(p. A1) The young woman in Beijing began her post complaining about mobs gathering online, where recluses vent misogynistic insecurities from the safety of desk chairs. As provocative as it was, it might have passed unnoticed except that she added another beat.
She mocked the toxic masculinity of users imagining themselves as Dong Cunrui, a textbook war hero who, according to Chinese Communist Party lore, died valiantly during the civil war that brought the party to power in 1949.
For that passing reference, the woman, 27 and identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced last month to seven months in prison.
Her crime: violating a newly amended criminal code that punishes the slander of China’s martyrs and heroes. Since it went into effect in March, the statute has been enforced with a revolutionary zeal, part of an intensified campaign under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to sanctify the Communist Party’s version of history — and his vision for the country’s future.
The Cyberspace Administration of China, which polices the country’s internet, has created telephone and online hotlines to encourage citizens to report violations. It has even published a list of 10 “rumors” that are forbidden to discuss.
Was Mao Zedong’s Long March really not so long? Did the Red (p. A6) Army skirt heavy fighting against the Japanese during World War II to save its strength for the civil war against the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek? Was Mao’s son, Mao Anying, killed by an American airstrike during the Korean War because he lit a stove to make fried rice?
Asking those very questions risks arrest and, now, prosecution. “It is a sign of the establishment of an absolute political totalitarianism,” said Wu Qiang, an outspoken political analyst in Beijing.
China’s Communist Party has long policed dissent, severely restricting public discussion of topics it deems to be politically incorrect, from Tibet to the Tiananmen Square protests. The new law goes further. It has criminalized as slander topics that were once subjects of historical debate and research, including Mao’s rule itself up to a point. Since March, the law has been used at least 15 times to punish people who slight party history.
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The campaign has inspired vigilantism, with internet users calling out potential violations.
The Jiangsu branch of China Unicom, a state-owned telecommunications company, came under investigation after a public uproar started when its Weibo account posted a recipe for fried rice on what was Mao Anying’s birthday. It is not clear whether the company faces criminal charges, but its account was suspended.
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 15, 2021, and has the title “Shutting Down Historical Debate, China Makes It a Crime to Mock Heroes.”)