To many people’s ears the phrase “Four Loves” probably invokes images of a pop music act or a self-help philosophy – not an authoritarian regime’s latest campaign for political loyalty. But the Chinese Communist Party is once again deploying gentle terms to conceal its suppression of human rights.
Tibet, a region known for systemic, state-sponsored human rights violations, is now awash with posters celebrating the “Four Emphases and Four Loves.” The campaign requires people to “Love the core by emphasizing the Party’s kindness/Love the motherland by emphasizing unity/Love your home by emphasizing what you can contribute/Love your life by emphasizing knowledge.”
Translation: don’t criticize policies or officials and do show gratitude and loyalty to “the core” – the CCP and its leader Xi Jinping. The only way to “love the motherland” is to oppose anything that threatens “unity,” which certainly includes substantive criticism of the Party or the state or any discussion of independence or increased autonomy. And to be a “good citizen” is to focus one’s efforts on what you can “contribute” – but implicitly it’s up to the Party to decide what can or cannot be contributed.
It’s also never too early to start indoctrinating people in this mindset: photos from primary schools in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, show children “speaking [their] hearts to Grandpa [President] Xi.” One is captioned, “The words of the heart spelled out in…small notes.”
Campaigns for Tibetans’ hearts and minds seem almost tragic against the backdrop of repression there. In recent years authorities have reshaped the region’s economy in a manner that suits the central government and effectively excludes Tibetans from decision-making – and in the case of some nomadic communities leaves them demonstrably worse off.
Authorities remain suspicious of Tibetans’ loyalties, and have also radically expanded the security and surveillance apparatus, and methodically inserted state control into all aspects of religious practice. Meanwhile, Tibetans – and many others across China – have virtually no ability to help develop, change, or object to the policies that profoundly affect their lives.
Propaganda – no matter how treacly, and no matter how many pink hearts deployed – is unlikely to generate the kind of loyalty or respect Chinese authorities seem to want from Tibetans. Respect for Tibetans’ human rights, on the other hand, might go a long way towards that goal.