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.
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 serious about economic reforms are also fiction.