In the land where even the censors deplore censorship, Chinese New Year’s Eve will no longer be a holiday in 2024, setting off rumors that the decision is due to its Mandarin name, chuxi (除夕), sounding very similar to “cancel Xi” (除習), as in get rid of China President Xi Jinping.
If the gossip is correct, citizens no longer have to fear setting out to celebrate the Year of the Dragon with their families but accidentally deposing their beloved head of state instead, although deletion of the holiday may well be more to do with asserting the Chinese Communist Party’s preeminence over tradition.
Beijing’s other methods of squashing popular activities and delaying the revolution in late October 2023 have included banning a book titled “Chongzhen: The Hard-Working Emperor who Brought Down a Dynasty” for fear of comparisons with Xi, adopting a new education law to press even more of Xi’s personality cult into everyday family life and discouraging individual outpourings of grief for China’s former premier Li Keqiang (李克強), who died on the 27th of the month at the age of 68.
Li’s death is sensitive, because, to some, he symbolizes an alternative path that China might have taken, if he had been chosen as the country’s leader instead of Xi in 2013. Mourning for what could have been is the closest most people are ever likely to get to a vote. China Digital Times reports online censorship of the hashtag “the one who should die hasn’t” and the Fish Leong song “Too Bad It Wasn’t You.”
Heart attack was the official cause of death, but Li is not the only one announced to have departed this world after a sudden myocardial infarction in China this month. Fujian human rights and democracy advocate Ye Zhong (葉鍾) apparently passed away in this manner while being detained in Fuzhou, the latest in what Bitter Winter, a magazine that specializes in reporting repression of religions, skeptically describes as an “epidemic” of such deaths among China’s dissident community.
Ye was taken away by plain clothes authorities at a meal in September amid alleged procedural anomalies such as failure on the part of police to present identification or notify family members. His wife, Li Meiying (李美英) was later detained, too, and remains incommunicado, fate unknown.
Reported to be a leukemia survivor, Meiying’s health in custody is a matter of deep concern: Late October alone has brought to light two cases of people — the human rights lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) and Uyghur businessperson Mexmutjan Memet — who have experienced severe health declines after receiving spurious custodial sentences in China proper and its colony East Turkestan (Xinjiang), respectively, not to mention the deaths of three other women shortly after release from prison, where they had fallen ill, also in East Turkestan.
Although formally jailed for fraud and picking quarrels, the real reason for Li Yuhan’s imprisonment appears to be her defense of Falun Gong members and a fellow human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), who was captured during Beijing’s mass arrest of activists and legal professionals in 2015. Li will be released in April 2024 on crutches, having suffered inhumane indignities like the denial of medical care and officers urinating on her food during six years of incarceration, according to joint statement from Amnesty International and 17 other activist groups.
Memet’s ordeal, meanwhile, seems to have been triggered merely by living overseas and sending his children to study abroad, which the Chinese Communist Party-assembled authorities in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) — and perhaps now further afield — commonly purport to be evidence of extremism, terrorism or other anti-state crimes. Suffering now from serious liver disease, he will not see freedom again until at least the late 2030s.
Based on information published this month by Radio Free Asia and provided by staff at another East Turkestan prison, should Memet somehow survive and recover from his disease, he may then find himself involuntarily producing items like cement, shoes, tea and gloves for the financial gain of the carceral system that has taken decades from his life. Rui’an Xutong Commerce & Trade LLC (瑞安旭彤商贸有限责任公司) is the most likely beneficiary, according to the Xinjiang Victims’ Database.
Alongside the Radio Free Asia expose of prison conditions, which offers further proof that Beijing is still, in essence, running its “reform through labor system” despite claiming to have abolished it in 1994, China’s most detested researcher, Adrian Zenz, has also revealed the changing face of the country’s forced labor schemes in a newly released paper on October 25.
Explaining that most, if not all, coercion is now concentrated in policies euphemized as “poverty alleviation through labor transfer,” Zenz provides the first direct testimony, from a woman pseudonymed as Gulzia, that internment camps have been used as a punitive tool against people who had refused to accept state-mandated factory placements. Gulzia, a victim of such camps, confirmed that she had shared a cell with two others who had been detained for this reason.
This strengthens the evidence that non-Han in East Turkestan are not in a position to freely decline any work that is foisted upon them by Chinese government, adding to various official documents that imply the same, and establishing the “the menace of any penalty” described in the United Nations International Labor Organization’s definition of forced labor.
Thus, the justification for legislation like the U.S.’s Uyghur Forced Labor Act is underlined and pressure grows on slower-footed democratic entities like the European Union to hasten the passage of their own laws to prevent the import of goods produced under conditions of servitude.