Twenty-five years after the Tiananmen massacre, you would think China's Communist rulers would feel confident. China's economy, by some measures, is poised to become the world's largest. Its military has grown by leaps and bounds. Businessmen from every corner of the world pay court.
Yet their behavior suggests fear. They dare not let their people know what happened at Tiananmen Square. They employ tens of thousands of agents to watch over online conversations, blocking and censoring any hint of criticism. They knock down churches that become too popular. Increasingly, they bully, harass and imprison peaceful citizens who urge the regime to follow its own constitution.
Two of those citizens, Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong, received Democracy Awards last week from the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, though neither was able to accept the honor in person. Mr. Liu sat in a prison cell during the ceremony, just as he did when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Mr. Liu helped write Charter 08, a call for the government to honor its people's constitutional rights, which quickly garnered more than 10,000 signatures before the regime squelched the movement. His wife, though charged with no crime, remains isolated under house arrest. Mr. Xu, a founder of the New Citizens' Movement, has been detained since last year in a crackdown that has intensified since Xi Jinping become president.
Mr. Xu's award was accepted by another brave activist, Hua Ze, who now lives in exile in the United States. When she was kidnapped by Chinese security agents in 2010 and interrogated brutally over many days, she infuriated her captors with her fearlessness. "Why should I be scared?" she taunted one of them, at a time when she did not even know where she was being held. "You abduct a feeble woman like me by force and don't even dare identify yourselves, which means you're even more terrified than I am." (Her account is in the recently published "In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China.")
Ms. Hua said the Obama administration should do more to back people inside China who are fighting for freedom; public security officials who violate rights could be denied visas, for example. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., who also was honored by the National Endowment for Democracy last week for his many years of democracy promotion, proposed renaming the street in front of China's embassy for Mr. Liu. We hope District of Columbia officials take up that proposal, which is backed by other members of Congress, including Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Meanwhile, as the regime tries to show "the glorious, prosperous side of China," Ms. Hua said, the number of people with discontents that cannot be expressed is growing: religious believers, people forcibly evicted from their homes, victims of China's one-child and forced abortion policies. "There are a lot of weaknesses built in that will come back to bite them," she said, and then echoed her own words during her detention: "Even though we are persecuted, they are even more scared than we are."
-- Washington Post