China appears to be returning to the Cultural Revolution with public confessions of dissidents as a warning to all those who would challenge the ruling party. Chinese viewers were exposed to a truly sad and transparent confession of American businessman and leading Chinese blogger, Charles Xue. The Chinese recognize the Internet as the greatest threat to the totalitarian regime. Xue was therefore rolled out to degrade himself before the Chinese people — begging forgiveness for forgetting his place in objecting to such things as contaminated water. He admits to feeling like the “emperor of the Internet” and apologizes for spreading rumors against the ruling party leaders.
Xue was arrested three weeks ago as part of a sweep on bloggers and critics on the Internet. He was charged with hiring a prostitute.
Chinese state television showed Xue in handcuffs expressing shame and remorse. Xue said that his criticism of the government was the product of pure vanity and self-love: “It gratified my vanity greatly. I got used to my influence online and the power of my personal opinions . . . and I forgot who I am.”
Xue said that he effectively became drunk with power in exercising free speech: “All of a sudden you draw so much attention. How do you describe the feeling? Gorgeous. . . . I didn’t raise constructive suggestions to solve the problem. Instead, I just simply spread these ideas emotionally.”
In the most disgraceful part of the interview, Chinese officials had Xue praise new laws criminalizing Internet postings, saying “It is very necessary to release these laws and regulations today. Without regulation, there’s no punishment for spreading the rumors.”
Xue warns other Chinese not to fall victim to the appeal of the Internet’s free thought and speech: “If there is no moral standard or cost for slander, you can’t manage the Internet. And there are no limits. It becomes a big problem.”
It is a chilling interview and shows how desperate the Chinese are in trying to curtail the Internet. Unfortunately, our own government has shown the same hostility to Internet reporting and Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week got her way in denying journalistic protections to most bloggers and Internet critics.