In Xi’s Communist China: “Our Speech Is Not Free”

(p. B1) Many innocent lives were lost to tragic events in China in the past month. So far we haven’t learned a single name of any of them from China’s government or its official media. Nor have we seen news interviews of family members talking about their loved ones.

Those victims would include a coach and 10 members of a middle-school girls volleyball team who were killed in late July when the roof caved in on a gymnasium near the Siberian border. Despite an outpouring of public grief and anger around the country, the government never released their names. Social media posts sharing their names and tributes to their lives were censored.

Then there were the people — probably dozens, possibly hundreds — who died in severe flooding in northern and northeastern China in recent weeks. It was the most serious flooding in the country in decades. Posts about the casualties, and the hardships people endured, were censored.

. . .

(p. B4) “Xi Jinping has made control of history one of his signature policies — because he sees counter-history as an existential threat,” Ian Johnson, an author who has covered China for decades, wrote in his new book, “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future.”

Mr. Xi has turned the screws extra tight since the Covid pandemic. In April 2020, relatives of Wuhan residents who died were followed by minders when they picked up the ashes of their loved ones.

The government ignored a citizen demand to make Feb. 6 a nationwide day of mourning to mark the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistle-blower who had warned the public of the coronavirus.

“We have always known that our speech is not free, our voice is not free. Yet we do not realize until today that even sorrow and mourning do not belong to us,” Ms. Zhang, the independent journalist, wrote in an article that was widely circulated on WeChat and other social media platforms before it was censored.

A recent video of the bereaved father of a volleyball player killed in the gymnasium collapse in Qiqihar highlighted the cruel reality faced by family members in public tragedies: Their grief, in the eyes of the government, makes them potential threats to social stability.

In the six-minute video, the father remained preternaturally composed as he tried to reason with the police, doctors and government officials at a hospital. He and other family members wanted to be allowed to identify the bodies of their daughters.

The father said he understood why the police were at the hospital. “We didn’t cause any troubles,” he said. He said he understood why no officials bothered to talk to them. “That’s fine,” he said.

Many people said online and in interviews that they cried watching the video because they recognized his “heart-wrenching restraint” and knew why he behaved that way.

“What happens if he didn’t hold back his anger?” asked an author in an article posted on social media. “As a father who has suffered such immense pain, why did he have to reason with such restraint and humility?”

As usual, the censorship machine went into high gear. Social media posts containing names of the victims and celebrating their lives and friendships were deleted. So were photos and videos showing the entrance of their school, where the public sent numerous flower bouquets, yogurt, milk tea and canned peaches, which is a comfort food for children in northeastern China.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “When Tragedy Strikes in China, The Government Represses Grief.” The New York Times (Monday, August 3, 2023): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date Aug. 14, 2023, and has the title “When Tragedy Strikes in China, the Government Cracks Down on Grief.”)

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