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Explaining China’s ‘People’s Congress’ Through the Tales of Three: A Hand-raising Automaton, An Independent Candidate, and An Electoral Activist

Teng Biao, March 12, 2019

Independent candidates and electoral activists: clockwise from top left: Yao Lifa, Tang Jingling (severing a 5-year sentence since June 2014), Xu Zhiyong (released in July 2017 after serveing a 4-year sentence), and Liu Ping (serving a 6.5-year sentence since April 2013).

As the Communist Party held this year’s “Two Sessions” (两会), Beijing activist Hu Jia (胡佳) was kept under control by being forcibly moved across the country to Guangdong. Human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永), of the New Citizens Movement, received midnight visits in Zhengzhou and were interrogated without explanation. The number of human rights defenders who are under house arrest or have been disappeared is in the thousands. The security departments at all levels are operating at full capacity on a nationwide scale with the capital at the center, consuming a great deal of manpower and financial resources as they use high-tech means to monitor every corner of society.

In its editorial Bring an Immediate End to the Human Rights Disaster of the Two Sessions (《立刻停止制造“两会”人权灾难》), Minsheng Watch (民生观察) wrote that “each March, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) hold their so-called Two Sessions. On paper, the Sessions should represent public opinion, and use the insights gather from it to form national policies and regulations. In fact, the Two Sessions have become a tool for obstructing, suppressing, and banning popular will; they have become associated with the abduction, detention, house arrest, surveillance, harassment, and disappearance, of dissidents and human rights activists. The Two Sessions have become a total human rights disaster for the Chinese people.”

Which national parliament meeting needs the protection of over a million personnel from the military, police, public security, national security and civilian security personnel? Who holds a meeting with such trepidation, as if walking on thin ice, mobilizing so many public resources? This lays bare the truth that the NPC is a tool to isolate and oppose the people. Behind this, it reflects the two-track political calculus of the Chinese authorities: to flex its muscles in front of the people by making a show of force and privilege, and to try to cover up the Communist Party’s greatest anxieties.

In fact, even if the petitioners are able to stuff the petition materials into the hands of the people’s representatives, few of the representatives would so much as take a look. These NPC deputies are not elected by the people. According to China’s electoral system, these people were elected by “indirect elections”: at no juncture throughout all levels of the “people’s representatives,” from county to city, from city to province, and from province to the National People’s Congress, does the “indirect” have anything to do with the people who are supposedly being represented. It is, plain and simple, a power game. In the twenty-first century, Chinese citizens are unable to directly select their national leaders and legislators, and unable to directly elect provincial and municipal leaders and deputies to the People’s Congresses on these levels. They can’t even directly elect the heads of county and township.

While in theory county- and township-level People’s Congress representatives are directly elected, those elections are completely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without multi-party competition, freedom of association, and freedom of the press, the election is doomed to be a farce. The majority of NPC deputies are from the Party, the government, the judiciary, and the military. They are legislator, executor, and judge all at once. There is no division of the three branches of power; the unity of party and state amounts to political incest.

On top of this are a small number of models workers, writers, academicians, celebrities, ethnic minorities, and the like, who are arranged to participate for the sake of political decoration. They have no task apart from stay in luxury hotels, give enthusiastic applause, and spew flattery.

The most amazing NPC deputy is an 89-year-old grandma named Shen Jilan (申纪兰). Starting when she was a girl of 18, she has been elected 13 times as an NPC deputy — the only person to hold this distinction. “She supported the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Commune, and the Cultural Revolution. She was in favor of struggling against Liu Shaoqi, and she agreed to fight Deng Xiaoping. Later, she agreed to denounce the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune, she agreed to the denunciation of the reforms, and she agreed to rehabilitating Liu and Deng.” She raised her hand in favor of all these contradictory positions, without fail, for decades.

Shen Jilan explained: “The representatives’ job is to listen to the Party, so I have never voted against it.” When a reporter asked her whether she would communicate with the voters during the election process, she said, “We are democratically elected, it’s inappropriate to have discussions with [voters.” This “hand-raising automaton” is a living, breathing specimen of Party spirit (党性). She claims to represent the peasantry, but she is actually a retired cadre at the prefecture level. Many of her family members are local officials. As an outstanding representative of the NPC, Shen Jilan presents, in concentrated form, the falsehood, absurdity, and ugliness of the legislature under the CCP.

In the election of deputies to the county-level People’s Congresses, the Communist Party guarantees the finalists of the audience through various nuanced means, by hook or crook. Candidates recognized by the Party can easily be elected without any need to promote and campaign. However, since the law does not prohibit citizens from independently participating in county-level people’s congress deputies, some brave citizens have tried to explore this approach, and in the case of a slightly liberal environment, some individuals can still be elected successfully. In the election of the (Beijing) Haidian District People’s Representatives in 1980, Fang Zhiyuan (房志远), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Hu Ping (胡平), and Zhang Wei (张炜) of the Peking University constituency successively posted election campaign declarations, organized voters’ meetings, debates, held opinion polls, and published “Electoral Shortwaves” and other neutral publications. In the end, Hu Ping was elected.

Since 1987, Yao Lifa (姚立法) of Hubei Province has written himself in as a candidate in the elections for the People’s Congress of Qianjiang City four times (湖北潜江). He was finally elected in 1998 and was the first People’s Representative to be elected in China after 1988. In 2003 and 2008, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a lecturer at Peking University of Posts and Telecommunications, was twice elected as a representative of the Haidian District People’s Congress as an independent candidate. One of the aims of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) initiated by Xu Zhiyong and myself is to encourage and help citizens from all over the country to run as independent candidates at the grass roots in elections for local People’s Congresses. This has become an important part of the rights protection movement since 2003. The independent candidacy reached a zenith in the election at the end of 2011. Many laid-off workers, students, professors, journalists, lawyers and IT professionals, including well-known online writers such as Li Chengpeng (李承鹏) and Xia Shang (夏商), ran as independent candidates. In encouraging participation in the electoral process through online agitation and offline activism, they built up quite an impressive force.

However, many independent candidates have been harassed, threatened, monitored, and even brutally beaten during the electoral process. Dissident Zhao Changqing (赵常青) became a deputy candidate for the People’s Congress in Nanzheng County, Shaanxi Province in 1997 (陕西南郑县). However, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “crime of endangering national security” after he exposed illegal acts during the election. In Wuhan in 2006, democracy activist Sun Bu’er (孙不二) was followed, beaten, and forced to withdraw his candidacy during the election. He was later arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. The very few independent representatives who were successfully elected were quickly squeezed out after the authorities realized they were disobedient, or were easily taken out in the next election.

At this juncture, I can’t help but mention my good friend, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) who is still serving his prison sentence Guangzhou. In 2006, he launched the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” (赎回选票运动),  a nonviolent non-cooperation movement that fought back against rigged elections and raised civic awareness. By publicly stating that they refused to vote, they made clear that they would not take part in or comply with the pseudo-elections that did not represent the people, and in this way hoped to awaken the voters’ awareness of their rights.

Hundreds of people responded to the campaign and publicly voiced their refusal to participate in the election. I am also one of them. I also wrote to support and promote this movement, analyzing its similarities and differences with civil disobedience. In 2014, Tang Jingling was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” because of the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” and other pro-democracy and human rights activities. The independent participation of citizens in elections and the visible non-cooperation in the elections are different ways of revealing the fraudulent nature of Chinese elections in different directions.

Shen Jilan spent her life as a tool and accomplice to dictatorship, while it is those like Yao Lifa and the imprisoned Tang Jingling who truly represent the Chinese people’s bitter and courageous struggle for democracy.

Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer who now lives in New Jersey.


Related:

For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping, November 1, 2016.

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

Four Years on: The Whereabouts of the ‘Feminist Five’ and the Sustainability of Feminist Activism in China

Lü Pin, March 11, 2019

“As far as human rights activism is concerned, the outside world tends to focus on short-term incidents, such as when activism comes into direct confrontation with the state. But the outside world cannot keep long-term and sustained attention, which leads to many long-term, internal difficulties being left undiscussed.”

Lü Pin, right, and Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, at Berkeley for a discussion about Chinese feminist activism in February. Photo: Twitter

On March 6 and 7, 2015, police arrested and criminally detained five young feminist activists because they were planning an action on International Women’s Day to oppose sexual harassment on public transportation. The action never took place.  Thirty seven days later, after strong domestic and international appeals, they were released on “bail pending further investigation.” The Feminist Five case was the first public suppression of a women’s rights initiative in the history of China under the Communist Party. It was an important event that marked a turning point in the relationship between the contemporary Chinese feminist movement and the state. It also made many people understand for the first time the responsibility the young Chinese feminist activists had undertaken in an effort to transform China into a country of gender equality. The government’s goal in this case was not only to attack the Feminist Five themselves, but also to target the community of increasingly active young Chinese feminist activists at the time. Due to the case, however, they deservedly became the most famous representatives of young feminist activists in China.

How are the Feminist Five doing now? I have been asked this question many times during the past four years. Our friends, partners, and inner circle supporters know that the Feminist Five have never left the scene and have continued to write about their resistance and struggles. But because of information barriers, and maybe also partially due to their own modesty, many people do not know about their current situation, and maybe even have some misunderstandings. This was my original intention in writing this article; but apart from providing an update, I would also like to further discuss the issue of the survival and development of feminist activists amid the increasing difficulty to stage public activities in China today.

The most common misunderstanding about the Feminist Five is this:  “most of them have left China.” In fact, they now all live in Greater China–– Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. Although during the past four years they have frequently moved and traveled, most of them have never really left the Chinese-speaking area. Among the five women, Li Tingting (李婷婷, nicknamed Maizi) is the only one who has lived abroad for a period of time, and she has been the most active voice internationally after the Feminist Five case ended. Maizi has delivered many public speeches in North America and Europe, and is often interviewed by international media. After the NGO where she used to work, Beijing Yirenping, was forced to cease its activities, Maizi turned to LGBT rights and founded the “Rainbow Legal Hotline,” an organization that provides legal assistance to members of the LGBT community.  In the second half of 2017, Maizi went to England to study in the Human Rights Master’s Program at the University of Sussex. After completing her studies at the end of 2018, Maizi returned to her hometown, Beijing. In an article posted on February 16 on her WeChat public account, “Li Maizi Who Occupied Men’s Bathrooms,” Maizi wrote:

“The reason why I decided, without hesitation, to return to China is simple: there is no escape. We live in a time when every day we can be disgusted by Trump. What’s so disheartening is that people are getting used to this awful world. Staying angry and awake, I realized that the longer I stayed in England, the more I felt like I needed to return to China.”

“As a feminist activist, a gay rights activist, other than returning to my own country, what better choice is there?”

“When history happens, I must be present. With this conviction, I came back to China. ”

This is Maizi’s understanding of her responsibility: a responsible feminist activist’s first choice is always dedicating herself to the liberation of her own country, and striving to maintain a connection with what’s happening on the ground.

Wei Tingting (韦婷婷, nicknamed WAITING) was the project director of a Beijing LGBT organization at the time of the Feminist Five case. In 2016, she went south to Guangzhou and started her own business as a freelance activist, focusing on anti-sexual harassment. In 2018, Wei Tingting’s organization “Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Centre” (GSEC) was very active in the anti-sexual harassment #MeToo campaign. GSEC used a variety of tactics, such as communication, research, individual case intervention, proposals, training, and a flexible and rapid response mechanism, which made this small, innovative organization assume an important role in organizing #MeToo work. However, on December 6, 2018, the GSEC was compelled to publicly announce that it was forced to cease operations due to “complicated factors such as force majeure.” This was one of the major setbacks in the organization of the #MeToo movement in 2018. However, Wei Tingting did not give up her activities in the anti-sexual harassment arena. Almost immediately, she launched a new activity: she formed a small, psychological help group for victims of sexual violence, which was also her effort to move in the direction of her professional training in psychological counseling.

Zheng Churan (郑楚然, nicknamed Datu or “Big Rabbit”) grew up in Guangzhou, went to college in Guangzhou, and has basically never left the city. After the Feminist Five case in 2015, she was forced to leave “Weizhiming,” an organization she helped to launch that advocated for young women’s rights, and become a freelancer. She tried many different kinds of ventures: starting a company, organizing themed parties, recording “Dong Xiaoxiao” videos (栋笃笑, a Cantonese standup comedy), and organizing debate competitions.  In November 2016, the BBC described her as a female entrepreneur and included her on the list of Global “100 Women” for that year. However, Zheng Churan’s most successful attempt was writing. She writes in her public account on Weibo and also on NGO platforms, and has quickly become an influential columnist specializing in feminist commentary. She has a loyal following that likes her spicy and sharp style.

Zheng Churan is also part of a feminist-themed online store featuring original products, and continues to develop her ability in creative planning, training, and team building. Zheng Churan is an active participant in, and organizer of the #MeToo movement in China. She also witnessed the women workers’ anti-sexual harassment statement at Foxconn in Shenzhen in January 2018. The women workers wrote in an open letter: “We know that an unequal gender environment will not be eliminated in one day…. But this is only a beginning. There will never be any change unless there is action.” This is a remarkable achievement in the combination of feminist and labor issues in recent years.

In 2015, Wang Man (王曼) was the coordinator of a Beijing-based NGO that focused on anti-poverty issues. At the same time, she regarded the participation, observation and research of feminist actions as part of her job. After the Feminist Five case, Wang Man’s work and personal life were shattered–– the details of which she’s never disclosed to the wider public. After she was forced to cease her original work, she took some time to rest and recover, and then decided to reengage her interest in academics without leaving behind her public interest work. At present, Wang Man is in Hong Kong balancing research and social service work, and has chosen to keep a low public profile.

Wu Rongrong (武嵘嵘) has been involved in volunteer activities ever since she was a university student. In 2011, Wu Rongrong left her well-paying job at Alibaba, and returned to nonprofit world, assuming responsibility for the young feminists project at the NGO, Yirenping Center. In 2014, the project became an independently registered advocacy entity in Hangzhou with the name “Weizhiming.” Unlike her colleagues Li Maizi and Zheng Churan, Wu Rongrong was strong at leadership-style network communications, rather than demonstrating in front of the public and media.

In 2015, Wu Rongrong was the only one among the Feminist Five who was married and had a child.  Because of her many responsibilities, Wu suffered a greater degree of anxiety and pain in the detention center.  After she was released on “bail pending further investigation,” Wu was forced to disband Weizhiming, and she continued to be monitored and harassed by the police. She had to fight hard for her fundamental rights to live peacefully, travel, and obtain further education.   

When she had no choice but to temporarily withdraw from feminist work, Wu Rongrong invested in her own studies and developed expertise in public interest-related psychological counseling. In September 2017, after a long struggle, she finally successfully renewed her passport, obtained necessary approvals, and flew to Hong Kong at the last minute to enroll in the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law.  She was thus able to secure a valuable period of time to adjust and pursue further studies. Fortunately, it’s convenient to travel back and forth between Hong Kong and the mainland, so she and Wang Man have never drifted apart from their feminist colleagues, and the fellowship they shared.  

The Sustainability of Feminist Activism

Another misunderstanding about the Feminist Five is that they have obtained a great deal of financial resources due to international attention. This is not the case. During the period of rescue and follow-up relief in 2015, the international human rights community did in fact give them some direct and indirect assistance to compensate them for the loss suffered by the raids and seizure of their property, and to ease the difficulties they experienced after they were released and unable to resume normal work. Furthermore, the international human rights community provided support for their follow up rights defense and recovery.

But this is not to say that the costs associated with forced eviction, loss of work, and the mental distress associated with such targeted persecution can be compensated at a single point in time. When the period of assistance following their case came to a close, the Feminist Five’s studies, livelihood, and career were all up to themselves to fight for. I never heard of them receiving any windfalls. It’s very difficult for them to turn their “fame” into resources. For example, in September 2016, Li Maizi livestreamed her bungee jumping on the Internet to fundraise for the Rainbow Legal Hotline. Once Zheng Churan published an article while she was sick, and was very happy to receive 800 yuan for it, which she then used to see a doctor. As for the interviews with many international media outlets later on, from the perspective of the Feminist Five and their partners, it was a kind of contribution in the public interest; they did not receive any personal benefit from them.

In fact, many human rights activists are in similar situation: attention from the outside world did not lead to much improvement in their personal circumstances. There are a few reasons for this: first, public opinion and funding are two different things, especially after the urgent need stage has passed. Foundations that provide long-term funding for human rights have their own relatively fixed agendas and will not invest based on trending public opinion. Second, after China’s “Overseas NGO Management Law” took effect in 2017, international foundations that are legally registered in China would no longer cooperate with independent rights organizations that lacked proper NGO qualifications. Moreover, it is now illegal to accept funding from foundations that have not established offices in China. Given that public fundraising is basically impossible within China, this essentially cuts off the channels of survival for these organizations and activists. Third, after 2015, Chinese officials intensified their efforts to vilify international public opinion. International fame has not helped the survival of activists in the mainland, but rather, its effect has been negative: it signifies “collaboration with Western hostile forces” and so on.

This is the reason why the Feminist Five either have to temporarily put their activism on the back burner, or think up all sorts of means of supplementing their livelihood. In 2015, all five of them were full-time employees of NGOs; today, none of them can find a paid full-time job in the field of feminist activism. Despite their enthusiasm and ability, the reality of their circumstances has driven them to make practical sacrifices. Five years after graduating from college, Maizi wrote: “I need a job that makes money… … the activism that I once dedicated all my efforts to is only my part-time job now.”

This, of course, is not to blame the international community for falling short in assisting the cause of Chinese feminism, nor does it imply that the Feminist Five depend on others for financial support. Each of them is highly educated, and it’s not difficult for them to join the urban middle class through their individual efforts. But different from ordinary citizens, they want their work to be socially meaningful. Many people in China are not aware that working for rights and justice — something of dire importance for a country like China — is also a job that deserves pay. The advancement of social progress requires expertise and committed professional activists. If the promotion and organization of women’s rights continues on an uncompensated basis, there is no way for more people to join the cause, which is exactly what the reactionaries want. Moreover, as mentioned above, the resources of feminist activism are being cut off from multiple angles, and activism is being increasingly targeted by the Chinese legal system. This has fragmented the organizational core, and rights defenders — such as those stepping out as part of the #MeToo movement — are not getting the service necessary for their work.  

Amidst the challenges, the Feminist Five have not scaled back their activism. On the contrary, I think the most remarkable thing in the last four years is that despite not receiving due compensation for the sacrifices they made, they did not complain. Instead, they have been forward-thinking from the very beginning, being creative and exploratory as they seek ways to continue their work. Whether as individual activists, as freelancers, or even entrepreneurs, they have found ways to pair their personal development with their social ideals. As Maizi wrote: “I work hard every day to improve myself, meet challenges, solve problems, and achieve goals. At other times, I try my best to participate in the #MeToo movement and play my role. The work produced by one woman is still work; a single spark can start a prairie fire.” If we sighed with admiration at the creativity and courage they displayed in 2015, then four years later, I see that they have now become even more mature and tenacious as they carry out their duties in a harsh environment.

Their work deserves more understanding from the outside world. As far as human rights activism is concerned, the outside world tends to focus on short-term incidents, such as when activism comes into direct confrontation with the state. But the outside world cannot keep long-term and sustained attention, which leads to many long-term, internal difficulties being left undiscussed. In fact, the crisis was only the beginning of a continuous process of repression. In the past four years, the Chinese government and its agents have learned their lesson from the sloppy handling of the Feminist Five case, and have since been quietly taking gradual steps to cut off the resources of feminist activism. They do this by smearing feminists’ reputations and sequestering them from the broader social network, and so on.

The most typical example in this vein occurred in March 2018. The first feminist public forum on Chinese social media, “Feminist Voices” (女权之声) was completely shut down and this was followed up by a wave of online stigma against feminism. Zheng Churan was also dragged into the maelstrom of malicious accusations, such as that the feminists were advocating “Tibet independence,” “Hong Kong independence,” “organized prostitution,” “collaboration with hostile Western forces,” and the like. While these defamatory labels were heaped on and repeated a million fold, the editorial rebuttal of the “Feminist Voices” could not be posted (due to censorship). There is clearly an extremely biased system at work in this war of words: it seems as soon as “feminism” is flagged as being sensitive, the entirety of China’s social media will mobilize automatically to exclude the term “feminism,” without the need for an explicit order from the propaganda department, and replace it with the vaguer “equality for women.” This not only means a loss of legitimacy for the many years of feminist struggle, but it has also quietly marginalized the feminist movement by painting it as an untouchable subject.

People have to realize that support for progressive social movements cannot idle at the current level of showing “concern,” but that it must manifest in the form of providing actual resources to sustain them. Chinese feminism has a very large community of support, that is, young generations who cannot help but feel anger at violence and discrimination in the family, in education, and in the workplace. Meanwhile, the feminist activists have ample skills and insight to play a hard-core organizational role. Therefore, the problem of resources has become the key to the sustainability of the feminist movement, but to this day few have grasped this principle. If people come to realize that the feminist movement is not just a wing of Chinese social progress, but also linked to whether or not the country can transform to a more democratic and equal structure, and if they realize that the feminist movement is virtually China’s last — but still vastly potent — force of resistance, they will come to understand how important it is to support this movement.

Lü Pin(吕频)is a Chinese feminist activist focusing on strategic advocacy to combat gender-based discrimination and violence. She started her work on women’s rights in the late 1990s. In 2009, she founded Feminist Voices, China’s largest new media platform on women’s issues. Since 2012, she has devoted herself to supporting the activism of young feminists across China. She now resides in Albany, New York, where she continues to follow the feminist movement in China closely.  


Related:

A Cafe Chat With Li Tingting, Yaxue Cao, July 26, 2016.

Wu Rongrong: How I Became a Women’s Rights Advocate, April 27, 2015.

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng, April 11, 2015.

Support Our Work

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

A Brainwashing War: An Appeal for the Poet-preacher Wang Yi

Liao Yiwu, translated by Michael Martin Day, March 4, 2019

Wang Yi, front right; Liao Yiwu, front left. Photo: @liaoyiwu1

On December 9th, 2018, on the eve of International Human Rights Day, in my hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan, the most influential house church in China today, the Early Rain Covenant Church, was raided by the police and banned, and more than 100 believers were taken away. The chapel, seminary, and other church property funded by the congregants were seized and the property was immediately and illegally occupied, becoming the government office hall of the Double Eyes Well Community. The founders of the church, the husband-and-wife pair of Wang Yi (王怡) and Jiang Rong (蒋蓉), were both accused of “inciting subversion of state power”, arrested and have gone missing until this day, leaving their ten-year-old son, Wang Shuya (王书亚), to be looked after by Wang Yi’s parents. A few days ago, burning with worry, Wang Yi’s father sought out a lawyer for his son. Unexpectedly, just after the two parties had finished their interview, police officers who had been surveilling them rushed up and arrested the lawyer, interrogated him in the police station for six hours, confiscated all related legal documents, and announced that he had been stripped of his right to provide counsel.

Wang Yi and I have known each other for 20 years. We are both dissident poets and writers and have both been directors of the Independent Chinese Pen Association. Together, we also published four underground books that have been banned. As I had visa applications to leave the country rejected 16 times, Wang also acted as my human rights lawyer. In 2005, Jiang Rong and Wang Yi were baptized and returned to the Lord. A half year later, Wang Yi, Yu Jie (余杰), Li Boguang (李柏光) and other Chinese Christians were received by President Bush in the White House. In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Wang Yi and his wife founded the Early Rain Covenant Church in their home. Since then, they have been repeatedly harassed by the police and have been interrogated over 20 times. Later, Wang Yi became the chief pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church and the most controversial “political pastor” among the more than 10 million congregants of China’s underground churches.

Every year on the anniversary of the June 4th Massacre, he has held a prayer meeting for the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre, for which he has been repeatedly censured. He has responded: “Many people ask us why we pray for June 4th as it is politics. I say I didn’t see politics, I saw people being killed, an injustice, people being oppressed and suffering. In a politicized society, just maintaining freedom of conscience is already considered political.”

On October 28, 2018, he preached: “This country is launching a war against the soul, although the ranking of this war is not the most advanced, it is the most important war. In Xinjiang, in Tibet, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers of this country are launching this war, but they have established for themselves an enemy that can never be detained, can never be destroyed, will never capitulate nor be conquered: the soul of man…so they are destined to lose this war and are doomed to fail…”

He went on to mention the spiritual life, stating that life without spirituality is consequently undignified. He stressed: “Just as the spiritual life is the essence of human life, just as Christian faith is so precious, the one thing we cannot bear to lose, and is even the one treasure we sinners possess [is our spiritual life]; just so, when this country comes to take this sole treasure away, we beseech the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit, Amen. We beseech the Lord to let us not only do this, but to also let us use our persecution to convey a gospel of persecution to the society of China. Let them torture themselves in questioning the value their own souls, interrogating their own pitiable, despicable lives; where is dignity, honor and freedom under such a dictatorship of money and absolute power? It is either in Jesus Christ, or there is no dignity at all…”

And, so, Wang Yi was accused of “inciting subversion of state power”, and the sentence awaiting him will be no less than that of Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of the same crime. And as he follows in the glorious path of a martyr, I predict that it can be no less than the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

In this “brainwashing war,” or call it a “war of souls,” like those of authoritarian tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, etc., God’s servants Wang Yi and Jiang Rong have become captives of “this country;” just as a decade ago, Liu Xiaobo became a prisoner of “this country” for drafting Charter 08. Wang Yi has stated: “If you tame the rulers in heaven, you cannot tame the dictators on the ground.” This young “egg”, who is 18 years younger than Liu Xiaobo, is at the turning point of this darkest chapter of Chinese history, similar to the martyred saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the Nazi period in Germany, when he openly confronted the “boulder” coming to crush him. At an evangelistic meeting on September 11, 2018, Wang shouted: “We have a duty to tell Xi Jinping that he is a sinner. The government he leads has greatly offended God because it has persecuted the church of our Lord Jesus Christ; if it does not repent, it must perish. We must proclaim that an evil person like him still has a way out. And the only way out is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…we say this as it is of true benefit to him and China’s rulers: we don’t want to see them sinking into hell, being cursed by God.”

In a sermon on the evening of September 21, 2018, he told the more than 500 Christians present: “In the persecution of the Henan House Church, not only was the cross dismantled, but the church was looted, and even the bibles and psalm books were burned. In China’s history of the twentieth century to the present, this is the fourth burning of the Bible. In 1900, the Boxers burned the Bible and killed Western missionaries, but the Lord at that time prepared a group of local evangelists for the future revival of his church. The second time was the heathen movement of 1922-1927, when the government burned bibles in large numbers; but it was followed by a ten-year renaissance of the Church from 1927 to 1937. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was the third time China’s rulers burned the Bible and demolished churches; but since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Church of our Lord has had a revival of forty years in length. So, a few days ago someone asked: ‘Pastor Wang, don’t you worry that you will go to jail?’ I replied, I don’t worry, I just want to know one thing: Is the Lord using this burning and persecution in 2018 to somehow raise up a group of preachers for the Church in China? And are some of them congregants of the Early Rain Covenant Church…”

In the early spring of 2011, on the eve of my escape across the Sino-Vietnamese border, Wang Yi sent an e-mail to his friends that accurately predicted his own, later calamity. “Going to prison is like going to Africa,” he wrote, “God has given me three brocade purses: the ability to move my house at any time, to go to jail at any time, and to return to my heavenly home at any time.”

Seven years later, he finds himself in a cage. A common friend of ours, from our hometown thousands of miles away, mailed me Wang’s four underground poetry collections. Once, I deliberately did not read his writings. I am not a Christian, although I wrote God is Red, a book pirated and praised by Wang Yi as “exalting the Lord”. However, I never subconsciously felt any form of mission or desire to offer praise. Although I will diligently write everything down [that I am told], I am but a tape recorder of an era.

But the “recorder” also bursts into tears, just as I do now as I read Wang’s poems, mulling over “going to prison is like going to Africa” – so far away! So far away!! Can he return? Can I still see him in this life? In this world?

The prison cells of the Communist Party are getting darker and darker. Both Liu Xiaobo and Yang Tianshui have died within them. They were only in their 60s. They were both non-violent dissident writers. As soon as their sentences were almost served, they were suddenly diagnosed to have terminal illnesses…and Wang Yi has chronic gout that is extremely painful whenever it strikes. Will the police who took him “to Africa” let him carry painkillers with him? The next surprise interrogation he is subjected to, an attack of gout can be expected, and as he writhes in pain on the floor, will they send him to the hospital?

Our teacher in this profession, Solzhenitsyn, compared the labor camps all over the Soviet Union to a “gulag archipelago.” He described how when a person had not yet entered, the archipelago is like a constellation in the sky, so far away, unfathomable, no one knows how to reach it. Until one day the catastrophe befalls them, and they then realize the only way to get there is through formal arrest. Coming back, or never coming back, no one can tell….

Yes, when I left the birthplace of my nightmares, the gout patient Wang Yi continued to move onward and desperately resisted for seven more years before finally being formally arrested instead of being “asked to tea”, “subpoenaed”, “placed under house arrest”, “repatriated”, “sent on vacation”, “gone missing” or “black-hooded”. I have a foreboding feeling he will not return! Everyone knows that country and its cities known as Chengdu, Lhasa, Urumqi or Beijing, are secretly filled with political prisoners serving their time. For those who for the time being have yet to enter, they are as remote as the archipelago or Africa.

I am here with an appeal for the poet, writer and pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong. I hope that all Western politicians and poets, writers, scholars, human rights activists and ordinary citizens will pay attention to this confrontation with brainwashing, this resistance in the war of hijacking the souls of China’s people; I hope that German Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas will make use of their influence with China to prompt the Xi Jinping regime to release Wang Yi and Jiang Rong; I also hope President Trump and the U.S. government will link their unprecedented trade wars with human rights and rescue Wang Yi and his wife. I say this because the President put his hand on the Bible when he was sworn in, and Wang Yi was arrested and imprisoned in protest against the burning of the same Bible.

Of course, I also hope that the Pope and the Vatican, who signed a shameful agreement with the Chinese government not long ago, will repent and publicly propose the release of God’s children, Wang Yi and Jiang Rong.

Dear friends, whether we know each other or not, thank you for reading and passing this on. I also hope that you will express what you feel and your conscience in any way you find appropriate, and support this appeal.

Liao Yiwu, exiled writer, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, 2019, Berlin.

Three Poems by Wang Yi

Liao Yiwu is a Chinese writer living in Berlin. Michael Martin Day teaches at National University in La Jolla, California.


Related:

The Crackdown on Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church: A Backgrounder, China Change, December 21, 2018.

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The Lesson of Venezuela: Regime Change Can Only Happen When People Take to the Streets

Wang Dan, February 5, 2019

On February 2, tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets again, demanding change. This article by 1989 Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan (王丹) was published in Chinese by Radio Free Asia on January 25. After teaching in Taiwan for years, Wang Dan now lives in the Washington, DC area and heads the new Dialogue China think tank. – The Editors

On January 23, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital to protest the ruling party and President (Nicolás) Maduro. In front of a dense cheering crowd, waving their arms in support, the 35-year-old opposition leader (Juan Guaidó) proclaimed himself “interim President” and immediately received recognition from Western countries led by the U.S. and Latin American neighbors. The current Venezuelan administration faces severe challenges, and an alternation in regime will very likely succeed peacefully. What happened in Venezuela once again tells us one thing: that is, it is only when people take to the streets that regime change is possible.   

Why, you might ask? Simply because in countries with authoritarian dictatorships like China and North Korea, there’s no mechanism for people to change the regime through elections and other means within the system. Even in democratic countries, people taking to the streets is the most effective and direct way to effect a change in political power.

Venezuela is not a completely authoritarian state. It has long possessed a constitutional democracy. But a democratic system cannot guarantee that a corrupt regime will, on its own accord, correct its own mistakes. During Chavez’s four-term presidency and the tenure of his successor, Maduro, it’s not that the opposition did not try to overthrow their rule through elections, but they could not shake the entrenched power. This was in part due to the irrational choices of Venezuelan voters, and in part due to the fact that the opposition could not come together and jointly agree on a leader to put forward.

But in recent years the Venezuelan opposition party has continued to explore ways to solve problems within the system, and the majority of public opinion supported the opposition. In the December 2015 parliamentary elections, the opposition won 112 seats of 167 seats and took control of the National Assembly. The outside world thought that this would effectively check the anti-democratic behavior of the current government. However, on August 18, 2017, Maduro also used a method from within the system to announce the establishment of the Constituent Assembly. This Constituent Assembly, with direct legislative power, meant that the National Assembly was deprived of its main powers, making it impossible for the will of the people to be expressed through the system. Through manipulation by the government, the judicial system– another built-in check and balance mechanism – was, likewise, unable to play its role. The Supreme Court opposed the National Assembly’s exercise of its right to effect change in political power.

It was only when all means within the system were exhausted and there were no other ways to force a regime that had lost popular support to step down, that the people took action. Heeding the call of the opposition party, tens of thousands of people took to the streets. And this led to the moving scene witnessed by the whole world: the self-proclamation of a takeover of the regime by the young opposition leader.

It remains to be seen whether the alternation of political power in Venezuela will be realized smoothly. In addition to the crucial factor of whether the military’s support for the current government will change, the attitude of the United States and Latin American neighbors, such as whether or not to intervene militarily, and their influence, is also crucial. Regardless, at present we can already see there is hope for solving the political deadlock that has long troubled Venezuela.

Losing the recognition of the international community and facing large-scale street protests, the future prospects for President Maduro don’t look good. Even if he can manage to hold onto office, it’s unlikely that his rule will proceed smoothly. All that has happened is predicated on the people taking to the streets in large numbers, and peacefully displaying their desire for change.

It is often said that street demonstrations are a radical form of protest, which can easily lead to large-scale violent conflicts and undermine the democratic process. But in fact, throughout the ages, the vast majority of regime change took place when people went to the streets. Without the pressure of people taking to the streets, few rulers will take the initiative to step down on their own. At the same time, we also have seen that, without the support of street demonstrations, mechanism from within the system can easily be defeated by all manners of political manipulation. Although people taking to the street may lead to large-scale violent conflicts, there are many examples of peaceful demonstrations that have forced a peaceful change in the regime. The resistance on the street, which occurs outside the system, will provide an opportunity for the opposition party within the system, and it is only such an opportunity that can lead to success for the opposition within the system. This is root cause for why street demonstrations are the only method to change a regime, and what happened in Venezuela proves this point again.

Related:

Twenty-Eight Years After – An Interview With Wang Dan, October 25, 2017.

The Chinese Communist Party Should Fade Into History Peacefully, Avoiding Violence and Minimizing Social Unrest, Zheng Yefu, January 25, 2019.

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

The Chinese Communist Party Should Fade Into History Peacefully, Avoiding Violence and Minimizing Social Unrest

Zheng Yefu, January 25, 2019

“Now it’s time to lay it bare: You can’t fool the Party into starting this journey, nor can you allow the calls for political reform that lack a clear final goal to numb the minds of the people.” 

I. Why Hasn’t Political Reform Happened?

In the late 1970s, China undertook a reform; the main elements were the restoration of the household production system in rural China [that allowed individual families to take control of their farming], opening up the private economy, and allowing farmers to go into the cities to find work. In the early 1990s, seeing that it was likely that this reform would run aground, Deng Xiaoping once again pushed a reform agenda, which was known as “reform of the economic system.”  As for corresponding political reform, Deng Xiaoping and the leaders that came after him all mentioned it in succession, and even said: “Without successful reform of the political system, reform of the economic system will be impossible to carry through to the end.” Subsequent history proved this argument.

It is precisely because political reform did not happen in China that “reform and opening up” fell far short of meeting people’s expectations, and the developments up to the present have led to a fear of further regression. Why did political reform always remain in the realm of words, with not even one step taken towards action? The truth is actually quite obvious, but unfortunately, it seems that it was never clearly pointed out.   

When referring to political reform in speeches, the above-mentioned leaders meant the following: first, the separation of Party and government and the separation of government and enterprise; second, decentralization of power, avoiding excessive concentration of power; third, improving the legal system; fourth, initiating social and political consultations.

Why did these leaders propose political reform? Because they realized that if rule of law is lacking and power is abused, then social and economic life cannot get on the right track.

But why, ultimately has political reform not been implemented? Because intuition has also told the Communist Party leaders that every component of political reform weakens the Party. First, the separation of Party and government, and the separation of government and enterprise, means that the Party is losing power to others, and that the Party will lose control of the administration of the state and the society and economy. Second, the soundness of the rule of law will, on the one hand, guarantee citizens’ rights and freedoms such as speech, association, assembly, and demonstration, and on the other hand, limit the sphere of action of the Party. The society will not be completely controlled by the ruling group as in the past. Third, once genuine political consultations are initiated, it’s possible the Communist Party’s views will fall into a disfavored position. In order to avoid such a situation, the Party leaders eventually created political consultations in form only, in which they had the final say. Fourth, in the competition with the Party’s internal and external opponents, the rulers are increasingly firmly convinced of this: in order to suppress and respond to the trend of social diversification, democratization, and liberalization, even internally the Party cannot practice democracy and must concentrate power.

Before the reform of the economic system, and afterwards too, it’s difficult to say that most of the Communist Party’s guiding principles and policies have been in the fundamental interests of the vast public. But ahead of us there is something that is in the common interest of both the broad Chinese public and the Party, and that is, the Communist Party should fade into history peacefully, avoiding violence and minimizing social unrest. I think that the one great thing the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party can do that would enter the annals of history is to honorably and with dignity lead the Party off the historical stage.

The mindset of preserving

power at all costs ruined the

souls

of those involved.

During its 70-year rule, the Party has brought too many disasters to the Chinese people. And as the Party has evolved up until now, its power structure as well as its ecology have predetermined that it can no longer deliver excellent leaders for Chinese society at all levels; it has almost completely lost its self-correcting mechanism. Its nature has already completely degenerated: for a long time it’s been a group that lacks belief; people join the Party to become officials, and they defend the Party to protect vested interests. The mindset of preserving power at all costs ruined the souls of those involved: hatred of different political views grows ever stronger, and the fear of a crisis has led to their own dysfunction.

The path to escape the shackles on their souls is to strive to melt the Party into the larger society.

However, to make the Party that has ruled Chinese society for 70 years end the one-party dictatorship by itself, there will be a long period of transition. During the transition period, the Party will necessarily be the one to guard social order. This transition period will allow other political forces to emerge, preparing to launch real and meaningful political consultations. Every school of thought and political faction can have its own ideas, but China’s blueprint for the future, and the path it will forge, can only be produced through negotiations involving many political groups.

Don’t we already have the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference” (CPPCC)? It is difficult in this world to find a business like the CPPCC that squanders taxpayers’ money and is so hypocritical, contrived, pointless and boring, and deceptive. I’m speechless as how to describe it. If the rulers had courage and confidence, they should either disband the CPPCC and engage in a real one-party dictatorship; or give different political factions a platform for dialogue and engage in real political consultations.

Ending autocracy is in the interest of the Chinese people, but bloodshed and turmoil are not. A peaceful transition is in the interest of the Communist Party, because it is the only dignified path of retreat.

In sum, pursuing prosperity while fearing for its political security has resulted in the Party professing interest in something it fears for more than 30 years, and swaying to and fro, left and right, in the economic and ideological fields. However, in the past few years, the seesawing has come to a halt at the left side because the Party leaders realized that the private economy and the liberalization of thought bears a threatening and close relationship to the survival of the Party. In contrast to the increasingly stereotypical conduct of the power oligarchy, the call for political reform has not declined at all in society. Unfortunately, the latter has been weak at best. It’s been weak because everyone is scared; it’s been weak because those few in the know have stopped short of telling the whole truth. Chen Ziming (陈子明) said: We should promote democracy together with the Communist Party. Zhou Duo (周舵) advocated Party-led constitutional government.

Just exactly what will the position of the Communist Party be when democracy and constitutional government are realized in China? Now it’s time to lay it bare: You can’t fool the Party into starting this journey, nor can you allow the calls for political reform that lack a clear final goal to numb the minds of the people.

Zheng Yefu.

II. Rarely Seen Common Interest of the Party and the People

The core of the theory is “the Communist Party of China must always represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.” Unfortunately, during most of its rule, the Party’s principles and policies have not represented the interests of the vast majority of the Chinese people. Property rights are the greatest manifestation of interests. In the rural areas, through the chain of land reform, mutual aid groups, cooperatives, and people’s communes, the land has changed from privately owned to state-owned. In the cities, private economy vanished following the public-private partnership movement. The benefits of the economic reforms of the 1980s proved that the above-mentioned two revolutions seriously violated the fundamental interests of the Chinese people, and suppressed their zeal for production. Otherwise, why would there have been a need for reform to begin with?

So after the reform, did the policies represent the interests of the vast majority of the people?  When land was nationalized, what did the government do?  Creating revenue by selling land. It sold lots at high prices to real estate developers. This is the first cause of excessive housing prices in China and a great portion of the population became slaves to their mortgages.  Isn’t it too tyrannical to say that a policy that enriches the state and impoverishes the people is in the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people?

For 60 years, from 1949 to today, only once did I see a time when most of the people in the ruling class had reform aspirations, and that was in 1978. Just once.

Has there ever been a policy of the Communist Party that has been in the fundamental interests of the Chinese people? Yes, but it really is rare; that was the reform of the economic system in the late 1980s. I stated the following view at a seminar in 2008: top-down reform is not common; it is a rare thing because the reform aspirations at the higher level and motivation to reform exist only in rare moments. For 60 years, from 1949 to today, only once did I see a time when most of the people in the ruling class had reform aspirations, and that was in 1978. Just once.

What was the motivation for the reforms in 1978? Because they were at a point at which they could either choose to reform, or see the Party demise. “If the Party falls, so does the nation” is the axiom so often repeated by the state propaganda machine. But there is no such thing as the demise of the country. The age of colonialism is all but in the past; China and its people no longer face the same threat of extermination. It’s the Party that is going down. Thanks to its dismal management of the country, there are so many people who can’t make ends meet. What happens if the Party falls? The Party will fade into history. Of course, they want to avoid that scenario, so reform was implemented.

We can credit Mao Zedong for creating this consensus among them: Mao, in his dogmatic ways since 1956, had drawn himself ever further apart from his colleagues. No one except for the bootlickers and careerists were inclined to support him. By the time of his death, he had driven upwards of 95 percent of the people within the Party into the ranks of a hidden opposition. The end of Mao led the other senior officials to jointly discuss how they should move away from Mao’s political line. I have yet to find a second dictator in history whose subordinates stood together in such unity after his death. It is extraordinary and rare: the Party elders were of one mind, working in concert to turn things around.   

Reform is not a novel concept: going back to 1956, and even earlier. In the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911), and all the way back in the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.), household production system had been the model for agricultural production. Throughout history, there had been a private economy that existed to varying degrees in urban areas. Reform isn’t some sort of groundbreaking thing, it’s actually conservatism: look at what the ancients did and follow the path they took. It’s just that Mao Zedong introduced his utopian thinking that repudiated common sense. This thinking led to constant disagreement during the reform period despite the broad consensus; as a result, the general secretary [of the CCP] was replaced time and again. Today, that rare moment of consensus that once permeated the leadership is gone; they will not come to this kind of understanding again. What reason do we have to hope that any new top-down reforms can be sustainable?

III. Successful Transition Requires the Cooperation of Two Forces

No discussion regarding the end of the one-party dictatorship in Taiwan can do to omit Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). At the same time, the Taiwanese themselves firmly deny the notion that the course of their history was shaped by one individual. They think that Chiang would not have made that choice if not for the perseverance of Taiwan’s democratic activism as well as the massive pressure that arose from the social diversity at the time. I am of the same opinion.  

The ruler is created by the ruled, and vice versa. Ruler and ruled sculpt one another, together creating a vicious circle. The ruler bears most of the responsibility, but his wantonness is also induced by the meekness and submissiveness of the Chinese themselves. They have spoiled the CCP too much. Only when we the vulnerable speak up can China escape this vicious cycle. If there is no pressure from outside [the political system], no demand for the independence of the press or tolerance of opposition parties, there can be no change: Even supposing the Party leader himself is willing to reform, he would encounter opposition from his colleagues — they would think that he has gone insane. It needs not be said that without external impetus, the idea of reform will never occur to them. If we don’t voice our opinions and exert pressure, we don’t deserve to see the dictatorship come to its end.

On the other hand, a wise leader is needed to bring a peaceful end to dictatorial Party rule. Otherwise, violence will be inevitable. It is hard to say if this sort of positive development has much probability of occurring, but at least there’s the possibility, since those in the upper echelons of power know the truth, better than anyone on the outside, that the Party can hardly change its ingrained habits. For the Party to voluntarily give up its power in a way that saves face would be a win-win outcome.

There’s a third “win” involved: I have always believed that politicians must possess ambition. For one’s name to be honored by history should be enough to satisfy the ambition of any politician. This is the best way out for the Chinese people, the Party, and the Party leader.  

Being the Party leader though, it’s really no easy task to take the Party on this path. The challenge comes not necessarily in the form of opposition from the outsiders, but the lack thereof, which is also a consequence brought about by the Party itself. As it doesn’t face any credible opposition, it has little reason to choose the path of ending its rule.

This is also the reason why I have decided to “poke through the paper window” and point at the truth hidden within. Let us gather and pool our efforts to take the single path that will lead to an amicable resolution. This opportunity will not last long.

IV. Blame Not He Who Speaks But the Wise Men Who Remain Silent

It is written in the Chinese constitution that the “socialist system is the basic system of the People’s Republic of China.” and that “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Given that the central theme of this article goes against the words above, should I be considered a criminal for writing it? No, because it is an expression of opinion and not an action. There should be no such thing as a thought criminal in a civilized country.  

The Thirteenth People’s Congress convened in 2018 is instructive. There used to be a rule in the constitution limiting the number of presidential terms, and a motion to remove the term limit was proposed prior to the conference. Is it a crime to suggest a constitutional amendment to the presidential term limit? No. I am in favor of terms being limited, but I don’t think it’s wrong to suggest any amendment to the constitution. The characteristic of the law is that it is authoritative and inviolable under a specific setting, but it also progresses along with the course of history and as such is subject to revision. The process of revision is dependent on the ability of citizens to freely discuss and criticize the laws, so long as their criticism remains in the realm of speech and not action as this would be illegal.

Over the years I have scribbled millions of words. How could I forgive myself if I fail to write a few words on the one question that has been on my mind for so long, the question that concerns the future of our country?

While I write this primarily in my own self-defense, I also write them for the people who came before, or will come after, me. For a peaceful transition to become reality, China needs citizens who abide by the law. I am such a citizen. Everyone shares a collective responsibility for the welfare of the nation, as it’s said, and this is one of the reasons I wanted to write this article. A humbler reason is to allow myself some semblance of self-respect. Over the years I have scribbled millions of words. How could I forgive myself if I fail to write a few words on the one question that has been on my mind for so long, the question that concerns the future of our country?

In January 1948, three months after the CCP published the “Outline Land Law of China” (《中国土地法大纲》), late Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong (费孝通) wrote an article titled “Standards for a Moderately Prosperous Society Free of Hunger and Cold” (《黎民不饥不寒的小康水准》) to argue against violent land reform. He wrote: “History is not always reasonable, but in any historical setting there has always been a reasonable solution available. Whether history can develop along a reasonable course is dependent upon whether people can make rational choices. Those in the position of scholars have the responsibility to point out rational solutions, while it is up to the politician to bring it into history.”

I don’t believe we’ve reached the point where we can hold the politicians responsible for everything. This is because at present, the intellectuals have yet to fulfill their duty. Had they stayed true to their conscience and mustered the courage to speak their minds, China would not be in the state it is in today.

Drafted August 2018; finalized December 2018.

Zheng Yefu (郑也夫) was born in 1950 in Beijing. He was one of the 17 million “educated youths” sent down to the countryside, and served in the Heilongjiang Construction Corps. He is now a retired sociology professor from Peking University. The Chinese version of the article can be found here.


Related:

A Great Shift Unseen Over the Last Forty Years, Xiang Songzuo, December 28, 2018.

Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options, Zhang Xuezhong, translated by Andrea Worden, January 7, 2019.

An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’, China Change, October 31, 2018.

Support Our Work

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

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The Schellenberg Affair: Chinese Lawyers and Law Professors Opposing Court’s Handling of Robert Schellenberg’s Case

China Change, January 16, 2019

On January 14, a court in Dalian, northeastern China, sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for drug smuggling at a one-day retrial. It appears that China, after detaining two Canadians recently, is escalating the diplomatic clash with Canada over the arrest  of Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), Huawei CFO, which the US requested pursuant to its extradition treaty with Canada, to the United States for suspected violation of Iran sanctions. The bizarre re-sentencing of Schellenberg seems to indicate how far China is willing to go to pressure Canada for the release of Meng, and how it is betting on Canada to give in by using the Schellenberg case as further leverage. To help clarify the legal controversy surrounding the retrial of Schellenberg, China Change gathered and translated the views of Schellenberg’s defense attorneys and several other Chinese lawyers and law professors who opposed the re-sentencing. As for opinions supporting the Chinese court’s decision, you can find them in China’s state media such as the Global Times and China Daily. — The Editors

Lawyer Ma Gangquan (马纲权) — A death sentence handed down with mysterious haste, January 16, Beijing Time, WeChat post:

1. It took about four years from Schellenberg’s detention  to his being sentenced to 15 years in prison by the e court of first instance.

Schellenberg was apprehended on December 1, 2014, and his case was heard by the Dalian Municipal Intermediate People’s Court i (大连市中级人民法院) on March 15, 2016. On November 20, 2018, at the court of first instance, he was found him guilty of trafficking illicit drugs. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison to be followed by expulsion from China, as well as a fine of 150,000 RMB. Schellenberg appealed the sentence. 

2. The time it took for the case to be returned to the first-instance court with supplemental prosecution  was just four days.

On December 29, during the review of Schellenberg’s case, the Liaoning High People’s Court (辽宁省高级人民法院) ruled that the original sentence was overly lenient and “obviously inappropriate” [in consideration of the crime], and sent the case back to the Dalian Intermediate Court for retrial.

On January 2, 2019, the Dalian Municipal Procuratorate (大连市检察院) submitted a supplementary indictment to the Dalian Intermediate Court.

3. On January 14, 2019, the Dalian Intermediate Court began the retrial at 8 a.m., with proceedings lasting until around 7 p.m., at which time the court adjourned for one hour. After  the collegial panel deliberated and submitted its decision to the adjudication committee for discussion, at around 8 p.m. the court resumed the hearing, at which time it, it announced Schellenberg’s death sentence. This was all done in less than a day, deftly and expediently.

Lawyer Zhang Dongshuo (张冬硕), Schellenberg’s defense attorney, January 15, 2019, Chinese-language interview with Deutsche Welle

DW: Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s case was retried and a new verdict was announced in no more than 15 days. What is your view on this?

Zhang: This is indeed a very unusual situation — though the proceeding is in accordance with the law. But it is indeed quite unusual for a case involving the death penalty to finish in just 15 days from court proceedings to delivering the sentence.

DW: In increasing the sentence from a 15-year prison term to death, do you think that this verdict was made fairly and in accordance with the evidence?

Zhang: I can’t comment on whether or not it was fair. I can only say that in my view as a defense lawyer, the evidence available is insufficient to prove that Schellenberger engaged in smuggling of more than 222 kilograms of drugs in Dalian. This is the first point. Second, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that he participated in organized international drug trafficking. Third, the prosecution provided no new facts in its supplementary indictment about the alleged crime. Therefore, even if the charges are accepted by the court, they cannot be used to increase the severity of Schellenberg’s sentence. These are my three main arguments. But it is regrettable that the court completely disregarded the arguments of the defense.

DW: What remains now is for the case to be appealed, correct?

Schellenberg has the right of appeal. Only after he files an appeal — we have two lawyers, I am the primary defense attorney, and Zhong Qiang (钟强) is the secondary defense attorney — will we continue to defend him during the appeal period. I guess that he will formally file an appeal in the middle of next week.

[Note: Zhang Dongshuo is a lawyer with the Mo Shaoping Law Firm in Beijing; Zhong Qiang is senior partner of the Beijing Yingke (Nanning) Law Firm, Director of Criminal Legal Affairs Department, and Vice Chairman of the Drug Crime Defense Alliance.]

Lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平) — interview with Voice of America, January 16, 2019, Beijing time:

Mo Shaoping: As defense lawyers, we pleaded not guilty on his behalf. I believe that the evidence provided by the prosecution does not exclude all reasonable doubt, so he should be acquitted. However, the court did not accept this argument and claimed that there were so-called new criminal facts submitted. The defense attorneys believe that the so-called new criminal facts provided in the supplementary indictment are wholly nonexistent. However, if the prosecution did not supplement the indictment, the court would definitely not have issued a death sentence. Therefore, the so-called new criminal facts were meant to take advantage of the procedure of supplementary indictment and retrial to increase the severity of the crime, and warrant the death penalty.

Reporter: How did Schellenberg react to [the announcement of the verdict] in court?

Mo Shaoping: From beginning to end, Schellenberg denied the charges against him. He denied them then and denies them now. He says that his purpose for travelling to Dalian was purely for tourism, and has no knowledge of drugs. However, the witness Xu Qing (许清), who later appeared in court, may have indeed been involved in the crime. But the authorities considered him to be a witness, rather than a suspect. As attorneys we suspected that at one time this person may have been a public security agent. Later, the public security [Chinese police] produced evidence to show that he wasn’t their agent. So the facts regarding this case were unclear and inconclusive from the start. The evidence as provided could hardly substantiate the charge that Schellenberg was involved in drug smuggling activities.

Reporter: The court didn’t accept your arguments?

Mo Shaoping: It didn’t, the court issued the death penalty. We have never seen any precedent for this case, in which the death penalty was announced at the hearing. Usually, death sentences are announced on a later date after court has been adjourned and the adjudication committee has deliberated. I’ve never seen a case where the death penalty was announced right after the conclusion of the trial. It’s unprecedented. 

Reporter:Many people have linked this matter to the case of Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟). Do you think there was a political motivation in Schellenberg’s sentencing?

Mo Shaoping: I will leave the analysis to journalists. Schellenberg was held for more than four years, and the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court made a first-instance judgment and sentenced him to 15 years. Why did it take four years to sentence him? Because the court thought that the evidence was insufficient and sought instructions all the way up to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). The SPC said Schellenberg could be convicted and the sentence should be 15 years. So Schellenberg was sentenced to 15 years in prison according to the SPC’s instructions, and he was also considered an accomplice.

As a general rule, after an appeal is filed, the court of second instance will not hold a court hearing; instead, the court rules just based on the written documents in the case. It’s very unusual that a second-instance court would suddenly hold a hearing, and then suddenly remand the case for retrial. It took the Dalian Procuratorate only one day to produce and submit the so-called supplementary indictment to the court after the retrial order had been made. Just 16 days later the court tried Schellenberg again and announced the death penalty right after the trial. Everything about the proceeding was unusual.

Chen Youxi’s comment on Weibo

Lawyer Chen Youxi (陈有西), January 15, 2019, Beijing time, Sina Weibo:

It is clearly stipulated in law that there is to be no increase in punishment when a case is sent back for retrial. Without new facts or new evidence, there cannot be an additional penalty. If a new crime is discovered, after the original sentence has taken effect and the case remanded, then the new criminal facts should be re-indicted in accordance with the adjudication supervision procedures. Increasing the penalty on remand is not permitted, so as not to deter the defendant from appealing.

Article 237 of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) stipulates that second instance people’s courts handling appeals submitted by the defendant, his legal representative, defender, or close relatives, must not increase the defendant’s punishment. Cases that second instance courts remand to first instance courts for retrial, except when there are the new criminal facts and the people’s procuratorate provides a supplemental indictment, the original people’s court must also not increase the defendant’s penalty. In instances in which the people’s procuratorate lodges an appeal or where there is a private prosecution appeal, the aforementioned restrictions do not apply. 

Per the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on the Application of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, Article 327:  After the defendant, or his legal representative or defender, or a close relative, files an appeal, and the second instance people’s court remands the case for retrial, except in cases where there are new criminal facts and the people’s procuratorate files a supplementary indictment, the original people’s court must not increase the defendant’s penalty.

Article 257 (5) of the Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation of Several Issues Concerning the Implementation of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law provides: “… in the case where a change in the original sentence must be done according to law, the case shall be retried according to the adjudication supervision procedures after the second instance judgment or ruling becomes effective.”

When courts of second instance send various cases back for retrial on the grounds of unclear facts and insufficient evidence, purporting they have a new understanding of circumstances that were already discovered during the original trial, and result in supplemental prosecutions and an additional penalty for the defendant through retrial by the court of first instance, it is a disguised violation of the principle of “appeal without increased penalty.” The result is that the appeal system will inevitably be damaged the defendant’s right of appeal will be impaired and constrained; the second-instance final appeal review and correction mechanism will be forfeited.

There’s no way around this. Regardless of the case, it is very easy to find a few pages of new evidence, and have a new understanding of the details of the case. As long as a judge is allowed to remand a case with supplemental charges, a reason could be found in any case to support a sentence increase. Accordingly, defendants would not dare to appeal. The system of China’s second-instance final review would be fundamentally destroyed.

He Weifang (贺卫方), law professor at Peking University, January 15, 2019,Beijing time, WeChat: 

The Canadian named Schellenberg was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court on November 20, 2018 after being detained for more than four years. In addition, the court confiscated 150,000 yuan of his assets and ordered his deportation. He insisted that he was not guilty, and filed an appeal.

It really was a strange coincidence that just at this point in time, in early December, the Canadian police arrested a high level Chinese business executive named Meng [Wanzhou] based on the extradition treaty between the United States and Canada. This move triggered an angry protest from China, which threatened Canada, telling Canada it would pay for what it had done.

Soon after, on December 29, the Schellenberg appeal was heard in the Liaoning High People’s Court.  It is worth noting that the procuratorate did not file a protest after the trial in the court of first instance, but this did not prevent the High Court from remanding the case to the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court for retrial. Meanwhile, the New Year’s holiday intervened, and so it was on January 14, 2019, in less than ten work days, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court unexpectedly and, in lightning speed, tried the case, and in a shocking move, changed the defendant’s sentence to the death penalty, and confiscated all his assets.

Some people have asked: Doesn’t China’s Criminal Procedure Law stipulate the norm of  “appeal without an increase in penalty”? A local scholar who attended the retrial responded that the rule prohibiting an increase in penalty does not include cases in which the procuratorate discovers and raises new criminal facts after the defendant appealed, or cases in which the procuratorate did not lodge a protest.

However, as a result, as long as the defendant files an appeal, the procuratorate can counter-appeal on the grounds of having discovered certain new criminal facts or just communicate with the court to exert some pressure (which is very easy for the procuratorate to do in China), which will inevitably lead to the complete failure of the principle

“appeal without an increase in penalty.”  As long as the defendant refuses to accept the original judgment and appeals, all that awaits the defendant is the procuratorate’s protest (even a protest is not actually necessary) and a subsequent increase in punishment. So who would dare to appeal?

Furthermore, now that the procuratorate produced new facts so quickly in such a short period of time  after the first instance trial, one wonders why they didn’t discover these facts during the four years of Schellenberg’s detention, facts that have caused the outcome of the case to change so drastically? Even though the PRC’s Criminal Procedure Law does not have the “double jeopardy” clause that prohibits anyone from being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime, we have reasons to expect that the procuratorate had learned all the facts and made all the preparation before the first trial, given that the investigation had gone on for four years and had been through all sorts of pretrial procedures. How could it be that as soon as the defendant appealed, the procuratorate “discovered new facts” and that the defendant changed from being an accomplice to the principal culprit? Isn’t that just bizarre?

In this country, administrative officials can make wrong decisions and diplomats can blatantly lie, but if judicial organs also take part in such a farce, succumbing to external interference and treating the law like a toy, that’s really a despairing and perilous situation.

He Weifang and Zhang Jianwei’s comments on WeChat.

Zhang Jianwei (张建伟), law professor at Tsinghua University, January 15, 2019, Beijing time, WeChat:

In the case of supplementary indictment, the court could alter the sentence and increase the penalty. Here, supplementary indictment should be understood to mean that the supplemental crimes are crimes in addition to what has already been tried; if the prosecutors supplemented certain facts that fall within the criminal facts that have already been tried in the first instance but may affect the penalty decision, it is still a violation of the principle of no increase of sentence on appeal.

The thinking behind the principle of no increase of sentence on appeal is to allay the defendant’s fear of a worse outcome on appeal. In Schellenberg’s case it was the defendant who appealed, and increasing the penalty through spurious reasons is a violation of the principle of no increase of sentence on appeal.

At the moment when China and Canada is locked in a diplomatic row, such a judicial re-sentencing rouses the suspicion that the judiciary in China is merely a servant of politics, and it hurts the international perception of China being a country governed according to the law. As such, there is more to be lost than gained. You may think you are doing good for the country, but you are in fact ruining it.

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