onsdag 21. desember 2022

‘When You Have No Credibility … You Are in Big Trouble’: A Chinese Dissident on Xi Jinping and the Future of Protest in China

In 1978, activist Wei Jingsheng became China’s most prominent dissident when he posted a signed essay — or “big character poster,” as they are called in China — on a wall in Beijing, arguing eloquently for democracy. He’s been imprisoned twice for his blistering criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, spending some 18 years behind bars before relocating to the United States. Interestingly, he grew up near Xi Jinping, who would become general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. Wei’s little brother knew Xi when they were both kids.

In November, I sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Wei in Washington, D.C. We discussed his indoctrination in, and then rejection of, communism as a young person, the future of political dissent in China and Xi’s reading habits, psychology, and greatest vulnerabilities, from the low-level bureaucrats who could stick gum into the party’s gears to the public’s lack of confidence in the regime.

Wei didn’t hedge on the threats to democracy growing around the globe. “If the U.S. continues to choose business interests and tolerate authoritarianism — be it Chinese Communist Party or Saudi Arabia — if they are tolerated for business profits, global democracy will inevitably wane,” he said.

Just a couple of weeks after our interview, mass demonstrations broke out against Xi’s Covid lockdowns following an apartment fire that killed 10 people; many blamed Covid restrictions for delaying the rescue effort. Protestors held up white, wordless sheets of paper as symbols of mourning and defiance of the CCP’s ruthless censorship campaign. Dubbed the “White Paper Revolution,” the protests have had a major impact, contributing to Xi’s decision to dismantle his “Zero Covid” guidelines — perhaps the biggest U-turn on a signature policy since he rose to power a decade ago.