By Xiao Shu, published: February 16, 2014
Despite an overwhelming international outcry, the Chinese authorities have been bearing down on the New Citizens Movement. The impending appeal of Xu Zhiyong’s trial gives us no grounds for optimism, and it is expected that the first instance sentence of four years in prison will be upheld. Other important advocates of and participants in the New Citizens Movement, such as Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) and Zhao Changqing (赵常青), will likely be convicted and given jail terms.
None of this comes as a surprise.
We must wean ourselves from the three-thousand-year-old jungle politics of China. Proudly claim and fight for citizens’ constitutional rights. While doing so, train ourselves to become true citizens. Citizens’ collective actions and collective pressure from civil society will force the system to reform and to transition towards a constitutional government in China. Such are the goals, the ultimate goals, of the New Citizens Movement.
They are modest and unassuming goals, are they not? But precisely because of their moderation, the Movement’s appeals, easy to take root in the populace and resonate in mainstream society, could very well gain broad social support to become a tide. In that sense, the New Citizens Movement is strong because of its moderation and resilience, because of its humbleness.
Such pathos makes inevitable the tragedy of the New Citizens Movement, because the system cannot possibly tolerate it, and has to treat it as heresy, as its most dangerous opponent. To suppress it, the Chinese government is willing to pay a high price to discredit itself morally, and to further tarnish whatever is left of its image. All because the regime allows no pressure from civil society and would only respond to the pressure of crises. If it makes adjustments at all, or even “breaks its wrist as a real warrior would” to make necessary changes, that is because the regime faces what it describes as the crisis of destruction – “the destruction of the party and the state.”
But all of its adjustments, or even all the professed “wrist breakings,” can only be determined by the regime itself with no input from civil society. “CCP does not accept coercion,” so it tells the people. In the mind of the Party, once a precedent is set, there will be no end to it, and the Party will be backed into a corner. Their political baseline of “I rule over everything” will collapse.
Here lies the original sin, the biggest sin, of the New Citizens Movement.
From the very beginning, the New Citizens Movement has never tried to hide its aspirations. That is, to build citizens’ power that will eventually result in political systematic change towards constitutionalism in China. It is not a violent revolution; in fact, it opposes violent revolution because it believes that cycles of violence have changed nothing over China’s three-thousand-year history, and will not change anything in the future. It believes that, as a revolution with the goal of building a modern civilization, it must adhere, in the process of pursuing its goal and in the methods it uses, to the fundamental standard of modern political civilization itself.
The New Citizens Movement is undoubtedly political opposition, but legitimate, peaceful and unapologetic opposition. It differs from the current corrupt system in terms of goals, even more so in terms of process and means with which it achieves its goals. It refuses to wallow in the same mud with the system, corrupting itself in the process.
If political opposition as such can grow and become strong in China, it will usher in a new era in Chinese politics. Throughout Chinese history, there has never been a shortage of rebels and noisy players in and out of the revolving door. Gone are tigers and in are wolfs; oriole snaps up the mantis that snatches the cicada. The comers and the goers are never any different. What have been missing are honest and principled oppositionists, and a true revolution brought about by such oppositionists.
Even the most progressive “1911 Revolution” was stoked by a lasting civil war in which the original opposition fought for the trophies of supreme power, inflicting suffering on the people.
Drawing historical lessons, Xu Zhiyong and other advocates of the New Citizens Movement are determined to bid goodbye to regime-oriented pursuits, to traditional models of rebellion to take over power. Instead, they begin with fighting for citizens’ constitutional rights and they look to build a constitutionalism in which no one has to be overthrown or beaten down, but in which all powers, and any power, must be checked and balanced.
The New Citizens Movement is morally sound because it is a principled opposition. It helps increase China’s political elasticity and diversify China’s political future, thus creating a bigger buffer zone for a soft landing down the road. Technically, it committed no crime either because its opposition is based on China’s Constitution and legal framework.
The only problem it has is that it offends the Party’s dictatorship and imposes unwanted pressure on the regime. In other words, it has stepped on the red line that says: I am everything; you are nothing.
If the Party is really for the wellbeing of the people and the country, none of these should have been a problem.
By ignoring China’s own Constitution and laws, by forcibly and wrongfully convicting Xu Zhiyong and other advocates of the New Citizens Movement, the regime means to “kill one to warn a hundred.” That’s all.
It is thus threatening all citizen activities and the political opposition itself, because, if the New Citizens Movement, as moderate and peaceful as it is, is ruled criminal, what room could there be for other civic actions or political opposition?
It also means that, above the Constitution and the laws, there is a higher but unpresentable rule, and that is the will of the ruler. It supersedes the Constitution and all of China’s laws. It says: Don’t you dare offend me; all civic actions, and all kinds of political opposition, are crimes and must be put down using state violence, unharnessed by any law.
Such is China’s political reality. The crackdown on Xu Zhiyong and the New Citizens Movement once again highlights the ruthlessness of this reality, rendering the recent promises for comprehensive reform a puff of smoke. Against it, all of [Xi Jinping’s] “close to the people” charm offensives look and feel hypocritical. The crackdown further antagonizes the hearts and minds of the Chinese people and hardens them to the point of no return.
Xiao Shu (笑蜀), the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly (《南方周末》) and the Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (《炎黄春秋》), and an active participant in the New Citizens Movement. He is currently a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. The article was published in the February 13 issue of Yazhou Weekly (《亚洲周刊》) in Hong Kong.
Why We Believe He Is Innocent, Five Legal Scholars Issue Opinion on the First Instance Verdict Convicting Xu Zhiyong of the Crime of “Gathering a Crowd to Disrupt Order in a Public Place”
Why the World Needs to Roar around the New Citizens Movement Trials, also by Xiao Shu