The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Notice:

  1. From June 28 onward, all reports on village planning and construction must use the standard wording “building a beautiful and livable countryside,” and must no longer use phrases like “village consolidation.”
  2. When propagating reports employing the concept of “rural community,” don’t touch on the spheres of village autonomy or rural administration. In general, don’t broaden the focus.
  3. Rigorously follow authoritative information from authoritative departments on sensitive issues and mass incidents involving village abolition and consolidation, whole-village , and rural building rights.
  4. Increase management of online and self-media within the province, and WeChat, Weibo and media apps under the control of relevant departments. Strictly adhere to the new phrasing requirements. Existing content on “village consolidation” in all media and on all platforms should be pulled offstage.
  5. With regard to gaokao identity theft, the relevant departments are conducting investigations. All media should hold off for now on reporting and commentary. (June 30, 2020) [Chinese]

The directive, whose wording suggests it was issued by province-level authorities, guides coverage of two recently controversial stories from . The first is about a scheme to relocate the inhabitants of three or more at a time into new consolidated communities. Besides promoting economic development and theoretically raising living standards by providing modern amenities, the relocations allowed local governments to reclaim land for agriculture on the sites of the former , buying extra allowance for more profitable urban development elsewhere under central government quota requirements. There were widespread complaints, however, of inadequate consultation with the relocated , some of whom were left with unsuitable accommodation and increased financial burdens. Authorities have responded to public backlash with a suspension of some projects, the dismissal of some officials, and promises to better accommodate residents’ concerns and preferences.

A viral article on the relocations by Wuhan University’s Lü Dewen was deleted from its original location, but remains online in others, and has been archived at CDT Chinese. The following excerpts are translated by Little Bluegill:

So-called hecun bingju (village housing consolidation) means the demolition of farmers’ housing, consolidation of villages, and the construction of new residential complexes in rural areas, to have villagers live in concentrated housing.

[…] The housing consolidation plan for Liu Bin’s home, Liujiacun, in Laiwu, was announced on April 20. A mobilization meeting was held in town, where it was announced Liujiacun was listed for demolition.

Liu Bin was a little dumbfounded. The news came so suddenly. There was an inexpressible sense of panic in his heart. Village cadres announced the little village was to be demolished, but how it would be demolished, where the future residential area would be built, how they would farm once they moved in—none of this was known.

[…] But compared to Liu Bin, Yuan Zhen of Binzhou didn’t even have time to be dumbfounded.

In mid-April, a village meeting was suddenly held in her town, Yuanjiacun. Town leaders announced that Yuanjiacun fell within an area that was to undergo housing consolidation. Immediately thereafter, a work group of over 100 town cadres drove into Yuanjiacun and made their way to all of the homes. They had one goal: make the villagers sign off on the demolition of their homes.

Crucially, at the same time local government authorities were mobilizing to demolish farmers’ homes, they were unable to promise when or where the new housing area would be built.

Yuan Zhen just couldn’t understand. Her first reaction was to protect her home. Her family, along with 23 other households in the village, refused to sign. They became a “thorn in the side” of the local government.

Perhaps the most upsetting case is that of Li Shang’s family.

Starting in late March, Li Shang’s homebound parents faced harassment every day—their fields were dug up, their crops were damaged, roads and electricity were cut off, firecrackers were set off in their doorway, windows were smashed, and more.

Li Shang’s parents had no way to endure these things. On June 11, they fled to Li Shang, who worked in another city. At noon on June 13, without any phone call or text message to notify them, Li Shang’s family home was finally demolished.

After having their homes demolished, pursuant to housing consolidation policy, not only would the quality of villagers’ housing decrease considerably, but they would also have to pay roughly 100,000 yuan in order to move in. On top of that, if you really wanted to move in, you’d still have to spend many tens of thousands on renovation costs.

Moving into the new housing units would not only make farmwork less convenient, it would also add thousands of yuan in living costs per year in water, gas, heating and other costs.

And it would create another huge, difficult-to-solve practical problem—once everyone’s moved into the housing units, how will the young and old get along? These problems seem small, but these are the kinds of things that could act as a fuse to ignite a great human tragedy.

The most unacceptable part of all this is that in the vast majority of places instituting village housing consolidation, they are “demolishing first, building later.” They’re moving to demolish all these homes before breaking any ground on new housing complexes. This is the situation all over the place.

Yuan Zhen couldn’t understand—taking on debt to move into an apartment building, huge increases in living costs, those who worked in the fields still having to work in the fields, those in the service industry still having to work… How in the world is this living the good life?

Facing all kinds of questioning, on June 17, the Shandong Province Government News Office held a press conference. During the press conference, the head of the province’s Department of Natural Resources, Li Hu, stated that village housing projects are still only at an exploratory stage. No work has been instructed to take place. No large-scale demolition and construction has taken place.

Furthermore, he promised that the people of the villages would be the ones who decide whether or not original homes would be demolished, whether or not they would move, whether or not construction on new housing would be done. A minimum of 95% of villagers would have to agree before any proposals could be enacted. There would be no orders to force a “one-size-fits-all” solution. There would be no increase of burden on villagers.

It is our hope that Shandong Province officials will truly consider the interests of the people, rein in the village housing consolidation policy, and advance it only while respecting the wishes of the villagers.

The village housing consolidation policy absolutely must not become a source of pointless torment. [Chinese]

A post on the Zhihu Digest blog includes translation of another local account posted to the Q&A site, together with some replies.

Although forced evictions have been a persistent problem across China, the scale of the wholesale relocations in Shandong is reminiscent of long-running coercive settlement, resettlement, or home modernization policies aimed at nomadic and other ethnic minority groups in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. The resemblance highlights broader concerns over the spread of draconian policies from China’s periphery to the rest of the country. Xinjiang, for example, has been described as a “frontline laboratory” for surveillance and securitization measures. Language used to order the forced quarantine of potentially infected people in Wuhan during the COVID-19 outbreak conspicuously echoed phrasing found in official documents on the Xinjiang mass detentions. Official concessions in the Shandong case also illustrate the greater scope for resistance that may exist in eastern China, however.

The second story mentioned in the directive involves 242 reported cases of stolen scores in the notorious gaokao university entrance exams revealed by a Southern Metropolis Daily investigation, which prompted public outrage and proposals for criminalization of the practice. From Ni Dandan at Sixth Tone:

“The most basic characteristic constituting a crime is the danger it poses to society,” Liu Jixing, a member of the [National People’s Congress standing] committee, was quoted as saying in the report. “Compared with stealing or scamming money, stealing others’ enrollment qualifications — and their future prospects — is even more harmful. Such malpractice should be criminally punished and struck down.”

[…] As of Monday evening, the Shandong authorities had only revealed details about two cases. In one, a 36-year-old woman named Chen Chunxiu, a native of Liaocheng, a prefecture-level city in Shandong, scored 546 out of 750 on the 2004 administration of the gaokao — high enough to study international economy and trade at Shandong University of Technology.

But her score was stolen by Chen Yanping, another Liaocheng local two years her junior, who had scored 303 on the gaokao the same year. The impostor’s father — a businessman — and uncle — a local official — had used their connections to make this happen.

After the scandal was exposed, the identity thief’s university diploma was canceled, and she was fired from her job as a community worker. Local authorities have taken “coercive measures” against her father, a vague term that can entail police detention or house arrest.

Eight other people involved in the fraud, including and public security officials, are either under investigation by local discipline inspection authorities or have already been demoted. [Source]

South China Morning Post provides more detail on the case of Gou Jing, whose score was stolen twice in consecutive years, once by her teacher’s daughter. Read more on the score theft scandal, including pressure put on the victims, at CDT Chinese.

From Voice of America’s Ming Yang:

Hu Ping, a Chinese political commentator living in New York, said such abuses of the college entrance examination system are able to persist because the offenders face little threat of serious punishment.

“China’s college entrance examination system should have very severe sanctions and punishment in place on identity theft, because it may be the only chance for tens of thousands of children from poor families to change their fate,” he said.

“It also reflects the lack of effective oversight of China’s education system itself, making it easy for impostors to appear. Moreover, outside the education system, there is a lack of a broad monitoring mechanism, namely, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.” [Source]

An earlier university admissions corruption scandal involved the head of admissions at Beijing’s Renmin University, who admitted at trial in 2015 to having accepted more than 23 million yuan in bribes over the course of eight years. A leaked directive in 2018 guided coverage of alleged gaokao score manipulation in Zhejiang, ordering websites to “only report authoritative information issued by the Zhejiang provincial government. Strictly regulate sources, do not hype irrational claims, do not aggregate similar past issues, do not use this as an opportunity to question new gaokao reforms, and strictly control for harmful information in comments posts and interactive sections.”

Facial recognition, metal detectors, and travel monitoring have all been used to catch and deter cheating on the test itself, which since its criminalization in 2016 has been punishable by up to seven years in prison. In 2013, riots over anti-cheating measures were reported in Hubei amid concerns that uneven enforcement would put students at an unfair disadvantage.

Read more on the gaokao‘s stakes and prospects for reform in a recent explainer from Megan Zhang at SupChina, and in CDT’s archives.

Correction: the post has been edited to include the name of the translated essay’s author.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.