The Chinese Communist Party, set to open its twice-a-decade congress on October 18, is now in overdrive to increase, “stability maintenance” to ensure that nothing unexpected happens and nobody challenges its rule.
But this clampdown on perceived “instability” – to create the appearance of harmony – merely hides the government’s casual suppression of basic liberties and the rule of law.
On October 11, a Zhejiang Science and Technology University student filed a police report after discovering that funds in a personal online payment account had been stolen. Two days later, the student received a written warning from the school: by dialing 110 – the police hotline – “without authorization,” the student had, “seriously damaged the reputation” of the university. Similarly, a Shanghai apartment management company issued a notice informing residents not to dial 110 between September 30 and October 25 – before and after the Party Congress.
What’s the problem with dialing 110? As shrewd netizens speculate, it alerts the police command center and thus reflects badly on the low-level authorities for having failed to contain “elements of instability,” within their community – especially when the high-level authorities are meeting.
Authorities are also restricting certain ordinary behavior during the Party Congress, apparently perceiving them as threats to stability.
In Beijing, some malls, nightclubs, and even gyms have temporarily shuttered. On October 11, home-sharing website Airbnb announced the cancellation of its Beijing city center bookings for the rest of October. This “state of war,” as some local governments have called this week’s measures, means restaurants in the city center have been ordered not to use fire or flame, sales of fireworks and other flammable products are prohibited, and self-service at gas stations has also been halted.
In keeping with past practice, police across the country have detained or restricted the movement of human rights activists and lawyers. Even gatherings far from Beijing are affected: police have capped events at a maximum of 500 people during this period, leading to the cancellation of a film festival on Hainan Island – more 2,300 kilometers from Beijing.
Behind an image of confidence, the Chinese government’s suppression of everyday freedoms reveals not only its insecurity, but also its growing impulse to control all aspects of society under President Xi Jinping. As Xi enters his second term as Communist Party chief, the future for human rights in China does not look promising.