Evan Osnos with a good one on what we see in the Party Congress, and what we don’t see:
For a week, Beijing is flirting with memories of the pre-Internet age. By ramping up the electronic network of censors, dead ends, and other roadblocks, the government has succeeded in making the Internet, at times, as balky and circumscribed as at any moment since the Web arrived in China nearly a decade ago. It would be easy to forget that China now has nearly six hundred million people online, because the Chinese-language microblogs and forums have been scrubbed of the humiliating double entendre and mockery that citizens now pour forth on the Party and its leaders. At times, Google and Gmail disappear entirely. The outside world’s most nettlesome newspaper, the Times, has been blacked out. Likewise, it’s easy to think we’re back in the days before Bloomberg was anything but a person, because that site is blacked out, too, for publishing details on the fortunes of senior Party oligarchs, a subject the government considers an appalling breach of decorum.
For a week, all is quiet on China’s Western front, as far as the Party is concerned. It would be easy to miss the fact that six Tibetan protesters set themselves on fire in the course of two days last week, to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet, because the only Tibetan participants you’re likely to meet in the Great Hall of the People this week are the kinds of Tibetans who call each other “comrade,” speak Mandarin, and point out, as the delegation did on Thursday, that the Tibetan capital has been voted the happiest city in China four times in the last five years. To make sure that the present doesn’t intrude on that memory, teams of guards are stationed outside the Great Hall with fire extinguishers in case anyone tries to burn themselves.
For a week, the Party is unified, tolerant of debate, and clear in its mission. To ensure that today’s complexities do not encroach on that, the State Council Information Office, which helps tell the Chinese media what it can report, advised all Chinese news publications that they are “forbidden from reporting on, commenting on or publishing Hu Deping‘s online article ‘Reform Cannot be Wasted.’” Hu, the scion of the late leader Hu Yaobang, is a frequent critic of the Party’s reluctance to reform, but there’s no reason for newspaper readers to be burdened with those ins and outs. It was just one of scores of advisories given to the Chinese media this week to maintain what filmmakers call continuity. It is the authoritarian equivalent of ensuring that the extras in the shot aren’t wearing digital watches.
Like all parties, the Party’s party will come to an end, eventually: Thursday, to be precise, when the next generation of leaders will be revealed to the world. It will be up to those men to face the reality of the Party’s future, if the present is not unnerving enough.