Newspaper article International New York Times

Shame on China

Newspaper article International New York Times

Shame on China

Article excerpt

The Communist Party has made public shaming an exquisite Chinese art.

I got caught cutting class. My teacher was a strapping 30 year old. I was a puny sapling of 14. He gripped my collar and dragged me all the way from our dorm to a classroom, dealing thumps to my head along the way. In a loud voice he denounced me in front of most of my classmates and other teachers.

Two days later, my teacher summoned me before an assembly of the whole school to read a 600-word essay of self-criticism that he had made me write. I admitted I was lazy. I said I didn't respect discipline and had let down my teachers and parents. My classmates appeared amused and my teacher satisfied. For me it was like I had been exposed naked to all.

This kind of scene is not uncommon. From primary school to university, I witnessed countless such public humiliations: for fighting, cheating or petty misdemeanors. Caught committing any of these offenses and you may have to stand before the student body, criticizing your own "moral flaws," condemning your character defects, showing yourself no mercy, even exaggerating your faults. Only those who have endured it can know the depth of shame one feels.

This Chinese tradition has flourished in new forms in the past two years since President Xi Jinping took the helm. The Communist Party under Mr. Xi has made public shaming an exquisite Chinese art, like our fine silk and porcelain.

Compared to the brutal rituals of the past, modern televised confessions may appear gentler, more sincere and even inspiring. But their frequency shows that our "people's government" doesn't actually care much about the people's personal rights, dignity or privacy.

The leading media outlet CCTV has provided a platform for many of the public shamings, which have included those of business people, screenwriters, celebrities, editors and journalists -- anyone deemed to be on the wrong side of the Communist Party's latest self- serving campaign. They speak to us from behind bars, their prisoner status made clear from their uniforms and (sometimes) shaved heads, their serious expressions and tearful faces.

Marshaling the full power of the state, CCTV has influence far beyond most of the world's TV stations. Its reporters are given access to tightly guarded detention centers where they oblige criminal suspects to talk. An old man might enlighten viewers about his penchant for soliciting prostitutes, or a young girl charged with prostitution might be required to explain how she would meet with clients. At the time of broadcast, these cases usually haven't come to trial, but the reports already assume their guilt.

Nearly all of these public confessions are grist for the mill of some government campaign. In September 2013, when the government was cleaning up what it perceived as a swamp of online criticism and discussion, CCTV broadcast a public expose of the venture capitalist and influential blogger Charles Xue's arrest for solicitation of prostitutes. …

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