China's liberals fight back over spate of 'rumour arrests'
The United States did not sack then president Bill Clinton over his alleged affair with an intern in the 1990s. So was China justified in showing on national TV the arrest of outspoken internet celebrity Xue Biqun, better known as Xue Manzi, for visiting a prostitute? After all, it was only his personal business.
And what illegal measures had police taken to bust Xue? Should Chinese people now fear that hidden cameras and wiretaps have been installed in their bedrooms by police?
These are just some questions Cai Xia, an outspoken professor and reform advocate at the Central Party School, raised in her opinion piece criticising China’s arrests of so-called internet “rumour mongers” and online opinion leaders - such as Xue Manzi, who is also an American citizen and venture capitalist.
Cai drew parallels with recent reports of school children raped by government officials, which were handled quite "differently" by some official media. She argued that Xue’s arrest and the well-synchronised national propaganda campaign which followed shows how “public power” has become an umbrella for the illegal activities by a minority of powerful people. It has also become a way to persecute dissidents in China, Cai argued.
The Central Party School, whose full name is Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, is the top thinktank and directly affiliated with the Party's power centre.
Cai cautioned that such blatant abuse of public power would only intensify conflict between the conservatives and liberals in China. Cai said that eventually this could force people to protest in the streets - against the wishes of the ruling party.
“It’s important that we discuss what public power should and should not do in a country which respects the rule-of-law,” Cai urged.
Cai’s opinion was echoed by Zhang Qianfan, an outspoken law professor at Peking University, who harshly criticised the tactic of abusing public power to silence dissidents.
“Using state power to punish these so-called “rumour makers” is a more horrifying act than spreading ‘rumours itself,’ ” Zhang wrote.
In fact it’s exactly the government’s attempt to kill criticism that makes room for rumours, Zhang argued. And ironically, numerous “rumours” have turned into reality in countries which don’t respect freedom of speech, he said.
“The government will only lose their credibility and authority if they choose to repress the rising power of the internet," Zhang said. Instead, he said readers had the wisdom to tell lies from truth, and victims of rumours should step forward themselves to defend their rights. Therefore, there was no need for the government to intervene, Zhang added.
China’s influential Southern Metropolis Daily on Wednesday also commented in an editorial, urging authorities to “maintain internet order with spirit and methods of rule-of-law”.