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Tackling a Wall of Lies  – Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, a Chinese Human Rights Lawyer

By Albertine Ren, published: September 14, 2014

It’s been three months since Pu Zhiqiang’s formal arrest on June 13. An extension of investigation period expired on September 13 without indictment or change of detention status, a blatant disregard for criminal procedure prescribed by the Chinese law. Such is the judicial randomness in China. — The editor

 

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Photo from online.

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Photo from online.

He favors navy suits and towers over everyone else at 6’2”. Farmers fall on their knees when they see him, hoping he can save their land or their child. Certainly, with a Mount Rushmore chin and the looks of leading men from a Communist propaganda film, he could have been custom-ordered from some fortune-teller manual on how to spot successful guys. The effect only falls apart when he smiles, dimpling in a way many consider unbecoming to traditional notions of masculinity.

Pu Zhiqiang is a lawyer in China and at the cutting edge of his fledgling profession. Back in the 1950’s, China did away with lawyers altogether to usher in the proletarian dictatorship. How far this set things back with regard to rule of law becomes clear in startling ways. In 2012, after a mother was sent to a labor camp for seeking the death penalty on some men who raped and prostituted her eleven-year-old daughter, Pu agreed to take her case, despite the powerful customers who favored the labor camp system. For example, the princeling Bo Xilai, fallen rival to President Xi Jinping, used it to his liking when he was mayor of Chongqing from 2007 to 2012. People who posted criticism of government policies and abuses on the Internet were thrown in for-profit gulags to churn out stuffed animals for MacDonald’s. Such cases usually go nowhere, since the courts are rigged and the press gagged.

In an environment where lawyers are expected to be hood ornaments, Pu steered the hairbreadth curves with a combination of luck and cool-headed calculation. He took on landmark cases without being branded a dissident, managing a good distance between himself and the edge of the cliff over which human rights activists teeter. Unlike disbarred or tortured human rights lawyers such as Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), he was left free to practice. High-yield cases of low political sensitivity featuring multimillionaire businessmen tortured for skipping bribes would flock to him. They helped him round out his story when the secret police came knocking, questioning his involvement in other high-profile human rights cases.

“I always tell them it’s to get famous. If I say it’s because I believe in a just legal system, they’d tell me to shove my drivel, they know I’m in it for me. So I always tell them from the get-go I do these cases to get famous,” Pu told a fashion magazine, Trends, in 2012. Or he would play up the profit motive: “I’d tell the pandas (aka the secret police) I’m borderline bankrupt, and I don’t have it in me to let this big fat sweet deal go.” His levity is telling. The hidden reserves, within Chinese society, of idealism and yearning for a more just society go a considerable way to explain his booming business. Precisely because the authorities are vigilant for any untoward sign of altruism, it becomes the surest way to overcome mutual suspicion and dread and bring people together.

Backbone and street creds notwithstanding, Pu often found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. In response to one anonymous cell call of the “Luca Brasi is sleeping with the fishes” variety, Pu sent an airy tweet to his tens of thousands of fans on social media: “You’re welcome to come for a thigh or an arm off of Yours Truly, I am on standby.” Unscrupulous government officials whom it was not always easy to tell apart from the mafia represented another source of worry. In February 2012, for example, finding that the court authorities in a Henan town may be concocting a scheme to accuse him of “tampering with witnesses,” Pu again appealed to social media. Still, everything is relative: next to colleagues beaten up for going to court and, in Gao’s case, given up at times for dead, the dashing and thriving Pu appeared as rare as the endangered species on the choice menu of the Chinese elite.

Pu Zhiqiang and Ai Weiwei

Pu Zhiqiang and Ai Weiwei

In 2013, to much public elation, the mother who championed her daughter’s rape and prostitution case won a court judgment of $430 for her pain and distress. Bo Xilai’s disgrace had left a lot of his followers embittered, and the government moved to close down the labor camps, hoping to address public anger and to stoke hope for meaningful reform. A leash-weary media pounced, making Pu a star by covering the other freedom of speech cases he took on for labor camp victims. Never mind that the mission and business model of the labor camps were being quietly handed over to “legal education centers”, “Drug Rehabs” or arbitrary criminal or administrative detention (a law called “Community Correction Law” (《社区矫正法》) has been in the making and probably will be promulgated soon); Pu could accept the laurels with an easy conscience. In all likelihood, he would have gotten famous earlier were it not for the censors.

For one thing, he was Tan Zuoren’s (谭作人) lawyer. The environmentalist and panda advocate had, through a private investigation, concluded that the public schools which collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, killing thousands of school children, were shoddily built. The government prosecuted Tan for revealing state secrets, a bit of an exaggeration in a country where leaders routinely publicly make anti-corruption their priority. Pu put up a good fight. “A lot of the time he reminds you of a lazy cat,” Pu’s friend, legal scholar Xiao Han (萧瀚) writes, “but in court he becomes someone else.” Bristling with witticisms and backing the other side into the glaring holes in their argument which they never bother fixing for the kangaroo court, Pu would mount vigorous appeals to the goodness inherent in human nature. Such speeches are apparently so incendiary that the public is barred from finding out about them, or the defendant and his alleged crime.

Under these circumstances, to stay hopeful is not easy, but Pu makes good sport of it. Xiao again: “…he can’t help this mischievous and therefore boyish look, and sometimes he’d put on a counterfeit cynicism. Sad to say, he never got it right.” Sometimes he likes to brag and pat himself on the shoulder. Some of this may be due to the fact he was the baby of the family with four older siblings. His uncle and aunt, a childless couple, adopted him when he was three months old. Pu wrote, “my wet nurse was a sheep. People were too ignorant about complex chemical processes back then, so no melamine for me; all Mom did was boil the milk and add sugar. I got pretty chunky on it.” (Pu was taking a jab at the food safety scandals.) There is something of the well-loved child in his playful posturing, and much else besides. When he said he writes better than a best-selling author, Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨), for instance, it was a backhanded comment on Yu’s groveling call for blind patriotism equating the Communist Party with China. Seemingly self-indulgent jibes mask trenchant social and political commentary.

He does this best in his writing. He mixes high and low styles with flair, the same way he performs his high-wire acts as an activist. Mindful of censorship, his elliptical humor throws into sharp relief the physical violence he and his colleagues face, where abductions by the secret police become “involuntary vacations”:

I was taken on vacation a few days ago. I got brazen and asked for some due process: “Summon, detention, arrest – take your pick. Just hand me a piece of paper to make it look legal. Forget about taking me to some resort, you can toss me in the clink, feed me dried corn and torture me to force a confession however you like.” They were brazen back and tried throwing me off, “Nah, what d’you need that piece of paper for? After the time is up we’ll get you home right on the dot, now wouldn’t that be nice?” “Without that piece of paper, we’re looking at an abduction here. If you don’t have the guts to bump off the hostages you take, what the hell are you bungling fools doing hauling me around?

Coming back to Beijing in the dead of night, and here I was thinking I knew everything there was to know about bitter cold. Struck me homeless petitioners with poor health might not make it, and thought about Zhang Kai looking them up at night and calling for donations of warm clothing. Just heard that right in the middle of the same chilly night three carloads of thugs went in hot pursuit of our lawyer Zhang. I can’t wrap my mind around it – who in the world did Zhang offend by reaching out to help the petitioners? So Hollywood no longer needs to put up the investment, vet locations and throw up a studio when they run through Chinese streets shooting “The Godfather,” is that it?

Playfulness, in stark contrast to what they are up against, sustains many human rights activists. Pu and Ai Weiwei, the rebel artist whose name rhymes with love in Chinese and who is affectionately known as Cupid in a favorite spoof among his supporters, spent a memorable Valentine’s dinner together:

<Over dinner> Ai asked me how do you keep your blood sugar under control. I said shots. And doesn’t your belly end up pocked with needle marks? Let’s take a look. My guards were down and I pulled up my shirt. One flash and I heard the camera click. I thought oh hell, there goes a chunk of my personality rights. RT@aiww: Check out the smooth belly of our lawyer Pu. (http://www.mobypicture.com/user/aiww/view/8725042

Pu’s command of classical Chinese learning defies expectations, all the more so given the seventy years of CCP rule that has robbed the language of memory and beauty. He juggles forgotten literary allusions and, with a chiseled and venerable street slang, writes and talks as if Communism never happened, even as he dissects the absurdities of the Communist system.

But words do sometimes fail Pu. In 2009, after the court handed down a five-year sentence against Tan Zuoren, Pu excused himself. Standing in the hallway outside the men’s room, Tan’s wife heard him bawl like a child.

Ai Weiwei, the iconoclast artist who, like Pu, got labeled as a dissident when he tried to uphold promises the Party claims to own, is another erstwhile client. When Ai disappeared into detention in 2011, Pu contributed to the advocacy campaign by penning a “Missing Person” notice whose humor is lined with the vehemence of having always to skirt around a Kafkaesque wall of lies. Even such a veiled gesture can be interpreted as a political act of defiance, and Pu probably edged a step closer to prison when he made this note public:

Looking for Ai Weiwei, who was last seen at Beijing Capital Airport on April 3, 2011. He’s more than half-way to a hundred and still don’t know a thing about the way of the world. Six-feet tall and more than two-hundred pounds, he sautes melon seeds and collects junk, strips in documentaries, and insults his motherland and calls his own Dad a dick (ed: Ai’s father was a national icon for patriotic poetry). He is nutty occasionally or else is acting like it…Anyone who catches him alive should dig a hole and bury him then and there – you’ll be eligible for a lottery to get a “Defender of the Republic” medal.

The last sentence is a nod towards the fact that activists who were detained and abused during this period reported that they were threatened with live burial.

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989 as a student of China University of Political Science and Law (中国政法大学)

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989 as a student of China University of Political Science and Law (中国政法大学)

What goes around, comes around. At long last, Pu’s balancing act broke down. He was a student leader during Tienanmen, the mass movement for peaceful political change in 1989, which, like the massacre that quashed it, remains a taboo. On May 5, 2014, the police picked up Pu, two days after he went to a friend’s house for a commemorative meeting on the massacre. “I’ve had a Tiananmen complex this entire time,” he told his lawyer. “I don’t mind paying the price. I regret nothing.” One gets the impression he has survivor’s guilt.

It is ironic that officials are putting away one of their ablest champions. After all, those who lose out in the Party power struggles find their rights stuffed in the meat grinder, including those in the top leadership. In a documentary, Pu aired some creative hair-raising tortures officials suffered. “Please tell everyone how terrifying this extralegal system against government officials is,” he tweeted, “I need your help.” As another suicide epidemic (Chinese) hit higher-level bureaucrats, almost all of whom the Party declared posthumously depressed, Pu tweeted: “Even if someone broke the law left and right and went after a lot of innocent people, I still wouldn’t want to see him caught up in the teeth of the machine. So what if he is a SOB? Not only do we have to make sure bad things don’t drag out for them, we’ve got to do what’s right by them.” It would seem that the system has an inveterate preference for arbitrary power at the expense, potentially, of everyone in it.

Everything has come full circle. Pu had this to say about getting rid of labor camps: “We can call it a big step forward in the rule of law, provided that ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ doesn’t become the next handy substitute.” The government seemed indeed to have tried its hand at pinning this one on him. Now Pu’s lawyer believes they may be moving on to other possibilities, interviewing witnesses thousands of miles away and ransacking Pu’s computers for. They reportedly put a hundred secret cops on his case. Where there is a will, there is a way. According to Pu’s lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, pressure from the Party is likely to dictate the outcome of Pu Zhiqiang’s case.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Pu, but everything about him and what he has done feels all too familiar. As I wind up this piece, the government is putting the finishing touches on another wave of roundups, nimbly switching off between a handful of similar crimes for the best and brightest in Chinese civil society, accusing them of undermining the state and society they work so hard at protecting. It is a great pity, for Pu and the state of things in China, that he is not around to tell us what he thinks of this latest but not the least irony.

 

Sources:

http://www.nbweekly.com/news/people/201209/31342.aspx#comtsAnchor

http://www.trends.com.cn/people/album/2012-09/419112_1.shtml

Tencent microblogs http://t.qq.com/puzhiqianglawyer/

https://twitter.com/puzhiqiang

xiaohan http://www.chinesepen.org/Article/sxsy/200703/Article_20070304005141.shtml

http://wlc04.tumblr.com/post/85459698869

http://loveaiww.blogspot.com/2011/04/blog-post_7883.html

http://x.zetng.com/duanzi_tag_%E5%BE%8B%E5%B8%88.htm?page=1

http://www.chinese.rfi.fr/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD/20140709-%E5%BC%A0%E6%80%9D%E4%B9%8B%E8%B0%88%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E5%8F%B8%E6%B3%95%E6%94%B9%E9%9D%A9%E4%B8%8E%E6%B5%A6%E9%AB%98%E4%B8%A4%E6%A1%88

Author’s interviews with two of Pu’s friends.

 

Albertine Ren is a human rights advocate living in the U. S. with deep knowledge of the subject.

Zhou Yongkang Case Has Nothing to Do with Anti-Corruption Resolve

By Chang Ping, published December 17, 2013 (Chinese original published on December 6)

 

In the walled-in court of the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling elite, big dramas proceed one after another. The Bo Xilai-Wang Lijun-Gu Kailai series was sensational enough, and the Zhou Yongkang case is going to be even more earthshaking. Rumor has it that the former member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee and former secretary of the CCP Central Politics and Law Commission has been placed under Shuanggui (双规, Party discipline to investigate a cadre in designated place and for a designated duration). It is said that his wife, son and close associates have been held too.

For the past months, Zhou Yongkang’s henchmen have fallen left and right, and rumors have been rife. Up to this point, the CCP still has not officially confirmed the situation of Zhou Yongkang. But no waves are made without wind, and people have reason to believe that these rumors have truth to them, given how the Party’s information control mechanism works.

Some say the takedown of Zhou Yongkang reflects the anti-corruption resolve of the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping. At the beginning of the year, Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on both “tigers” and “flies.” So, who are the biggest tigers anyway? After Bloomberg News reported on the not-so-transparent fortunes of the Xi family, the two sites Bloomberg.com and Businessweek.com were promptly blocked by China’s Great Fire Wall, and repercussions are still being felt today. Last week, people in civilian clothes who claimed to be plainclothes police officers made unannounced “inspections” on Bloomberg’s offices in Beijing and Shanghai. This week, Robert Hutton, a reporter for Bloomberg, was banned from attending a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

Zhou Yongkang is no doubt a giant “tiger.” The Chinese say, when two dogs fight, each fills its mouth with the other’s hair (狗咬狗,一嘴毛), meaning that infighting is always ugly. How should we describe a tiger fight then? Heroes trading blows, or an anti-graft campaign? Neither. Under a dictatorship, struggle on the top level is bound to be a struggle raging in the palace that has nothing to do with the rule of law.

Lately, I have often come upon discussions about the Zhou Yongkang case. People asked me whether Zhou Yongkang would be arrested and tried. My take is that, as hard-hitting and heavy-handed as Xi Jinping is, it is unlikely that Zhou Yongkang will be arrested and tried purely for financial corruption. Unlikely for factional struggle either.  I even believe that, without Wang Lijun’s flight to the U.S. Consulate, an anomaly by all means, there would have been no breakout of the Bo Xilai case, even though he was corrupt, coveted power, and his wife murdered someone. Without democratic elections, power will only be distributed internally, so it’s no wonder that there have been, and will always be, constant power struggles behind closed doors. At the same time, it’s also a natural instinct for the system to shield and protect the powerful and the privileged. We can almost ascertain that, in this system, one’s freedom to commit outrages is in direct proportion to one’s official rank.

But the script of the power play was rewritten by Wang Lijun’s derailing behaviors. They reversed the destinies of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai while exposing Zhou Yongkang like a big fish being washed up on the shore. He could still have survived the disaster more or less unscathed if it was not for murdering his wife, as the rumors suggest. More crucially, he collided with Bo Xilai in a bid to overturn the decision made during the CCP’s 17th Congress that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang would succeed to the leadership positions of Party Secretary and Prime Minister, respectively, in the 18th Congress. Bo and Zhou are said to have aimed at, first, getting Bo Xilai into the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th Congress, and then staging a Zhongnanhai coup to assassinate Xi Jinping and make Bo Xilai the General Secretary.

These rumors are dubious until they are confirmed. What they reveal though, even just as rumors, is how far beyond an anti-graft campaign the CCP power struggle is, and how bloody the hand-to-hand combat is. Not easily imaginable for you and me. If the CCP didn’t publicize it, few would believe that the elegant, good-looking Gu Kailai could murder someone with her own hands, nor could we imagine the supposed assassination plan of Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai.

In politics without transparency and balance, there is always an excess of ruthlessness and dirty dealing under the smooth surface of harmony. The exposure of these inside events is a loud and definitive slap to the face of the scribblers on the regime’s payroll who have advocated the advantages of a “collective presidency.”

Loathing the abuses of the powerful and the privileged, people tend to cheer the one who axes them while ignoring the fact that more often than not, the same tactics have been employed to suppress dissidents as well as ordinary people. Since his leadership began, Xi Jinping has surpassed his predecessors in cracking down on free expression and persecuting dissidents, and this trend is unlikely to change with the downfall of Zhou Yongkang. Until news about Zhou Yongkang is officially announced, even the word “Kang Shifu” (康师傅, the brand of ramen noodles with which netizens refer to Zhou Yongkang) is unsearchable on Sina Weibo.

Furthermore, just as the regime avoided trying Bo Xilai for his more egregious crimes, such as wanton imprisonment, executions, and the unlawful confiscation of private property, all in the name of the “crackdown on black” (打黑), Zhou Yongkang will not be tried for his excesses in the name of “stability maintenance” that occurred during his tenure as the secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission. He expanded the power of the police, installed secret police, monitored the life of average people at will, suppressed mass incidents brutally, arrested a large number of dissidents and even just people who voiced discontent, and spiked stability maintenance spending to exceed that of military, waging in effect a ten-year war against the people. He will not be charged or tried for any of these crimes.

What Xi Jinping has been trying to do has been described by many as “walking the Bo Xilai line without Bo Xilai.” Likewise, Xi will also be carrying on the torch of “stability maintenance,” spearheaded by Zhou Yongkang and others, and bring it to greater heights.

 

Chang Ping (长平)

Chang Ping (长平)

Chang Ping (长平), former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend. In April, 2008, Chang Ping was removed from his positions for the article Tibet: Truth and Nationalist Sentiments, published in the Financial Times Chinese edition. In August, 2010, ordered by the CCP Propaganda Department, the Southern Media Group banned his writings from the Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Weekend, and the ban soon became nation-wide. Websites were ordered to take down everything written by Chang Ping. In January, 2011, he was asked to leave the Southern Media Group. He then worked in Hong Kong as the editor in chief of iSun Affairs (《阳光时务周刊》) until the authorities denied him a work visa out of pressure from the Chinese government. He lives in Germany now and is a current affairs commentator for South China Morning Post.

 

(Translation by ChinaChange.org)

Chinese original

Bo Xilai Might Be Done with but Chongqing Model Lives on

By Mo Zhixu, published: September 30, 2013

 

 

Leading dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu (莫之许)

Leading dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu (莫之许)

On Sunday, September 22, 2013, Jinan Intermediate Court sentenced Bo Xilai to life imprisonment while stripping him of his political rights for life. As such, the incident begun by Wang Lijun (王立军) entering the US Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, 2012, has come to an end nineteen months later. However, the political debate, sparked by Bo Xilai’s “singing red and striking black” campaign in Chongqing from 2007 to his fall, continues.

When Bo Xilai was elected a member of the CCP Political Bureau during the 17th CCP Congress, he was in effect excluded from the future lineup for top leadership of the party and the country. He was not appointed to be one of the deputy prime ministers of the State Council as he had desired; he wasn’t even appointed the party secretary of a more important area such as Shanghai or Guangdong. Instead, he was sent to Chongqing to replace Wang Yang, while Wang Yang was appointed to be the party secretary of Guangdong province. For Bo Xilai, proud and ambitious, it was no doubt a humiliation.

The political practices he introduced in Chongqing, in my opinion, were not about vying for a top leadership position in Beijing but an act of resentment meant to showcase his unique political ideas and his personal charisma. 

But a close look at Bo Xilai’s work in Chongqing, especially in the highly controversial “singing red and striking black” campaign, one will find that, the so-called Chongqing Model is in keeping with the “China Model” initiated by Deng Xiaoping: use two hands and keep both strong. In terms of developing the economy on the one hand and maintaining stability on the other, Chongqing under Bo Xilai was not really any different from anywhere else in China, nor was the conduct there more egregious than anywhere else. Liberals in China made loud complaints about many incidents in Chongqing, such as the crackdown on private entrepreneurs (striking black) and many gratuitous re-education-through-labor cases. But keep in mind that the nation-wide clampdown during the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 against dissidents and activists was just as harsh, if not worse, whether in terms of legal abuses or the extent of torture. Chongqing Model was at most an alternative version of the stability-maintenance system, not something different.

Similarly, “singing red” was not a return to the orthodox Maoism as the Maoists on the left had fancied, nor was it a revival of the Cultural Revolution as the reformists had worried. It was merely a red surface. The ideological mobilizations in relation to “singing red” was done level by level in the structure of the system, and it didn’t “kick out the Party committees and stage a revolution” as was the case during the Cultural Revolution. Chongqing didn’t stir up any social turmoil during the “singing red” period. On the contrary, it was rather oppressive as though under a tight lid.

Nationwide, from “Five Nos” (五不搞, “no multi-party election, no diversification of guiding principles, no separation of powers, no federal system, and no privatization”) avowed in the 2011 NPC session by then chairman of the NPC Standing Committee Wu Bangguo  around the period as “singing red” in Chongqing, to the “seven no mentions” earlier this year, and to the ongoing anti-constitutionalism propaganda campaign, none is a mass mobilization in the style of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, they are an attempt to give ideological fuel to the rigid, hardline stability maintenance apparatus. In the end, these too are just skins.

Precisely because the Chongqing Model was highly isomorphic to Deng Xiaoping’s “China Model,” during the four years of its practice, it had never been criticized by the top leadership. Instead, it received many endorsements. Several members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, including Xi Jinping, visited Chongqing to show support for the “striking black” campaign and other actions. As for “singing red,” it has since spread to more places and is very much alive today.

On the other hand, Bo Xilai’s outlandish gig in Chongqing indeed exasperated the central leadership, especially Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, sowing the seeds for future punishment. But such irritation was more towards Bo Xilai’s personal style, not a political disagreement. Precisely because of their political sameness, the trial of Bo Xilai completely avoided anything having to do with the “singing red and striking black” campaign. It was not a political trial against the Chongqing model. It was merely a procedure to drive Bo Xilai out of the political arena once for all.   

Bo Xilai may have been done over, but the incubator of the Chongqing model is very much alive. The political choices unfolding right now are nothing but a brother of the Chongqing model born by the same mother: on the one hand, both stick to the maintenance of overpowering authoritarianism; on the other, both are keen on keeping up economic development. Bo Xilai expressed this Deng Xiaoping doctrine rather nakedly in “singing red and striking black” whereas Xi Jinping affirms it indirectly with his statement that “We cannot negate the history of the decades before the reform and opening-up with that of the decades since the reform and opening-up, nor can we negate the history of the decades since the reform and opening-up with that of the decades before the reform and opening-up.” Xi Jinping, and Bo Xilai before him, are seeking to integrate Mao Zedong’s dictatorship and Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up.

Even though Bo Xilai’s political career is over, as long as the China Model, which he has attempted to mark with a personal signature, continues to live, similar thinking and practices will continue to exist and even flourish without Bo Xilai.

 

Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based 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.

(Translation by ChinaChange.org)

Chinese original

Mo Yan, or “Don’t Talk”, Winner of 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature

Readers of my posts here by now should know that I am not a neutral person, and my bias can be very strong. To be perfectly honest with you, I cherish the freedom of not having to pretend otherwise. Below is a compilation of Twitter Chinese community’s reaction to the news of Chinese writer Mo Yan 莫言 winning this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature (his name literally means “Don’t talk”). I follow nearly 800 people, and the voices on my Timeline are overwhelmingly lopsided. Now, since it’s unlikely that the Swedish Academy will provide you some of the key information about this particular laureate on its site, I will do you a service by supplying it: Mo Yan is currently a member of the Chinese Communist Party and a deputy Chairman of the Party endorsed and Party-run Writers’ Association. In fact, China’s Writers Association is an organ of the government on all levels, from top to county level.  And of all the tweets I read today, my favorite came from the laureate himself: It’s his poem to Bo Xilai (薄熙来), the recently disgraced Chongqing leader. Life is always rich and magical, more so than fiction, isn’t it? –Yaxue

“Mobel! ” by cartoonist Crazy Crab.

@eleven_K: Mo Yan, first Chinese Nobel winner who lives inside China but outside a prison.

@mozhixu: (leading dissident intellectual): In my last interview yesterday, my view is that, due to information unbalance, the westerners have a hard time to understand the reality of the post-totalitarian China. As a result, they underestimated, even ignored, the negative impact of Mo Yan’s subjection to the regime. But for those Chinese who pursuing freedom, it’s very unfair.

@HeQinglian (exiled economist) : Wei Yingjie from Tencent Weibo: Having read so many comments about Mo Yan, I think the most accurate one comes from the man himself: “In everyday life, I can be a stooge, a coward and a pathetic worm, but when I write, I have balls to steal, to fuck and to do whatever I want.” This probably is Mo Yan philosophy of life.

@ye_du: Mo Yan’s poem to Bo Xilai on his Tencent Weibo:

Doggerel to my literary friend in Chongqing:

Sing-red-strike-black roars mightily, the nation turns its head to Chongqing. /While the white spider waves real net, the black horse with loose bowel movement is not an angry youth./ As a writer I look down on either the left or the right, as an official you hold dear your good name in history./ A gentleman, a bedrock in turbulent waters, that you are, the splendid cliffs shine on Jiangling River like fire.

Mo Yan’s poem to Bo Xilai, on Tencent Weibo.

@YaxueCao: Sven Englund (@svenenglund, Swedish student in Fudan University who was expelled from China for writing an open letter to Hu Jintao calling for free expression), you wrote a letter calling for free expression, the Chinese government chased you out of China. Today, Mo Yan, the winner of Nobel Prize for Literature, said in China this is an era when one can speak freely. Are people in the Swedish Academy a bunch of decrepits or what?

@Michae1S Warm congratulations to Mo Yan, CCP member, former PLA officer, loyal soldier of communism, loyal supporter of censorship, boycotter of Frankfurt Book Fair, father of Big Breasts and Wide Hips, for winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature!

@wentommy: From Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yen’an Forum on Literature and Art (1942) to Nobel Prize for Literature, Mo Yan becomes the binding figure in China’s cultural revolution.

@Dwchinese: Wolfgang Kubin, German scholar of Chinese contemporary literature, on Mo Yan.

@YaxueCao: To be a little off in your literary judgment is one thing; to be completely unaware of the pseudo nature of Mo Yan’s oeuvre is another.

@YaxueCao: (Answering question “What is the “pseudo nature” of Mo Yan’s works”) It’s set in China, it’s about China, but it contains little truth about China, realistically or allegorically, not China in the past, not China now. It’s pseudo China.

@wongkala: Mo Yan’s handwriting of MaoZedong’s Talks 2 Writers & Artists, the section about a writer/artist’s stand & attitude.

Mao Zedong, “Talks at Yen’an Forum on Literature and Art,” handcopied by 100 Chinese writers and artists and published earlier this year.

@YaxueCao: Just how bad is it for any of the 100 Chinese writers and artists, Mo Yan included, to engage in handcopying Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yen’an Forum on Literature and Art earlier this year? First of all, it’s a despicable act of suck-up. Secondly, please remember: this text of Mao marks the beginning, and is the guideline, of Chinese Communists’ war on literature and art where complete submission is required of writers and artists, or they face persecution as generations of them have done. Today is a sad day for all of those Chinese who have suffered from that tyranny against literature and art.

@YaxueCao: Four Nobel Prizes and two tales, delivered by People’s Daily:

Today (Mo Yan); 2 years ago (Liu Xiaobo); 12 years ago (Gao Xingjian); and 23 years ago (Dalai Lama).

@lantudou: To best balance the relationship with China, why not award Nobel Peace Prize to Hu Jintao?

@Cloudbleu: Nobel Prize for Literature went to a man who works for a regime that suppresses expression. This is disgusting! Damn disgusting!

@ranyunfei (renowned independent intellectual who was detained last year during the jasmine terror and whose Weibo accounts, all of them, were deleted recently during the anti-Japanese protests): Mo Yan said, upon the news of the prize, that this is an era when one can speak freely. All I can say is that, at this moment of time when China is on the eve of big changes, that Nobel Prize awards a man who has no principles indicates it is an accomplice to the scoundrel China. In China, Mo Yan has received unprecedented, all-you-can-think-of promotion as no one else has ever done, yet the whole world is blind. You will all be paying the bills.

@yangpigui (independent writer): This prize that will be awarded in Stockholm will cause the spread of Stockholm Syndrome.

@aiww (Artist Ai Weiwei) : Swedish Academy of Letters & China’s Writers’ Association compete for who is more despicable. This round the foreign devils won.

@aiww: China’s Writers Association is an association of bootlickers. The Westerners think Mo Yan is outstanding among them.

@aiww: A writer is a liar if he can’t face truth; a literary prize is a curse on conscience if it shuns the question of justice.

@wenyunchao: My Weibo account has just been deleted for criticizing Mo Yan.

@Cui Weiping 崔卫平:  (renowned pro-democracy academic) To those imprisoned writers and those who are being persecuted by censorship as we speak, this is a huge blow.

@mozhixu (leading dissident intellectual): Many people still under-estimated the naivety of leftist Western intellectuals. That’s why, unlike many of you, I didn’t assert that Mo Yan had no shot at it.

@YaxueCao: Mo Yan interviewed by ifeng: “This is an era when one can speak freely.”

@aiww: Why can’t a rich man award a coward, a stooge and a hypocrite? Do you really think this world is clean?

@laoyang945: 12 years ago People’s Daily announced that Nobel Prize for Literature lost all its credibility for award to Gao. Thanks to Mo Yan, now it has been restored.

@YaxueCao: Mo Yan himself aside, the people who are overjoyed about this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature are CCTV, Xinhua, and People‘s Daily.

@tengbiao (tweet by renowned rights lawyer Teng Biao on October 6): He handcopied Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yen’an Forum on Literature and Art (《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》). He claimed that writers are not in any way restrained at all in today’s China. In Frankfurt Book Fair, he refused to attend seminars with dissident writers Dai Qing 戴晴 and Bei Ling 贝岭. When Cui Weiping 崔卫平 interviewed him for his view on Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year sentence, he said, “I don’t know much about it. I don’t want to talk about it.” He has never uttered a single word for any Chinese prisoners of conscience. He is Mo Yan 莫言, this year favorite for Nobel Prize for Literature.

“Why Was It So Dramatic?”

In an interview with the New York Times in late May when his “probation” ended, China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, recounted the details of his forced disappearance in April, 2011. “The policeman yanked the black hood over Ai Weiwei’s head. It was suffocating. Written in white across the outside was a cryptic phrase: ‘Suspect 1.7.’ At the rear of a white van, one policeman sat on each side of Mr. Ai. …They clutched his arms. Four more men sat in the front rows.”

It must be jolting enough to be pulled out of the crowd from the bustling Beijing International Airport. But there was something else that bewildered Ai Weiwei. “‘Until that moment I still had spirit, because it didn’t look real,’” Mr. Ai said. “It was more like a performance. Why was it so dramatic?’”

It turns out the Ai Weiwei’s scene is only mildly dramatic by comparison. There are far more dramatic ones.

On August 15, 2006, Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was in Gaoying, Shandong (山东高营) visiting his sister and dying sister-in-law when police surrounded his sister’s apartment building. By then he and his family had already been tailed and harassed for over 300 days for his investigation into the persecution of Falungong practitioners and other rights defending activities.

“Around 12 o’clock my sister came back to make lunch for me,” Gao Zhisheng told his interviewer sometime later. “She saw that policemen filled the entire stairway, leaving only a path for people to pass. All of them were bare chest, wearing dark glasses. They were all shirtless.”

Gao Zhisheng continued from a sofa chair in his home during one of the brief periods thereafter when he had restricted freedom. “At the very instant when my sister unlocked the door, three men kicked the door open…with thundering noises.” When they came in and seized Gao, “one man sat on my mouth, another pulled my hair backward, quickly wrapping my mouth with yellowish tape. Then they pulled me on the floor, two big men stepped on my calves to keep me in a kneeling position. Then they wrapped the same tape around my eyes. After that, they put a sack over my head.”

He was taken to Beijing, barefoot, in a pair of shorts. His T-shirt had been torn into pieces. The same night in the 2nd Detention Center of Beijing (北京第二看守所), he was interrogated, locked in a metal chair by metal shackles with bright light shining on him on both sides. He was no longer referred to by his own name, but the number 815.

Four interrogators came in. One of them, who Gao Zhisheng believed was the head of the pack, paced back and forth in front of him. “815, now you have an idea how powerful our party is, don’t you? From what has happened today, have you not seen how powerful our party is?”

To apprehend a bare-foot man in his shorts who was not known for extraordinary martial prowess, two policemen would suffice. Okay four. But instead, you have dozens. Instead of wearing their uniforms which represent the legitimacy, dignity and authority of their job, they resorted to bare chests and dark glasses. From the head interrogator we know that the whole sequence was choreographed to show force. A lot can be said about the need to “shock and awe,” but why bare chests? Why dark glasses? What’s going on? Why does the head interrogator sound like a mafia boss? Why did he talk like that?

I felt like I was watching a gangster movie as I typed Gao’s account. Histrionic-intolerant, I would have laughed heartily except it’s not funny when the gangsters here are China’s law enforcement officers and the criminal is a courageous human rights lawyer who would later be subjected to unthinkable tortures such as being poked in the genitals with tooth picks.

Why? Like Ai Weiwei, I wonder, why was it conducted so theatrically?

While you ponder on the answer to this question (please do; I’m seriously puzzled), I’ll show you another movie.

Li Zhuang (李庄) is a Beijing-based lawyer who represented one of the “criminals” in Chongqing’s “crackdown on criminals” campaign during Bo Xilai’s tenure. In time, he himself was charged with perjury and sentenced to one year and six months in prison in early 2010.

Early this year, when Chongqing’s top law enforcement official Wang Lijun (王立军) escaped to the US Consulate in Chengdu, ending his career as well as that of Bo Xilai, Li Zhuang recounted his arrival in Chongqing after Chongqing police had secretly arrested him in Beijing and flown him to Chongqing late at night on December 12, 2009:

“At the foot of the airplane gangway at the Chongqing airport, Wang Lijun was in waiting along with over a hundred riot policemen and a crowd of journalists. Dozens of police cars with flashing lights surrounded the airplane.”

“The riot police, in battle fatigues, steel helmets and leather boots, stood in a three-row formation, each carrying a light submachine gun. Li Zhuang stepped down the gangway with cameras flashing and came face to face with Wang Lijun (whom he had met once before and had a nodding acquaintance) who wore a light yellow trench coat.

Wang Lijun: Li Zhuang, we meet again!

Li Zhuang: Not the first time, and probably not the last time either.

Wang Lijun: Don’t assume that we are unable to tear your net open.

Li Zhuang: I have no net. The one net I know of is the net of the law.

Wang Lijun: No one is to stand in Chongqing’s way to crack down on criminals and eradicate evil.

Li Zhuang: I am all for cracking down on criminals, but I resolutely oppose unlawful crackdowns. With such pomp, are you receiving Obama or have you captured bin Laden? How much taxpayers’ money are you wasting on this? I am only a worthless lawyer,  undeserving any of these.

Wang Lijun: Any job has its cost.

The police motorcade hurled, in speed and noise, towards the detention center. Li Zhuang saw that the entire journey, tens of kilometers, was sealed and guarded.

Li Zhuang told his interviewer that he was indeed intimidated, but at the same time, he felt that “Wang Lijun made such a show out of nothing and indulged in such dramatic display.”

Now, according to other accounts, Wang Lijun is a man of considerable vanity. From one of those accounts, I remember seeing a picture of Wang atop of police jeep in battle fatigues, pointing a submachine gun toward the sky. But vain personality aside, what else accounts for such grotesque excesses?

Not all dramas, it turns out, are on the mafia-like or royal-sized grandiose side. There are those that are so humble that they are also puzzling. Just the other day, one of China’s prominent dissidents Hu Jia tweeted that, when the security police came to his home to arrest him in late December, 2007, one of them posed as the water-meter reader from the water supply company. When the unsuspecting Hu Jia opened the door……well, you can supply the rest. Hu Jia was subsequently tried, secretly, and sentenced to three years and six month in prison in the spring of 2008, a few months before the Beijing Olympics, for “inciting to subvert the state power.”

In Hu Jia’s case, why was the law enforcement so sly? Why can’t they just announce themselves and order Hu Jia to open the door?

One way or the other, in each case, why does it have to be so dramatic?

You should be reading Murong Xuecun

Since November last year, Murong Xuecun has becoming increasingly vocal about China’s political situation. If you haven’t read his works, now is a good time to catch up. His only book available in English, “Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu” (excerpt) focuses on individual struggles in modern China, and while it is a gritty look at life, it is not specifically political in nature. The turning point seems to have come when his visit to Chen Guangcheng ended in getting thrown to the ground and beaten by hired thugs. The riveting account of that trip helped focus the spotlight on Dongshigu and the abuse of human rights there.

Since then he has published a number of biting works that are worth reading (in addition to those two other pieces linked above):

Caging a monster – This speech was given in Oslo, and makes what I consider one of the strongest arguments I have seen against the Communist Party. The scope of it is breathtaking, and leaves the reader wondering how it is this country can possibly survive. Murong’s speech begins:

I am a Chinese writer. Allow me to say a few words about my country. Everyone knows that in the past thirty years China has built countless skyscrapers, commissioned countless airports, and paved countless freeways. My country’s GDP is the world’s second largest and her products are sold in every corner of the planet. My compatriots can be seen on tour in London, New York and Tokyo wearing expensive clothes, chattering raucously. My compatriots also fill up casinos and line up to buy LV bags. People exclaim in amazement:China is rising, the Chinese are rich! But behind this facade of power and prosperity there are details of which many people are unaware, and it is precisely these details that make my country a very strange place.

Living in China is like watching a play in a giant theatre. The plots are absurd and the scenarios are unbelievable—so absurd, so unbelievable that they are beyond any writer’s imagination.

A few months after this speech, with Bo Xilai’s down fall, we had a chance to glimpse just a fraction of what is happening behind the scenes. Murong was absolutely correct, the plots are beyond any writer’s imagination.

No Roads Are Straight Here – One of my first memories of China, was driving from Guangzhou to Shaoguan. The trip took over 4 hours, and the entire way a new massive freeway was under construction. It was more ambitious than anything I had ever seen in the States, and yet it wasn’t even worth commenting on for my local friends. In this personal account from Murong Xuecun, he details how corruption inflates the price of every project.

My favorite quote from this piece is:

“No one stays clean when traveling along these sparkling, yet tainted roads. Corruption is the norm, it has become the unwritten law, an article of faith. It is everywhere. You don’t have to engage corruption, corruption engages you. It follows you, no matter where you go. No one can stay clean.”

The Accident – A dark description of how “justice” works in China. Told from the perspective of the driver of a car that has just hit a pedestrian, it shows how money and connections override the rule of law. From chats I have had with co-workers, this kind of accident with a well connected person is one of their greatest fears. For one friend, this is her main reason for wanting to leave China.

It’s a rather short piece, but if you don’t have time to read it, I want you to remember this moment in the story:

The crowd was growing and a lengthy queue of cars had built up behind us. I could hear police sirens in the distance. I didn’t like the look of this and quickly rang Hu Caoxing. He was very businesslike and asked me a few questions about where the incident had taken place and the general situation, and then promised to find help.

I’d just hung up when the cops arrived and one of them asked for my documents. I said in a small voice, ‘I am friends with your Commissar.’

He stared at me. ‘Don’t talk rubbish, get your documents out.’

The old farmer was slowly coming round, and breathing heavily. He said ‘You weren’t …’ I was getting more and more worried, but then I heard the cop’s radio crackle into life. If this was Hu Caoxing, he was really on his game. The cop listened for a while and then gave me a hard look before walking away from the crowd to continue the conversation. He came back less than two minutes later with a totally different attitude.