To Be a Citizen Who Speaks Up and Has an Attitude: Lawyer Ding Jiaxi Speaks from Prison

By Ding Jiaxi, published: April 6, 2014


Lawyer Ding Jia and wife.

Lawyer Ding Jia and wife.

As Ding Jiaxi’s wife, every time after the lawyers met with Jiaxi, I couldn’t wait to ask them for audio or video recordings of Jiaxi, and listen or watch eagerly when I got them. Jiaxi’s familiar voice and hearty laughter have always moved and inspired me. From these recordings, I learned more about Jiaxi, understood more about the things he did, and supported him more firmly. Sometimes I feel those people who detained and imprisoned him and will put him on trial are pretty stupid. They are scared of people who oppose them, but what they do is make more people, like me , oppose them. I have also decided to be a citizen who speaks out and who has an attitude. I say: Stop creating more unjust and false cases. Release my husband Ding Jiaxi. He has committed no crime. All he has done is for China’s betterment. He is a proud and honest Chinese citizen. Stop trumping up charges against ordinary people turning their Chinese dream into a nightmare. Luo Shengchun (罗胜春)


China has come to a point where every citizen should become a person with a voice and an attitude. We have an attitude toward issues, and at the same time we should speak up. Some people are upset to hear what we have to say, and that’s why we are jailed here. This is a process, and an inevitable stage, in the course of social progress in China.

Everything we have done is no doubt innocent and violated no law. The Constitution provides us with the right to freely express ourselves. As for whether we have made mistakes, it is a matter of subjective opinion. We have expressed our opinions and we have no regrets. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. I made this absolutely clear during the preliminary interrogation and to the prosecutors.

I am but an ordinary man and I want no particular attention just because I am an attorneyandthe head of a law firm. A man with a conscience and a sense of responsibility must come forward and should not keep silent. Only when more and more people come forward can society progress.

Our dossier stacks up taller than a grown person. It should have been one single case, but they divided it into several. Why? Is it in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Law? I will not parse it. We all know the chain of events very clearly. Social background aside, our street demonstrations certainly do not constitute “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”as far as individual cases are concerned.

In the court, will I refuse to speak? The Criminal Procedure Law gives the defendant the right to remain silent. Whether you speak or not, the verdict would be the same no doubt, because the decision has long been made by several judges. Therefore, I may choose not to speak.

The social meaning of the case far outweighs that of the case itself. Mr. Zhang Xuezhong said this is complete political persecution. Of course it is. The charges against Xu Zhiyong are trumped up. Xu Zhiyong didn’t even know about the others’ activities, how can he then take the blame for them? All of our activities were voluntary — whoever wants to go goes — without the so-called organization and plotting. I go when I have time; I don’t go when I’m busy. I go when I’m asked; if nobody asks me, I wouldn’t go. Sometimes when I’m asked, but I don’t feel like going, then I would not go. It’s a lifestyle with which we express our voices. We simply want to be citizens with an attitude and a voice. Each one of us has a different civic language; as a legal professional, mine is more geared toward rights and obligations. So my civic language is to defend my rights, respect the rights of others, and fulfill my obligations at the same time.

It’s normal that Xu Zhiyong and Li Wei have different ideas than mine. That’s how a modern society should be. I cannot impose my ideas on others. During the interrogations, I was often asked: “What does Xu Zhiyong mean when he says this? You give us an explanation.” I said, “Ask Xu Zhiyong. I don’t have the habit of parsing other’s thoughts and interpreting their ideas. I agree with some of Xu Zhiyong’s ideas and am willing to help him do some of those things, is that a problem? No problem. If you disagree, you simply don’t support it, and it’s everyone’s free choice.”

Ding Jiaxi in 2010.

Ding Jiaxi in 2010.

Everyone is entitled to his or her ideas of citizenship, and everyone can express these different ideas. He or she can take actions based on his or her understanding of citizenship. That’s how a modern society is. During the last interrogation session, the judge said to me, “Xu Zhiyong is very canny, isn’t he? He encouraged you all to go to the scene but he didn’t go himself, and he used you all as cannon fodder.” But the truth is, Xu Zhiyong couldn’t have gone even if he wanted to, because he was under house arrest and heavily guarded by security police.

They are terrified of what we did. They want to try us in order to warn the others. They want to tell the Chinese people, people living in China, that it is a crime to demand that officials  disclose their assets. If someone wants to fight corruption, we will arrest them. In essence, this is anti anti-corruption. A solution will be a solution only when it accords and respects the inner logic of social circumstances. If corruption can be cleaned up through their ways, that’s great, and we are happy to see it succeed. We do not rule out other ways. We didn’t say your ways wouldn’t work. Instead, we offered alternatives.

The public security and the procuratorate apparatuses racked their brains over us and during the preliminary interrogations. Though we have not been subjected to torture in the traditional sense, but one time, they were really worked up and used my private matters to threaten me. That was during an interrogation in the afternoon on November 7, [2013]. Preliminary interrogation officer Li He (李赫) reached me through the bars to hit me, while verbally abusing me and making threats—by way of exposing other people’s private matters to ruin their lives. I have not told the prosecutors or the judges about this, but the entire preliminary interrogation was recorded in audio and video. They can’t evade or erase it. Every interrogation has a written record too (about a dozen or so of them have none because I said nothing from the beginning to the end). What they said should be on record too. They spoke in a language from 40 years ago, such as “illegal amassing,” “instigating” and “tampering,” redolent of the Cultural Revolution.

With regard to demanding assets disclosure by officials, we have followed our basic principle of doing things: open, legal and transparent. Everybody can participate. This was how we first started: nothing to hide, no buck passing, and truthful. It was far from “violating the law” or “committing crimes.” They used many despicable tricks to monitor us. When I went to Wuhan, they even had photos of where I parked my car. During my road trip in October 2012, the police trailed me throughout. If the Communist regime uses these tactics to combat corruption, we would need to do nothing. They would leave no corners of corruption uncleansed.

Song Ze (宋泽) set us a new model for action, that is “zero confession,” the best example of civil disobedience. Previously we had always told them everything they asked, the things we did and the beliefs we held, because we had nothing to hide. But in retrospect, it was such a waste of time.

In China, it is easier to do evil than do good. In Wuhan when friends got together, many people didn’t care about what we do. I said, I was doing good and you should not discourage me. In China, many good people discourage other good people not to do good things. Many good people acquiesce to, or enable, bad people to do bad things. This phenomenon stems from fear. I merely want to set an example — we should overcome such fear and face it with ease. During the preliminary interrogation, they repeatedly threatened me of a lengthy sentence, but this kind of threat doesn’t work on me anymore. I am 46years old, have practiced law for 16 years,  and headed a law firm for 10 years. I am fully aware of the consequences of my actions, and I can face prison time with composure.

Before, my wife didn’t understand either. Sometimes we would talk about the prospect of me being put in prison. I told her that this was a way of life that I chose to live and I asked her to take her time to understand. This put her under a lot of pressure. She works, she also has to comfort her parents and my parents and explain things to them, and she also takes care of our child. To be my wife is not easy, and she has to be very strong.

I know that family and friends all hope that I can get out of prison. What I do inside and what I do outside are different. If they (the authorities) want me to stay here to do things, I will stay here. If they release me, I will be able to do things more meaningful and valuable. It’s just a matter of doing things differently. I believe there will be a lot of people who will do things that we were not able to do, and do them in their own ways. I believe more capable and more courageous people, groups and incidents will unfold.

In many cases involving citizen activism, lawyers play a role as the defense. Now I’m a defendant, a somewhat unusual switch. But I believe that, given a little bit of time, more lawyers will come forward in the future.

While in prison, I have gained an entirely new, and deeper understanding of the Criminal Procedure Law. If you haven’t been to jail, you won’t be able to grasp the huge gap between the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights/CCPR and other international human rights laws, which Guo Feixiong had promoted for China to ratify, and the rules carried out in China. I have experienced more since my imprisonment. To raise another example, the principle of direct evidence is a basic principle in all rule of law countries. For example in America, the core principle of lawsuits is the direct evidence principle. In the past, I had seen and researched this, but I did not have a deep understanding of it. I really revere this principle; all evidence must go through the court and be recorded by the court in a given case before a jury can pass judgment based on the evidence recorded by the court. I didn’t practice criminal law, but I have always been learning, and now I have first-hand experience.  I believe in the future, I will have the opportunity to participate in the revision of laws and incorporate this experience.

Aside from this, my deepest feeling has been that there is a bright side to every misfortune, and being in prison has been a type of blessing from which I have gained a new understanding of destiny, of life, of my country, and of responsibility. I have had no regrets for what I have done, either before or now.

My information can totally be made public. I am willing to share with others, and also hope others will share and discuss with me. If our opinions clash, it would be normal. If later I have the opportunity, I would like to spend some time to make more people in society understand us, and explore a new model together. The emphasis of what Xiao Shu and the others have tried to place is different from what I want to express. They might be more macroscopic, whereas I am perhaps more intoned to personal experience and hope it would have more significance as a reference to everybody. Theoretically speaking, firsthand experience of prison time is an inevitable component of the citizens movement; it is only a matter of who experiences this. Did we foresee it? We did foresee this day, except that it came much sooner than we thought.

A recent photo of Ding Jiaxi in the meeting room of Beijing Third Detention Center.

A recent photo of Ding Jiaxi in the meeting room of Beijing Third Detention Center.

Society is slowly progressing. In China, while political life has been moving towards an absolute monopoly, other domains are gradually opening up. The economic policies enunciated on the Xinwen Lianbo (CCTV’s 7pm nightly news broadcast) are, in general, correct. But politics is moving towards a monopoly, towards the concentration of power. This contravenes the trends of society and history, opposite to where the society at large is heading. The opening of economic policies will have benefited the people to some degree, but the plunder of society’s wealth as a result of absolute political power will make society’s wealth distribution uneven, thus intensifying social unrest and bringing about extreme consequences. As to when these consequences will manifest themselves,  heavens knows.

Many people are unable to see this coming, because it takes time for the negative impacts a political totalitarianism exerts to unfold. Imprisoned at this moment,  all I’m allowed to access is the CCTV’s evening news, so some of my reflections  might be flawed. After I leave prison, I will be able to see more and think more comprehensively.

I expect by the end of March I will be tried and sentenced. I was somewhat optimistic before, but now I feel it is hard to predict. Take Xu Zhiyong for example, the methods he has chosen are completely harmless to society, he has never hurt a single person, and he has never even lied about anything. They have no reason whatsoever to lock up a man like Xu Zhiyong, but they did. I was surprised that they sentenced him to four years in prison, especially when he just had a  newborn baby.

To my family, I say the same again: Tell my wife Luo Shengchun to relax her hold on, and believe in, our child. The Chinese used to say, children of poor families have to come of age early and bear family responsibilities. For us, it is the child of difficult circumstances who must come of age early!

There is still a long road to go to truly realize the goals of democracy and rule and law. Living today, we are luckier than our predecessors. If it were not for the efforts of those before us, our circumstances would be even worse. Many people, through their great efforts, have paved the way for us. Society is progressing, the conditions are improving, at least they are compelled to try to do things according to the law. Those who come after us will be even better off than we were. Many of our forebears paid the price of their lives. If all we lose is our freedom for a period of time, this is a price that can be borne. I am very optimistic. If it were not for us, there would definitely be others who would come and do the same, and this is an inevitability of social progress.

Please pass on my greetings to my friends. Tell them that I am doing fine here where I take a break and cultivate myself. In the future, there will be the opportunity for me to slowly share it with all of you.


Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) is a successful corporate lawyer, and a key figure in the New Citizens Movement. His trial will be held on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.



Indictment of Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei by Beijing Municipal Haidian District People’s Procuratorate

“If I Lose My Freedom”—Jiaxi in My Memory, a profile of lawyer Ding Jiaxi by Xiao Guozhen


(Transcribed and compiled by Luo Shengchun, and translated by Jack, Yaqiu Wang, and Yaxue Cao)

Chinese original

10 responses to “To Be a Citizen Who Speaks Up and Has an Attitude: Lawyer Ding Jiaxi Speaks from Prison”

  1. Reblogged this on 中国大好き and commented:
    Please read and distribute! Alles Gute, Martin

  2. […] “They are terrified of what we did. They want to try us in order to warn the others. They want to tell the Chinese people … that it is a crime to demand that officials disclose their assets. If someone wants to fight corruption, we will arrest them,” he wrote, according to a translation by China Change, a Chinese human rights website. […]

  3. […] Ding Jiaxi in detention. (Weibo/ChinaChange) […]

  4. […] proceedings he likened to “a piece of theater.”) This week, three other members of group — Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei and Zhao Changqing — were in court on the same charge. Ding and Li’s lawyers […]

  5. […] proceedings he likened to “a piece of theater.”) This week, three other members of group — Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei and Zhao Changqing — were in court on the same charge. Ding and Li’s lawyers walked […]

  6. […] USA Today that “it’s time for China to change. I believe the day will come soon.” Ding himself wrote, in a letter from prison translated at China […]

  7. […] years in prison for the crime of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Lawyer Ding Jiaxi, another important participant in the New Citizen Movement, was also sentenced to 3½ years’ […]

  8. […] the New Citizens’ Movement don’t feel like the story is over – Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, both currently in jail, have said as […]

  9. […] in scores of prominent political trials across China, including that of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Wang Qingying (王清营), Wang Zang (王藏), Huang Wenxun (黄文勋), Chen Yunfei (陈云飞), […]

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