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An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’

China Change, October 31, 2018

This is part of China Change’s new interview series that seeks to understand the effort of civil society in bringing change to China over the past 30 years. The interview was conducted in June 2018 by Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, at Professor Xu Youyu’s home in Flushing, New York City. — The Editors

 

Xu Youyu, screenshot photo

Xu Youyu. Photo: China Change.

 

Yaxue Cao (YC): Professor Xu, would you mind first introducing yourself to our readers?

Xu Youyu (XY): My name is Xu Youyu (徐友渔); I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in 1947. I was in the graduating class at the Chengdu No. 1 Secondary School in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution erupted — right when I was enrolling for the national college entrance examination. Later, I got deeply wrapped up in the Cultural Revolution and became a leader of a mass organization, and as a result I gained a great deal of understanding of what it was all about. This has put me at an extraordinary advantage for studying the Cultural Revolution period in my scholarship now. I was one of the first new entrants to university in 1977 when matriculation resumed. But I’d only studied undergraduate for a little over a semester when, unprecedentedly, I was recommended to take the graduate exams. I transferred to the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1979 to become a grad student, and worked at CASS from then on until my retirement. During that period, in 1986, I studied at Oxford for a couple of years. I retired in 2008.

YC: You retired in 2008? You were still quite young at that point. What caused you to retire so early?

XY: It was CASS rules that stipulated 60 as the retirement age — and once you reached 60, out you go.

YC: But for a scholar, a thinker, 60s are quite possibly your golden years.

XY: As the definitions go in China, those under 60 are young and middle-aged scholars; the day after you turn 60, you’re a retiree. It’s absurd, but that’s just how it is in China.

YC: Where were you in 1989?

XY: I was in Beijing. During the Tiananmen protest I was on the Square nearly every day. I was near the center of the Square on June 3rd and 4th, close to the Monument, and I saw the entire sequence of events. I stayed there the whole time, until the early hours of the 4th when students were forced to retreat from the southeast corner. I waited at the edge of that corner until all the students had exited, and only then did I go home.

YC: Just like that?

XY: The route home passed through Liubukou (六部口), and the scene there left a peculiar impression on me. As I proceeded, I saw in the distance a tank facing off against a crowd. When the tank rushed toward the crowd, the latter retreated like the tide going out. Then the tank would stop, and the crowd would again roll back like a tide coming in, then the tank would retreat. That’s what greeted my eyes in the distance. Around me, riding on my bicycle, I had to stop, hoist it up, and step across a pile of people lying on the ground. And I thought, “Huh? How could they be sleeping so soundly, right there on the road when it’s so noisy?” This didn’t seem particularly strange at the time, because many people had been out for days and were completely exhausted. But only as I wended my way through them did it hit me: they were dead. This is one of the clearest and most lucid memories in my entire life: in the early morning on June 4, 1989, after the students had all evacuated Tiananmen and I was on my way home, I stepped across a pile of corpses.

YC: Had they been crushed by tanks or gunned down?

XY: They must have been shot. But I don’t think I saw bullet holes. The corpses were clearly in one piece, this I am absolutely sure of.

YC: What of the blood?

XY: I don’t remember seeing much blood either. I just stepped over; I was perturbed in my heart, and panicked. I didn’t stop to examine the bodies, but it was very clear that they were corpses there on the ground, not live people sleeping.

YC: Can you briefly introduce us to your scholarship?

XY: My field of study had been an extremely technical, specialized area, known as the philosophy of language. When I went to Oxford University my adviser, Michael Dummett, was one of the most well-known philosophers of language in England. After I returned from Oxford, the idea was for me to build an academic career in the system, and it would have been smooth sailing from there.

When the Tiananmen Movement occurred, the strongest feeling I had at that time was that Chinese intellectuals were woefully unequipped and unprepared. When the students put forward their demands, what they actually needed was to be mentored by the intellectuals. The authorities did claim that a few intellectuals were ‘black hands’ behind the scenes, but that wasn’t the case. The thing is, intellectuals should have actually been the ‘black hands,’ but no one was, not because none dared, but because none had the wherewithal. After this massive social movement erupted, just what should intellectuals have done? What theoretical guidance may they have proposed? At the time there were none. I know that Yan Jiaqi (严家祺) held a Democracy University on Tiananmen Square, so he lectured there, but it was far, far from enough for the rushing waves and roiling torrents of that movement.

I personally made a self-conscious turn at a time when I was ready to be the academic authority in my generation, I turned away from language philosophy and turned to political philosophy. I felt that the next time a social movement erupted forth in China, when it was time for us to put forward theories and answers, intellectuals couldn’t be like they were on June 4 — doing a few childish and simplistic things. We have to learn from the experience of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan. We need a huge number of people who understand the law, and understand politics. I knew our shortcomings. For instance, in 1988, a group of Chinese intellectuals submitted a petition to Party Central, calling for the release Wei Jingsheng (魏京生). I drafted the letter, yet I had no concept of China’s constitution or laws, and what I wrote was based completely on my personal feelings. When I thought about it later I felt really embarrassed. So I turned my focus to political philosophy.

I wasn’t the only one who made this change of orientation. The entire intellectual class in China went through a similar shift — because when the historical mission of 1989 was placed on our shoulders, we failed our role. One of China’s most well-known scholars in the 1980s Li Zehou (李泽厚) put particular emphasis on this — he wrote that the most remarkable change in the Chinese intellectual sphere after 1989 was a major orientation toward political philosophy. I knew that humanist philosophy was good, along with the Enlightenment, liberty, equality, etc. But when a social movement of true significance unfolded, what theories should be used to examine Chinese society? This requires specialized knowledge. It’s not something that a humanist scholar who relies on his personal passion and ideals can carry off. I’ve done a great deal of reading in the contemporary Western literature on political philosophy and political theory, and later I had many opportunities to travel outside of China.

Another part of my research agenda is the Cultural Revolution, since I was deeply involved in the movement myself, and I came to my senses and reflected on it early on. In the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, I formed a Cultural Revolution Studies group with friends, focusing on collecting documents. I think this part of my research is also very important. I’ve published quite a bit on this topic.

YC: Do you think that Chinese intellectuals of today can provide the kind of guidance you’ve been referring to?

XY: I think that if there’s another movement like June 4, intellectuals won’t be helpless in responding to it. I think that today China’s intellectuals can contribute a great deal of deep, quality thinking and analysis. But I still don’t think intellectuals are capable of successfully guiding a similar movement, because the reality of China today is just too complex. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, but I can’t focus on both theory and practice. If there’s a tectonic transformation in China sometime in the future, just what should be done? I don’t think one can demand the Chinese intellectuals to supply ideas. They can try, but my sense is that Chinese intellectuals cannot provide the kind of guidance and direction.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 1YC: When did you get to know Liu Xiaobo?

XY: I met Liu Xiaobo very late in the piece. Liu Xiaobo sought me out. I knew at the time that Chinese intellectuals were afraid of being in contact with democracy activists, just like people in the Middle Ages were terrified of leprosy. That was the overall attitude. But when Liu Xiaobo got in touch, I thought that if all intellectuals were afraid of having contact with democracy activists then, firstly, intellectuals would be just too pathetic. What are you afraid of? He’s a citizen; he’s not in jail, he’s free to contact anyone he wishes. Each one of us should be forthright and easy-mannered in our associations, and we should help normalize Liu Xiaobo’s social life. So, when Liu Xiaobo reached out to me I knew what was going on; I certainly knew there was some risk involved by associating with him, and the life I had of the quiet scholar in his study would be broken and it would go in a different direction. I also understood clearly that, because the police were monitoring Liu Xiaobo, they would then begin monitoring me too.

YC: What year was that? In one of the essays you wrote, you mentioned 2004, because you’d signed an open letter on the 15 anniversary of Tiananmen. Tell us more about the Liu Xiaobo you know.

XY: To me there are two parts of Liu Xiaobo. In the 1980s, I knew Liu Xiaobo’s thought and scholarship very well — as a scholar myself I have the habit of reading a great deal. Most people know that he’s the “Dark Horse,” but I went and carefully read through his doctoral dissertation. I thought it was truly execrable — a complete disaster. He loved philosophizing, but basically everything philosophical he had to say was mistaken [Laughs]. So I was really quite nonplussed about why he had gained such a grand reputation. And yet, I was completely different to those jealous of him for gaining notoriety so quickly. I saw his strengths early on: Liu Xiaobo’s thought, from beginning to end, I’ve felt, can be summed up simply: it is extraordinarily penetrating and thorough.

Let me tell you why. Objectively speaking, the thinking of Liu Zaifu (刘再复) and Li Zehou was rather modern in China in the 1980s’, and it indeed it helped to educate and enlighten the young people. But my point is that precisely because the level of thought in the entire Chinese public was so poor at that time that Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou were able to be the tutors. And it was Liu Xiaobo who challenged the role of Li Zehou as a spiritual lodestar that really shows his penetrating insight. I think he really got it.

So, before I met Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him was mixed. I simply felt that on the political level I must receive him, and the more the authorities tried to repress him, the more important it was for me to have an open and unhindered association with him. This was a rational consideration, not because I naturally like Liu Xiabo or have some sort of emotional resonance with him. There was none of that. I felt that as a citizen, I simply had to do these things out of my political conviction.

But once I actually got to know Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him changed for the better a great deal, and over the course of a decade it got better and better. I saw for myself Liu Xiaobo’s step-by-step process of bettering himself. He became a modest and humble man, and a man who puts himself in others’ shoes. This was completely different to the impression I had of him in the 1980s, and it’s because he himself went through a profound transformation.

YC: This is interesting. In April I visited Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) in Berlin, and he said the same thing, describing how he went from loathing Liu Xiabo to becoming his best friend.

You just said that there weren’t any intellectuals who could come out and guide China’s political life and social movements. Did Liu Xiaobo strike you as an intellectual who could have done so? What role do you think he had in China’s democracy movement, and how do you evaluate it?

XY: I think that he took on a leading role, but I don’t think it can be said that he was a leader. Let me give an example: Apart from Liu Xiaobo, I am also very close to Chen Ziming (陈子明), and I understand his thinking and also know the many things he did. When it comes to planning and leading actual political movements, I think Chen Ziming was stronger than Liu Xiaobo — much, much stronger. But if we examine a more recent democracy movement such as in the now Czech Republic, then I think what Liu Xiaobo has done is totally comparable to to the role Vaclav Havel played. He doesn’t meet the traditional definition of a revolutionary leader, and I think the days for that are long gone. If he wasn’t deprived of his freedom and persecuted to death, then I think he would have become more and more a mature and skillful leader.

YC: What’s your involvement in Charter 08?

XY: I had nothing to do with the origins of the Charter 08. On November 15, 2008, Liu Xiaobo came to me with a draft and asked me to sign it. I was reluctant initially and he seemed a little shocked. I said that open letters and statements must have a specific focus, and it has to be for something that you must speak out on. I said that you had already done a number of signature campaigns this year, and there would be more next year, and I was afraid that, with such frequency, this sort of initiative would become a meaningless formality. He seemingly hadn’t considered it from that angle.

But he was insistent, and in the end talked me into it. I said I’d consider it. I agreed to sign it when we met again three days later. I thought that the text itself had many defects, and as a scholar of political philosophy and political theory, I proposed many ideas [for how it might be revised], and Liu said he’d go back and talk it over with Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦). He sent back revisions for me to look at, and said that they were adopting basically all my suggestions.

YC: Not all petitions are equal. All the others have passed into oblivion while Charter 08 has entered into history. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in December of 2008; my impression is that you became more active afterwards, speaking out and trying to get him freed.

XY: When Liu Xiaobo was arrested, my first reaction was emotional — I was really furious. It was purely an issue of expression. Also, Charter 08 was very moderate and entirely in conformance with the constitution and laws of the People’s Republic of China. So this really got me: I wanted to speak up for Liu Xiaobo and do things for him. At the same time, I also felt that there were indeed so many things that needed doing, for example, explicating the basic principles of Charter 08 and defending them. That I became more and more active is a direct result of his arrest.

YC: You were part of the campaign to nominate Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Can you please tell us more about that? 

XY: When people first discussed the idea that Liu Xiaobo should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I supported it. I thought that he entirely met the criteria of candidates and accorded with the aims of the Prize. But how to make it happen? Someone said to me half jokingly: you call for it! I gave it some thought, and thought that I was actually in a unique position to do so. From 2001 to 2002 or so I was a visiting scholar in Sweden, not just any visiting scholar but the Olof Palme Visiting Professorship, which is a rather privileged position established not by a university, but the state, and it was named after former prime minister Olof Palme after his assassination. People [in Sweden] look upon this post with high regard, and I started the Palme Professorship with an acceptance speech. I thought this distinction might lend some weight to my nomination of Liu Xiaobo. So I wrote a recommendation letter to the Nobel Committee and set out my reasons. I put a lot of thought in it. I sincerely believed that he should be awarded the Prize, not because he is a Chinese person, or because he’s my friend, or because he fought for democracy and freedom.

I don’t think the role of this letter should be exaggerated. The day he won the prize, journalists from around the world, abroad, and in Beijing, wanted to interview me. I was fully prepared for what I had to say, and I spoke from morning to night the whole day: why they had awarded him the prize, why they should, the significance of it and so on. I had thought all of this through beforehand and was ready for it.

YC: I read that a group of people, yourself included, went to Prague for the Homo Homini prize. What was that?

XY: After Charter 08 was published, a human rights award in Czech Republic called the Homo Homini Award was given to Liu Xiaobo and all the signatories of Charter 08, and it invited some of us for the ceremony. We accepted the Homo Homini award on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and all Charter 08 signatories, and while there we had a lot of direct interaction with Vaclav Havel.

YC: It’s sad: come 2018, Liu Xiaobo is no more, and none of what you did then is possible now — signing Charter 08 and going abroad to receive a human rights award. 

XY: Before Xi Jinping came to power, the persecution was severe, and imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo was one example. Yet on the other hand we had a little bit of room to breathe. The day Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was taking interviews all day and I remember part of the day I was walking through a busy shopping street like Wangfujing (王府井), a really bustling part of town, while talking on the phone to foreign journalists. Nobody interfered with me. But that’s inconceivable in China now.

YC: A few years ago you and Hua Ze (华泽) compiled a book titled 《遭遇警察》. It was also published in English as In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China, which includes your own chapter ‘Defiance’ (《抗拒》). It left a very deep impression on me, and from it I understood the life of an intellectual living under the constant surveillance of China’s political police. China Change published the English-language version on our website.

XY: Police in China are unrestrained and shameless. Chinese police permeate into your everyday life. They’re there with you all the time; ubiquitous. They ‘make friends’ with you, go out drinking on the town with you, make jokes, give you a nickname, and so in the end, you get so used to their presence that the figure who was sent to spy on you becomes some kind of ‘friend’ of yours.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 2But I could never get used to it. I hate it. When the police come to visit me I often don’t let them in — but I can’t do that every time. They would force their way in. They can be polite, calling me ‘Teacher Xu,’ but the only reason they dare enter my home is because they’re police. They just come in with or without your permission or invitation because they can. As seemingly respectful and polite as they are, it’s still a humiliation. Every time they came visit me, it was an encroachment and insult on my dignity and personal liberty.

I was forever tortured by such questions. I could never get over it. For me, the basepoint is that I’m a free citizen. The police come, I subject myself to them, but I can’t reconcile with such subjugation.

YC: In May 2014, a dozen or so intellectuals, dissidents and lawyers held a commemoration of June 4 at your home. They included Qin Hui (秦晖) of Tsinghua University, professor Guo Yuhua (郭于华) also of Tsinghua, Hu Shigen (胡石根), and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Five were detained and you were one of them. Was that the first time you were held in a detention center? What was it like for you?

XY: That time was really just risible. I always see myself as a rational and careful person; I guaranteed everyone that it would be safe to hold such a gathering. Five years prior, in 2009, we’d held a similar event, and that time I felt it was extremely dangerous and the fallout would also be severe. Things got quite dramatic; I won’t talk about it all, but in the end it didn’t turn out so bad. So in 2014, I told everyone that there wouldn’t be any problems. I cited Chen Wei (陈卫) and Yu Shiwen (于世文), who in February of that year held a big event marking the death of Zhao Ziyang in Henan, and nothing happened.

YC: Although in July that year the couple was arrested, and Yu Shiwen was locked up until August 2016 — held without trial or sentence for two years before being released.

XY: So in May, 2014 when they arrested us, it was a surprise. In hindsight, things seemed a little off that very morning. The property management people had come to my apartment in the morning to fix something without an appointment; they were there fixing it for half a day but didn’t end up fixing anything. Later on I realized that they were there to watch me. They had been planning it all since the morning; they’d arranged everything, but I had no clue. So later on when the police came to our meeting, I said: “you didn’t come earlier and didn’t come later; you’re here right when I’m busy — what do you want?” They said that I had to come with them. So it happened just like that.

Some people gave the opinion that the arrests were mainly about taking Pu Zhiqiang, and the rest of us were just caught in the net. Some people love such analyses; the more they analyze it, the more esoteric it gets, and they think they’re so full of foresight — like ‘Look, I even know how the state security apparatus works.’ I really take exception to this stuff. What I stick to is one thing: Have I broken the law? Which law have I broken? Do you have evidence? Later when I was in detention center being interrogated, this is what I focused on.

YC: How long were you detained?

XY: Precisely a month, in the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

YC: What was it like for a Chinese philosopher?

XY: I had read so much about Chinese prisons, so I had some idea. For example, when new inmates come in, typically the veterans will bully them. They’ll make a show of strength and domination. They make you do the filthiest and most tiring work, give you the worst place to sleep, or do other things to take advantage of you.

It was early morning when I was sent to the cell, and the prisoners were just waking up. Everyone had their head shaved. It was a terrifying sight to behold. They all looked like bandits, with no clothes waist up, all with an ominous glint in their eyes. As soon as I got in, someone ordered me to squat: Who are you? I thought I’d be beaten up right then. I said that I’m a political prisoner and that I was being detained for commemorating June 4, and that I was a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As soon as I said this the entire atmosphere in the place changed. Their attitude turned around entirely. They were good to me the entire time I was there. There are things that I don’t dare to tell you even now. You wouldn’t believe some of the things if I said them, about how the police told the prisoners to treat me well.

The place they gave me to sleep was the second best to that of the cell boss. I was afforded all the preferential treatment that one could expect in prison — but of course, there wasn’t much of that. Overall, conditions were horrendous, but at least their attitude to me was completely different — all because I said I was a political prisoner and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, because I’d held a memorial for June 4. This was for me a real psychological relief. Those men, locked up for murder or whatever else, are actually very clear on what’s right and what’s wrong in the politics of Chinese society. They truly had a sense of respect towards me.

There was a murderer there who was very nice to me — if he didn’t help me out, I’d be in a sorry state, because when a prisoner was taken in, you had nothing. You have no toothbrush to brush your teeth with, no chopsticks to eat with, you have to buy everything. He gave me all of that. I would have been extremely miserable without them. He was someone who had committed homicide. Who did he kill? He killed the village official who was a corrupt embezzler and bullied everyone in the village.

There were other prisoners who were also quite nice. A young police officer told me privately, while taking me out of cell for this and that purpose, ‘Teacher Xu, I’ve read your books.’ To convince me, he began citing A Variety of Rebellions (《形形色色的造反》) and explaining its place in the history of scholarship on the Cultural Revolution. He knew a lot about it. But the police officer in charge of interrogating me was really bad. He had a female assistant officer and I wasn’t exactly polite with her. We got into an argument during interrogations. She seemed like she wanted to justify herself and said, ‘Oh, Teacher Xu, let me tell you, I’m a PhD graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law.’ As soon as I heard this I really had a fire in my belly and I retorted: ‘Oh, CUPL, I thought it was better, so you are what they produce.’ But later she was very nice to me. There were others who were even nicer. I can’t say how good they were because that would be bad for them. You’d find it hard to believe. Actually they understand exactly what’s going on. I think that most people in the police forces are like that. Of course there are some, like the one who interrogated me, who are just vicious. But other police would criticize him; they said to me that they themselves had already been on the force for years, but he was still young and felt the need to prove himself. This is how they’d talk to me in private, that he wanted to make a name for himself on the force and that’s why he was so fierce.

YC: Hearing you describe things this way, it seems like many people are simply keeping to themselves, living a kind of dual life.

XY: This is a question that can be subject to deep examination; but I’ll put it simply. A regime that does not enjoy popular support, or rather one that completely goes against human nature, can exist in two ways: the first is ideological deception. For instance in the Maoist era, everyone truly felt that Mao Zedong was an angel, truth incarnate. The other means of rule is, an illegitimate regime can use naked violence and power to get its way when the ideological control no longer works. The situation in China today is of this sort. This is something shown in history and contemporary times, in China and around the world. In the ancient past, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang could spark a rebellion and overthrow the [Qin Dynasty] regime, because a soldier and a peasant were about on par in terms of arms. The soldier had a broadsword and a lance; the peasant had a hoe and a sickle — the difference is not huge. In modern society, violent rule is able to rely on a massive gap in coercive power. But ruling by coercion doesn’t give the regime any more stature in the eyes of its subjects.

YC: This year, Xi Jinping announced that he was abolishing the system of term limits for state chairman. He’s also begun implementing and exhibiting some ‘Maoist-revival’ behavior, so some people have said that China is returning to the Cultural Revolution. Thus, in such a modernized, interconnected society, we seem to be in a situation where among China’s 1.3 billion people, Xi Jinping is the only one allowed to have his own thoughts: whatever he likes is correct; whatever he doesn’t like is wrong. At the same time, the regime is doing everything it can to monopolize ideas and thought. There is on the one hand a high level of economic capacity, yet on the other an extreme level of control and suppression. How do you think this country will end up if this new absurdity goes on?

XY: The first thing I want to say is that there’s a huge difference between the society of today and Mao’s time. You can say that during the Maoist era the idea was that Mao was the only one who could think, even though I know through my studies that during that time there were many heresies and folk schools of thought, but overall it can be said that, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was one brain controlling 800 million Chinese people. Nowadays, that is absolutely not the case. We could say now that of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, at least half have their own minds. The regime allows only one voice [in the public sphere], but there is no way they can control what people think. This is a fundamental change. These days the regime uses naked violence to force people to conform — this differs from ignorant people truly believing something. So from this perspective, the times have changed, and there is no going back to the Maoist era.

But unfortunately we must face one cruel reality: the use of naked violence to rule, though it has no moral value, can be maintained for a long period of time. I don’t think this situation in China will change anytime soon. I’ve prepared for the absolute worst, based on what I’ve lived through. From what we’ve spoken today, we can see one thing, which is that China doesn’t have a ‘worst’ period, it only has ‘worse’ periods. I’m very pessimistic.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the Cultural Revolution — though I also reflected on it very deeply afterwards. I wondered why the Cultural Revolution happened, and from there wondered why the Chinese communist revolution took place in China and why it is that the CCP was able to seize power. I feel that I thought it through deeply and thoroughly, and began to understand just truly how sinister and cruel the Chinese Communist Party is. I think that I see these things a little more thoroughly than most. I especially appreciated the thoroughness of Liu Xiaobo’s thinking, and I also consider myself a thorough thinker. As for how evil the Communist Party can be, I’ve had the time to psychologically prepare — this is what sets me apart from others. Everyone now thinks that things are the worst they can possibly get, and they can’t bear it — but when you look back and understand the Party’s own operating principles and guiding ideology, and especially its own history, I think the most evil things it may do are already within my expectations.

I don’t think that the fascist forces and tendencies in China have reached their extreme yet. The worst is yet to come. Under such circumstances, hoping for any kind of rapid change is impractical. As someone who loves thought and theorizing, the mission I gave myself is to tell the world just how this tragedy came to pass. There are no obstacles to the rise of fascism in China. I want to explain how it happened and why it happened and is still happening. These are the questions I’m observing and thinking over at present.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 3YC: After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 14, 2010, you and 109 Chinese liberal intellectuals, dissidents, rights lawyers, and rights defenders published a statement. Your name was first on the list. The first sentence of the statement reads: “In contemporary society, peace and human rights are inseparable.  The deprivation and trampling upon life takes place not only on the battlefield, but also in the workings of the tyranny and the Draconian laws inside a country.” Come 2018, Liu Xiaobo died in prison for more than a year, the repression in China is such that it would no longer be possible to find 109 firm voices to sign a letter like that. In the China of 2018, the violent deprivation and trampling upon life is even more vile, even more unrestrained. And yet China’s influence on the world stage has become ever greater. It’s truly distressing to behold. What would you say to our readers?

XY: Peace doesn’t depend merely on the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization distributing grain and cereals around the world — though of course this is very important; and it isn’t just about healing people who are ill and injured. The enterprise of promoting peace is not simply tender-hearted charity work — such an understanding of peace is far from sufficient. A country that is ruled by a tyrannical dictatorship that uses naked violence to mobilize the power of the state to ravage human life and destroy human freedom — this is a matter more worthy of attention than sickness and hunger. I hope that the international community pays more attention to the values that Liu Xiaobo fought and sacrificed for. An important component of peace is that we must stand up and fight against evil forces that take humankind as their enemy. It’s an extremely salient issue, and it’s something that people with ambivalent values find uncomfortable, and that they wish to avoid. But this cannot be avoided. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the enterprise of peace. I think that the use of the instruments of the state to, in an organized way, on a large scale, violate the principles of peace and violate human rights, is far more damaging than the natural and man-made disasters that happen, or the inter-ethnic conflict that breaks out. This is a task that we cannot avoid shouldering.

 

 


Related:

Defiance, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 13, 2014.

Intellectual Discourses in Post-Mao China and Today, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 24, 2014

The Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later: How It Echoes Today, Xu Youyu, Foreign Affairs, May 15, 2016.

 


Xu Youyu’s work in Chinese:

《“哥白尼式”的革命》,上海三聯出版社,1994年,获1995年金岳霖学术奖。
《羅素》,香港中華書局,1994年
《精神生成語言》,四川人民出版社,1997年
《形形色色的造反》,香港中文大學出版社,1999年
《告別20世紀》,山東教育出版社,1999年
《驀然回首》,河南人民出版社,1999年
《自由的言說》,長春出版社,1999年
《直面歷史》,中國文聯出版社,2000年
《人文立場》,中國青年出版社,2008年
《重读自由主义及其他》,河南大學出版社,2008年

 


Xu Youyu’s essays in Chinese:

http://www.aisixiang.com/thinktank/xuyouyu.html

 

 

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Four Years Afar

Xu Zhiyong, September 16, 2018

 

Xu Zhiyong was released from prison on July 16, 2017, after serving four years for his role in the New Citizens Movement. Xu is a seminal figure in China’s rights defense movement with the founding of “Gongmeng” (公盟) in 2003, a NGO providing legal assistance to victims of social injustice. It was a training ground for some of the earliest human rights lawyers and took on some of the most high-profile cases of the time. Gongmeng was shut down by the government in 2009. After that Xu Zhiyong and colleagues sought new ways to continue their work for change, resulting in the New Citizens Movement. Between 2013 and 2014, dozens of participants were thrown in jail, including Xu himself. China Change had extensive coverage of the movement and the crackdown, and a lengthy interview titled “Who Is Xu Ziyong?”  Scroll down midway for a new, 6-minute video in which Xu Zhiyong speaks about his current projects and hopes for the future. The following article was first posted on July 20 in Xu’s new blog, and China Change is pleased to offer a complete translation of it. –– The Editors

 

Xu Zhiyong_20180911

Photo: China Change.

 

It’s been a year since my release from prison. Friends often ask about my life during those four years. It seems as if it were a lifetime ago. That’s how it feels.

It was a summer morning[1] –– the first time in three months I had been allowed to walk out the door of my home. A municipal public security bureau (PSB) car took my wife and I to the hospital for a prenatal check-up. After that I watched her to go to work.

When we returned to my residential compound, there were police cars and many mysterious strangers in front of my building. At the stairway, I was handed a criminal summons notice for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Dozens of people entered my home and conducted a search.

I had already been deprived of my freedom for three months. On April 12 [2013], I was intercepted at the airport departure gate on my way to Hong Kong, per invitation, to participate in a symposium marking the 10th anniversary of the Sun Zhigang case.  From then on, people from the domestic security police’s wenbao (文保) division [i.e., political police responsible for culture and education work units] kept watch in the corridor 24/7; I couldn’t even go out to buy food.

On March 31, Yuan Dong (袁冬) and several others had gone to Xidan [西单, downtown Beijing about two miles west of the Tiananmen Square] calling for officials to publicly disclose their assets. Citizens of a normal country have freedom of speech. But this is China. They were taken into custody.

In April, Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Sun Hanhui (孙含会) and others were detained in succession. Two days earlier, Song Ze (宋泽) disappeared. I sent my unfinished manuscript “Free China” to Xiao Shu (笑蜀), and prepared for imprisonment.

What’s meant to be will be. “Gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” was just an excuse.

What the autocrats were really concerned about was the New Citizens’ Movement. The “citizen” badge, the avatar, and the core values of “freedom, justice, love.” When, on the same day, banners were hung in more than 20 cities calling for the public disclosure of officials’ assets, it looked like a nascent political opposition was taking shape.

After May, I had three “talks” at a farm near Xiaotangshan [a small town in Changping district, Beijing] with someone who claimed to be the principal person in charge of the Beijing Municipal PSB. We argued about ideas, and he urged me to “admit my mistakes.” The meaning was very clear: if I surrendered, I could go home, but if I didn’t capitulate, I’d be facing 10 years or more, and there would be more than one criminal charge.

Think about your family. I said I could stop working and do nothing. If indeed I was mistaken regarding individual matters, I could admit to them, and I myself also reflect on them.

How did they want me to acknowledge them? It must be done in front of the media. A TV confession. That was asking me to renegade my mission.

For so many years, so many people and I worked hard together. Then all of a sudden, I was supposed to turn around and say that I’d done wrong? This is a question of character. I treasure freedom and I love life, but between destroying my character and being thrown behind bars, I can only choose the latter. Since there is no way to retreat, let whatever may come, come.

The car drove straight to the Beijing Municipal Special Police Division. It was the fourth negotiation. Two people who “talked” with me earlier showed up. “Shall we have more talking, or shall we go ahead with legal procedures?”

You’ve already begun crackdown, what else is there to talk about? We were deadlocked for two or three hours. The special police rushed in, put me in a car and drove off. I was blindfolded.

I got out of the car. I heard the sound of a plane and thought I was back at Beijing No.1 Detention Center, where I was detained in the summer of 2009.

It was Daxing (大兴). The cell in Beijing’s No. 3 Detention Center was already prepared. It was specially set up the day before. There were twelve people in the cell; except for me, everyone else were theft suspects. The vast majority of the more than 400 people detained in the No. 3 Detention Center were there for allegedly stealing mobile phones on public buses.

My code name was 716; the day was July 16, 2013.

No one was allowed to call me by my name. The “head” prisoner said that it was the same for an accomplice of Zhou Bin’s[2] who was detained here last year: he was also called by a code name.

When the broadcast system called out: “716, 716!”, I pretended not to hear. Two days later, the calls changed to “Xu Zhiyong.”

Almost every day they interrogated me for long hours –– regarding the New Citizens’ Movement, citizens’ dinner gatherings, equal education rights for migrant workers’ children, and calls for officials to disclose their assets. I talked about ideas, and didn’t avoid discussing my own actions.

With respect to questions involving other people, I didn’t say a word. “It’s not convenient to say” was my answer, or I would tell the transcriber to simply note “silent.”

Xu Zhiyong, 228

Top two: the scene of the 228 petition. Bottom: outside a Beijing subway station in 2013, a policeman came over to make inquiry as Xu Zhiyong called on people to participate in another petition for equal education right.

I was the one who went to the copy shop to print the flyers for the “228” petition for equal education rights.[3] They repeatedly asked me where the copy shop was. I knew they were unlikely to be hard on the shop; at most, just threaten them a bit.

But I didn’t want innocent people to be harassed and frightened. My principle was not to give information about other people. I sat on the iron chair from morning till night, refusing to answer. The stalemate lasted for six days. Then they gave up.

They asked how much money Wang Gongquan (王功权)[4] gave to Gongmeng (公盟, Open Constitution Initiative). I said, “I can’t tell you.” “Why are you holding it back when he himself has already told us?”

I didn’t say a word. My words must not become testimonies that are used to incriminate others.

This is also legal common sense. He gave me cash, only the two of us knew about it. This fact is not the same as a legal fact. Legal facts require at least two people’s testimony that mutually corroborates the other. If only one person says it, then it’s useless; it doesn’t become legal evidence.

I thought of all kinds of torture. When even life can be given, then torture doesn’t matter.

[Lawyer Zhang] Qingfang appeared in front of the iron-grated window, and we smiled at each other. What I remember best is his passionate and voluble manner during the Yanyuan Lectures. We were both PhD students at Peking University Law School. He was the class of ‘98, and I was ‘99.

He and lawyer Hu Yu (胡育) both came to see me almost every week. We exchanged information, and it was extremely important for the defense in political cases. They took and later disseminated a video of me speaking, handcuffed and in a prison garb. Because of this video, the interrogators were livid.

Later, the Party-state tightened control, and it’s now impossible for political prisoners to have such opportunities. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) has not been allowed to meet with a lawyer for three years. They said this is according to their law. But how many countries in the world have such evil laws?

In defending political cases, it’s very important for lawyers to speak out. Regardless of whether a prisoner is prepared to go to jail or compromise in exchange for freedom, widespread outside attention is valuable. At a minimum, the attention would result in more safety for the prisoner. Speaking only in the authoritarian court setting is essentially saying nothing.

Even if you want to compromise, it’s a compromise on the part of the political prisoner,  not on the part of the family and the lawyers. What family members and lawyers can do is to speak out, tell the story, and talk about how an idealist pursues democracy and freedom, how he or she upholds ideals and serves the society.

Every time a lawyer meets with his or her client and then tells the outside world, it’s basically the outside world’s only source of information. What autocrats fear most is the spread of the power of conscience. If lawyers are under too much pressure, they can talk to the family of their client, and then the family can speak to the media and put the news out online.

Li Wei (李蔚)[5] was held next door; sometimes we were able to say hello to each other. Sometimes when I was taken out of the cell for interrogations, I could see Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) in #201 cell, in quiet contemplation, as I walked down the hallway. Sometimes during the let-out time, I could hear the cry, “Call on officials to publicly disclose their assets!” They were Zhang Baocheng (张宝成) and Ma Xinli (马新立). In September, I knew that [Wang] Gongquan had also been taken in. One day we met in the hallway. We raised our shackled hands, and cupped one fist into the other hand to greet each other.

I told Qingfang to tell the others that those who could leave should do their best to leave; we don’t need so many friends going to jail.

My happiest day in the detention center was the news transmitted over the walkie-talkie that Song Ze (宋泽)[6] was released on bail. Later, I learned from a fellow prisoner that when Song Ze left the detention center he had grown long hair, and that he had never complied with the jailhouse rules.

Early November, the gloom hung the heaviest.

One day they began to ask about “a country of the people and for the people,” a constitutional vision for a beautiful China.

In the fall of 2011, on the occasion of 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911, many constitutional scholars held bi-weekly discussions that lasted for five months with continuous research output. Where is China headed?  What the Chinese people need is a constitutional consensus.

They stopped letting my lawyers see me. For a Chinese legal professional, this suggested a subversion charge. Some of the cell arrangements, such as not having to be on duty at night, were cancelled.

They began to use night interrogations –– just when I was about to fall asleep, they came to get me. Straight through until dawn. I was expecting that, perhaps next, I would be deprived of sleep for days –– a form of torture. I said to them that if they did the same tomorrow, I would refuse to cooperate.

The second night, I didn’t say a word; it was a stalemate till dawn.

It was a weekend. Back to the cell, I lay down on the bed plank amid the blaring TV.

I was exhausted. Everywhere was grey. Initially, it was one charge, with a maximum sentence of five years; now there were two counts, which means at least 10 years. Under five years, it’s part of life; ten years and more, it’s a career. That’s a fundamental difference.

There is a lot of suffering in life. Prison was never a surprise for me. When I bought a home in 2004, the purpose was very clear: when I was released from prison one day, I’d have a place to live. But ten years would be a long time when that became a reality! I was overcome by immeasurable pain and sadness.

Suddenly a voice said, in a flash, “Make it a happy experience” (快乐体验). In 2009, when I was at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, there was a similar moment of sudden light.

Those are moments when history is made.

Embracing everything in life with happiness. I got up, and using a small piece of sandstone, wrote “make it a happy experience” on the wall of cell #208.

I had no paper or pen –– this probably was a rule targeting me, I had quite a few words. On July 31, I wrote: “For freedom, justice, love, and happiness for all beings, for your glory, Lord, I want to live your life in this world.”

On December 5, Nelson Mandela passed away, and I wrote “Long Road to Freedom.”

I’ve always believed there’s a mysterious and inexorable force in me, leading me and spurring me on. He always flashes light in the darkest moments of my life. He created this world. He is the ultimate cause of everything –– the universe, life, evolution, humanity, and civilization.

They came for me on third night, menacing. As soon as I came out of my cell, the guard yelled, “Squat down!” I laughed. It is the rule of the detention center that when a suspect leaves his cell he must squat and put his hands behind his head, fingers interlaced. I never abided by that rule.

As soon as I sat down in the interrogation room, a new face, a man in his thirties, unleashed a torrent of invective and abuse.

Who do you think you are? Scum, bastard, degenerate…  he exhausted almost all of the insulting words there are in the Chinese language. He paced back and forth, waving his arms, stomping his feet, twisting out his cigarette butts, making threatening gestures and monstrously screaming. It seemed that he was about to tear me to pieces and gobble me up.  Both my hands were shackled to the iron chair, and I sat quietly. This went on for about an hour. Then he stopped. The room became quiet.

I raised my head, and looking into his eyes, asked him, “Are you done performing?”

I was genuinely concerned for this person. Who is he? What did he just do? For whom?  How could he utter those words if he had the slightest sense of right and wrong? Unless he is mentally ill –– he is not, he is putting on a show.

It was like watching from high above a little marionette shook and screamed loudly on the blue earth. He looked so pathetic that I had to show my concern.

He suddenly fell apart. He said, in a succession of quick utterances, “Alas, I am really sorry; I was indeed performing; oh dear, I really can’t do this job! Why are they asking me to do this?”

He had completely forgotten about his colleagues around him, as well as the watching eyes supervising them in another room. Later, we chatted for a while. He was a graduate of Renmin University. He repeatedly apologized, saying that he shouldn’t have cursed and insulted me, and that he had failed.

If I had any fear, or felt humiliated, they would have won. Whatever worked on you, they would use it against you. For me, beating would only inspire me. In Linyi, Shandong province, at the entrance of the black jail in the Youth Hostel, brutal violence did not make me submit.[7] Nor did insults have any use.

In a post-totalitarian society, ideology is dead. There is no more class hatred. Beating people is just a job, a role to play.

From a historic perspective, we each play our own role. What’s there to be afraid when you transcend the confines of this world and look at yourself and the world around you from the vantage point of distance? You see the preordained role of each person in the world; there is only compassion.

Just like that, the quasi-torture of me was over.

On December 15, the news of Mandela’s death was broadcast on television. I thought of the song “The Glorious Years” by Beyond. How many people must bear the cost for a nation to be saved? Countless ancestors shed blood. We are their successors. We’re very fortunate.

2014 arrived. In the brightly lit cell, on the large shared plank bed, each went to sleep with their own dreams. I recalled the distant ring bells, the open countryside of my childhood, the wheat waving in the spring breeze. And the green lawns of New Haven,[8] and the cross atop of a church pointing to the blue sky and white clouds. And the clamor and roar on New Year Eve on the southern shore of Lake Weiming, straddling two centuries. The distant bells; the years of youth in the river of time.

I prepared for trial.

As far as the law was concerned we were not guilty, of course. Opposing segregation based on hukou, or household registration, promoting equal education rights, and calling on officials to publicly disclose their assets, all of these is simply public expression and an exercise of freedom of speech as stipulated in China’s Constitution. We didn’t block roads or traffic; we didn’t “disrupt social order”; our actions resulted in no social harm whatsoever.

All of the witnesses for the prosecution were either policemen or security guards, and none of them testified in court. And not a single city resident was a victim.

The Party didn’t respect the law, nor did it care about procedures. The lawyers fought hard about the key issues of whether the New Citizen cases should be handled together or separately, and the appearance of witnesses in court.

The New Citizen “cases” were obviously a single case. We all identify as citizens, recognize the core values ​​of “freedom, justice, and love,” and work together to promote educational equality and the public disclosure of officials’ assets. The allegations against us, as well as the case materials, were the same; there was no legal reason to try us separately.

The authorities used rogue, unlawful methods to force the case to be divided into separate cases in order to minimize the impact of the New Citizen trial. That was the only explanation.

We requested witnesses to appear in court to testify, a reasonable request in any normal country, but the judge refused.

Without respect for procedures, it was impossible for the trial to be just.

The so-called “trial” then was no more than a formality; all we could do was use non-cooperation to protest. My lawyers and I agreed to sit through the trial in complete silence.

The trial was held on January 22, 2014. The police cordoned off the intersection near the court. Many friends came to the courthouse that day, and many more friends were restricted from coming. Thank you all!

My lawyers Zhang Qingfang and Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) explained briefly the reasons why we must be silent, and then stopped talking. Regardless of how the judges asked, all three of us maintained silence.

Enraged, the presiding judge called for an adjournment. He urged me to speak. I didn’t.

In private, other judges and prosecutors said to me that they were sorry, there was nothing else they could do –– they did so to let me know that they still had a conscience. Only the presiding judge was full of hostility toward me. There are fewer and fewer people like him in the autocratic system.

When the trial resumed, we maintained our silence. No matter what the judges or prosecutors said, we ignored it all. The angry presiding judge announced the court would adjourn again, and threatened me and my two lawyers.

With basic procedural justice trampled upon, how could we cooperate? The next part of the hearing was pointless. One by one, the prosecutors presented their “evidence.” The judge asked the defendant if there was any objection. No answer from me. Any objections from the lawyers? Silence.

They are all in it together, so let them do their own show. At one point, I dozed off.

It was finally over at four o’clock in the afternoon.  When I gave my final statement, the judge interrupted several times. Finally, I was forced to stop.

It’s not important what was said in court, “For freedom, justice, and love –– my court statement” has already been disseminated outside the courtroom.

She came on the day of the trial. Our daughter was born just nine days before. I got down on my knees. Actually, those of us who believe in destiny don’t care about the price. But our loved ones bear the cost. Four days after the first-instance trial, the verdict was pronounced. The four-year sentence was not a surprise. But for a wife and a 13-day old baby, it was much too long.

We filed an appeal on the final day of the appeal period. Not to change the outcome, but just to lengthen the battle front, so more people could learn about the citizen movement.

The major facts were unclear and the procedure was seriously illegal, but the authoritarian court is not a place to reason. The court of second instance, the Beijing High People’s Court, didn’t hold a court “hearing.” They were afraid of another trial. On the day the verdict was announced, I declared in a loud voice when I was taken out of the courtroom by bailiffs: “The absurd judgment cannot stop the trend of progress of human civilization, and the haze of communist dictatorship will inevitably be dispelled; the sunshine of freedom, justice, and love will inevitably shine in China!”

There is joy everywhere. My last days at the detention center were leisurely. There was a fundamental improvement in my shuangsheng ability (a variation of poker). I could now remember cards. After each round the loser would have to drink cold water. A young man who had been to the juvenile detention facility when he was a teen promised me that he was going to open a hot spicy soup stall after he got out. I promised to help him. I don’t know where he is now.

On April 27, a young guard said goodbye to me after breakfast. His family is in Fengtai (丰台), and they also suffered forced eviction and demolition of their home; he had consulted me about some legal issues.

 

      For English subtitles, click setting.

 

The first stop was Tianhe Prison (天河监狱). It was formerly known as the “South Building”; the transfer station was well known for its perversely strict management. Prisoners who were not from Beijing were sent here and then transferred to their place of residence to serve their sentences. I had heard many stories about the “South Building”, so from the outset I didn’t have a good impression.

At the beginning, the prison was unusually harsh. Then we were under regular management. During the last three months up until we got out of prison, the management loosened up. With each change, one felt happier. The same changes, if done in reverse order, it would be hard to endure.

Tianhe is the starting point for prison, it played the role of hell. New prisoners had nothing, not even a single drawer. There was no private space whatsoever. You couldn’t read, you couldn’t take an afternoon nap. Every day, before we watched TV for study, the warden shouted, “Bow your heads, raise your heads, bow your heads, raise your heads…”

I must resist, for human rights, and also to carve out some space for myself.

On the first day, because I wore slippers in the corridor, the lieutenant blocked me, and I said I would not obey. He yelled, do you dare to write that down? I said, Give me a piece of paper and I will write it down that I refuse to obey order. I did just that and signed my name.

There was a small library there for the prisoners from Beijing who remained at Tianhe. I went and got a book. The lieutenant told me to take it back; I refused. He shouted at the cell leader, “Take it away from him!” I said, “Who is going to come over here and have a fight with me?” The cell leader was a skinny young man. He used to work at the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau; his crime was taking bribes. He didn’t know what to do. I was able to keep the book.

I know that I had the strength to resist because of the attention on me from hundreds of thousands of people. That is my good fortune and also the hope of the nation. Compared with many who came before me, I was lucky.

I would often stand in front of the window in the cell, thinking about the golden dandelions in the sun and the sparking stars, the cuckoo singing throughout the night, the happiness. Also my boyhood.

The one month of resistance was over. On May 30, 2014, I was told to gather my things.  The deputy warden said he didn’t know which prison I was being transferred to. We had talked about privileges in prison before. He said that I might be sent to Yancheng (燕城). Usually a prisoner would go to a second prison for another two months, and then to some other prison. I hoped that my situation would stabilize as soon as possible.

The police car got on the highway. The wheat fields on both sides were just turning  yellow. When I was a child, this was my favorite season. White mushrooms, hard working ants, panicked hares whizzing by. Those distant times.

The car drove to a yard with a high electrified wall. Seeing “Liulin Prison” (柳林监狱), my heart said, my Longchang Yi (龙场驿)![9]  Five hundred years later, I was also in a remote place. Far away from it all.

Liulin Prison is divided into seven wards; each ward had about 100 prisoners and 20 prison guards.

In my ward, the Superintendent (the leader, later renamed ward captain) was a decent person. He said to me privately that all people have a conscience. He said in the minds of the the prison guards, there are three categories of prisoners. “The first category is you,” he said, “so no need to explain.” The second category, he said, is those guilty of corruption—the larger social environment is just like this. The third category is ordinary criminals.

A few days later, he said that the reading room was ready. We then took 200 some books from the prison library to the reading room, including traditional cultural classics such as The Book of Songs, The Analects, and Instructions for Practical Living, as well as world classics such as Les Miserables and War and Peace.

The one that I cherished the most and kept for the entire three years I was there was The Federalist Papers.

Sixteen people lived in one cell. Robbery, murder, theft, drug trafficking, bribery and other crimes were all mixed together. A small society. These were hardened people to begin with, and when they were stuck together in such a harsh environment, they became worse –– it was a vicious cycle.

There were no mirrors in the prison. Anything that could injure a person was not allowed, so there was no glass, no bamboo sticks, etc.; they feared self-inflicted wounds.

In the first month at Liulin Prison, the labor was weeding and turning up the soil. We removed the weeds on both sides of the road and then turned the soil over and over again. It was a perversity on the part of the prison: they wouldn’t allow anything to grow freely, including weeds.

I then was sent to the large workshop to wrap chair frames with plastic wire. I didn’t want to earn credit to reduce my sentence. Labor was symbolic, so I’d do a little bit of cleaning, and occasionally I’d wrap a chair too.

An optimistic person can work everywhere, and wherever I am, there is space for me. My work was to think and write.

A rule was applied to me at the beginning: I could study half the time and do labor half the time. After I swept the floor, I read in a corner of the workshop.

The first two months were my “study period.” After that, the Superintendent  and his deputy called me outside and said that prison rules stipulated that no reading was allowed in the workshop.

I said I must be allowed to read; if you don’t let me read, I will switch into total noncooperation, and you can just go ahead and send me to the “training team.”

The training team is a prison within a prison. In the beginning, you’re tied to a bed with iron chains 24 hours a day. Usually there’s a ceremony for those sent to the training team: a large meeting is held, the disciplinary violations are announced in a stern voice, the police raise the prisoners’ arms high overhead, press their heads down as low as possible, and hurriedly stuff them into a truck. It was the posture used for struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution. For many people, that was a frightening place. I didn’t care. Actually, it’s perfect for a meditation retreat.

The Superintendent made concessions. “Well, just bring one book at a time.” A few months later, a floor supervisor found me reading a book in the workshop. The warden reminded me to be watchful. I said that my reading was out in the open, and I would never hide from anyone.

Outside the window, dusk fell. In the distance, the high-speed train hurled past. It connected the city and my life.

A huge white bird, flapping its wings, landed in Liulin. The northern coast was not far away. Many years ago, I listened to a big sister telling her story in the dark clouds and cold wintry wind of the northern coast. In the summer of 1989, it was the first time I, a wandering boy, came to see the sea, under the gloomy sky with several big ships and a few seagulls in view. I stayed with her until late at night, an atlas for a headrest, and fell asleep amid the sea breeze. It was the coast of Tanggu, not far away.

I stayed at Liulin for less than five months. In the late autumn. On October 22, [2014], we were all transferred to Kenhua Prison (垦华监狱).

Kenhua is about ten kilometers from Liulin. There are several prisons in the area. This place called Chadian is an enclave of Beijing in Tianjin. Zhou Enlai is said to have chosen this wilderness to detain Kuomintang war criminals.

Kenhua means reclaiming China. The name is as suggestive as my hometown Minquan –– civil rights.

Kenhua was newly built, not big, and could accommodate 1,000 plus prisoners, but only 600 or 700 people were detained there. Ten people lived in one cell. There was less green there than Liulin. Liulin has pear-leaved crabapple groves, jujube forests, corn fields, and old willows everywhere. In Kenhua, the road had two rows of small trees on each side, and there was a wide expanse of clover growing in a clearing.

The biggest problem with the food was its monotony. If you only looked at the weekly menu, it was not too bad: salted vegetables and steamed buns in the morning and evening, stir-fry at noon, Monday cabbage, Tuesday eggplant, Wednesday potato slices….  Each week there were two dishes that included a bit of meat, and two meals of rice. But year in, year out, we only had these 10-20 dishes; we never saw anything else.

Each month, prisoners could fill out purchase orders for pig’s head meat, salted duck eggs, fruits, etc., but the types of extra food you could buy were always the same, year in and year out. There were only ever two kinds of fruit –– apples and oranges. I didn’t see any other fruits for several years. Picking a green onion or radishes from the ground behind the squad leader’s back was a great luxury.

Therefore a peach or a banana could be used as a reward for a labor competition for such a group of people who have seen the world.

What luxurious happiness it would be to be with two or three good friends, having a few small dishes at a food stall with a few bottles of beer on a summer evening!

There was no life here, only poetry and a distant place.

A happy time was when we collected debris. The prison was a tofu-dregs project with construction waste left everywhere, so going downstairs to the lawn to collect debris became frequent labor. There was a rich life amid the clover. The pill bug waited quietly, the little gray spider ran desperately, the praying mantis lifted its machete. And the ants were always busy.

That was their home. They didn’t know the high electrified walls, and they didn’t know the world outside. They were free.

Our space was much larger than that of the ants, but we felt the pain of lost freedom.

Humans don’t have wings to fly, nor fins to swim; we live and die on this planet like dust. I once lived like these ants, and didn’t feel it was painful. What’s habitual and constant is no suffering.

Freedom, pain, happiness, everything in this world is born because of comparison. So God created a hellish world.

To make it a perfect world and to turn life into an experience of happiness –– this is the meaning of life. My Longchang Yi.

I had a lot of time to think. Real, quiet thinking. On the outside, even if my phone is turned off, my mind still can’t settle down. But there, it was useless to ponder what was happening outside. I was relieved of those responsibilities, so I could really calm down.

For several days in a row I thought about the theory of special relativity, and for several consecutive days I thought about the question: what is time?  I wanted to know the truth of the world, time, space, energy, quality, matter, life, humanity…

To be precise, I was quietly waiting for a divine revelation. All flashes of light and thought come from God, and all human knowledge comes from that ultimate spiritual homeland.

The progress of civilization means to know nature, to know oneself, and to know God, from a higher place.

Over the past 300 years, the understanding of nature and science has taken a big step forward, while the other foot, the understanding of God and religion, has remained in the same place.

People are animals looking up at the stars. We will always question our previous lives and the afterlife and be concerned about the meaning of life. We always longing for a refuge for the soul.

The roads of the past are old. This is the era of a new civilization.

I am blessed. I’ve received so much new knowledge. I know the truth of the world. I know the meaning of life. I wrote it down carefully, and saved it. I’m grateful for being on a sacred mission.

I still have a lot of time to long for you. When thinking of you, I stared out the window at the flowering crabapple in bloom and the green fields. It was another spring. I missed as I walked in the prisoners’ formation. Looking up at the sky, I saw a flock of ducks flying north to a distant nest. When I missed you, I gently plucked a four-leaf clover and I wanted to give it to you as a birthday present. I wanted to give you everything that was the best in this life. I missed you at a small corner in the noisy workshop as I pondered the fate of mankind. At this predestined place for meditation, you disturbed me, again and again, giving me life, happiness and longing.

My cellmate Tian Shudong (田树东) had lumbar disc surgery. He helped a friend collect debt, and was sentenced to 13 years for “robbery.” He once shared a cell with Zhao Lianhai (赵连海), a father imprisoned for his baby son who was one of the many victims of the tainted milk powder.

Every day Lai Huaichao (赖怀超), Wu Min (吴敏), myself, and a few others, used a stretcher to carry Tian to the workshop, and after work, we carried him back. Both of them were in for corruption. Wu Min studied physics at Nanjing University, so I often sought him out to discuss physics questions.

About 40% of the people in my ward were convicted of corruption. Among them there were six bureau-level officials; they were smart people and we were able to discuss philosophy together. Each month there were newcomers, and some would leave. When someone left, everyone else felt a little sunshine coming through.

In the last six months of my sentence, our cell had eight people: one Ph.D., two Masters, and three with undergraduate degrees. Several were in for corruption, one was a murderer, and one a robber. Old Li, who slept under me in the bunk, was the general manager of a state-owned enterprise, sentenced to twenty years for corruption and bribery. He had already served nine years, and still had nine to go. He had only received a two-year sentence reduction when a new policy prohibited sentence reductions for corruption offenders. He had shingles.

Tian Shudong was lying on the stretcher in the workshop. One day the political instructor saw him and shouted, get up! I almost lost my temper. One day, he made four prisoners raise their arms and tortured an inmate with mental-illness; I held back my anger, because there was important work to be completed.

In June 2016, after a heavy rain, during the night, the hallway was filled with vomiting sounds. I also had a stomach ache, but it was slight. By my estimate, 40 people were vomiting and had diarrhea; 80% of the inmates had fever, stomach pain and other symptoms. In the entire prison, more than 400 people were poisoned by food. We ruled out all kinds of possibilities and concluded that it was very likely a problem with the drinking water. A few days later at an assembly, the deputy prison warden mentioned this incident, and downplaying it, said that everyone should pay attention to personal hygiene. He was scared of speaking the truth.

It was the place predestined for my personal cultivation. I often thought: what is human nature? And I recalled that debate in the detention center.

My cellmates argued heatedly about whether they could steal from a hospital. They mainly stole mobile phones in the subway, and during a national holiday week they could make 50,000 to 80,000 RMB. Some mainly stole from the mall. There were also those who stole from patients in the hospitals.

Two people approved. The cell “boss” said, the thief is a profession that has existed since time immemorial. “It doesn’t matter if the cat’s white or black, as long as it’s able to make money, it’s a good cat.”[10] He had been in Beijing for three decades since his teens, and he had bought a house and married. His was a history of personal struggles full of blood and tears. The other one who was unscrupulous about stealing from hospital patients was the young man who would later become the cell “boss.” He said that stealing is stealing, so “whatever.”

Four people felt uncertain about their takes: they didn’t support it nor did they oppose it.

Four people resolutely opposed it. Among them was Little Anyang. He was 21 years old; when he was nine he was tricked into going with a gang boss to Shanghai.  Countless times, the boss beat him violently. Speaking about it, he was still fearful. This was his fourth prison run; the previous two times he was sentenced to one year each. Thieves like him normally were sentenced for the most part to one year or less, because the evidence that police were able to seize was usually just a single cell phone or a few hundred RMB.

He said, how can you steal money from a sick person? I will never do something like that!

Everyone has their own moral baseline. Everyone’s behavior is supported by their value system. “This society is just like this” is the reason many criminals give in defending themselves. That debate left me with such a deep impression. I often think, what is evil?

In the spiritual world of humanity, there lives an abundance of species, thoughts, and doctrines. They compete against each other to entice and dominate “I.” The “I” often struggles between temptations.

Robbery, theft, rape –– at that moment a species exceeds the rationality of normal people and dominates the “I.” Or, they lack the rationality of normal people. Under the control of certain value systems, the self becomes selfish and greedy.

Human nature is good. It won’t do things for evil purposes. To do evil is to be controlled by a certain species. Bad guys are actually sick people. Therefore, a civilized punishment is not “a tooth for a tooth” but is for redemption. In the new civilization, there is no hatred, no matter how much pain history has seen.

All people have a conscience. Therefore, I am always optimistic, believe in human nature, and believe in the power of conscience. Even at the darkest time, the depths of our souls are still sunny. We are made incomparably strong by the power of grace, and we are poised to be a reformed people and create history.

Spring Festival 2017. It was my last New Year there. Every festive season the cell was decorated with balloons and ribbons. It was sad on holidays. We had seven days off, three and a half days were for education, raising the flag, etc., and the rest of the time we played cards, chess, and watched TV.  Everyone cared most about the better food: two meals with stir-fried meat dishes, and on the first and fifth day of the New Year, two dumpling meals.

In between holidays, the time was endless. Winter and spring were good times. New Year’s Day, Spring Festival, tomb-sweeping festival, May Day, Dragon Boat Festival, one by one, we looked forward to each. The hardest time was summer, for a long stretch of time, there was no holiday. It was very hot, and people were irritable. Every year, the theme of the three months of summer was “Safe Summer.”

In the bustling world outside, sometimes it was only when the leaves fluttered off the trees and fell onto your head that you would reminded of the arrival of the fall. But in prison, through the narrow window, through the thick bars, you could clearly see the river of time slowly passing by. The crabapples blossomed, bore fruit, their leaves fell, and the snow followed. The crabapples blossomed again.

I remembered the New Year’s Day of 1987, the sound of reading aloud under a kerosene lamp, the snow falling outside the window. I was a teenager and wrote down my dream for life in my diary. It’s been thirty years.

The road is long — the road leading to a free China, a beautiful China.

I’ve become a determined revolutionary. It’s not that I have changed my mind. It’s just that previously I always had illusions about others. It wasn’t that I put my faith in someone; what it was is that I was tempted by life and didn’t want to shoulder responsibility for this ancient people. But having watched CCTV “Evening News” for three years, a voice said: Stop evading your destiny.

One can work anywhere. One can cultivate oneself anywhere. With three busy years, I completed the most important thing in my life. I wrote down more than 200,000 characters by hand, and hand copied it twice. I had finished my mission two months before I was released from prison. I breathed a long sigh of relief.

Carefully, I read The Federalist Papers one more time, and returned it to the library.  I reread the Bible, the Koran, and some Buddhist and Taoist books. I pondered the citizens’ movement, the political transformation, and my beautiful China.

North of the Great Wall, south of the Yangtze, the Kunlun mountains, the East China Sea. The sun has risen in the east for 5,000 years. This vast and beautiful land has seen vicissitudes. I am your child, China; suffering and hardship belong to me, so do glory and pride.

An honest, fair, and kind-hearted people will sustain a new civilization. A perfect world under the sun. Freedom, justice, love, and a beautiful China. Freedom, justice, love, and a beautiful China.

Exactly at midnight on July 15, 2017, the warden woke me up in a friendly voice: hurry, get going, go home. I said, what about my notebooks? Earlier I had handed them over for examination. Let’s talk about it at the gate, he said. I was tricked. I went out the main gate and asked for my nine notebooks. They didn’t give them back to me, they didn’t even give me a receipt. I gave up after nearly two hours of impasse. Many friends were waiting for me, and some had to overcome layers of obstacles to get closer to the prison. Thank you all!

I’m back, China.

Citizen Xu Zhiyong, July 2018

 

 

[1] Xu Zhiyong was arrested on July 16, 2013.

[2] Zhou Bin (周滨) was the son of Zhou Yongkang (周永康), a former member of the CCP Standing Committee and the former secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

[3] A large group of migrant parents and volunteers gathered outside the Beijing Municipal Education Commission on February 28, 2013, petitioning that their children be allowed to take college entrance exams in Beijing where they lived, not back to their hometown where their household registrations was.

[4] Wang Gongquan is a wealthy businessman and a key figure and participant in the New Citizens Movement.

[5] Li Wei was one of the New Citizens Movement activists detained in the crackdown.

[6] Song Ze was a New Citizens Movement activist and an assistant to Xu Zhiyong.

[7] In October, 2005, while visiting the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng in Linyi, Shandong, Xu Zhiyong was beaten up by thugs taking order from the local government.

[8] Xu Zhiyong spent a semester at Yale Law School in 2004 as a visiting scholar.

[9] Longchang yi is where the Ming Dynasty Neo-Confucian official and philosopher Wang Yangming was exiled in today’s Guizhou for protesting official corruption.

[10] This is a variation on Deng Xiaoping’s famous quote: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

 

 


Related:

Who Is Xu Zhiyong (1) — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, April 10, 2014.

Who Is Xu Zhiyong (2) — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, April 13, 2014.

 


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

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’

Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018


My name is Xie Yanyi. I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years. In 2003 I was the first person to bring a lawsuit against Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by continuing as the chairman of the state Central Military Commission. From that point forward, I attracted the attention of the authorities.

In June and July 2015 — around then — due to the Qing’an case and a number of other rights defense cases, numerous rights lawyers and citizens were called in and interrogated by the authorities, some were arrested and paraded on state media.

The Qing’an incident was the fuse that lit the 709 crackdown.

In the early morning of July 12, 2015, I heard a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw three men. Two of them were Domestic Security agents that had long been watching me. The other one, as I later learned, was a Domestic Security agent in Beijing. They came to my door in the morning and said they wanted to have a chat. So I went with them to the local neighborhood committee office.

Come around midday, all of a sudden over a dozen unidentified men charged in. The leader came right up to me and flashed his ID badge. They handcuffed me, and then escorted me downstairs. They then shoved me in a vehicle, and we sped off in three or four vehicles to the Chengguan police station.

As they were interrogating me, I worked out that they were also raiding my home, and they had asked me for my wife’s cell phone number. By nightfall, when their raid was done, they hooded me, cuffed me again, and put me in their car — this time an SUV. There were three of us in the back, with me in the middle. There was an officer on either side of me. And there were two in front. At that point we were leaving Miyun, Beijing. I had the hood on, so I didn’t know where we were headed.

They drove for an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, and I felt that we’d entered a kind of compound. They told me to get out, and two people came over and pulled me out of the car. We went into a room on the second floor.

They took the hood off, and I surveyed my new surroundings. The cell was about a dozen square meters. The walls were padded. There was a desk in front of me, and a bed to my left. There was a window on the far wall, but it was completely closed, covered with thick curtains. The room seemed air-tight. It was in this cell that my detention began.

Life in captivity was like this: there were a dozen or so armed police, guarding me every day, spread across five shifts. Each shift was two hours, with two police per shift. They stood to the immediate left and right of me. Even when I was asleep, one was at the head of the bed, the other at the foot, watching me 24/7.

The detention location was in Beijing, likely at an armed police base.

I was taken away on July 12; on the 13th I began a hunger strike. My wife was pregnant at the time, and I was really preoccupied about her. I demanded that the special investigating team handling my case give me pen and paper so I could write a letter home. In the end I was able to achieve this goal — they gave me pen and paper, and I wrote a letter to my wife. Although, after I was released I discovered that my wife never did receive this letter.

It seems that around September 8 we were transferred to another military base in Tianjin. I was again put into a roughly 10 square meter detention cell. Again, the walls were padded, and the window was completely sealed.

During the detention, I was put through some gruelling interrogations. That is, they wouldn’t let me sleep. Also, they starved me — giving me a tiny little bit of food. This went on for about one to two months. They put me through a form of punishment: they made me sit on a block with nothing to lean on. You sat straight like a military man  every day for 15 or 16 hours. This went on for a month. They don’t let you move a muscle. When you sit that long at a stretch, your lower body loses all feeling.

At the same time they submit you to all kind of psychological and emotional pressure. They once threatened me that they would detain my wife too, and they also menaced me, saying that they might harm my child in some fashion.

By January 2016 I was formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ and was transferred to the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. When I got to Tianjin No. 2, they wouldn’t use my own name. They gave me an alias — Xie Zhendong.

In the detention center they continued to punish me. The prisoners in this detention center were all serious criminals. In the cell, the person to my left had been given a life sentence; on the right was someone with a suspended death sentence. There was a death row inmate. All of them were recidivist, hardened criminals. They were ordered to surround me – in front of and behind me, to my left and right. These four were assigned to sandwich me and exercise control over me. Every move I made, every individual freedom and right I had, had been stripped of me. Even going to the toilet or drinking water required permission.

I was released on bail ‘pending trial’ in January 2017. On January 5. Even while I was supposedly on bail, they detained me in a hotel room. Only on January 18 did they let me go home and reunite with my family.

The third day after I got out, I exposed to the world the torture I had suffered — in particular [I wanted to expose] the abuse of my brothers along with me. Especially the torture that lawyer Wang Quanzhang and Hu Shigen may have been subjected to. I was in cell no. 8 in this location in Tianjin where we had been put under “residential surveillance” in the detention center. Between October 1 and October 8, 2015, in the depths of the night in my cell I very clearly heard the sound of someone falling down on the floor above me, along with the sounds of anguished wailing, groans, and electric baton shocks. In my judgement that was either Wang Quanzhang or Hu Shigen being tortured.

During this period, not long after I was detained, my mother passed away. When I first heard the news, I didn’t feel that much. I didn’t cry, nor did I feel loss. A bit over a month after I came out, I went to offer sacrifices for her, and as I held her urn of ashes, this ice-cold box of ashes, I ran my fingers along it. It was like I was making contact with my mom. It was at that point only that I really for the first time, at that point the emotions truly came out.

Over this 18 month period of forced residential surveillance, and arrest and detention, the most painful part of it all was the squandering of life. That is, they completely stripped me of every freedom. They didn’t let me engage in any form of communication. And I had no access to any information. Just like this, days become months, months become years. This kind of life wastage, after it goes on long enough, makes you crazy. During that period of residential surveillance, I even started to contemplate suicide.

So the question is how to overcome this dread, this total desperation? I silently told myself stories in my head. I recounted history, contemplated my beliefs, human nature, historical anecdotes. When I got to the detention center, in order to overcome the mental and physical imprisonment, I started to meditate. I sat cross-legged in meditation every morning and every afternoon, for two hours, every single day. This is how I got through it.

[When I got out] I rested up for two or three months. I then spent another three or so months writing “A Record of the 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China.” And then after I published this “Record of 709,” I also published an open letter to Xi Jinping. I told him to release all political prisoners, love your enemies, and start China on the path to peaceful democracy.

This January, 2018, is just when they formally ended my period of bail pending trial. But the authorities are still engaged in illegal infringements and investigations of my right to practice law.

They have committed political persecution against me; they have illegally held hearings on me to disbar me; and they have illegally deprived me of my political rights and a series of due process rights.

The 709 incident has really catalyzed the awakening of the Chinese public. So, we feel more and more that the collapse and crumbling of the totalitarian system could happen at any point. We now need to think through what happens in the post-dictatorship era. What should we do? I think that making peaceful democracy the consensus of the entire Chinese people — that this is extremely important.

Thank you, everyone.


Related:

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’

Xie Yang, July 6, 2018

 

 

 

My name is Xie Yang. I’m a lawyer at the Gangwei Law Firm, in Changsha, Hunan.

On July 9, 2015, I immediately got word of the arrest of Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, and their son.

On the morning of July 10, when I was interviewed by an overseas media outlet. They asked me: What do you think of Wang Yu’s whole family getting taken away? I frankly told them my opinion: I said that this is the beginning of the Chinese authorities’ purge of human rights lawyers. I said that a tempest would soon be upon us.

The following afternoon, on July 10 — it was a Friday — I went to Huaihua City in Hunan to take care of a case related to internal migration, a result of a large reservoir construction. This was a big class action case. Around 40,000 people had been harmed.

At about 5:00 a.m. on July 11, before the sun had come up, I heard an urgent knocking on the door.

The door was quickly kicked open. They flashed their ID badges, though they didn’t  produce any legal documents.

They escorted me downstairs and packed me into a vehicle — it wasn’t a police car.

What they first asked about was the China Human Rights Lawyers Group; they asked me when I joined. I said that as far as I see it, that’s just the name of a WeChat group, called the ‘China Human Rights Lawyers Group.’

Then they said to me: Party Central has designated this Human Rights Lawyers Group an illegal organization.

By around 6:00 a.m. on July 12 the door opened and seven or eight police stormed into my room and presented me with the formal notice of arrest. The crime I was being charged with had been changed; it was no longer ‘disturbing social order,’ but was two charges: the first was ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ while the other was ‘disrupting order in the court.’ Then they grabbed me and put me in their car and drove me back to Changsha.

Actually, there were a few things that happened while I was detained under residential surveillance [in a guesthouse] and later in the Detention Center.  But as for those happenings… Later, myself and the authorities made a deal. Given that a deal was made, I will abide by the terms of it. So, as for that aspect, I won’t say anymore just now.

What was this deal? It was that they would return my lawyer’s license to me, and I would forfeit a number of reasonable demands I had. After that, my case proceeded through the court fairly smoothly.

My trial  was held on May 8, 2017, and the next day, May 9, was my 80-year-old mother’s birthday. They brought me back to my parents’ home.

Due to the terror of the environment at the time, my wife and two daughters decided to flee China. On March 22, 2017, they arrived in the United States.

On May 10 my wife called me from the U.S.; of course, for me, when I was able to hear their voices, I felt a great sense of relief.

On April 4, 2018, they said my case was no longer ‘pending investigation.’ But on the same day, they declared that I was a threat to national security, and that I would not be allowed to leave the country for one year.

In addition, there are some obstacles when I do my work.  Whenever I fly out Huanghua Airport from Changsha to other cities in China, I’m always stopped and questioned. What’s their reason for stopping me? Illegal petitioning. This makes me really furious. They do this almost every time.

Also on the employment front, they’ve established a number of artificial obstructions.

They would come and speak to me directly and tell me that the cases I take on are sensitive, that I can’t keep accepting them. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to listen to them, because these demands are unreasonable. They’re hindering my right to practice.

As soon as I was released, I got involved in a series of sensitive cases. For instance, the Wang Quanzhang case, the Yu Wensheng case, and a number of other citizen activist cases. I was proactively involved in all of it. I wanted my license to practice law, but I don’t want to live a compromised life. I’m going to use to use my lawyer’s license to serve society.

We don’t accept the Communist Party’s attempt to instill terror in us and threaten us, or its imprisonment of lawyers. The use of these methods [of repression] will simply make Chinese society more unhinged. As legal practitioners we hope that everyone will resolve their problems within the framework of the law.

China is part of the world, and the deterioration of human rights in China is the deterioration of human rights around the world. If you simply connive at the CCP, then you’re harming the interests and human rights of the vast majority of the Chinese people.

The country needs to change; let’s work together toward it.

 

 


Related:

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.

 

 

 

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’

Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018

 

 

 

Hello everyone. I’m lawyer Sui Muqing from Guangzhou. I practiced law in Guangzhou from 1998 to 2017. On July 9, 2015, in the early hours of the morning — I happened to still be online — Wang Yu live-broadcasted her arrest.

I was arrested the following night, on July 10.

At 11:00 p.m. the property management people rang my doorbell and said that my car had been hit. I suspected a ruse, so I ignored them.

A little while later they came back, and again said that someone had hit my car. The problem now was that the sound of the doorbell was extremely loud. My wife and kid were already asleep. It was really loud, you know? So I had to go down and deal with it. Once I got downstairs, a gang of police surrounded me.

I think it was on July 11 at 8:00 p.m. that they announced I was being held under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place.’ They charged me with ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ They put me in a place not far from my home, in a police training center in Dashi, Panyu District.

During the detention they questioned about what I’d been doing from the 1989 student movement all the way until now.

They focused on my contact with Guo Feixiong and other activists. For instance, our meal gatherings, salons, and all the human rights cases I had taken. They also questioned my contact with foreign embassies, as well as my trips overseas for conferences. They questioned me on all of it.

After about a month, one day they wouldn’t let me sleep. They didn’t announce this. At the time I didn’t even realize that the torture had begun. You know?

They deprived me of sleep for about five days and five nights.

By the fifth night, I fell apart. I felt that this body of mine, ah. It was done for. I blacked out. I lay down there, and I remember it was a very hot day, the room was still very hot even with the AC on. But oh, I had a thick blanket on me, but I felt freezing cold. At that point my mind was losing its grip. I thought I was about to die.

On about the 147th or 148th day, on December 2, [2015], they let me go home. But at home, I was still under residential surveillance.

I was under residential surveillance until January 10, 2016. On that day they came and said my case would be ‘pending investigation’ for a year.

The crime I had been held for was ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ It had no basis, simply no basis. Whatever they say goes. You’re guilty of whatever crime they say you are. If they need a basis for their actions, they’ll just make one up and slap it on you. When you’re a lamb in the mouth of the tiger, then you’re guilty of whatever crime they say. If they say you killed someone, then you’re a murderer; if they say you committed arson, well then you’re an arsonist.

People are the same everywhere. Of course one would be terrified. Merely for representing certain cases… it’s like what lawyer Zhang Kai said to me: “We’re just lawyers, but you take on a few cases and all of a sudden, you become Liu Hulan [a Communist martyr]. You face the test of life and death.

But man strives to overcome himself, to conquer fear. How does one beat this dread? Actually, none of us knows how.

All you can do is forge ahead — to overcome the fear through action. Once you’ve committed, there is no use being fearful. Fearful as you are, you forge ahead, like what Aung San Suu Kyi said: While your legs shake with fear, you nonetheless forge forward, and that counts as courage.

Over a period of about four years, I took on around 40 human rights cases.

Maybe the authorities have their statistics. Maybe they didn’t like the way I handled the cases. For example, I posted pictures online, I wrote and published updates on my cases, and I gave interviews to foreign media. The authorities believe that publicizing the cases has a very bad effect.

Though it seems that my disbarment [in early 2018] was sudden, I thought about it later. It was an overall reprisal for all the human rights cases I’ve taken on over the years.

As for the future, I’ve always wanted to leave China and be a visiting scholar abroad. I have long been interested in how the English and American legal systems took root in other countries.

But this wish of mine may be hard to realize. It’s been four years since 2014, and I’ve been banned from leaving China the whole time. They say I’m a threat to national security.

I noticed that some of the lawyers who were disbarred or had their licenses cancelled in earlier years have run into financial difficulties. So, I think this is something I first need to resolve.

I think that for my generation, my aspiration in being a human rights lawyer wasn’t as high, grand, and lofty as all that. I really think it’s for our children. We don’t want them to grow up being brainwashed, full of terror, surrounded by corruption, in a country with no rule of law. So, we need to do whatever we can to promote progress in China.

I hope that the international community, and the American and European governments in particular, will speak out about this. Fundamentally, human rights problems cannot be separated from economic issues. When you deal with a country with no regard for human rights, you cannot guarantee that your economic interests will be protected; you can’t protect the economic interests of your citizens [when dealing with these countries.]

 

 

 


 

Related: 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018

 

 

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’

Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018

 

 

 

Hello everyone. I’m lawyer Wen Donghai (文东海) from Changsha. In the early hours of July 9, 2015, we first heard Wang Yu’s call for help. She said that unidentified men had charged into their home and were going to take her away. For a long time following that, we didn’t hear any news.

In the evening of July 10, the next night, I received a phone call. The caller identified themselves as coming from the police station, and said they wanted to speak to me. After I got there they began questioning me. Their main line of enquiry was about the arrest of Wang Yu and Zhou Shifeng. They said that we shouldn’t pay any attention to them. [I said:] You go and brazenly snatch people up like that, yet you’re telling me not to pay it any notice, or figure out what the situation is? There’s a problem with that — that’s for sure. I was quite forceful about it at the time. I said that I would for sure be giving attention to their case. I said that if their family got in touch with me, I would act as their lawyer.

In August of 2015 I accepted the commission of Wang Yu’s mother and became Wang’s defense attorney. After Wang Yu was released from custody, the people in our local judicial bureau warned me: You’ve done quite enough; you can’t keep going, and in particular, you’re not permitted to write anything.

My family members were obviously very concerned. They’d never encountered this sort of thing before, and didn’t know how sinister it gets in this field. Nor do they know the enormous press one faces when doing these things. Sometimes my wife would complain, saying: Stop getting yourself involved in all this danger. When you’re out and I’m home, as soon as I can’t reach you on the phone, I get scared to death. The thing with my family is that I’m the primary breadwinner. My wife doesn’t work, and we have two small kids, one six years old, the other eight. So there’s a certain family pressure there.

It’s all because I took on the 709 cases, and also some dissident cases later on, including those of Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃), Xiao Yuhui (肖育辉), and Mi Chongbiao (靡崇标) in Guizhou. I did a lot of cases like that, and also some religious freedom cases. The reason I got so furious is because the authorities just don’t follow the law.

A year after I finished up on Wang Yu’s case, in July 2017, the Hunan Lawyers’ Association opened an investigation on me, accusing me of disrupting court order. In late 2017, they transferred the case to the Hunan Provincial Justice Bureau and said that they were going to cancel my license to practice law. The superficial reason was that I’d taken on some Falun Gong cases and got into arguments with judges. They said I’d disrupted court order.

What I think is that, the 709 incident may represent a systematic suppression of lawyers over the last couple of years. This campaign of suppression has personally affected so many people. When 709 just took place, they carried out massive arrests of lawyers — this is the most direct, commonly known ‘709.’ But the deeper meaning of 709 is much greater than that. For instance, many people have come out and defended 709 lawyers, which involved about 60 lawyers at the most.

But just the campaign to arrest 709 lawyers wasn’t enough to satiate the authorities, who didn’t yet feel they’d achieved their objective. Their policy goals and the broader objectives they want to reach against this group hadn’t been realized.

So in early 2017 they began planning things out — how to carry out further suppression. In this case, they primarily set about using administrative sanctions, which they also augmented with a few arrests.

By late 2017 and early 2018 their focus turned to the disbarment and administrative punishment of 709 lawyers and the lawyers who defend them. Targets included lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) from Guangdong, Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) and Li Heping (李和平) in Beijing, Ma Lianshun (马连顺) in Henan, Qin Yongpei (覃永沛) in Guangxi, Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) in Hunan, and me. All were either 709 lawyers, or defenders of 709 lawyers.

So I think the narrow definition of 709 is the arrest of lawyers, while the broader meaning of it is this campaign of encirclement and annihilation of the human rights lawyers. This takes the form of administrative punishments, criminal arrests, interrogations and warnings, and some other measures — all of it is part of the suppression. I’ve been questioned by them numerous times and have had my freedom restricted for short periods.

As a defense lawyer for 709 lawyers, my own license was canceled in June 2018. According to the logic of their laws, I’m no longer a lawyer.

If this country can’t even tolerate lawyers, then it’s lacking a key feature — which is whether or not the rule of law you have is genuine. Even though I’ll never be a lawyer again, I’ll still be involved in different sorts of legal work.

I hope that the international community, every friendly country, human rights organizations, and others, can all pay a great deal of attention to the persecution currently taking place in China, as well all the attacks the authorities are making on civilized society. I hope they can also take some concrete actions, and improve the situation for the victims.

Perhaps the affairs of state are not as clear and black-and-white as I’ve said — yet the human rights persecution and the harms dealt to individuals, all these are truly existing facts.

I think that only if we study from the path that Western countries have successfully walked, and draw positive lessons from their experiences, will our country be able to actually realize the hopes in the slogans that we’re so used to shouting.

Thank you, everyone.