By Xiao Guozhen, published: September 22, 2013
In the citizens’ movement that is flourishing across China, there are activities called “same-city dinner gatherings” (“同城饭醉“). Well-known Beijing Rights lawyer Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍) was a participant in such gatherings. Xiao Guozhen is currently visiting America and recently made a presentation at a gathering of overseas Chinese in San Francisco introducing the development of China’s “same-city dinner gatherings” and the citizens’ movement.
“Same-city dinner gatherings” are also called “citizen banquets.” In Chinese, “dinner gathering”(fan – food, zui – drunk) is homonymous with “committing a crime” (fanzui). China’s police see gatherings of people as “illegal,” as a “crime,” but the police have no legitimate reason to prohibit citizens living in the same city from going to a restaurant to eat and drink together, so people call this this kind of gathering a “same-city dinner gathering.”
These “same-city dinner gatherings” started to spring up in 2011. Xiao Guozhen said, “At first they were small in scope and were mostly comprised of legal professionals. At the gatherings, they would discuss individual cases as well as current events. Later, more and more citizens started participating in these gatherings. We advocated that each participant bring a new friend each month so as to expand the numbers of people attending. We were totally open; even if state security agents wanted to participate, we would welcome them.”
Now “same-city dinner gatherings” are prevalent in more than 30 cities. The time for these “dinner gatherings” is set on the last Saturday of the month. There can be as many as one or two hundred participants in a given “dinner gathering.”
What do people talk about when they come together at these “dinner gatherings?” The topics all relate to citizens’ rights. Xiao Guozhen raised an example: “At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, Beijing and much of the eastern China was cloaked in smog, so we talked about such serious pollution. Or we could be talking about an event, such as events in Wukan (乌坎), Qidong (启东), or Shifang (什邡). Each person voices his or her opinion, together the group forms a proposal, and then we split up and take actions. At the very least we can make appeals on the internet.”
Xiao Guozhen said that, as of this year, the topics of these “same-city dinner gatherings” have become more extensive. She said, “For example, the topic of restoring truth to history: the entire history of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party was bloody and shameful, but only a small number of people inside China know about this. We will keep making the truth known to more people. Another topic is what is currently happening in China: The CCP censors the internet and there are not many people in China who know that the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize. What we want to do is restore the truth of reality. We are also keen on the spread of the fundamentals. For example, in China, many people have been indoctrinated by Maoist thought over a long period of time, and all that ‘the people obey the party, the party obeys the central leadership’ stuff really should be ‘the central leadership obeys the party, the party obeys the people.’ These concepts need to be reversed.”
Xiao Guozhen said that the CCP strictly prohibits ordinary people from forming organizations, but “same-city dinner gatherings” are organizations without organization. This has created a panic among the authorities. Over the last few months, advocates of the New Citizens Movement and also the organizers of the “same-city dinner gatherings” like Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) and others have been detained, but the momentum of China’s Citizens Movement has in no way been weakened by this. The result of repression has instead made citizens seek each other out and support each other. They call it “huddling for warmth.”
“For example, after lawyer Ding Jiaxi was detained, in a short period of time more than 100 lawyers stood out to support him, and petitioners took to the streets demanding the release of Ding Jiaxi. Lawyers, petitioners, public intellectuals, media professionals naturally came together to provide support for each other in the face of severe suppression. When something happens, everyone will post and repost the messages on Weibo or QQ groups over and over again. This kind of power is enormous.”
According to Xiao Guozhen, the Citizens Movement is taking on many forms and flourishing, including “same-city dinner gatherings.” This new round of detentions cannot scare the increasingly fearless Chinese citizen.
The police officers who specialize in suppressing the Citizens Movement are also changing. While detaining participants of the Citizens Movement, some officers are giving them a thumbs up, praising them for doing a great thing.
(Translated by Jack.)