China: Big Brother is watching

With Nobel prize winner detained, hopes for China’s human rights dim

Remember George Orwell’s 1984?

He envisioned a world where Big Brother presided over everything. Thoughts are crimes. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And ignorance is strength.

Today, that world is on the other side of the earth: China.

Meet the protagonist: Liu Xiaobo, an internationally famed human rights activist, who has been detained countless times for having committed various thoughtcrimes against the Chinese government. His most recent sentence of 11 years is from co-authoring the pro-democracy manifesto, Charter 08, in 2008, in which called for “universal values shared by all humankind.” It garnered over 10,000 signatures but was censored by the Chinese government. Jump back to 1989, when Liu staged the hunger strike in the Tiananmen Square protest. His dissent is known world-wide.

On October 8th, Liu became the first Chinese recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

But the Nobel Committee’s decision infuriated Chinese officials because it opened an international debate on China’s human rights record. Moreover, the award potentially galvanizes the dissident community which China has worked so hard to keep oppressed. In response, the Party put Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, on house arrest. Cue the start of the Orwellian disappearances.

October 13: Al Jazeera, an Arabic-news network, attempts to reach Liu Xia, but their news team is stopped at the doors. The People’s Armed Police, China’s police force, guards Liu Xia’s stay all day and night. They tell Al Jazeera that only if they contact Liu can they be let in. But when they call, they find that the authorities have cut the phone-lines. The reporter calls it a “catch-22.” The news team recited their journalistic rights, endorsed by Premier Wen Jiabao, to the authorities, but they couldn’t care less.

In China, police rule through fear. On television, they are portrayed as CSI: Beijing. But in reality, they are more akin to the “Thought Police.” Local officials get penalized by the government for having political instability in their town. Consequently, these officials task police forces with detaining dissenters illegally and without due process.

Dissenters are put into black jails — the Orwellian equivalent of “Room 101,” where psychological and physical torment are punishment for political disobedience. The government denies their existence, but protestors making their way to Beijing are often captured, stripped of identification, detained without outside contact, and beaten. Human Rights Watch reports that the black jails use psychological-torture practices that date back to imperial times.

For the marginalized, such as Uighurs and Tibetans, their opposition yields even worse consequences.

Uighurs, a mainly Muslim group, are being oppressed in their homeland, the Xinjiang province. In January, racial tension sparked a riot in the capital, Urumqi, killing 97 people. There were at least 25 people sentenced to death. Human Rights Watch advocated for fair trials, but there is no justice in Big Brother’s eyes.

Today, Tibetans live in the shadows of the drive-by police in Litang, a city that in 1956 held had an anti-Chinese rebellion against Beijing, but was ultimately taken out by the People’s Liberation Army when they obliterated an ancient monastery. Now any Dalai Lama supporters run the risk of getting arrested, and demonstrators shot.

Liu Xiaobo’s petitions and hunger strikes may not seem like much, but they can do so much for the country. The Nobel Committee made the right decision in giving him the Nobel Prize. But we must exonerate him from his charges. On October 20, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with China’s police minister, but his trip was more focused on talking with Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu about the crackdown on the counterfeiting of copyright goods. Holder mentioned that bringing Liu’s case to the table with the Chinese is “not at all certain” — clearly, he is more concerned about assuaging the “great concern,” that is, protecting American goods. China has a desperate need for change, and America needs to vocally decry the Chinese government’s lag in human rights. We can start by strongly pressuring the government to release Liu Xiaobo.

I was born as the second child in “One-Child Policy” China. The government fined us heavily, but we paid them. My mother just wanted a boy that badly. When she tried to have a third child, the government was quick to abort it. The authorities caught on that we were relatively rich, so they raided our house. That was the China I lived in. The China then is no different than the one today.

It’s one nation, under the eyes of big brother.

Andy Liang is a member of the Class of 2014.