It is encouraging that petitions, protests, reports, documentaries, editorials, op eds and blogs seek to alert the world to the first anniversary on July 9 of the Party’s most recent and intense crackdown on human rights lawyers, collaborating activists and their loyal families. It is discouraging to realize how little impact all these efforts will have on Xi Jinping and his spear carriers or even on the Chinese people, most of whom are deprived of their right under China’s Constitution to know about such efforts. The scholarly work of Eva Pils, Terry Halliday, Liu Sida and others helps us to understand the motivations of these martyrs to the cause of political and civil rights. Yet how long can we expect even the bravest and most dedicated human rights advocates to endure in the cruelly punishing conditions that Xi Jinping has imposed upon them?
Although signs of internal friction and power struggles increasingly emerge from Xi’s non-transparent polity, the odds still favor his continuing to rule for another five years after the 2017 Party Congress, and some insiders doubt that he will voluntarily surrender the throne in accordance with Party rules in 2022. This recalls the examples set by Marcos in the Philippines and Park Choon-Hee in South Korea. Yet those East Asian precedents for illegally extending dictatorship, like the unspeakable abuses of Mao Zedong, in each case led to a public reaction that produced a more civilized, lawful regime. In China, unfortunately, the post-Mao reaction proved to be halting and incomplete, and Xi Jinping’s four years have featured repression more than progress. Comparisons are stimulating between the Xi regime and Russia under Putin, who successfully reversed his country’s post-Soviet democratic tide of the early 1990s. Will Xi, who admires Putin, seek some similarly imaginative formula for legitimizing the extension of his rule? How long will China’s human rights heroes have to suffer and sustain their faith?