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July 17, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright July 17, 2008 David Bandurski. Used by permission.


I love words. And I thank you in advance, dear citizens, for obeying mine. Words are dangerous and slippery things. Some people in the West will tell you that words are playthings, and that we should all be free to do with them as we please. But I want to tell you that words are really all we have – and this is why the Party has troubled itself to choose them so carefully on your behalf.

You will have heard, I suppose, that Article 35 of our nation’s constitution guarantees that you enjoy “freedom of expression.” You will no doubt agree, however, as a matter of moral principle, that responsible citizens must enjoy all things in moderation. No good can come of enjoying words too much – and this is why we have taken it upon ourselves to parcel out this freedom, so that all Chinese can enjoy words with more or less equal moderation.

Comrade Mao Zedong once said, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” But words too are powerful. It is not my intention to spook you, dear citizens, but we must all remember the way that too many words under the policy of “glasnost” – a Russian word whose direct translation is “chaos” – spelled the end of the Soviet Union.

We must not forget – and this begins with not remembering – how Zhao Ziyang said on May 6, 1989, in the midst of popular demonstrations, that propaganda leaders should “open things up just a bit.” “There is no big danger in that,” he said. His words were careless, and the end result was chaos. Nobody wants chaos. Just try to picture what it does to GDP.