The Three Oppositions: Chinese Dissident Groups Holding Mass Demonstrations Since 2012

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

By Tom Stern

As President Donald Trump takes command 28 Years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, there are three prominent groups which are considered by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to be dissident and subversive to its ideals, posing a danger to political stability. Each of these could potentially become the backbone necessary for the expansion of freedoms in China.

  1. the Tuidang Movement, [1]
  2. the New Citizens’ Movement [2], and
  3. the practitioners of Falun Gong [3].

Tuidang Movement

The 退黨運動 (Tuìdǎng yùndòng), or Tuidang movement for short, is one that seeks the abolition of the CPC. Literally meaning “to withdraw from the Communist Party,” its members are bound by their desire to end the corruption tied to the Party. Caylan Ford, in his dissertation “Tradition and Dissent in China: The Tuidang Movement and its Challenge to the Communist Party” notes a key difference between the movement and those before it in that, rather than drawing from western principles and ideals of democracy and free expression, it seeks to act as a mirror to the nation’s idealized past. In its reflexive approach, the movement employs exigent and distinct Chinese language and ways of thought, such as Confucianism. Ironically, Ford also notes that the movement views the Communist ideology as a largely foreign and detrimental one, “which is portrayed as antithetical to true Chinese values, human nature, and universal laws.” Rather than using a geopolitically-charged force behind its espoused arguments, the Tuidang movement draws from both history and morality in its efforts to compel the Chinese public to recognize their unified, and wholly unnecessary, suffering under the Communist Party.

The Tuidang movement, however, began as an offshoot of another group – the Falun Gong practitioners, discussed below. The main proponent of the Tuidang movement is a media outlet based in the United States: The Epoch Times. The Times is a newspaper that has been tied to the Falun Gong practitioners or spiritual group, and is responsible for introducing the Tuidang movement in the mainland. In 2004, the Chinese version of the newspaper published and promoted a booklet entitled 九評共產黨, or “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.” The booklet essentially blames the difficulties faced by citizens with the Communist Party, amounting to no less than “a total collapse of social, moral, and ecological systems, and a profound crisis for the Chinese people.”[4]

This booklet was introduced and disseminated throughout mainland China by The Epoch Times, which prompted an immediate response from those with similar sentiments, concretizing their desires to withdraw from the Party and manifesting it through their disavowal of their affiliations with the CPC. The ideologies of the booklet, as well as of the entire Tuidang movement, are spread by its adherents through a combination of electronic and physical means, such as leaflets, pamphlets, and fax messages.

The members of the Tuidang movement, as of 2014, amount to at least 158,642,541 who renounce the Communist Party of China. Their leadership is based in New York, at The Global Service Center for Quitting Chinese Communist Party, or Tuidang Center, led by is its chairperson, Rong Yi. Their most recent activities include a thousand-strong Washington, D.C. rally to commemorate the start of the movement in conjunction with practitioners of Falun Gong. The movement is present not only in China, but in a number of other countries.

New Citizens’ Movement

Unlike the Tuidang Movement, which began outside of China , 中國新公民運動 (Zhōngguó XīnGōngMín YùnDòng) the New Citizens’ Movement is a grassroots one with a particular focus on human rights and freedoms of expression. The movement pushes for a concrete political change in the form of stricter adherence to the rule of law, rather than simply leaving the country to the absolute rule of the Communist Party of China. Whilst having all the potential trappings of what most would consider a traditional activist movement driven by the working classes, the movement is also composed of members of upper socio-economic groups, such as those in the legal profession, white-collar professionals, and wealthy businessmen. As a result, the issue of transparency is also one of the main thrusts of the movement, with members of the movement clamoring for government officials to release comprehensive and exhaustive financial statements as to their assets and property. To the movement, the lack of such transparency is one of the many manifestations of the corruption within China.

In an effort to address the question of numerous human rights violations throughout the mainland, The New Citizens’ Movement is pushing for a more stringent rule of law that actually enforces the many rights mandated by their constitution, as well as their supposed state as a “People’s Republic.”[5] Rights such as those of free speech and expression are supposed to be guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but the nation as of yet lacks a comprehensive body to ensure that citizens are guaranteed their most fundamental rights.

One of the cornerstones of the Tuidang movement is their protests, which they disguise in the form of city-wide dinners. Held once a year, the movement has held these dinners to gather Chinese citizens and provide an avenue for solidarity and the exchange of ideas in a politically neutral and culturally significant form of a dinner night. According to lawyer Xiao Guozhen, these dinner nights, the most recent one being last year, are held in multiple cities, with each having as many as one hundred to two hundred participants.

While mass gatherings like this are generally illegal, the innocuous nature and culturally-significant form of a dinner allow The New Citizens’ Movement to proliferate through a creative workaround of general policy. Despite their motivations and the execution of their activities, however, the CPC nonetheless deems them a threat to political stability.

Recently, a number of the movement’s members were put on trial and sentenced to prison for their human rights campaigning. Xu Zhiyong, an activist connected to the movement, was indicted for organizing and orchestrating people to disrupt public order. Earlier in 2012, Xu had written about the movement’s aim “to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor, and to construct a new order of fairness and justice”[6] This is but one of the more high-profile cases concerning a member of the Movement.   Without any definite leader, the Movement is a loosely held group of affiliates who are gathered and organized by individuals. The members generally consider themselves as equals in decision making on behalf of the Movement.

Falun Gong Movement

法輪功 (Fǎlún Gōng), or “Dharma Wheel Practice” is a spiritual discipline closely associated with the meditative practice of 氣功, or Qigong. Yuezhi Zhao has done a study on the art of Falun Gong and captures it both as a meditative art and spiritual way of life for its practitioners in his work: “Falun Gong, Identity, and the Struggle over Meaning Inside and Outside China” (2013). To him, “Falun Gong presents itself as a virtuous form of self-cultivation and spiritual enlightenment” (Zhao 210).

As both a meditative art and spiritual discipline, despite its growing popularity since its introduction in 1992, Falun Gong must contend with the State’s opposition. Branded as a cult, the practitioners of Falun Gong are singled out for their adherence to superstition, which is viewed as detrimental to the Communist Party and the Chinese people at large. It is claimed that practicing Falun Gong, while following the tenets of Chinese Buddhism, bestows boons such as curing diseases, levitation, and even clairvoyance” (Zhao 210). Because of such radical claims, the Communist Party has branded the group of practitioners as a cult, running counter to the state’s goals for scientific and industrial modernization. Zhao further elaborates that as the state condemns the practice, Falun Gong had revealed that it established a “resistance identity” that “resists prevailing pursuits of wealth, power, scientific rationality, and, indeed, the entire value system associated with the project of modernization.” The CPC has focused its efforts to stamp out the Falun Gong movement on a combination of media campaigns condemning it as superstition, as well as through more physical and oppressive means such as arrests, imprisonment, and even torture. In July 2012, numerous people from Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China signed a petition to investigate the death and possible murder of a Falun Gong practitioner in prison, Qin Yueming. Fifteen-thousand people from the province signed on behalf of his family, all practitioners of Falun Gong. 

The meditative art and spiritual discipline is practiced both inside and outside the mainland, with no central body. The motivation of this group is spiritual, which consequently allows anyone to join it the moment he or she adopts its beliefs and practices.

Conclusion

Despite the authoritarian nature of the Communist Party of China and the cautious attitude towards any differing opinions, groups still continue to proliferate both inside and outside the mainland to support their own causes and beliefs. These three suppressed dissident groups prove that Communist China is struggling to maintain its own homogeneous brand of stability, acting upon anything that can severely undermine its control over day-to-day affairs. The sweeping issues of corruption and transparency, sincere clamoring for a return to the comparatively moralistic ways of traditional China, and desire to practice independent spiritual freedom, puts these groups, regardless of their foundations and backgrounds at political odds with the dominant, but now arguably struggling, power in the so-called Middle Kingdom. 

Since its victory against the Kuomintang, or National People’s Party, in 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has governed China under its authoritarian rule and strict political ideology. From Leninism and Maoism to Chinese socialism, the thoughts that shaped the everyday lives and public affairs of Chinese citizens have often placed them at odds with the Party and its instruments. The slightest element of any product of expression – utterances, written words – that runs counter to any foundation of these ideas is often enough justification for the Party to employ swift and exacting measures to ensure its hold, as well as its idea and state of stability.

While China has crushed a number of political displays and demonstrations, such as the iconic Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the long-standing Uyghur separatist movement, political groups nonetheless continue to make their presence known to the Party, championing ideas and rights of which they believe they have been deprived. Ranging from freedom of thought and expression to even spiritual practices, these causes fuel various contemporary groups. Whether the foundation of these groups be political, moral, or even spiritual, they have all nonetheless provoked the ire of the government and its overall political ideologies. Despite the significant force in the CPC response, however, some of these groups are able to hold mass demonstrations within the mainland.

At times, the Chinese government unwittingly helps the cause of democracy and human rights movements. According to the Wall Street Journal (2/4/2014), “On January 21, 2014, most of China’s 500 million Web users were unable to get online for up to eight hours. The blackout seems to have been caused not by hackers or equipment failure but by the Chinese government’s own Internet censors—the operators of the “Great Firewall”. Instead of denying access to proscribed sites, they accidentally re-routed almost all Chinese Web traffic to a set of foreign sites that are usually blocked.  Those servers promptly crashed, and the Chinese Internet ground to a halt.”

While President Xi Jinping of China acknowledges the mortal danger for the CPC, the core of Xi’s present strategy is to take a hard line against rumor blogs, dissident intellectuals, religious sects like Falun Gong, and attorneys who push for rights promised by the Communists in 1982.  Remember that from 1911-1949, China was a democracy, albeit imperfect and challenged, with a strong religious core mixing Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, and Christianity under Han dominance.  Though crushed in the civil war of Red against Blue, nevertheless these tendencies and desires remain deep in the minds of the Chinese people.   Since our “State Department lost China in 1949,” disagreement over why and who is to blame has never completely stopped.  As Bertrand Russell, the renowned philosopher and logician used to say, “Such argumentation can be carried on indefinitely, but leads nowhere.” 

President Xi has called for mandatory viewing by cadres of a film called, Twentieth Anniversary of the Death of the Soviet Party and State: As the Russians relate.  According to Jeremy Page on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (12/11/2013), the film’s message is that, “The Soviet Union didn’t fall apart because of the Communist system itself, but because of the individuals who betrayed it, especially Mikhail Gorbachev. Party insiders and academics say it is part of an effort to combat what is portrayed as an American conspiracy to overthrow the party through “peaceful evolution”—the spread of Western ideas via media, academia and popular culture.”  Also, the party issued Document No. 9 in April, 2013 which warned officials to resist the spread of Western values.  Another film, Silent Contest, sums up nicely in its contention that the U.S. is trying to contain and weaken China through the projection of Western values, e.g., through democracy, human rights, and peaceful evolution.

Works Cited

Hu Sheng (chief editor), A Concise History of the Communist Party of China, Party History Research Centre of the CPC Central Committee, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1994.

Branigan, Tania, and Jonathan Kaiman. “Xu Zhiyong Trial: Reaction of Chinese Officials Has Unexpected Impact.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/22/xu-zhiyong-trial-china-official-reaction-new-citizens-movement>.

Epoch Times. “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party – Introduction.” The Epoch Times. The Epoch Times, 13 May 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/3942-nine-commentaries-on-the-communist-party-introduction/>.

Ford, Caylan. “Tradition and Dissent in China: The Tuidang Movement and Its Challenge to the Communist Party.” Diss. George Washington University, 2011. Abstract. (n.d.): n. pag. Proquest. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://search.proquest.com//docview/908636913>.

Gregory, Stephen. “This July 20 Listen to the Chinese People.” The Epoch Times. The Epoch Times, 20 July 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/opinion/this-july-20-listen-to-the-chinese-people-268433.html>.

R.E.A.L. “China: 120 Million Leave Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – Falun Gong Rally in DC.” R.E.A.L. Responsible for Equality and Liberty (R.E.A.L), 14 July 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.realcourage.org/2012/07/china-freedom-movement/>.

“Support Freedom in China! Support Tuidang!” Quitccp.org. The Global Service Center for Quitting Chinese Communist Party Inc., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. <http://quitccp.org/>.

Wang, Angela. “International Voices Laud Tuidang, Look to a Free China.” The Epoch Times. The Epoch Times, 14 July 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/united-states/international-voices-laud-tuidang-look-to-a-free-china-269858.html>.

“What is China’s New Citizens’ Movement?” Wall Street Joural. Wall Street Journal, 10

October 2013. Web. 27 < http://live.wsj.com/video/what-is-china-new-citizens-movement/B56F7901-5270-45C7-8BFA-A5DB3ED9300D.html>

Xiao, Guzhen. “What Is a “Same-city Dinner Gathering?” China Change. N.p., 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. <http://chinachange.org/2013/09/22/what-is-a-same-city-dinner-gathering/>.

End Notes

[1] 退黨運動 (Tuìdǎng yùndòng)

[2] 中國新公民運動 (Zhōngguó XīnGōngMín YùnDòng)

[3] 法輪功 (Fǎlún Gōng)

[4] Epoch Times, “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party – Introduction.” The Epoch Times, 2012,

< http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/3942-nine-commentaries-on-the-communist-party-introduction/>

[5] Wall Street Journal, “What is China’s New Citizens’ Movement?” Wall Street Joural.10

October 2013. < http://live.wsj.com/video/what-is-china-new-citizens-movement/B56F7901-5270-45C7-8BFA-A5DB3ED9300D.html>

[6] Branigan and Kaiman, “Xu Zhiyong Trial: Reaction of Chinese Officials has Unexpected Impact.“  The Guardian. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/22/xu-zhiyong-trial-china-official-reaction-new-citizens-movement

JPR Status: Editorial.