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Yaxue Cao, October 15, 2018
On the morning of October 11, Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清) arrived in Beijing accompanied by a couple of supporters. Ms. Pu is 85 years old, a retired doctor living in Neijiang, Sichuan province (四川内江市). As soon as she stepped off the train at Beijing West Railway Station, she spotted six people who had followed her all the way from Sichuan. In China, they are known as “jie fang renyuan” (截访人员), or local government workers whose job is to trail, stop and take back to their hometown petitioners who have gone to the capital on a quest for justice.
That is what brought Ms. Pu to Beijing –she was seeking justice for her son. With the help of activists, Ms. Pu got rid of her minders, but they kept texting her demanding to know her whereabouts.
In the afternoon, she went to the Ministry of Public Security and stood in line, along the gray wall encircling the Ministry’s compound, to submit documents detailing how the case against her son was a miscarriage of justice. Then she went to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and did the same.
Ms. Pu’s son Huang Qi (黄琦) is a renowned human rights activist who runs the website 64tianwang.com (六四天网) which reports human rights violations and social injustices. This is not the first time the 55-year-old Huang was in jail. An electronics engineer by training, he founded the 64tianwang website in 1999. He was arrested in 2000 for his human rights activities and sentenced to five years in prison. Following the Wenchuan earthquake in May, 2008, Huang Qi worked to provide humanitarian assistance to victims and at the same time wrote articles exposing shoddily constructed school buildings that killed thousands of children. In June 2008, he was arrested again for “illegally possessing state secrets” and later sentenced to three years in jail.
This time around, Huang Qi was arrested on November 28, 2016, for allegedly “illegally providing state secrets to overseas.”
The incident that led to the arrest of Huang Qi, Yang Xiuxiong (杨秀琼) and Chen Tianmao (陈天茂), ostensibly anyway, went like this: in early April 2016, at the office of a Neighborhood Committee in Youxian District, Mianyang city (绵阳市游仙区), a low-level communist cadre showed Chen a report by the Party’s Political and Legal Committee about Chen’s petition, and asked him to photograph it. Yang Xiuqiong passed on the information to Huang Qi. In April, Huang Qi ran an article on his website citing what that document says about the authorities’ “plans to crackdown on 64tianwang and Huang Qi.”
Such are the ‘state secrets’ and how they were ‘provided’ to overseas — the server of the website is overseas to prevent government hacking.
The ‘top secret’ document, as Ms. Pu would point out over and over again, has no red official heading; contains no label of ‘Secret’, no official markings or document codes, and no signature or date. “They fabricated this document to frame Huang Qi and jail him,” she said.
The same night the police took her son, a swarm of 20 plus policemen also came to Ms. Pu’s home, literally carried her off and shoved her into a car that took her first to the rural guesthouse and later to the 15th floor of Neijiang People’s Hospital where she had worked as a doctor of internal medicine until 1991. About ten people watched her in three shifts, 24/7, for nineteen days. They told other patients that she was a ‘political prisoner’ so that no one would dare to talk to her. When she was released nineteen days later, she found that her doorway was fitted with surveillance cameras and she had to get a locksmith to open her sabotaged door lock. Every time she came back from outside, someone would poke in to see who else was with her. One evening she sneaked out of her apartment in the dark and stayed the night with a friend. The next morning she got into a taxi and went into hiding in Chengdu, the provincial capital.
She hired two human rights lawyers for her son.
For eight months, lawyers were denied permission to meet with Huang Qi. Police told them that Huang’s case was a special one overseen by a special team; they were the ones who decided whether Huang Qi could see his lawyers.
Ms. Pu, anxious about her son’s health and whether he had been mistreated, sent an information request to the Sichuan provincial Department of Public Security and the Mianyang Municipal Bureau of Public Security, but got no answers. She wrote an open letter to Chinese leaders asking for medical parole for her son who suffers from a host of illnesses, including chronic nephritis.
At the end of July, 2017, lawyers finally met with Huang Qi for the first time since his detention eight months ago and learned about grueling interrogations that had lasted long hours and night watch that required Huang Qi to stand on his feet for six hours. At lunch after the meeting, everyone ate, but the mother who had accompanied the lawyers on each of their futile visits sat quietly and didn’t touch the food. She was despondent.
In the fall when the weather turned, she went to Mianyang again to deposit warm clothes and cash for Huang Qi.
On November 6, 2017, when lawyer Sui Muqing met with Huang Qi, the latter told him how two inmates had beaten him.
Ms. Pu couldn’t take it anymore. She embarked on a train all by herself and went to Beijing, where she mailed letters, postcards and documents to the Minister of Public Security, to the Ministry’s office for supervising police enforcement, and to the office that monitors official abuses at the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. She demanded that they correct the abuses and discipline the perpetrators. She met with foreign diplomats for help, pinning her hope on President Donald Trump who was visiting Beijing that week. She gave an interview to Radio Free Asia: “Investigation has concluded with Huang Qi’s case, but an officer continued to interrogate him, illegally, a dozen times and threatened 12-15 years of imprisonment in order to force Huang Qi to confess. Instructed by detention center officials, two inmates beat Huang Qi repeatedly.” Huang Qi was denied treatment, and wasn’t allowed to spend money deposited for him by his mother and supporters – all to break him and force him to admit guilt.
He reportedly told the interrogators that if they forced him, instead of a confession, they would get his dead body.
On January 15, 2018, Huang Qi was indicted by the Mianyang municipal procuratorate. In the months followed, Ms. Pu filed requests with the court in Mianyang and the superior court of the province for an open trial. She supported her son in sueing Tencent – the company that provided Huang Qi’s private communication with Yang Xiuqiong which was used as evidence against both of them. When the CCP Central Committee’s disciplinary team visited Sichuan, she submitted letters to them reporting the misconducts of the police and prosecutors in Sichuan, and asked for the release of her son. She submitted an application for her son’s medical parole to the Mianyang Intermediate Court. On Mother’s Day of this year, she appealed to Chinese leaders to correct the wrongdoings of the local authorities.
By mid-year, the trial neared and still the lawyers were denied permission to see the so-called “top secret documents.” Ms. Pu feared that the authorities, with the intent to keep Huang Qi locked up, would convict Huang Qi without even showing the documents during the hearing. She requested that the Sichuan Public Security re-evaluate the “secret documents.”
The trial, scheduled for June 20, was canceled. By then Huang Qi has been detained for nearly nineteen months without trial, beyond the statutory limitation for pretrial detention.
In late June, Ms. Pu mailed a complaint to China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate in Beijing refuting the nature of the “secret documents” and asking the body to correct the mistakes of the local judiciary and release her son.
In mid-August, three officials from her former employer Neijiang People’s Hospital visited her. They told her that higher level leaders had asked them to come to check on her.
Scribbling on her cellphone laboriously, she wrote one open letter after another, arguing point by point what a sham the case against Huang Qi was, and how it was a deliberate act to imprison Huang Qi. “How is a petitioner’s letter to the government a top national secret?” She asked. “If the neighborhood director who had given the document to Chen Tianmao is still going to work every day and wasn’t charged with leaking secrets, how are those who received the document ‘leaking secrets?’”
It is indeed a deliberate act, and it is part of a broader campaign to wipe out rights advocacy websites in China. In June 16, 2016, Lu Yuyu (卢昱宇) and Li Tingyu (李婷玉) were arrested in Dali, Yunnan. They ran the 非新闻 (Non-News) website that searched, collated, and published information about mass protests across China. Lu has since been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” In Suizhou, Hubei, Liu Feiyue, the founder and editor of minsheng guancha, or Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, was arrested in November, 2016. He was tried in August for “inciting subversion of state power” after 20 months in detention. No verdict has been delivered. Also in November, 2016, citizen journalist Sun Lin (孙林), known for videotaping human rights activism, was arrested in Nanjing, and has since been tried and sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” and “illegal possession of firearms.” In September, 2017, Zhen Jianghua (甄江华), the founder and editor of hrcchina.org website, was arrested. He has been denied legal counsel, and recently there were reports that he had been secretly tried.
In late September, lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) received a reply from the Mianyang Public Security, denying his request for Huang Qi’s medical records. The records, it reads, “do not fall within the scope of free government information.”
On October 8, lawyer Li Jinglin visited Huang Qi and learned that his condition had deteriorated. He suffers pain and swollenness and decreased urination. The detention center has kept the testing results from him. Based on her son’s description, Ms. Pu believes that Huang Qi is showing symptoms of late term uremia which is life threatening without treatment.
On October 9, Ms. Pu, accompanied by lawyer Li, went to see Judge Zhou who presides over Huang Qi’s case. At the entrance, court bailiffs grabbed her arms and prevented her from going in. She shouted, “My son Huang Qi is gravely ill! Give him medical parole!”
On October 11, she came to Beijing again with a renewed urgency.
On October 13, a decision by the prosecutors to bring more charges against Huang Qian was made public. It was mailed to lawyer Liu Zhengqing in Guangzhou via EMS and it was dated September 12. But one can never be sure that was the real date, and if it was, no explanation has been made as why the lawyers were not notified sooner. In addition to charges of “illegally providing national secrets to overseas,” Huang Qi is now also charged with “leaking national secrets.” “Given that Huang Qi is a repeated offender,” the revised indictment says, “he will be subjected to more severe punishment.”
So, what is going on? Instead of addressing the 85-year-old mother’s appeals, the Chinese government has just raised the stake higher for her and for her son.
They won’t release him, and they want to stop her.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao, or follow China Change @ChinaChange_org.
China Change, October 8, 2018
This weekly bulletin is NOT a news summary of the week, but a reading of ‘signs’: signs of quickening changes and shifting ground. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, we hope that upon stepping back a fuller picture would emerge. Sign of China catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to grow an awareness and keep a record of sort. As incomplete as it is destined to be, we hope the series is edifying and useful. — The Editors
Pence’s Speech and Two Emblematic Chinese Responses
On October 4th, during the ‘golden week’ of the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, the U. S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech that laid out in full the Trump administration’s views of China and the Chinese communist regime. You should watch it in full, but the editor of China Change has offered a crude summary of the speech: “Pence’s speech in a few words: the United States has done nothing to hurt China for more than 100 years. If it weren’t for America’s help, where would China be today? Not only do China’s leaders seem ignorant of what’s good for them, but they repay these favors with low and despicable acts in order to walk all over us and squeeze us dry. This is just asking for a good beating.”
One academic tweeted: “This one is going down in the history books. Not because of any soaring feats of oration or anything like that. But this marks a fundamental shift. Four decades of American policy has been overturned. Today is the end of an era.”
“The Sino-U.S. trade war has gotten to the point where America’s president and vice president have both stepped out to speak. All the while, the Chinese side has left the matter to just three spokesmen from the departments of defense, trade, and foreign affairs.”
“In the past, whenever the U.S. and China had some conflict, Chairman Mao himself would confront the other side. Today the American vice president Pence has come knocking at our door; can’t we find a leader of our own, someone a bit higher in rank than a spokesman [to come out and say something]?”
“Comrade Zhang” had observed the conspicuous absence of his country’s leaders in the diplomatic arena and felt something amiss. It’s a feeling the censors didn’t want him to have.
A Chinese human rights lawyer, disbarred by the authorities earlier this year, said after Pence’s speech, “Our prevailing attitude is silence. Going back a few years, you may have been able to find throngs of people filled with indignation at America’s actions. Such is the change.”
The Curious Case of Meng Hongwei
Sometimes in late September, Meng Hongwei (孟宏伟), president of Interpol and the Deputy Minister of Public Security, boarded a plane in Stockholm and returned China. Three days ago his wife reported him missing to French authorities. She had been receiving threats via phone and other venues. On Sunday, within an hour after Grace Wang gave a press conference in Lyon, the Chinese authorities announced that Meng was “under investigation by the National Supervision Commission for alleged violation of the law.”
Meng’s Interpol presidency was a cherished prize for China, representing China’s attempt to use the international organization for its own political purpose.
Meng’s term as Interpol chief expires in November 2020. The fact that the Chinese leaders were compelled to take down Meng at the steep price of ruining their credibility indicates the emergent nature of the matter involving Meng. It’s clear that Meng knew his trip back to China was an ominous one, and made arrangements with his wife that deviated the Party’s protocols: to publicize his disappearance and appeal to international help, instead of staying silent and “trusting the Party” (相信党). What Meng did is no less than to betray the Party. Maybe it is a matter of problematic loyalty. A Deputy Minister of Public Security knows too much and is involved in too many high-stake issues. His allegiance became questionable, and therefore he had to be pulled back at all costs. This is the only reasonable explanation we at China Change can come up with.
We will refrain from wallowing in the rich irony and absurdity of the event, but there are a few points to register:
- People who hold positions in international organizations, regardless of their position or nationality, should perform their duties as independent individuals, rather than as representatives of their respective countries. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affords none of its members such independence, Meng Hongwei among them. As far as the CCP is concerned, he is the Party’s man above all, and the Party can sanction him at any time as it sees fit, even during his Interpol term.
- It follows that Meng Hongwei, in his capacity as Interpol chief, was inevitably subject to the Party’s directives and control.
- Meng Hongwei’s mafia-style abduction sends a stark message to the international community: totalitarian China does not conform to international procedures and is incapable of participating in world affairs as a normal country.
- Almost exactly a year ago, Xi Jinping attended the 86th Interpol general assembly in Beijing and delivers a keynote speech emphasizing “cooperation, innovation, the rule of law and win-win results and build a universal and secure community of shared future for mankind.”
The next time Xi Jinping, or any Chinese leader, speaks at any international event, whether at the UN, the Davos Forum, or at international and regional summits, about globalization, climate change, free trade, world peace, think of what the Meng Hongwei episode says about China and just laugh .
In another report, RFI quoted the Japanese-language edition of Business Journal, which on Oct. 1 said it had found via CCP diplomatic channels that the Party elite had given up on resolving the Sino-U.S. trade frictions in the short term. From internal documents it was revealed that the children of senior Communist Party officials have been ordered not to study in the United States, and those already in the U.S. will be called back to China.
One analysis offered by the Business Journal of the order is that the Chinese government is worried that the high-ranking children could be held hostage by Washington. Another speculation is that the CCP has recalled its cadres’ children to shore up their loyalty — officials whose offspring and assets are in the territory of the United States may not have the Party-state’s best interests in mind. The CCP may wish to avoid the Three Kingdoms-era conundrum of “being present in the Cao camp while serving the Han at heart.” (身在曹营心在汉)
Former President of Xinjiang University Sentenced to Death
According to Radio Free Asia Uighur service, former president of Xinjiang University, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip has been sentenced to death with two year reprieve for ‘separatism.’ The two sources cited by the RFA report, one was the political director of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Xinjiang and the other from a police station in Kashgar Prefecture, learned the sentence of Professor Tashpolat Tiyip from a 90-minute internal, ‘cautionary’ film.
According to Baidu encyclopedia, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip was born in 1958, a scientist in geoscience and remote sensing, and enjoyed a special allowance for experts by the State Council. He was dismissed in March 31, 2017, and that probably was also the time when he was arrested.
Another report has it that Kurban Mamut, the 68-year-old retired editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Culture magazine, was taken to a “re-education camp” in February 2018.
In a 4-minute video, Torchlight Uyghur Group compiled an incomplete list of Uighur public figures who have been given staggering sentences or sent to camps, including scholars, scientists, intellectuals, writers, artists, educators, and businessmen.
News from Xinjiang continue to roll in daily: grim, bleak, and desperate. Journalists noted (here and here) that, on government websites, officials’ resumes have been altered to remove their positions at “vocational schools.” By inference, the city of Atush alone, with a population of 200,000, has at least seven such “schools.”
Two weeks ago, we wrote in the second issue of Signs of China that the Uighurs detained in concentration camps were being transferred to other parts of China. There were only bits and pieces of information available at that point, but now the news has been confirmed via various sources.
The situation is developing on a large scale and with shocking speed. Radio Free Asia reported that since the beginning of September, the Xinjiang authorities started deporting Muslims held in so-called “deradicalization education centers” and “vocational schools” to other regions. According to a number of Muslims in Xinjiang who spoke on condition of anonymity, the transfer has targeted Uighurs in Kashgar, Hotan and other places in southern Xinjiang, as well as Kazakh communities in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of the province. The number of people being moved could be as high as 200,000 or 300,000.
Police Given Authorization for Unlimited Access to Internet Privacy
China’s Ministry of Public Security recently released its “Public Security provisions on public Security organs internet security, supervision, and inspection,” effective Nov. 11.
According to the Provisions, the public security organs are cleared to inspect companies that provide internet access, internet data centers, content distribution, domain name services, online information, and the like.
Reasons for inspection include looking into whether or not the company has taken measures to follow laws pertaining to the recording and retention of user registration and login information; whether it is taking relevant preventative measures to control the publishing and transmission of information prohibited by law or administration regulations; or whether they have recorded the user data in hosting or virtual space leasing.
In other words, Chinese police are now authorized by government regulation to walk into any internet firm and copy everything on their servers at will. They have had such unfettered access to domestic internet companies already; now it’s every company without exception. Even foreign companies like Apple and Amazon have handed over server access to their Chinese partners after China’s Internet Security Law was promulgated June 1, 2017.
Growing Industrial Pepper: For Hot Pot or for Pepper Spray
Starting in the spring of 2018, in dozens of towns and villages across Guizhou Province, farmer started receiving instructions and training from commercial technicians teaching them how to plant a new kind of industrial pepper, RS-3. It is currently the hottest pepper that can be produced as a crop, and it is reportedly best cultivated in Yunnan and Guizhou, where there is dry soil and ample sunlight.
The county of Zhenning (镇宁) has planted about 10,000 mu (about 1,500 acres) of RS-3 with assistance from the Guizhou Red Star Development Company (贵州红星开发公司). A total of 100,000 mu are planned. The county’s Party secretary personally inspected a number of planting “bases” to ensure that the crop had reached or exceeded the issued quota.
In the city of Panzhou, the Guizhou Huikangyuan Agricultural Technology Co., Ltd. (贵州汇康源农业科技有限公司) reached an agreement with farmers in several townships to cultivate 21,000 mu of the industrial pepper. It is also being grown in Puding.
One mu of land can produce 3,000 to 4,000 kg of RS-3 pepper. The developers are covering initial investment costs for the farmers, and will also purchase the crop at a fixed price. Agriculture materials such as seedlings, fertilizer, fluorescent films, and pesticides are being provided by county governments.
The neighboring province of Yunnan is also growing a variety of industrial pepper — 150,000 mu and still expanding, per one report. The province first began growing them in spring 2017.
These peppers are too hot to be consumed by people or animals. Farmers picking the crop must wear protection to avoid touching the pepper directly and causing damage to their hands. If the fruit is broken and the juice comes into contact with skin, it will cause burning that lasts four to six hours.
Speaking with the Chinese state media, one technician claimed that industrial peppers are widely used in the food industry. But netizens were quick to point out one particular usage: “More importantly, industrial peppers are of great use in military and defense application, such as counter-terrorism and riot prevention.”
According to one report, China “gets almost all of its red pepper, chili oleoresin, and capsaicin from India. India is the world’s largest pepper producer, and is at the forefront in industrial pepper extraction technology.”
Chinese Staple Crop Production Takes a Sharp Dip
According to the Weibo account of the China National Grain and Material Reserve Bureau, as of Sept. 25, total purchases of grain in major producing areas — Hebei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, and Hubei — amounted to 48.139 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 22.406 million tons.
Major rice producers of Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, and Guangdong reported total acquisitions of 7.689 million tons of long-grained rice, a 1.155-million ton decrease compared with the same period last year. Total production of rapeseed was 1.104 million tons, a 137,000-ton decrease. (Thanks to Tian Beiming [田北铭] for providing this information on Twitter.)
In July, the General Office of the State Council issued a notice to deploy a nationwide inspection of the quantity and quality of policy food stocks. The scope of the inventory includes central reserve grain, minimum purchase price grain, national temporary storage grain, national one-time reserve grain, local grain reserve, and the quantity and quality of commodity grain stored in policy food enterprises. The purpose is to verify “the true reliability of these stocks.” March 2019 will be the statistical reporting date of the food inventory inspection.
Disgruntled PLA Veterans Clash With Military Police in Shandong
During the National Day celebrations, hundreds of veterans waving flags of the PRC and the Party gathered in Pingdu, Shandong Province, to protest the police brutality and the blockage of their attempts at appeal. They prepared wooden sticks in advance for each man to defend himself with.
On Oct. 5, the veterans occupied the Pingdu Agricultural Technology Market and spent the night there. On the 6th, their representatives met with government officials. Negotiations apparently failed, since in the afternoon, the police violently clashed with the protesters. The police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, while the veterans fought back with fire extinguishers and their sticks. Over a thousand more special policemen were deployed, and the veterans were effectively routed that evening. Only about a dozen of them remained in the square. Surrounded by large numbers of police, they too were forced to leave as darkness set in.
On Oct. 7, veterans from other regions arrived in Pingdu. News reports indicate that Shandong Province has mobilized police and even contracted security personnel from all over the country to confront them. Newly shipped riot gear, such as batons and helmets, have been unpacked and put into use on the streets. The situation is still in progress.
On Oct. 11, 2016, nearly 10,000 veterans surrounded the Central Military Commission building in Beijing, demanding the government give them fair benefits and treatment, shocking the Party elite. This incident led directly to the establishment of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs on April 16, 2018. The Chinese government’s response seems to be a combination of placating them with money and arranging for a number of them to receive public employment.
Many observers believe that these PLA veterans are defenders of the system. Provided their immediate wishes are satisfied, they wouldn’t hesitate to become the regime’s thugs.
Live video footage of the protests are currently available on WeChat and other video sharing platforms. While having confirmed the authenticity of the events from other sources, we appreciate the comprehensive reportage provided by Twitter user @lifang072.
A Reality Check on October 5
Lest we forget the nature of political life in China, this WeChat post directs our attention to two events, both of which occurred decades ago on the 5th of October.
The first were the famous “five regulations” issued in a document by the CCP Central Committee and the State Council on October 5, 1993. These regulations stipulated that Party and government leaders at or above the county (division) level were not allowed to operate business enterprises or use their powers to benefit spouses, children, or other relatives and friends; in addition, officials were not allowed to work part-time and receive any remuneration in economic entities, buy or sell stocks, receive monetary gifts or securities at official events; or use public funding for entertainment.
Today, 25 years later, there are no officials in China who are not corrupt, and the country has all but set the curve for corruption worldwide.
Second, the People’s Republic of China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the United Nations on October 5, 1998. Today, 20 years later, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate has died after a long period of languishing in prison; political dissidents have been jailed and sentenced to severe punishment; human rights lawyers are disappeared and tortured; civil society organizations’ public welfare activities have been brought under strict control. Millions of Uighurs and other Muslims have been locked up in concentration camps; house churches have been suppressed or forced to disperse. The words and actions of virtually every citizen are subject to the eyes and ears of an omnipresent panopticon.
As with the case of Meng Hongwei, we are seeing increasing use of enforced disappearance, torture, and unnatural death as means of solving internal power entanglement.
There are those who are, ostensibly, trying to determine whether the problem lies with Xi Jinping or the system itself. We think they’ve had more than enough time to reach a conclusion.
Signs of China (1), September 16, 2018.
Signs of China (2), September 22, 2018.
Signs of China (3), September 30, 2018.
September 25, 2018
China Change, partnered with Humanitarian China, has compiled this 19-minute video presentation about the Chinese regime’s ongoing repression of churches, particularly in central China’s Henan Province (河南). Much of the footage is collected from social media, and we conducted a number of interviews with pastors inside and outside China to provide context and analysis. – The Editors
Living Stone: A Portrait of a House Church in China, December 21, 2015.
The Shepherds of Living Stone Church, December 25, 2016.
China Change, September 22, 2018
Unsettling news from China emerges every week in a constant flow — on social media, in reports, and from our own sources in the country. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports and developments cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, upon stepping back a fuller picture begins to emerge. China Change catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to keep a growing awareness of changes in China. — The Editors
Local Government Debt: Going Bankrupt, or Raising More?
On September 13, the General Offices of both the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council jointly published a document giving ‘guiding opinions’ on limiting the debt that state-owned enterprises can take on. One line that attracted particular note said: “Local Government Financing Vehicles [LGFVs] whose assets are severely insufficient to collateralize their debts and have lost the ability to repay should engage in bankruptcy and restructuring, or liquidation proceedings, according to the law; resolutely guard against ‘Too Big to Fail,’ resolutely guard against the accumulation of risk becoming systemic risk.”
LGFVs are entities established by local governments around China, including fixed asset investment companies, real estate and urban development companies, and urban asset management companies. They invest in municipal construction and infrastructure projects, and are a de facto form of municipal debt (from 1995 to 2009 municipalities in China were forbidden from issuing bonds).
In early 2009 the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) and the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) issued the policy that gives the regulatory framework for this behavior, which “supports qualified local governments to organize infrastructure financing vehicles, issue debt, medium-term notes, and other financing instruments, in order to expand complementary financing channels for central government investment projects.”
Beijing economist Hu Xingdou (胡星斗) told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the scale of LGFV debt in China has probably reached 40 trillion yuan, and the bankruptcy of LGFVs will likely cause serious losses among a very large investor base. “In particular, much municipal debt has been funded by Wealth Management Products [WMPs] sold through banks, and many people hold these products in their portfolios. A lot of people may lose their life savings.”
Chinese internet users remarked that bankruptcies in LGFVs equate to a default on the debt, and that a lot of people are going to lose their money. Some estimated that the number impacted in the coming LGFV bankruptcy wave will far outstrip, by an order of magnitude, the recent losses in the peer to peer investment sector, which saw thousands of angry investors protest in cities across China.
Yet even as municipal debt vehicles face bankruptcy, on August 14 the Ministry of Finance put out a circular demanding the rapid expansion of local government infrastructure bonds, which led to a massive rush of issuance. These bonds are the major way local governments finance their infrastructure expenditures. According to Xinhua, as of mid-September, around 200 billion yuan of new debt had been issued, which added to the August new issuance of 428 billion, making total new debt issuance in just 1.5 months over 600 billion yuan.
Why is so much new debt being issued even as the central government is warning against systemic risk and demanding the municipalities unable to support their debt initiative LGFV bankruptcy proceedings? We profess to have no clue.
The Government Wants Chinese to Spend, Spend, and Spend More
On September 20, the CCP and the State Council published a circular providing “a number of opinions” on encouraging more consumer spending: make the public increase their expenditures on food, clothing, accommodations, travel, and more; increase the quality and expand the number of things they spend money on (cultural products, travel, sports, health, retirement spending, housekeeping, education, training, children); create new consumer products, make them spend more online, consume more customized products, and also spend money on ‘smart’ technologies, fashion, and other popular trends. Rural residents are encouraged to up their consumption too.
Any economy is driven by investments, exports, and domestic consumption — but with the extraordinary growth of China’s fixed asset investment being largely exhausted, and exports facing tariffs from the Trump White House, the government seems desperate to boost consumption, even though it has been promoting it for some time now.
Someone in Zhongnanhai is evidently working overtime on these new opinions and demands, which are falling down like snowflakes.
Affirming for the 1001st Time That China’s Judiciary Is the Party’s Judiciary
Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan noted the following piece of news: that on September 12 the Party Group of the Henan Higher People’s Court issued four circulars expelling from office 48 judges in the court. The circular attributed the decision to the provincial Party’s Organization Department. Liu Xiaoyuan notes that whether required by the provincial Party apparatus or decided upon by the court, going about it this way is against Chinese law. According to the Chinese constitution and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Organization of the People’s Courts, court presidents are elected by People’s Congresses at the same level; deputy court presidents, presiding judges, deputy presiding judges, and judges must be appointed and dismissed by the Standing Committee of People’s Congresses at their same level.
Meanwhile on September 17, the Ministry of Justice held a meeting in Yunnan for the promotion of “Party Building Work” among lawyers. Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua (傅政华) spoke at the convocation, demanding that “the Party must assume comprehensive leadership in lawyer work; implement total coverage of Party Organization and Party Work across the legal field before the end of this year; guarantee the three year goal of Party building having achieved total coverage, total conformity, and total leadership by 2020.”
Is China Moving Muslim Internees to Other Parts of China in the Face of International Outcry?
The Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, a Falun Gong-associated newspaper, recently reported the following: “An official source in China recently obtained information from an associate in the police that over the last few days Uighurs in internment camps in Xinjiang have been distributed to different areas around the country. This work is being conducted with a high level of secrecy, and the travel routes used are all under police and military control. The source told The Epoch Times that 1,500 people were sent to the area he is in, and the police involved were all made to sign confidentiality agreements. The source speculated that, because the government plans to spread the 1-2 millions of Uighurs detainees, they would be sent to different prisons and detention centers, and he expressed the fear that the Uighurs might be killed.”
This reminds us that, in mid-August, there were rumors that internees from Xinjiang were being sent to Jiuquan (酒泉), Wuwei (武威) in Gansu province and Delhi (德令哈) and Golmud (格尔木) in Qinghai. A screenshot of a WeChat conversation describes an unusually heavy presence of security forces at train stations, and the understanding was that Uighurs were being transported.
Uighurs: More Professors Sent to Internment Camps; One Literary Editor Jumped to His Death; Highest Ranking Uighur Cadre So Far Sacked for ‘Corruption’
At least four senior Uighur officials from Kashgar University in Xinjiang have been removed from their posts for “two-faced” activities [i.e. disloyal to the CCP, critical of Party policies, or showing sympathy to targeted ethnic groups]. They include President Erkin Omer, vice president Muhter Abdughopur, and professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul; information about them has been scrubbed from the university’s website. Read more.
According to a report by RFA’s Uighur service: Professor Azat Sultan, former President of Xinjiang Normal University and former chairman of Xinjiang chapter of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, has been arrested for being a ‘double faced person.’ His whereabouts are unknown.
RFA Uighur service also reported that Keyser Keyum, the editor-in-chief of Literary Translation magazine, jumped from the 8th floor of his office building. It is said that he had received a call from police that day about sending him to ‘re-education’ camp.
On September 21 Xinhua reported that the deputy director of the National Develop and Reform Commission and director of the National Energy Administration, Nur Bekri, was suspected of severe violations of Party discipline and is being investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Hu Ping, a U.S.-based dissident, expressed horror at the news: “Nur Bekri was the chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 2009 during the July 5 incident. In Xinjiang, the only other Uighur to be secretary of the region’s Party Committee was Saifuddin Azizi, and subsequently all Party Secretaries were Han, and the highest ranking Uighurs were only chairmen of the region [not chairmen of the Party Committee of the region]. And now, Bekri himself has been toppled. From this it can be seen how serious the situation is in Xinjiang, and how horrific the plight of Uighurs in China.”
Hu Ping noted that “according to Bekri’s official curriculum vitae, he received a Han education since he was a child and joined the Party in his early 20s. Following the July 5 incident he was promoted to the Central Committee during the 18th Party Congress, but didn’t remain in the Central Committee during the 19th Party Congress, nor become a deputy in the 13th National People’s Congress. It’s clear therefore that he had not been trusted by the Party center for some years already.”
On the second day of the riots in Xinjiang in July 2009, Bekri went on television to criticize Uighurbiz.net, a Chinese-language website run by Professor Ilham Tohti and his students, accusing it of “inciting violence and spreading rumors.” In March 2014 during the ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing, Bekri told a press conference that the evidence showing that Ilham—arrested in January of 2014—had engaged in splittist activities was conclusive and unquestionable.
Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 and is currently being held in the Xinjiang No. 1 Prison. There has been almost no word about Ilham circumstances for the last two years, and many now worry about his health.
Moving Ordinary Residents out of Heart of Beijing
A social media post recently noted that following the expulsion of residents and demolition of buildings along Fuyou Street (府右街, the street along the west side of Zhongnanhai) and Xihuangcheng street (西皇城根, adjacent to Fuyou Street), a similar operation on the east side of Zhongnanhai has taken place, expelling residents along Nanchang and Beichang streets (南长街和北长街). The eviction and demolition notices stipulate that state leaders who live on these streets are not the targets of eviction. The post also said: “In the future, Nanchang street, Beichang street, and Fuyou street have all been closed off for regular traffic. According to the plan, in the next one to two years there will be a gradual eviction and demolition of residences on both sides on Jingshan (景山公园), the east of the Forbidden City, along Nanchizi and Beichizi streets (南池子和北池子), around Beihai park (北海公园), and around Shichahai (什刹海), in order to expand the living space for central Party leaders.” The elementary school on Beichang street, as well as Beijing 161 Middle School not far from Tiananmen, will both be relocated and incorporated into other schools.
We drew a rough outline of the area affected by the project based on the social media post:
Twitter User Detained for 10 Days for “Attacking Leaders of the Party and Country”
On September 11, a 42-year old Twitter user in Beijing, Quan Shixin (全世欣), went to the Haidian Public Security Bureau to request permission to demonstrate, and was administratively detained. He was released on September 21. The notice of administrative detention given to her said: “Quan Shixin used internet circumvention methods to attack the Party and state leaders on Twitter, the circumstances being severe. Thus she was administratively detained for 10 days.”
No Foreign Programs in Prime Time, and Foreigners Not Allowed in Key Positions on Chinese TV
On September 20, the National Radio and Television Administration published a draft version (for public comment) of a set of regulations regarding non-Chinese citizen involvement in television, broadcasting, and shows. The regulations apply to those from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and the rest of the world. The basic content is as follows: without the approval of the NRTA, TV outlets may not broadcast overseas programs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; television stations may not spend more than 30% of their daily broadcast time on foreign films, shows, cartoons, documentaries, or other programs; the screenwriter and director of a program cannot both be foreign persons; male and female lead roles cannot both be played by foreigners; television and film producers who employ foreigners as creative staff must register the contract with the NRTA within five days of its signing.
Foreign television programs are popular in China, and it appears rules of this nature are meant to curb the availability of imported programs and the enthusiasm for them.
When a band in China named Fangu (反骨) [Rebels] applied for a permit to perform in Suzhou and Shanghai, the authorities told them to change their name before they could be approved. The band announced on social media that “due to force majeure, the band has temporarily changed its name to zhenggu (正骨) [Bone Correction], and we ask for your understanding.”
The Berlin Schaubuehne theatrical troupe’s performance of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People has received a warm welcome in Chinese drama circles, but after three performances in Beijing the original plan to put on another two performances in Nanjing were cancelled. The authorities said that this was due to “technical reasons,” but is it possible that the drama’s storyline and theme felt a little too close to home for the Chinese authorities?
On September 15, the city of Jinan, Shandong Province, held a Rocket Music Festival (火箭音乐节); at one point during the event, when the audience felt particularly moved by the music, they began swaying their bodies together (as often happens at music festivals). At that moment, a police officer dashed onto the stage, stood at the microphone, stopped the music, and delivered a stern warning about public safety. “If you don’t cooperate, we’ll have to stop this performance [this elicited loud laughter]. Everything is subordinate to safety! If everyone is like you just were, then it absolutely cannot proceed. Everyone knows that our country is currently engaged in a special struggle in Sweeping the Black and Eliminating Evil… I’m watching everyone’s behavior from the stage. If there is danger, the performance could be stopped at any moment.”
‘Totalitarian’ Is the Word
Stein Ringen, Professor of Political Economy at King’s College in London, wrote a letter to fellow China analysts, asking that “we set our work straight in language.” “The People’s Republic of China is a totalitarian state,” he wrote. “Of its own kind, to be sure, hence neo-totalitarian, but totalitarian it is. No clarity of analysis is possible without clarity of language. The PRC is not ‘an authoritarian system,’ it is ‘a totalitarian state.’”
At China Change, we began to use the term “totalitarian,” “neo-totalitarian” and “market-totalitarian” in as early as 2013.
Signs of China (1), China Change, September 16, 2018.
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
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 –– 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 , 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 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.”
I was the one who went to the copy shop to print the flyers for the “228” petition for equal education rights. 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) 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) 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) 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. 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, 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)! 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, , 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.” 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
 Xu Zhiyong was arrested on July 16, 2013.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Xu Zhiyong spent a semester at Yale Law School in 2004 as a visiting scholar.
 Longchang yi is where the Ming Dynasty Neo-Confucian official and philosopher Wang Yangming was exiled in today’s Guizhou for protesting official corruption.
 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.”
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.