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An underground challenge to China's status quo

As Obama plans his visit to China in November, he should pay attention to the Tuidang movement. It shows that the Chinese people understand human rights and civil liberties.

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The lead image on the Sept. 27 edition of the Jinzhou evening newspaper was hardly unusual. In anticipation of the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China, it featured a street lined with enormous red flags beating in the wind.

It would have been nearly indistinguishable from any other Chinese state-run newspaper that day but for one important detail. In the bottom left corner of the photo, scrawled on a bike rack, were eight tiny but clearly visible characters: "Heaven condemns the Communist Party; denounce it and be blessed."

Similar writings that dare to challenge the divine mandate of China's rulers appear regularly across China, hanging as banners in city parks, posted on Internet forums, or handwritten on paper bank notes. It is all evidence of a movement that has silently swept the nation. Called Tuidang, which translates simply as "withdraw from the party," the movement encourages people to publicly renounce their membership in Communist organizations. The implications are manifold. This is the first time since the 1980s that China has seen such a large, organized dissident movement – if an underground one.

The day after the image ran, the Jinzhou newspaper came under investigation by the government. Its website was shut down, and the paper taken out of circulation.

The incident represents a fitting analogy for the state of the Communist Party today. Beneath the pomp and power lie resentment, discontent, and questions. In 60 years of Communist rule, China has endured political and social upheaval that have left deep psychic wounds.

But in the country's totalitarian climate, the people have few avenues to openly discuss their country's history or to make peace with their own role in it. Since China has not had its opportunity for truth and reconciliation, its citizens are finding their own ways to do this.

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