Say you are a Shanghai-based economist and doubt the veracity of China’s latest trade data. You put out a research report to that effect, one that creates buzz on the Internet and exposes you to something far worse than making a bad call: prison.
Or say you are a photographer in Chongqing and circulate images of a politician who loves Rolexes. Bloggers begin buzzing about how a modestly compensated public official could afford a stable of $7,000 watches. You, too, may end up in handcuffs.
What if overworked and underpaid Foxconn Technology Group workers churning out iPhones they can’t afford choose to vent online? How about an environmentally minded graduate student who questions the accuracy of Beijing’s air-pollution readings? Or a mother who lost a child in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake who complains in a blog post that repairs still look shoddy? Could all of these people get arrested?
Yes, according to a new threat from Xi Jinping’s government: three-year jail terms for Web comments deemed defamatory. This isn’t happening in a place of George Orwell’s imagination, but in a country many still think is destined for world domination. China’s escalating war on free expression is unfolding in ways even the author of the classic 1949 novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” couldn’t have dreamed up. It’s clear evidence that hopes Xi’s government would be s...