On Friday, July 19, a text circulated on QQ that is a record of Xu Zhiyong’s “talks” with a top official of the Beijing Public Security Bureau that occurred on June 25, 26 and 28. Its authenticity has since been confirmed by Xu’s close associates. ChinaChange.org is providing a complete translation of the text in three installments. This is part 2; read part 1 here and part 3 here. (Omissions are the author’s.)
By Xu Zhiyong
Published: July 24, 2013
I had to take seriously the other party’s warning about pending coercive measures. I wrote a letter to friends before I left home:
I am still harboring optimistic expectations. I have been trying to tell them that this group of people who call themselves Citizens are reasonable and moderate idealists who work toward freedom, justice and love in China, and that the Communist Party should tolerate the existence of these healthy forces and tolerate political diversity.
At the same time, I am prepared for the worst. If I am taken to a detention center as soon as I leave home this afternoon, I will be at ease with the prospect of ten years in prison. I told them in yesterday’s conversation that, if this happens, it would be my destiny personally but would also be a tragedy for the Chinese nation. If things deteriorate today, I will tell them that they are on the wrong side of history by trying the conscience of a people. It will be my glory to be locked in prison for wanting to be a citizen [with full civil rights]. Despite everything, I believe progress has been made in our time, that the new citizens’ movement is the correct path, that no one will be able to stop us from promoting civil responsibility in a totalitarian society, that the new citizens’ movement is both critical and constructive, and that the movement will push the country to change, not only ending the dictatorship but also by building a beautiful China where freedom, justice and love prevail.
The “talks” resumed in the same location after 2 pm.
C: Yesterday I proposed a few points for you to consider, but really, there are only two main points: Support the Party’s guidelines and policies, if you don’t like the wording “love the Party;” cease illegal and criminal activities. What are your thoughts?
Me: I have no particular thoughts. I maintain my position in being a citizen. I support the Party’s policies when they are right, and criticize them when they are wrong. As for ceasing activities, we are determined to do what citizens do, and you and I should all become citizens. Of course, if our actions are inappropriate somehow, we can suspend them, and we are willing to listen.
C: You must understand that you will soon be taken into custody.
Me: I am willing to pay whatever price to promote the progress of the human race! If we talk about the laws, lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) and the others (activists who were arrested in April—trans.) are completely innocent. If you don’t respect the law, then you can convict me at any time. But to try the conscience of a people, you nail yourselves to history’s “pole of shame!”
C: I don’t doubt your willingness to make sacrifices, but I hope things will move in a better direction.
Me: I also hope things will turn out better. Of course I want to be free so I can do more for society, but I must also stand up for what I believe.
C: Your ideals are very good, but you have to consider how viable they are. You must have been pretty frustrated, because you have been facing more and more obstacles in recent years.
Me: Indeed it’s been more and more difficult, but I’m completely at ease with myself. When I have my freedom, I do my best to serve society. When I’m confined at home illegally, I read and write. Even when I’m detained illegally in a hotel room, I can still reflect on my religious feelings. It appears that, in recent years, I have moved farther away from the system, but the real reason is that the system is moving farther and farther away from the people.
C: The way you look at things is too lopsided, and you see the country as all dark. Look at Iraq, Lybia, and countries that were taken advantage of by the west, and see how pitiful their outcomes have been. In our country, consider how fast the economy is developing, and that’s all because of to the good leadership of the Party. (Omission)
Me: I have never seen China as all dark. Instead, I clearly see the economic progress, the awakening of our better nature, and the emergence of diverse social thought over the last 30 years. In a way, we all see the world through our own prejudices, and, as such, we all make some sense but not all sense. Therefore, don’t be too quick to tell others they are wrong, and more important, don’t be too quick to claim we ourselves are the only ones who are correct. My perspective is certainly not without fault, but I try to be objective, for example, I watch CCTV Evening News often. On the other hand, you might be more lopsided than I am, because too much of your information came from the official discourse of the system, to the point that you are moving ever farther away from the public in your views. For example, one year in Haidian District’s Congress of People’s Representatives, we talked about someone who self-immolated to protest forced demolitions. Almost all the officials regarded him as someone who was recalcitrant, but the rest of us all in all stood on the side of the self-immolator. The confrontation of values between the government and the people has grown so serious that the death of a girl, who supposedly jumped off a building such as in the Jing Wen incident (京温事件), can trigger massive protests.
D: In the Jing Wen incident, there were a few bad people who incited the masses to go to the streets. I have evidence.
Me: See, that’s the path you always go down, how pathetic. Every time something happens, you say it’s the work of a few bad people. How could a few people incite big unrest like that? Have you ever thought why so many people don’t believe your official conclusions? Because you have lied too much about too many things, you are too corrupt, too unjust, and there has been a buildup of too much resentment. I remember armed police patrolling a grand night bazaar a few years ago when I was traveling in Xinjiang. Is that a normal society? You always say it’s only a few bad people, but the more bad people you arrest, the more bad people there are, why?
D: You are too one-sided. Take demolition and relocation for example. You only see isolated individuals who complain about low compensation, and you don’t see those who look forward to it. I know that many people are very happy about it. (Omission).
Me: Indeed there were people who were content, like residents in Qianmen Avenue (前门大街). But more people, even though they have not self-immolated to protest, have harbored resentment. The biggest problem in Beijing’s demolition and relocation projects is unfairness. The government sets an absurd compensation scale, like RMB 8,000 per square meter while, in the same location, the real estate price is RMB 40,000 to 50,000 per square meter. Those who have connections and power, or those who are willing to die to have a fight, would become “nail households” and demand astronomical compensation, while people without power and connections have no choice but to submit. The worst is in the rural parts of Beijing where one square meter of land is compensated with one square meter of apartment several kilometers away. Would you be happy with a deal like that? We don’t simply represent one side. Instead, we considered floor area ratio and proposed an objective and reasonable standard based on the principle that the developer, the original residents and the government share the increased value of the land. For example, one square meter of single house (平房) should be compensated with 1.7 square meters of apartment in a nearby location. But the officials rejected our recommendations. Over the last decade, several million rural Beijingers have been hurt by forced demolition and relocation. To our regret, such injury is still going on.
C: We are a country with a big population but limited resources. It needs a process to develop. You are very bright, and you should put your energy into contributing ideas to help the government, not to create trouble.
Me: We are not trouble makers. We tried to help solve problems when they emerged. And I have also been making proposals aimed at optimization. Take the population issue for example. Both Beijing and Tokyo sit on a plain about 6,000 square kilometers in size. Tokyo has a population of 35 million and manages to be orderly, while Beijing is crammed everywhere you turn with a population of 22 million. The problem is that the government, thinking too narrowly with its mindset of a planned economy, always wants to control the population in Beijing, resulting in short-sightedness in planning and lagging in garbage processing and education facilities. Beijing should have long planned the city based on the need of a population of 35 million. Take trash disposal for another example. (Omission).
C: You use petitioners to display banners, but what they want is to solve their specific problems, can you help them solve their problems? Is asset disclosure their demand?
Me: We try our best to help the disempowered, but it’s true that what we can do to help them is very limited. We appealed a case in Chengde for nine years and it went nowhere. What we can do, mainly, is to provide advice, and in the winter, we send them some coats and comforters for emergency relief. As for calling for officials to disclose assets, of course they did that voluntarily. They are victims of privilege and corruption. They sincerely hope for asset declaration and they very much want to do something for society to progress.
C: You people listed the black jails and you denigrated the government. The petitioning problem is such a complicated process that it needs time to solve. It’s not as simple as you imagine. (Omission).
Me: Illegally limiting citizens’ freedom of movement is a serious violation of the law and a crime. It is the black jails that are denigrating the image of the country. There is no solution in the current system. Every country has people petitioning, but only in China has it become a serious social issue, a headache for stability maintenance. The root of it is the unjust power system. The current system is top down in which officials only answer to their superiors but not to the people they govern. An official does not care about the appeals of ordinary people; only when some of these appeals reach his superiors and the latter orders him to solve them, will he start paying attention. It’s like this all over China. As a result, millions of people travel to Beijing every year to petition. If everywhere the local governments solved problems in their jurisdictions, there probably would be only a few hundred cases that would come to Beijing, and the State Bureau of Letters and Calls could form a task force to solve each one of them. Now that there are about 10 million cases, no government entity can solve them. The question again is, what system will be able to reduce such large scale petitioning. If voters directly choose officials on each level and the positions are determined by votes, then officials will do their best to discuss the problems his constituents have and solve them as promptly as possible without his superiors having to ask him. We pursue a democracy, not because we want to emulate the west or the east, but because it is a system that can solve our own problems.
C: Have you not seen that more than 90% of the masses support the leadership of the Party? Hasn’t there been progress in the past 30 years?
Me: I don’t know how you get this number of 90%. I have always acknowledged the progress of the last 30 years. But I also clearly see huge problems. Social injustice persists; government and the people oppose one another. China will have to continue to reform, to reform politically, to become a great nation. Today, China is second in the world in GDP, but remember that China was also second in the world in GDP 100 years ago, not to mention that most of the developing countries in the world today are also developing quickly. China’s problems are not minor ones, and corruption is not a few isolated cases. We want to acknowledge the country’s progress, but you also have to realize the seriousness of its problems. I hope we have consensus, that is, we are all citizens of China, none of us want to see the country in turmoil, and we all pursue a beautiful China with democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice.
Me: When are you going to free those nine people? (referring to nine of the ten arrested in April for demanding publicly declaration of officials’ assets, one is on bail pending trial – trans.)
C: It will depend on how you see the issue.
Me: I have said before that, in terms of specific actions, we could make concessions. If they are too premature, we can stop because we need to consider the extent to which you can accept and the extent to which the society can accept.
C: All the same, it will have to go through the legal process. You are not negotiating with us. You have committed crimes and you will soon be taken into custody.
C: Another four hours have passed. We have talked twice. With regard to loving the party and ceasing the activities, write down your thoughts, all right?
Me: I don’t see the point of writing it down. I have said everything.
C: Well, it’s better to have it in writing. Let me take a look when you’re done.
Around 7 pm, I was sent home.
The Last Ten Years, a review of Gong Meng’s work by Xu Zhiyong