China Change, September 24, 2023
It took three whole years of secret detention for journalist Huang Xueqin (黄雪琴) and labor activist Wang Jianbing (王建兵) to be tried on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” as announced on Friday, September 22, in the southern Chinese city Guangzhou. Still, little has been made public about the trial proceedings except that the police blocked off the streets around the courthouse, diplomats who hoped to attend the hearing were kept away, and no sentence was handed down at the end of the one-day trial.
The case has received widespread attention from human rights groups, journalist protection organizations, as well as feminist activists. It’s widely regarded as one of the more recent incidents of China’s unceasing clampdown on civil activities that the communist regime perceives as a political threat.
With the case shrouded in secrecy, it remained a mystery as to just what the two did, and what arguments the Communist Party-led judiciary built against them until Saturday, the day after the trial, when weiquanwang, a website dedicated to rights defense news in China, posted the Indictment of Huang and Wang by Guangzhou Municipal Procuratorate.
For the grave charge of “inciting subversion,” the indictment, dated August 11, 2022, consists of three thin, sparse pages. Apart from basic biographical information, this is what the prosecutors found after two years of investigation reportedly involving interrogations of over 70 people [highlighted in blue is translation from the indictment]:
Since 2019, the defendant Huang Xueqin has repeatedly published provocative articles and statements on domestic and foreign online platforms and social media, distorting and attacking the government, undermining the political system of our country, and propagating thoughts of subverting state power. In March 2021, the defendant Huang Xueqin openly made provocative statements attacking and vilifying the national government of our country while participating in an overseas online news conference.
From May 2020 to February 2021, the defendant Huang Xueqin, incited by personnel of foreign organizations, participated in “nonviolent movement” online courses. With full knowledge that these courses contained content intended to incite subversion of our national government, she nevertheless actively introduced and recruited others to participate in the course, and during the training assisted in taking roll calls and presenting course materials, and actively assisted in the “nonviolence movement” training activities.
From December 2020 to May 2021, the defendant Huang Xueqin used video conferencing software developed overseas to organize and conduct training sessions known as the “Ten Lessons” project, which included content related to major events and social movements both inside and outside the country, inciting participants to express dissatisfaction with our national government.
The defendant Wang Jianbing, after graduating from university, successively joined overseas online groups such as the “Chinese Jasmine Revolution Volunteer Army” and the “June 4th Massacre Museum,” which had the purpose of subverting the state power of our country. He frequently posted or shared unsubstantiated statements and articles attacking our country’s political system and government on overseas social media and online platforms. Between May and October 2020, while studying in the United Kingdom, the defendant Wang Jianbing received training in online “nonviolent movement” courses.
Starting in November 2020, the defendants Wang Jianbing and Huang Xueqin, in collaboration with another individual, Chen X Xiang (subject to separate proceedings), used overseas communication software to post information for gatherings. They regularly held gatherings of multiple individuals at various locations, including the rental home of the defendant Wang Jianbing at Room 202, No. 149 Xin Gang West Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou, under the pretense of discussing social issues, inciting participants to express dissatisfaction with our national government.
On September 19, 2021, the public security authorities arrested the defendants Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing near the rental home of Wang Jianbing.
Being charged with “subversion of state power” for holding informal gatherings or studying nonviolent resistance and disobedience is nothing new in China. This June, Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, leaders of the New Citizens Movement, were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison respectively for holding a gathering of 20-some people in December 2019 in Xiamen, and for participating in similar “non-violence” online courses.
At the Center of the MeToo Movement in China
Huang Xueqin, a native Cantonese, was born in 1988 in Shaoguan, northern Guangdong. She studied journalism at Jinan University in Guangzhou, and started her first job as a reporter for the Guangzhou bureau of China News Service, a state-operated wire service, in 2010. Two years later she left China News Service, and from 2012 to 2018, she moved from one outlet to another, the more market-oriented and less stringent ones, and eventually became an independent journalist writing for a variety of publications, including Southern Metropolis Daily, Life, Initium, NGOCN, and etc.
She developed an interest in the issue of sexual harassment in part because she left one of her media jobs after a respected male colleague, many years her senior, tried to make sexual advances on her. In addition, while growing up, she had always been sensitive to how girls and women were treated differently and insisted on gender equality at home and in public.
Before MeToo became a catchword in China, in 2016 and 2017, she investigated several cases of sexual harassment; she conducted questionnaires on the subject; and during a stint at the National University of Singapore as a visiting scholar along with 16 other female journalists from 13 countries, she found that two-thirds of them had experienced sexual harassment in their professional life.
In October 2017, Luo Xixi (罗茜茜), now living in the United States, contacted Huang through the latter’s anti-sexual harassment questionnaire (ATSH) about her experience in 2004 when she was violated by her Ph.D. adviser at Beihang University after a number of complaints about the adviser filed with the university had gone unanswered. Starting January 1, 2018, Huang published a three-article series about the case of Luo Xixi on her social media account. It was, according to veteran feminist activist Lü Pin, “truly the first case of the MeToo movement in China.” Subsequently the case was widely covered by international media.
She continued her investigations, working with lawyers, feminist activists, and NGOs. As MeToo raged across China in 2018, letters signed by thousands of women took university authorities and organizations by storm, lawsuits were filed in court, and Weibo hashtags went viral, the Party’s security forces went on alert. Was it another attempt by “foreign forces” to stage a “Color Revolution”? They looked for targets. There were the usual suspects, namely, the young feminist activists, and all of a sudden, they were everywhere; and there was Huang Xueqin. The police, according to their usual logic, suspected “a black hand behind the scenes.” Before calling on Huang herself, from the spring to the summer in 2018, the police found her former employers, editors, and friends, asking, “What is Huang Xueqin doing? Why is she writing this type of articles?” So on and so forth. In July, they summoned her to “drink tea.”
In other words, she was registered.
In early June, 2019, Huang Xueqin went to Hong Kong and took part in the anti-extradition law protests that were bringing millions of Hongkongers to the streets. She was there, she wrote on June 10, “to speak out, participate, witness, and record history.”
“For the first time in my thirtieth year of life, my emotions fluctuated like a rollercoaster: in the first half of the evening, I was deeply moved by the goodness of the Hong Kong people, and in the second half of the night, I was furious at the shamelessness of the Hong Kong government. The government’s tolerance is decreasing, its leniency is dwindling, and police brutality is on the rise. Hong Kong seems to have been torn into two, becoming more and more like the current situation in mainland China,” she wrote after a long day and night on the street. “Perhaps, under the powerful machinery of the party-state, ignorance and fear can be cultivated, information and news can be blocked, and reality and truth can be distorted. But having experienced it, witnessed it, one cannot pretend to be ignorant, cannot give up on recording, and cannot sit idly by. In this boundless darkness, the only remaining shreds of truth and light must never be surrendered.”
In mid-October, she was detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Three months later in January 2020, she was released. Since her release, she seemed to have kept a low profile, and didn’t publicize her experience of three months in secret detention, except a message to friends saying, “This is Xueqin, and I’m back. One second of darkness won’t make you blind.”
Lü Pin’s Comments On the Trial
Lü Pin wrote on Twitter/X on September 22:
“On this day of Huang Xueqin’s trial, I feel suffocated.”
“As feminism is criminalized, and because of her feminist activism, Huang Xueqin has paid too high a price. Throughout the entire movement, she has shouldered more than anyone else. It’s not fair to her as far as the rest of us are concerned, though there isn’t much we can do about it.”
“The trial is of course a performance, and it looks like ‘they’ have finally finished rehearsing it. It is also lifting up the curtain after two years of blackout on her. This is the most heartbreaking moment, but also the beginning of the countdown for Huang Xueqin’s return.”