Comparing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) authoritarian regime with democratic governance is like comparing barbarism with civilization: there is so little overlap as to make the exercise moot. But because of the CCP’s widespread, systematic propaganda and Western governments’ decades-long appeasement of the CCP, many people do not know the truth.
The CCP’s very own propaganda—the ultimate in fake news misinformation—often makes its way into Western media. With the CCP recently making the preposterous claim that the Chinese people engage in democratic government, and with the self-aggrandizing Olympics ongoing despite worldwide calls for a boycott, it is even more important than ever to set the record straight.
Using my own story as an example, I will first illustrate some of the tactics that the CCP regularly employs to persecute and silence its opponents. Then, I will show how the CCP is able to operate with impunity as a shadow power, shedding light on the structures that enable it to maintain monolithic control of the nation. Lastly, in the second part of this essay, which will be published tomorrow, I will demonstrate through comparison with U.S. democratic norms how the CCP’s dictatorial regime operates in practice, and how its brutal domestic strategies combine with its opaque political structures to create the current dictatorial behemoth. Understanding the underpinnings of the regime will, it is hoped, lead to solutions to combat it.
My Life under the CCP
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My personal experience provides a clear picture of how the CCP rules the country. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I started helping farmers and disabled people in Shandong, China sue local officials for infringing on their rights. Then, in 2005, I got wind of a large-scale, violent campaign to control reproduction—known euphemistically as the one-child policy—taking place in Shandong. I organized some friends to investigate, and what we found was horrific: mass sterilizations, families beaten and detained, pregnant women dragged from their homes in the middle of the night to have their babies ripped from their wombs, even at full term. We tried to file a lawsuit (these atrocities contravened even Chinese law) but the case was blocked in court, so we published our findings online.
I had stepped into a hornets’ nest.
As punishment for our investigation into the forced sterilizations and abortions, I was detained, tried in a kangaroo court, and imprisoned for over four years. While I was in prison, in 2008, there was a rumor that I would be released in the lead-up to the Olympics, if only the West pressed hard enough. My treatment in prison even improved. But the United States and its allies failed to demand a release of political prisoners as a condition for their participating in the international games. World leaders attended the fanfare in Beijing, and I along with other political prisoners remained under captivity.
When I was finally released in 2010, I was brought home under guard only to find my home had become a jail. Rings of guards were stationed throughout our village, even inside our house. My mother was harassed; my school-aged daughter was tracked by guards; and my wife and I were beaten mercilessly by gangs of the CCP’s hired thugs.
Many people on the outside, including in the international community, called for my release. The CCP, meanwhile, denied any knowledge of my case and even staged photo ops of our family in our house to use as “evidence” to the West that I was “free.”
I was repeatedly offered large sums of money if only I would be silent about the violent population control campaign and toe the party line about how I was being treated. But I had no interest in such bargains and refused, and my family and I continued to suffer.
Gravely ill and denied medical care, I had no choice but to attempt an escape. The CCP was even building a private prison for our family, with iron bars stretching from the roof into the concrete floor. It was now or never. One spring morning in 2012, a brief lapse in the guards’ attention allowed me the chance to try. It was nothing short of a miracle. Scaling walls and crawling on all fours after breaking my foot, I made my way to a neighboring town from where relatives and friends secreted me to the American embassy in Beijing. Following protracted bilateral negotiations, my family and I came to the United States.
I was lucky to get out, and I have always been boundlessly grateful to have been able to come to America. I can continue to fight and speak out for those being persecuted. And I have been able to witness democracy and its struggles firsthand. But despite the constant tug of war between parties and opposing political and cultural ideas, there is no question in my mind that democracy is the best form of government on earth—even if flawed—as the quest for truth and justice stands at the heart of its purpose.
Contrast this with the CCP’s regime, which is predicated on maintaining its own power at all costs. Truth is the enemy of this regime, as it has shown repeatedly over countless instances, large and small, public or personal, over the past seventy years of its iron rule. Its monopoly on power stems from its earliest years of using violence to stoke fear in nay-sayers, with privileges granted to those who turn a blind eye to its brutality. “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey” is how Chinese people refer to this practice: in other words, make a cruel example of one in order to strike fear in the many so that they fall in order. My own experience is but one example of this tactic that has been a mainstay of CCP rule since its inception.
Top-Down, Total, and Two-Tiered Power
The political structure that allows this violence is monolithic and top-down. Even to this day some in the United States mistakenly believe that my treatment was the result of local actors, that the CCP’s central authorities and highest leaders had little to do with it, and maybe didn’t even really understand what was going on. Nothing could be further from the truth. The CCP is nothing if not a top-down organization, with its fingers in every corner of the nation. When foreign leaders begin asking questions and the CCP’s central leaders feign ignorance, you can be sure they know all about it.
China operates under two systems (unfortunately not two independent political parties), or two layers, one less transparent and accountable than the other. One layer is the government operating as the People’s Republic of China, with its official positions and appointments, bureaus and departments, which, at least on paper, has a mandate to serve and protect the people, according to the constitution and laws of the nation. The other layer is the Chinese Communist Party, an opaque organization that operates entirely outside the law and beyond the purview of the nation’s constitution, acting as it pleases to maintain its own power in whatever way it chooses. Unfortunately for the Chinese people and all people who value freedom and human dignity, it is the Chinese Communist Party that controls the country and the puppet government, and that has, in effect, kidnapped the entire nation for its own purposes.
Many people outside China are unaware of the extent to which the CCP asserts its influence throughout the country, and the structure that enables this shadow government to direct the entire show. At all levels of the nation, each rung of government is beholden to a Chinese Communist Party affiliate organization that operates at the same stratum. Each CCP branch is controlled by a party committee, and within the party committees the Party Secretary holds power for that level. The so-called legal “people’s representatives” in government, whether village mayor, provincial governor, or prime minister, are all beholden to the whims, dictates, and interests of the Party Secretaries. In fact, government officials can only achieve those governmental-layer positions by becoming vice-party secretaries at their respective levels. Conflict of interest and the corrupting force of absolute power are all but guaranteed.
Under this scenario, the very underpinnings of modern life that many in the West take for granted as fundamental to a functioning society are subject to control, scrutiny, and manipulation by the Party. The media—a pillar of an open democracy—is a mouthpiece for the Party. The courts, the police, the procuratorate (the governmental office that handles investigation and prosecution of cases), and the very Ministry of Justice itself—all are under the direct and strict control of the Chinese Communist Party.
All government appointments and dismissals—at all levels of the country—are decided by the CCP. The spuriously titled National People’s Congress is made up of members who are, in their entirety, selected by the CCP, creating what is in essence a “hand-raising body”: anyone who fails to raise a hand in favor of a CCP measure today will not be a so-called “representative” tomorrow. And unlike the U.S. Congress whose members can be easily reached and even visited by their constituents, and whose debates and bills are openly recorded for the public, the so-called “representatives” of the NPC could be declared missing in action for most of the year except for the body’s official twice-yearly meetings. But during these twice-yearly meetings, military police are put up to guard the meeting hall as if for battle, suspecting visitors of being an enemy. Before the actual date of the two meetings, moreover, citizens are controlled by the bloated Security Maintenance Agency: those who plan to seek out their “representatives” in Beijing are “sent on holiday” to other provinces or cities, or are put under house arrest, while people who live outside the capital are prevented from going to Beijing at all. How, under these circumstances, are citizens supposed to even find their “people’s representatives”?
Tomorrow, I will contrast the United States’ political structure with China’s to explain how the CCP’s violence goes unchecked and, often, unnoticed by the rest of the world.
In January, Chen Guangcheng and Catholic University’s Center for Human Rights released its 2022 New Year’s Declaration on China’s Human Rights Crisis. You can read it here.