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Category Archives: Rule of Law
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.
Make Sacrifices to Illuminate the Future: Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 2018
On September 13, 2013, lawyers Wang Cheng (王成), Tang Jitian (唐吉田), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) announced the establishment of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团). All three had been disbarred by the Chinese authorities because of their commitment to defending the rights of the Chinese people. In just one year, more than 300 Chinese lawyers joined the Group. Many seasons later, the Human Rights Lawyers Group now marks the fifth anniversary of its founding. On this otherwise ordinary day, we will take inventory of what we have done over the last five years, reiterate the basic principles of the group, and plan our steps for the future.
In the past five years, we have gone through hardships and sadness; we have seen our hopes dashed. We struggle to improve the human rights situation in our country, only to see it worsen progressively.
In the past five years, Chinese human rights lawyers have been demonized by the authorities and smeared by people who harbor ulterior motives. Our members have endured persecution of a severity seldom seen, stunning the international community.
In the past five years, many Chinese human rights lawyers have been imprisoned or disappeared. Since the “709” crackdown of July 2015 that shocked people in China and abroad, human rights lawyers have sustained heavy blows to the point of near destruction.
But even in the face of these cruel realities, members of the Human Rights Lawyers Group have continued their fruitful work. They issued joint statements to express their solidarity and expose human rights violations. It is an endeavor fraught with hardship that is difficult to imagine. They defended political dissidents until they themselves were labeled as dissidents; they defended people of faith until they themselves became the target of the authorities’ “stability maintenance;” they defended the petitioners and the victims of forced demolition, until the day they were disbarred by the judicial establishment under orders from the Party. They defended the ethnic minorities until the day they themselves were denounced as traitors; they defended the workers until they themselves were deprived of their right to practice. Their sacrifices are too numerous to list.
We cannot help but ask why the human rights lawyers, passionate for justice, should be targeted for political persecution. Why do the judicial authorities restrict human rights lawyers from working on their cases? Why does the judiciary use sly tricks to revoke or suspend their right to practice?
The answer is simple: it is because human rights lawyers pursue justice, and their persecutors represent darkness and evil.
Today, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Lawyers Group, we reaffirm our mission to advance human rights in China. We shall continue to uphold the values we cherish through the practice of law.
We yearn for freedom, but we know the importance of order; we pursue justice, but we do not subscribe to self-righteousness; we emphasize basic human rights, but we will honor the principle of gradual progress through proper procedures; as human rights lawyers, we insist on the right of independent judgment, but respect the different perspectives and views held by others.
Once again, we announce to the world that we are not this country’s enemy. We are a group of true patriots. We know that we must transcend class, nationality, and faith in order to work for the dignity and basic human rights of all Chinese. Regardless of how others perceive and label us and attempt to discredit our work, we will stand by our principles as we strive to improve human rights in China.
At the same time, we look forward to healthy cooperation and dialogue with the authorities to find a feasible path to furthering and improving human rights. We want everyone to know that human rights lawyers regaining their own rights is a victory for everyone, regardless of occupation, social status, economic background, or ethnicity.
We are aware that the effort of human rights lawyers alone cannot change the human rights situation in this country. We are ready to work with all people and groups that pursue freedom, justice, and the rule of law, and to take a stand for the beautiful goals to which we all aspire.
In the next five years, we must first and foremost fight for the freedom of every citizen to be free from fear. We demand the repeal of the provision in the Supervision Act that affords law enforcement officials the power of wanton detention, as well as the provisions in the Criminal Procedure Law that allow for secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated place.”
We vow to fight for victims who have been forcefully disappeared and tortured by the authorities, and we will not tolerate the illegal detention and disappearance, in the name of the state, of anyone living on this land, be they officials or ordinary citizens. Everyone has basic rights, including the right to litigation.
We will advocate to establish open records of human rights violations committed by public officials. This lists will record the deeds of all, from leaders at the highest levels down to infractions committed by local level of guobao, or political security police. If they do not rein themselves in, they will one day stand trial to face justice in court.
We will offer strong and unconditional support for citizens’ freedom of speech. We will never tolerate the administrative detention or legal punishment of a citizen simply for criticizing the government or the party. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of all other freedoms. If no one dares speak out against abuse, all of society will taste the bitter consequences.
We love blue skies and green hills, and we will not turn a blind eye to the environmental pollution or tainted food and drugs. We will urge governments at all levels to take effective measures to reduce pollution, improve the environment, and enforce regulations over the food and drug industry so that everyone can have safe food, medicine, air, and water. We want to tell citizens who have suffered persecution for their efforts to improve the environment or expose the safety hazards posed by tainted food and medicine: you have our full support.
We are extremely concerned about the friction between police and civilians. We call on law enforcement throughout the country to act in strict accordance with the law, to explain the law in good faith, exercise restraint, respect and protect human rights, and not act as accomplices to brutal “stability maintenance.”
It’s been more than three years since the 709 crackdown, we exhort the authorities to carefully review their attitude and policy towards human rights lawyers, and to treat properly these conscientious and responsible professionals. We ask the authorities to immediately release Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Yu Wensheng (余文生), Li Yuhan (李昱函), and other lawyers. It is important for everyone to enjoy a more civilized society that upholds reason and the rule of law.
Five years have gone by in a flash, but it’s been five years with historic import. We the human rights lawyers are ordinary human beings, but we are not cowards. If for the sake of China’s human rights we must lose our licenses or even our freedom, then we are willing to make these sacrifices for our country and our people.
Only through sacrifice can we forge ahead to the future! That’s our solemn proclamation on the 5th anniversary of China Human Rights Lawyers Group. Thank you all!
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 2018
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Lawyer He Wei (何伟), Tel: 18523069266
Lawyer Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), Tel: 13366227598
Lawyer Shi Ping (施平), Tel: 15515694755
Lawyer Wang Qingpeng (王清鹏), Tel: +1 (425)7329584
Lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), Tel: 18673190911
牺牲自我，点亮未来 — 人权律师团成立五周年献辞
王清鹏, +1 (425)7329584
Related – Analyses and Reports
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018
Communist Party’s Suppression of Lawyers Is a Preemptive Attack Against an Imaginary Threat, Liu Shuqing, May 16, 2018
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.
Related – Personal Accounts
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017.
A Record of 709, Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, Xie Yang, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, January 19, 2017.
Support Our Work
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, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.
China’s Little-Noticed ‘New Police Law’ Gives Vastly Expanded Legal Powers to Public Security Apparatus
China Change, September 6, 2018
On August 17, 2018 at about 3:30 p.m., He Guangwei (何光伟) strode out of the A Exit at the Zhujiang Xincheng subway stop in Guangzhou, carrying a bag of drumstick leaves, a rare vegetable, on his way to meet a friend. In the years prior, when he worked as a journalist at the prominent newspaper Southern Weekend (《南方周末》), he got on and off everyday at the very same stop. A short walk from the subway, a member of China’s auxiliary police (that is, a non-official police officer) intercepted him and demanded in a voluble tone that he produce his identification card for inspection. He glanced around and noticed that not far off another police officer was rebuking a young man for not having his ID with him. He Guangwei had worked in Guangzhou for eight years and had never once been stopped on the street and subjected to an ID inspection. He asked the officer why — “Are you enforcing the law?” The officer said he was. He then enquired as to which law was being enforced. The officer couldn’t answer, but simply stared at him and roared: “Are you going to produce your ID? Are you going to cooperate or not?!” He was then taken to the local police station where he was informed that, according to Article 15 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Resident Identity Cards (《中华人民共和国居民身份证法》) he was being submitted to an ID inspection. It just so happened that He was quite familiar with Article 15 of the ID Law. He Guangwei knew that he was neither a criminal suspect, nor at a controlled site, nor suspected of involvement in any incidents seriously harming social order, nor present at any of the designated locations during large-scale public activities during which ID inspections may be freely conducted by police. He was merely a pedestrian walking on the street, no different to any other person on any other day walking on any other road. And so he began to argue. The officers grabbed him and shoved him into an interrogation room, pushed him up against the wall, and patted him down. They checked his phone and notebook, and rifled through the bag of vegetables. To conclude the ordeal the officers demanded that he write a self-criticism and dictated its content: “Having been educated by the People’s Police, I have come to recognize my error. I promise that in future when police ask for my identification, I will produce it for inspection.” He Guangwei later wrote about the encounter on his WeChat account, titling it “A Trip Through the Xian Village Police Station” (《过冼村派出所》); the post appears to have attracted over one million readers.
In the essay, he wrote: “If the enforcers of the law actually followed the law, would anyone dare to violate the law while enforcing it? If there is something a citizen doesn’t know and the police give you the answers, who would reject an ID inspection?”
He’s mistaken. The Ministry of Public Security on December 1, 2016 published the Draft Amendment of People’s Police Law of the People’s Republic of China (《中华人民共和国人民警察法》修订草案稿, referred to throughout as the ‘New Police Law’), which significantly increases police powers. The amendments have essentially written China’s police a blank check allowing them to inspect any IDs they wish, to collect personal information, and intrude on citizens’ privacy at will.
Affirming Police Loyalty to the Communist Party
Article 5 of the New Police Law stipulates:
“The People’s Police must be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, loyal to the country, loyal to the people, and loyal to the constitution and the law.”
The first version of the Police Law came out in February 1995, with the full title the People’s Police Law of the People’s Republic of China (《中华人民共和国警察法》) (it was revised in October 2012). Neither the original or the 2012 revision mentioned the CCP (which does not mean that the police don’t belong to the Party), and nor were the constitution and the law placed at the bottom of the hierarchy of allegiance.
In late March of this year, Xi Jinping held the first meeting of the Party Central Committee for the Comprehensive Deepening of Reform (中央全面深化改革委员会), which oversaw the passage of several new police documents — including “the Pilot Plans for Reforming the Rank of Law Enforcement Officers at Public Security Organs” (《公安机关执法勤务警员职务序列改革方案（试行）》) and “the Pilot Plans for Reforming the Rank of Police Technicians” (《公安机关警务技术职务序列改革方案（试行）》) — among others. According to follow-up reports in the official and semi-official media, China may in the future establish two police corps, in the form of a Public Security Administration (公安行政部门) and a Police Corps (警察总署). The responsibilities of the former would be focused on the administration and management of the household registration and entry-exit system and other administrative affairs; the latter would be the coercive power of the state apparatus, organized as a semi-militarized force that must maintain absolute loyalty to the Communist Party. It’s possible that the items about “loyalty” in the New Police Law were in order to pave the way for the Police Corps — but whatever the case, these articles without any doubt reflect the increasing weight being given to police powers in the current stability maintenance regime.
Special Clause for ‘Social Entities Participating in Public Security’
Article 6 of the New Police Law introduces “the principle of integrating police forces with the masses.” The precise language says:
“Public security organs must persist in linking their specialized work with the Mass Line; [they must] improve the mechanism for mobilizing social entities to take part in public security; [they must have a public security system in which] public security is maintained by the masses guarding against and handling problems; [they must] promote the socialized management of public security.”
Just what is “the socialized management of public security”? According to an exposition on “the comprehensive management mechanism for public security” in the Party journal Qiushi (《求是》) three years ago, socialized management of public security refers to “relying on grassroots organizations, cultivating a wide network of informants, and working hard to extend the antannae of public security work into every corner [of society].” Currently, the public security and police departments already make widespread use of mass organizations, such as neighborhood committees, property management companies, neighborhood security guards and private security companies, to engage in surveillance, reporting, and assistance for their work. This has become the norm in China. The New Police Law would codify all these activities, giving them a basis in the law itself, and allow the police to legally and effortlessly demand and obtain the cooperation of more social entities.
Authorizing the Police to Inspect IDs on Demand
Article 16 of the New Police Law stipulates:
“The People’s Police may, in the performance of their duties, lawfully inspect the identification cards or other forms of proof of identification of residents.”
Shi Ping (施平), a former journalist and currently a lawyer (who goes by the moniker Shi Yu [石玉] online), points out: “If this draft law is passed, one can imagine a circumstance like this in the future: Few police officers citizens encounter in public space are not there ‘in the performance of their duties’; they are at least ‘in the performance of the duty’ to prevent illegal activity. Thus, a police officer will, without any other requirement or restriction, be empowered to inspect the identification of any citizen on demand.”
In comparison to the stipulations about the inspection of identification in Article 15 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Resident Identity Cards (《中华人民共和国身份证法》) , the New Police Law without any doubt expands to an arbitrary degree the power of police to inspect ID cards. Even when conducting their duties now — as seen in the He Guangwei incident and countless others — it is a common occurrence for police to arbitrarily demand to see citizens’ IDs. What the New Police Law does is codify this practice in legislation.
Summons on Demand
The current Police Law makes no mention of the power of summons (传唤), and the word does not appear anywhere in the text.
The New Police Law however adds the following clauses about summons powers:
“The People’s Police, where they need to summon and investigate individuals who have violated public security administrative management laws or regulations, shall use a summons authorized by a responsible officer in the public security department handling [such] cases. In cases where violations of public security administrative management laws or regulations are taking place on site, police may show their ID and deliver the summons verbally, but this should be noted in the interrogation transcript. When a summons is delivered, the reason, basis, and location of the summons should be told to the individual being summoned. Coercive measures may be taken to enforce appearance at a summons for individuals who, without legitimate reason, refuse to accept or attempt to escape a summons.”
What does “violating public security administrative management laws or regulations” refer to? On December 27, 2010, the Ministry of Public Security formulated and published “Notice Regarding the Promulgation of ‘Opinion on the Reference Terms and Applicability of Illegal Behaviors in Violation of Public Security Administrative Management Regulations’” (关于印发《违反公安行政管理违法行为的名称及其适用意见》的通知》), which comes up with 682 violative behaviors described and regulated in 67 different pieces of legislation, administrative statutes, or regulations that would be considered violations of public security administrative management laws and regulations. They then break down the offenses into the following areas: public security (1-401), exit-entry and border defense (402-508), fire control management (509-554), computer and internet security (555-613), traffic management (614-662), and drug prohibition (663-682).
These 682 offenses are so encompassing that, in other words, there will always be a reason to summon you.
Not long ago a short piece of footage went viral online showing six police officers forcing their way into the home of a young woman late at night, saying they were “summoning” her, because she had written “something” online. She demanded that the police produce a warrant or formal reason for the summons. This form of arbitrary summons is common in China today — though a vivid recording of it is extremely rare to see. China Change made English-language subtitles for the video in order to give readers a better understanding of the deep terror and menace that Chinese police instill in ordinary citizens. Part of the exchange includes the following, for instance:
[Woman] Why are you coming to my home this late? What’s going on?
[Police] You come with us and we’ll discuss it.
[Woman] Why should I?
[Police] Because we’re the police.
[Woman] So just like that you can take people away for no reason?
[Police] Yeah — so what?
When the New Police Law is passed, it will be completely legal for six police officers to summon a young woman from her home in the middle of the night to the police station where she has to give an account of her social media posts. She’ll have no grounds to ask ‘Why?’ and will simply have to obey.
Expanding the Scope of Police Power to Conduct Searches
Article 22 of the New Police Law, on inspections and searches, says the following:
“In performance of their duties, the People’s Police, having produced identification and a search warrant, may conduct an inspection and search of individuals — including their residences, personal effects, and persons — suspected of violations of the law; in cases where there is a genuine need for immediate inspection and search, police may, after producing their identification, carry out the inspection and search on site forthwith; if the individual subject to search and inspection refuses to cooperate, they may be forcibly inspected and searched.”
The New Police Law expands the power of police to search and inspect with reference to the vague phrases “in performance of their duties,” and “in cases where there is a genuine need for immediate inspection and search.” This effectively means that whenever any individual police officer personally decides that it’s necessary, he may simply engage in the inspection and search of any citizen right then and there. This gives far greater scope to police powers than Article 12 of the current Police Law, which says: “In order to investigate criminal activities, the People’s Police of the public security organs may, according to the law, detain, search, arrest or employ other compulsory measures.”
Article 37 of the Constitution stipulates: “The freedom of person of citizens of the People’s Republic of China is inviolable,” and “Unlawful deprivation or restriction of citizens’ freedom of person by detention or other means is prohibited; and unlawful search of the person of citizens is prohibited.” Article 39 of the Constitution says: “The home of citizens of the People’s Republic of China is inviolable. Unlawful search of, or intrusion into, a citizen’s home is prohibited.”
And yet the amendments in the New Police Law will empower any police officer to invade at will the personal residence of any citizen, and the action need not require any evidence or due process.
Does the new clause about ‘searches’ include the extraction and inspection of data on the cell phones of Chinese citizens? Though the language is not clear on this point, the current practice shows that the answer is almost certainly ‘yes.’
Authorizing Police to Physically Inspect Citizens and Collect Biometrics
Article 24 of the New Police Law says:
“The People’s Police may search the persons of criminal suspects, obtain a mugshot, fingerprints, voice signature, an image of the iris and other individually identifying information, including blood, saliva, urine, hair or other biological samples. If criminal suspects refuse to be searched or have these items collected, the search and collection can be undertaken by force.”
This is new, and the current Police Law contains no article of this type. Nevertheless, for a very long time now police around China have already begun collecting mugshots, fingerprints, DNA samples and more from Chinese citizens of all sorts — not only criminal suspects, but non-suspects too, including activists, human rights defenders, dissidents, and others. Moreover, these individuals report having their biometrics collected by multiple police departments in different jurisdictions.
Some have feared that such biometrics could be used to plant evidence and frame people up, while others have worried about yet other motives.
Article 38 of the Constitution says: “The personal dignity of citizens of the People’s Republic of China is inviolable. Insult, libel, false charge or frame-up directed against citizens by any means is prohibited.” Yet the criteria for judgment as to who is a “criminal suspect” and who is a citizen suspected of no crime but still targeted for “mugshots, fingerprints, voice signature, an image of the iris and other individually identifying information, including blood, saliva, urine, hair or other biological samples” contains a great deal of flexibility for the authorities. The process of collecting biometrics of citizens not only limits the personal freedom of the individual, but is an infringement on basic human dignity.
On March 3, 2018, during the ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing, the Beijing resident Li Wei (李蔚), responding to the demands of Beijing public security forces, left the capital and went to “travel” in Hangzhou. That evening Li was accosted by police at his hotel and his ID demanded for inspection. In the process of Li requesting a summons to verify that he indeed had to produce his ID, five or six individuals broke into his room and beat him, causing injuries. After he produced his ID, the police told him to go to the police station so that his fingerprints, DNA, and cell phone data could all be collected. The police told him explicitly that he had not been suspected of any crime, but that his ID was being checked and his biometrics collected merely because he had a “prior record” (Li Wei was imprisoned during the Chinese government’s crackdown on the New Citizens’ Movement, and has since been designated as a ‘key person’ in the eyes of the guobao, or political police). Li lodged a series of complaints against the Hangzhou police for illegally restricting his personal freedom as well as a variety of other rights violations, including the police failure to provide written acknowledgement of the complaints as required by law. His case has gone nowhere as the courts and the police departments refuse to file the case for him.
Police Can Search People or Organizations at Will and Surveil Public Spaces
Article 25 of the New Police Law stipulates:
“The People’s Police, as required to perform their duties and in accordance with relevant national regulations, may look up and extract relevant information about citizens, legal persons, and other organizations, and they may collect information from public spaces, roads, and cyberspace using surveillance technologies. The information so obtained shall be stored and used prudently, and may not be used for matters unrelated to the fulfillment of official duties.”
This article, again, is not in the current Police Law. One recent phenomenon is the appearance on social media of short videos showing police at subway stations in urban areas inspecting the phones of commuters. A twitter user recently described what he personally witnessed, and noted that he was extremely scared and didn’t dare to take photos of the incident. He wrote:
— Hongpo (@Hongpo_Shanghai) August 23, 2018
Date and time: August 23, 2018, 3:55 p.m.;
Location: Safety check at the entrance of the No. 1 Line subway at the Fengqi Road station, Hangzhou (杭州地铁1号线凤起路站); [the police were] checking the phone of every passenger waiting in line to enter the station;
Apparatus: They were using handheld scanning equipment;
The number of police: 6 to 7.
Despite the fact that the current Police Law does not in fact authorize the police to do this, evidently the regime has commanded that they do so anyway. Just as with the other changes, the New Police Law simply codifies in a statute what has already become practice. As for the surveillance of public places roads, and cyberspace, one can already see cameras every 50 meters on the streets of Beijing for a taste of what that feels like. So much has already been reported about the shocking extent of China’s surveillance state.
Severing the Internet When Called for
The New Police Law bestows expanded powers of internet management on the public security organs. Article 29 says:
“Public security organs of the People’s Governments at the county-level and above may, when encountering natural disasters, accidents, public health incidents, or social safety incidents, or if there is the urgent danger of any such disaster, catastrophe, or incident taking place, set up roadblocks and delimit controlled zones over a certain area and time period in order to limit or prohibit personnel and vehicular travel, lingering, or entry and exit, among other traffic management or site management measures. When necessary they may, with the consent of public security organs of the People’s Governments of the provincial-level and above, implement controls over the internet.
“On the occasion of large-scale public events, mass activities, or when providing security for state-designated individuals or targets, [authorities] may adopt the above mentioned measures, and may at the same time institute safety inspections, personnel inspections, electronic jamming, and other measures.”
Though it’s not yet a common occurrence for the authorities to sever internet access, there are already many precedents. On July 5, 2009, following ethnic conflicts in Urumqi, the Xinjiang authorities cut off the internet for one month. On the scene of mass incidents and protests, people often report being unable to access the internet or operate other electronic equipment. In April 2014, tens of thousands of residents of Maoming, Guangdong Province, marched in protest of a paraxylene plant set to be built there. The authorities blockaded the city and cut off the internet, thus suppressing the news. In April 2017, after the suspicious death (said to be due to falling from a building) of a 14-year-old middle school student in Luzhou, Sichuan, the police engaged in a coverup of the case, triggering protests from over 1,000 residents and leading to clashes. For the next 12 days, electricity and internet services were cut off in much of the city. In the recent protests by parents in Leiyang, Hunan, over the authorities assigning students in public schools to privately-operated schools with high tuitions, no news has been heard for the last few days, leading many to suspect that Leiyang has also had its internet cut off.
At first blush, according to the language in the New Police Law, it may appear that the circumstances under which the internet can be cut off, as well as the threshold required to get approval for such an action, are set very high. But judging by the actual cases over the last few years, the requirements for severing internet access appear to be quite small, and the decisions seem to be mostly triggered by mass protests.
Some predict that the New Police Law will be granted passage and become law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress during the ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing in March 2019, after a package of public security/police institutional reform measures are approved.
It’s been 20 months since the Ministry of Public Security put the draft of the New Police Law out for public comment, but the document has attracted little public notice, except for a handful of lawyers and interested citizens who have expressed concern about some of its clauses. This sort of indifference is not in the least surprising: In China, the question of which laws are decided, who decides on them, and how they decide them, is all based simply on the Party’s will. Citizens do not have the right to elect their own representatives, the media are owned and run by the Party-state, and the people simply have no say in the affairs of state. The so-called “solicitation of opinion” is merely about the authorities going through the motions. Everyone understands that the National People’s Congress is the Party’s rubber stamp; the police forces are the Party’s ‘knife handle’; legislation and law enforcement are merely tools for the Party to maintain its rule. It is increasingly dangerous for citizens to express their dissent. Police would arrive at their door in no time, just as they did that night to the young woman in Shenzhen for her social media posts.
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Support Our Work
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, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.