Just Man Guo Yushan

By Xiao Shu, published: November 9, 2014


Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), the Knight Lightening Strike。

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), the Knight Lightening Strike。

I remember that it was October 10, and, as I was strolling along Jingmei River [in Taiwan], I suddenly thought that it had been over a week since I last heard Guo Yushan’s voice.  The day before I had sent a private message to him but there was no response. This was unusual as we kept in frequent contact, and so I could not but be apprehensive. I immediately phoned him. No one answered the first call; ditto the second and the third calls. I reluctantly hung up the phone with a sense of foreboding:

Something is wrong. Something must be wrong.

Sure enough, it was quickly confirmed. In the early morning hours of October 9, the Beijing police detained Guo Yushan for “picking quarrels and creating disturbances” with no indication of how long the detention would last.

This was not the first time I had the foreboding that something bad happened to him. Since April 2012, when Guo Yushan miraculously broke through the heavy defensive lines of the State Security agents to secret away the blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to the U. S. Embassy in Beijing, Guo Yushan’s life has been turned upside down completely without another quiet day. Several months of continuous house arrest was normal, and days when he was not under house arrest, State Security agents were with him constantly wherever he went.

We knew at that time that, sooner or later, there would be reprisals no matter how low key Guo Yushan stayed. The Chinese authorities were simply waiting for the best opportunity to retaliate against him.

Guo holds a Masters of Economics degree from Peking University, and he is the founder of the Transition Institute, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank in social and economic research. He was one of the founders of Gongmeng (Open Constitutional Initiative), the famed public interest organization for rights defense, along with Xu Zhiyong and Teng Biao. Of course Guo’s most astonishing initiative was saving Cheng Guangcheng, and for which, he got the nickname Knight Lightening Strike [after the movie Flash] and notoriety, and for which he has been paying a high price.

Before he acted to save Chen Guangcheng, he prepared himself for that high price. Everyone knows the dramatic moment when Guo Yushan saved Chen Guangcheng, but they do not know how much effort he had exerted to bring that moment about. At the beginning, not many people knew who Chen Guangcheng was. Guo Yushan, carrying a camera on his shoulder, interviewed his friends one by one to discuss Chen Guangcheng. He made the interviews into a video and distributed it online. On Weibo [China’s Twitter-like social media], Guo Yushan very carefully proliferated discussions about Chen Guangcheng. Time and again, his Weibo account was deleted by the censors, and time and again he would open a new account. Guo Yushan persevered in this for several years.

In August of 2005, Chen Guangcheng traveled to Beijing and sought help from Guo Yushan in his struggle against violent and forced abortion practices in Linyi City in Shandong province. From that time onward, Chen and Guo formed a fraternal friendship. Chen was sentenced to five years in prison and, when the sentence was up, he was placed under house arrest, something that deeply anguished Guo Yushan. Guo Yushan could not help weeping each time he spoke to me about Chen. He thought of finding a band of martial artists to go to Chen’s home town of Dongshigu village to rescue him by force. He even had a plan to free Chen Guangcheng by digging a tunnel to where Chen was being detained. He made elaborate plans including where to start digging, and how to dig, the tunnel.  I still remember how engrossed he was when telling me his plans for the tunnel. He also said that the Linyi municipal authorities got wind of the tunnel plan and were terrified, moving quickly to reinforce with concrete the floor of the room where Chen was detained.

“Have you thought of the consequences of this tunnel plan? It’s quite possible that, instead of saving Chen Guangcheng, you will land yourself in jail.” With this remark I tried to put a damper on his tunnel plans. Without even thinking, Yushan blurted out: “I would have no regret for doing what I want to do and getting what I ask for.”

My heart thumped upon hearing this. What is a just spirit? What is a person of chivalry and justice? I suddenly understood at that moment. He is known as Knight Lightening Strike, and he is the person willing to make a lightening strike for justice.

Here is another Guo Yushan story of chivalry. In 2009, the Beijing police, regarding Gongmeng as a thorn in their sides, claimed that Gongmeng had evaded taxes, seized Gongmeng’s property, and detained Xu Zhiyong who was in charge of Gongmeng. The police also implicated Gongmeng’s accountant Zhuang Lu (庄璐). The jail experience deeply traumatized the young woman. After her release, she quietly returned to her home village in Fujian province, and severed her relationships with her colleagues in Beijing. A guilt ridden Guo Yushan managed to raise a sum of money as compensation for Zhuang, found Zhuang Lu’s whereabouts, and gave Zhuang’s father the money, while apologizing profusely for what had befallen Zhuang Lu. Initially, Zhuang’s father felt quite aggrieved over what had happen to his daughter, but he was so moved by Yushan’s efforts that he bore no grudges.

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕).

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕).

Guo Yushan is a Confucianist who venerates in particular the Confucian concept of ren[1]. Ren is the very soul of Confucianism, also the core of Guo Yushan’s values. If the Renaissance in the West is based on the humanist traditions of the ancient Greek city of Athens, then ren in Confucianism is Guo Yushan’s Athens. But Yushan does not declaim about ren, he doesn’t take ren and fly it like a flag on some mountain top. On the contrary, he only uses ren for his own code of conduct and, in the best Confucian tradition, unifies knowledge and action.[2]

Being together with Guo Yushan, one feels deeply his generosity, sense of justice, and benevolence. He describes these virtues as “old school morals.” In today’s morally degenerate world, these “old school morals” are so refreshing and so rare. This is the very reason that Guo Yushan has friends everywhere.

After his baptism by fire in the French Revolution, the French author Victor Hugo made a succinct summary of revolution: standing above a positive revolution stands a positive humanism.  Guo Yushan’s understanding of the Confucian concept of ren would be in perfect  agreement with what Hugo called the humanist tradition, or the whole western humanist tradition for that matter. Guo Yushan has always strived to use ren to reconstruct China’s political ethics, especially the ethics of China’s political opposition. He has been striving to establish ren, which is both humanitarian and humanistic, as a value foundation for China’s politics, especially the opposition politics.

To be a person of ren is to love people. Driven by his compassion, Knight Lightening Strike expended most of his energy helping people even though he has a background in economics. In 2008, the Sanlu milk powder scandal hit China causing a fury.[3] Government and industry engaged in mutual recrimination while they both kicked the 300,000 victims, babies with kidney stones, back and forth between them like a football, as neither government nor industry was willing to pay compensation or the follow-up medical treatment costs. Guo Yushan rose to the occasion, became the general coordinator for the various victims’ assistance groups, and strove to establish a foundation for the babies with kidney stones. To this end, Guo Yushan traveled around the country with a relief team, visiting and verifying children afflicted with kidney stones nationwide, and raising several hundred thousand RMB in the course of two years.

Guo Yushan’s latest work was the “Delivering Meals Party,” a ‘party’ he formed with the famous blogger “Meaty Monk.”[4] On-line on Taobao, they opened the “Butcher Shop” where items were sold at premium prices to raise money for prisoners of conscience who had lost their sources of income. Uniting commerce and public interest in one place, they used a market mechanism to normalize the “Delivering Meals” campaign, making it a kind of miracle in China’s civil society. Not only did this party mobilize more than a hundred thousand people who participated on-line, and not only did it allow such prisoners of conscience as Xiao Yong and Xu Wanping to obtain assistance, more importantly it made a breakthrough in exposing the suffering prisoners of conscience undergo and in making this suffering the focus of people’s attention. Guo Yushan’s sophisticated planning and precise management remains an inspiration to the continued development of China’s civil and political society.

As writer Wu Zuolai (吴祚来) pointed out, “Private citizens like Guo Yushan, following their moral sense of doing good, amend the shortcomings, even crimes, of the governemnt, and they lend a glow of humaneness to our society.” But in China, where tyranny and injustice have become lucrative businesses and are maintained with state violence, all acts of compassion and justice are treated as threats to the state; and all just people are treated as enemies of the state. What awaits the just is often imprisonment. How could Knight Lightening Strike be spared?

For the time being, I cannot get my telephone calls through to Guo Yushan. But it is not just his number that I can no longer reach. Since March of last year, so many of my friends – brothers and just persons — have disappeared one by one from my reach, and so many familiar phone numbers have gone dead. Initially, I energetically sought everywhere to aid them, and I wrote articles appealing their cause in both small and large publications. But then it became too much. In the end, I was unable to do anything for them, and I was simply exhausted. The publications, both the small and the large, experienced a saturation. The persecution of the just in this ridiculous country of ours has now become the new normal, ceasing to scandalize people.

The more that persecution becomes the new normal, the more people are fatigued and silenced. The more that there is no dread over the perishing of ren, love, and justice,  the more that persecution will have no inhibition. The more that the hatred and violence nourished by persecution become widespread, the more any hope for this country becomes bleak.

But such a situation can not be what Knight Lightening Strike, nor the many just people who have gone to jail, wish to see. For this very reason, struggle must be our duty, our everyday subject matter.


Footnotes by translator:

[1] Ren (仁), the Confucian ethical ideal, is variously translated as “charity,” “benevolence,” “love,” and “kindheartedness.”

[2] “The unity of knowledge and action” (知行合一)was a concept formulated by the Ming dynasty Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming.

[3] The scandal began in July 2008 with revelations that the Sanlu company’s milk products, including infant formula, were adulterated with the toxic substance melamine to make the products appear high in protein.

[4] The name “Delivering Meals Party” (送饭党) is also a play on the name of the Communist Party (共产党). Meaty Monk (肉唐僧) is a famous blogger on China’s Sina Weibo.


Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu (笑蜀) is the pen name of Chen Min (陈敏), previously a senior commentator for “Southern Weekend” newspaper, and an editor for the magazine “Yan Huang Weekly.”



Friends Gone to Jail – Chinese Activists Kou Yanding and Guo Yushan, by Zeng Jinyan, October 30, 2014.

Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan, August 10, 2013

Buffett-Style Dinner Bids Woo Chinese for Just Society, Bloomberg News, August 20, 2013.


(Translated by Ai Ru)

Chinese original


35 responses to “Just Man Guo Yushan”

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