Take a look at this story about Chinese re-education camps. There’s some interesting lessons in persuasion here, but I’ll let you read it and tell you what I reckon after. From The Globe and Mail:
Authorities in China’s far western Xinjiang province have made loyalty to President Xi Jinping a central part of an extensive political re-education campaign that requires detainees to swear allegiance to the Communist Party while forswearing a Muslim faith that they are told to repeat is “stupid.”
Large numbers – researchers estimate the total in the hundreds of thousands – of people have been placed in Chinese facilities known as re-education centres, where they are forcibly indoctrinated. Many of those detained are Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs accused of “incorrect thinking” in the midst of a campaign that has treated what authorities consider “radical tendencies” as a public-health crisis that must be expunged.
Now, interviews with people who have been in those centres show that China’s current leader, who has orchestrated a personalization of power not seen in China since the days of Mao Zedong, occupies a place of singular importance in China’s efforts to rectify what it deems errant thinking.
“Xi Jinping is great! The Communist Party is great! I deserve punishment for not understanding that only President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party can help me,” was one of the refrains that a Uyghur woman who was in a centre last fall, was forced to regularly repeat.
The woman, whose name is not being used by The Globe and Mail for her protection, was put through regular self-criticism sessions. Part of the content was cultural. “My soul is infected with serious diseases,” she would repeat. “There is no God. I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Communist Party.”
Other content was more explicitly political. Day after day she would say out loud that she was a traitor, a separatist and a terrorist.
“I am so blind not to see the greatness of our strong country’s laws. I am so stupid that I was not thankful for our President Xi Jinping,” she would be told to recite.
Now, what do you make of all that?
Personally, my BS detector is going off like a fire alarm.
Well, the tactics they’re describing here are bound to fail.
You are creating a situation where the felt experience is totally at odds to what the mouth is saying.
In this case, they’re reciting the words that say the President and the Communist Party is great, but they are living a felt experience of being dominated and bullied.
So what gets reinforced? The feeling of bullying. A sense of powerlessness. A sense of injustice, perhaps even rage.
And any love for the party? Nope, none at all.
This is the things about affirmations, hypnosis, neuro-lingusitic programming, whatever. The felt-experience is primary.
Imagine saying the affirmation “I am a beautiful sunbeam”, while looking in the mirror and identifying flaws in your complexion.
How effective do you think that is going to be?
And so that’s why my BS detector is going off. What this story asks me to believe is that China has learnt nothing about persuasion over the past 50 years, and is still stuck in some 1960s Soviet mentality.
That not the China I know – canny and happily willing to imitate whatever works.
And while even someone with a basic understanding of persuasion would see this for the flawed strategy that it is, it is a terrifying prospect. It’s 1984. It’s the horrors of Soviet Russia all over again.
It seems almost tailored made to scare peace-loving people in the west out of their pants…
(and into support of trade sanctions and tougher military options..?)
So I don’t know what to think. Maybe China is that stupid, but I doubt it.
So what else is going on?