Government censors have banned a prominent poet from social media platforms after she penned a poem that many interpreted as being a comment about the forthcoming ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 20th National Congress, at which CCP leader Xi Jinping will seek an unprecedented third term in office.
The Weibo account of Sichuan-based poet Hu Minzhi flashed a brief message reading “This account does not exist,” before disappearing on Sept. 29.
Hu has reportedly been banned from both Weibo and Douyin after reporting that she had been “invited to drink tea,” a euphemism for being hauled in to talk to state security police, in early September.
“She hasn’t been heard from [on social media] for several days now,” Voice of America journalist Ye Bing said via Twitter. “The outlook for her situation, for her liberty, seems bleak.”
His tweet was retweeted by independent, Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu.
Hu’s barring came after she published a poem titled “Waiting for the Wind,” a poem apparently satirizing people’s lack of agency around the party congress — one of the most significant political meetings to occur in China since Xi took power.
“More than a billion people are waiting for the wind,” the poem says. “It will come from the direction it comes from.”
“Officials are waiting; entrepreneurs; ordinary people too,” it continues. “We have no idea if it’ll be an east wind or a west wind, this autumn … a wind that blows forwards, or one that blows backwards.”
Taking China backward
The poem came as many political commentators had begun to highlight concerns that Xi stands poised to take China back to a centrally controlled economy and a political culture similar to the Mao era, and away from the economic reform and opening up begun by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979.
“We are just waiting here like puppets … to hear our fate; ours personally, as well as that of the country,” the poem says.
Hu’s apparent silencing comes as Chinese police detained more than a million people in a nationwide security operation ahead of the party congress.
Beijing resident Wang Jiangqing said the city is now filled with soldiers and police officers.
“The 20th National Congress is approaching, and they’re getting more and more nervous,” Wang told RFA. “You can’t go anywhere now.”
But he appeared to believe the measures would be counterproductive.
“The more they do this, the more unstable the country becomes,” he said.
Beijing resident Li Ning said anyone from out of town has been escorted out of the city, while even games of mah jong have been banned in the run-up to the event.
“All police stations are being tasked with [detaining people], with quotas for each officer for arrests and solved cases,” Li told RFA. “It’s all about making up the numbers, so they detain people for the smallest thing.”
A resident of the northeastern city of Shenyang surnamed Liu said things were similar where she lives.
“They’re just making up the numbers — gradually making their way through 1.4 billion people,” Liu said. “They arrest whomever they want, or how would they be able to flex their authority.”
“Any meeting, any movement will result in a tip-off and people getting detained,” she said.
A Shanghai resident surnamed Chen said large numbers of petitioners — ordinary Chinese pursuing complaints against the government — have been sent out of town to stay at resorts, farmhouses or cheap hotels under police escort for the duration.
“[They are holding them] either at home or at a tourist resort,” Chen said. “Petitioners are graded [by threat level].”
“For example, if you are a key petitioner, they will hold you in a resort, while they give others a sum of money and tell them not to petition [around the party congress].”
“Some will send you to a farmhouse or a hotel … and pay for three meals a day.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.