The A4 Movement: Mapping its Background and Impact
Patricia M. Thornton
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Although not the primary cause that prompted the sudden reversal of Xi Jinping’s signature “zero-COVID” policy, the protests that swept twenty-one provinces and over two hundred college and university campuses in late November no doubt played a role in the timing of the decision. Yet, neither the excessive zeal with which the coronavirus prevention measures were applied at the local level nor the resulting rise in social discontent were surprising or unpredictable. Both were the result of an increasingly autocratic system that demands absolute adherence to an increasingly infeasible task and places downward pressures on the social grassroots. The “blank page” protests brought together three disparate groups – the urban working class, suffering economic deprivation caused by the rolling lockdowns; the middle-class urbanites and university students, suffering from “lockdown fatigue”; and an exploding solidarity movement of overseas Chinese students and members of the next-generation Chinese diaspora, who provided support via social media. Predictably, public security officials attempted to defuse, dissipate, and contain these groups, and propaganda organs appeared poised to declare the end of “zero-COVID” as a public relations victory. The ongoing search for nefarious “foreign forces,” allegedly behind the protests, highlights the inability of China’s repressive apparatus to recognize the fact that the unorganized interests behind the protests were unlikely to have been driven by a larger anti-state agenda.
The Not-so Model Minority: Xi Jinping’s Mongolian Crackdown
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Xi Jinping and the party Center in Beijing are in the midst of a far-reaching rectification campaign in Inner Mongolia. The introduction of new textbooks and putonghua-medium education in Mongolian schools led to widespread civil disobedience in September 2020. Order was quickly restored, and international media attention turned elsewhere. But what followed was a systematic campaign to strengthen central party controls and Han-defined cultural and ideological norms. In this article, I unpack Beijing’s toolkits of control and transformation in Inner Mongolia, and foreground both the regional variation yet also the steady path toward Xi Jinping’s dream of a new Han colonial empire.
Xi Jinping–Style Control and Civil Society Responses
Diana Fu and Emile Dirks
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, grassroots civil society is in trouble. Democracy advocates in Hong Kong are being handcuffed while rights activists in the Mainland are pre-emptively smothered. Xi Jinping-style control over civil society entails a three-pronged strategy to transform civil society into a more palatable sector. The first prong of this strategy is tightening regulation of both domestic and international civil society. The second is to crack down on grassroots organizations. The third is to deepen party control over all of civil society. As a result, while some rights advocacy organizations have disappeared altogether under this rule, others have learned to adapt. A new strategy for engaging civil society actors in both mainland China and Hong Kong is needed. In pivoting from Trump’s isolationism to Biden’s multilateralism, it will also be important for the U.S. to work with its allies to help build the infrastructure for people-to-people exchanges with China.
Beijing’s All-Out Crackdown on the Anti-Extradition Protests in Hong Kong
Sunday, December 1, 2019
A standard view of Hong Kong’s months-long anti-extradition protests is that Beijing has not resorted to a crackdown in a manner similar to that which occurred in 1989. I argue that Chinese leaders have long sought to exert comprehensive control over Hong Kong and have exploited the crisis to accelerate the erosion of “one country, two systems.” Beijing has deployed the Hong Kong police and local thugs not just to break up protests, but also to foment chaos and violence. It is also purging the civil service and the broader society. To forestall another mass movement in the future, Beijing will further attempt to create amnesia among the rebellious youth. In essence, Beijing is applying the standard tools of “stability maintenance” to Hong Kong. However, Beijing will not be able to establish iron rule over Hong Kong without destroying the territory.
Intelligentsia in the Crosshairs: Xi Jinping's Ideological Rectification of Higher Education in China
Sunday, December 1, 2019
China is in the midst of an ambitious rectification campaign. Since 2014, Xi Jinping has launched an aggressive effort to reassert party ideological controls over art, culture, and higher education that had partially slipped during the more relaxed atmosphere of China’s post-1978 reform era. Within Chinese universities, intellectuals are facing intensified pressures for political conformity —through political education, funding pressures, and direct repression. Such efforts resemble the early stages of the campaign to re-establish party dominance over the bar and legal profession in the early 2000s. These pressures are likely to steadily worsen in the near future, with significant negative implications for intellectual life in China.
The Sinicization of Chinese Religions under Xi Jinping
Sunday, September 1, 2019
The recent resurgence of many forms of religious belief and practice in China has been met by new forms of repression and control. Basic party and state policy were established in a pair of documents promulgated in the early 1980s. The ideological foundation for the policies was Marxist secularization theory, in which religion will inevitably disappear, but its demise will take a long time and, in the meanwhile, heavy-handed attempts at repression may be counterproductive. The policies include government supervision and management of religious practices through state institutions controlled by the United Front Work Department. New regulations promulgated in 2018 maintain most of the policy instruments of the 1980s, but they have been streamlined to achieve greater efficiency and more effective supervision. The ideological framework is now mainly based on “Sinicization” rather than Marxism. Since Sinicization generally requires adaptation to an idealized version of Han Chinese culture, outsiders to this culture, such as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims, especially Uighurs, are subject to even harsher repression than they were under the former Marxist ideology. Han Chinese Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism are faring somewhat better, although they too are still subject to restrictions by a watchful state.
The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang
Friday, March 1, 2019
How do we explain the radical shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in the frontier region of Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are now interned in prison-like re-education camps? Based on a close reading of official sources, this article explores the evolution of China’s mass internment strategy and the key policy-drivers, institutions, and actors in Xinjiang policy over the last decade. It argues irrational fears of instability and dismemberment are driving the party’s unprecedented securitization and transformation strategy, with top party leaders convinced of the failure of ethnic accommodation and of the urgent need for increased inter-ethnic “blending” and “fusion.” Under Xi Jinping, Xinjiang has emerged as the party’s incubator for a more assertive and coercive form of nation-building and cultural re-engineering. The result is a surface level calm that hides deep social and psychological anxieties while at the same undermining cultural diversity and social trust.
Social Protest Under Hard Authoritarianism
Saturday, December 1, 2018
Despite increasing political control under Xi Jinping’s leadership, collective action in China is not declining, though it is changing in various ways. Protests continue to be staged around issues related to the distribution of educational resources, housing, space, basic social protection, and the maintenance of market order. Compared with collective action under the Hu Jintao–Wen Jiabao leadership, recent collective action has a lower level of cross-sectoral support and makes fewer demands for widespread institutional reform. Other characteristics of these protests, however, are more alarming for the state, such as an increased capacity to mobilize and organize across localities and the mobilization of aggrieved groups with close ties to the regime. Although recent protests do not indicate that the regime is under threat, they do suggest some profound problems with the country’s developmental model and the need for more efficient institutional channels to allow the various social groups to negotiate their interests and address their grievances.