Liang Xiaojun, January 6, 2022
Liang Xiaojun has practiced law in Beijing for twenty years, devoting the last twelve years of his career to human rights cases. He is the director of Beijing Daoheng Law Firm. On December 16, 2021, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau issued an administrative penalty decision to permanently revoke his license, citing his expressions on Twitter and Weibo that refer to Falun Gong as a religious practice and his derogatory reference to Marxism as “Marxist Poison.” However, these are not the real reasons why the Chinese government took down yet another lawyer, and with it, another law firm. More than Falun Gong practitioners, Liang Xiaojun represented many human rights defenders, dissidents, and activists. In 2021, China disbarred 7 human rights lawyers; since the 709 Crackdown in 2015, over 40 human rights lawyers have been disbarred. Our interview of Liang Xiaojun in 2020 tells an in-depth story of his career. – The Editors
To no one’s surprise, at the end of 2021, I received a letter of administrative punishment from the Beijing Justice Bureau. My lawyer’s license had been permanently revoked.
Twenty years ago, I became a lawyer despite having never imagined I would do so; twenty years later, my career as a lawyer came to an end.
I accept such events in stride, regardless of whether or not I have any say in them.
Seen as a business venture, my 20-year legal career wasn’t much of a success.
I’ve never been very business-minded and basically had no concept of finance growing up. I like a simple life and don’t have much desire for luxury or status.
My parents worked at a college, and I was assigned to be a lecturer upon graduating from university. Starting in 2000, when I graduated from the China University of Political Science and Law with a double bachelor’s degree, my life experiences revolved around education, from a student at one school to a teacher at another. All I could imagine in my future was that it would be in academia.
But even in 2000, a double bachelor’s degree was not enough to find a job in a university, and nor was I willing to go back to the place I left behind. So when I graduated I cobbled together a resume and sent it out with low expectations. I got a few interviews, but they all amounted to nothing due to my lack of experience.
At a loss as to what to do, I remembered that some fellow students and I had tested for and received a lawyers’ qualification certificate in 1999. I thus applied for a job offering with a law firm.
In Beijing in 2000, the real estate industry was just beginning to emerge. Banks, developers, and law firms collaborated; the law firms charged the purchasers three one-thousandths of the loan amount as legal fees, and many lawyers made a lot of money this way. These lawyers needed manpower to deal with clients and sign loan contracts, which were simple and tedious tasks that did not require legal knowledge, paid extremely low wages, and provided no social security. This is what I did when I first joined the law firm.
By the time I was turning thirty years old, I was still living an aimless life in Beijing.
I was renting a small room in an apartment complex in Liujiayao (刘家窑) around the South Third Ring Road in Beijing. The ventilation fan of the factory downstairs blared outside the window all day long, and I was often too anxious to sleep, and I relied on reading a book about Daoism titled Zhuangzi: A Modern Commentary and Translation (《庄子今注今译》) to maintain my inner peace.
After the one-year internship, I got my lawyer’s license, and finally I could handle cases independently.
I helped other lawyers [at the law firm] with some minor cases, and took some trivial cases with my college classmates by posting small-sized advertisements in newspapers. I spent quite some time working this way.
Later, I moved to the West Third Ring Road near Lianhuaqiao (莲花桥), where I shared an apartment with my former classmates. Our law practice wasn’t going well, and instead we sat around complaining about life and wasting time.
In those years when I first became a lawyer, I also had to face my own inner demons: I had always demanded honesty and kindness of myself, but lawyers have their own professional ethical demands — they must insist on the pursuit of legal, rather than strictly objective truth.
This pair of sometimes irreconcilable contradictions gnawed on me for many years, and it was only when I started doing human rights cases that I found a balance.
In 2004, I transferred to a law firm owned by a classmate in a high-end office building in Jianguomen (建国门). He always said to me at that time: “charity does not lead armies, righteousness does not raise money.” I thought about it, what he said made sense, but I could abandon neither charity nor righteousness, so from then on I instead moved further away from the pursuit of wealth.
Later, after I married and had a family, the years were quiet, and I saw my legal profession as just a kind of occupation that could make us a living while allowing me maintain a somewhat freer lifestyle.
In 2009, I found two lawyer colleagues and founded Beijing Daoheng Law Firm (北京市道衡律师事务所).
I came up with the name. I used the word “Dao” (the Way) as the core character, then searched the names of law firms in the country looking for a character to go with it that wasn’t already used by another firm, and settled on “heng” (constancy).
Business was lukewarm after we set up shop because I wasn’t good at socializing, marketing, or advertising.
At the end of 2009, lawyers with whom I had campaigned for the direct election of members in the Beijing Lawyers Association recommended me to do a case in Sichuan involving the charge of “using a cult to undermine the law” [referring to a Falun Gong case – translator].
Though I knew that [by representing a Falun Gong practitioner] I would be coming into association with clients and a community that was severely demonized by all channels of state propaganda, and that some lawyers had been reprimanded for taking such cases, my curiosity and open mind drove me to try it out. To boost my understanding and preparedness, I read up on how defense attorneys had worded their arguments in previous cases.
I was greeted at the airport by an ordinary middle-aged woman who said she used to be an English teacher at her hometown high school, but because of the persecution and her persistence [in her faith], she was living in Chengdu, having long since lost her job.
She introduced me to the clients, and took me to their homes to hear their stories while dining with them. They accompanied me to the court, the prosecutor’s office and the detention center. They went everywhere for their relatives. I gradually became familiar with this community as I took part in their struggles.
In those days, the judicial environment was not good, and in such cases, there were all kinds of obstacles in arranging a meeting at the detention center and reading the case files in the prosecutor’s office or the court; at the trial, the court was often on guard as though against great foes, with a dense police presence. I often had to fight to overcome my fears when I was a lone defense lawyer. Sometimes it was the defendant’s steadfast refusal to plead guilty that gave me strength.
For more than a decade, I have been with them, defending them, and from their cases, I have felt the changing judicial environment in China and witnessed the changes made to the relevant laws and regulations; I have seen kindness and malice, sincerity and deceit, and perseverance and prejudice.
I have hoped all these years that the light of fairness and justice can shine on this faith group, that they can one day live normally, free from fear.
I have always used my real name on the Internet and on social media.
I am not afraid to express my true feelings and opinions, and I have a tendency to express my opposition to all deception, falsification and bias, whether or not the persons who express such opinions are my foes or friends.
Now, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau has taken my rebuttals and sarcastic remarks on Twitter and Weibo out of context. They absurdly determined that I supported, attacked, and disparaged this or that, and on this pretext revoked my lawyer’s license.
Compared with those who were unjustly killed and unjustly convicted, I do not feel that a great injustice was done to me; I see it as a consequence of the era we live in.
A lawyer who was convicted of “subverting state power” filed a complaint upon his release from prison, arguing that the trial procedure was illegal. I said he had gotten “lost in the procedure” and told him a fable:
A wolf in the forest wanted to eat a lamb, but he was afraid that other animals would judge him, so he had to find a suitable pretext.
One day, when the wolf saw the lamb drinking water from a stream, he said to the lamb, “Little thing, you have made my water dirty, so that I can’t drink clean water.”
The lamb said, “Mr. Wolf, this river belongs to everyone; moreover, I am drinking downstream and the water is flowing downstream from you, so how can I dirty the water you are drinking!”
Seeing that his excuse didn’t hold water, the wolf swapped it for another: “I heard from other animals that you talked badly about me behind my back last year. Just for that I should eat you!”
The lamb said anxiously, “How is that possible? Last year I wasn’t even born yet. Besides, I have no enmity with you, so why should I say bad things about you?”
The wolf gave up and said, “You can defend yourself all you want, but I’m still going to eat you!”
Having said that, he pounced on the lamb and ate it.
There are many different takes on why I was disbarred.Some say it was because of the cases I represented: after all, the cases of the artist Xu Na (许娜) and 11 others are still in progress, and Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永) is about to go to trial.
Some say it’s because I tweeted about topics that the whole world knows about but which can’t be talked about in China.
The Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau found the most grandiose reason: expressing support for a group on Sina Weibo and Twitter, slandering Marxism, and making other statements that “endanger national security.” And to think that they always say that the times have changed.
During the hearing, I expressed my view clearly. In the end, I pointed out that using reports filed by these ridiculous online handles to revoke my license was an insult to the intelligence of you, the judicial authorities. After all, it’s impossible to know if it is people or dogs that are behind these handles. I said, “Today, you use the reports and complaints of the internet mob as the basis for punishing me; tomorrow, they will surely become the dark force that will devour you. Don’t say you haven’t been forewarned!”
I have an undergraduate degree in political education, Marxism was my major. Although I did not become a Marxist, I am familiar with the theory, have memorized some of its classics, and am aware of the controversies that have arisen around it.
The Marxist materialistic view of history holds that human history is a spiral that progresses in waves, and that things always have their processes of emergence, development, and extinction, to be seen through the lens of development. But how can I convince those pseudo-Marxists who are fighting under the banner of Marxism?
Both public perception and the Justice Bureau’s excuses can be legal fictions that have been brought into existence to revoke my license, but the last piece of fuel that really set me on fire may have been my tweets celebrating the arrest of Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), the former vice-minister of public security and justice minister.
I’ve been paying attention to Fu Zhenghua’s actions since the Jasmine arrests in 2011. He is capable and is good at putting on a show. He has been deeply involved in the public security and judicial systems for many years; nobody has surpassed him in the suppression of Chinese civil society since the time of Zhou Yongkang.
I have publicly voiced my disdain and dissatisfaction with Fu Zhenghua on Twitter, for which I was approached by officials from the Beijing Justice Bureau. They’d ordered me to delete the tweets in question and “refrain from making snide remarks about the leader.”
At noon on October 2 this year , when I heard that Fu Zhenghua had been taken into custody, I could not help but tweet my feelings: “It’s been so many years……, Finally! ….. How satisfying!” I followed up on this by saying I would get a drink.
Looking back at that, I was really “too simple, sometimes naive!” [referring to a well-known remark by former CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin scolding journalists.]
Although Fu Zhenghua is as bad a person as can be, I admire his ability to sense political trends and to place the right people in the right position, especially his dazzling series of operations during his years as justice minister, which have profoundly impacted the criminal defense landscape in China.
I was too eager to celebrate his downfall. Therefore, I have to admit that I scored an own goal here.
Though I spent twenty years in a profession not of my choosing, I have been able to spend 12 of those years working in a way that suits my ideals, by representing human rights cases. Over the years, I have faced many unjust cases and verdicts, and I have suppressed my anger and felt deeply helpless and powerless. I wanted to escape, but there was nowhere to do so.
To me, the revocation of my law license is not so much a disaster as an expected closure. But it added to the annoyance and anxiety of my colleagues at the law firm and my family. For their sake, I have submitted myself to the relevant government bureaus with admission of mistakes and pleaded for forgiveness — but to no avail. I can only say sorry to them.
Now at middle age, I’m forced to change my career path and face an uncertain future. But as is written in the Gospel of Matthew: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” For the future, I have hope in my heart and light in my eyes.
The bells of 2022 are about to ring, and I hope the pandemic and all this chaos will soon be over and that we can return to normal life!
December 31, 2021
Translated from Chinese《岁末，吊照感言》by China Change.
Interviewing Liang Xiaojun: Representing Political Prisoners Is an Honor for China’s Lawyers, Liang Xiaojun, Yaxue Cao, May 15, 2020.
The Persecution List / 中國人權律師受迫害名單, July 9, 2021.