— New Year Greetings from the 300-member Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
Times goes on, but the laws of nature are the same. As the first rays of the morning sun will surely burst through the darkness, we cast our gaze, brimming with hope, upon a new year. The China Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团) hereby imparts to everyone our most sincere New Year’s greetings!
2015 was a year replete with manmade disasters: A capsized boat on the Yangtze River, the Tianjin explosion, and the Shenzhen landslide one after another. And in each case the truth of what happened was concealed by the miasma of official power, forming a deep and dark human rights black hole.
2015 was also a year when Chinese citizens continued the fight for human rights: they gathered in Qing’an, in Heilongjiang, to protest the gunning down of a petitioner; the spirited defense of workers’ rights in Guangdong goes without saying; and across China, citizens took to the streets on protest marches against polluting industries setting up shop in their neighborhoods. All of this is testimony to a citizenry which is awakening to its own rights consciousness with each passing day and which is becoming more determined to resist the unchecked expansion of government power.
2015 was also a year of hysteria for the Party’s stability maintenance apparatus: Beginning in July, using so-called “residential surveillance at a designated place,” human rights lawyers were forcibly disappeared in the name of “suspicion of endangering state security” and have been completely deprived of their legal rights. They were smeared on national television by so-called journalists with CCTV who effectively declared them guilty before a trial had even begun. Dozens of human rights lawyers and defenders around China were arrested, and over 300 were threatened or summoned for a “chat” with state security officers. The “July 9th Arrests” of rights lawyers in China came on with unchecked force and viciousness. The whereabouts of China Human Rights Lawyer Group members Li Heping, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yanyi, Sui Muqing, Xie Yang, Li Chunfu, and Liu Sixin are to this day still unknown. This is an insult to any idea of “rule of law,” and a violent attack on social progress.
2015 was the most difficult year for human rights lawyers: friends around us were jailed, and a sense of dread and foreboding became ubiquitous as the authorities’ suppression became more and more suffocating by the day. But opportunity always comes in the shadow of adversity: human rights lawyers stood mighty and unmoved in the face of the violent suppression, and still bravely stood on the front lines of rights defense, fighting for rule of law.
As human rights lawyers, we believe that every person is born equal, and each enjoys the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness without fear. These rights are also enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international legal documents. For Chinese citizens born to this land, who hold deep affection for it, and who are no longer accustomed to being intimidated and subjugated, we cannot do nothing when we see human rights recklessly trampled upon.
We do not have the freedom of living without fear, but we struggle against our fears, and move forward despite of it: We will continue to voice support for those human rights lawyers and defenders who have been disappeared or charged for no more than the exercise of their rights as citizens; we will defend those whose economic, social, or cultural rights have been infringed upon; and we will stand up for the equal rights of every person. All this is also defending ourselves, defending members of our profession, defending our family, defending our country and people, defending human rights, defending justice, and defending the future of the nation!
As human rights lawyers, we could never be satisfied to cooly look upon the changes in the world with the disposition of a sage—or spread cheap sympathy, sobbing with a posture of kindness. We are idealists who advocate and promote the value of human rights. We are legal activists who defend the rights of the people. We must stand up and tell the many-headed hydra whose power seems inescapable that human rights are universal values, they’re applicable to every human society, and as history marches forward, time is on our side!
Indeed, time is on our side. The Chinese people, who established the first republic in Asia 100 years ago, cannot remain forever outside the grand historical current of democracy and rule of law, cannot pretend that they’re content with their lot as they listen to the commands of a select few who prefer to “feel the stones in the river” rather than cross the bridge. 
Nearly 30 years ago Taiwan, a people of a common origin to us, cast off martial law and established a constitutional democracy. In January 2016 they will hold their sixth democratic election for the leadership of the state. Surveying the world, we see the waves of democracy crashing against the levees of dictatorship. China has no reason to stand outside this. Technological progress is levelling out the differences in mankind that result from nationhood, race, gender, language, geography, and historically conditioned human rights. To realize the beauty of having our human rights protected, all of us need to hold our hands firmly together and persevere. We firmly believe that, urged along by wisdom and resolution, history will continue its surge forward.
On the eve of great change, we will not be onlookers.
We will not be onlookers, because we are defenders of human rights and the law, and possess an unyielding conviction that the rule of law will ultimately triumph over dictatorship. We will not be onlookers, because we believe that the rights of the people in this long-suffering land need urgent defense, and their value deserves urgent advocacy. Having experienced fear, we know the preciousness of the freedom of its absence—and only by overcoming fear is it possible to transcend it and to elevate ourselves.
The smog is thick and the night dark, but the sun will shine as the time comes. Let us greet the beautiful moment of daybreak with smiles; let us embrace those of our compatriots who have recovered their freedom after suffering so much as we pursue a new future.
Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Group
January 1, 2016
 This is an inverted reference to Deng Xiaoping’s dictum that China would “cross the river by feeling the stones” (摸着石头过河) during the post-Mao era.
Appendix 1: The Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group – A Brief Introduction
The Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group was establishment on September 13, 2013 and it is an open platform for coordination between lawyers. Since its inception, the group has organized joint petitions, aided lawyers in joining rights cases or incidents, and made a variety of similar efforts to protect human rights and promote the development of the rule of law in China. Any Chinese lawyer who share the same human rights principles and are willing to defend citizens’ basic rights are welcome to join the group.
Contact persons (in the order of Pinyin):
Chang Boyang 常伯阳 18837183338
Liu Shihui 刘士辉 18516638964
Lin Qilei 蔺其磊 18639228639
Tang Jitian 唐吉田 13161302848
Yu Wensheng 余文生 13910033651
Appendix 2: The 300 members of the Group
(to be found in the Chinese original)
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.
中文原文《夜尽天明终有时─中国人权律师团律师2016年新年献辞》, translated by China Change.