Yaxue Cao, on the second China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day, July 8, 2018, New York
As of today, lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for 1,095 days. Over the 1,095 days, his toddler has grown into a boy who vows to fight the “Monster” that took his father; his wife has metamorphosed from a timid housewife to one of the most recognizable faces of the 709 resistance. With each day, we worry about Wang Quanzhang’s fate: Is he still alive? Has he been so severely debilitated by torture that they can’t even show him? These dreadful thoughts eat at our hearts when we think about Wang Quanzhang, and we don’t know how not to think about him.
Wang Quanzhang is 42 years old. Like most human rights lawyers in China, he was born and raised in the countryside, and came of age with a deep-rooted sense that Chinese society was unjust and unfair.
He graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. While still in college in 1999, the brutal, nationwide suppression against Falun Gong began, and he provided legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners. That makes him one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong. As a result, he was threatened and his home was raided by police.
After college, Wang Quanzhang took up volunteer work to teach villagers about Chinese law near Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong. He debated with villagers about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme in China. The villagers believed that in China, power rules — not the law.
They were right then, and they’re right now.
In 2008 Wang Quanzhang moved to Beijing and worked at a string of NGOs. In 2009 he and friends co-founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group NGO (中国维权紧急援助组), to expand access to legal assistance for victims, organize trainings for fellow lawyers, and teach victims to become citizen lawyers using China’s civil and administrative laws.
After 2013, he focused on his legal practice and defended persecuted individuals in court, especially Falun Gong practitioners.
Wang Quanzhang was a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when he was swept up along with scores of other lawyers and activists in July 2015. Among the rights lawyers, he was known for being beaten up a lot, inside and outside the court.
Oh yes, court bailiffs do beat lawyers sometimes, though China has yet to apply for World Cultural Heritage status for this practice.
In February, 2017, Wang Quanzhang was indicted for “subversion of state power.” No one has yet seen a copy of the indictment. We don’t know how the Communist Party built its case against him, but we do know that they have been eager to have him admit guilt, without success.
Foreseeing what was to come, Wang Quanzhang left a letter for his parents in July 2015:
No matter how despicable and ridiculous we appear to be in the portrayal by the manipulated media, Mother, Father, please believe your son, and please believe your son’s friends.
My taking up the work—and walking down the path—of defending human rights wasn’t just a sudden impulse. Instead, it came from a hidden part of my nature, a calling that has intensified over the years—and has always been slowly reaching up like ivy.
This path is doomed to be thorny, tortuous, and rocky.
Dear Father and Mother, please feel proud of me. Also, no matter how horrible the situation is, you must hang on and live, and wait for the day when the clouds disperse and the sun shines through.
I’m immensely grateful for this note of hope, a note of hope from someone who seems to have the least reason to embrace hope.
So what choice do we have but to remain strong, and forge ahead? We have a monster to slay, or our dignity, our freedoms, and indeed, our humanity, will be in peril.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’, Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018.