Does Xi Jinping Know That A Popular Critic Of Chinese Policy Just Got Wiped Off The Internet?

Xi Jinping Ren Zhiqiang Sina Weibo

Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the Chinese media has inevitably led to detractors. But Xi Jinping isn’t to be totally blamed for these extreme policy decisions. The Chinese Communist Party functions in ways that would seem strange to the average internet user, or the average person, whether inside or outside of China. To make a person disappear from the online world when his or her views do not accord with a government agenda has become common practice in China. The latest victim is former real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang. Ren’s social media account was just wiped off of the internet because of comments he made about how the media should have a mission to serve the people, who pay the taxes, and not the communist party, who seeks tighter restrictions on information.

Ren, a former real estate tycoon, has long been an outspoken voice on the Chinese internet. The ruling Chinese Communist Party has always enforced strict media censorship policies, silencing and punishing people who dare to criticize China’s leadership in print, online, or over the airwaves. This basically means that if you write on certain topics in your articles or reports, you will face bizarre political and legal consequences. China is even trying to bring this agenda internationally, as it promotes those same ideals to the world at its annual World Internet Conference.

Back in 2010, when Ren Zhiqiang’s growing social media presence had only two million followers, he spoke to the the Wall Street Journal about his increasing appeal.

“After the Great Leap Forward and the Anti-rightest Movement, a lot of Chinese people were thrust into a world of lies. When they suddenly discover someone who speaks the truth, they pay close attention. I’m like that kid who tells the emperor he isn’t wearing any clothes. My fans know I’m not willing to speak fake words. Some truths I might not be able to talk about, but I will never lie. This society needs to hear different voices. It’s through these voices that people figure out what is real.”

After two of his most recent posts on China’s microblogging service, Sina Weibo, Ren Zhiqiang’s social media account was deleted. The Cyberspace Administration of China then posted justifications for the deletion, citing reasons that would sound strange to people living in free societies. But the account removal comes after policies that media entities must pledge absolute obedience to the Communist Party. The response from controlled state media entities is that people like Ren are trying to impose Western-style government on China, or that he is spreading ideas that are “illegal” or “disruptive.” This is a response commonly leveled at those who openly express independent views. What’s ironic about the retort is that communism itself is a Western import. Communism was not born in China, nor in Asia, but spread there from Germany and Russia, countries that have since given it up.

Before the deletion, Ren Zhiqiang’s social media account had 38 million followers. Though it definitely isn’t the first time he has been critical online, it’s the first time it resulted in his account getting removed.

The effects of increased censorship policies on information that circulates in China will soon become stricter for foreign journalists, as well. According to the BBC, March 10 is the date when China will not allow foreign journalists to put information online that has not first been approved by Beijing. China has the largest population of internet users, and is seeking to control every tidbit of information they share and that gets shared with them. The main function of the controls are to sift out any criticism of the government, and to avert people sharing views which do not directly align with the wishes of communist party ideological control. President Xi Jinping hasn’t responded directly to the Ren Zhiqiang issue.

[Photo by Jason Lee/Pool/Getty Images]