How free are the Chinese people? How free to worship as they please? To learn the truth from the media? To hear the truth from the Communist Party and the government? How can people with a grievance negotiate with the state?
Tibetan Buddhism has long been feared as a rallying point and cover for Tibetan independence. Worship is permitted on the Party’s strict terms — neither government employees nor students are allowed to practice. A study in contrasts, official Catholicism — administered not by the Vatican but by the Communist Party — is far from China’s unofficial churches with 40 million adherents who want nothing between them and their God. The film also explores Falun Gong and the threat it posed to the Chinese government as well as examining the limits on the right to assembly and press freedom.
The second half looks at popular grievances: forced evictions, government cover-up of the AIDS problem, corruption and land grabbing. There were 87,000 officially-recognized cases of public disorder in 2005. The courts frequently refuse to take on sensitive cases, forcing ordinary people to petition government — a frustratingly ineffectual process. The cameras go inside a “Re-education through Labor” camp to which women are committed without trial for up to four years for drugs, sex or property offences — or for petitioning.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has acknowledged the problems facing China’s rural population. The Party’s answer is to build what it calls a “New Socialist Countryside” with free education, improved healthcare, no agricultural tax and an extra $6 billion. But with corruption rife in local government, will the money and the measures reach the people?
The final sequence in the series is the story of what happened to Taishi Village, which sought to use the law to impeach and remove its corrupt leaders. Praised by the leading Party newspaper in China one minute, the village was overrun with police and militia the next. The corrupt old leaders were reinstated by local government amid violence, intimidation and arrests.