Brief: Xi's Centenary Speech, Didi and tech, freedom of speech

6 July 2021

Greetings friends! Yun here. from now I’ll be solely responsible for the Neican Brief series. Adam will continue to be responsible for other parts of Neican, including the Digest and the Translation projects.

Therefore, if you have any concerns and complaints (or praises), you can now direct them all to me. I apologise in advance for the drop in quality!


1. Centenary speech

For the CCP centenary, here at Neican, we have previously discussed the CCP history and legacy. If you would like more, read Linda Jaivin’s article on the origin story or listen to David Goodman and yours truly in discussion with Mark Kenny.

Today we will focus on Xi’s speech at the celebration ceremony.

This public speech is full of rhetoric intended to drum up nationalism and pride, as you would expect from a public speech from any politician on a similar occasion. It is mostly boilerplate and contains no surprises.

Overview

First up, Xi announced the realisation of “building a moderately prosperous society in all respects” 全面建成了小康社会 and the elimination of absolute poverty 绝对贫困问题. The next step is to achieve the second centenary goal: building China into a strong and modern socialist country in all respects 全面建成社会主义现代化强国.

Then Xi recited the well-known official version of Chinese modern history, starting from the First Opium War, where China was characterised as a “semi-colonial and semi-feudal society” 半殖民地半封建社会. As a result, the Chinese people pined for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation 中华民族伟大复兴. According to Xi, this was achieved by the CCP, which united and led the Chinese people for the past hundred years.

The narrative is a familiar one — “only socialism could save China, and only socialism could develop China” 只有社会主义才能救中国,只有社会主义才能发展中国. Later on, Xi also said that “The Party was chosen by history and the people” 历史和人民选择了中国共产党. This reflects a sense of historical inevitability, as we mentioned last week. We have made enough critique of this sweeping historical narrative of the CCP, so I won’t repeat it here.

The speech ended with:

伟大、光荣、正确的中国共产党万岁!

伟大、光荣、英雄的中国人民万岁!

Long live our great, glorious, and correct Party!

Long live our great, glorious, and heroic people!

“Long live” in Chinese is literally “ten thousand years”. None of the Chinese dynasties has survived 1000 years, let alone 10,000 years. And so far, the CCP has not surpassed the Qing or the Ming (each 276 years).

For a speech heavy on rhetoric and light on policy, I was surprised that one issue was mentioned. In the middle of the speech, Xi raised “imbalances and inadequacies in development” as one specific problem to be tackled. This seems to be more specific than the other issues around it, such as “safeguard social fairness and justice” or “pressing difficulties and problems that are of great concern to the people”.

International dimension

This speech is targeted at the domestic audience. For those of us outside China, we may wonder what the speech means for other countries.

Again there are no surprises here. Xi claims that CCP will work together with “all peace-loving countries and peoples” 一切爱好和平的国家和人民. Xi claims that the CCP “welcome helpful suggestions and constructive criticisms” 有益的建议和善意的批评, but will not accept “sanctimonious preaching”. Of course, the CCP will determine whether something is “constructive criticism” or “sanctimonious preaching”. But from more recent experiences, it appears that every criticism is “sanctimonious preaching” to the CCP. I do not recall the CCP willingly accepting any form of criticism from the outside in recent years.

There is one passage that attracted much (in my opinion, unwarranted) attention on social media:

同时,中国人民也绝不允许任何外来势力欺负、压迫、奴役我们,谁妄想这样干,必将在14亿多中国人民用血肉筑成的钢铁长城面前碰得头破血流!

By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.

The official English translation of 头破血流 here is “on a collision course”, but literally in Chinese, it means “head broken and blood flow”. Some people interpret the literal translation as evidence for CCP’s violent intentions towards other countries (even though it supposedly is reserved for countries that “bully, oppress, or subjugate us”).

In any case, we should be wary of literal translations that are absent of cultural context. For example, imagine if we literally translate “heads will roll” or “thrown under a bus” into other languages. Yes, the phrase “head broken and blood flow” is intended to convey strong determination and conjure violent imagery, but literal translation has its pitfalls.

In addition, it is not up to leaders from a non-English speaking country to cater their speech to suit English speakers, as some have suggested. Just like we don’t expect English-speaking leaders to avoid phrases such as “heads will roll” in case of misunderstanding.

Overseas Chinese

Xi also mentioned overseas Chinese people:

爱国统一战线是中国共产党团结海内外全体中华儿女实现中华民族伟大复兴的重要法宝。

The patriotic united front is an important means for the Party to unite all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, both at home and abroad, behind the goal of national rejuvenation.

The CCP’s goal of co-opting overseas Chinese people is well-known by now. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that such calls for overseas Chinese to participate in “rejuvenating” China have roots older than the CCP. After all, Sun Yat-sen relied on overseas Chinese communities for support and fundraising in the 1900s. In addition, calls for diasporas to help their “homeland” is quite common in many countries, including India.

2. Didi

Another big news from the tech world, following on from Ant Financial’s scuttled IPO in December last year. Didi, a ride-hailing company ubiquitous in China (also present here in Canberra), is now under investigation from China’s Cyberspace Administration, days after its $4 billion NYSE IPO. While the investigation is ongoing, Didi stopped registering new users and removed its app from app stores.

Disregard the merit of the case, just like with Ant Financial, the timing of the investigation is worrying. This regulatory action appears to be punishing new investors in Didi. However, the crackdown on tech companies may not be solely targeted at Didi. Cyberspace Administration has also opened investigations into online recruiting company Zhipin and truck-hailing company Full Truck Alliance, both listed in the US. China is also set to block Tencent’s videogaming mergers.

The reason for Didi’s investigation is data protection — the regulator alleges that Didi had collected users’ personal data illegally, and asked Didi to comply with data protection laws.

An example of Didi’s data analytics:

What interests me is the approach taken by the Chinese government towards the big tech companies. China appears to be willing to crack down on big tech companies publicly rather than working more closely with them behind the scene, as you may come to expect from a state capitalist system. The Chinese government has worked very closely with tech giants in the past, including in censorship. So why is it cracking down on data protection so publicly?

It appears that in comparison the US Government is more willing to work closely with US tech companies right now, especially as the competition with China intensifies in the tech field. 

3. Freedom of speech for China scholars and students

Sophie McNeill from Human Rights Watch released a new report They Don't Understand The Fear We Have: How China’s Long Reach of Repression Undermines Academic Freedom at Australia’s Universities.

The report detailed how some students and academics are fearful of speaking out. For some international students, they fear that Chinese authorities could pressure or coerce their families and friends in China or they could get into trouble when they return to China if they ever criticise the Chinese Government. On the other hand, some students are also labelled “brainwashed” or “compromised” if they ever defend the Chinese Government.

For some academics, they fear for their access to China if they criticise China publicly, but they also fear discrimination, loss of grant funding, and questions of loyalty, if they don’t criticise China publicly.

All this means that students and academics are likely to self-censor when it comes to public or classroom discussions of China.

Freedom of speech and academic freedom should be paramount values for Australian universities. And protecting the safety and wellbeing of students and staff should be the top priority for these universities as well.

Australian society, governments, and universities must do more to protect these students and academics. Law enforcement officers must take intimidation and harassment, including doxing, more seriously. And universities must implement severe penalties for people who report classroom discussions.

Australia must protect students and academics from intimidation and harassment while at the same time protecting their rights to peacefully express their views, regardless of whether these views are “pro-China” or “anti-China”.