Closing the Chinese mind would be tragic at any time. But especially now, since the end of Maoism had offered hope of a new and better future. The Chinese people deserve the opportunity to think for themselves.
1984: China Edition
What to say when a Chinese colleague you admire tells you he is barred from traveling abroad since, as the border guard explained to him, the government believed he might “threaten national security.” This indignity followed a ban on his work. The injustice to him—an advocate of peaceful reform, not counterrevolutionary violence—is great.
But the embarrassment for what purports to be a great power should be even greater. What does President Xi Jinping’s government so fear from someone who even when free to write was obscure in China and abroad? Could the slightest sign of dissent really destroy a putative global hegemon?
Sadly, authoritarian injustice is not new to China. A better question is, when in that nation’s lengthy but tragic history have people been free? Only the form of oppression has changed.
Once a great empire, China turned inward, dominated by status and hierarchy. The regime later fell victim first to the Europeans and later to the Japanese, who occupied “concessions” and seized territory. In the early twentieth century the emperor was ousted, but much of the country fell under the control of competing warlords. The later authoritarian Nationalist government enjoyed only incomplete authority. Then the country was ravaged by a brutal invasion by Japan, followed by a barbarous civil war.