Neither Joke Nor Truth is Allowed

Freedom of expression is likely to be repressed in China when:  one calls for multi-party reform, e.g. Liu Xiaobo;  calls for collective actions, e.g., Zhu Yufu;  comments on sensitive issues, such as the June 4th 1989, Tian’anmen Mothers;  or poses critical points that angers the government, e.g., Chen Pingfu, or Ren Jianyu.    In fact,  people also get detained or disappeared for posting a joke or speaking the truth.

On 7 November,  Zhai Xiaobin, whose twitter account is @stariver, based in Beijing China was detained on 7 November 2012 on “spreading false and terrible information”, possibly referring to  his following tweet:

#SpoilerTweet  #Enter-at-your-own-peril  “Final Destination 6” has arrived. In which the Great Hall of the People collapses all of a sudden. All 2,000+ people meeting there died except for 7 of them. But afterwards, the seven die one after another in bizarre ways. Is it a game of God, or the wrath of Death? How will 18, the mysterious number, unlock the gate of Hell? Premieres globally on November the 8th to bring you an earthshaking experience!

In a petition letter calling for the freedom of Zhai Xiaobin, it is said

Legal professionals point out that “spreading false and terrible information,” of which Zhai Xiaobin was accused, refers to “making up terrible information about bombing, biochemical, or radioactive threat that causes serious disruption of social order” (Article 291, Criminal Law of PRC), but Zhai Xiaobin’s tweet makes it clear that it’s fictional and would in no way cause public panic and disruption of social order, and accusation against Zhai Xiaobin based on this tweet is absurd.

While netizens are calling for Stariver’s  release, Li Yuanlong, was forced to travel (in Chinese)l under the monitor of the government for reporting a tragedy of five children suffocated to  death when they stayed overnight in a dustbin in Bijie City, Guizhou China. Li, born in 1960, used to work in the countryside as educated urban youth, join the army, be a driver, and also  a journalist for 8 years. In 2005, he was put into prison (his lawyer’s defense in Chinese) for one article titled “I want to be an American citizen in thoughts” under the crime of  “incite to subvert state power”.

李元龙 Li Yuanlong

Li lives near to the place where the tragedy happened. In the evening of 16 November 2012, the day when the children were found dead, Li heard a few passersby talking about the tragedy. He was shocked and saddened. He went to the site and conducted his investigation and later that night posted the story on the Internet.

Li said(in Chinese), “I used to be a journalist. I understand that it is the God’s message to let me know the story, and He wants me to disclose it. If I acted the same as other local reporters, pretending to be deaf and dumb, my conscience would deeply suffer from pain forever. To pay my tribute to the five children in heaven, to make this tragedy happen no more, to let there be no more street children, to prevent such story more tragic than The Little Match Girl from happening, I decided to post the story immediately on the Internet.”

Li is the first person posted the story of the children on the Internet. The report quickly aroused heated discussion calling for caring more of children’s rights. Although several people were removed from their positions for the tragedy, clearly what Li did also angered the local government. Yesterday, Li Yuanlong was taken by the government from his home and was on a forced travel out of his city now.  Different from detention, to force someone to travel out of home, “forced travel”, as a way of repression, is often used by the Chinese government to cut certain people from contacting the outside world, especially, the media or lawyers.

As an old Chinese saying says, “it is more dangerous to stop the mouths of the people than to block the course of a river”. To put it directly, the consequence of refraining the freedom of speech is as disastrous as a destructive flood. However, clearly, in today’s China, neither joke nor truth is welcomed but repressed as long as they pose a contrast to the harmonious society.

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