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Safeguarding the Right to Practice: A Statement by 58 Chinese Lawyers

February 19, 2018

 

On July 9, 2015, in the mass arrest of Chinese human rights lawyers and defenders known as the “709 Crackdown,” the security authorities used “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定居所监视居住), a disguised form of secret detention, to detain lawyers. They denied family the ability to hire their own counsel, conducted secret trials, and violated the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” by forcing prisoners to plead guilt in video recordings for state media before trial. This campaign-style (运动式) suppression has engendered panic and backlash domestically, and led to widespread censure from the international community.

The lessons of the 709 mass arrests are deep. The rising prominence of human rights lawyers was, in the first place, a wonderful opportunity for the government to reflect on the value of lawyers for the rule of law and their role in improving social governance. But now, lawyers are arrested or disbarred on the slightest pretext, and their rights to practice and have a job are increasingly infringed upon.

On January 15, 2018, Yu Wensheng (余文生), defense counsel for 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), was disbarred from practicing law by the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau. On the morning of January 19, Yu, while taking his child to school, was criminally detained by public security agents from Shijingshan district, Beijing, on charges of “obstructing an officer in discharge of duties.” On January 27, Yu Wensheng was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” by the Xuzhou municipal public security bureau in Jiangsu province, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

On January 22, 2018, 709 crackdown target Sui Muqing (隋牧青) received an “Advance Notice of Administrative Punishment” (《行政处罚预先告知书》) from Guangdong provincial judicial authorities, informing him that he was going to lose his law license. After he lodged the appropriate application, Sui was granted a hearing with the provincial judicial bureau on February 3. After the hearing, his license was indeed rescinded.

On the heels of Sui Muqing’s disbarment, the news arrived that Beijing’s judicial bureau had rescinded the registration of Beijing Wu Tian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), a boutique law firm run by lawyer Cheng Hai (程海).

A series of similar disbarments has taken place recently, including:

  • In December 2017, Wang Liqian (王理乾) and Wang Longde (王龙德) in Yunnan having their law licenses revoked.
  • Also in December 2017, Zhejiang lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水) being suspended from legal practice for nine months based on public statements he made that the authorities didn’t like.
  • In October 2017, 709 defense lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) being charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and detained in the Shenyang detention center.
  • In September 2017 Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), the lawyer defending Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), who was charged with making political statements on Weibo, had his law license revoked.
  • Also during 2017, the Shanghai lawyer Peng Yonghe (彭永和) resigned from the Shanghai Municipal Lawyer’s Association, because the Association refused to defend the rights of lawyers. Currently Peng faces the revocation of his own legal license.

Lawyers are an important component of the rule of law in China. Punishing lawyers for defending human rights is punishing the rule of law, rights, and order. The construction of an orderly, rational, and stable modern state requires the proactive involvement of lawyers. A society that sees lawyers as its enemy will inevitably fall into chaos and social unrest. Tragedies like the Cultural Revolution could easily recur.

For these reasons, we strongly call upon the judicial organs to be civilized and reasonable — immediately release the detained lawyers, respect and protect the professional rights of lawyers and the basic rights of other citizens, re-examine the recent spate of disbarments of lawyers and law firm licenses, and resolve in a proper manner the new problems that have arisen in social management. Don’t deliberately create conflict and opposition; instead, cooperate in advancing and nurturing the rule of law in China.

Contact address: lvshilianshu@gmail.com

 

Signatories:

  1. Liu Wei (刘巍), Beijing
  2. Wu Kuiming (吴魁明), Guangdong
  3. Liu Shihui (刘士辉), Guangdong
  4. Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Beijing
  5. Chang Boyang (常伯阳), Henan
  6. Wang Qiushi (王秋实), Heilongjiang
  7. Liang Xiaojun (梁小军), Beijing
  8. Wang Qingpeng (王清鹏), Hebei
  9. Wang Lei (王磊)
  10. Liu Shuqing (刘书庆), Shandong
  11. Shu Xiangxin (舒向新), Shandong
  12. Lu Fangzhi (吕方芝), Hunan
  13. Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), Guangxi
  14. Chen Jinxue (陈进学), Guangdong
  15. Huang Hanzhong (黄汉中), Beijing
  16. Wen Donghai (文东海), Hunan
  17. Li Weida (李威达), Hebei
  18. Zhong Jinhua (钟锦化), Shanghai
  19. Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), Beijing
  20. Qu Yuan (瞿远), Sichuan
  21. He Wei (何伟), Chongqing
  22. Li Fangping (李方平), Beijing
  23. Tong Zhaoping (童朝平), Beijing
  24. Chen Yixuan (陈以轩), Hunan
  25. Yu Quan (于全), Sichuan
  26. Li Yongheng (李永恒), Shandong
  27. Ma Lianshun (马连顺), Henan
  28. Zhang Chongshi (张重实), Hunan
  29. Zou Lihui (邹丽惠), Fujian
  30. Lu Tinge (卢廷阁), Hebei
  31. Chen Jinhua (陈金华), Hunan
  32. Ren Quanniu (任全牛), Henan
  33. Luo Qian (罗茜), Hunan
  34. Li Jinxing (李金星), Shandong
  35. Wang Yu (王宇), Beijing
  36. Zeng Yi (曾义), Yunnan
  37. Meng Meng (孟猛), Henan
  38. Xu Hongwei (徐红卫), Shandong
  39. Ji Zhongjiu (纪中久), Zhejiang
  40. Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), Guangdong
  41. Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀), Guangdong
  42. Tan Yongpei (覃永沛), Guangxi
  43. Wang Zhenjiang (王振江), Shandong
  44. Wen Haibo (温海波), Beijing
  45. Teng Biao (滕彪), Beijing
  46. Jin Guanghong (金光鸿), Beijing
  47. Jiang Yuanmin (蒋援民), Guangdong
  48. Bao Longjun (包龙军), Beijing
  49. Xu Guijuan (许桂娟), Shandong
  50. Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), Shanghai
  51. Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿), Guangxi
  52. Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), Beijing
  53. Peng Yongfeng (彭永锋), Hebei
  54. Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), Shandong
  55. Cheng Hai (程海), Beijing
  56. Cheng Weishan (程为善), Jiangsu
  57. Lu Siwei (卢思位), Sichuan
  58. Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Zhejiang

 

 


Related:

Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January, 2018.

Wang Quanzhang: The 709 Lawyer Not Heard From Since July 2015, January 15, 2018.

61-Year Old Human Rights Lawyer Criminally Detained in Shenyang, China Change, October 31, 2017.

Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, October 3, 2017.

 

 

 

From Policeman to Lawyer to Fisherman to ‘Criminal’: The Tortuous Road of a Human Rights Lawyer

China Change, February 12, 2018

 

 

On February 9, lawyer Chen Wuquan (陈武权) was criminally detained with five villagers on an island off the coast of Zhanjiang (湛江), on the southwest peninsular of Guangdong Province. He was not a lawyer representing clients in a land rights defense case, as one may assume. Instead, he was a disbarred lawyer living at home in his village, leading an effort against forced demolition, illegal land reclamation, and the logging of redwoods along the beach. The group of six had petitioned on behalf of the village, and the police responded by detaining them for “obstructing the start of construction.”

On February 11, Chen Wuquan’s family received notice of his criminal detention.

Before he led villagers to protest illegal reclamation, he had anticipated what might befall him and authorized the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, of which he is a member, to defend him. He briefly told his story as follows:

I was born on China’s fifth largest island, Donghai Island, in the village of Diaoluocun (东海岛调逻村).

Our village is in the northeast of the island, and features an expanse of beautiful beaches, mudflats, and mangroves. It’s a popular tourist destination. Donghai’s tidal flats are not only beautiful, but also highly fertile, producing an abundance of sea snails, oysters, shrimps, lingula [a kind of mussel], and more. This natural abundance has provided for Diaoluocun villagers for over 700 years. When I was four or five, I remember my mother taking me to the seaside to catch fish and shrimp and dig up sea snails and mussels. Only after beginning senior high school and moving to the city did I start to drift away from the ocean.

In 1998 after graduating from police college, I worked as a police officer in Zhanjiang. In 2004, I was given an internal Communist Party warning over the “4.25 Incident.”*

 

Chen Wuquan

 

On April 25, 2005, I decided to leave my government job and become a lawyer. I focused my energies on preparing for the bar exam, and in September of that year scored 360 on the test. In March 2006 I became a lawyer.

It’s a wide world we live in, and I wanted to see it. At the end of 2011, full of dreams of distant adventures, I traveled to Switzerland to participate in a training on the United Nations human rights mechanism held by an NGO.

In early 2012 I joined Beijing lawyer Dong Qianyong (董前勇) representing a religious freedom case in Shantou, Guangdong. As part of that process, I penned and posted two articles — “Where is the Path to the Rule of Law in China?” and “The Ugly Privileged” — for which I was disciplined in April 2012.

On May 6, 2012, while in Beijing I agreed to represent Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew. Due to this, I was subjected to an immense amount of pressure. I overcame the pressure of being disbarred and continued to proceed with the case. I thought that I still had some land and the ocean to live on back home if the worst came. On May 18, 2012, my license to practice law was rescinded.

In November 2012, under pressure from all directions, I returned to Zhanjiang. It was only when I got back, however, that I realized that the tidal flats that saw me through my childhood were no more. They’d been turned into dry land and a dumping ground for construction trash. The sea snails, oysters, shrimps and mussels were all gone. It pained my heart.

The difficulty of actually making a living after being disbarred also began to pinch, and I wanted to get back my license to practice law. I was born and grew up in Zhanjiang after all, had been a police officer there for seven years, and had friends and acquaintances throughout local government departments. For all these reasons, I refrained from publicizing any criticisms of the Zhanjiang government.

In May 2017, after lying low for five years, I entered the election for village chief. Yet the authorities still treated me with hostility, a potential threat, going around to undercut my support, even spreading propaganda that I was a criminal. Even after that, I received 1943 votes.

In October 2017 I made requests for information under the government’s open information regulations, whereupon I found that the tidal flats around our village had not even been lawfully acquired. Without any legal process, developers had simply filled in and destroyed the natural habitat. These were the tidal flats that had sustained our village for 700 years! I could not longer bear to do nothing, and at this point it was clear that my license to practice law would not be reinstated either. So I decided to put up a fight to protect the seaside, so my village — and even more, myself and my grandchildren — would still have blue skies and a healthy ocean for generations to come.

It was only at this point that villagers became aware of the fact that their legal rights had been infringed upon. They joined the push to defend the seaside in droves. They even pulled their boats on to the beach.

On December 25, 2017, the government mobilized armed police, public security forces, riot police, and urban enforcers — numbering into their hundreds, arrayed with guns and shields — against villagers defending the sea. They ripped out the vegetation that locals had planted as a tide break, and detained two villagers. Under the protection of other villagers, I was able to escape unharmed.

The authorities began slandering me, saying that as a lawyer I’d once defended an ‘evil religion,’ and what I did at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I don’t understand: even if it was an ‘evil religion,’ why could one not offer a legal defense? I’ve defended individuals accused of robbery — does that make me an accomplice to robbers too? At the Chinese University of Hong Kong I’d once protested on behalf of human rights lawyers in China with foreign women present — is there anything wrong with that?

Once the arrow is shot, there’s no getting it back. At this point, honor does not permit me to retreat.

And no matter how scurrilous the means used to attack me, I will face it all calmly. I sincerely ask my colleagues to defend me.

 

 

* The “4.25 Incident” likely refers to the Falun Gong mass petition in Beijing that occurred on April 25, 1999. It’s unclear what Chen Wuquan’s involvement was when he was still a young student, and why the internal discipline occurred in 2004.

 


Related:

Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January, 2018.

 

 

 

 

In Memory of Elliot Sperling: A 2014 Interview with the American Tibet Scholar

Tang Danhong, translated by Anne Henochowicz, January 26, 2018

 

Elliot Sperling died in his sleep at the end of January, 2017 (the Wikipedia entry puts the date of his death on January 29, 2017). In our unabating sorrow of losing a dear friend, China Change presents a full translation of Ms. Tang Danhong’s interview with Elliot. Ms. Tang (唐丹鸿) is herself a prolific writer about Tibet, and now lives with her family in Israel. The interview was conducted in Chinese on July 27, 2014, in New York City. Ms. Tang published it for the first time in February, 2017.  — The Editors

 

Elliot Sperling

Elliot Sperling at Trace Foundation in New York in March, 2016.

 

 

 

“When I got to Greece, someone said to me, ‘You know, the road doesn’t end in Greece. You could go on, to Turkey, Asia, India…’ I said to myself, ‘Huh, why didn’t I think of that?’”

 

 

Tang Danhong: Dgenlags [teacher], let’s start where you began. How did you choose to study Tibet and China?

Sperling: My interest in Tibet wasn’t academic in the beginning. America had the Beat Generation in the 1950s and the hippies in the 1960s. I was 17 in late 60s, growing up in New York, and I lived in the midst of these movements. New York is an international city, and these changes were going on all around me. It was counter-culture: we made a new kind of music, and our thinking, even what we wore, were all part of our rebellion. And a lot of people smoked marijuana and took LSD. We thought we could reach an altered state of consciousness, just like a religion. Young me was so innocent. I yearned for a huge transformation in our consciousness. I read a lot of the Beats: Ginsberg, Kerouac. Psychology, for instance Carl Jung, also had a huge influence on me, and because of Jung I started to learn about the East. I took interest in Eastern culture, Eastern philosophy and so on. The East became more and more interesting to me. For me, it was a new world.

When I got to college I didn’t know what to study. Despite my interest in the East, I hadn’t yet thought of it as a specialization. At the end of my freshman year, a friend and I hitchhiked from New York to California just like Kerouac. We were on the road for many weeks. I thought it was so “beat,” ha ha. I did the same thing after sophomore year, this time in Europe. I flew to London, then hitchhiked from there to Greece. I’d think about what to major in from time to time. The good thing about travel for me was that my thinking was more open in new environments, so I could really mull over just what I wanted to do.

When I got to Greece, someone said to me, “You know, the road doesn’t end in Greece. You could go on, to Turkey, Asia, India…” I said to myself, “Huh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Elliot_01_Summer 1973, with Kunzang Paljor

Sperling’s first visit to Dharamsala in early 1970s. Photo: Woeser.

I went back to the US that time, but I decided I would take that trip. Of course my parents weren’t thrilled. I went to class during the day and drove a taxi in the evenings. After one semester I’d made enough money, so I flew to Europe and quickly got to Greece. In Greece I found out there was no need to hitchhike in Asia. Transportation was cheap there, and besides, hitchhiking was a little dangerous. So I hitchhiked from Greece to Istanbul, then took trains and buses to Tehran. I took another bus from Tehran to Mashhad, and from there entered into Afghanistan. I took all kinds of transportation in Afghanistan, even horse-drawn carriage. I went to Herat, to Kandahar, and then to Kabul. From Kabul I took a bus to Peshawar, Pakistan.

People are scared of Afghanistan and Peshawar now, but at that time the people in Iran and Afghanistan were really polite. I don’t know if they were polite to women, but if you were a man they were extremely hospitable to you. I only stayed in Pakistan for a day. I went from Peshawar to the border at Lahore, then crossed into India.

In north India I first got to New Delhi. To answer my travel questions, like where to find a cheap hotel, I had to find my fellow hippie drifters. Back then there were a lot of hotels that were more like dorms, with lots of beds in one room. In Delhi I found a bargain room for less than 50 cents a night. One of the guys in the room was getting ready to head back to the US and passed on to me some of his travel strategies. He said there’s a place in Delhi I would definitely like, called the Tibet House.[i] I went there, where I met Tibetans for the first time. I had no idea of the connection my fate and my future would have with their country.

After that I left Delhi and went to Varanasi, then on to Kathmandu [Nepal]. There were a lot of Bodpa [Tibetans] there, and my fascination with them started. I already had some interest in Eastern thought. I had read some books about that, and also about Buddhism, and I had been to a Japanese Zen center. I was most attracted to Tibetan Buddhism and went to a Buddhist temple in Kathmandu. In the course of my time there, I leaned farther and farther away from religious faith. My interest in Tibetan religion weakened, while my interest in their country, history and society was kindled. I paid more and more attention to the fate of the Tibetans, instead of their religious images.

After I left Kathmandu I went to Darjeeling, to Gangtok and onward. After two or three months of travel, I arrived at Dharamsala. In the 1970s, Dharamsala was an ideal place for a traveler in India. There weren’t many tourists, and few foreigners. There were hardly any Indians in McLeod Ganj. There were basically only Bodpa. Dharamsala was quiet and lush. There were only a few hotels. Foreigners stayed at Hotel Kailash. It’s still there today, but now McLeod Ganj is full of hotels with all the amenities. It’s not like in the old days. Before there were only five buses into Dharamsala every day, and you never saw a private car. Maybe at most the office of the Dalai Lama had a car. If I hadn’t been there in the 1970s and only visited Dharamsala today, I could never have imagined how idyllic and peaceful it used to be. So as soon as I got to Dharamsala, wow! This place is great! The Bodpa are wonderful! It’s then, I realized, that my curiosity about the history and people of Tibet really blossomed.

 

Elliot_dharamsala_1970s

Photos taken by Elliot Sperling on his first visits to Dharamsala. View more at https://moonpeak.org/2011/04/01/photo-exhibition-mcleodganj-in-the-70s-by-elliot-sperling/

 

Back then, I knew a little about India’s long history, and about China’s long history. But Tibet was a big question without an answer: Where did they come from? What was their history? I knew nothing. I started reading and talking to people…

After that I came back to the US and decided to specialize in Tibet studies. Queens College didn’t have Tibet studies, but they did have East Asian studies. At the time East Asian studies really meant China studies. They didn’t even offer anything on Japan. My first Chinese teacher is still alive and well. He’s at least 90 now, living in New York. I just visited him about a month ago. I started in China studies. I took two years of Mandarin and one year of classical Chinese. I also took the electives Eastern thought, Chinese philosophy, East Asian economics, history, and so on.

Back then you couldn’t go to the mainland. China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. Nixon had visited, but US-China relations hadn’t been normalized yet. Maybe the US had an office in China, but not an embassy. After I graduated, I decided to go to Taiwan to improve my Chinese. Before I got to Taiwan, I visited India and Dharamsala. I stayed in Taiwan for about a year-and-a-half, then went to India and studied Tibetan there. It was at McLeod Ganj that I got to know Jamyang Norbu.[ii]

I also wanted to earn my Masters and my Ph.D. I already knew that religion interested me, but not in an academic way. I wouldn’t be a Buddhist, and I wouldn’t be a scholar of Buddhism. The first time I went to India, I realized I wouldn’t become a Buddhist. I know that some people think they believe in Buddha or something, but I wouldn’t dare say that myself. Belief involves a religious experience, an experience in your heart, but I understand religion with my mind. The two aren’t the same. Instead, I’m really interested in Tibetan history, society and culture. Where could you pursue advanced study of Tibet in the US at that time?  There were only two places to study Tibet history: the University of Washington, in Seattle; and Indiana University. In the end I chose Indiana.

Tang: The Dalai Lama’s oldest brother, Taktser Rinpoche, is a professor at Indiana. Were you his student? Could you talk a little about him?

Sperling: We had several teachers at Indiana, including Taktser Rinpoche, whose full name is Thubten Jigme Norbu[iii]. Professor Norbu was an extraordinary person, a very good person. A lot of students wanted to take his classes just so they could brag, “Oh, I’m Thubten Jigme Norbu’s student.” Some of them didn’t work hard and had nothing to show for it. Thubten Jigme Norbu didn’t bother with them. He simply said that if you took a class with him and want to work hard, he will do everything he can to help you. If a student wanted to read more Tibetan sources, no matter how many, or wanted to learn Mandarin, he would put his heart and soul into you. This is why I had Taktser Rinpoche as one of my two advisors.[iv]

Elliot_4_with teacher Rinpoche

Sperling with his advisor, Taktser Rinpoche at Indiana University. Photo: Woeser.

Four-and-a-half years later I had passed my exams, but hadn’t started writing my dissertation. When I embarked on my research, I thought I ought to go back to India. I spent over a year at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. I had a good friend, Kun’bzang Phun’tshogs, who didn’t have very good English but who did have excellent Chinese, since he had been at the Central Ethnic University (中央民族学院) in Beijing in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time it was extremely rare to find a Tibetan who could speak Chinese in Dharamsala. There must have only been three or four of them at most. And I’d all but forgotten my Tibetan. So he and I spoke to each other in Chinese. At McLeod Ganj I saw Jamyang Norbu again, and we became good friends. We’re friends to this day.

Tang: What was your research project then? What was the main focus of your work?

Sperling: My dissertation was about China-Tibet relations during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). I wanted to learn when China-Tibet relations had started, as well as the nature and substance of this relationship.

I knew that Tibet was on Manchu Qing maps, and on Mongol Yuan maps, too. But the more I read the more I realized that this relationship wasn’t at all like what the Chinese government claimed. It’s apparently very difficult to explain this to Chinese people. Chinese people today think that everything belongs to them, in large part because of the new historical viewpoint in China. But we believe that the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) was part of the Mongol empire, and the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) the Manchu Qing empire. We consider these two to be “conquest states.” If Tibet is really a part of “China,” then we should have a look at the Ming. The Ming was not a conquest state. The Ming attitude toward the Mongols is also really interesting. They didn’t consider the Mongols to be a “brother nationality” at all.

As I continued my research, I found that Ming dynasty China-Tibet relations were basically that they didn’t have relations. The Chinese think the Ming was the heir to the Yuan, a changing of the guard; but Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan, they did not consider themselves the emperors of China. They considered themselves emperors of the world. How can you simply say that the Ming were the inheritors of the Yuan?

When I was at Indiana I did some research of Chinese and Tibetan sources from the Ming era. My masters thesis was about the Fifth Karmapa [Lama] (1384-1415), who received an invitation from the Yongle Emperor to visit Nanjing. I read the biography of the fifth Gyalwa Karmapa in Tibetan, as well as Chinese texts, and nowhere did I find evidence that China controlled Tibet. I didn’t find any primary texts about Ming control of Tibet. There were none. I didn’t find any in a year at the archives in Dharamsala, either. The interesting thing is that I looked at how Republican China dealt with this, and found that no one at that time was saying that Tibet was a part of China since the Ming. At best they would say “Tibet was brought within China’s border during the Qing.” Now China says Tibet was a part of China during the Ming. It’s nonsense.

Then I came back to the US and took about two years to finish my dissertation. It was about China-Tibet relations during the Ming, titled Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet.[v] My conclusion was: they didn’t have any. During the Ming, Tibet was divided by competing regimes among the Tibetans, and continued that way until the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). But this had nothing to do with Ming policy; this was internal to Tibet. The Ming emperor’s interactions with Tibet were religious at most, about benefactors and lamas.[vi]

I focused on history. I published “The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics,”[vii] and several articles in academic journals, such as “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.”[viii] I’ve also written articles [for a general readership]. Some have been translated into Chinese, including “Incivilities,” “The Body Count,” and others.

 

Elliot Lhasa, 1985

Elliot Sperling in Lhasa in 1985. Photo: Woeser.

 

Tang: As the Chinese government describes it, China has had sovereignty over Tibet since the Yuan dynasty. Chinese people today also see the Manchu Qing dynasty as a Chinese regime, and insist on China’s rule over Tibet by dint of Qing political control there. From a scholarly perspective, how do you view this question? How do Western scholars see it generally?

Sperling: In the common view of Western historians, there was a Great Mongol Empire and a Great Manchu Qing Empire. The Mongols considered both Tibet and China as part of the Great Mongol Empire. China says that Tibet became part of China during the Yuan dynasty, but if you ask Chinese scholars “when during the Yuan dynasty?” each will give you a different answer, because there is no one document, including any imperial edict, that proves that “Tibet belongs to China.” There is none. Tibetan sources are full of evidence that Tibet belonged to the Mongols, but not one document shows they belonged to China. What they showed allegiance to was the Mongol empire. Since the Mongols already controlled Tibet, why would they put Tibet inside the border of “China”? There’s no good explanation for it. So I wrote an article about when Tibet started “belonging” to China.[ix] According to my research, my view is this: the historical record proves that it is incorrect to say that “Tibet came within China’s borders during the Yuan dynasty. It is illogical to say so, and the reasons for my argument are clear.

The Manchu Qing was also a conquest dynasty. The Great Manchu Qing Empire was not at all the same thing as China. China was merely a part of the Great Manchu Qing Empire. The Manchu Qing, through to its final days, used the terminology of imperialism and colonialism in its Tibet policy. For example, at the turn of the 20th century the Manchu Qing official Zhao Erfeng (趙爾豐) proposed that they ought to deal with Tibet the way that Britain dealt with Australia, France with Vietnam, and the US with the Philippines. This language in and of itself proves that it was 100 percent colonialism. These materials from Zhao Erfeng are all in Chinese. You can see from books published in the mainland. Chinese scholars can see immediately that this is an imperialist, colonialist way of thought. Today people think of “empire” as a bad thing, but in Zhao Erfeng’s time “empire” wasn’t a pejorative. All it meant was “we conquered you, you lost to us, and now you must submit to us.” Back then “empire” signified greatness. So there was no need for acrobatics, like “we are a great Chinese nation” or “we’re one big family.”

At the turn of the 20th century, the British and French sailed on the Pacific to China. The Manchu Qing officials they met along the coast had already become Sinicized, and everywhere they saw “Great Qing” written in Chinese, so foreigners didn’t understand the difference between the “Manchu Qing” and “China.” But in Inner Asia,  the Great Manchu Qing Empire was what it was. The Russians for example knew the difference between the Great Manchu Qing Empire and China. Since the Manchu Qing managed relations with Russia as well as with Mongolia and Tibet under the same ministry, the Ministry of Minority Affairs (理藩院), you can tell that it was an imperial mechanism. But the British and the French didn’t get it. They refer to the “Chinese Empire” in their official correspondence and treaties and so on, and the Manchu Qing emperor approved of this formulation.

But the Manchu Qing Empire was not China. This is indisputable among Western academics. Many scholars outside of China, including some Sinologists, call their studies the “New Qing Studies” (新清史). Fundamental to “New Qing Studies” is the recognition that the “Qing dynasty” was an “empire,” the Manchu Qing Empire. But the scholarly community in China is unwilling to accept this point. This is a denial of history; it is a false history.

 

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THE RUINS OF THE GANDEN MONASTERY. PHOTO BY SPERLING. Photo: Woeser.

 

Tang: Have you discussed the issue of Tibet and the Manchu Qing with Tibet scholars in China? What do you think are the differences between the Chinese and Western approaches to historiography?

Sperling: Because of current ideology, Chinese scholars not only cannot say that “the Manchu Qing is not the same as China,” but also must say that “China has been a multi-ethnic, unified country since ancient times,” that “they are all the Chinese nation,” etc. About four years ago, China went back to a theory from the 1980s, that is Tan Qixiang’s (譚其驤) theory. Tan compiled the Historical Atlas of China, and is perhaps viewed by officials as the greatest authority on Chinese historical geography. He wrote a paper on China’s historical territory arguing that China’s historical map ought to be based on that of the Qing dynasty at the height of its reign.[x] What this means is taking the map of the eighteenth-century Manchu Qing’s greatest territory to be “China since ancient times.”

Now if that’s so, shouldn’t Britain also be able to claim India, Australia and so on as its own? Western scholars generally acknowledge that historical territory changed, that it was once this way and is now that way. But not China. They count the Qing dynasty’s largest territory as theirs since time immemorial. As for when Tibet became part of Chinese territory, Tan Qixiang said, “Tibet has been China’s ever since there was human activity on the Tibetan Plateau.” He also had an explanation for the facts that Tibet didn’t belong to Yuan China and that instead they pledged allegiance to the Mongol Empire. The gist of his argument was: we shouldn’t speak of dynasties, for example that the Tang dynasty didn’t control Tibet. Instead, we should say that Tibet and the Tang are both China’s! We should say that the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Tang and Tibet, the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the Jin, the Liao… all belong to China! So he already warped the conventional conception of history. What a joke! Not one scholar outside of China would agree with this. I have never encountered this stance in the English-speaking world. But China pushes this stance, this bravado, this narcissism. I refuted this theory.

Furthermore, Western scholars don’t think ethnic identity is fixed. It can also change. For instance, what is the nationality of the French? The same goes for Americans. Since national identity is a product of history, it is also a product of human beings. We’re in Central Park right now. I see the people around us—people with different skin colors, of different races—as American. This is the American identity created by history and by people. But if you were to say that Asian people who arrived in America 200 years ago were also American, no one would agree. But China created the new identity of the one “Chinese nation” out of current political exigency, then stuck the historical background onto the Chinese nation. That’s a distortion of history. In Chinese academic circles, if you doubt the official position on the national identity of the Tibetans, you have separated yourself from the concept of the “Chinese nation,” and that’s a serious problem. When I was in China in 2001 a rather prominent Chinese scholar said, “Foreigners can say that, but not us. We don’t accept it.” Chinese academics are relatively progressive and open in other fields, like comparative literature and philosophy. They can have all kinds of theoretical debates. But not so in Tibet studies. You cannot argue about Tibet’s historical status. Because it is extremely sensitive, you aren’t allowed to have a theoretical debate. I have yet to meet a Chinese scholar who publicly denies the identity of the “Chinese nation.”

Elliot_05_With Ngaphod 1991_阿沛

Sperling and Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme shaking hands in Beijing, 1991. Photo: Woeser.

There have been great achievements in Tibet studies in China, and some really good scholars. But if you’re talking about the Tibet issue, they’ll go on about “restoring the great Chinese family” and such. If you’re talking about national identity, or historical identity, the Chinese have all kinds of untruths. It’s the same as it was in the 1950s. Yet this 50s scholarship still hasn’t decided on a pretext for [its version of] Tibetan history. There were also people in the 50s who said that Tibet became Chinese territory during the Tang dynasty, that Tibet has been a part of China ever since Princess Wencheng (文成公主) was married off to Songtsen Gampo. Of course Chinese scholars in the 1950s didn’t have much knowledge, and they didn’t really understand the Tibetan language. The argument that “Tibet became Chinese territory under the Yuan dynasty” came later. When I was in China last year there were still scholars saying that Tibet became a part of China under the Qing.

In 2011 I went to China to participate in a closed door meeting about “the Tibet issue and the image of the Dalai Lama.” You may have seen my lecture “Talking about the Tibet issue with Beijing.” When I was done there was a lot of excitement. They said, “We agree with some of Sperling’s points, but not this, not that… I thought about what they said. Yeah, maybe they agreed when I said, “Hi! I’m Elliot Sperling,” and “Thank you for inviting me to participate in this conference.” They may have agreed with me on those points. Otherwise, I don’t think we agreed on anything else. They asked me questions for two hours, but they weren’t real, challenging questions. In fact, you could say it was a struggle session. For instance, someone said, “I don’t accept your comparison of the Dalai Lama with Gandhi.” It was all questions like that.

China does, of course, have some really brilliant scholars. The Tibetan and Chinese sources I’ve mastered, they’ve read them, too. Obviously the books I’ve written about Zhao Erfeng and Tibetan historical geography can’t be openly published in China, but I know they’ve been translated for internal use by officials. They’ve definitely read them. But I’ve never seen anyone address or refute my position in academic journals.

I’ve also talked about Said’s Orientalism. In principle, Said’s theory of Orientalism is useful for China, since mainland scholars like to use “Orientalism” to counter Western criticism, to cast Western criticism of China as Orientalist. Said’s book Orientalism is published in China. Mainland Chinese academics also use Donald Lopez’s Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West to chastise Western scholars for their “Shangri-La-ist” view of the Tibet problem. But Prisoners of Shangri-La can’t be published publicly in China. It’s also only circulated internally. Why? Because in his book, Lopez also criticizes China for what he sees as ruthless domination of Tibet.

Autocracies don’t tolerate dissenting opinions. They use the police and the courts to control dissent. Scholars within China’s [party-state] system can’t just speak on the Tibet issue whenever they like. It’s too sensitive. Different voices—Ilham Tohti, Tsering Woeser, Wang Lixiong and other dissident scholars and writers—could topple the great tower of rewritten history and historical theory that China has built.

Tang: You studied Chinese in Taiwan. Have you had any connections with Taiwanese scholars of Tibet? How do they see the issue of Tibet’s status?

Elliot_06_Elliot and students meeting with Dalai Lama

Sperling and Indiana faculty and students greet the Dalai Lama.

Sperling: I haven’t been to Taiwan in over 20 years. My impression is that there are some Tibet scholars there whose Tibetan is fairly good, but they’re mostly focused on religious studies. The people studying Tibetan history and the Tibet issue mainly use Chinese sources. I was in Taiwan in the 1980s, when the country was still under the authoritarian rule of the Kuomintang. The KMT’s view of the Tibet problem is the same as the CCP’s. The KMT has different policies and handles Tibet differently, but in terms of Tibet’s historical status, they are in agreement with the CCP. Taiwanese history books generally say, “Tibet became Chinese territory during the Qing dynasty.” This is the official KMT line. They still want Tibet to be “a part of China.” The KMT still has a Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission.[xi] They still haven’t gotten rid of it, because they need it as evidence of “one China.” If they dissolved the commission and then Tibet wanted independence, it would no longer be Taiwan’s concern. I think the mainland doesn’t want the commission to be dissolved either, lest Taiwan take one step closer toward independence. The mainland used to call Chiang Kai-shek “Chiang the Bandit,” but now they praise him. The mainland government would rather the KMT keep its policy of “unification.”

Tang: Could you talk about any work you’ve done with the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala? Did the government restrict your research, or offer you support.

Sperling: I also disagree on some points with the government-in-exile. They say that the Manchu Qing didn’t control Tibet, the Mongolians didn’t control Tibet, that these were simply “priest-patron” relationships. This priest-patron relationship I’ll admit, but what exactly is it? These days a lot of Tibetans says that the emperor found Buddhism was a wonderful way to cultivate the mind and the spirit, as if the emperor were just a normal person studying Buddhism. Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. The emperor understood how to use Buddhism for control, for warfare, how to use the “gods” to defeat the enemy. It’s from this angle that I studied how the emperor observed Buddhism. During the Mongol Yuan, Kublai Khan had the same interest in Buddhism, a conqueror’s interest. Of course he thought he could use Buddhism as a means of subjugation. Besides, Buddhism had already spread to the nations under his occupation. I began to research the Western Xia (1038 – 1227) because the Mongols had learned from experience. Before the Tanguts were destroyed, lamas from Tibet came to the Western Xia capital. Tibetan documents record their activities, and I’ve read these sources. The emperor asked the lamas to perform a Mahākāla (Daheitian) kalpa (ritual), to use Mahākāla to resist the Mongol invaders. And it worked: after the kalpa the Tanguts defeated the Mongols in their first battle. This is recorded in both Tibetan and Chinese documents, and the Tibetan ones are more detailed. I’ve written about this in articles on the origins of Sino-Tibetan relations.

Elliot_06_with 嘉央诺布 and others

Sperling with Jamyang Norbu (right), Li Kexian, and a colleague in Dharamsala. Photo: Woeser.

I’ve also contributed to the website Rangzen Alliance, like my article “Incivility.” These aren’t academic papers; they’re “good citizen” articles. A good citizen should have a critical eye towards society. I’ve criticized both the government-in-exile and the CCP, but the consequences haven’t been the same. If I go to Dharamsala and criticize the government-in-exile, no one will be hurt or killed. There’s no comparing the Tibetan government and the Chinese government. They’re completely different. But there are aspects of the Tibetan government-in-exile that need to be criticized. There are also Tibetans who say, “Why is he always criticizing the government-in-exile? Why doesn’t he call out the Chinese government?” Actually, I criticize them both, but the way I criticize each one is different. Also, the government-in-exile can’t restrict me in any way. It’s a government-in-exile. It has no sovereignty in India, so it can’t limit me. As soon as I get to Dharamsala I can use the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, as well as the Amnye Machen Institute, an advanced research institute. It’s private, non-governmental. The government has never given me any trouble in Dharamsala; I’ve also lectured there and in the Delhi Tibetan exile community. The government-in-exile never restricted me. As long as someone had invited me to speak, I could do it. Two or three years ago, I went to lecture at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, it was fun: when the library director introduced me, he said, “Last time he slammed us, he really slammed us! Hahaha.”

I’ve also criticized the Dalai Lama. There are some Tibetans who aren’t happy about this. I think if I were a Tibetan exile, this would pose a bit of a problem, but in the eyes of Tibetan exiles I’m a foreign scholar. There really are some Tibetans who don’t like me. But they don’t hinder me — it’s not like the Chinese government not letting me into the country. They’ve never kept me from visiting Dharamsala. They know I won’t live there permanently. After a few weeks or a month or two I’ll come back to America. I can’t say I’m a “veteran” foreigner in Dharamsala, but there are very few foreigners who have maintained ties with the government-in-exile from the 1970s to today. I guess I’m one of them. Anyway, they are happy when I criticize the Chinese government, but they aren’t when I criticize the government-in-exile. That’s about how it goes, heh heh. I call things as I see them, but a lot of people don’t like that. They think: well, you could be a little more diplomatic, a little more polite; you could change your wording here, correct that there. But keep doing this, you won’t even know what you believe anymore.

 

Elliot and Woeser, july 2012

Sperling with Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser in Beijing in July, 2012. Photo: Woeser.

 

Tang: What’s your take on the “middle way” policy?

Sperling: The Dalai Lama is a great man, but in the end he is only human, who can make mistakes in his judgement like anyone else. In terms of the “middle way,” I really think he’s wrong. It’s just that a lot of people aren’t willing to come out and say so. I think because of the “middle way” policy, a lot of Tibetans in exile have given up hope. They won’t admit this hopelessness to anyone, so they have given up resisting and sought personal happiness. They think of ways to get an American green card, they think of ways to immigrate to Western countries. A lot of exiles are like this now. They say, “China is now the fantasy-China of the leaders in exile, the Tibet of the future is the fantasy-Tibet of the leaders in exile.” That is, a free Tibet cannot exist under communist rule that respects no human rights. They all know this, and I think that the exile leaders, in their heart of hearts, know this, too. The fight for a free Tibet is a just one, but now the exile leaders are making it pathetic.

Tang: Since 2008, a lot of overseas Chinese people have supported the “middle way.” What do you think about this?

Sperling: I think the factor that makes many Chinese support the “middle way” is the same one that makes the Bodpa support the “middle way.” It’s because the “middle way” is the Dalai Lama’s idea. In China a lot of people know who the Dalai Lama is. Although politically China condemns him, many people still view him as a “living Buddha.” I don’t like this title of “living Buddha”— there are a lot of Chinese people of blind faith. They say the Dalai Lama stands for the “middle way,” so they stand for the “middle way.” But they haven’t considered how illogical the “middle way” is. If they really thought about it, they ought to  realize that the “middle way” can’t happen in China. It just can’t. The Chinese authorities really want the Dalai Lama to keep faith in the fanciful, hopeless, impossible “middle way.” They’re happy to see the Dalai Lama go on and on about the “middle way” with the international community, with people on all sides, because to them this is the ideal way for the Dalai Lama to waste time. They’re just waiting for him to die. Even though there are a few naive Chinese people who support the “middle way,” they aren’t the vast majority of Chinese. The vast majority of Chinese don’t think about the Tibet issue at all. There are some overseas Chinese who support the “middle way” not with regard to the Tibetans inside China, but to the Dalai Lama. They’re just like some of the Tibetans outside of China and some foreigners. What they support is not Tibet, but the Dalai Lama, they echo the Dalai Lama. They’re willing to see him as a god. And there are some people who support the Dalai Lama for their own kind of vanity. They use the Dalai Lama’s name to make themselves look good. These people aren’t just among overseas Chinese. There are Westerners like this, and leaders of the government-in-exile, too. They want to use the Dalai Lama’s name, so of course they “support” him. So it’s a sad situation.

The Dalai Lama and some Tibetans in exile say, “We have a lot of friends in China. The Chinese understand our position more and more.” I think this is completely wrong. Some people ask me, “What do the Chinese think about the Tibet issue?”I tell them that the average Chinese person doesn’t even think about the Tibet issue. It doesn’t cross their minds. But if something happens in Tibet, they just listen to what the government tells them. They say, “Didn’t we liberate Tibet? Then why are they betraying us? Why aren’t they grateful?” There are also plenty of people who will add, “The Tibetans are backward and savage. They haven’t developed.” The average Chinese person will only get angry at the government if the government’s interests conflict with their own. They have no civic awareness. If it doesn’t concern them, they don’t think about it, or else they’re afraid to get involved. They won’t think, “Why are there all these clashes between ethnic minorities and the government? Maybe these minorities have a point? In 2008, a lot of Bodpa had this experience in China: some Tibetans in Beijing faced all kinds of insults. Beijing cabbies would refuse to pick them up as soon as they saw they were Tibetan, and would even curse at them. There were hotels that wouldn’t let them in and told them “you aren’t worthy of the kindness the Party and the country has shown you.” Ordinary Chinese know in their hearts that it’s an authoritarian regime, but they refuse to listen, they refuse to think. It’s the same situation in Xinjiang. It’s the same for the Uighurs.

Tang: Whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares up, there’s a big reaction from the international community, and sharp criticism of Israel. But it seems like there isn’t strong condemnation of China’s Tibet and Xinjiang policies. Do you think that’s so?

Sperling: Yes, it’s not that strong. I think at least it’s for this reason, that when the Dalai Lama says “we seek autonomy, not independence,” Westerners get confused and lose the direction or focus of their support.

Tang: There is a popular view among Chinese dissidents: they believe the Tibet issue has to do with the Communist Party, with human rights. Without democracy in China, Tibet can’t be free; but if China democratizes, the human rights issue would disappear, and Tibet would have no need of independence. What do you think of this?

Sperling: I think it’s still a “Great China” way of thinking. If the Tibet issue is “between the CCP and Tibet,” then how come the 13th Dalai Lama didn’t recognize Tibet as a part of the Republic of China? He fundamentally rejected the notion of Tibet being a part of China. The Tibet issue was influenced by the CCP later on, but at its root it’s not about the Party, it’s a “Great China” problem, a problem between China and Tibet. After the destruction of the Manchu Qing, the revolutionary party and the republic wanted to maintain the empire. They just changed the words they used: “We’re not an empire, we’re a multi-ethnic country.” This is Chinese chauvinism, the idea that the “Middle Kingdom” controls “all under heaven.”

Also, by emphasizing that the Tibet issue is a “CCP vs. Tibet issue,” doesn’t that upset the Dalai Lama? The Dalai Lama often says that he’s a Marxist and that he likes communism. So it’s contradictory for the Tibet issue to be an issue “with the CCP.” On the other hand, the Dalai Lama doesn’t really understand Marxism. When you hear him talk about it, it sounds like some kind of Christian movement that helps the people and so on. He doesn’t understand the Marxist view of history, he doesn’t understand dictatorship, class struggle — this is all Marxist theory. Of course, Marxism differs from Maoism. Marx’s theories are really interesting, but there are huge problems putting them into practice. All of the administrative systems in the world that call themselves Marxist are authoritarian, and none have any regard for human rights. Now the Dalai Lama says he’s not against Marxism. Even Lopsang Sangay has said that he doesn’t oppose communism or communist rule. If you’re not opposed to communist rule, does that mean you accept limits on human rights? Communism is not communism if it doesn’t strip human rights.

Tang:  Do you think China’s denial of Tibet’s sovereignty is related to natural resources in Tibet and East Turkestan?

Sperling: I think at first it’s because of their view of history. The Chinese didn’t think about the issue of natural resources during the Xinhai Revolution [in 1911]. They just thought that they belonged to China. Even though they often said that “China was a semi-colony” etc. etc., they themselves fought for the largest colonial boundaries. India wasn’t a semi-colony, it was an actual colony. But they recognize their own history and acknowledge the changes to India’s historical borders. China’s colonial “wounds” were inflicted by other countries controlling Chinese territory, like the British in Hong Kong and Japan’s occupation of Manchuria. So China wants to recover all of its imperial territory!

 

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Sperling befriended Ilham Tohti in Beijing in 2012. Photo: Woeser.

 

Tang: I knew of you before as a Tibetologist and Sinologist. Recently, I learned that you’ve put a lot of effort into trying to rescue Uighur professor Ilham Tohti. Then, have you also done research on the “Xinjiang problem”? Could you introduce the work you’ve done on Xinjiang?

Sperling: I’m interested in China’s policies towards nationalities and the situation of ethnic minorities, but I’m not an expert on the Xinjiang issue. Ilham Tohti is a very important person. Look at Ilham’s website, “Uighur Online.”[xii] A lot of information about the Uighurs and Xinjiang was there. I first noticed him in 2009. Public Security had him and no one knew where he was being held, so I signed an open letter calling for Ilham’s release. But I didn’t meet him face-to-face until 2012. It was a truly happy occasion, and we became friends. I invited him to the US, to come to Indiana University as a visiting scholar in 2013-2014, for one year. But, as everyone knows, he was stopped at the airport and wasn’t allowed to leave the country. He’d already been under house arrest several times. He was detained this January [2014]. From that point until now, only his lawyer has seen him, and only once.[xiii] He’s in a terrible situation. They’re rough on him. Of course I’m worried about how they’re treating him. Ilham and I have talked a lot. I know he doesn’t support East Turkestan independence. Besides, he writes in Chinese. His Uighur is excellent, but he writes in Chinese. He wants his website and his writing to help Han people in China understand what’s happening in Xinjiang and what the Chinese government is doing there. He wants dialogue. It’s just like Wang Lixiong said: among Uighur intellectuals, Ilham is probably one of the few who doesn’t support East Turkestan independence. He wants dialogue, but have you seen how the Chinese government treats him? They say he’s a separatist, that he praises terrorist activities, and on and on. If this is how they treat someone who’s willing to have dialogue and compromise, then there’s no hope for the Uighurs.

Tang: Even though you’re not a Xinjiang expert, I still want to ask: what’s your general sense of China’s claim that “Xinjiang has been a part of China since ancient times”?

Sperling: First, this is how I see it: since 1949, so much blood has been shed in Tibet and Xinjiang. They’ve been under such brutal rule. Having gone through this, they should decide their future for themselves.

When people ask me if I think Tibet should be independent, I say, “It’s not for me to decide. It’s for the Tibetans to decide.” Of course I still imagine that if Tibet did gain independence, my greatest wish would be for Tibet and China to be equal, to have friendly relations. I hope they would both be democratic countries. And I hope that Chinese people would continue to go to Tibet, not of course to control their economy, but to travel, to study Buddhism, to help Tibet develop. I hope that Bodpa would go to China, too. I hope the Nationalities University would continue to exist. That the two countries would have a relationship of mutual benefit, and that they would both have seats at the United Nations. I don’t want hatred to linger between them. This is my sincere hope. I believe the future of Tibet should be decided by the right of national self-determination. Tibetan history is a great tragedy. Just based on this alone, the Tibetan people have the right to decide what kind of future they want.

Xinjiang is the same. They’ve been under the same kind of brutal rule. These people must freely express their own will. Without the pressure of an authoritarian system on them, they ought to speak freely. It’s their right. As for saying that Xinjiang is historically a part of China, obviously that’s twisting history. China says that artifacts from the Han dynasty have been found in Xinjiang, which proves that Xinjiang belongs to China. But you can find anything on any kilometer along the Silk Road. They’ve also found ancient Chinese coins in Rome. Does that mean that Europe belongs to China? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s the same as China declaring its right to the South China Sea, but in Xinjiang they’re even crazier. Over the past few centuries, Xinjiang has been most closely tied to Central Asia historically, culturally and politically. They didn’t have any connection with China. The Central Asian peoples were made a part of Czarist Russia, then the Soviet Union, and now, they’re no longer within Russia’s borders. Xinjiang’s history is complicated. You can’t say it’s belonged to China since ancient times. That’s Tan Qixiang’s “historical method.” History is always changing. The map we see today isn’t necessarily what it will be 100 years from now.

China labels the peoples of the territories as Chinese “ethnic minorities” just because China ruled over them for a few years or a few decades in the past. But this identity of “ethnic minority” is really problematic. “Ethnic minorities” were created by China alone. It’s not a natural classification. What is an “ethnic minority”? What are their characteristics? In fact, each group is different from the other. But if you look at sources from the 1980s about “ethnic minorities,” all they say is that they’re “good at song and dance” and are “colorful.” Besides this, for example the Tibetans, the Zhuang, the Yi, what connects them? What common features do they share? Language, culture, history? They have nothing in common.

According to the historical and cultural background of the Uighurs, they should be considered Central Asian. China has labeled them East Asian according to their modern history, but from a historical perspective, the Uighurs belong to the Central Asian cultural sphere. When Chinese officials describe the age of a Tibetan mural, or when a temple was built, or any other historical artifact, they don’t use the Gregorian calendar. They use the Chinese calendar system instead: this dates to the Tang dynasty, that to the Song, etc. They do the same in Xinjiang. We know that the native peoples of Xinjiang, their ancestors were Indo-European, Central Asian, and Turkic. They don’t consider themselves to be Chinese. Their languages are Indo-European and Turkic. But China’s logic is this: from the moment a Han Chinese person set foot in a place, it became a part of China. China argues the same point for its claims in the South China Sea. As long as Zheng He crossed that point, it belongs to China. This is bound to create conflict with other countries, and these conflicts have no logical basis.

 

Cérémonie de la remise du prix Martin Ennals 2016 à Uni-Dufour.

Sperling accompanied Jewher Ilham to receive the Martin Ennals Award on behalf of Ilham Tohti from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva in October, 2016. Photo: MEA

 

Tang: Some people compare the Tibet issue and the Xinjiang issue to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What do you make of that?

Sperling: There are those who say these conflicts are the same, but they really aren’t. Perhaps you could say a similarity exists: there are Westerners who support Tibet, but they don’t really understand the many aspects of the Tibet issue. It’s the same for the Middle East. A lot of people say they support Palestine, or that they support Israel, but they don’t arrive at these opinions based on nuanced understanding of the issue.

The problems in the Middle East are quite complicated. The Muslim world also has a tradition of anti-Semitism, though certainly not everyone is like that. In the past, many Muslims societies didn’t recognize the individual, only the ethnicity or the group. Certainly, Jews were persecuted. It was the same in the West. In history, Jews frequently faced pogroms and exile. In medieval Germany, there was an attitude that “the Jews want to get rich, so we must kill them. We can’t let them flourish.” I’m not saying that we should excuse Israel’s current policies. I’m not fond of Netanyahu, and I don’t agree with Likud’s policies. What I mean is, there are anti-Semitic forces in the Arab world, and the Palestine-Israel conflict isn’t one-sided. I must say that I oppose Israeli settlement on the West Bank of the Jordan. I also believe that Israel can engage [Mahmoud] Abbas in dialogue. He’s made a lot of compromises. In this respect he’s better than Arafat. But he hasn’t gotten the chance. This is a big mistake on Israel’s part.

But there are people who don’t consider the complexity of the issue, fantasizing Hamas. For instance, in Gaza, eight months after Israel withdrew—the borders hadn’t been closed—Hamas launched an attack on Israel from Gaza. No one seems to have noticed. But when Israel attacked Hamas, then everyone took notice. This explains the psychological element of why many people in the outside world support Tibet or Palestine. It’s about people and culture, but they’ve forgotten about the nature of the conflict. And I must emphasize, when I say this, it is not to excuse Israel. It’s similar to the Tibet problem. There are those who really don’t understand the complexity of the issue. Like when I criticize the Dalai Lama or the government-in-exile, they tell me, “You’re against Tibet, you’re against the Dalai Lama.” The truth is, our world is full of complexity.

The Palestine-Israel conflict is a real tragedy. The Jews and the Palestinians both have the right to build a state. Some aspects of the Tibet and Xinjiang problems are completely different from the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Han people aren’t fighting to exist. The Palestine-Israel conflict, by contrast, touches on the existence of two peoples. Of course they should both work to come to terms with each other, and both should admit the mistakes made on their side.

Elliot_Tang & Elliot in NYC

Ms. Tang and Sperling at the cafe where this interview took place in July, 2014. 

Now people generally find and accept simple viewpoints that they see on Facebook or Twitter, and they treat the Palestine-Israel conflict or the Tibet and Xinjiang issues simplistically, too. There are people who say, “All Uighurs are terrorists.” First of all, while we must acknowledge that there have been terrorist activities, that’s doesn’t mean that their struggle for freedom is a terrorist movement; second of all, the fact that some people used terrorist tactics doesn’t justify China’s suppression, just as terrorist activity among some Palestinians doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and Likud are right. And another thing. In Israeli society, there are people who oppose Netanyahu and Likud’s Palestine policies. They can protest and hold demonstrations. There are soldiers who oppose occupation and refuse to serve in the West Bank or in Gaza. Could any of that happen in China? But if you ask most Westerners, “Whose predicament is the worst, the Palestinians’, the Tibetans’ or the Uighurs’?” They’ll say the Palestinians’.

The Jews still face problems in the Western and Muslim worlds. For a lot of people who are anti-Israel—I’m not saying they themselves are anti-Semitic—their view on Israel is anti-Semitic. Recently I’ve seen a lot of anti-Israeli writing that actually says “kill all the Jews.” But look at what the Russians are doing in Ukraine right now. Is anyone saying to “kill all the Russians”? They reserve this language for Israel. They say it’s a Jewish problem. This clearly proves that anti-Semitism still exists in Europe. These people don’t admit that they’re anti-Semitic, but they don’t realize what their words represent. They’ve been influenced by a certain type of thinking in which Jews are especially bad. Of course, if you ask them directly if that’s what they believe, they’ll deny it. Before, they could express these ideas publicly because there was a social basis for anti-Semitism, and they didn’t have to hide their sentiment. Today, while they won’t admit it, they really have been influenced by anti-Semitism.

As I said, I dislike Said’s Orientalism. I think it’s simplistic. It makes sweeping generalizations about Westerners: Westerners are like this, so inevitably they are prejudiced, and elitist, too;  they had to press imperialism on the “Orientals,” and it couldn’t have been otherwise; Western literature and art have all been influenced by this elitism, etc. etc. This is ideological, just like the CCP talking about “proletariat thought and proletariat morals,” the idea that every member of the proletariat is exactly the same.

What’s interesting is that Said isn’t willing to say who among those who are anti-Israel have been influenced by the Muslim world, and in which respects. Discrimination against Jews wasn’t all that bad in the Muslim world, even though there were some wealthy Jews, just like there were wealthy Jews in Europe. There are good people in the Muslim world, but there is also discrimination against Jews. I’m not at all saying that if a society is prejudiced, then every non-Jew oppresses every Jew; just as in the American South not every white person is prejudiced and violent against non-whites. There are also black people who have done well there, just like in the North. But they still live in a cruel, prejudiced society. So the situation isn’t simple. Said isn’t willing to apply this method of analysis to the Muslim attitude toward the Jews. There are those who say the Jews forced the Palestinians from their villages — that’s true. On some occasions it was because there was war, on others there was no good reason. It’s complicated; but the first expulsion happened in 1929 in Hebron. It was the Arabs expelling the Jews. They killed a lot of Jews, then forced them all out. Nobody talks about that. I’m not saying that we should excuse Israel’s policies, but Jews do have rights. This is also something they should consider.

Elliot_08_in 耶路撒冷_2012

Jerusalem, 2012. Photo: Woeser.

What I mean is that the situation is incredibly complex, but people only want to see one simple side of it. Before 1967 Americans thought of Israel as good and Arabs as bad. Now it’s been reversed. People like to simplify problems. When I try to explain the complexity of these issues, people tell me, “Oh, you support Netanyahu.” In India there are Tibetans who tell me, “Oh, you support the CCP. You criticize us instead of them.” There are also people who say, “Sperling always gets a visa to China. He’s definitely a secret agent for the CCP!” It’s like one crazy person saying “Woeser hasn’t been detained? Then she’s got to be a secret agent.” Before he was caught, people said that about Ilham Tohti, too. Now that I’ve been refused entry into China, I wonder what they think about me being a spy, heh heh.

Tang: I heard that an interested party from China has approached you about “collaborative scholarship.” It seems they want to give you research funds. Did this actually happen?

Sperling: Now, this is a funny story. They wanted me to be a spy in the U.S. They said, “You’ve been involved with the U.S. government.” That’s true. During the Clinton administration I was on an advisory committee at the State Department. They said, “Shi Boling (史伯嶺), you know U.S. government officials, don’t you?” I told them, “Yep, I know a few.” They asked who, but I pretended that I couldn’t understand them and didn’t respond. Then they asked, “Shi Boling, you know the American government’s view on the Tibet issue and its Tibet policies, right? We’d like to ask you to write some reports for us.” I feigned misunderstanding again. I said, “I’m very open-minded on the matter. You can look online and see what I think. Everyone knows.” They said, “no, no, we need you to give us an exclusive report.” I said I couldn’t, I refused. This happened in 2010, when I was in Beijing for a conference. I reported it to the US embassy. I told them I’m American, that people in China asked me to be a spy for them back in the U.S. The business cards they gave me were from the Institute of American Studies at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. Someone told me it was fake. A few of them, including their boss, invited me to dinner. We had a private room. You know how it goes in China: baijiu, drink, drink, bottoms up, bottoms up… after that I went back to my hotel room.

The next day the conference attendees were taken to visit a few Ming dynasty temples just outside of Beijing. They also treated us to dinner along with two or three other foreign scholars. It was a big banquet. Among the people soliciting me was a man who had all these Tibetan images of the Buddha, very valuable. After the banquet he asked us to go look at his collection. I got back to the hotel around 11 p.m. I was going home the next day. But the phone rang. It was one of those people from the banquet. He said, “Shi Boling, we’d still like to chat with you.” I said, “I’m sorry, it’s very late, I’d like to sleep.” They replied, “Then how about we meet up tomorrow?” I said, “I’m leaving tomorrow” and hung up the phone. They called again at seven or eight the next morning and asked if we could meet. I said, “But I have to leave today,” and hung up. Ten minutes later, they called again: “Hey Shi Boling, we can take you to the airport.” But Woeser had already agreed to take me to the airport. I refused and told them a friend was taking me. I didn’t want to linger in the room any longer. I left the hotel right away and waited for Woeser at a Starbucks nearby.

My guess is this: the first time they asked me to dinner, when they wanted me to write “exclusive reports” for them and I rebuffed them; they hadn’t brought up money. Maybe they thought that was why I had refused. So the next day when they kept pursuing me, it could have been to talk about money. In 2011, when I was a visiting scholar at Peking University, they found me again. The same people asked me to dinner and continued to press me to work with them. Slowly, cautiously, they felt me out. They said, “We’d like to invite you to our office. Think about it. If you’d like to come over, let us know a few days beforehand.” I thought: does their office even exist? Do they need me to tell them in advance so that they can buy office furniture and find some actors to be secretaries? Ha ha. In 2012 I went to Beijing for an international conference at the China Tibetology Research Center. I got there a few days early to show my daughter around the city. I didn’t tell any of the other scholars about our trip. But again I got an email from them saying they knew I would be at this conference and that they wanted me to contact them. The night before the conference they sent another email asking for my cell number. I told them my SIM card was having issues in China, and that if they wanted to meet with me they could find me at the conference. They didn’t show up. Here’s what I think. Maybe there’s a “capitalist” competition in Chinese intelligence. If they want funding from the relevant bureau, they might say, “We want to work with Shi Boling” or some such. It doesn’t matter whether or not I agree to cooperate, but they want to get funding this way. This is my guess. I don’t know what’s really going on.

 

 

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[i] Throughout the interview, Professor Sperling used the Tibetan words Thubhothi (Tibet) and Bodpa (Tibetan person), rather than the equivalent Mandarin terms, Xizang (西藏) and Zangren (藏人).

[ii] Jamyang Norbu is a Tibetan writer in exile. He was a member of the Tibetan guerrilla group known as Chushi Gangdruk (1958-1974) at their base in Mustang, Nepal. He created the “Green Book,” the Tibetan government-in-exile’s tax system, which has financially supported the government since 1972. He also founded and directed the Amnye Machen Institute in Dharamsala. Norbu moved to the US after living in India for four decades. A supporter of Tibetan independence, Norbu has written a number of books and articles in both English and Tibetan, including the 1989 political commentary Illusion and Reality. His 2000 novel The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (published as Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years in 2001 in the US) won India’s Crossword Award for English Fiction and has been translated into more than ten languages.

[iii] Thubten Jigme Norbu (1922-2008), also known as Taktser Rinpoche, was an author and activist devoted to Tibetan independence. He was a professor of Tibetan studies at Indiana University’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies. He was also the oldest brother of the 14th Dalai Lama.

[iv] Because the recording is unclear at this point, I am unable to hear the name of Sperling’s other advisor.

[v] Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet. Indiana University dissertation, 1983.

[vi] Elliot Sperling was a recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant” in 1984.

[vii] “The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics.” Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2004.

[viii] “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.” China Perspectives 2009/3. For a more complete list of Sperling’s publications, see Roberto Vitali ed., Trails of the Tibetan Tradition: Papers for Elliot Sperling, Dharamsala: Amnye Machen Institute, 2014.

[ix] “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.” China Perspectives 2009/3.

[x] Tan Qixiang, “China in History and China’s Historical Borders” (speech delivered at the May 1981 Symposium on the History of Chinese Ethnic Relations, available online)

[xi] Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission was disbanded in September, 2017.

[xii] Uighur Online, or Uighurbiz, was launched in 2006 and permanently shut down in January, 2014, after the arrest of Ilham Tohti. Over the years of its running, it was repeatedly suspended or attacked, and because of it, Ilham Tohti became a target of intense pressure from police.

[xiii] I interviewed Sperling on July 27, 2014. At that point, Ilham Tohti hadn’t been sentenced yet. Six months later the Urumqi Intermediate Court convicted him of “separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. He is being held at the Urumqi Number One Prison.On March 31, 2014, PEN International gave Ilham the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.A number of international figures and organizations have nominated him for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, including the Dalai Lama and Elliot Sperling. On October 11, 2016, Ilham was given the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Sperling, who has doggedly supported Ilham, went to Geneva with Ilham’s daughter Jewher Ilham to receive the prize.

 

 

 


Related:

The History of Tibetan Civilization: A Talk Series with Elliot Sperling, Trace Foundation, March, 2016. Session One, Session Two, Session Three, and Session Four.

Tibetan History Inside and Outside China by Prof. Elliot Sperling at Charles University, Prague, November 11, 2016.

Between China and the World: Issues in Tibet’s History by Prof. Elliot Sperling at the University of Zurich, November 17, 2016.


Chinese original  《唐丹鸿:2014年对美国藏/汉学家埃利亚特·史伯岭教授的访谈》

 

 

 

 

Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown

China Change, January 24, 2018

 

Disbarment.png

Clockwise from top left: Sui Muqing, Yu Wensheng, Peng Yonghe, Wang Longde, Wang Liqian, Li Yuhan, Zhu Shengwu, and Wu Youshui.

 

 

On Monday evening the Guangzhou-based lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was notified by his law firm that government officials from the provincial Justice Department would inspect the firm the following morning and that Sui, in particular, must be present. He felt a nervous chill and began to suspect that his communications on a series of human rights cases he has represented had upset high-level officials.

On Tuesday morning (January 23), two officials from the Justice Department arrived, announcing on the spot that Sui’s law license had been revoked. The written announcement cited two incidents as cause of the punishment: that he disrupted court order while defending New Citizen Movement activists on April 8, 2014, by quitting the court in protest; and that he took photos of client Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) against regulations during a meeting.

Sui Muqing himself is one of the lawyers who has been detained and placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” during the 709 Crackdown in 2015. He and his peers believe the government abruptly revoked his license because he has continued to represent rights lawyers since his release from secret detention in early 2016.

Over the past five years or so, lawyer Sui has defended freedom of expression, religious freedom, and other civil rights in scores of prominent political trials across China, including that of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Wang Qingying (王清营), Wang Zang (王藏), Huang Wenxun (黄文勋), Chen Yunfei (陈云飞), Huang Qi (黄琦), and others.

Sui Muqing, 1989

Sui Muqing (middle), a law student at China University of Political Science and Law, singing in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Sui is known for his hard work and prolific communication about cases he takes on, and he rarely refrains from expressing his views on politics and the law. He’s also known for his hard-charging style in court. These, we believe, are the real reasons the government is disbarring him.

Sui said he would request a hearing to express his objections against the decision, though he knows it’s unlikely the government will reverse it.

The sudden disbarment marks a new development in a series of detentions and disbarments in recent months, and it appears to be part of a deliberate and determined campaign to remove and deter human rights lawyers.

Last week, on January 15, Beijing-based rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was stripped of his license. He believes the decision was retaliation for an open letter he published last October calling the Party’s 19th Congress to impeach Xi Jinping. Yu was detained early Friday morning outside his apartment by a dozen police. Two days prior, he had published an open letter calling for the democratic election of Chinese leaders. In July 2017 he was forced out of his law firm, and attempts to open his own firm have been blocked.

In the same week, Shanghai-based lawyer Peng Yonghe (彭永和) lost his law license for demanding financial transparency from the Shanghai Lawyers Association and for a letter he was involved in calling for the crime of subversion of state power to be abolished.

In December, 2017, the Yunnan provincial Justice Department revoked the licenses of lawyers Wang Liqian (王理乾) and Wang Longde (王龙得). For years the two had fought hard for their right to meet clients under judicially-stipulated conditions. They also challenged the legitimacy of the local Lawyers Association, which amasses large fees from members but seldom defends their rights.

On October 31, 2017, lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函), who represented 709 lawyer Wang Yu, was detained in Shenyang on unclear charges.

Also in October, another lawyer in Changsha, Wen Donghai (文东海) was placed “under investigation” for “seriously disrupting court order.” He also faces disbarment. Wen Donghai also represented Wang Yu, and Li and Wen visited Wang Yu in July 2017, providing the first update to the outside world on the first 709 detainee.

In September 2017, Shandong lawyer Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武)’s license was revoked for defending a man who made disparaging comments about Xi Jinping on WeChat.

Also in December 2017, by the recommendation of the Hangzhou Lawyers Association, lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水) was given a nine month administrative penalty for online expressions that “belittle and attack the Communist Party and the socialist system, and negate the political, judicial and management mechanisms of lawyers stipulated by the constitution…”

In September, 2016, lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星) was suspended for one year for defending political prisoner Guo Feixiong.

Human rights lawyers across China are regularly summoned by provincial and local Justice Departments, who issue receive warnings and threats. The regime’s Justice Departments at all levels have an office that “manages” lawyers. Lawyers go through a mandatory annual review by the departments, which renew their licenses — a mechanism designed to keep lawyers on a short leash and ensure they submit to the state, lest they lose their livelihoods.

Lawyers associations are another tool that maintains tight control over lawyers: they are run by lawyers trusted by the government, and frequently recommend punishment for their colleagues who take on human rights cases.

In China two years after the 709 Crackdown, the legal climate has severely deteriorated; the government is determined to either root out human rights lawyers or force them into submission.

​Chinese Minister of Justice Zhang Jun (张军) spoke at a national forum on lawyers in early January. He didn’t use the term “human rights lawyers,” but when he spoke of the “few bad ones,” they were who he meant: “punishment and criticism must be further carried out. We must proactively take measures against the few bad ones in the legal profession, using it as an example for others and maintaining the overall interest and image of the profession. In this regard, some of our lawyers associations and Justice Departments have not done a good job.”

He emphasized that lawyers must be subject to the leadership of the Party, and support “the socialist system.”

 

 


Related:

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Wang Quanzhang: The 709 Lawyer Not Heard From Since July 2015

Yaxue Cao, January 15, 2018

 

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As of January 15, 2018, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) had been held incommunicado for 920 days. This makes him the only 709 detainee who hasn’t been heard from since the notorious 709 Crackdown began in July 2015.

Last Friday, two lawyers, a former client, and three wives of 709 victims travelled from Beijing to arrive early morning at the First Detention Center in Tianjin, a half hour ride by high-speed train. The sun had risen, and a rich orange hue cloaked everything. A large-character slogan ran the length of the walls of the Detention Center: “Be Loyal to the Party, Serve the People, Enforce the Law with Fairness.” They were the first visitors waiting for the reception room to open. The three women were unable to deposit “meal charges” for Wang after calling a number thirty or so times and arguing with a female officer. The two lawyers, requesting a meeting with their client, were shown a piece of A4 paper that read “lawyers are not allowed to see Wu Gan and Wang Quanzhang.” Over the 30 months since Wang was arrested, his lawyers have made so many trips to Tianjin that they’ve lost count.

In August 2016, two 709 detainees were given heavy sentences and two others were given suspended sentences. By May 2017, more 709 lawyers and activists were released on bail or given suspended sentences after the government succeeded in forcing them to admit guilt in one form or another. By December 26, 2017, three of the last four 709 detainees received sentences or, as in Xie Yang’s case, were exempted from punishment. 

The fate of Wang Quanzhang has been weighing on the minds of many, particularly as those who have been released reveal details of horrific torture. These include electric shocks so strong that they knock the victim unconscious on the spot; the “water cage” torture, where at least one detainee was locked in a submerged cage, with only the head above water; force feeding with unknown drugs; extreme sleep deprivation; beatings; and verbal and psychological abuses.

That Wang Quanzhang must have suffered the worst for refusing to yield is the consensus shared by the human rights community. Some fear that he may have been so physically debilitated that the authorities are now hiding him. Some worry that he’s already dead.

The latter fear was lifted last July after Chen Youxi (陈有西), a well-known state-connected lawyer, met with Wang (against the wishes of his wife) and tried to make him sign a Power of Attorney authorizing Chen to represent him. Wang refused. Chen later came under heavy criticism after describing the meeting on social media. “Chen Youxi was sent to help the government frame my husband,” said Wang’s wife Li Wenzu (李文足).

Indeed, in all the 709 trials, the government-assigned lawyers imposed on the detainees were part of the admit-guilt-for-leniency deal, acting as intermediaries between the government and the 709 detainees, and helping the government get what it wanted.

Wang Quanzhang’s Work

Wang Quanzhang, 42, was a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when he was swept up along with scores of other lawyers and activists in July 2015. Wang was born and raised in rural Shandong, and graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. He was one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong: while still in college, he provided legal assistance to practitioners not long after the brutal, nationwide suppression against it began in 1999. As a result, he was threatened and his home raided by police. A judge, it was said, wrote a letter to the university advising them not to issue his diploma. (He still received it).

Wang Quanzhang, around 2010

Wang Quanzhang  around 2010.

After college, while working at the provincial library in 2005, Wang took up volunteer work for an NGO that had set up an experimental community school in a village near Jinan, the provincial capital. For the next three years, he gave free lessons about Chinese law to villagers on Saturdays for three years, paying his own travel costs. He taught them cases concerning land rights and other legal issues common in rural areas, and debated with them about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme. The peasants believed that in China, power rules — not the law.

They were right then, and they’re right now.

In Jinan, Wang was subject to constant threats for his legal aid work. He was chased on the street, and at one time had to hide in the home of his friend, a professor, for days on end as plainclothes agents milled around outside the apartment building. He would later recount these episodes to friends as if they were someone else’s adventures.  

In 2008 he moved to Beijing in part to escape the dangers of Jinan. A colleague thus called him “a lawyer on the run.”

WQZ photo group
Wang Quanzhang with Peter (left) and Michael (right). 

In Beijing, Wang worked for an NGO called the “Empowerment and Rights Institute” (仁之泉工作室), one of the many small rights NGOs, like the school for villagers in Shandong, that sprung up in China around that time. He also did a stint at a think tank called the “World and China Institute” (世界与中国研究所). In 2009 he co-founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group NGO (China Action, 中国维权紧急援助组) with Peter Dahlin and Michael Caster, young Swedish and American activists respectively whom he had met at the “Empowerment and Rights Institute.” Peter and Michael came to China at a time when the country seemed eager to “integrate” with the world.

Through China Action from 2009 to 2013, Wang worked to expand access to legal assistance for victims, organize more structured trainings for fellow lawyers, and train victims to become citizen lawyers capable of dealing with the judiciary. After 2013, he stopped work at China Action and focused on defending individual cases in court.

In addition to Falun Gong cases, Wang also took on cases of illegal and unfair land expropriation, labor camp victims, prison abuses, and political prisoners such as journalist Qi Chonghuai (齐崇怀) and New Citizen Movement activists.   

In the midst of all of the above, he found time to write articles commenting on current events using the pen name “Gao Feng” (高峰) — though samples of his writings are hard to come by.

The Repeatedly Beaten Lawyer

Lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军), who has known Wang Quanzhang since 2010, described him as shy and unknown to his peers. That changed in April 2013, when Wang was given a 10-day “judicial detention” by a court in Jingjiang, Jiangsu (江苏靖江), towards the end of the trial of a Falun Gong case, for supposedly “violating court order.” From the account of his assistant, he defended his client ferociously despite frequent interruptions by the judge, whom he vowed to file a complaint against. His “not guilty” defense made the judge furious — merely practicing Falun Gong is a crime, according to the Party.

No lawyer had ever previously been detained inside the court during proceedings. Scores of human rights lawyers and citizen activists from all over the country descended on Jingjiang and protested in front of the courthouse. Having never witnessed such a scene before, the court relented and released Wang Quanzhang two days later.

In recent years Wang dealt almost exclusively with Falun Gong cases. For that, he took a lot more beatings inside and outside the court, as brutality against Falun Gong defendants, and sometimes their lawyers, occurs frequently. Many human rights lawyers such as Wang Yu (王宇), and more recently lawyer Lu Tingge (卢廷阁), can attest to this travesty unthinkable in a country with the rule of law.

In April 2014, Wang Quanzhang was among a number of lawyers and activists who went to Jiansanjiang (建三江) in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang to rescue four other lawyers who had been detained after they themselves sought to rescue Falun Gong practitioners illegally detained in a black jail called “Legal Education Base.” In the middle of the night he was hauled out of his sleeping bag, he wrote in the Chinese’ edition of The New York Times. “Two men quickly tied me up with ropes, with my arms behind me, pulling a black hood over my head.” He was put on a bus to a police station, where after some wrangling, two policemen hit his head against the wall. More violence was threatened until he agreed to sign a statement promising that he would not to take part in “illegal gatherings in Jiansanjiang.”

In June, 2015, in Liaocheng, Shandong (山东聊城), about a month before the 709 crackdown began, Wang Quanzhang was co-counsel with two other lawyers in the trial of several Falun Gong practitioners. At the end of the trial, which was marked by a fierce defense, the judge, Wang wrote: “Suddenly ordered the bailiffs to remove me from the courtroom for disrupting court order. A dozen or so bailiffs rushed into the courtroom. Some gripped me by the arm, one clenched me by the throat, and they hauled me out. At this point, someone had started fiercely punching me in the head; others were hurling abuse… I was dragged into a room on the first floor of the courthouse, and was ordered by one of the police to kneel. I refused. They started beating me again.”

 

Wang Quanzhang 王全璋-李文足和他们的孩子

 

The Chinese Government’s Fictitious Case Against Wang Quanzhang

Like all other 709 detainees, Wang Quanzhang was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for six months. He was likely held in the same building as other Beijing lawyers, such as Wang Yu and Xie Yanyi, who have since been released and written about their ordeals.

For example, in A Record of 709, 709 lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) described the sounds emanating from the room above between October 1 and 8 in 2015: “At about 9 a.m. on October 1, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From October 1 to 10, nearly every day I heard interrogations and howling and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me.” He wondered whether it was Wang Quanzhang or Hu Shigen. “The fact that there has been no information whatsoever about Wang Quanzhang for more than two years is an act of terrorism,” he wrote.

On January 8, 2016, after the six months of secret detention were over, Wang Quanzhang was formally arrested for alleged “subversion of state power.” Over the twelve months that followed, the police used extended custody and a prosecutorial time delay technique, known as “returning case to police for further investigation” (退回补充侦查), to hold Wang without indictment or trial. This is a common practice used against political prisoners.

Into the later part of the 709 crackdown, the government has dispensed with such pretenses altogether, holding Wang Quanzhang indefinitely without any legal basis, real or otherwise.

On January 3, 2016, the Swedish national Peter Dahlin was detained in Beijing. In an interview with China Change, Dahlin said that lawyer Wang Quanzhang was at the center of the police interrogations. “The focus was to try to find an angle to smear Wang Quanzhang. Considerable time had been spent on calling Wang a criminal, despite me pointing out almost daily that his case had not even been transferred to prosecutor, let alone having resulted in a conviction. Similarly, they refused to point out any activity by Wang that was actually a crime, except saying his work threatened national security, and that he has defended ‘evil cult’ practitioners and used his social media to highlight his work as a lawyer.”

Back in his hometown in Shandong, toward the end of April 2016, local police, admitting that they were under orders from Tianjin, visited Wang Quanzhang’s aging parents and siblings. They talked Wang’s father into speaking on camera, advising his son to admit guilt in exchange for leniency. His sister, an average village woman who had never questioned the government until the crash course she went through with the disappearance of her younger brother, asked the police: “What crime has my brother committed?” The police told her that Wang defended Falun Gong practitioners, and doing so is opposing the Communist Party because Falun Gong was an “evil cult.”

In mid-February, 2017, Wang Quanzhang was indicted for “subversion of state power.” But neither his lawyers nor his wife were given a copy of the indictment despite their persistent demands for it. We don’t know how the Communist Party has built its case against him. We do know that they have been eager to have him admit guilt, without success: the hometown police told his family that “Wang Quanzhang has been very uncooperative.”

A human rights lawyer who represented another 709 detainee and made many trips to Tianjin, and who wishes to remain anonymous, shared an interesting observation: he believed that the government didn’t have a plan when it rounded up the lawyers and activists in July 2015. Instead, they devised it as they went along, using torture to subdue them and have them admit guilt. “The government could find no evidence of crimes against them in the existing laws; but they felt they must muzzle the lawyers, and used illegal methods to do so. That is, they arrested the lawyers and activists first, then looked for or fabricated ‘evidence’ against them. The purpose is to terrorize and deter the rights defense community through criminal punishment.”    

The propaganda machine has worked in sync to disseminate the Party’s evolving narrative and belittle some of China’s most courageous citizens: when the 709 lawyers and activists were first detained, Party mouthpieces churned out articles and TV segments describing them as “the bad horses that hurt the entire herd.” By the time Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民) and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国) were tried in August, 2016, the activities of human rights lawyers and activists was recast into a conspiratorial “color revolution” with “anti-China foreign forces” behind the scenes. In the more recent TV confessions, lawyers Xie Yang (谢阳) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) were made to say that they were “exploited by Western anti-China forces” and brainwashed by “Western constitutionalism and other erroneous ideas.”   

 

Wang Quanzhang, 海报

 

Free Wang Quanzhang

In the two and a half years of his disappearance, Wang Quanzhang’s toddler son has grown bigger. His wife Li Wenzu (李文足), who had never taken much interest in her husband’s professional work, has become his most vocal and effective advocate, enduring unceasing harassment from the police. She was recently awarded the inaugural Outstanding Citizen Award by a network of activists inside China for her courage and perseverance.

No statements from foreign governments, no inquiries from United Nations committees, no amount of media scrutiny, seems sufficient to unseat the Communist Party’s determination to use an iron fist to subdue any citizen it deems “dangerous” in its increasingly paranoid outlook on the world.  

By all indications, it seems that Wang Quanzhang is not yielding either. Foreseeing what was to come, Wang left a letter for his parents in July 2015:

No matter how despicable and ridiculous we appear to be in the portrayal by the manipulated media, Mother, Father, please believe your son, and please believe your son’s friends.

I have never abandoned the qualities Father and Mother instilled in me: honesty, kindheartedness, integrity. In all these years, I have used these principles to guide my life. Even though I’ve often been steeped in despair, I have never given up thoughts for a better future.

My taking up the work—and walking down the path—of defending human rights wasn’t just a sudden impulse. Instead, it came from a hidden part of my nature, a calling that has intensified over the years—and has always been slowly reaching up like the ivy.

This kind of path is doomed to be thorny, tortuous, rocky.

But when I think of the difficult road we have gone through together, this path seems commonplace.

Dear Father and Mother, please feel proud of me. Also, no matter how horrible the environment is, you must hang on and live, and wait for the day when the clouds will disperse and the sun will come out.

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao

 

 


Related:

After Four Detainees of the ‘709 Incident’ Are Indicted, Chinese State Media Name Foreign News Organizations, a US Congressman, & Three Embassies in Beijing as ‘Foreign Anti-China Forces’, China Change, July 15, 2016.

China Smears Foreign Diplomats in Another 4-Minute Video, As Trials of Rights Lawyers and Activists Continue in Tianjin, August 4, 2016.

Another Chinese Propaganda Video Ties Mainland Rights Defense Activism, Protests in Hong Kong, and the Syrian War Into One Anti-U.S. Narrative, December 18, 2016.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August 19, 2015.

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu explains why Chinese government is out to get them, China Change, July 23, 2015.

 

 

 

 

Written Appeal on Behalf of Wu Gan

January 10, 2018

 

Since 2009 Wu Gan has arguably been the best known, and certainly the most recognizable, activist in China for his bold and innovative tactics. Wu Gan was arrested on May 19, 2015, and looking back, he was in fact the first detainee of what became the 709 Crackdown. As with all other 709 detainees, he was held in secret detention for months, where he was tortured. He was tried behind closed doors on August 15, 2017, without a verdict. On December 26, the court sentenced him to eight years in prison for “subverting state power.” The evidence against him were 12 occasions where he had campaigned, in his colorful style, to correct injustice in one form or another. According to his lawyer, Wu Gan rejected a deal with the authorities which would have given him a suspended sentence if he were to admit guilt. Following Wu Gan’s sentence, his defending counsel filed the following appeal. — The Editors

 

Wu Gan_黑透了

 

Appellant: Wu Gan (吴淦). Male. Han ethnicity. DOB: February 14, 1972. Place of birth: Fuqing city, Fujian Province. Citizen ID: 3502061972XXXX2033. Senior high school education. Administrative officer at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所). Currently being held at the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center (天津市第二看守所).

Defending counsel: Ge Yongxi (葛永喜), Guangdong Anguo Law Firm (广东安国律师事务所); Yan Xin (燕薪), Beijing Laishuo Law Firm (北京来硕律师事务所)

The appellant lodges this appeal to overturn the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court’s (2016) Criminal Judgement No. 146

Appeal request: Vacate the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court’s (2016) Criminal Judgement No. 146 and render a judgement of not guilty.

Facts and Grounds:

i. Subjective Factors

Although the appellant “in court acknowledged his thoughts of subverting state power,” and expressed a wish to endeavour toward this end, thought does not constitute criminal conduct. If the verbal expressions of the appellant are sufficient to constitute a crime, it should also be considered that the appellant in court also said: “subverting state power is the legitimate right of the citizen; subversion of state power shouldn’t even be a crime in the first place.” In the mind of the appellant, he is simply exercising his right to subvert state power — and so what crime has he committed?

ii. Objective Factors

When rendering judgement on whether an individual’s conduct is criminal, it is vital to examine the character of their actions. The actions of the appellant — whether speech made via Weibo, WeChat, Twitter, his three “Guides,” interviews given to foreign media, or audio lectures — all fall under the rubric of legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. Similarly, the appellant’s participation in 12 noted cases — which involved ‘stand-and-watch’ protests, appealing in support of a cause, raising funds, or expressing himself via performance art — are also all exercises in freedom of expression, provided for in his civil rights of: the right to criticize and make suggestions; the right to lodge appeals and complaints; the right to report and expose malfeasance, and so on. These rights are innate, and are provided for in the constitution and law of the People’s Republic of China. The exercise of these rights has nothing at all to do with so-called subversion of state power. Even less are the appellant’s actions implicated in any form of attack on the state regime or the national system of government established in the constitution.

iii. The Object of the Crime

The concept of the “state power” is a macro structure, and refers specifically to the actual rule of the central authority. Local political authorities, local judicial organs, and individual administrative or judicial officials, are not identical with the “state power.” Questioning, criticizing, reporting misconduct, and bringing complaints against local political and judicial organs or individual officials does not constitute an attempt to harm the state power.

iv. Considerations of Harm to Society

All speech acts by the appellant, as well as his participation in the 12 cases, did not cause the harm to society that is required in criminal law for the acts to constitute crimes. Not only did the speech acts not cause any harm at all to society, but they inspired a sense of citizenship and rights consciousness in members of the public, as well as effectively exercising supervision over the work of local governmental and judicial organs, thus causing injustices to be righted. What greater contribution to the public welfare could there be?

v. Regarding the Crime of ‘Subverting State Power’ Itself

    a. What Is the State Power in Question?

“State power” can be defined in both narrow and broad senses. The broader definition would refer to the manner in which state power is expressed in political sovereignty at the level of a nation with defined geographical boundaries. This encompasses all of the authority of a state, including the tripartite legislative, administrative, and judicial powers. The meaning of “state power” under this definition is simply a concrete manifestation of political sovereignty.

The narrow definition of state power refers to the central or federal administrative branch of government within the framework of a national polity.

     b. Who Can Subvert the Sovereignty of the People?

In the current era, nation states are countries under the sovereignty of the people. The second article in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China stipulates: “All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people.” This sentence sufficiently demonstrates that state power in China has to be established on the basis of popular sovereignty. Given that sovereignty belongs to the people, then of course the people have the right to subvert the regime. It is simply a matter of the methods used: whether peaceful elections, non-violent revolution, violent revolution, or other means. Looking to political experience and practice around the world, it’s only the dictatorships that grasp onto power for decades on end who in actual fact subvert the sovereignty of the people. This is why no one has heard of ordinary citizens in a civilized country being charged with the crime of subverting state power. If sovereignty does not belong to the people, then the people’s subversion of state power in order to return sovereignty to the people is right and proper.

    c. State Power is Not Equal to a Political Party’s Regime

In electoral democracies, state power in its narrow definition is typically held at any one time by one or a few political parties — thus the idea of a ‘ruling party’ or a coalition of parties that govern. The matter of which political party power is to reside in should be determined in competitive and free elections. It ought not be that a particular party seizes power for itself exclusively, not allowing any other person or political party comment on the matter. Even if particular citizens offer dissent to the regime of a particular party, or work in concert with one another to subvert it, these are all rights within the ambit of popular sovereignty and have nothing to do with subverting the power of the state.

    d. The Socialist System and State Power

The social system to be adopted is a question of the ideological and political platform of a party. No political party has the right to inextricably bind its own ideology and system and theory of governance to state power writ large, as though it were the unchanging and eternal standard. Whether a political program is accepted and supported by the public ought to be a matter decided by the public at large. Thus, whether one opposes or even attempts to overthrow the socialist system should not be a constitutive element in the determination of subversion of state power. Language referring to the ‘socialist system’ should not appear in the statute addressing this crime.

    e. Only Violent Subversion Can Constitute a Crime

Surveying the legal practices of every constitutional democracy in the world today, it is clear that only when an individual resorts to violence in an attempt to subvert the regime or government does the act constitute a crime. The use of peaceful measures — even when intended to subvert a regime or government — are simply not crimes. Even in the basic theories of political science, the people possess the natural and legitimate right to use violence to overthrow a tyrannical dictatorship. Is not the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party’s government itself just such an example from history?

Given all of the above, the appellant believes that — whether on the basis of the natural rights each individual is endowed with, or the common sense of jurisprudence and political science — the Tianjin Intermediate No. 2 Court should revise its decision against the appellant to not guilty. The appellant also suggests that the National People’s Congress revise the Criminal Law to limit the applicable scope of Article 105, relating to subversion of state power — or simply repeal the criminal category in its entirety.

 

Addressed to:

Tianjin Higher People’s Court

Appellant: Wu Gan

Defending counsel: Ge Yongxi, Yan Xin

January 4, 2018

 

 


Related:

The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.

Why Is Wu Gan ‘The Butcher’ So Important? Mo Zhixu, August 16, 2017

Wu Gan’s Statement After Being Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for ‘Subversion,’  China Change, December 26, 2017.

My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.

Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.

Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.

 


Wu Gan’s “three Guides” in Chinese:

Guide to Butchering Pigs (《杀猪宝典》) 

Guide to Drinking Tea (《喝茶宝典》) 

Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes (《访民杀猪宝典》)