be guilty of such crimes. In China both phenomena exist, though of course they are not labelled as such.
Overseeing all this is of course Big Brother. In China his name is well known, though Xi Jinping is just one large cog in the large machinery which is the CCP.
Protecting the CCP
And to protect the CCP it has to at least be seen to be dealing with corruption. And so it is somewhat ironic that those questioning the truth about Lei Feng should be arrested in the same week as the fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai stand before a Chinese court charged with corruption and possible complicity in the murder of British businessman Neil Heyward in November 2011.
Access to Bo Xilai’s trial has been strictly controlled with only a few hand picked journalists allowed to sit in on proceedings. There is an official Sina Weibo page but that has revealed very little so far as to what is being said behind closed doors.
In many respects Bo Xilai’s court appearance is nothing less than a show trial,and an exercise in propaganda, an attempt to further promote President Xi Jinping's call for a crack down on high-ranking corrupt officials or "tigers" and not merely the "flies" or lower-level corrupt cadres [BBC].
Outside commentators have poured scorn on the official explanations and suggested that Bo is merely a scapegoat for other far more corrupt and high placed officials. There has also been some rather satirical reporting with the Hong Kong Apple Daily suggesting the trial was "The Chinese Communists' most absurd political farce since the fall of the 'Gang of Four' in 1976”.
It is likely Bo, like his wife, will be made an example of and sentenced to a significant time in prison, but the details surrounding the former Chongqing party chief are likely to remain hidden or consigned to a memory hole.
Related: tvnewswatch: Suspicious death of Briton with links to Bo Xilai March 2012 / tvnewswatch: Bo Xilai purge, a return to dark days of Mao March 2012 / tvnewswatch: Officials attempted cover up of Heywood murder April 2012 / tvnewswatch: Neil Heywood 'murdered', Bo Xilai's wife arrested April 2012 / tvnewswatch: Gu Kailai trial ends but suspicion remains Aug 2012 / tvnewswatch: Truth behind Heywood murder brushed under the rug Aug 2012 / tvnewswatch: Gu Kailai gets suspended death sentence for murder Aug 2012 / tvnewswatch: Rumours persist following Gu Kailai conviction Aug 2012 / tvnewswatch: Police chief Wang Lijun jailed in murder cover-up Sept 2012 /
tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China