By Xiao Guozhen, published: July 28, 2014
Before Li Huaping (李化平) became known by his real name, he was known among Chinese netizens as “Norwegian Wood” (挪威森林) after the Beatles’ song. His blogs by the same name, before they were deleted by government censors, bore the tagline: “Uphold common sense and restore truth in the face of terror and lies. I reject totalitarianism; I do not accept tyranny; I am a child of freedom.”
This child of freedom lost his freedom when he was arrested on August 10, 2013, in Changsha, Hunan province. At that time, Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Li Wei (李蔚), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成) and several others were arrested for unfurling banners on Beijing streets calling for Chinese officials to disclose their assets. And elsewhere, scores of New Citizens Movement activists also were arrested. Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was detained in mid-July and Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) on August 8 in Guangzhou. The authorities were tracking down Li Huaping. I was his attorney then. He was in touch with me every day letting me know his whereabouts. They got him a few days after I left China.
“Are you ready?” He asked himself in an article (Chinese) posted on July 27. “I am ready,” he answered himself calmly. “Face the disappearance that could come upon me any time with ease; with even more ease face the trial of conscience that surely awaits. What do I fear? The trial of conscience turns these crimes into laurels.”
Doing the bidding of the Communist Party in a country where rule of law is less than nominal, prosecutors in Hefei, Anhui province, indicted Li Huaping on May 5th this year on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” According to the Indictment, his offense was to demonstrate and demand that the young daughter of a dissident be allowed to go back to the elementary school from which she had been booted as a reprisal against her father. Reading
this contrived indictment, readers will be hard pressed to find criminality in what Li Huaping and his friends did because they committed no crime. Instead, the arrest and the trial of Li Huaping is part of the more than one-year-long crackdown on the New Citizens Movement to put an end to citizen activities on the rise across China.
Unlike some of the other activists of the New Citizens Movement who have been tried and sentenced, Li Huaping is not a rights lawyer or veteran dissident, nor does he have a decade of rights defense experience behind him. In a blog post titled “Myself” (Chinese) he wrote, “at the beginning, I was just a quiet person like everyone else. Then I was merely a critic who observed what was going on and expressed my views publicly, hoping that the system would reform itself slowly. But insolent as they are, they do not even tolerate such moderate voices, threatening ordinary people for reposting only a picture or a poem. Enraged by such intimidation, I overcame my fear gradually, and I came to the realization that the system is the problem and it must be changed completely.” He went on recounting his own transformation and it had a precise date. “For fellow compatriots, the night of December 9, 2008, was nothing special, but for me it was the game changer. ….Mr. Liu Xiaobo was disappeared again, I came to understand that, my own wellbeing as well as China’s wellbeing would not fall from the sky naturally. My mind has expanded since that night: it cannot go on like this anymore, whether for myself or this country. Returning home [after an evening Majong game] I made up my mind: I will devote the rest of my life to restoring truth and disseminating common sense.”
On the Road for 17 Months
Li Huaping and I were both from the central area of Hunan province and went to the same high school – the First High School of Lianyuan – except he was several classes ahead of me. He went to college in Chengdu studying geology in the mid-1980s and graduated in 1987. In the early 1990s he went to Shenzhen to start a business. After 2000, he settled in Shanghai to be with his wife where he owned a computer company and a few other businesses. What he liked most though was reading and making friends. Joining the New Citizens Movement gave him a sense of purpose and direction.
Soon after I got to know him in the spring of 2012, he told me that he had traveled for months on end, and the Shanghai authorities warned him not to go back to Shanghai, or they would harass him, even arrest him. Before he left Shanghai to travel in June 2011, he wrote (Chinese), “the security police have raided my home and interrogated me N times, and I have been summoned for tea NN times during which I was warned and threatened.”
For the next 17 months, Li Huaping traveled all over China from cities, to towns, to the remote countryside, sightseeing, making friends, networking with like-minded citizens, and making observations on a wide range of events.
His first stop was Hunan, our home province, but not his hometown. “It’s not that I don’t want to go home or I don’t love my hometown; I just don’t want to have to explain things every day. So for the time being, I am wandering in the high mountains, homesick and remorseful.” (“Memories of the Ethnic Miao Country: Mother Called on Duanwu Festival,” Chinese).
From October to December, 2011, he spent two and a half months in Tibet. In an international youth hostel in Lhasa, he, an ethnic Han, was allowed to stay but not the young Tibetan couple whom he had met on the road. He described the machine guns on the roofs, and the fortress-like police stations built in every Tibetan township. He invited his Han compatriots to listen to the “sizzling sound of life burning itself” in protest and despair. He noted that for the month or so in Lhasa and the Tibetan countryside, once a place teeming with dark-skinned Indians and white foreigners from Europe and America, he seldom saw visitors from other countries.
On the New Year of 2012, he returned home to his dying father (Chinese), a boat tracker and then factory worker who sweated for every dime he earned but left some of the most tender memories to his son.
In February, Li Huaping was in Wukan in Guangdong to witness an election never seen in the 63-year rule of the Communist Party in China, thanks to the villagers’ hard-fought battle against local corruption and the incredible attention from the world media. He marveled at the villagers’ meticulous attention to electoral procedures and their pride in taking part, and he argued (Chinese) against the wide-spread belief that the Chinese population is not ready for one-person-one-vote democracy because of its “low quality.”
In April, he was in Chongqing where just about everyone he talked to sang the praise of Bo Xilai. He could see why: crime was down, government was more efficient, and life improved. “But the biggest issue with Bo Xilai’s Chongqing was that it still relied on the rule of one man to solve social problems,” he reflected (Chinese). “Doing so with total disregard for procedural justice would further damage whatever rule of law remains and inflict more pain on the people in the long run.”
In Sichuan, he also met with friends as well as the wives of Liu Xianbin and Chen Wei, two prominent dissidents serving prison terms currently.
During the Chinese New Year he visited Li Wangyang (李旺阳) in Shaoyang, Hunan, then returned in June after the labor leader who had been imprisoned for over 20 years was found “hanged” in a hospital ward. Li Huaping wrote an open letter to the Minister of Public Security and China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate demanding an investigation of Li Wangyang’s death. In Shaoyang, the security police confiscated his documents and threatened him.
At the end of June, he was in Beijing attending one citizen dinner gathering after another, meeting scores of New Citizens Movement members. That was when I first met him after having worked with him on the Li Wangyang case.
In early July, he was in Tianjin Ji county (天津蓟县) to investigate the fire that raged on June 30 in a bustling, five-story shopping center. He observed (Chinese) the general fear and hush-up in the city and broadcast his findings online which were corroborated by other citizen reports: the death toll was in the hundreds, not the official number of ten, and everyone was ordered to keep their mouths shut about the fire. The taxi driver quizzed him to decide whether he was a plainclothes or a visitor as he claimed to be.
Days later in Taishan (山东泰山), police visited him four times one night to check his ID, and his iPad was stolen, but not his wallet nor his cellphone. And contact information in Tianjin and his documents about the fire were all stored in the laptop.
At the end of July and early August, Li Huaping was in Qidong (江苏启东), the coastal town where, on July 28, tens of thousands of residents demonstrated and “raided” the city government demanding that a plan to build a sewage pipe from Nantong to the sea via Qitong be scraped. The government announced the permanent cancellation of the plan in the face of public outrage. Talking to residents, Li Huaping concluded (Chinese), it was a contestation “between the desire for local autonomy and the top-down dictatorial system, between law-biding people and the arrogant rulers who are above the law.” “The key to the contestation,” he wrote, “is that you have power to show and you let the other side see your power. Isn’t that what ‘shiwei’ is all about?” [“示威”literally mean “display power.”]
From Xitang, Zhejiang (浙江西塘) where he stayed for 35 days, he posted in late August an essay about young workers at a Foxconn factory. What interested him most was why the employee turnover was so high at the factory where less than 70% of the new employees would stay past one month, and less than half three months. Among the reasons he explored was the internal policing force and other inhumane treatment that debased human beings to less than a machine status. “A world-class manufacturer with nearly $250 billion in annual output value and a highly developed management system,” he wrote (Chinese), “can integrate so seamlessly with the communist methods.”
In September, he was in Lanzhou visiting Chen Pingfu (陈平福), the street violinist and blogger charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” He wrote in the essay “Subvert Common Sense vs. Subvert the State Power: A Visit to Chen Pingfu” (Chinese), “in China, the reality is such that there are no traffic lights, no pedestrian crossings, the drivers (rulers) drive however they want, make turns at will, without regard to the pedestrians (the people). Each one of us is approaching danger without knowing it.”
From Lanzhou, he went to Urumqi, Xinjiang.
On the road he wrote, “Any ideology, system, or organization that is against human nature is bound to crumble, and that is our optimism. We help bring it down not because we are great and noble, but because it generates from our concern for others’ fate and for our own prospects. We shall persevere without giving up.”
As a Christian, he brought only one book, the Bible. “Lying down by the gurgling water, I feel blissful and satisfied.”
Back to Shanghai
On October 24, 2012, after more than 400 days on the road, he returned to his home in Shanghai. The Shanghai police kept their word: the very day after he arrived, eight police officers came and took him to the police station to “be investigated for disrupting social order.” His communications were under 24/7 surveillance.
In “Security Police Officer Zhang Lei vs. Citizen Li Huaping” published in April, 2013, he said in less than six months since his return he had been summoned nearly 50 times for “obstructing performance of public duties,” “spreading rumors,” or “inciting street demonstrations.” In addition, the security police took his wife’s laptop, in which he stored thousands of photos from his travels, without providing a search warrant or list of confiscated objects, and did so by breaking into his home when he was away. Then they confiscated his nephew’s laptop, his own desktop, and a hard drive belonging to his wife, a history professor at Tongji University. “It stored years of my wife’s work, and it’s priceless,” he said.
I was the one who sent news of so many of his “summons” or short detentions in the name of “summon” online. During the latter, he would refuse to eat or drink.
In Shanghai, the citizen dinner gatherings were monitored, harassed and often prevented with participants receiving personal threats and intimidation.
The security police threatened him saying, if he continued to participate in citizen activities, he would endanger his family. They also tried to get him to leave the country. Because of him, his wife, who taught for 20 years at Tongji University, was dismissed by the university and forced to live in exile in the U.S. with their daughter.
On December 10, 2012, World Human Rights Day, Li Huaping wrote an open letter (English) to Xi Jinping. “It is a matter of fact that you are the wielder of the highest power in mainland China, and it doesn’t matter whether I disagree with how the supreme leader of 1.3 billion mainland Chinese is determined,” he wrote.
Sir, you are a busy man who has ten thousand things to take care of every day, and I won’t splash too much ink here. In this letter, I only want to talk about one issue: When dealing with dissidents, you and the government of the People’s Republic of China should, and must, observe procedural justice according to the law.
As a Doctor of Law, Mr. Xi Jinping of course understands that “Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.” While “to be done” addresses the outcome of justice, “seen to be done” stresses the necessity for such justice being done in a visible manner. And both are equally important, and neither should be denied. Without appropriate procedure, there would be no procedural justice to speak of. “Justice” achieved through inappropriate, unlawful procedure is like the flower of a pernicious plant, and must be cast away no matter how pretty it looks.
I admit that I am a “dissident”, but I didn’t set out to be one. Even if I devote all my time to this cause one day, it will not be a career, but an attitude of existence: To live my life honestly and truthfully.
On July 30th, Li Huaping will be tried for the Hefei demonstration. If the indictment is any indication, we are unlikely to see the procedural justice he so eloquently demanded be served.
From Ideas to Actions
Between 2010 and the spring of 2013, he had had 14 blogs and all but one were deleted by censors. His last blog was shut down after the CCP’s 18th Congress in November 2012. It existed for only a little over one year and has 4,350,000 page views. Shortly before his arrest, some of his articles were uploaded to Boxun blog.
“What makes me cringe in China is not the evil of the state apparatus but the majority of the population telling you: this is how this country is; you can’t change it, you just have to get used to it. They can be your schoolmates, colleagues, friends, relatives, and loved ones. As long as they are not hurt themselves, they will keep their eyes shut about anyone else being hurt,” he wrote (Chinese) in 2010.
“Through quiet exposition and independent thinking, we have to first of all understand what common sense is: Constitutionalism is the most important of all! Constitutionalism brings four ideas together: liberalism, democracy, republicanism, and rule of law. Of the four, liberalism is the objective, democracy is the foundation, republicanism is the structure, and rule of law is the restraint and form. It is more important for us to devote our efforts to disseminate this common sense. When constitutionalism becomes society’s mainstream discourse, its common sense and agreed values, then fairness and justice will come as water runs down its course” (2010, Chinese).
The CCP authorities must have come to the same conclusion. To make sure constitutionalism does not become the consensus of Chinese society, the party issued the notorious Document No. 9 to ban any discussions of it in schools and media.
In the New Citizens Movement, Li Huaping found his calling. He wrote about a citizen’s awareness and responsibilities, about how to build citizen circles in Chinese cities; how the more people practice their political rights, the less sensitive it becomes, and the more difficult it is for the government to crack down. He believed that serving the public interest is essential for citizen circles to connect with the people, to spread love, and to develop itself.
He wrote “Guidelines to Same-city Citizen Dinner Gathering” (Chinese) in December 2012 laying out the specifics of organizing and growing citizen circles and the tasks of key members.
When the arrests of New Citizens Movement members started in the spring of 2013, he initiated the Citizen Watch Initiative (公民守望工程) to provide aid to those in prison, material, spiritual and in terms of public opinion. His idea was to provide sustained support to families of imprisoned citizens to ensure their normal living standards. Before he himself was arrested, some prisoners of conscience were already receiving help from the initiative.
His last post titled “The New Citizens Movement: the Current Situation and Our Tasks” (Chinese) was published a day before his arrest. “You can wait for the CCP dictatorship to collapse and it will, but civil society will not grow on its own. It has to be built bit by bit,” his first sentence reads. He believed that it is a good choice to unite the opposition movement on the citizen platform, and that the growing number of citizen teams across the country will change China.”
His lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) recently reported that the authorities said to Li Huaping that they will free him if he agrees to acknowledge his wrongdoings. He he rejected it, for he was already bound. “Yesterday when we were setting up to camp, a rainbow fell on me. I said to myself: Free China. This is a covenant between the God and me.”
Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), born in 1972, is a Beijing-based lawyer from Hunan. She is a graduate of the University of International Business and Economics School of Law in Beijing. Because of her rights defense-related work, she has been subjected to police surveillance, threats, and unlawful restriction of personal freedom. She is currently a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
A Chinese Dissident Makes Demands of Xi Jinping, by Li Huaping
(Translated by China Change from a version rewritten for this site with updates. All photos are taken from Li Huaping’s blogs or online.)