Liao Yiwu, December 10, 2018, International Human Rights Day, Berlin
I’ve so often said that my courage and everything about me comes from prison. This is how I differ from other Chinese writers. In prison, I was tortured ‘til I could no longer bear it, and tried to kill myself twice. But I learned to write secretly; and I learned to play the xiao (ancient flute) from an over-80-year-old monk. From the sound of his xiao, I realized that freedom comes from the soul.
A man of inner freedom is the natural enemy of a dictatorship. His political views come in a pale, second place.
The key is that, only after experiencing the horror, sadness, and pity of losing freedom and being trampled upon, does one fight for the freedom of others with all one’s heart, and moreover turns the fight for freedom into a kind of personal faith.
Most of the time, outside of writing, I’m a failure. For example, my friend Liu Xiaobo, four times jailed, was murdered in a cage on July 13, 2017. We did our best to rescue him, but it was all a failure. Although his wife, Liu Xia, was eventually released and allowed to come to Germany, the price was too painful and too great. And soon it will all be forgotten.
China is still the world’s largest capitalist market, and with the US-led trade war against China and the constant thrashings-about in the news, already the memory of Liu Xiaobo and his wife is being diluted and lost. It’s a vulgar and cruel world that no longer needs a martyr like Liu Xiaobo to strive and be jailed for the cause of democracy. I understand all this. I know that though the records already are numerous, I must continue to write. It’s just as, over 2,000 years ago, when Plato recorded the philosophical debates in Socrates’ cell before his death; without those words Plato left behind, Socrates would have been erased by time, and his death left a vague mystery. His words would no longer stir us so deeply.
Yes, I wrote “June 4: My Testimony” and “Bullets and Opium,” both of which are part of a single whole describing the victims of the Tiananmen massacre nearly 30 years ago, many of whom died, many of whom were destroyed by prison. (Although, even when released from prison, they went on to die in a larger prison without walls.) The idea that “the internet will destroy autocracy and open markets will lead to democracy ” has been a popular notion for American politicians, and coincided with the administration of then-US President Bill Clinton. It’s this phrase that lubricated China’s entry to the WTO, and helped grant it most-favored nation status over 20 years ago.
But it’s clearly not the case that “the internet undermines dictatorship.” Instead, it’s the authoritarian regimes that have made extensive use of Western network technology to comprehensively monitor the entire Chinese populace. No matter where you are, as long you’re a dissident, you’ll be tapped and tracked; all your trips to the bank and online speech will be recorded, and in a moment’s notice, all will become evidence of your intent to harm the state. At hotels, train stations, and airports, your face will be automatically identified by the police using their mobile phones and computers — technology invented by Westerners and augmented by the internet and open markets, all of which has given a tremendous boost to the dictatorship.
What follows naturally is that the dictatorship will challenge Western democracy. For instance, China has the Great Fire Wall, and if you circumvent it and visit foreign websites, this is called “illegal” and perhaps you’ll be arrested. Western countries have no firewall, and almost all overseas Chinese, and many foreigners interested in China, are free to use WeChat, Weibo, and Huawei cell phones — but then they’re silently monitored and tracked too. And if you say ‘extremist’, suspicious, sarcastic, or subversive remarks about China, WeChat administrators will issue a warning that your account may be cancelled — or simply cancel it without a word. Or maybe you’ll temporarily go “missing”, and your family and friends in the country may also find themselves under a cloud of trouble. Dictators not only borrow the propaganda of “counter-terrorism” to carry out concentration camp-style forced brainwashing of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang, but also use the internet to prevent those in the free world from actually being free.
Many dissidents around me also use WeChat and accept the regime’s control and surveillance without really thinking it over. So today, I, a writer among dissidents, not only refuse to use Chinese-made smartphones, but I refuse to install any software from China, and I only publish my work in democratic Taiwan and the free West.
More importantly, I don’t flinch, I don’t succumb to silence, I continue to fight for the freedom of others, and in this oft-failed struggle, I’m drawing from a passionate need to make a record of this era.
Coming up next, I shall prepare another book; I shall get ready to turn defeat into victory in the history that will soon be upon us.
“1984” itself makes one hopeless — but the act of writing “1984” is already a flickering of hope from the depths of despair.
Also by Liao Yiwo:
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom To Liu Xia, May 2, 2018.
Acceptance Speech for the 2018 Annual Disturbing the Peace Literary Prize for a Courageous Writer at Risk, Liao Yiwu, September 27, 2018, New York City
China Citizens Movement Outstanding Citizenship Award Selection Committee, December 10, 2018
Today, we offer our respects to an outstanding citizen. She is a loving mother, a strong mother, and a great mother. She is eighty-five years old this year, an age at which she should have been enjoying a peaceful retirement with her family. Instead, at her venerable age, she has been thrust into a situation that no mother should be forced to experience: she has had to see her son imprisoned and brought to the verge of death for committing no crime at all. In her quest to protect and support him, she stakes out a trail of blood and tears upon the great but troubled land that is China.
Using all the strength that her frail person has to offer, she has stood up against constant harassment, surveillance, and intimidation from the state. She overcomes tribulations using gentleness, patience, and tolerance, acting with firm yet nonviolent determination.
Courageously, she persisted in seeking all possible help to gain her son’s freedom and is praised by all for her conscientiousness. She has demonstrated the best example for all citizens who are dedicated to justice, and will inspire more citizens to pursue justice.
Her pure love has awakened a humanity that is in shackles: no matter how society changes, no matter how cruel the world is or how deluded the people are, a mother’s love is the eternal light of spring that consoles the hearts of every citizen and illuminates their path.
This admirable mother is Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清), and her son is Huang Qi (黄琦), a prisoner of conscience who is currently serving a third sentence for his unyielding determination to expose human rights abuses in China.
In thinking of Ms. Pu Wenqing, we are reminded of Themis, the Greek goddess of divine justice, and her son Prometheus, a hero who sacrificed his eternal freedom so that humanity could learn the secret of fire.
Today, we are honored to present this year’s Outstanding Citizen Award to Ms. Pu Wenqing in acknowledgement of her efforts to live as an upright citizen in the pursuit of her civil rights. In her extraordinary efforts, we see the warm strength of humanity overcoming the forces of tyranny, moving us ever closer to a society of freedom, justice, and love.
Here, on the International Human Rights Day, we express our sincere wishes: that Ms. Pu Wenqing may enjoy good health and longevity, and that Huang Qi may regain his freedom and be reunited with his family!
85-Year-Old Mother Fights For the Release of Her Son, Renowned Human Rights Defender, Yaxue Cao, October 15, 2018.
Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018
If you have been with Twitter’s simplified Chinese community long enough, you know it’s nothing new that handles disappear and in some cases the persons behind them go to jail – it’s a freedom tunnel that the Chinese Communist regime is leery of.
But over the last few months, and still ongoing, we keep hearing mainland tweeps reporting that they have been summoned by police who ordered them to delete tweets or accounts altogether. AFP’s Eva Xiao and Human Rights Watch’s Yaqiu Wang reported on the trend early on. I myself reported one particular instance – the deletion of Wu Gan (吴淦)’s account.
As of today, I collected 42 tweets from users themselves tweeting about what had happened to them. Some are well-known journalists, dissidents and intellectuals. Others are average tweeps who may or may not be anonymous. Some have been on Twitter for several years, others are new to it. In a few cases, tweeps were given administrative detention of 10 or more days; in at least one case, a user in Chongqing has been criminally detained awaiting charges. Some faced the run-in with police with composure, and others with defiance; still others were scared and quit, or made to quit. Together they tell the unmediated story.
The tweets are arranged chronologically. A few are excerpted for brevity. Necessary explanatory information is provided in [brackets and italic]. A link to the original tweet in Chinese is embedded in the last two words of the translation. If the link is broken, it means, in most cases, that the police came back to the tweep pressuring him or her to delete it.
Today I was summoned to my neighborhood police station for retweeting political rumors. I was reprimanded, and made to write a statement of repentance and another statement guaranteeing that I wouldn’t do it again. They deleted my tweets. This handle is going to be abandoned. Goodbye friends. I love you all.
Just moments ago, a policeman from my hometown (Chengshuang Township police station, Dangshan county, Suzhou municipality, Anhui province) called me and said they are going to come to Shanghai to look for me again (they did during June 4th). I guess it’s about my Twitter. Now, since they are monitoring my posts, let me tell the internet police and the domestic security police right here and now: It’s impossible for me not to speak. Speech is my last line说话是我的底线. You can come to arrest me if you want to charge me for my expressions. It’s no use to come to talk to me. Why don’t you save the money and use it on keeping people safe.
Beijing tweep Quan Shixin (全世欣 @Sarah_chinaBJ) has been administratively detained for 10 days for “attacking leaders of the communist party and the state.” She was released around noon and returned home on September 21.
On October 1, 9 am, two guobao police summoned me to the neighborhood police workstation for a talk, which was transcribed and also video recorded. Their key points are: 1). Recently I posted too many original tweets and retweets on Twitter as well as WeChat, and the content is all negative; 2) Who called for the group trip to Tiananmen Square on Sept. 20? 3) They once again issued a warning and criticism.
[He Depu (何德普) is a veteran dissident and served an eight-year sentence during 2003-2011 on charges of inciting subversion.]
A police officer from my hometown called, asking me to delete tweets. He said the higher authorities investigating internet speech found my posts. I was somewhat puzzled because I had hardly said anything. The call was made to my father’s house, so my old father, who is in his 70s, was frightened once again. Feeling so bad about it, I called home to comfort him.
[Li Xuewen is a Hubei-based dissident writer. He was detained for taking part in the seaside commemoration of Liu Xiaobo in Guangdong in 2017. ]
On the afternoon of October 27, three police officers from the neighborhood police station made a surprise visit. The guests and the host quickly exchanged views about Twitter. The police asked me to “delete account” and stop using Twitter. I said that is unacceptable, but I voluntarily promised to self-censor what I say in order to reduce the waste of police resources and avoid upsetting loved ones so frequently. After communicating for an hour, the meeting ended in an awkward but still friendly atmosphere. For the record.
[Wen Tao (文涛) is a journalist who was disappeared for 83 days and subjected to torture in 2011 for his association with artist Ai Weiwei.]
Per appointment, I met with Shenzhen guobao this afternoon, and the subject was not to badmouth the Party and state leaders. We also exchanged views on international and domestic affairs. This must be a nationwide operation. Now, my question is: what move is this preparing for?
[This is one of the earliest Chinese Twitter users – since May 2009.]
October 21, 2018, lunar calendar Sept. 13, was my birthday. It was unforgettable! Goodbye, Twitter.
[Wang Yajun describes himself as a “renowned joke teller, independent commentator, Taobao store owner, and internet Big V verified by CAC.” He’s been an active presence in Beijing’s intellectual circles for years. He was detained in Keshan county, Heilongjiang province, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 30 for “provoking disturbances. A couple of days after he posted this tweet on Oct. 31, his account was deleted. ]
Liu Jichun (刘继春, @wugefy1) is formally arrested this morning after being detained for 30 days. Lao Liu ran a small, 40 square-meter eatery in Shapingba area in Chongqing. He was the chef and his wife the assistant. A lawyer has met him a couple of times, and found out that the charges against him have to do with him retweeting various news. Request for bail was denied by the public security bureau, and a request for dismissal was denied by the prosecutors. It’s pretty clear that his is speech crime.
How do you speak freely on Twitter from the evil Communist-ruled land without being summoned by the police for ‘drinking tea’?
I drank tea just two days ago.
[Zhan Lifan is an independent historian and commentator in Beijing.]
Hometown police called and said I cursed the leaders on Twitter. I only have a few posts and they were not posted on Twitter. I hereby state: I have not cursed them!
For the last year or so, I have posted nearly nothing on Twitter. Lately there have been tweeps I know who were summoned and forced to delete their Twitter, including quite a few of my friends. So I’m compelled to talk again. Throughout history, in China or elsewhere, the tyrants always think the day will not break if they kill all the roosters that crow at the dawn; everything will be fine if they could make people too afraid to speak. No matter how long the night, we will live to see the dawn.
[Ye Du is a dissident and writer living in Guangzhou.]
I was detained, and made to sit through the night in the cold. Goodbye, Twitter, be safe. Maybe I should just be one of those people who think life in China is peace and quiet.
[I spoke to @zwitterion2018. He lives in a central province. “I don’t know how they found me,” he said. “They came all of a sudden. They asked me questions, took me, and detained me for a night. Then they investigated me and found that I had no associations. So they let me go. At the same time they deleted my Twitter feed.” He said they threatened him that if he tweets again he’d be put in jail. They also explained that they were local police carrying out an order from the national security, and they themselves don’t want to detain him. “It was my first time,” he said, “I’m very afraid.” I asked why he was still on Twitter, he said the worst that could happen to him is jail.]
This was end-of-the-world maniac: I received a call from guobao who demanded that I pledge not to get on Twitter anymore. How is it possible for me not to get on Twitter? They may as well kill me.
[This is a new tweep joined in May, 2018. In another tweet, he said that, to avoid being harassed by the “Zhao family’s dogs”, he took out his sim card and uses only Wifi to surf internet.]
Officer Zhou, of Donghu police station in Chaoyang District, Beijing, do you call yourself the ‘people’s police’ when you prohibit people from speaking out about their thoughts, their grievances, their call for justice so that you can serve the Party you belong to and its leaders with all your heart and mind? When you shut people up, how are you different from the Nazis during 1937 – 1945?
Lately Chinese tweeps have encountered a widespread crackdown. No wonder they went to my former employer to look for me in early September. Thank goodness I have left.
[This tweep seems to be living in Florida now.]
Guobao had an appointment with me this evening. I was forced to pledge that I would not post any political expressions on any online platform anymore. The fact is I haven’t for the past year or so, but still there have been so many eyes staring at me. Huh, we all know it anyway. So I’ll just leave it now.
Friend said to me privately that the whole country is campaigning to extinguish Twitter. Guobao twice asked me to delete all my tweets. I promised I won’t retweet anymore and deleted retweets of the last two days. Guobao said I ought to pay attention to my own safety. I said, “Unless you physically cut off the internet or put me in jail, or I’m going to follow the teachings of Deng Xiaoping. That is, the horse will run as usual, the dance will go on, and the one-country- two-systems will be upheld.”
[Shen Liangqing is a former prosecutor and dissident living in Hefei, Anhui.]
I have written more than 4,000 commentaries of current affairs over the past 15 years using my real identity. But now, to live on, I have to give up writing and thus bid goodbye to hundreds of thousands of readers in China and beyond. I don’t know when I will be writing the most timely and accurate commentaries again. I hope it won’t be too long, won’t be too long; I hope the night will pass soon.
@419041838: “They deleted all my tweets. Several thousands of them. While deleting, they also videotaped the process. They had talked to me twice about it, and almost took me to jail.”
@419041838: Deleting all was not enough; they took it to the municipal government for their superiors to check in person.
@oubiaofeng: When? What were the reasons they gave?
@419041838: You guys still don’t get it: using Twitter is very dangerous, more dangerous than street demonstrations.
@419041838: Not me; they did the deletion. They took it away for a night. A few days ago. Several people came from higher level government.
Sun Desheng (孙德胜 @sds8964 )’s tweets were all deleted. The Party-state have never relaxed control of online expression, but recently it has become even more pronounced. Weibo was once a bustling platform but it’s no more. Deletion of post or account has become a commonplace on WeChat. Lately a lot of tweeps have been summoned by police. Some announced quitting Twitter, others were forced to delete their tweets, and still others went silent. There are more than a few who have been detained for tweeting!
[Sun Desheng is an activist who was jailed for 2.5 years from 2013 to 2016.]
According to the latest news, Xiamen tweep Pan Xidian (潘细佃 @congweiyonghu) has been given 15 days of detention for refusing to delete his account. He’s in Houxi Detention Center, and his account has been deleted.
Around noon, I drank four liang (两) liquor. In the evening I drank again. When I got to six liang (两), I heard knocking on the door. It was cold, so I opened it promptly. What should come would come – three police officers from Shuangjing police station, Beijing Chaoyang District, came for a talk. Officer Gao alone asked questions; another videotaped the entire visit, and the third one stood aside. I said I hadn’t attacked the Party and state leaders since March last year, nor had I defaced the image of the country. I forgot to say that I hadn’t even registered a Twitter account March last year. They didn’t beat me, nor threaten me. I was much relieved. After they left, I finished drinking the remained two liang (两). Now I can sleep in peace. [Edited for clarity. Links are here and here]
That was a fright. Next time I will remember to video record them and also ask to see and photograph their police ID and search warrant. (What about governing the country according to the law that you have been touting?)
[He Jiangbing is a Beijing-based economist who came to Twitter in July 2017 and has been commenting on the Chinese economy since then.]
The storm has come indeed. I was asked to delete a total 802 tweets.
[Ye Du told Deutsche Welle that, “Guobao showed me a form with 802 tweets of his that have been put together by internet police. They were categorized into ‘promoting western democracy,’ ‘concerning June 4th,’ ‘inciting social movement,’ and etc. Very detailed. They demanded that I delete these tweets. Ye Du said that he was not the only person who was asked to delete tweets.]
Ms. Wu Huaiyun from Huoshan County, Anhui Province was given 10 days of administrative detention on Nov. 1. The Public Security Bureau’s written decision on the punishment said, “Since May 2018, Wu Huaiyun used her mobile phone and computer to publish statements defaming our Party and major national leaders on the overseas social platform ‘Twitter’ via her account, @xybaiyun2018. The remarks are serious.” The following is Wu Haiyun’s own account of the event, which she published on Twitter after her release.
On October 31, 2018, the Ministry of Public Security and the Anhui Provincial Public Security Department issued an order, and twenty or thirty domestic security police officers (guobao) from Liu’an city came to my home and duped me into handing over my mobile phone. Then several of them forcibly put handcuffs on me and took me away; they also beat me in the police car. Then I was taken to the Liu’an detention facility, where I was detained for 10 days. The police also searched my home, took my computer’s hard drive, pried open my suitcase, and even the mattress on the bed was turned upside down. I hereby request help from international human rights organizations and caring people!
They also found the password for my Twitter account on my computer hard drive, and deleted all the content from my Twitter. After I was detained, they only notified my family by phone, no written notice of detention was given. My family members asked the police for the detention notice, but they refused to provide it. I obtained this written punishment decision by insistence. If they’re reasonable and lawful, then why were they unwilling to give a written detention notice and written punishment decision? And detain me without trial? I never mentioned the names of national leaders on Twitter, how could I have defamed anyone? If I disappear again, it’s them–– it’s what they do.
I said that my Twitter content was basically all retweets, and that I just had a few original tweets, which did not involve the content they claimed. They said that reposting is also illegal, especially when retweeting Guo Wengui’s posts–– that was even more unlawful. I asked them, doesn’t the law stipulate that false information must be retweeted at least 500 times before the security punishment regulations apply? Not one of my retweets reached the “500 times” threshold. They actually said that mine were different.
During the interrogations, they assumed I used Twitter on my computer. The written punishment decision also stated that I used Twitter on my computer. When I said that I used Twitter on my mobile phone only, and not on the computer (my computer could not scale the Great Firewall), they all seemed a little surprised! This shows that they found me (on Twitter) by monitoring my mobile phone; the whole thing was a fucking trick!
A few days ago, I received a threatening text message from someone claiming to be the police, demanding that I delete my Twitter account.
The day before yesterday [on Nov. 17], both Chairman Hua @wxhch64 and I were summoned for a “chat” by authorities in Wuxi and Henan for our use of Twitter. I think this big Twitter cleanup is nationwide, not specifically targeting us, so I didn’t say anything. [“Chairman Hua” is Wang Yi’s husband.]
Recently, there’s less and less information on Twitter, mainland Twitter users have either left Twitter, or they’ve been silenced. I was also required to delete more than 500 tweets, and now I dare not post any new tweets. We don’t know the scale, and at every turn the police want to meet; we still have to work, no?
A few days ago, the domestic security and Internet police came and asked me to delete the relevant posts from Twitter, saying that I couldn’t target national leaders. They were really proactive about this; the Internet police held a screenshot and had me delete tweets from the designated date.
Recently I caused a lot of trouble for my friends and family because of my use of Twitter; therefore, I probably will not be on Twitter again for a long time. To my friends who have consistently shown me their concern and care, here I can only offer my apologies. Goodbye, friends.
Lately a number of tweeps have been visited by police who demanded them to delete tweets or not post or retweet anymore. In Hunan, I know there are tweeps in Zhuzhou, Changsha, Shaoyang and other cities who have been summoned by police. Most of them kept quiet afterwards.
I thought only Big Vs were qualified to be summoned for interrogation, but finally it was my turn. I thought this would just be a little intimidation before [Guo Wengui] ‘s press conference and that would be all, because last night the police summoned me but then I was able to return home after only one hour, which didn’t interfere in my watching the live broadcast of Guo’s live broadcast. However, I just now received a phone call from a police officer in the district, who said that the higher ups were not satisfied with our discussion yesterday and that the bureau would send people to have another talk with me. They were somewhat polite, and we agreed to meet at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. It won’t interfere with drinking, so it’s OK.
[Later, reply to self] Just came back, it was nothing. It had nothing to do with Mr. Guo. It involved political commentary. The domestic security officers’ attitude was good. During the interrogation, there was a moment when we clashed, but we circled back. They had a stack of printed and bound tweets, and the evidence was undeniable. I wrote a letter of guarantee that I would delete sensitive posts on my own. Done. It’s time to feed the stray cats…
The domestic security police stopped by today, mainly because of what I said on Twitter. What is certain is that Twitter is no longer a place where you can freely express your thoughts. I don’t know what other communication tools are available abroad to replace Twitter? Which are more private and safer? It has been several years since [human rights lawyer] Pu Zhiqiang was convicted for his Tweets. Twitter has never been a safe harbor for speech, and we are now in an era of total repression.
[Tweep @asn_213 gave a friend the following account in DM, and the later published it.]
I’m back. Yesterday it was the Guobao who summoned me via neighborhood police. They printed all the stuff from 5-6 years ago regarding the same-city meal gatherings [part of the New Citizens Movement], and they also printed all of my tweets and retweets. They said these were evidence of my criminal activities. At 10 pm, their political officer interrogated me again, giving me a notice for 15-day administrative detention. It describes me as defaming the national leaders and attacking the current political system on Twitter. They asked me to sign it. I wrote my dissent on it: I have never used my Twitter handle to defame anyone; expressing views on events and people is a citizen’s most basic freedom of speech, and it’s ridiculous that this is even happening in the 21st century. Then I signed it. …… He talked a lot more, finally he tried to use my daughter as a leverage. He said, “Look, at our age, who is going to do what we like to do that make our own daughters suffer. Now I’m going to give you a way out. As long as you stop tweeting or retweeting and delete your Twitter account, we will withdraw this penalty.” I said okay. So he let me go home. I might not be able to keep this account anymore.
I just found out that the Twitter account of 陈年老酒 @old_wine has been deleted. He was taken away by police on November 7, and it probably had to do with Twitter. I don’t know how many more tweeps have simply disappeared without a peep. We don’t even notice when @old_wine, a sage on Twitter, took leave.
This month I have been coerced to delete about 1,250 tweets. The darkest moment has come before the dawn breaks. No need to say more.
In Shandong, Jinan, Hui poet An Ran (安然) was taken to Dongguan police station by five policemen (two of which were Guobao) on November 27, 2018. He was interrogated for his Twitter expressions. He was ordered to delete his Twitter account, but he refused to do so, stating that his Twitter feed is personal property and it is sacred. (Read his tweets here and here.)
He also posted Page 2 of the three pages of interrogation transcript that concerns the part about his Twitter:
Q: How do you get on Twitter?
A: It’s my privacy; I don’t want to reveal.
Q: Do you often post on Twitter?
A: Almost everyday.
Q: What do you post there?
A: A lot of different things – my own takes on current affairs, photo and video sharing, and etc.
Q: Have you posted lately on Twitter?
A: There are a lot. I can’t remember each one of them.
Q: In what language have you been posting/
Q: You posted that “Religion and traditional culture have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), then the morality disintegrated. Now the Chinese Communist Party began to strike down on religion again.” You also posted that “China’s suppression of Hui Muslims is worsening.” Correct?
A: I posted these this year (can’t remember the exact time) in English.
Q: Why were you posting these?
A: I saw in the news that a new Mosque in Weizhou Township, Tongxin County, Ningxia was ordered to be demolished. It was a grand Mosque built by local believers who had raised 100 million yuan. The government ordered its demolition because it said the dome did not meet the Sinicization requirement. The Mosque was saved only because local people protested in large scale.
Q: What’s the purpose and motivation of posting these two tweets?
A: I wanted to stop the local government from demolish the Mosque, because it was built with believers’ contributions, and it’s such a new, magnificent Mosque…..
Today my parents in Xinjiang called, and fearfully they asked me to shut up in the U. S. “If you talk anymore,” they said, “the higher-ups will make sure that you will never be able to speak to your parents again.” CCP bastards, come to get me, leave my parents alone! Stop threatening my family! I hate to shut up, but they have turned my loved ones into hostages. For their safety, I decide not to get publicly involved in politics anymore for the time being.
The Shenzhen-based dissident and businessman 陈年老酒 @old_wine, whose name is Xu Lequn (许乐群), posted an account of his encournter with police on another platform on December 1:
At 10 am, Nov. 7, I was taken from home by policemen in Shenzhen to a police station where they photographed me, took my finger prints, and tested my urine. From 3-4 pm, they interrogated me about my expressions about Xinjiang on Twitter, and they demanded that I delete my Twitter account. I was released at 10 am, Nov. 8, after sitting on a metal bench for the night.
At 5 pm, Nov. 10, I was again taken from home to the police station. At 6:30 pm I was interrogated. They chastised me for still using Twitter the past few days. I again was made to sit on the metal bench for a night. At 9:30 am, they released me saying they’d gotten the wrong person.
On Nov. 26, they called and said their surveillance found that my Twitter account was still alive, that my name is still on the list they’d received from the higher-ups, and that I must get rid of my account immediately. I didn’t know how to delete my account; so I deactivated it.
[Note: His account appears to be active though there have been no new tweets since Nov. 7.]
This morning I was summoned to the neighborhood police station. I was asked to delete two retweets, one of which is about Guo Wengui. I refused to write a repentance statement.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao and China Change @ChinaChange_org
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
China Deals Another Blow to the International Human Rights Framework at its UN Universal Periodic Review
Andrea Worden, November 25, 2018
Over the past several years, the Chinese government has steadily been promoting its own version of human rights –– “human rights with Chinese characteristics”–– at the UN, and maneuvering to insert language trumpeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with Xi Jinping as its core wordsmith, into various UN resolutions, with an eye toward assuming a leadership role in global human rights governance. China’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on November 6, 2018 provided a high-level global forum for the government to announce its newly formulated five-pronged “human rights development path with Chinese characteristics.” In a press conference following the review, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun claimed that more than 120 countries supported China’s path during the review, and that China’s formulation was “completely correct.” In prioritizing “the right to development” as the fundamental human right and implicitly discarding the fundamental principle of the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of all human rights, China’s “path” poses a serious threat to the international human rights system.
Although the key components of the PRC’s human rights path are not new, they have been repackaged into a tidy framework, which China confidently proclaimed at its 2018 UPR (@1:25 and 6:09). Earlier, at its 2013 UPR, the PRC stated in its national report that it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” By 2018, China had discovered the path, described by Zhang Jun as “national conditions-based, people-centered, development-oriented, rule of law-guided and openness-driven.” This article takes a look at some of China’s moves to promote its “development-trumps-all” human rights narrative and agenda, weaken the UPR mechanism (and, in the process, the credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)), and further its efforts to gut the international human rights framework as we know it.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Mechanism
The UPR is a key mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC); indeed, it was intended to make the HRC, established in 2006, more robust and equitable than the body it replaced, the UN Human Rights Commission. In this intergovernmental, State-driven mechanism, all 193 UN Member states are reviewed every four and a half years. The review is conducted on the basis of three documents: the national report of the State being reviewed, and two documents prepared by OHCHR–– the compilation of UN information on the State under review, and the summary of stakeholders’ information, which includes information submitted by NGOs.
Three and a half hours is allocated for the review. The UN Member State under review is allotted a total of 70 minutes, which it uses for opening and final remarks, and comments and responses during the interactive dialogue. The remaining 2 hours and 20 minutes is apportioned equally among the countries that sign up in advance to speak at the review. In China’s 2018 UPR, each State that registered to speak was given 45 seconds to make their statements; in 2013, each country had 50 seconds. The Chinese government uses its influence to stack the roster with its friends (e.g. aid recipients, like-minded dictatorships, BRI partners, etc.) and as a result, countries poised to offer remarks critical of the PRC’s human rights record and make substantive human rights-based recommendations have less time to do so.
The review is intended to evaluate the State under review’s progress toward achieving and implementing recommendations it accepted during its previous review; fulfillment of the State’s human rights obligations and commitments; and the country’s overall human rights situation. During the interactive dialogue portion of China’s 2018 UPR, 150 delegations made statements, and offered 346 recommendations (@1:30). The Chinese government will provide its position on the recommendations by the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019. Regarding which recommendations the PRC is likely to accept, and those it’s likely to reject, the head of the UPR delegation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, suggested the answer during his final remarks. He said “an overwhelming number of countries have fully recognized China’s efforts and achievements in promoting and protecting human rights over the last five years,” and that the Chinese delegation sincerely appreciated their “many constructive comments and recommendations.” @3:07:22) As for certain other countries, Vice Minister Le said, “We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, and in total disregard of facts; even less will we entertain attempts to use human rights as an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs or undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (@3:08:14)
China Finds its Human Rights Path for the New Era
In the PRC’s National Report submitted for its 2013 UPR (2013 Report), the section that lays out the government’s human rights theory is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights under socialism with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of “human rights with Chinese characteristics.” As noted above, the government stated at that time it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” (para. 5.) The 2013 Report further states that China:
“respects the principle of universality of human rights and is of the view that all countries have a duty to take measures, commensurate with their national conditions, continuously to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the basic spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international human rights instruments.” (para. 4)
By the time of its 2018 UPR, the PRC had finished its exploration and discovered a “distinctively Chinese” path (@6:35), a path that abandons international human rights norms. The relevant section of the 2018 Report is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of the principle of universality of human rights; indeed, the only mention of “universal” is in the negative: “There is no universal road for the development of human rights in the world.” (para. 4) Nor is there a mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), or “relevant international human rights instruments.” Australia noted the change from 2013 in an advance question to China, and asked:
“Does China still accept the principle of universal human rights, and if not, can China explain how its conception of human rights fits into the international human rights regime built on the concept of universality? Can China explain how “human rights with Chinese characteristics” differs from universal human rights, and if it does not, why it wishes to introduce this distinction?” (Advance Questions, Addendum 3)
This is clearly a human rights path grounded in Xi Jinping’s New Era. Not only are fundamental norms of the universality and interdependence of human rights jettisoned, the Chinese government has also dispensed with any mention of theories articulated by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. While the 2013 Report contains references to Hu’s “scientific outlook on development” and “harmonious society,” they are absent from the 2018 Report. The Report states:
“[T]he cause of human rights must be promoted on the basis of national conditions and the needs of the people of that country, and cannot be defined on the basis of a single authority. Guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, China attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights, ever acting as an advocate, practitioner and promoter of the cause of protecting human rights and always following the road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics.” [2018 Report, Para. 4, emphasis added]
The translated phrase “on the basis of a single authority” is a curious rendering of the classical phrase 定于一尊 (dingyuyizun). The meaning is more along the lines of “no one (path of human rights development) should be regarded as the only choice,” or superior to all other choices.
In its 2018 Report, the Chinese government argues, in effect, that the international human rights framework is just one choice among others, and that it should not be taken as the highest authority. What, then, is the highest authority, or “the right system”? For China’s human rights development, there is only one “correct path”–– and it lies with Xi Jinping. The report describes the five-pronged path as the “road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics” –– a road that “takes national conditions as the foundation”; “takes the people as the centre”; “takes development as the priority”; “takes the rule of law as the criterion”; and “takes openness as the motivator.” (paras. 5-10.)
The PRC’s “Development First” Agenda Gains Further Ground in the HRC
Development, and the right to development, were front and center during the interactive dialogue portion of the UPR, punctuated by strong concerns raised by a smaller number of States about the mass detention of Muslim minorities in “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang, and a wide range of other human rights abuses in China.
As it’s done in the past, the Chinese government seemingly rounded up its friends and beneficiaries to engage in what could be taken as an example of offline “flooding”: the UPR, whose purpose is to review the human rights obligations and actual human rights on the ground of the State under review, was inundated by comments and recommendations from countries praising China’s development, requesting China share best practices, expressing gratitude for aid, and asking for more. Many developing countries and members of the so-called Like-Minded Group (including, e.g., Russia, Syria, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), which are decidedly not human rights-friendly, offered recommendations to China such as the following:
Namibia: “Continue sharing experiences and best practices in implementing people’s right to development.” (Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: China (11/8/18); A/HRC/WG.6/31/L.3, para. 6.128)
Pakistan: “Continue to promote discussions in the Human Rights Council on the role of development in promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.33); “Continue to promote the Belt and Road Initiative to help other developing countries in their development endeavours” (para. 6.45).
And in an advance question to China before the review, Pakistan asked: “China has made tremendous achievements in implementing the right to development. Could China share relevant experience?” (Advance Questions to China First Batch –Rev)
Lao People’s Democratic Republic: “Continue to communicate with other developing countries on the experience of the state governance, including promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.52).
Nigeria: “Sustain its efforts in the global fight against terrorism and extremism” (para. 6.145).
Venezuela: “Continue to forge a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation and building a community with a shared future for human beings” (para. 6.36).
It’s worth noting that Venezuela didn’t quite get the New Era lexicon right during the interactive dialogue, and its recommendation was amended in an early version of the draft report for political correctness. Venezuela did not utter the CCP’s “win-win” slogan during its oral statement, and it described the future as a “shared future for human beings,” neglecting the “building” of “a community.” The Spanish-to-English interpreter used “forms” instead of “type” (as in “new type of international relations”) and “equity” instead of “fairness.” These “mistakes” were subsequently fixed, in what seems to be another example of PRC influence and discourse management at the UN.
Money Matters and OHCHR
In its 2018 Report, the PRC notes that it donated $100,000 to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development mandate, a new special procedure created in September 2016 (para. 76). At first glance, it’s puzzling that this mandate was created in the first place when a Working Group on the Right to Development already exists, but it turns out to have been another move by the PRC to promote development within the HRC, and occupy more “space” and resources focused on the right to development. Not surprisingly, Venezuela introduced the resolution creating the mandate on behalf of China and the Non-Aligned Movement, which was adopted by a vote of 34-2, with 11 abstentions. France and the UK voted against the resolution. The first (and current) special rapporteur, Mr. Saad Alfarargi of Egypt, participated in the first South-South Human Rights Forum held in Beijing in December 2017, by invitation from the Chinese government. During the UPR, Vice Minister Le said that the PRC will invite the Chair of the Working Group on the Right to Development to visit China (@10:24).
At the 2013 UPR, the PRC announced a dramatic increase in its funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Special Envoy of the MFA, Wu Hailong, said that China would increase its annual donation to OHCHR from $50,000 to $800,000 for the next four years (@17:30). During the 2018 review, Vice Minister Le announced that China would (again) donate $800,000 annually to the OHCHR for the next five years (@10:20). The PRC stated in the 2018 Report that it “maintains constructive contacts with [OHCHR], encourages them to perform their duties objectively and impartially, and attaches importance to the concerns of developing countries” (para. 76).
The Chinese government clearly has influence at OHCHR, which it uses to shield its human rights record from scrutiny, mute criticism, and control access to information it would rather keep hidden. The extent of the PRC’s influence, and the different tactics and leverage it uses to exert it, awaits an investigative journalist to thoroughly unravel, but in its groundbreaking report on China’s interference in UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch provides several examples of Chinese pressure on the OHCHR and special procedures, quoting one UN official as saying: “China keeps bullying us, saying, ‘Don’t do that,’ ‘Don’t do this,’ or ‘We urge you not to do this.’”
One of the main functions of OHCHR is to provide support for the work of the HRC, including the UPR, and, as mentioned earlier, it is responsible for drafting the compilation of UN information, and the summary of stakeholders’ information. In the run-up to the 2018 UPR, OHCHR was involved in machinations that point to PRC interference in the Office’s work. The details of the disappearing and reappearing NGO submissions on the OHCHR website, inputs from groups the Chinese government views as particularly “troublesome,” and exclusion of their information from the stakeholders’ summary prepared by OHCHR, are explained in a joint statement signed by concerned NGOs, which include, among others, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, World Uyghur Congress, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Demosistō, and the International Service for Human Rights. The NGOs stated that despite the OHCHR’s belated fix of most of the issues (mere days before the review), they “remain very concerned that the removal of these reports gives further credence to well-documented NGO concerns of China’s growing influence within the UN human rights system, and the deliberate silencing of critical voices.”
After China’s success in the HRC in June 2017 with its resolution titled, “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” I wrote, “What this means, in short, is that China will continue to promote, and attempt to expand, the importance of the right to development and economic rights, while at the same time endeavoring to curtail and weaken the enforcement of civil and political rights.” And so it has. During the UPR, the Chinese government touted its self-described “correct” human rights path, and by presenting a depraved defense of its “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang demonstrated that it was wholly unconcerned with civil and political rights, and the truth. Despite strong, rights-based recommendations from the human rights-friendly countries that participated in the review, China was nonetheless able to use the global stage of the UPR to further advance its “development trumps all” agenda at the expense of the established international human rights framework.
Andrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.
Follow her on Twitter @tingdc
Andrea Worden’s UN human rights series on China Change:
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.
With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.
Hu Ping, November 19, 2018
Recently, there have been two hot topics in China: the Sino-U.S. trade war and the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening up.
We have noticed that many people in the system have written articles or made speeches enthusiastically praising Deng Xiaoping while covertly and in some cases even openly criticizing Xi Jinping. They believe that in bringing back lifelong leadership terms and the cult of personality, abandoning Deng’s policy of “hiding one’s capabilities and biding one’s time” (韬光养晦) and promoting state-owned businesses over private firms, Xi Jinping has significantly deviated from Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up.
For this year’s May 4th anniversary, Fan Liqin (樊立勤), a Peking University alumnus and an old friend of Deng Xiaoping’s eldest son Deng Pufang (邓朴方), posted a 24-page big-character poster in the Campus Triangle at Peking University calling Xi Jinping out for “going against the tide.” On July 24th, Xu Zhangrun (许章润), a law professor at Tsinghua University, published an article titled “Our Fear and Expectation,” which explicitly demanded restoration of presidential term limits and even the vindication of the June 4th Incident.
Also, some economic scholars criticized the boastful propaganda of “Awesome, my country!” that was launched a while ago, saying it invited the U.S. to begin the trade war and caused serious difficulty for the Chinese economy — with this they implied that the leadership was to blame. In the past six months, more people in the system are choosing to support Deng’s policy over that of Xi. Such phenomena has been quite rare during the six years since Xi Jinping took office.
Not long ago, on Sept. 16, Deng Pufang said at a conference of the Disabled Persons’ Federation that: “We must persevere in seeking truth from facts, keeping clear-minded, knowing our actual ability without being boastful or self-deprecating. We should adhere to our national conditions and plan all work based on the reality of being in the primary stage of socialism.” Anyone who is even remotely keyed in can immediately see who Deng is referring to.
Interestingly, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expressed similar views promoting Deng and opposing Xi in his Oct. 4 speech given at the Hudson Institute. Pence criticized Xi Jinping several times without naming him directly. For example, he mentioned that “China’s top leader” had visited the China Global Television Network (CTGN) headquarters and said that “the media run by the Party and the government are propaganda fronts and must have the Party as their surname.”
Pence said that when the United States decided to develop extensive economic relations with China, they had hoped that Beijing would allow its people to move toward greater freedom. At one point, Beijing did make slow progress toward giving greater respect for human rights. However, in recent years, China has turned sharply in the direction of controlling and oppressing its own people.
The vice president noted that now, “while Beijing still pays lip service to ‘reform and opening up,’ Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow.” Pence hopes that Chinese leaders will change course and “return to the spirit of reform and opening up” when relations between the two countries began decades ago.
Slovenian scholar Slavoj Žižek recently published an article titled “Will our future be Chinese ‘capitalist socialism?’” in which he mentions an anecdote told many years ago by a Chinese scholar who knew Deng Xiaoping’s daughter. “When Deng was dying, an acolyte who visited him asked him what he thought his greatest act was, expecting the usual answer that he will mention his economic opening that brought such development to China. To their surprise, he answered: ‘No, it was that, when the leadership decided to open up the economy, I resisted the temptation to go all the way and open up also the political life to multi-party democracy.’”
We can’t confirm whether Deng Xiaoping actually said this before his death, but it would be in keeping with his legacy. In the 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party, the Soviet Communist Party, and many other communist parties in Eastern European countries were pushing for economic reforms. However, while the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe moved away from dictatorship, the CCP held onto and even reinforced the Party’s authoritarian rule.
Deng Xiaoping played the most crucial role in guiding China to embark on a path different from these other communist countries. He differed from the communist leaders of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in that he promoted economic reforms while rejecting political openness.
Within the CCP, the forces demanding political openness were once strong and it was unclear whether the CCP would be able to maintain its authoritarian leadership. The reform of the communist countries, even if confined to the economic sector at the beginning, was symbolic of digging their own graves. Because the communist countries’ economic reforms were essentially equal to altering socialism and restoring capitalism, it effectively became a self-denial of the communist revolution and with it the communist dictatorship.
In the past, the only “magic weapon” for the Communist Party to suppress freedom and democracy was to accuse others as “bourgeoisie” and “taking the capitalist road;” but once the Communist Party itself consciously and openly took the capitalist road and became the bourgeois class, what other excuse would it then have to insist on communist dictatorship? In this way, even if they did not actively choose to change the system, then tens of thousands of people would do it for them — by demanding the end of one-party dictatorship and the implementation of liberal democratic reform. To paraphrase American scholar Adam Przeworski, the leadership couldn’t convince themselves to pull the trigger.
This is how the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe embarked on the path of peaceful democratic reform. How did Deng Xiaoping resist calls for political openness coming from both outside and within the CCP? The answer is the June 4th Massacre.
As I said earlier, China’s reform is not one but two reforms. June 4th, 1989, was a turning point. Deng Xiaoping ruthlessly suppressed China’s democratic forces and led Chinese reforms in the wrong direction.
There is no essential difference between the Xi Jinping route and the Deng Xiaoping route. Xi Jinping’s actions are basically an extension of Deng Xiaoping’s political line, but he has deviated from it by bringing the pernicious elements inherent to Deng’s policy to extremity. In this regard, it is something of a positive sign that there are people in the system who oppose the Xi route in the name of returning to the Deng route and promoting Deng. The Xi route is indeed worse than the Deng route.
Furthermore, if Xi’s policies are stopped and he loses power, things will not simply return to the era of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. When Hua Guofeng (华国锋) arrested Jiang Qing and the other Cultural Revolutionaries, China didn’t just return to the pre-Cultural Revolution period; instead, a strong impetus brought China into a new era of Reform and Opening up. Similarly, if anti-Xi forces within the CCP strike down the Xi route in the name of returning to the Deng route, then the resulting political momentum would surely break through and beyond the boundaries set by Deng Xiaoping.
The June 4th Massacre was not just a brutal event, but an atrocity by many measures. Only by clearly recognizing this truth can we understand the nature of “Chinese characteristics” and the “Chinese model,” and what it means for the future of humankind if such “characteristics” and such a “model” are allowed to triumph.
Hu Ping (胡平) was one of the most respected and prolific dissent intellectuals living in New York. He edited Beijing Spring (《北京之春》), “a monthly Chinese-language magazine dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice in China” for more than two decades before retirement. This article combines two recent articles (here and here) by Hu Ping, and edits were made for clarity and fluency with the author’s authorization.
Also by Hu Ping:
How the Tiananmen Massacre Changed China, and the World, June 2, 2015. (This is one of the most read essays on this site.)
Reconsidering Deng Xiaoping the Reformer: What Did He Really Reform? Li Xuewen, February 21, 2017.
Deletion of Wu Gan’s Twitter Posts Reflects the Urgent Need to Protect Chinese Human Rights Activists’ ‘Data Ownership’
Yaxue Cao, November 11, 2018
Around 10:10 pm eastern time on Nov. 8, as I was browsing my Twitter timeline and taking a breaking from editing a website post, a tweet by Wu Gan (吴淦) jumped into my vision. Even though he has gone for three years and a half, his avatar immediately stood out. It’s an auto-generated tweet that reads: “I just activated @Tweet_Delete on my account to automatically delete my old tweets (is.gd/delete)!” Instinctively, I pressed the “prt src” key:
It was 11 am on Nov. 9, Beijing Time. Wu Gan, better known as the “Super Vulgar Butcher,” is serving an eight-year sentence in a prison somewhere in the mountains on the border of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. He was detained on May 20, 2015, outside the Jiangxi High People’s Court where he had been protesting the court’s denial of lawyers’ access to case files in the “Leping Wrongful Conviction Case.” In December 2017 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion of state power” following secret detention, torture, and his refusal to admit guilt in exchange for lenient punishment.
I clicked his account. It was emptied out – all 30,277 tweets from Nov. 2009 to May 2015 were gone. The tweet announcing the deletion soon disappeared as well. The circumstances of the deletion are shocking to many Chinese Twitter users because of the scale of the loss.
Wu Gan’s Twitter feed is not just anybody’s feed. In late 2008 he began to actively surf Internet and frequent a vibrant forum called “Cat Eye Forum” (猫眼论坛) at www.tianya.cn, one of China’s earliest Internet portals. He wrote: “I learned of the earthquakes, the shoddy school buildings [that killed thousands of students]; I learned Ai Weiwei’s investigation into the school deaths. I was rather stirred. I began to write articles, and in 2009, I became an activist.”
In a remote town in western Hubei in May 2009, three township officials asked 21-year-old hotel waitress Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) for “special services” and attempted to force themselves on her. Yujiao defended herself using a fruit knife, stabbing one of her would-be rapists to death and wounding another. She turned herself in to the local public security authorities, and was charged with intentional homicide.
The incident found instant resonance with netizens around the country. Compared to today, that time was still something of a “golden age” for online free speech, as the Great Fire Wall was not as fully developed as it is today and the Chinese government had yet to introduce a mechanism of effectively and thoroughly curbing public opinion on the internet.
The way the authorities handled Deng Yujiao’s case stirred outcry among masses of ordinary Chinese. They did not want to see a young girl be imprisoned as a murderess and possibly receive the death sentence for standing her ground against abusive officials. But help could only come from the people and the forces of public opinion.
Wu Gan, a 37-year-old Fujianese businessman who had served in the southern border troops, called upon fellow frequenters of the Cat Eye Forum to “take action to help this young lady who had defended her dignity with a fruit knife.”
A few days later, Wu Gan went to Hubei, spoke with Deng Yujiao’s family, and managed to meet Yujiao in hospital. A photo of the two together went viral. He persuaded the Deng family to engage lawyers for Yujiao, and made arrangements with two lawyers in Beijing. A month later, the local court held a public hearing for Deng Yujiao’s case and handed down a verdict exempting her from punishment.
The Deng Yujiao incident was seen as an encouraging example of how public opinion could lead to justice; at the same time, it became the starting point for Wu Gan to enter the public sphere and conduct online and offline activism. Next, Wu Gan got involved in the case of Shenyang street vendor Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰), who had killed two chengguan (城管) officers (note: chengguan are Chinese urban enforcers infamous for using violence and intimidation) in self-defense. Wu Gan travelled to Shenyang to help Xia’s wife and son get legal help, and rallied public opinion on social media and at the same time recorded his activities and reflections.
Sadly, Wu Gan and thousands of concerned netizens were unsuccessful this time. Xia Junfeng was sentenced to death and executed in 2013. Over the next six years, Wu Gan helped with hundreds of rights defense cases across China by mobilizing public opinion online and working directly with victims on the ground. Most of the people he helped were the socially disadvantaged, such as Deng Yujiao and Xia Junfeng, who had suffered humiliation and deprivation at the hands of the powers-that-be.
Wu Gan’s activism, which he styled “butchering pigs,” aimed to pressure local officials using public opinion, the law, and his unique performance art to pursue social justice in places where the rule of law did not exist. In order to popularize his experiences, Wu Gan, who lacked university education, wrote three handbooks: “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》), “Guide to Drinking Tea” (《喝茶宝典》), and the “Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes” (《访民杀猪宝典》). In these pamphlets, Wu taught fellow activists how to protect their rights by resisting the government and dealing with police interrogation and intimidation.
In China’s rights struggle over the last decade, Wu Gan occupies a unique position of seminal importance. He was the first detainee during the 709 crackdown; his steadfast resolve to expose torture and refusal to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence is awe-inspiring.
In an editorial, the Washington Post quoted Wu Gan’s statement to the court: “For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights.”
Social media revolutionized Chinese citizen resistance, and Wu Gan was one of the most creative user of it. Not surprisingly, he quickly found himself in the crosshairs of the Chinese government’s censorship organ and was barred from domestic platforms like Weibo, so Twitter became a safe haven for him and other human rights activists. There, they didn’t have to worry about their accounts being deleted, and they expressed their thoughts freely and left a record of their activities and thoughts – Twitter was their open diary.
Wu Gan’s Twitter account was such a diary.
At the beginning of this year, when I was doing research for an article, I was able to download his tweets from May 19, 2015, going back to the same date in 2014, reaching apparently the limit Twitter set for retrieving archives.
Take May and June, 2014, as an example: in May, Wu Gan and lawyer Li Heping (李和平) were in the county of Mayang in Huaihua, Hunan Province (湖南怀化麻阳县), where they were assisting a family that had been expropriated of their land, had their house demolished, and relatives in detention. In June, Wu Gan organized a few dozen people to observe the trial of a political prisoner in Hunan, as well as paying attention to the sentencing of Jiangxi’s Liu Ping (刘萍) and the detention of three civil disobedience activists in Guangzhou. That month, Wu Gan also went to Jingdezhen (景德镇) and met with a group of lawyers to work on overturning the the death sentence against four peasants who had been wrongfully convicted of murder. There, he talked to the relatives of the accused about how to use and weaponize the internet. At the same time, he had followed the development of practically all political cases, including those of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and Gao Yu (高瑜). Wu Gan also released information about donations he had received for completed activities, as well as his experiences, for instance in the Jiansanjiang case [involving rights lawyers beaten up for defending Falun Gong practitioners].
Wu Gan had some rather big ideas: he hoped that Chinese democracy activists overseas could set up a mock voting system for Chinese citizens to elect a Chinese president, as well as judges, legislators, and local officials.
As for current events, his views were often direct and insightful. He said, “If Taiwan still cannot take a hint from today’s situation in Hong Kong and continues to flirt with the Communist Party thinking that trade will lead to a good and risk-free future and think the wolf’s milk they’re drinking is free, one day the Chicoms are going to take back everything when they have an epileptic attack. No good can come of making a deal with the devil.”
In June that year he also said he was occupied with his marriage, fixing up his house, and family matters in his hometown. He said he had to deal with his family life and that [his work on] justice would have to take a back seat for the time being. But afterward, it seems that he had forgotten about this statement.
One of my favorite Wu Gan tweets is: “Some people fancy that after Xi Jinping finishes the anti-corruption campaign and consolidates power, he will return back to the right path. How many times were these people kicked in the head by donkeys to come up with this kind of idea?”
As you can see, due to his extensive contacts with various groups and his involvement in many incidents, his Twitter served as a veritable history of China’s human rights struggle between 2009 to 2015. Today, while he finds himself behind bars, cut off from any means of communication with the outside world, his tens of thousands of tweets have been deleted with just a single click.
This goes beyond Wu Gan’s personal loss; it is a huge setback for researchers and anyone who cares about the struggles of contemporary Chinese society.
What happened to Wu Gan’s tweets isn’t unique. In 2016, Sichuan human rights activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) not only had his Twitter posts deleted, but his entire account was closed and erased without any trace. There may well be more political prisoners who have been liquidated from online existence — it embarrasses me to admit that I have not paid the matter enough attention thus far.
The internet age has made information easier to produce and more convenient to circulate. However, It has also made it convenient for a highly sophisticated dictatorship, like the one in China, to wipe out the memories and records of people and even entire communities in an instant. They have been doing this all along, but in the last two or three years, the censorship has reached unprecedented heights in its scale and intensity.
For the Chinese government, it’s not enough to delete domestic social media content. They have been trying to extend their control to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — all of which are banned in China.
Like me, a scholar who studies the Chinese resistance movement was shocked and concerned about the erasure of Wu Gan’s Twitter record. She proposed the concept of “data ownership.” Chinese netizens are not only deprived of data ownership inside the Great Fire Wall; political prisoners and currently active Twitter users face threats to their data security as well.
The researcher urged me and my fellow human rights advocators to study methods of protecting Chinese netizens’ “data ownership” in foreign social media. The data security of those political prisoners who are in prison, or “sensitive people” who are not in prison but are strictly monitored and threatened by the government, is particularly urgent. Seeing the deletion of Twitter content belonging to Wu Gan and Chen Yunfei and the recent round of censorship targeting Chinese Twitter users (I will report on this in a separate article), we sense that the Chinese government will stop at no means to delete more content that they disagree with.
Large companies like Twitter should be held responsible for protecting the data security of political dissidents in authoritarian states. The researcher suggested that human rights organizations should negotiate with Twitter to develop a third-party mechanism to protect the social account data for Chinese political prisoners based on CECC’s relatively complete and constantly updated database (http://ppdcecc.gov/) of Chinese incarcerated for their dissident activities. This system could provide regular backups and prevent the prisoners’ account from being modified.
Right now, what is most urgent is that Twitter needs to know the shocking attacks on free speech that are quietly taking place. We ask Twitter to restore Wu Gan’s Twitter content and Chen Yunfei’s account from its backup database.
Ms. Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), another noted human rights activist and a close friend of Wu Gan, tweeted, “Can someone go talk with Twitter about this? We’re not in jail, and wouldn’t it be a shame if we couldn’t even protect the Twitter account of a prisoner of conscience?”
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.