It is well-known that freedom of expression in China is a privilege, not a right. Limiting this privilege enables the government to better monitor potentially problematic social issues. And this is the critical reason that more and more intellectual and professional elite have decided to leave their country.

It is worth mentioning that Cai Xia, former president of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, is classified as an ideological elite. After criticizing the party for suppressing dissent, she was expelled from the party and had all her social benefits canceled. She was then exiled to the United States, where she could freely express her opinions about Xi Jinping and the party.

Xu Chenggang, 72, is among the most internationally renowned Chinese economists. In 2012, he published a paper, “The Basic System of China’s Reform and Development,” and later won the Sun Yefang Award, the highest honor in China’s economic circle. Xu Chenggang has taught at Harvard University for many years and has been deeply involved in the debate on how to reform China’s economy and politics. 

He hoped the Chinese system would provide better protection for property and individual rights. However, he believes that China will no longer allow freedom of speech in Hong Kong, making it impossible to carry out his work. He moved to London after Hong Kong cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in 2019.

Another Chinese scholar is Sun Peidong, whose several articles on the “Cultural Revolution era” were rejected by Chinese academic journals. She got criticized when disagreeing with the school’s rules and deletion of “freedom of thought.” She later said she was forced to leave China to continue doing her research.

Congressional executive commission on China published a press naming members of China’s “free-speech elite” who were able to express concerns and criticism regarding the government with less fear of punishment than the average Chinese citizen. This group comprises senior government and Communist Party leaders, those with the patronage of such leaders, and, to a lesser extent, academics and journalism professionals. 

However, the degree to which the government is willing to tolerate criticism of its leaders and policies is contingent upon the audience’s size and nature and the speaker’s ideological credentials. For the average Chinese citizen, freedom of publication is nothing more than the freedom to submit.

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