China has shut down the social media accounts of outspoken real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang after he dared to openly criticize communist party leader Xi Jinping and recent efforts to further tighten already stifling media controls.
But just as authorities moved in to silence Ren – who is also known as ‘The Cannon’ – others continued to speak out.
China’s cyberspace watchdog said it ordered social media microblog portals such as Weibo.com and t.qq.com to close Ren Zhiqiang’s accounts, accusing him of “spreading illegal information.”
“Cyberspace is not a lawless field and no one should use it to spread illegal information,” said Jiang Jun, a spokesman of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
Xi visits media sites
Shortly after Xi Jinping made a visit to top party media organizations recently, ordering them to follow the party line, Ren spoke up online, and argued that it was the public that the media should serve.
A posting from Ren’s now deleted site: “When did the people’s government change into the party’s government? Is their money the party’s? … Don’t use taxpayers’ money for things that don’t provide them with services.”
FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2015 file photo, a man surfs Internet on his laptop computer at a Starbuck cafe in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping called Wednesday, Dec. 16 for governments to cooperate in regulating Internet use.
For some, Ren’s comments went too far. Ren is also a party member who has nearly 40 million followers online. While many spoke out online in his defense on Monday there were also those who accused him of being disloyal and of spreading anti-communist thought.
Questions for communist leaders
Many, however, voiced concern about how the already small space for the free exchange of ideas is shrinking even further.
One bold commentary that was attracting much attention and praise on Monday, was an article entitled the “Six Questions the Communist Party Should Face.”
The article was still online late Monday, but how long it will remain online is unclear.
Zi Zhongyun, a retired and well-known government think tank historian, wrote the article, which was posted on the social media microblog of the Unirule Institute of Economics, an independent research group.
She said that not everyone likes the communist party leadership and the party should realize that that number has been growing in recent years. She even said that there are those who would like to see a different political force leading China.
“That is something that we all, party members and the party leadership especially, should think about,” she wrote.
She said there are questions about the purpose of the party's far-reaching anti-corruption campaign, which began when Xi Jinping stepped into office.
Zi noted that the key aim should be to serve the public’s interests, not just serve the party’s interests or keep it in power.
She also de-bunked the widespread assumption that the party would remain in power regardless of the mistakes it has made or how many officials are corrupt.
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with media in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani after their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 23, 2016.
“If the Communist Party’s does a good job in leading [China], then the public will continue to choose the Communist Party, but one cannot make the unconditional assumption that the public will be faithful until death,” the article said.
Since the party selected Xi Jinping as China’s president three years ago, he has been moving steadily to expand his control over society, the military, and the government bureaucracy.
Xi's campaign against those advocating “western values” and his heavy-handed efforts to rebuild confidence in “communism and socialism with Chinese characteristics” is an increasing source of concern among those in academia and the public.
On Sunday, the same day that authorities moved in to muffle ‘The Cannon’, Xi announced the launch of a year-long education campaign to, as the state-run news agency Xinhua put described it, “instill the values [the party] wants in its 88 million members.”
The campaign will include the study of the party’s constitution and rules and speeches by Xi targeting those seen to have wavering confidence in the party.