Beijing's Casual Tyranny

An expat in China writes anonymously after a stint as a speed typist for the Chinese Ministry of Propaganda during the 2008 Olympics:

While I didn’t experience censorship as it’s shown in the moviesthe black sharpie, the page torn from the recordI did experience a casual tyranny strong enough to keep my name off this piece.

Deviating from official narratives only sometimes triggered retribution, though this irregularity didn’t make the prospect of punishment any less frightening. Instead of a brutal and consistent disciplinarian, the Chinese government reminded me of a cantankerous uncle, who in his attempt to seem youthful would let most of my rebellions slide before he pounced: forbidding me to borrow his car, drink his scotch, live in his house. ...[R]andom repression could be effective: would I be the anomaly, the one who was caught? Punishmentusually in the form of kicking an expat out of the country or denying reentryonly really rattled those who lived in China because they loved it, those who could not bear to risk never returning.

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