By Xu Zhiyong, translated by Andréa Worden, June 21, 2022
After being released from prison in July 2017, Xu Zhiyong devoted a year to writing “A Beautiful China” that was posted on his blog. This is Chapter 13 of the book. Xu’s career as a civil rights leader has spanned two decades since the early 2000s. He was imprisoned from 2013 to2017. In February 2020, he was arrested again, and will be subjected to the Communist Party’s show trial on June 22, in Linyi, Shandong province, for “subversion of state power.” – The Editors
From the Rights Defense Movement to the Citizens Movement
We needed a concept to represent our actions as well as the great era of the transformation of Chinese political civilization.
In 2003, invoking our status as citizens, we proposed a constitutional review of the “custody and repatriation” system. In 2010, we promoted the “Citizen’s Pledge”, which entailed the following commitment: “Chinese citizens who pursue the rule of law and justice pledge that we will jointly abide by the modern citizenship concept of conscience, responsibility, democracy and the rule of law; safeguard civil rights and people’s livelihood; promote governance by good laws; and create a modern nation for the people, and by the people. We pledge that we are willing to work hard and pay the price to become the foundation stones and the path towards a just, benevolent and happy civil society–– a future of the Chinese nation’s rule of law civilization.”
We pledge to act as citizens ourselves, and we encourage everyone else to act as a citizen. We maintain personal integrity, and together we stand united.
Some people call 2003 the first year of the Chinese citizens’ rights defense movement. We have been participants in this movement, taking the constitution and laws seriously, taking civil rights seriously, defending freedom and justice, and we’ve struggled for ten years.
The “rights defense movement” is insufficient [as a label] for the scope of this era of change, for we not only defend justice for individuals, but also seek to achieve social fairness and justice at the national level. We not only defend rights, but also seek to restrain power. We not only engage in passive defense, but also in the active building of something new.
In the spring of 2012, I put a lot of thought into the civil disobedience movement. Some actions involve non-cooperation, such as strikes, refusal to vote, boycott of high oil prices, etc. Some actions, such as rights protection in individual cases, often involve efforts working within the system. Lawyers sometimes fought, and sometimes cooperated, in the courtroom. More importantly, our mission is not only to end the past, but also to build a future, a beautiful China. So “non-cooperation” is not enough for this great historical process.
A great progressive movement cannot be a copy of the history of other countries. We drew on Gandhi’s ideas of non-violence. The movement of non-violent non-cooperation belonged to Gandhi and India, and the goal was to drive out the British. Our goal is to end tyranny, not to drive out some alien race. We cannot drive out 80 million communists. Some of them will turn into democratic politicians. We are all Chinese, and we will build a beautiful China together in the future.
In today’s post-totalitarian China, Václav Havel’s “living in truth” is a more fitting idea to draw upon. In modern society, the idea that those who fight for state power should then rule over the state lacks legitimacy. Therefore, they package themselves as having created a more advanced system, using modern civilization concepts such as democracy, rule of law and freedom as the so-called “core socialist values” and then hang these slogans all over the streets and alleyways. But these concepts belong to modern civilization and they belong to us the people; taking them seriously is empowering.
One day in May 2012, I discussed the concept and core values of our actions with Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), Zhao Changqing (赵常青) among others. The theme is clear, and it is to call on everyone to act as citizens. We had to decide whether to call it a citizens movement or a new citizens movement. Everyone decided to call it the New Citizens Movement, a citizens movement with new ideas in a new era.
We also discussed the core values of the New Citizens Movement that day. We enumerated many beautiful values, including democracy, the rule of law, constitutionalism, freedom, fairness, equality, benevolence and so on. Some values were instrumental, such as democracy, the rule of law, and constitutionalism. What we wanted to express was the ideal state of a beautiful society. So what are our ideas of an ideal country and an ideal society?
Freedom is the least controversial. Individual freedom is the ultimate purpose of nations and societies. Justice, encompassing equality and fairness, is appropriate. How to express love? Fraternity (bo’ai), benevolence (ren’ai), and all other two-word concepts for love are imperfect. At that moment, I had a flash of inspiration: one word, “love” (ai), was enough. We weren’t conscious of it at that moment, but it is in line with notions of justice and love in the Bible.
We chose the word “Citizen” (comprised of two characters “gongmin”) in Mr. Sun Yat-sen’s handwriting, and used the Republic of China’s blue color as the background color to make a “Citizen” logo. We made “Citizen” badges to be used as Weibo avatars and printed our logo on T-shirts, umbrellas, and teacups.
Using the “Citizen” avatar on Weibo, we found thousands of people and sent out private messages to ascertain which cities they lived in. We collected citizens in the same city and proposed a dinner party on the last Saturday of every month: from online to offline, regular same-city gatherings. This was the first step in the growth of a citizens community.
The New Citizens Movement launched the campaign to “call for officials to publicly disclose their assets.” We drafted an appeal letter, solicited signers, and mobilized flash demonstrations with banners making the call on the streets. Sun Hanhui (孙含会), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Wang Yonghong (王永红), and others met at a coffee shop every week at a designated time to discuss and arrange the work. On the same day, banners appeared in more than 20 cities that read “Citizens call on Officials to Publicly Disclose their Assets,” and that marked an embryonic form of organized democratic forces.
On March 31, 2013, Yuan Dong (袁冬) and several others went to Xidan Cultural Square where they unfurled banners and gave speeches; four of them were arrested. On April 18, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Li Wei (李蔚) and others were detained. I was detained on July 16, and Wang Gongquan (王功权) on September 13. In January 2014, we were put on trial, and many citizens showed their support. This is known as the “New Citizens Case”.
After we were released from prison in 2017, we continued our work. Realizing that “new citizens” tended toward a clique of people, we adopted “citizens movement” (公民运动) as our name. No one holds a patent on “citizen”; it is not a clique, rather it is a common identity and a shared platform for Chinese people who pursue democracy and freedom.
The modern concept of “citizen” originated in ancient Greece. At that time, the city-state of Athens already had the democratic concept of “civil rule”. When Aristotle defined citizens and the city-state, he said: “When a man is entitled to hold office, or to be a member of parliament, or a member of a jury, we regard him as a citizen of the city-state”. Aristotle believed that citizens are the main body of the city-state and enjoy rights, the most important of which is the right to participate in the political activities of the city-state.
Citizens are people from and for the public, and participants in public affairs. Citizens jointly make a constitutional charter to form a country, enjoy rights and undertake obligations. In periodic elections, citizens freely elect mayors, legislators, and presidents. Citizens participate in politics on a daily basis, express their opinions, and supervise those in power.
The state belongs to the people, and the power of the rulers does not come from occupation by force, but from votes by the people. “People” is not an abstraction, but is composed of each and every individual. Citizens together are the people, and the people are divided into individual citizens.
Citizens are not subjects, and do not bow down before power. They are not “the worthless little people” (“草民”) trampled on like ants amid historical changes. They are not docile subjects, who have duties but no rights, and who must obey and endure mistreatment. They are not a hateful mob, ruthlessly burning, killing and looting. Citizens are the people of a democratic, rule of law-based free nation. Citizens are independent and free individuals, who share the happiness, as well as bear responsibility, of a just order –– they are upright, fair, peaceful, and rational.
There are no citizens under despotism. We are not yet true citizens of China today, for we have no right to vote and no freedom of speech. But we do not give up on ourselves and are not willing to be docile subjects. We take our status as citizens seriously and strive to be true citizens. In this struggle, we will promote the transformation of political civilization.
Citizenship is our ideal; democracy and the rule of law, fairness and justice, freedom and happiness are the direction of political civilization. It is also our identity – yours and mine — our common identity. Democracy, freedom, and constitutionalism are also ideals, but not identities. You are a citizen, I am a citizen; we are all citizens. This status has no distinctions based on wealth and status, whether high or low. One day, every Chinese person will be able to proudly say, I am a citizen.
We must find a path for the growth of political forces outside the system. In a post-totalitarian society, it is no use to say that there is nothing we can do about it because the authorities are unscrupulous. There is always room. The key is what to do and how to do it. Only when you know yourself and the other side can you know what space exists for action.
The Party says that constitutional government is Western, and civil society is Western, but it cannot say that the concept of citizen is Western. The concept of “citizen” has been rooted in China for a hundred years and is also written in the current constitution. It cannot be blocked, nor can it be deprived. In the face of pressure, we can say with dignity that I’m determined to be a citizen. They cannot really say, No, you cannot be a citizen.
Any specific name representing a team could be isolated, suppressed, and turned into a “sensitive” word, it could end up becoming a clique. But citizen as the common identity and a shared and lasting platform for the democratic and free forces cannot be isolated and suppressed. They are afraid of citizens, but they will not go as far as removing the two characters that comprise “citizen” from the constitution.
We chose “citizen” as our identity; by forging a path through a jungle of thorns and standing firm in a society of subjects who bent their knees before power, we will grow an independent political force. It is a realistic and feasible path.
Truth – The Guiding Principle for Action
Take “truth” as the guiding principle for action, because the biggest weakness of post-totalitarianism is mendacity.
Democracy, rule of law, freedom, equality… The core values of socialism are plastered all over the place in China. But as soon as people take them to be true, the government panics. These concepts belong to modern civilization, and we cannot throw them away just because the rulers have used them and dirtied them. They’ve made them dirty, but we will have to wash these concepts clean. We don’t need to create new concepts, these concepts belong to us in the first place.
Truth points directly to the absurd weakness of post-totalitarianism. The first sentence of the national anthem is, “Rise up, people who don’t want to be slaves.” This national song was born in an era when the fire of war was raging everywhere. It inspired the people to resist foreign aggression. In the future, it can also inspire people to resist tyranny. When collectively defending rights, we can sing the national anthem with sincerity and passion. The more people who sing it, the more it becomes ours. When the delegates sing the anthem again during the Two Sessions, the flavor will be different.
Truth is light that ends darkness. The authorities use lies to cover up lies. As true citizens, we reject lies and live in truth, and doing so is to resist tyranny and also building a civil society. Amid the absurd, we stick to the truth; amidst evil, we hold fast to our conscience; in the darkness, we create light.
Darkness cannot end the darkness. Use light to end the darkness, only then will there be a bright future.
We take democracy seriously. How to reflect the fact that the people are masters of the country? Elections. What is a real election? With free competition, voters can only express their true wishes when they understand the candidates. Democracy is not an abstract concept, but a technical matter of how the people become masters of the country. Democracy is not Eastern or Western, capitalist or socialist, but rather true or false.
Having recognized the falsehood of the system we are in, we take positive actions. When the direct elections of grassroots people’s representatives are held, we take part publicly [as independent candidates]. Even though we may be met with severe suppression, the action itself can nonetheless gather together the strength of the citizenry. Everyone knows that the National People’s Congress is a rubber stamp, but the Constitution gives it enormous power. If some delegates come forward, reject unwritten rules, and speak out bravely, such actions will inspire society.
Take the rule of law seriously. Only when vulnerable groups defend their rights and take the law seriously, will they muster up the courage to fight. Those people whose homes were demolished and themselves forcefully relocated may not have the courage to speak of democracy and constitutionalism, but they have the courage to say, this is a law you made yourself, and you do not abide by it? Public participation free from fear is a prerequisite for action.
What is a die-hard lawyer (死磕律师)? It’s simply a lawyer who takes the law seriously. It is by taking the law seriously and the procedure seriously that the rule of law is promoted bit by bit. Although the path is narrow, winding, and bumpy, it is a path nonetheless, and as more and more people walk along the path, it can be widened.
To take the status of citizen seriously is itself to fight. It’s not just a fight, but also a form of construction. Only when there is a consensus on identity can we build strength and a civic community. This is the way to go: to accommodate the most people, and to move forward despite pressure.
Take the rights of citizens seriously. The universal values written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of procession, freedom of demonstration, freedom of movement, freedom of artistic creation… As a member of humanity, we earnestly pursue these rights, explain them, spread them, and practice them.
Citizens have freedom of belief, we stick to our beliefs; we are not afraid of harassment, and do not sign guarantee letters that require us to state we will give up our beliefs. Citizens have freedom of speech, and we insist on telling the truth. Citizens have the right to vote, so we take our votes seriously, boycott fake elections, and campaign actively.
Take your civic duty seriously. This is my country and I have a responsibility to make her better. We care about the country, serve the society, and help those who need assistance.
Regardless of occupation or status, be loyal to your conscience and refuse to obey orders that go against your conscience. Starting from oneself, stick to the norms of civic conduct, reject tyranny and lies in life, and be a true citizen.
As citizens, judges are fair and honest, loyal to the law and their conscience, and do not circumvent the law for power or personal gain. As citizens, police impartially enforce the law, get rid of harm and bring about peace, do not extract confessions through torture, and do not collude with the unscrupulous. As citizens, prosecutors adhere to national laws, do not tolerate corruption, and do not wrong the innocent or condone criminals. As citizens, deputies to peoples’ congresses have the courage to perform their duties in accordance with the law for the public interest, and don’t vote like an automated machine and a rubber stamp. As citizens, teachers care for students, and don’t teach lies. As citizens, doctors care for patients, and don’t accept bribes, and prescribe drugs with only the best interest of the patients in mind.
As citizens, lawyers adhere to the law, protect the rights and interests of clients in accordance with the law, and do not bribe judges. As citizens, accountants maintain loyalty to accounting standards, do not make false accounts. As citizens, editors and reporters pursue the truth, and do not report lies. As citizens, college students study hard, do not cheat on exams, do not plagiarize papers, and care about the country and society. As citizens, scholars seek truth by using their expertise, and do not engage in toadyism or commit plagiarism. As citizens, artists express truth, goodness and beauty, and reject unspoken rules. As citizens, entrepreneurs operate with integrity, and do not bribe the powerful. As citizens, industrial workers ensure product quality, do not cut corners, and do not produce fake and shoddy products. As citizens, food producers do not adulterate food with toxic and harmful substances….
The Consensus on Ideas
Citizens are a community based on shared ideas. We have a shared identity and we are all citizens. We share the core values of freedom, justice, and love for a beautiful China. We have consensus on the rules, that is, freedom and democracy. We have consensus on the path, that is, a nonviolent citizens movement. And we have consensus on the particulars of a constitutional system.
Being a citizen is our common identity. Under this identity, Chinese people who pursue democracy and freedom will unite and cooperate to build a civil society and grow the strength of citizens. No one holds a patent for the identity of citizen; it belongs to every Chinese person who pursues democracy and freedom.
Freedom, justice, love – these are our core values. Freedom is the true autonomy of the individual, and the ultimate goal of the state and society. Justice is a fair and just state and society, and the rational boundary between people; undergirding this is democratic constitutionalism. Love, relative to universal fraternity (fraternal love), is richer and more profound; it is life and the source of happiness.
Behind this is the foundation of faith, which is a more profound cornerstone of constitutional civilization. Two hundred years after the French Revolution, we sum up the progress of human civilization and put forward the core values for this era, which represent the direction of human civilization and is the banner of this era.
The consensus on the rules of democracy. Citizens are a union of free individuals, and it is normal to have differences. By popularizing democratic rules of procedure, disagreements will not go so far as to result in a schism, and differences will not affect actions.
The consensus on a beautiful China. The China we dream of is beautiful, free, just and happy. A beautiful China embodies profound values, including democracy, the rule of law, and freedom. We stick to the politics of conscience and good politics, starting from ourselves and creating new traditions. A great change unseen in three thousand years, Chinese civilization will be reborn as a new life of freedom, justice and love. This is the mission we take upon ourselves.
The consensus on the path. Violent revolution is impossible. We advocate for a nonviolent citizens movement. Love is the soul of nonviolence. A civic community must grow outside of the current system in order for China to transition to a constitutional civilization at the lowest cost. This is China’s path.
The consensus on constitutionalism. The constitutions of many countries emerged from surging passion amid great change; unscientific and immature, such constitutions are subsequently changed over and over again. We shall rationally think about the best design of a democratic system, the division of power between the central and local governments, a presidential system or a parliamentary system, etc., and fully discuss and explore options, and reach a consensus.
Autonomy of Action
The consensus on ideas has a direction. The autonomy of action has space.
Citizen groups grow through serving the society and through actions; just gathering people but not doing anything, those who have gathered will eventually disperse. A small circle engaging in empty talk will never put down roots in society and will gradually die out. People come together through doing things, and strength is accumulated through actions.
Citizens do things autonomously. Citizens are free individuals, serving the society; they do not accept orders from superiors or obey organizational arrangements. Action is based on voluntariness, and responsibility comes from commitment. Citizens in various localities do things autonomously, with safety considerations in mind in order to avoid being completely suppressed. It is also for its healthy growth that, from the very beginning, the civic community is not a traditional hierarchical structure.
There are two basic models of political opposition. One is the communist party style, with a rigid hierarchy and obedience to top-down orders. The other is the modern political party model, with freedom of entry and exit, bottom-up democratic elections, local autonomy in doing things, and a community of shared ideas. We can only choose the latter, in order for there to be room to grow, and to move in the direction of a beautiful China. The form is loose but the spirit isn’t. Based on the rules of freedom and democracy, a broad range of democratic forces are able to coalesce.
We will pay attention to public events, spread the idea of citizenship by reposting content on the Internet, posting signs on streets, wearing “citizen” symbols, cultural t-shirts, etc. We take rights seriously, and will promote civil rights movements such as anti-corruption, freedom of belief, freedom of speech, and election rights by means of filing lawsuits, taking photos, acting as onlookers, running for elections or boycotting elections, transcribing human rights declarations, holding rallies, demonstrations and performance art, and more. Practice civic spirit in action.
We will put down roots in the community, serve the community, and help those most in need. Politics is public service. Public service starts now. We will actively participate in and organize community activities and lend a hand to those who need help. Lawyers can file public interest lawsuits, and citizens can file class-action lawsuits over electric vehicle license fees, high gasoline prices and tolls, to fight for the interests of the majority.
We will grow civic community through mutual aid in the same city. We will provide financial support for prisoners of conscience and care for their families. We will come together to help those who run for seats on the property owners’ committee (yezhu weiyuanhui). When a citizen friend falls ill, we will take turns to care for them. We will go to orphanages and nursing homes to help the poor and the weak. We will participate in public events relating to environmental pollution and forced demolitions, together with environmental activists and other teams of volunteers. To borrow a modern concept of organization, we call ourselves a civic community. Each urban civic community is independent and autonomous, and can design its own slogan and logo.
Community of Citizens
Being a true citizen not only involves the building of personal morality, but also promoting the great cause of transforming Chinese political civilization. The democratic forces must be united in order to persevere, and only then will the healthy forces not be eliminated, but rather develop and expand. Only when an independent political force outside the current system begins to grow can a peaceful transition be achieved at the lowest cost.
Now, how will democratic forces coalesce?
The traditional way of forming a party is not feasible. Criminal law sets traps for such organizations. A tightly hierarchical organization is trapped in a small circle from the beginning. The development and growth of small and compact organizations are suitable for the extreme environment of war and chaos, but they are not suitable for modern society. In the face of the [Chinese] Communist Party, a secret organization pales in significance. Even if it were able to mature, it would not be a healthy political opposition in terms of modern civilization.
Since there is no way to “organize”, let’s just wait, some say. This amounts to a pessimistic escape without wisdom.
Being organized or not organized is not a relationship between 1 and 0; either there is an organization, like the Communist Party; or there is no organization, just a sheet of loose sand. We start from version 0.1, and according to the space that is available, we gradually grow to version 0.2 and version 0.3. Once the transformation begins, it can quickly grow to version 2.0, if the Communist Party counts as version 1.0. We are not like them.
In modern democratic politics, political parties are not like autocratic organizations. There are no personal strings, no punishment for betrayal, and no strict orders from superiors to subordinates who must obey. People come together through shared ideas. Anyone can join today and quit tomorrow. It’s a big party. But it’s not a sheet of loose sand. Party members have a common identity, a common philosophy, and a common direction.
We have new ideas. We fight for a beautiful China, not for the sake of becoming its future rulers. When China does become democratic, many citizens who are fighting today will return to their original professions. Some will become professional politicians, strictly bound by law and the people’s will; they will become real public servants, with no inflated privileges. Our discourse system is not leadership, masses, organization, mission, and discipline, but rather citizen, freedom, justice, love, volunteers, teams, and communities.
We have a new form. Growing up in the cracks of authoritarianism requires innovations in form that conforms to the historical trend. A civic community is an organization in that people have a common identity, shared values and direction, and division of labor and cooperation; at the same time it is not an organization, in that it has no leadership, no hierarchy, no punishment and discipline, and no orders to obey. It is comprised of free individuals, democratic rules, autonomous work, and it will grow naturally.
Every citizen is an independent and free individual. Everyone comes together because of ideas; we operate based on democratic rules, equal participation, and division of labor and cooperation. Citizenship is our common platform, not someone’s clique. No approval is required to join a civic group – no one is given the authority to approve or disapprove others’ membership. If you agree with the concept of citizen, and are willing to work with everyone, then you are considered to have joined the force. And you can freely leave at any time.
Together we will wear the “citizen” badge, and when we publicly demonstrate that we are citizens, we will discover more and more citizens; we will discover each other. We will naturally become a community, and we are all members of this community. Everyone is a citizen–– citizen is both an individual identity and a collective identity.
Individual citizens serve their communities and earn their support. Citizens in the same city help each other, serve the society, and develop a civic community. Citizens across the country are joined into a network, from online to offline, to form a community of citizens. On Citizenship Day, citizens from all over, at the same time, will express concern for the country, serve the society, and promote progress. This is a ceremony, a ritual for gathering strength.
We take being a citizen seriously. We unite as citizens, serve the society, defend freedom and justice, and grow into a community of citizens. This is crucial for the process of Chinese political civilization. It will also necessarily be suppressed by conservative forces. Even if it’s non-political issues, such as environmental pollution and education equality, or even it’s same-city dinners at the same time, as long as they exist independently, they will all face pressure.
Pressure is inevitable. We must learn to grow under pressure. If, as soon as there’s pressure, some citizens promptly give up on their identity as a citizen, we will not be able to grow in size and strength. Being a community that leads social progress, it must mature under pressure before it can become powerful.
Citizenship is indeed our identity. It’s been rooted in China for a hundred years already, and it is also written in the constitution. To be a true citizen is a lifetime ideal. When you and I truly become citizens and enjoy universal freedoms such as direct elections, freedom of speech, and freedom of belief, it means our country would have changed.
I once said to a police officer, Are you not a citizen? Shouldn’t you be a citizen?
Our business is politics. But it is by no means an authoritarian politics of intrigue. A beautiful China is our belief. Faith is our most powerful force against pressure. Faith has underpinned our actions for years. The most important thing in the citizens movement is not strategy, but faith.
We love China and strive to make her a better place. A society where raw power is rampant and corruption prevalent must change. The jungle society with its lack of integrity and moral decline must change. We must end dictatorship and build a true democracy and the rule of law, and a modern civilized China of freedom, justice and love.
We are not like them. They are for power grabs, for privilege, for the rice bowl, for their selfish gains. We are for the ideal, for a better China, and for the long-lasting dignity, freedom and happiness of the Chinese nation for generations to come.
We are truthful, pious, and honest; we are fearless because we are selfless.
If the day comes when, on Citizenship Day, we cannot serve the society–– if we are blocked and cannot go to the park to pick up litter, if we can’t leave our homes, then we will fast for one day. The Chinese race needs humility and sacrifice.
I Am a Citizen
We advocate for every Chinese to be a true citizen and take the identity, rights and responsibilities of being a citizen seriously. Being a dignified citizen, being one among fellow citizens, we grow a community of citizens outside the current system and promote China’s complete transformation into a constitutional government at the lowest cost. The citizens movement is not a battle, but a magnificent period in history that brings about the rebirth of the Chinese nation, from the bottom to the top, from society to state, from system to culture, from individual awakening to civilization.
It is a political movement: an ancient nation bids farewell to autocracy and completes the transformation to a constitutional civilization. It is a social movement that destroys the privileged hierarchy and constructs a new order of fairness and justice. It is a cultural movement, saying goodbye to the culture of autocratic subjects and creating a new national spirit. It is a movement for peace and progress that elevates human civilization to new heights.
The transformation of China’s democratic constitutional civilization must establish separation of powers and checks and balances, judicial independence, and multi-party competition, at the same time laying the foundation for a new political and cultural tradition, and thoroughly abandoning the barbaric political logic of “whoever succeeds in gaining the country will rule the country,” and “political power comes from the barrel of a gun,” and root political beliefs in fair competition and public service. From a society of subjects to a civil society, the citizens movement aims to build a democratic constitutional system and develop the cultural soil suited for constitutional government.
Say goodbye to the authoritarian system of thinking and discourse and grow into a community of citizens with core values and action that builds a civil society and promotes a peaceful transformation of China towards a democratic and constitutional government. This is the new road to a better future.
Due to historical memory, and also due to authoritarian propaganda, many compatriots do have a phobia of change. On the one hand, they are dissatisfied with the autocracy; on the other hand, they are worried that change may bring about a new cycle of violence and chaos. Changes in China require a new path.
We strive to blaze a new trail, and that is the citizen movement. We oppose using violence against violence; we hope to end the vicious cycle by giving compatriots a new choice and a bright and beautiful future.
No matter what pressure I may be confronted with, I am a citizen. No one has the right to deprive me of my citizenship, and no one has the right to deprive me of my dream of being a Chinese citizen. I am one citizen among many, working together with other citizens to change China.
I am a citizen. I am not a subject, nor a docile member of the masses; not the hoi polloi nor a mob. Citizens are the masters of the country. Based on the constitutional charter, a beautiful China will be jointly established and shared by 1.3 billion people. To become a true citizen and say goodbye forever to the pain of tyranny is my life’s ideal. The pursuit of becoming a true citizen is the process and the result of the transformation towards a constitutional civilization. When 1.3 billion people become real citizens is also when a beautiful China will be realized.
I implore every compatriot who pursues democracy and freedom to recognize their identity as a citizen and understand the importance of this identity. Stand tall as a citizen, work with other citizens; together we care about our country, serve the society, and promote advancement.
I am a citizen. We are citizens. This is our devout faith. Our responsibility is to this ancient people. This struggle belongs to our generation, so does the responsibility and honor that comes with it.
The citizens movement will continue until the 1.3 billion people of China become true citizens.
Translated from Chinese 《 美好中国之十三：公民运动》, originally posted on December 30, 2019.
One Life for One Dream, Xu Zhiyong’s autobiographical essay, June 18, 2022
Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go, An Essay by Xu Zhiyong, Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé, February 26, 2020. This is the last article (《劝退书》) Xu Zhiyong published before being arrested in February 2020.
Change — A 2020 New Year’s Message, Xu Zhiyong, January 1, 2020.
Four Years Afar, Xu Zhiyong, September 16, 2018. Xu Zhiyong’s account of his years in prison from 2013-2017.
The Last Ten Years, Xu Zhiyong, June 5, 2013. Of the two decades of Xu’s career as a proponent of political change in China, the first ten years (2003-2013) were the most productive due to the marginal space the civil society had during the Hu-Wen era. He spent six of the past nine years in jail. He could be facing a lengthy prison term in years ahead.