The Tuidang movement (退黨運動/退党运动; Tuìdǎng yùndòng) is a Chinese dissident phenomenon that began in late 2004. The movement, whose name translates literally as "withdraw from the [Communist] party," was catalyzed by the publication of the editorial series "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party" (九评共产党; Jiuping Gongchandang) in the U.S.-based Chinese-language newspaper The Epoch Times (Dajiyuan). The series criticized Communist Party rule in China, with a focus on the party's history of political repression, its propaganda apparatus, and its assaults on traditional culture and value systems.
Soon after the publication the Nine Commentaries, The Epoch Times began publishing letters from readers wishing to symbolically disavow their affiliations to Communist Party organizations, including the Communist Youth League and Young Pioneers. Among the movement's participants are political dissidents, lawyers, scholars, diplomats, and former police or military personnel.
The Tuidang movement, and the publication of the Nine Commentaries in particular, can be understood in part as an outgrowth of the Falun Gong movement's resistance to persecution in China.
Falun Gong is a qigong practice with roots in Buddhist and Daoist philosophy has enjoyed great popularity since it was made public in 1992. Since 1999 it has been severely persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Ethan Gutmann interviewed over 100 witnesses and estimated that 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.
In the early 2000s, United States-based practitioners created news organizations intended to challenge the Communist Party's hegemony over Chinese-language media and provide an opposition voice. Through these organizations, notably The Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty Television, Falun Gong came to establish a "de facto media alliance" with other Chinese dissident groups.
As part of its struggle against the CCP, The Epoch Times published the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party in November 2004, and began inviting readers to renounce the party. Hu Ping describes this foray into political commentary a "logical progression" resulting from Falun Gong's inability to end the persecution against them through other means, but points out that the practice itself is apolitical in nature: "Originally Falun Gong aimed the brunt of its criticism at Jiang Zemin, but after Jiang left office and the new Hu Jintao regime refused to rehabilitate Falun Gong and continued to persecute practitioners, Falun Gong broadened its aim to include the entire regime and the Communist Party ... This change, if not exactly natural, must surely be considered reasonable. If some people insist on regarding Falun Gong as political, it can only be in the sense that Vaclav Havel described as "antipolitical politics."
Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party
The Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party is a book-length collection of nine editorials which present a critical history of Communist Party rule from the Yan'an Rectification Movement to the present. It details events such as the Great Leap Forward and resulting famine, the Cultural Revolution, the destruction and appropriation of religions, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the persecution of Falun Gong, among other topics which are subject to censorship in mainland China.
In addition to the historical accounts, the Nine Commentaries contains lengthy editorializing on the nature and character of the Communist Party, arguing that it is innately violent, duplicitous, immoral, and that its philosophy betrays the Tao and universal laws. Unlike some Chinese dissident movements that draw heavily on liberal democratic concepts,the Tuidang movement "employs distinctly Chinese language and meaning. More Confucian than humanist, [the Nine Commentaries] often makes its points by drawing on Buddhist and Daoist spirituality. Denouncing the party is thus not simply political activism, but takes on spiritual meaning as a process of cleansing the conscience and reconnecting to traditional ethics and values." The Nine Commentaries states that "Private property is the basis of all social rights and often carries national culture. People who are robbed of private property also lose a free mind and spirit." This view is similar to that of natural-rights libertarianism.
The Nine Commentaries does not explicitly set out recommendations for an alternative political system in China, nor does it view institutional change as the solution to the country's ills. It is like other Falun Gong writings, which in the words of historian Arthur Waldron, "espouse cures to the pathologies of communism in the traditional Chinese values of truthfulness and human heartedness."
The series itself has received mixed reviews in the Western world. Historian David Ownby writes of the series "Although there is undoubtedly some truth in the commentaries, they lack balance and nuance, and read like the anti-Communist propaganda written in Taiwan in the 1950s." By contrast, the Asian American Journalists Association bestowed an award on the Epoch Times for the series' publication in 2005.
Dissemination in China
Copies of the Nine Commentaries have been sent into China from abroad by email, fax, or snail mail. In February 2006, Forbes magazine estimated that over 172 million copies had been sent into China through these means. A documentary version of the series is broadcast into Mainland China via satellite by New Tang Dynasty Television. The internet has also played an important role both in disseminating copies of the Nine Commentaries and circulating information on the resulting response.
Activists within China adopt their own methods of dissemination, including distributing copies door-to-door, or displaying slogans in public locations. In rural areas and northern cities such as Beijing, Falun Gong adherents print Tuidang-related slogans on RMB bank notes. The Financial Times reported a typical message as reading "Chinese Communist Party is destined to be destroyed by heaven, the lives of those who resign from the Communist Party will be quickly saved!"
Withdrawing from the Party
Following the publication of the Nine Commentaries, The Epoch Times' website began publishing letters from readers stating their desire to sever their affiliations to the Communist Party, Communist Youth League and Young Pioneers. The newspaper created a website dedicated to the cause, which featured an online submission form for statements. For reasons of personal safety, many participants sign using aliases.
The process of issuing withdrawal statements is referred to in Chinese as "Tuìdǎng" (退党), which can be translated as "withdraw from the party" or "quit the party." The term is something of a misnomer, as average citizens aren't able to officially leave the party and risk imprisonment if they speak out against it. Many participants feel, however, that leaving the CCP is a moral act, one that separates them from the CCP's history of violence and corruption. This is analogous to a German living under Nazi rule formally stating that he (or she) does not support the actions of the Nazi regime, and is not a part of that political movement.
As of March 2015, The Epoch Times has posted over 195 million names and aliases of Tuidang participants. Due to the anonymous nature of the statements, these numbers are difficult to verify. Nonetheless, says Ethan Gutmann, "the significance is very real. [The Tuidang statements] are promissory gestures of rejection from Chinese citizens of all backgrounds and beliefs. And while the numbers are as shaky as any Internet-based survey, I think we can say with confidence that it is well into the millions."
A number of high-profile Chinese dissidents are counted among the Tuidang movement's participants. These include Wei Jingsheng, a leader of the 1978 Beijing Spring democracy movement; human rights lawyers including Gao Zhisheng, Guo Guoting, and Zheng Enchong; and defectors Chen Yonglin, Hao Fengjun and Li Fengzhi.
Other participants whose stories have attracted media attention are Masha Ma, a University of Toronto graduate student who resigned from the Communist Party after watching a documentary on the Tiananmen Square Massacre and reading the Nine Commentaries. 74-year-old Ding Weikun, Communist Party veteran from Zhejiang Province renounced his membership after he was jailed for his protests against a land grab by the local government in his village.
Communist Party response
The Communist Party authorities and public security agencies have responded to the Tuidang movement through censorship and coercive measures, including the arrest of dozens of participants. A 2005 study conducted jointly by researchers from Harvard University, Cambridge University and the University of Toronto found that words related to the Tuidang movement were the most intensively censored terms on the Chinese internet. A series of editorials published in the journal of the People's Liberation Army in March 2011 intended to refute the demands of reformers contained an inadvertent admission that the Tuidang movement was having an effect of undermining morale within the military's rank and file.
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