While in Tianjin a friend said to me that she wanted to forward one of my posts about the Hong Kong protests to her WeChat circles, but was afraid of being “harmonized” (被和谐掉) — a euphemism meaning “to be arrested for political activism”, or as Orwell might have said, the crime of speaking one’s position. The expression ironically activates Xi Jinping’s relentless calls for social harmony through a return to Chinese values, that might be otherwise expressed as “shut up and do what you’re told” much as Lee Kwan Yew deployed Neo-Confucianism in his pursuit of a well ordered managed Singapore.

In fact, on the bus commute this morning, I watched the latest in a series of “what do Chinese values mean to me” campaign in which a representive cross section of society spoke to the camera, defining “harmony”. There were white and pink collars, students and retires, and a foreigner. All agreed that harmony was a good thing, involving cooperation, kindness, and general well-being. None mentioned the doublespeak definition, nor did any point out that in everyday conversation chez Shenzhen  “harmony” has been politicized. After watching the harmony advert, I rarely hear friends use the word 和谐 except in critical or ironic contexts.

So, just a bit of Orwellian linguistics for Halloween because — yes oh yes — many ghosts and goblins and scary monsters have donned business suits for their foray into national politics, here and there and everywhere states suppress political expression for the “democratic public good”. BOO!

6 thoughts on “harmonized

    • Especially when wielded by Neo-Confucianists in the CCP! For the rest of us, the definition is a bit more straight-forward.

  1. It’s a sad state, what I choose to share in my facebook circles is completely different than what I share on wechat moment posts. Occasionally I like to subtly introduce subversiveness into my mainland China scene, but I know I can only do so much without causing danger to myself. In any case, if Chinese people ask then I’ll happily share some free VPNs and tell them what I really think. In the end I am only a visitor here and it’s up to the local people to become more free. I’d hate to prove the false point that all protests are secretly run by foreigners, right?

    Harmony can be a dangerous thing…

    • Hey Ray, I think what’s difficult for me is learning which boundaries can be pushed and how far. This is a skill that many of my activist friends have that I do not. That said, I don’t think being born someplace makes one ineligible for commenting on local events. As a species, Homo sapiens have moved around and set up new communities for almost 2 million years. Only recently (less than 10,000 years ago) under slave, feudal and state systems are we required to stay in place. Within the contemporary system, China and the US have both passed laws that make it difficult to legally join their communities and earn / receive / secure the right to work for change where one has chosen to live. They also work actively to limit who has the right to speak once in those circles.

      Hence my ongoing distrust of US forces securing democracy both abroad and at home.

      • Commenting on events anywhere in the world is great, and more people should learn about different places and do so. But personally, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable leading a movement or something in China (even if there wasn’t that whole danger of being ‘harmonized’).

        Yes, it gets a bit subtle to know what topics are taboo and what you can reasonably push the envelope. I always have to explain to everyone back home that it’s okay to criticize Mao here. Just don’t mention the Dalai Lama. While cross-strait relations with Taiwan are getting more freely discussed, those Japanese islands are a whole other thing, etc.

        Ah the hukou system, and passports, and bombing for democracy, so much more.

  2. harmonized also know as “river-crab-ed”

    There are a lot of things that you can say in China, like which local official on the take, or any evidence to that effect…remember a year or so ago, there is a investigative piece about how rich are the CCP members at the highest levels are? We are talking about billions to hundreds of billions.

    If they found out, first invited to tea, next taken for ‘vacation’ or black jails, as a last resort killed under “special circumstances”

    US policies are NOT perfect, however CHINESE RULE OF LAW is only a PROP to show foreigners (anyone who isn’t Han) PRC is civilized. A lot of COMMON INFORMATION are CHINESE ‘STATE SECRETS’

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