China | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Trend Arrow:

China received a downward trend arrow due to the chilling effect on private and public discussion, particularly online, generated by cybersecurity and foreign NGO laws, increased internet surveillance, and heavy sentences handed down to human rights lawyers, microbloggers, grassroots activists, and religious believers.


The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tightened its control over the media, religious groups, and civil society associations in recent years. A renewed push for party supremacy and ideological conformity has undermined rule of law reforms and curtailed civil and political rights. The state president and CCP leader, Xi Jinping, is consolidating personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades. Faced with a slowing economy, the leadership continues to cultivate nationalism, including hostile anti-Western rhetoric, as a pillar of legitimacy. China’s budding civil society and human rights movements have struggled in the midst of a multiyear crackdown.

Key Developments: 
  • In February, Xi Jinping held a series of meetings in which he demanded renewed loyalty to the CCP and ideological conformity from both official and commercial media outlets, and challenged them to take more innovative approaches to shaping public opinion.
  • A new law on foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), adopted in April, was expected to significantly constrict the activities of groups working on politically sensitive issues by imposing stringent registration requirements and granting supervisory authority to public security agencies, though it also helped clarify the nebulous regulatory system for NGOs.
  • A party work conference on religion held in April, the first since 2001, laid out the leadership’s plans to tighten control over religious organizations and activities.
  • The authorities’ crackdown on civil society continued throughout the year, with arrests and criminal prosecutions of bloggers, activists, and human rights lawyers. 
Executive Summary: 

Xi Jinping, who took office as general secretary of the CCP in November 2012, continued to concentrate personal power in 2016 to an extent not seen in China for decades. The slowing economy made the leadership’s promotion of nationalism, with an increasingly hostile anti-Western tone, a key CCP strategy for continued legitimacy. The authorities also stepped up efforts to suppress growing independent labor activism linked to the country’s economic situation.

Official rhetoric and propaganda presented party supremacy as essential to the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and to China’s national security. The latter was increasingly cited to justify criminal prosecutions of civil society and democracy activists, human rights lawyers, and bloggers. Xi took his vision of ideological conformity to new heights during the year, demanding that cadres demonstrate absolute loyalty to the party line and doubling down on media censorship. Online speech deemed politically sensitive by the authorities was punished with imprisonment.

Prominent human rights lawyers and democracy proponents arrested in a sweeping crackdown that began in July 2015 received especially harsh prison terms in 2016, signaling the leadership’s intolerance for their activism. Limited reforms to prevent miscarriages of justice continued to be implemented, but they were critically undermined by the CCP’s intensified efforts to retain political control over the judiciary.

A plan for “comprehensive management” of all religious activity and organizations and the “Sinicization” of religion in China, laid out at an April party conference, further restricted the scope for religious freedoms. The government continued to impose conditions approaching martial law in Tibetan- and Uighur-populated regions of the country, refusing to reassess failed policies of repression for these ethnic minority groups.

Explanatory Note: 

The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Hong Kong or Tibet, which are examined in separate reports.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

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