Guiding China to what it sees as inevitable glorious heights, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not hesitate in recent years to tap into the Chinese artistic community to bolster the country’s image, turning to such luminaries as movie director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) and artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), for example, to ensure the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What recent events have shown us, however, is that as long as China’s artistic community toes the nationalistic line — and oftentimes amplifies it — artists will thrive and be left alone by the authorities. For the few who depart from that line, a far less elated fate awaits them, with outspoken critics like Ai, who created the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium for the Olympics, seeing themselves prevented from flying out of China and having their offices searched by state security officers.
In the process of sustaining its power, the regime has no compunction in making martyrs of former heroes, provided the exercise succeeds in dissuading others from continuing the fight. In other words, except for a very close circle of CCP officials, no one is beyond the vindictive hand of the party. By virtue of its ruthlessness and randomness, Beijing’s retributive apparatus is tightening its grip on every sector of society, ensuring that but for the most daring, the majority will keep silent and refrain from criticizing the party or calling for political reform.
Beijing has gotten away with state repression because it has managed to present its harassment and arrests as isolated incidents. By atomizing what would otherwise come across as organic repression both at home and abroad, the CCP has mitigated the outrage and ensured that it can stay the course without too much risk. This is a balancing act of such refinement seen by very few political parties today.
Moral torpor, both within China and in the international community, has also aided Beijing, in that the great majority chooses to remain silent, or to express meek disapproval at best, whenever the CCP chews and spits up another victim such as Ai. As there have been no serious consequences for Beijing by doing so, there is no reason why it should adopt a new course and perhaps even soften its stance on dissent. In other words, out of fear and greed, the polity outside the CCP has allowed for the creation of an environment that makes it permissible for Beijing to bully whomever disagrees with it. Only when the backlash is concerted will we have a chance of “changing” China before it changes us — and certainly not for the better.
Such glaring acts of repression as those against Ai should serve as a clear warning to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that “friendship” with Beijing not only comports risks, but is equally ephemeral. As long as Taiwanese officials in the current administration cooperate with Beijing on matters of cross-strait relations, they will likely be feted and treated as if they were part of the one big happy Chinese nation.
However, the mounting evidence of how the CCP treats its own dissidents sends as clear a message as one could possibly get that it will have no compunction whatsoever meting out similar, if not more categorical, revenge on those it regards as outsiders — and however hard some senior KMT officials may try to become intimate with their Chinese counterparts, the fact remains that they will always be outsiders to the CCP. Everybody is.