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May 9, 2018
On July 9, 2015, Wang Yu (王宇) became the first target in a campaign of mass arrests against human rights lawyers in China. Over the next roughly two weeks, over 300 rights lawyers were arrested, interrogated, detained, and threatened — thus begetting the notorious ‘709 Incident.’ After over a month in secret detention at a black site in Beijing, Wang Yu was transferred to Tianjin for a continuation of her detention, then under so-called ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所監視居住). For over a year she was not allowed to see her lawyer, family, or communicate with the outside world. Another 20 or so lawyers and activists, including Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun (包龍軍), were given similar treatment. During the secret detention and their time in detention centers, they were severely tortured, including by sleep deprivation, prolonged interrogation, forced-feeding with unidentified drugs, beatings, insults, being hand- and foot-cuffed, or having their family’s safety threatened. Some were even placed in cages submerged in water, so-called ‘water cage’ torture. Currently, three individuals are serving prison sentences, three were released on suspended sentences, and all others except one were released on a probationary form of ‘bail.’ Lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) has been detained for over 1,000 days, neither sentenced nor released, and no one even knows whether he is dead or alive.
In August 2016, Wang Yu and her husband were released on a probationary form of bail (取保候審), whereupon they were forcibly taken to an apartment building in Ulanhot, Inner Mongolia. There they were reunited with their son, Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), who had previously been coercively removed from Beijing and placed in Ulanhot to continue high-school. In Ulanhot, their movements were closely monitored, they were followed wherever they went, and their apartment was fitted out with an extensive array of surveillance cameras that pointed to their doorway, stairs and in and out of the building entrance. Wang Yu believed that the apartment itself was bugged too. Around a year later they were allowed to return to their own home in Beijing. Now, though they’re apparently ‘free,’ every move they make is still surveilled by the authorities, and Wang Yu has been unable to resume her profession as a lawyer.
Among China’s human rights lawyers, Wang Yu has been called the ‘Goddess of War.’ Prior to the 709 crackdown, she traveled the country taking on all manner of human rights cases. The image of Wang the lawyer in the ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ documentary, handing out fliers about the law under the beating sun in Hainan, left a deep impression of her commitment.
On July 8, 2016, the American Bar Association announced that it had selected Wang Yu to receive its inaugural ABA International Human Rights Award, “in recognition of her dedication to human rights, justice and the rule of law in China.” This news seemed to rattle the Communist Party. The authorities knew perfectly well that the 709 crackdown was an illegal, politically motivated large-scale persecution of human rights lawyers, and that the cruelty of torture methods they used exceed what most people can conceive. They fear the moral support that the international community was extending to the targets of their attacks.
In an attempt to sever such support, in the days leading up to the award ceremony, the authorities forced a detained Wang Yu to record at least two similar video statements castigating and rejecting the award. In one news clip, broadcast on CCTV, China’s state-run central TV, she says: “I haven’t really done anything in terms of human rights, so this sort of award is using me to besmirch the reputation of the Chinese government and besmirch the image of China. Thus, I insist on not approving, acknowledging, or accepting it. Nor will I have any other individual or organization accept the award on my behalf. If, despite my explicit rejection, they force the award upon me, this will be a violation of my human rights, and I strongly protest.”
In another clip broadcast on Phoenix, a state-run TV station thinly-masked as commercial TV in Hong Kong, she sits outdoors with a grass lawn behind her. In front of her are a number of official journalists whose faces the audience couldn’t see. She says, her voice halting: “As far as I’m concerned, this award is using me as a tool to attack and denigrate the Chinese government. I’m a Chinese person; I only accept the leadership of the Chinese government. I don’t want this or similar awards, not now, nor in the future.”
Two Tianjin lawyers claiming to represent her even sent a letter to the ABA, saying that the ABA award constituted an “infringement on the reputational rights of Ms. Wang Yu… Ms. Wang Yu reserves the right to pursue your organization as liable for such infringements.” The letter demanded that the ABA “cease and desist” in giving her the award.
On the basis that Wang Yu was in detention and could not speak of her own free will, the ABA dismissed the ploy and went ahead giving the award in Wang Yu’s absence on August 6, 2016, during its annual convention in San Francisco.
Two weeks after the award, a nationalistic website in China published an article by a “former NGO worker” who claimed to have worked at ABA’s office in Beijing. It described one boss as being lazy and incompetent, and another as rude and lecherous. It portrayed the ABA Beijing office as a place where Chinese employees were discriminated against and where “humanity and dignity…was worthless.” It insinuated, without clear factual statements, that ABA’s activities in China were political and ABA was a tool of the U.S. government being used to instigate a color revolution.
Now we have come full circle: in the book “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from inside China’s system for enforced disappearances” published in November 2017 by Safeguard Defenders, Wang Yu for the first time reveals what she experienced under residential surveillance (China Change has an excerpt). In a new report recently released by the same organization, Wang Yu revealed how she was forced to rebuke and reject the ABA’s award. On television, she appears with a slightly puffy face, sitting outdoors before a grass lawn. In front of her are a number of official journalists whose faces the audience couldn’t see. She says, her voice halting: “I haven’t really done anything in terms of human rights, so this sort of award is using me to besmirch the reputation of the Chinese government and besmirch the image of China. Thus, I insist on not approving, acknowledging, or accepting it. Nor will I have any other individual or organization accept the award on my behalf. If, despite my explicit rejection, they force the award upon me, this will be a violation of my human rights, and I strongly protest.”
The following statement by Wang Yu about this incident is reproduced below with permission.
Wang Yu’s Account
It is difficult to explain, why I went on television, what kind of mental process I had gone through. And until now, I still feel it is difficult to describe, I don’t know how to talk about it. Actually, I do want to talk about it in detail, but I always feel sad. I am still struggling to get over the trauma. But I know I should speak out, even if just in this simple way.
It was about April 2016 and I had already been transferred to the Tianjin First Detention Centre. I had just finished my breast surgery at that time and the guards and interrogators were taking quite good care of me. My interrogator said if I cooperated then my case would be “dealt with leniently.” He meant I could be released soon. They also kept reminding me that my dream of sending my son overseas to study could happen only once I had been released from the detention centre.
How, then, did they want me to cooperate? They said all the 709 Crackdown people need to demonstrate a good attitude before they would be dealt with leniently. They said a PSB [Public Security Bureau] boss would come to the detention centre in a few days and they wanted me to say to him that: “I understand my mistake, I was tricked, and I was used. I denounce those overseas anti-China forces and I am grateful for how the PSB has helped and educated me.” After that, they stopped taking me to the interrogation room and moved me to a staff office where they fixed up space for me to eat and memorise the material my interrogator gave me.
Around about the end of April, the interrogator told me the boss was coming today and that we should make the video. He promised me the video would only be shown to that boss, and it would definitely not be shown to the public. He told me not to worry and just follow the script they had given to me. If I couldn’t memorize it all, then we could just re-record it. They also told me that everyone who was caught up in the 709 Crackdown had already made such videos. I kept asking them to confirm that it wouldn’t be shown in public and they promised it would not. Despite their assurances, I was still very unhappy about having to do the video.
In the afternoon, I was taken to the office again. A few minutes later, a man came in; he was in plainclothes and about 50 years old. A young man in his 20s followed with a camera. They both said something similar to me; something about how they would find a way out for me. I have suffered a lot of memory loss in the past few years so even if I try to remember exactly what happened, I can’t. But I do remember asking him who would see the video and he repeatedly said that it was only for their boss and not for television.
The young man finished setting up the camera, then the older one started asking questions. I don’t remember the exact questions, but it was basically the same as my interrogator had told me to study. I didn’t answer very well, because my memory was bad and also I didn’t want to make the video. I really messed up some of the questions and they had to ask me again and again. After three or four hours, they eventually left.
Some 20 days later, I heard that the so-called PSB boss had said that last video was not good enough and that we had to record it again. So, we recorded it again, but two days later, my interrogator said it still wasn’t acceptable. The next time they came with a camera and a computer, with the script typed into the computer in a huge font size. They wanted me to read it from the screen and look into the camera. We recorded it like this many times and finally they left. But another two days later they came back and said it still wasn’t good enough, so we did it all again. But that didn’t pass either.
It was about the beginning of June, one day before the Dragon Boat festival, when my interrogator told me that another boss was coming and wanted to talk to me. If I behaved well I could get out of the detention centre. Not long after, two men in their 50s or 60s in plainclothes, came in. They surprised me by shaking my hand when they first arrived. Later, I learned they were the vice-director and division chief of the Tianjin PSB. They talked briefly about my health and my situation and then asked me to give a self-evaluation. I said: “Of course, I think that I am a good person and also a good lawyer. I believe in behaving with kindness and I am professional in my work and have always won my clients’ approval.”
After that they often took me to their office to talk with them. They kept trying to persuade me to do an interview on television, but I kept saying no.
In the beginning of July, my interrogator talked to me alone. He said, “Think carefully. If you don’t agree to go on television how will you be able to get out? How will your husband Bao Longjun be able to get out? How will your son ever be able to study abroad?”
I thought hard about it for a few nights. I thought, neither me nor my husband can communicate with anyone from outside. Who knows when it will all end. And my poor son was home without us. We didn’t know how he was doing. Although, my interrogator told me that he had been released and was living in Ulanhot, he might be under surveillance, he didn’t have his parents with him. What kind of future would he have?
I though the two so-called “bosses” who had been talking with me looked like they would keep their word. After speaking with them for many days, I trusted them, and the people around me treated me much better. Much better than when I was in RSDL [residential surveillance at a designated location], where they were very cruel to me.
So, I decided to accept. I just wanted to see my son so much. I thought, if I couldn’t get out my son would never be able to study overseas. I might get out many years later, but by then what would have happened to my son? If he was harmed now, the trauma would stay with him his whole life. I needed to be with him during this stage of his life. I decided that I would do my best to help my son go to a free country and study. He would no longer live like a slave, suffering in this country. He has to leave, he must leave, I thought. That was the most urgent thing. So I had to do it, even if it meant doing something awful.
I also considered the possibility that they might break their promise—and if they did I vowed to fight. So, I said yes to their request to go on television, but only if they released me first. I started practicing the script they prepared for me and we rehearsed it many times, almost every day before I left the detention center.
On 22 July 2016, they went through the formality of my “release on bail.” They took me from the Tianjin First Detention Centre to the Tianjin Police Training Base under Tianjin Panshan Mountain. I stayed there for about 10 days.
They transferred me to Tianjin Heping Hotel and for the next two days I was still under their control. I did the interview in a western-style building near the Heping Hotel a few days later. That afternoon, about 4 or 5pm I was reunited with my son. He hugged me and cried for a long time. I also quietly shed tears.
The next day, my son and I met his father Bao Longjun who had also just been released on bail.
After my release I became very depressed. We were kept under house arrest in Ulanhot. My son and his father often made fun of me because of what I had said on that television interview and I felt very hurt and under a lot of pressure. One time, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked my son, “Would you rather I suffered and went on television so I could be with you, or would you prefer that I didn’t go on television but then stayed in prison?” My son said emphatically: “I want my mum with me!”
Hearing my son say this, I believe that everything I suffered was worth it. This was the only way I could be reunited with my son, so I had to do it.
When I got back home, I gradually began to understand what kind of pain my son had been through over the past year. Such cruelty caused my son to suffer from severe depression and that made me even more determined to settle my son overseas so that he could heal both mentally and physically.
So, this is my story. I don’t expect everyone to understand. I just want to say that my son is everything to me. Perhaps, I had no other choice.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017.
New York Times editorial: Show Trials in China, August 6, 2016.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post, July 18, 2015.
China Change, December 26, 2017
On the morning of December 26 courts in Tianjin and Changsha announced the verdicts respectively of Wu Gan, a seminal activist, and Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer. Xie Yang was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” while Wu Gan’s refusal to cooperate led him to receive the more severe “subversion of state power.” Both were “convicted,” but Xie Yang was exempt from punishment, while Wu Gan was handed a heavy sentence of eight years.
In a live broadcast, Xie Yang was made to once again deny that he had been tortured, and to thank all parties for a “fair” trial and for “safeguarding” his rights. The first time he was forced to make this false admission was during his trial in May.
On the other hand, Wu Gan’s lawyer reported that he told the court, immediately after the sentence was announced, that “I thank the Communist Party for conferring me this high honor [subversion]. I will not forget my original aspiration, and will roll up my sleeves and work harder.” His remarks were a play on the official words of Xi Jinping; observers found it remarkable that a man who had just received such a harsh sentence would have the sense of humor, and guts, to do so.
It wasn’t until hours later that the authorities released a short clip of Wu Gan in court. Viewers will see why it took time: the authorities doctored the video, using clips of Wu Gan’s secret trial in August to show he was “contrite.” In August, Wu Gan wore a short sleeved T-shirt and read from a sheet of paper that he would not appeal, while yesterday he wore a dark, long-sleeved top.
Wu Gan’s lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) described on Twitter what the official clips purposefully omitted: Following “I admit that I have harbored thoughts of subverting state power,” Wu Gan added, “but I believe this is a citizen’s right, and my actions do not constitute crimes.”
Lawyer Ge Yongxi challenged the authorities to show the court recording in its entirety.
After Wu Gan’s sentence, his lawyers released a statement on his behalf.
Wu Gan’s Statement About His Sentence
For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who “subverts state power” is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights. Liang Qichao (梁启超, famous reformist at end of Qing dynasty) said that he and dictatorship were two forces inextricably opposed; I say: If I don’t oppose dictatorship, am I still a man?
They have attempted to have me plead guilt and cooperate with them to produce their propaganda in exchange for a light sentence — they even said that as long as I plead guilty, they’ll give me a three-year sentence suspended for three years. I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.
I’m optimistic despite the harsh sentence. Because of the internet, more and more people are waking up. The ranks of those ready to stand at the funeral of the dictatorship is growing stronger and larger by the day. Those who try to use jail to frighten citizens pursuing freedom and democracy, thus obstructing the progress of human civilization, won’t meet a good end. Their tyranny is based on a lack of self-confidence — a sign of a guilty conscience and fear. It’s a dead end. When the masses wake up, will the dictatorship’s end be far off?
I have been subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane treatment during my detention thus far — and it’s not an isolated occurrence, but a common phenomenon. I appeal to the international community to closely follow the deterioration of human rights in China, follow the Chinese Communist Party’s criminal detention of its own citizens, and especially of dissidents, along with the other abuses they’re subjected to, including: false charges, secret detention, forced confessions to the media, forced appointment of state-controlled defense counsel, torture and abuse in custody, and the stripping of every civil right of Chinese citizens.
I hereby name the individuals involved in persecuting, torturing, and abusing me: An Shaodong (安少东), Chen Tuo (陈拓), Guan Jiantong (管建童), Yao Cheng (姚诚), Yuan Yi (袁溢), Wang Shoujian (王守俭), Xie Jinchun (谢锦春), Gong Ning (宫宁), Sheng Guowen (盛国文), Cao Jiyuan (曹纪元), Liu Yi (刘毅), Cai Shuying (蔡淑英), Lin Kun (林崑).
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.
Why Is Wu Gan ‘The Butcher’ So Important?, China Change, August 17, 2017.
Wu Gan’s Pretrial Statement, China Change, August 10, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, China Change, July 22, 2015.
China Change, November 13, 2017
Today in Tianjin, lawyer Wang Yu’s 18-year-old son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩) was again blocked from leaving China. He was due to fly to Tokyo. The border control in Tianjing told him and his parents that he is “a national security threat,” and mutilated his passport on spot (see photo above).
According to Wang Yu, her son has passed IELTS and is awaiting admission from the University of Melbourne.
On July 9, 2015, Bao Zhuoxuan, on route to Australia to study, was stopped and detained in Beijing Capital Airport along with his father who accompanied him. That same night, his mother was abducted from home, marking the beginning of the 709 Crackdown.
The community of Chinese human rights lawyers responded to Bao Zhuoxuan’s situation with anger. Wang Yu says she is not going to be silent anymore on the future of her son.
Over the past two years, this young man has endured detention, beating, harassment, house arrest, and disruption of schooling, all because he is Wang Yu’s son. When he was allowed to resume high school hundreds miles away from home, his classroom was surveilled with three cameras, according to Wang Yu.
Wang Yu’s account of her 709 ordeal is included in a book that just came out on Amazon. China Change will be publishing an excerpt momentarily.
China Change calls on the diplomatic community in Beijing to respond, helping Bao Zhuoxuan realize his plans to study abroad. Such barbaric, inhumane behaviors against an innocent child should not be tolerated.
Teen bound for Melbourne school stranded after Chinese authorities arrest parents, The Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2015.
Bao Zhuoxuan, Son of Detained Rights Lawyer, Is Said to Disappear in Myanmar, The New York Times, October 9, 2015.
Bao Zhuoxuan, teenage son of Chinese rights lawyer, back under surveillance in China, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 12, 2015.
No way out for Bao: US chides China detention of lawyer’s son, The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2015.
China’s long and punishing arm, Washington Post editorial, October 18, 2015.
Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is one of the twenty or so 709 detainees during China’s sweeping, still ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists. He was held incommunicado from, July 12, 2015 to January 18, 2017, in Tianjin. As a human rights lawyers, Xie Yanyi’s career spans from 2003 to the time when he was detained, representing dozens of cases involving religious freedom, freedom of speech, forced expropriation of land and property, corruption, local elections, political prisoners, and more. Meanwhile, he has been known for passionately advocating democratic transition in China. During the 553 days of disappearance, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, and his mother died without him knowing it. In September he posted a book titled “A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China” in which he recounted his experience during the six-month secret detention and following year in Tianjin Second Detention Center. He is the second 709 lawyer, after lawyer Xie Yang in Hunan, who has spoken out about torture and other degrading treatments perpetrated on human rights lawyers and activists. On September 6, Xie Yanyi posted an open letter to Xi Jinping, the Communist Party, and fellow Chinese, calling for an end to the one-party dictatorship, releasing all political prisoners, and setting the course to transition China into a constitutional democracy. Predictably, he has been harassed and threatened by police. China Change is pleased to bring you translation of excerpts of Xie Yanyi’s recollections and reflections on 709 atrocities. — The Editors
The Police Are Here
I got home in the middle of the night on July 11, 2015 and fell asleep right away. The next morning, not long after I had gotten up, I heard a knocking at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw Captain Wang’s men from Domestic Security. I tidied up a bit and opened the door. They wanted me to go to the office of the neighborhood committee for a little chat. I went there with them, where Miyun District domestic security personnel had been joined by Beijing domestic security. They asked about the same old things. At a break in the conversation I went to relieve myself and discovered that people from Domestic Security were following me into the bathroom. It was then I realized the gravity of the situation. Our conversation continued until noon, when we had fast food in the office. We had just finished eating when ten or so plainclothes officers burst in. The first one flashed his badge at me. He said he was from the Tianjin Public Security Bureau and asked if I was Xie Yanyi. I said yes. I saw from his badge that he was surnamed Liu. Then he handcuffed me. I protested, but no one paid attention. They swarmed around me as I was led downstairs. We got into an SUV, where I sat in the backseat between two men. There were about two or three cars following behind us . We sped off. Soon we arrived at the Miyun Chengguan police station (密云城关派出所). There was an interrogation room equipped with an iron chair that the suspect could be buckled into. They made me sit there to begin my questioning. This was the first time in my life I had been handcuffed and interrogated. At first I was confused, but once I was sitting I calmed down. I had no idea that it was just the beginning of a long ordeal and contest.
The Black Hood
At nightfall I was taken out of the police station. Not only did they handcuff me again, they also put a black hood over my head. I was escorted to an SUV. It sped off as soon as it hit the highway. I naively wondered if they were just doing this to frighten me. Maybe they’ll just drive in a circle and then bring me home? But the car kept going at top speed, and there was no sign of stopping. I was cramped, wrapped in place by the people on either side of me. And I was nervous. I felt like they had tied the hood too tightly and that it would suffocate me. I asked them politely if they could take it off, promising I wouldn’t act out if they did, but they said it was an order and they had to follow. I then begged them to loosen it a little so I could breathe, but they didn’t pay any attention to me. Then I reasoned with them, trying to win their sympathy, and asked again if they could loosen it a little. The man in the passenger seat shouted, “You won’t suffocate to death!” When those words fell on my ears, I realized that pleading was no use. I should instead stay as calm as possible.
About an hour later the car reached its destination. I couldn’t see anything and had no way of knowing our exact location. They had me get out of the car and squat down. Soon a few people came and did what seemed like a handover procedure. As they talked, I sensed I was being handed over to army troops. They changed my handcuffs but didn’t remove the hood. After we had gotten into another car, I turned to the soldier on my left and mentioned my difficulty breathing. Would he mind loosening the hood a little so that I could breathe through the gap? This soldier pulled the black hood up a little bit. I took the opportunity to thank all of them profusely for their kindness. In response, the soldier on my right pressed a little bit less against me. Not longer after our car entered a compound. We were let in by the gatekeeper, then drove up to a building. After a bit, someone called me out of the car. The men on either side of me took me into the building and told me to watch my step. We went up to the second floor and turned right into a room, where they told me to stand facing the wall. Someone came and took the hood off my head, then told me to strip naked. Then I was asked to squat twice. They searched my body to see if I had hidden anything.
The Special Room
When they were done inspecting me they had me turn to face them, then starting taking photos. They took away my clothes and gave me two sets of soft, casual clothes. One man announced the daily schedule for me and informed me that the next day I was to study the prison rules and regulations posted on the wall. Everyone left except for two soldiers, who stood on either side of me. I asked them if I could rest. They said no, that according to the rules I had to wait until 10:30. So I sat down and read the rules. Then I sized up the room. It was not quite 20 square meters [66 square feet]. To the right of the entrance was a bathroom. A single bed stood against the outer wall of the bathroom. To the right of the bed was open space. Opposite the bed was a padded desk draped with a blue tablecloth. In front of that was a soft high-backed chair. At the far end of the room a heavy curtain was pulled over the window to keep out the light. The walls were completely padded. Even the corners of the desk, the foot of the bed, and the chair were padded and rounded. Around 10 they told me I could get ready for bed and gave me a toothbrush, a towel, and a spoon. Even the handles of the toothbrush and the spoon were rounded and made of rubber. If I wanted to use the bathroom or do anything else, I had to announce my intention and be granted permission before I could proceed. There were always two soldiers guarding me. When I slept at night one would watch me from the head of the bed, the other from the foot. It seemed all these measures were meant to keep me from killing or mutilating myself.
The Interrogation Begins
On the first day, I got into bed as soon as it was time to rest. I couldn’t fall asleep right away, as my mind replayed the events of the day and I considered what fate could be in store for me. Everything felt like half-dream, half-reality. Just as I was about to drift off, someone charged into my room, booming, “Get up and clean up. The special investigation team (专案组) wants to see you!” I had no choice but to get out of bed and get dressed. I moved the toothbrush and other things from the desk to the bed, then sat down and waited for the special investigators. I thought, “The grueling interrogation is about to begin.”
Two men came in. One looked to be over 40 years old, tall and strong. He said his last name was Jiang (姜). The other man was a bit shorter, bespeckled, a little fat, around 30 years old. Later he would call himself Cao Jianguang (曹建光). The first night they questioned me until four or five in the morning. I had just collapsed into bed when the on-duty soldiers woke me up again. After breakfast the interrogators came back. A tall, skinny man wearing glasses had replaced one of the others from before. He said his last name was Wang (王), so I called him Old Wang. (Nearly a year passed before I learned from someone else that Old Wang isn’t surnamed Wang, but Yan [严], so now I call him Lieutenant Yan.) The first two, if I’m right, were from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, while Lieutenant Yan is from the Tianjin PSB. I would see more of him after I was transferred to Tianjin.
They also asked me to confess, but I had nothing to confess. It was unbearable in the beginning. I became aware that I might not get out in the short term, and that I needed a plan, so I thought of writing a letter to my wife. My wife had just told me she was pregnant. We already had two boys and were supporting a large family, but our shared faith doesn’t permit abortion. She had secretly taken out her birth control ring. Then I was taken away, and that was where our conversation ended. I told the special investigators that I wanted to write a letter to my wife. At first they said no, then added that they had to ask for instructions. That evening I started to fast. Besides protesting my illegal detention and demanding the letter, I also hoped to make my psychological crisis a physical one, to divert my attention from the mental pressure through the pain of hunger, and to give myself some happiness when I did eat again. I fasted for over 72 hours, until lunch on the fourth day. They gave me pen and paper. The guard added that if I fasted again they would feed me through a tube.
The interrogations continued as usual every day. Sometimes they would question me three times in one day, morning, afternoon, and night; or else twice in a day.
Transfer to Tianjin
Just before noon on September 8, 2015, I was told to inventory the items they had confiscated from me and sign the list. That night I was informed that due to building renovations I was to be transferred. Right then we left the residential surveillance location in Beijing, and I was secretly transferred to a residential surveillance location in Tianjin. It must have been in a People’s Armed Police building, since I was guarded by armed police officers. (The place in Beijing must also have been a PAP building, too. I think it was in the Xiaotangshan area of Changping, Beijing. I remember when I was there often hearing the sound of fireworks nearby. Perhaps it wasn’t far from a cemetery or a crematorium?)
In Tianjin they took off the white gloves. They did all sorts of things to get me to confess: starving me, forbidding me to move my legs, beating me, intimidating me, forcing me to sleep in a fixed posture, disciplining me. For half a month I was made to sit on a block for 16 hours straight every day.
I was kept in Room 8, facing rooms 11 and 12. I saw these numbers once through the gap in my blinders when I was taken out for my room to be disinfected.
What Happened October 1-10 Above Room 8?
At about 9 a.m. on October 1, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From October 1 to 10, nearly every day I heard interrogations, howling, and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me. That was when I decided that I absolutely had to control myself, find a way to get out as early as possible, and expose this torture.
I guarantee this is not a hallucination. I hope the day will come when people on the outside can see the site of this terrible torture with their own eyes: the room above Room 8 at the 709 residential surveillance location must be a special room. I often heard them moving all kinds of equipment, dragging it here and there. There was the incessant sound of installation and adjustment, lasting for two months straight at least. I don’t know what happened up there. Just before the 709 residential surveillance came to an end—that is, in the last few evenings before the 709 detainees were formally arrested in early or mid-January 2016—from Room 8 I heard people organizing files, stacking papers on top of each other. It often sounded like meetings were being held up there, too.
Devils in White
After I was transferred to Tianjin, it was around October when they suddenly started giving me daily checkups. They would take my blood pressure and check my heart rate. I could tell they were nervous. Every other week or two they would bring in an electrocardiogram and check my heart. With this change I realized some among us must have started having health problems. There was a Director Zhou, and a doctor who I think was named Liu He, who examined me. Every doctor and nurse was expressionless and stony-faced, like robots. They did not interact with me beyond routine business, and I never felt a drop of good will from them. I had no way of knowing their names or identities. This was terrifying. They did whatever the higher-ups told them to do, regardless of how I felt about it. If I made a request of any kind, they either would ask the special investigators for instructions or simply not respond at all. You would think they were angels in white, but the more I saw them, the more they seemed like devils in white.
While in Tianjin, nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine. Every day a physician would bring the medicine, and every time they would shine a flashlight in my throat to make sure I’d swallowed. It was about four white pills each time. They said I had elevated transaminases and that it could be a problem with my liver. But I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m in good health and haven’t had any health problems. I’m also not in the habit of taking medicine. I think everyone’s body is unique. Even if a certain indicator is high for someone else, for me that same reading could be just fine. I tried reasoning with them several times and refused to take the medicine. Then the physician, the discipline officer and the warden had to come force feed the pills to me. I had no choice but give in. After about two months the medicine stopped.
Sitting on the Block
At first I had a high-backed chair in my room. Then it was swapped for a block with nothing to lean on when I sat down. I sat there for at least 12 hours a day, sometimes as much as 16 hours a day. When you’re sitting on the block you are not allowed to rest your hands in your lap for support, andthe on-duty soldiers carry out orders to the letter. You can all try sitting on a block, or a stool, without resting your hands, so that you only have the strength of your back to support you. An hour is fine. What about ten hours, a hundred hours, a thousand hours? Few of you will be able to imagine it. If you aren’t cooperative during an interrogation, all they have to do is to put you on that block, and you will succumb to their control.
I’ll give an example. Once I asked to revise an interrogation transcript. They beat me and boxed my ears. For more than ten days after they only gave me half rations, nothing more than a few bites of vegetables and one small steamed bun or a few mouthfuls of rice. For 16 hours, from morning to night, I had to sit, and when I slept I had to hold a posture as dictated by the guards. They asked me to sit on the block like a soldier: head up, chest out, back straight, hands on knees. Except for using the bathroom, I was not allowed to move at all from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. In the end I sat so long that my legs tingled and went numb. When I had to relieve myself, I physically couldn’t. They don’t have to beat you and they don’t have to curse at you. All they have to do is make you keep sitting like that. You’ll either die or be crippled.
Day after day the interrogations went on. Starting with my lawsuit against Jiang Zemin (江泽民) for violating the constitution and popular will by staying on as chair of the Central Military Commission in 2003, to the 2005 signature campaign to help lawyer Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), to advocating for direct election of members of the Beijing Lawyers Association in 2008, to signing Charter 08, to the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, to human rights cases I had taken on over the years, to rescuing fellow lawyers, to petitions, to letters of appeal I had written, like the one calling for Tang Jitian (唐吉田) to have his right to practice law reinstated, and the one calling for the release of Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) and the protection of his rights as a journalist; from raising funds at a seminar in Zhengzhou for the lawyers detained in Jiansanjiang (建三江), to Liu Jiacai’s (刘家财) incitement of subversion case, to Zhang Xiangzhong’s case (张向忠), to Falun Gong cases, to Xu Dong’s case (许东), to the Qing’an shooting (庆安), and on and on, and then to taking the position of legal advisor in Qin Yongmin’s organization Human Rights Observer (秦永敏，人权观察), to helping Qin Yongmin himself; from giving interviews to foreign media, to my participation in academic symposia in Hong Kong, to my compilation of Roads of Faith (《信仰之路》), to the articles on peaceful democratic transition I had posted online, and even to a dinner I had organized in Beijing in early 2015—they asked me about all of these.
When they asked about other people—who was at a particular event, who had participated—my default answer was: I don’t know, I couldn’t quite remember. I insisted on this during the endless interrogations, but as long they didn’t get what they wanted they wouldn’t stop. When they had tried everything, when they had asked me repeatedly and I wouldn’t comply, they brought printouts from the internet, my communication history, online records, to verify with me one by one. They were the ones who brought up theoe names, but in the interrogation transcripts, they made it look as though I had given these names to them. Later, they didn’t even bother to play this trick; instead they would simply type up “transcripts” and have me sign them.
But early on and often I vowed to them that I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I insisted that my actions had nothing to do with anyone else, that I’d take full responsibility for all my deeds, that I respect the facts and the law, and that I would not shirk my own problems.
They took great pains with me, because they also had to report to their superiors. If I didn’t sign, that meant I didn’t comply, and that would be their failure. They told me if I made it difficult for them, they wouldn’t let me go. If I had a bad attitude, they had all sorts of ways to torment me. Once you’re in the detention center, if you don’t cooperate, they punish all the inmates in the same cell and don’t let them have daily yard time. In short, they had a thousand different ways to force me to submit, but one thing is certain: during more than a year and a half of interrogations , I didn’t identify a single person, and I didn’t give them a single piece of information that would implicate anyone else.
Their method is to turn everything upside-down inspecting your computer, your phone, your books, your possessions, your contacts, all records of your life. From elementary to high school, your parents, your family, your relatives, your friends, everything about you is in their grasp. It is a boundless war (超限战), meaning there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want. For example, they showed me photos of my newborn daughter, videos of my son in class and playing the horsehead fiddle; and they threatened to detain my wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). That nearly broke me.
Walking was the only diversion I had. Except for when they forbade me to move at all, every day I asked the two soldiers for permission to walk back and forth the two or three meters between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand kilometers during my six months of secret detention. At first walking was one of the greatest pleasures, but later on I walked so much I hurt the ligaments in my knees. But still I told myself to keep walking. I was afraid that they would take away this one small freedom from me.
In February or March 2016, Lieutenant Yan and Officer Li came and had me inventory my credit cards, bank cards, ID card, household registration, and personal records, and had me sign a statement about my confiscated possessions. They said as soon as I signed they would send everything back to my wife. I noticed right away they didn’t have a laundry list of the items, yet this document I had to sign stated that “all of the above-mentioned items were on my person [at the time of my detention].” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I objected immediately. It was summer when they detained me and I was only wearing shorts. I had had nothing on me besides my keys and some loose change. In any case, it makes no sense for anyone to carry his or her household registration and personal files. But if I didn’t sign they wouldn’t send anything back. My wife had to care for our three children and she doesn’t work. She needed those documents. I had no choice but to sign. When I got out, however, I saw that hundreds of thousands of yuan had vanished from my bank account. I heard that Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), lawyer Xie Yang’s wife (谢阳), also saw all her savings evaporate overnight. To this day, the bank has been evading my inquiries about my account activities during my detention.
All of the 709 detainees wore red vests in the detention center. Ordinary criminals wear blue vests; death row inmates and people convicted in certain corruption cases, like the 2015 Tianjin explosions, wear yellow; and inmates who are ill wear green. Red is for the highest level of inmates, the ones dealt with most strictly. My vest number was 166. I know that Wu Gan’s (吴淦) is 161 and Xing Qingxian’s (幸清贤) is 169. I was in cell C5. One of them was probably in C6, the other in C7. We were all close by, but red vests were forbidden from seeing each other and were questioned separately. I had to ask permission to do anything, including drinking water or using the toilet. The HD cameras set up in the cell monitored our every move. Every day when I had to relieve myself, the on-duty cellmate would go to the intercom by the door and report this to the discipline officer. Once the discipline officer approved, two cellmates would lead me to the bathroom, one in front of me and one behind. I never spent a cent on anything in the detention center, both in protest of the substandard meals and of the unsightly one-upmanship that went on among my fellow inmates. I went on eating my ration of cabbage every day. It was true that, several times, the detention center sent me food and supplies (I suppose they did the same for the other 709 detainees, too), and on those occasions I’d have a share for myself and distribute the rest among my cellmates. And the moldy peanuts my cellmates threw away were my favorite treat.
People have asked me if I gave any oral or written confessions. In those 500 long days, I wrote at least two notes of repentance. For the first one I wrote the bare minimum. I didn’t use words like “confess” or “repent,” and I put the primacy of human rights, peaceful democracy, and the rule of law at the core of my self-criticism. They weren’t satisfied and forced me to write another note. In the second one I admitted that I had incited subversion by advocating for peaceful democracy in my writings. At last, when I had done what they had asked, they didn’t forget to make me title it “Note of Repentance.”
Let me explain my thinking at the time: First, I wanted to make things a bit easier in case I had to stand trial, the sooner to rejoin my family. Second, I told myself that I had to get out and bear witness to the torture we were suffering, to keep the public’s attention on my peers still in prison, to help others avoid this treatment, and to pave the way for this whole injustice to be reversed! Third of all, I was completely cut off from the outside world. They found all kinds of ways to keep me in submission: not letting the cell block out for exercise if I was uncooperative; telling me everyone else had been released except for me; showing me the videos of the trials of Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), and of Wang Yu’s (王宇) televised interview, and showing me their confessions and notes of repentance; playing me videos of my kids; showing me the photo of my newborn daughter; and on and on.
Once they dressed me up and taped me reading a statement they had prepared. They promised me up and down that the video was only for their superiors, not for the public. They made me write things and videotape things. I once told them in no unclear terms that all of this wasn’t about my own needs but about their superiors’. To me, whether I was inside or outside prison I would shoulder my responsibility just the same, and neither was easy.
As I watched Hu Shigen’s trial, I was stunned, and inspired, by the look in his eyes. I also made plans for the worst. In the court, Mr. Hu admitted that he was guilty of subversion of state power, but he also used the opportunity to lay out his political theory, turning CCTV and many other state media outlets into his podium. He expounded on the three factors of peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy and the five proposals. I thought that if the day came for me to stand trial, I would do the same as Mr. Hu and present to the public the concept of peaceful democracy and the policies to implement it. It was just like they say, seek and you shall find, a result befitting my years of devotion to the effort to realize peaceful democracy in China. I imagined the scene in the courtroom. If my family could be there too, I would also tell my children, “Daddy loves you. Daddy can’t go fishing or catch grasshoppers with you anymore. Daddy is doomed to miss your childhood. But Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price.”
The interrogators, I sensed, were not at ease doing what they did. From the highest to the lowest, they were beholden to personal interest, force, and power. They had no moral sense, each ready to jump ship if he had to save himself. The 709 case, I would say, was a hot potato from the very start. I was questioned by people who called themselves Old Jiang and Cao Jianguang (both from Beijing), Old Wang (who turned out to be surnamed Yan), Liu Bo (Lieutenant Liu), Officer Li (Tianjin), and two or three others whose names I don’t know. There was also one from the Ministry of Public Security who might have been surnamed Liu, who recited the Heart Sutra for me. They said that, year in and year out, they dealt with cases involving the big tigers, the highest-level officials. They were clearly not just ordinary public security bureaucrats. The thing is, though these insiders looked and acted strong, they knew full well that they were breaking the law and that this time they were facing extraordinary opponents. I could sense that nearly every one of them wavered at one time or the other, feeling tormented themselves and not knowing what to do. Then there were the armed police who guarded me. Except for the cruelty of the imprisonment itself, I clearly sensed their conscience, their natural goodness, and their disapproval of the atrocities perpetrated against me.
Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place
This coercive practice known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place” is probably rooted in intraparty struggles and corruption investigations. In recent years it has spread and been legalized. In Party parlance this form of custody is known as “double designation” (双规) or “to be isolated and investigated.” It can be perverse or straightforward, lax or strict. It all depends on the demands and preferences of whoever’s in charge. It is essentially domestic discipline—extrajudicial punishment.
When you are under residential surveillance at a designated place, such as I was, there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process, no channel for relief, not even a legal mechanism to protect your health or your sanity. Your family and your lawyers are left in the dark, unable to meet or communicate with you. No one even knows if you’re alive or dead. In the process abuse and torture are inevitable. This is why cases continuously emerge of unusual deaths, mental illness, and bodily harm occurring during the residential surveillance.
I Challenge You
Since I was released I’ve felt conflicted. I wanted to expose these crimes, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even the perpetrators. After much consideration, I still decided to speak what I know, because even exposing the criminals would benefit their children and their grandchildren. I would like here to address the head of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, Zhao Fei (天津市公安局局长赵飞), and his subordinates: I believe that yourselves and the special investigators all have the qualifications, as well as the duty, to stand up and explain the 709 case to your superiors, including the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Central Committee of the CCP, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the entire nation. What happened? What exactly did these lawyers and citizens do? Is what they have done legal or illegal? Reach into your conscience and tell us: Are their actions and conduct truly harmful to a country, a people, a society? Were they defending the rule of law and human rights, or were they committing crimes? Who exactly is afraid of them? Who ordered you to torture these lawyers and citizens? What were you trying to accomplish? Why did you pick Tianjin to handle the 709 case, as it went against procedural law? Who made that decision?
Director Zhao Fei, I demand that you stand up and tell your fellow countrymen why you let torture happen under your watch. What was going on in the room (the torture chamber) above Room 8 from October 1 to 10? What happened to Hu Shigen? What happened to Wang Quanzhang? What was the plan for 709 crackdown? Who planned the Cultural Revolution-style trials of public opinion and the media smear campaigns? How did you get government-appointed lawyers involved? Whose despicable idea was it to force some of us to confess and to televise the confessions? Who gave you the right to tape the 709 detainees? You didn’t even make exceptions for the young paralegals Zhao Wei (赵威) and Li Shuyun (李姝云). You labelled these 20-somethings subverters of state power. Who decided to turn everyone into an enemy of the state? Who decided to charge us with picking quarrels and provoking troubles first, then switch the charge to inciting subversion of state power, and finally to subversion of state power itself? As a law enforcer, did you give expert legal advice to your superiors? Who ordered the cruel and criminal treatment of the detainees—the secret detentions, the starvation, the sleeping postures, the ban on movement, the 16-hour sessions of sitting like a soldier? Who ordered that we be forced to sign the transcripts of our interrogations, deprived of our right to petition, deprived of our right to defense, forced to take medicine? Who ordered you to appoint lawyers for us against our will and devise all kinds of tactics to intimidate us? Who sent the procurators and special investigators to coax me and try to change my mind? When you confiscated my possessions, why didn’t you inventory my credit cards, my bank card, my ID and all the other items? Why haven’t you returned what you took from me? Who gave you the right to monitor the phones and online communications of citizens?
Calm in the Storm
My time inside was hard to endure. The detention center is a bit better; residential surveillance is much worse. Truth be told, I was eager to leave my imprisonment the first three months, but then I slowly settled down. After I got to the detention center they continued to interrogate me regularly and try to persuade me to do their bidding. They even enlisted my cellmates and the discipline officer to change my mind. I told them that they were the ones who were fretting over gains and losses, and that, for me, it wouldn’t matter if things turned out to be one way or the other. At this age, I told them, I shoulder my responsibility when I’m on the outside, and I do the same when I was sitting in prison. Sitting in prison might even be a bit easier and quieter.
Having reached an equilibrium, I really look down on them: some of their ideas and ways of doing things are so low and so despicable. They aren’t worthy opponents in intelligence or ability. I pity them more and more. They deceive, they bluff and they fret. They put on an act in front of me. As for me, I have learned from experience the power of the Dao: the have-nots conquer the haves, the calm conquer the restless, the weak conquer the strong.
Excerpted and translated from Chinese by China Change.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 19, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation, January 20, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others, January 21, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
Safeguard Defenders, August 28, 2017
The Human Rights Tulip is an award by the Dutch government for courageous human rights defenders.
Wang Quanzhang (CHINA) is a lawyer, father and husband whose work to defend and protect persecuted religious groups, especially Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, has made him a target himself. He is also a defender who understands that broader change in China must come from developing a wider movement of rights defenders.
Since 2008, Wang has worked to develop institutions and mechanisms to train, teach, and offer support to the greater rights defense community, from other rights defense lawyers, “barefoot” lawyers working locally, or victims themselves. Wang is the co-founder of an NGO that established training programs, training many hundreds of lawyers and rights defenders around China. Wang has likewise led the development of several innovative guides and training manuals to assist the rights defense movement to achieve greater success in their work.
By the time Wang was kidnapped by Chinese police on August 5, 2015, he was one of the few remaining lawyers in the whole of China who continued to provide legal aid to those most in need and has continued his work despite threats, beatings and attacks. No one has heard, seen or spoken with Wang for over 700 days. Reliable sources have claimed that he has been subjected to electro-shock torture, amongst other forms of torture. Wang has refused to admit guilt or incriminate others. Wang’s defiance and refusal to disavow his beliefs, friends and other lawyers, has made him a target in the eyes of the Chinese communist party and their “war on lawyers.”
Wang needs your support and your vote. Public voting is open between August 28 and September 6. Go to:
https://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/wang-quanzhang and follow the steps.
The winner will be selected from the top 3 candidates by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Twitter hashtag #Tulip4Wang
Mo Zhixu, August 16, 2017
The Chinese original was first published in December, 2015.
The importance of Wu Gan “the Super Vulgar Butcher” has been widely recognized for some time, and the most direct testament to his importance comes from none other than the party-state itself.
On May 18, 2015, Wu Gan left for Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi, to support lawyers in the Leping wrongful conviction case.* That evening, he joined the lawyers’ sit-in at the gate to the Jiangxi High Court, demanding the lawyers’ right to access the case files. On May 19, in a performance typical of Wu Gan, he set two roll-up signs in front of the court calling out court president Zhang Zhonghou (张忠厚). Soon after, Nanchang police picked up Wu Gan, placing him under administrative detention for ten days.
On May 25, Xinhua published the story “Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan Put Under Administrative Detention by Nanchang Police.” Official websites across the board republished the article soon after. The next day, CCTV’s “Live News” (新闻直播间) aired a five-and-a-half-minute segment on “The Truth Behind the Detention of Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan.” This distorted report on the events at the Jiangxi High Court augured in the campaign to defame Wu Gan.
On May 27, Wu Gan was put under criminal detention and charged with slander and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On May 28, Xinhua published “Uncovering the Real ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’—Wu Gan Criminally Detained on Suspicion of Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble, Slander.” This was printed on page 11 of the People’s Daily—in the politics section. The same day, CCTV’s “Morning News” (朝闻天下) and “Live News” devoted over 5 minutes and 12 minutes respectively to the details of Wu Gan’s detention, while the China Police Daily led with Wu Gan’s story on page 1. These articles and videos were circulated all over the internet. For a time, Wu Gan the Butcher took over computer screens. Some people joked that only a few people had received this much attention since the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949.
People can’t help but ask, what’s so important about Wu Gan the Butcher?
Wu Gan is from Fuqing, Fujian Province. He formerly served in the border security force at the Xiamen airport. For family reasons, he settled in Yangshuo, Guangxi Province. He’s an avid internet user, posting mainly on the KDnet forums. “Super Vulgar Butcher” is his KDnet screen name.
When the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case shook the nation in May 2009, Wu Gan went on his own to the scene in Badong, Hubei Province. He managed to visit Deng in a mental institution where she was being held for stabbing to death an official who tried to sexually assault her at a public bath where she was a waitress. Working with lawyers, Wu Gan launched an online support campaign that was crucial to Deng’s release and the dropping of her murder charge.
At the same time, Wu Gan raised funds online for his trip to Badong. He was challenged on this, but also gained a great deal of support. As he rose to prominence in the rights defense community, fellow activists copied and improved upon his method of crowdfunding. It increasingly became common practice among human rights defenders and resisters in mainland China.
On March 19, 2010, as netizens around the country “surrounded and watched” (围观, a way of demonstration) the trial of the three netizens from Fujian, the authorities abruptly changed the date, followed by a few clashes near the court. The date of the trial was then officially set for April 16, 2010. About a week prior, Wu Gan set up a tent outside the gates of the Fuzhou No. 1 Detention Center and reported from the scene, stoking the fire of online excitement.
On April 16, more than 100 netizens from all over China managed to demonstrate at the Fuzhou Mawei Court. The success of the 416 demonstration in support of the three netizens tried for internet expressions marked a new high point for crowdfunding, online-offline activism, cross-regional networking, and frontal resistance. It was a breakthrough in both the scale and substance of resistance in mainland China, reaching a level that has not yet been surpassed.
The inspiration for and implementation of crowdfunding for the 416 demonstration came directly from Wu Gan. He also played a key role in the campaign from beginning to end.
On October 8, 2010, Wu Gan, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) held up signs at the east gate of the Temple of Earth in Beijing to congratulate Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after, everyone except for Xu Zhiyong were punished with eight days of administrative detention. Before the Nobel award ceremony, the Fujian police took Wu Gan back. His phone was cut off, and he went missing for over a month.
In October 2011, 30 citizens including Liu Ping (刘萍, a female activist in Jiangxi, now serving a 6 year sentence) decided to stay outside Dongshigu to support Chen Guangcheng. Wu Gan launched a crowdfunding campaign to support their effort, and by then this model of crowdfunding — online-offline, cross-province, frontal resistance — had matured, and it has been imitated by more and more human rights defenders.
Rights defense actions during the past few years — such as the observation of the unusual death of Xue Mingkai’s (薛明凯) father in Qufu, Shandong; of the black jail in Jiansanjiang; and of the congregation outside the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center — all follow the pattern cut by the April 16 demonstration. Even those actions in which Wu Gan had no direct involvement show his influence.
When Yueqing village chief Qian Yunhui (钱云会) was crushed to death under a truck on December 25, 2011, outrage exploded online. Once again, Wu Gan went to the scene, where he managed to obtain relevant video footage. Soon after, Wu Gan experimented to transform himself from the role of the first responder to that of behind-the-scenes operator focusing on gathering resources for the frontline and coordinating public opinion. At the same time, supervision of the crowdfunding account was transferred to Guo Yushan’s (郭玉闪) Transition Institute.
From 2011, Wu Gan introduced his rights defense experiences in a batch of Weibo posts he called “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》). According to the Guide, the rights defense movement cannot count on an enlightened ruler for its success, nor on positive forces inside the system. Instead, the movement must creatively deploy any and all means by which to plant psychological deterrents against the relevant officials, thereby achieving resolution to the issue at hand. Intrinsic to this view is the pursuit of a beneficial outcome for the party concerned. It was met with praise as the activists took things into their own hands, not waiting for a just official to arrive on the scene to solve their problems.
After 2012, Wu Gan devoted his energy more to the role of a fundraiser and public opinion coordinator. He raised money for certain rights defenders, victims of rights violations, and political prisoners, including Xiao Yong (肖勇) and Zhao Fengsheng (赵枫生) from Hunan, Fan Mugen (范木根) of Jiangsu, Liu Jiacai (刘家财) of Hubei, and Ren Ziyuan (任自元) of Shandong. Wu Gan kept a low profile, doing good without seeking recognition. A great deal of similar work of his remains unknown.
Starting in 2012, a band of lawyers known as “diehard lawyers” (死磕派) emerged, fighting the judicial system over procedural violations to advance the rule of law. This method resonates with the direct resistance in the Fujian Three Netizen case. Wu Gan started to interact, even cooperate, with the human rights lawyers. He became involved in cases such as the forced demolition in Huaihua, Hunan Province, and the case of wrongful conviction in Leping, Jiangxi. In November 2014, Wu Gan was hired as staff at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm.
Diehard lawyering emerged from the Weibo era as a form of rights defense. Wu Gan’s transformation signified the infusion of his model of resistance into legal rights defense and diehard lawyering, strengthening the movement’s ability to mobilize, propagate, and sustain itself.
In May 2015, the Qing’an case erupted. At noon on May 2, a peasant named Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) was shot dead by a police officer in the waiting room of a Qing’an County train station in Heilongjiang Province. The incident drew the attention and anger of netizens all over China. Wu Gan immediately started to investigate the truth of the case. On May 7, Wu Gan posted a 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) reward for citizens to collect videos of Xu Chunhe at the train station from eyewitnesses. When the videos were made public, they circulated widely on WeChat, Weibo, online forums, and in overseas media. One after another, rights defense lawyers and citizens from all over the country arrived in Qing’an to offer legal services and take action. Wu Gan’s actions made it harder for the government to manipulate the truth, giving reasons to the authorities to settle accounts with him later.
As you can see, Wu Gan was no superhuman with unusual abilities. His importance, first of all, lay in his place at the convergence of three burgeoning models of resistance: diehard lawyering, citizen and petitioners “surround-and-watch” strategies, online mobilization of public opinion, and online crowdfunding.
Secondly, Wu Gan’s years of activism and exposure turned him into a symbol of popular resistance. This is why, as soon as Wu Gan was detained and the propaganda machine’s smear campaign against him ran in full gear, insightful observers believed that the detention of Wu Gan and the ensuing top-level smear campaign by the state’s propaganda machine was a prelude to a larger attack on the diehard lawyers, human rights activists, and citizen activists. The strike against Wu Gan, they believed, was quite likely just the beginning of something big.
When Wu Gan was criminally detained, I wrote that “The all-out treatment of The Butcher (Wu Gan) by the People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV, a rare occurrence since 1949, is not targeted at Wu Gan himself, but rather is the start of an all-encompassing suppression of the entire model of dieharders (lawyers) + activists (citizens, petitioners) + public opinion mobilizers (online). Their next targets are human rights lawyers and the community of activists. With such a forceful start, the attack to follow could be worse than anyone can imagine.”
And so it went. One and a half months after The Butcher was formally arrested, on July 9, 2015, the all-out attack on human rights lawyers and their activist associates began. Twelve lawyers and similar number of activists were criminally detained and then placed under residential surveillance at a designated place — China’s term for secret detention. Over 250 lawyers were detained, summoned, and subpoenaed. This attack was not just sudden, but irrational and arbitrary. Five months on [this article was written in December 2015 — Editors], no 709 detainees have been allowed to access their defense lawyers. Even more fascinating, the authorities portrayed the Fengrui Law Firm as a criminal gang in order to hide the political objective behind the attack. But in reality, practically everyone can see what this attack is all about!
Nearly every lawyer and activist caught in the 709 crackdown had either worked closely with Wu Gan or was a good friend of his. Seven of the detained lawyers and legal staff worked at Fengrui: Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Wang Yu (王宇), Bao Longjun (包龙军), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), and Huang Liqun (黄立群). Others had worked with Wu Gan on the Huaihua forced demolition case: Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yang (谢阳), and Sui Muqing (隋牧青). The citizen activists Monk Wang Yun (Lin Bin 望云和尚，or 林斌), Hu Shigen (胡石根), and Zhao Wei (赵威) all had strong personal relationships with Wu Gan. For this reason, according to his lawyer, Yan Wenxin (燕文薪), Wu Gan’s case has since been merged with the 709 cases, he could no longer visit Wu Gan, and it’s possible that Wu Gan has been moved from Fujian to Tianjin [this turned out to be the case — Editors].
In the few years since May 2009, Wu Gan has transformed from an ordinary netizen to a legal worker and human rights activist. It is no exaggeration to call Wu Gan China’s most prominent activist, and his model of crowdfunding, online-offline activity, cross-regional networking, and direct resistance, combined with new elements like the diehard lawyers, has already reached a new height, and has become the standard for political activism. His “Guide to Slaughtered Pigs” publicized the concept of improving one’s well-being through opposition and resistance. It has spread widely and continued to gain recognition.
It is precisely for these reasons that Wu Gan was targeted by the authorities. To thwart the further influence of his methodology, they did not stint in using their propaganda to defame him. Months have passed without any news from Wu Gan and the many lawyers and activists detained on July 9 and the following days. Their misfortune confirms the righteousness of their cause, and the system’s increasingly arbitrary strategy against them puts into relief the value and importance of people like Wu Gan.
Looking to the future, China is entering an ice age for political activism under a form of money-infused totalitarianism. The government may ruthlessly stifle the resistance model of diehard lawyering + cross-regional networking + online mobilization. Still, the spirit of resistance Wu Gan and others have shown is destined to be passed down, and to become the fundamental strength in China’s transition to a democracy.
* The Leping case took place in Leping of Jiangxi Province (江西乐平) in 2000, with an incident of kidnapping, rape, and a dismembered body. Two years later police arrested four men in Zhongdian village of Leping county: Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Fang Chunping (方春平), Cheng Fagen (程发根), and Cheng Li (程立). Under torture, the four of them “confessed” to the crime; by 2015 they had been in prison for over 13 years and had been given death sentences twice. In 2011 local public security officers arrested a man who confessed to murdering and dismembering the victim in 2000. Lawyers representing the four victims then demanded that the authorities re-investigate the case, but the Jiangxi High people’s Court refused the lawyers’ access to the case files. In response, the lawyers protested outside the court for days. Eventually the Jiangxi High Court did retry the Leping case and on December 22, 2016, issued new verdicts: the four defendants were found not guilty and immediately released.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy. He currently lives in Guangzhou.
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.
My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.
Activist Who Rejected TV Confession Invites CCTV Interviewer to Be Witness at His Trial, Wu Gan, March 24, 2017.
To All Friends Concerned With the Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Wu Gan and the 709 Case, Xu Xiaoshun, father of Wu Gan, May 22, 2017.
Paying Homage to Liu Xiaobo from Behind Bars, Wu Gan, July 31, 2017.
Translated from Chinese by China Change 《莫之许：屠夫为什么如此重要？》