China Change

Home » Posts tagged 'Chen Guangcheng'

Tag Archives: Chen Guangcheng

Lawyer Xia Lin Will be Sentenced on September 22, and It Will Have Nothing to Do With the Law

Guo Yushan, September 22, 2016


Lawyer Xia Lin. Photo: Initium Media

Lawyer Xia Lin. Photo: Initium Media


On September 22, after nearly two years in detention and a trial in August, lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖), my friend, will finally face his sentence.

Whatever he’s been charged with, it’s clear to everyone that it was only because he defended me that he has been imprisoned, and suffered as he has to this day.

In May 2014, Xia Lin got dragged into a number of disputes because of his involvement in Pu Zhiqiang’s (浦志强) case. One day in mid June, me, Xia Lin, and Kaiping (黄凯平) were sharing drinks at Beijing Worker’s Stadium, lamenting Pu’s case. At a break in the conversation, Xia Lin suddenly said to me: “If you get sent to prison in the future, I’ll be your lawyer. I’ll fight your case publicly to the end and I’ll do whatever it takes.” I replied that, of course, if I’m thrown in jail, fight it by all means, fight it as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences for me. That we concluded, with Kaiping as witness, raising our hands in toast and draining our cups.

Who’d have thought that the day would come so soon? Three months after the drinks at Worker’s Stadium, both Kaiping and I were taken into custody [in October 2014]. Xia Lin indeed defended me. A month later, he was also detained. In the time that followed I was bounced between three detention centers, while he was kept in the Beijing First Detention Center. A year later I was released on bail — but they kept him behind bars because he refused to supply a confession. Another year passed, and only now is he going to meet a verdict.

We’ve all paid the price we expected.

The price is bound to be exacted, given that we’ve chosen our stance toward this country since when we were young. Xia Lin made his choice in the flush of his youth, as part of the 1989 generation, choosing to go to Tiananmen Square, wearying his spirit in the struggle with his peers to improve this country. He again made his choice when he was a student at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law (西南政法学院), where he made an open vow never to be a lackey or collaborator with evil.

This he achieved. He never wavered from his course for 27 years. From Guizhou to Beijing, from a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer: the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul stirring.

As for the price of a life to be paid — Xia Lin, like me, is ready for it. He’s much more awake than I to the reality of how the system reacts, and its brutality.

Our lives have been interwoven together, as if by fate, from our first meeting in Mao Haojian’s (茅海建) course on modern Chinese history at Peking University. In 2004 after fellow students and I were surrounded on the Jingyuan Lawn on campus, where we protested [over the death of a female student], he came with law books and an attorney contract, walking around the lawn, always within reach. In 2008 during the Deng Yujiao case (邓玉娇案), he was in Badong County, Hubei, and I rushed there from Beijing to be a help to him.

In 2012, after I drove Chen Guangcheng to the American Embassy, Xia Lin sat in my study and combed through all the possible charges the authorities could resort to for reprisal, from “subversion of state power” to “illegal business operations.” He analyzed and whittled through them one by one. Two years later, when I found myself in prison, all that probing became precious legal experience.

We all know the fates we’ll come to assume in history. Both Xia Lin and myself, and so, so many of our colleagues, are all fated to be the stepping stones, the paving stones, for the age of the future. Accepting this humble place in history is our honor.

As for what lays ahead, we’ve not changed what has animated us from the beginning, and we won’t.

Whether we’re slandered or given heavy sentences — what surprise will it be in today’s China? When I was first arrested, I repeated to myself, and to the authorities, over and over again: If I were to be sentenced, one day will be the same as a decade. With Xia Lin, who is so proud, it’s the same.

The September 22 sentence might be, say, 11 years imprisonment, or it might be 2 years, but however many years it is, it will have had nothing to do with the law. This is our fate. We have no choice but to accept it.

Such is our world — so top up the goblet. On September 22 I’ll be outside the court with wine, waiting for the outcome. But for Xia Lin, for myself, for the judge Yi Daqing (易大庆), for the 101 Special Investigation Team assigned to my and Xia Lin’s case, this isn’t the conclusion. It’s just the beginning.


Guo Yushan

September 20, 2016


Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) was the head of the now disabled Transition Institute (传知行), an independent think tank in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. Mr. Guo was one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng公盟). He was detained in October 2014, tortured during detention, and released on bail in September 2015.



Also by Guo Yushan:

Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, August 10, 2013.






“My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer”

Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016

This is a translation of an Ai Weiwei interview of lawyer Li Heping (李和平) in July 2010 (here, here, here, and here) that was released only recently. Beginning from his first involvement in “sensitive” cases around 2002, Li Heping went through the trajectory of his years as one of China’s earliest rights lawyers, including police brutality against him in 2007. Over the past decade or so, many early rights lawyers have withdrawn from the scene under duress, but Li Heping is one of the few who have persevered. He was arrested in July, 2015, as one of dozens of rights lawyers in what is known as the “709 Crackdown” of human rights lawyers and activists. After a year of secret detention with no access to legal counsel or to family, his case has recently been sent to prosecutors for indictment, but earlier this month, Chinese state media seemed to have already charged him with “using funds from a certain overseas NGO to engage in subversion of state power.” If the spectacle of the four show trials in early August is any indication, the entire 709 crackdown is spurred by unfounded fears and is a mockery of the rule of law.  – The Editors


Li Heping screen shot


My name is Li Heping (李和平), and I love being a lawyer. I’ve served as counsel in many cases that have met with success, and that feeling of accomplishment makes me really happy.

Starting in 2002 I started getting involved in cases that were deemed sensitive — for example, cases involving Article 105 of the Criminal Law, “subversion of state power.” The first case I took at that time was the “New Youth Study Group” (新青年学会) where the Procuratorate had charged Yang Zili (杨子立) and three others of “subverting state power.” The first time I defended them was when I came to understand issues associated with politics and prisoners of conscience, and I was really shocked. At first, I was really at a loss as to how to defend them. Back then I didn’t know much about politics, democracy, republicanism, constitutionalism — I only knew how to mount a defense from the perspective of criminal law and the criminal process. But I later found that this sort of criminal procedure defense is simply useless.

When the young migrant worker, new college graduate Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) was beaten to death in police custody in 2003, we also paid close attention. Back then Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪), and Yu Jiang (俞江), the three PhDs in Law from Peking University, wrote a citizen petition demanding that the National People’s Congress abolish the draconian “Custody and Repatriation Regulations” (《收容审查条例》).  And later, Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao, who had just assumed office, did abolish these regulations. We were really happy. In 2004 and 2005 it seemed that the internet was so dynamic and active, lots of people and cases would be exploding online, and we’d always be following them. Although, at the time the number of cases I actually participated in was quite few. I heard that there was a Gao Zhisheng  (高智晟) who’d written three open letters about Falun  Gong cases. He’d written a letter to Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), head of the NPC, demanding that the NPC examine Article 300 of the Criminal Law, about “using a heretical religious organization to undermine the implementation of the law.” He also demanded that they stop this sort of campaign-style persecution against Falun Gong. The impact of these three letters was huge. In 2004 there was also the lawyer Guo Guoting (郭国汀), who was punished by the judicial organs for representing sensitive cases — they threatened him with shutting down his legal practice. I was rather baffled: He’s a lawyer defending a client, and you’re going to shut down his firm? I really didn’t get it back then.

The Yang Zili Case and the Northern Shaanxi Oilfield Case

In 2005 when Yang Zili appealed, his wife Lu Kun (路坤) also asked Gao Zhisheng for help, who then notified me. That’s how I came to know Gao Zhisheng, and we got involved in Yang Zili’s appeal together. While that was underway, I also came across the Northern Shaanxi Oilfield case (陕北油田案), which is where the Shaanxi provincial government attempted to nationalize privately-run oil wells, and the owners of those wells didn’t agree. There was a lawyer, Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), who went and offered legal services to those well owners and was arrested by the local government. At that point myself and Gao Zhisheng, as well as some other lawyers who also got involved, went to represent Zhu Jiuhu. We had all the paperwork in order to visit Zhu, but were denied visitation by the local officials. A lot of interesting things happened — for example right outside the door of the police station, the armed police came and surrounded us. But thankfully six months later they released Zhu.


In Shaanxi in 2005. From left: Gao Zhisheng, Li Heping, and Teng Biao. Xu Zhiyong was taking the photo.


The ‘Dongyang, Huashui’ Case

Afterwards there were a series of similar cases — for instance, the incident in Huashui township, Dongyang city, Zhejiang (浙江东阳画水). On April 4, 2005, in Huashui the authorities mobilized over 3,000 police in order to expel villagers who had come to petition in defense of their rights. The villagers let off firecrackers, and before long about 30,000 more villagers materialized, completely surrounding the police. The police then began firing canisters of tear gas, but the wind was blowing it right back at them. In the end they simply fled under the blows of the citizens. A lot of police were injured, including a deputy mayor who was seriously hurt. The police later arrested and sentenced nine people, and we defended them.

The Chen Guangcheng Case

AI WEIWEI: Was it you who took on the Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) case?

LI HEPING: At the beginning it was me who represented him.

Let me explain how the Chen Guangcheng case happened. Linyi Township in Shandong Province (山东临沂) is a well-known “old revolutionary base” of the Communist Party, and they were extremely horrible in carrying out the birth control policies. For example if there was one person in a village who had already given birth, hadn’t been sterilized, and got pregnant again with the second child, then the authorities would take away not just the family of the woman’s husband who didn’t submit to sterilization, but even arrest everyone in the entire village — collective punishment (连坐). Only after the woman was handed over would they let everyone else go. And when they arrested villagers, it was not a simple detention — there were beatings, and they also fined them 100 yuan ($15) a day. For peasants, 100 yuan a day is no mean sum. They also beat several people to death.

At this point Chen Guangcheng, a blind man, thought that this was wrong. He looked for a lawyer, and right away found me, and I asked Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Chunfu (李春富) and a few other lawyers to go and investigate. The investigation found that the problem was indeed extremely severe. Later, Teng Biao and some other people also went, and also there was Guo Yushan (郭玉闪). Everyone wrote articles about it, and then foreign journalists also went, turning it into a big deal. The local government thought that they were just losing too much face, so they shut Chen Guangcheng up in his home, surrounded him with a large number of guards, and made sure he was under watch.

But Chen Guangcheng was really an amazing person. Despite his blindness, he scaled the wall in his courtyard, made his way to Shanghai by himself, and then came to Beijing. In Beijing he hid out in our home for quite a while. The Shandong authorities came to Beijing looking for him, and they figured that he’d have come to Beijing to stay with one of us. They found him hiding out in our compound, and abducted him back to Shandong.

After he was taken back they put him under even stronger guard, and Chen Guangcheng could no longer escape. At one point a lot of friends traveled to see him, and he wanted to go outside. On that occasion, I don’t know exactly what happened, but the police let him leave the house. Right outside was an intercity highway, and when he got to road the police blocked it off. Cars kept coming, and the road was blocked. So the police charged Chen Guangcheng with obstructing traffic and destroying public property. The latter charge was because they said that someone had smashed a police car. So we lawyers also defended that case at the time.

A lot of lawyers have been beaten in an attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng. We were the first batch, and later there was Li Jingsong (李劲松), Li Fangping (李方平), also Zhang Lihui (张立辉) — a group would go and be beaten and repelled before another batch going again. A lot of lawyers went. At that time the Ministry of Justice started exerting pressure on us, saying that if you still try to represent Chen’s case, you might not pass your annual lawyers’ qualification review. I thought that since there were new people getting involved, I’d just recuse myself from the case.

Later Li Jingsong, Li Fangping, Zhang Lihui, and Xu Zhiyong took on the case. The whole case was really interesting — Shandong police ended up complaining about us to authorities in Beijing. In the end when this case went to court, I didn’t go.

The “Three Grades of Servants” Case

There was a similar kind of case up in northeastern China, the “Three Grades of Servants” case. The Ministry of Public Security made this a “top priority” case for 2004, what’s known as a “thunderbolt case.” The police said this house church was a cult and grabbed more than 300 people. Eventually, they convicted 64 people, 22 of them sentenced to death and 10 executed. So it was a really big case. But at the time, the authorities placed extremely tight restrictions on any information about the case. They’d make sure to grab anyone who dared contact a lawyer. No information could get out.

I remember my first interaction with the case was February 9, 2006. They told me the trial would start in just over 20 days and asked me if I could be a defense lawyer. As soon as they found me, I went and found four other lawyers and we headed to the Northeast. When we got to the court, they refused to give us access to the case files. So we sent two formal letters to the court saying that if they weren’t going to let us read the case files we wouldn’t act as defense lawyers. There was nothing else to do. Then they said okay and let us selectively photocopy parts of the files. Before we got involved, no other lawyer had been able to photocopy documents from the files in that case.

We worked on the “Three Grades of Servants” case for all of 2006, representing the top two defendants in the case, Xu Shengguang (徐圣光) and Li Maoxing (李毛兴). Both of them were executed. We all felt that this was a miscarriage of justice and that there was no basis to sentence them to death. We worked the case, but we had huge doubts about so many issues.

AI WEIWEI: Where did this case take place?

LI HEPING: This was a case with national scope. Including Heilongjiang there were probably eight provincial high courts involved, all handing down verdicts. It was quite a big deal!


LI HEPING: The authorities considered them to be an underground church, very well organized, and the government was scared. On top of that, there were conflicts between this church and the “Eastern Lightning” church, which was always trying to recruit and even kidnap their followers. Occasionally, members of “Eastern Lightning” would infiltrate their church and “Three Grades” people would detain them. One of these detentions led to a person dying, but there’s no proof that church leaders Li Maoxing or Xu Shengguang were responsible for that. There was no evidence, not a shred. But they put bullets in their heads anyway.

AI WEIWEI: So they used this incident to wipe out this church.

LI HEPING: That’s right. And they said that all the funds church members had contributed to the church had been obtained through fraud and confiscated more than 30 million yuan. That itself was also a pretty big deal.

2007 Kidnapping and Beating

In 2006 Gao Zhisheng’s law firm was given a one-year suspension. I was an attorney at that firm at the time and took part in his hearing. That probably upset folks from the judicial administration bureau and the guobao (domestic security police). I wanted to act as Gao’s defense lawyer in 2007, but the police had started following me in 2006 so that whenever I returned to Beijing there would be police at my door. Wherever I went, I’d be surrounded on all sides by eight policemen who never left my side.

I was living in the Lido Employees Apartments on Jiangtai Road in Chaoyang District. When I went to work, they’d sit across from the office and keep watch. It was quite a deployment! They never said anything, only “We just do what the higher-ups tell us to do,” that kind of thing. When they arrested Gao Zhisheng, they were afraid that there’d be a chain reaction so they started following all of Gao’s friends around like that.

It was September 29, 2007, just before the National Day holiday. Just like they now do whenever a “sensitive period” comes around, all of the guobao started taking their posts outside our homes and putting us under 24-hour surveillance. One guobao, two police officers from the local station, and two security guards—five men in all.

AI WEIWEI: Did you know any of their names?

LI HEPING: Sure, I knew their names. That night there was Liang Jiu, a guobao from the Chaoyang Precinct. The two officers from the local station were new, and I didn’t know them. One of the security guards was named Zhang Qing. I don’t recall the other guard’s name.

Ordinarily, the cops from the local station would change shifts around 8 p.m. To make things easier for them, they would change shifts after I got off work. But on that particular day, Liang Jiu sent the local cops away a little after 3 p.m., leaving only himself. I guess they must have sent Liang some sort of notice.

When I got off work, Liang Jiu said I didn’t need to drive and that I should ride with him. At the time, I thought I got along reasonably well with Liang so I got in his car. Outside my office building there was a newsstand. Liang told me to go over there and wait for him to pull up. Then he left and never came back.

Suddenly, another guy ran up to me. He was over six feet tall and had a scar on his face. He grabbed my right hand and asked: “Are you Li Heping?”

I said: “Yes.”

“Come with me. You’re just the scumbag I’m looking for.”

After he grabbed me, he tried to push me out in front of him but I refused to move. So up comes another guy and grabs my other hand, and soon I had what I guess was a cloth hood placed over my head. Then they forced me into a waiting car that I happened to glimpse had no license plates.

They sat on either side of me, and I sensed that there was another guy in the passenger seat up front. When they grabbed me, they searched through my pockets and took away my briefcase and computer. There were probably two cars. I feel like we probably drove for an hour. They had my hands pinned behind my back and forced my head down almost to my crotch so it was difficult to breathe.

It was the evening rush hour. I couldn’t figure out where they were taking me, but I sensed that we were on the highway and went through a toll station. Later, I sensed that we had gone up into the hills or something like that, probably to a site of theirs. They had to sign in at the gate, so we stopped for a bit before entering. After entering, I felt like we were going underground, perhaps to a basement. Inside the basement, I remember there were between 6 and 10 men, who all started taking turns beating me.

AI WEIWEI: What did they say to you in the car? How did you get out of the car? How did you get into the basement? Did they remove the hood?

LI HEPING: They never said anything in the car, only: “Behave yourself. Move and we’ll beat you to death.” They raised my hands up very high, putting pressure on the blood vessels inside. My legs went completely numb. They removed the hood only after I got in the basement. What color it was, I never really noticed.

AI WEIWEI: What kind of room was it?

LI HEPING: It was like a room in a guesthouse, but without a bed. The floor was tiled, and there was a table with a tablecloth and a leather baton and an electric prod. They took turns beating me—first three would take a turn and then the next three. It was like that.

AI WEIWEI: What do you mean by “took turns”? How did they beat you? Were you sitting or standing? What was it like?

LI HEPING: When I got there, they tried to strip off all my clothes, but I wouldn’t let them. Several of them got together to strip off my clothes, leaving me in my underwear. Then they took the electric prod and “ZAP”—they started giving me shocks! The day after I got out, Li Fangping saw a bunch of marks from where they’d zapped me.

AI WEIWEI: How many times? What did it feel like?

LI HEPING: They zapped me many times. For six hours, they mostly hit me with the electric prod. They also hit me in the head with full water bottles and slapped me. One slap to my left ear pierced my eardrum. They also kicked me and stomped on me. I collapsed on the floor and they were surrounding me, kicking and stomping.

AI WEIWEI: You collapsed?

LI HEPING: Yes, I fell to the floor. I was rolling around and they chased after me to beat me some more. They were even laughing, they seemed perversely happy.

AI WEIWEI: Could you tell what sort of people they were?

LI HEPING: They were pros at this sort of thing. They said they were from state security, but I think they were probably guobao.

AI WEIWEI: Why would they say they were state security?

LI HEPING: I have no idea.

AI WEIWEI: Were there any other conversations?

LI HEPING: Yeah. The first thing they did was interrogating me: “What’s your name? Where are you from?” I said they knew who I was already and I wasn’t going to answer. They grabbed me by the head and said: “Are you going to talk or not?” Then—“POW”—they started slapping me.

They said: “You’re in our hands now, so don’t even think about when you’re going to get out. You are lucky if you ever see a courtroom, but there’s no way we’re sending you to prison. We’ll just say you’ve disapppeared without a trace.” That sort of thing.

AI WEIWEI: You said that they kept taking turns beating you in groups of three. How did you keep track of time?

LI HEPING: I know that it was around one in the morning when they let me go.

AI WEIWEI: You were beaten non-stop up to that point?

LI HEPING: Yeah. I’d gotten off work at 5 p.m. Once I got there, they beat me and kicked me without a break.

AI WEIWEI: When they were beating you like that, was there any point when you couldn’t stand it or you fainted? I mean, what did it feel like?

LI HEPING: Let me put it this way. Of course it hurt a lot, and it was humiliating. But I also thought: “You’re already in their hands, and there’s nowhere to run. So there’s no use in being afraid.” That’s all I was thinking at the time. “Even if they beat you to death, what can you do about it? Nothing.” That was what I was thinking, because I figured there was nothing I could do, right? When you’re getting beat up in a place like that, it doesn’t matter what sort of skills you might have—what can you do? You can only put yourself at their mercy.”

AI WEIWEI: Did you ever think to yourself: “I’m a lawyer. I ought to give them a piece of my mind for the way they’re violating the law”?

LI HEPING: Are they interested in talking with you about law at that moment? They’re already acting like the mafia. If you’re going to talk about the law it ought to be in an open setting, where everyone acts according to the law and the facts. Of course that would be great, but at that moment that’s not the way things were going.

I did say to them at the time: “I’ve got no beef with you, so why are you doing this to me?”

They said to me: “It’s you bunch of outsider lawyers that’s giving us no peace in Beijing! Go back and sell your apartment, sell your firm, and get the hell out of Beijing! We say whether you can practice law, and there’s no way you’re going to practice law without our say-so!”

Afterwards, they took away my lawyer’s license and my passport. They also took my portable hard drive and my laptop hard drive. When I got home, I couldn’t turn on my laptop. I thought maybe they’d reformatted my laptop. When I went to the computer mall to get it fixed, the guy said: “Is this your computer? How come it doesn’t have a hard drive?” It’s like they’re trying to burrow into your head to check out what you’re thinking, they’re so afraid.

AI WEIWEI: What could they find out by looking inside your head?

LI HEPING: They couldn’t find out anything. What can a single lawyer do? It’s just that they took my case files and destroyed the fruit of 10 years of work.

AI WEIWEI: I wonder what was going through your mind as they were beating you. When they beat you over and over, did you ever feel despondent? What was going through your mind? Or was there nothing to think in that moment?

LI HEPING: I really wasn’t thinking anything at the time. I recall telling them that I wasn’t going to hate them, no matter what they did to me. “It’s okay,” I said. “After I get out, the next time I see you I’ll treat you to a meal.” Those guys just laughed and said: “You’ll treat us? A pauper like you?!” That’s because at the time I truly had very little cash on me, so they called me a “pauper.”

AI WEIWEI: Were you poor?

LI HEPING: I can’t say one way or the other. In any case, once I began taking on public interest cases my income dropped dramatically. I had to spend my own money in case after case. If you’re going to put your heart and soul into public-interest lawyering in China, it’s pretty much a dead-end road as far as profit is concerned. If you don’t take on a few commercial cases to make up the difference, then you’re definitely done for. I’m a little better off, because I handle a lot of commercial cases and can use that money to fill the gaps. Overall, I’m doing all right. I may not have had a lot of cash in my pocket, but I had money on my bank card.

AI WEIWEI: How did they finally let you go? Did they get tired of beating you?

LI HEPING: I don’t know. In any case, one of them was in charge, a guy in his forties who was wearing a suit. He was the one giving out the orders. When he said “move,” they moved. When he said “stop,” they stopped. When he told someone to beat me, they beat me.

AI WEIWEI: What kind of a person was he?

LI HEPING: He looked like a nice, gentle sort of guy. He wore a linen suit. I don’t remember whether or not he wore glasses. When they had beaten me to a certain point, he said: “Let’s take him out.” I had no idea where they were taking me, but they put the hood over my head again and bundled me into the car. We drove quite a ways. I thought they were taking me to a new location. Then the car stopped somewhere and they told me to get out. Back at the basement, they’d said: “Let’s go. We’re going to search your place.” At the time, I thought: “Even if you kill my entire family, there’s nothing I can do about it, right? What options do you have living in this kind of society? They will do whatever they will do to you.”

Getting out of the car, they said: “Just wait and see what we’ll do to you if you go back and hold a press conference.” They meant that they didn’t want me to reveal that I’d been beaten and wanted me to keep it a secret. They dropped me off in a wooded area—I don’t know where, but it was still quite far from the city. I thought: “I have no clue where I am, so I guess I’ll just walk in the direction of wherever I see the most light.” I saw lights way off in the distance, in the Beijing suburbs. So, I started walking towards the lights of Beijing.

I walked for a few kilometers before I got to a road, where I saw a sign that read “Xiaotangshan” (小汤山). I found a taxi there and took it back to my home. I remember that the fare was more than 80 yuan, something like 89 yuan. I had just enough in my pockets to cover it.

AI WEIWEI: What time did you get home?

LI HEPING: Probably between 1 and 2 in the morning. My wife was already asleep when I got home, and I didn’t wake her.

I looked myself over in the bathroom mirror. I’d lost a lot of hair. I’d been zapped here [points to neck], my face was swollen, and I had marks all over my body from the electric baton. But I didn’t say anything to my wife. The next day, I told Jiang Tianyong and Li Fangping, and they came over to see me.

On September 30, I wrote everything down. I was really nervous when I published my account of what happened. I remember it was October 1 when it got posted online. That day, Jiang Tianyong and several other lawyers accompanied me to the “Ladies Street” Police Station (女人街派出所) next to my office to file a report. When we filed the report, the police officer said: “Eh, you mean this kind of thing can happen in Beijing? Such a vicious and serious case ought to be fully investigated.” But nothing ever came of it.

Another thing happened when we were at the police station. Jiang Tianyong called Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) to tell him what had happened to me. As they were talking, there was a click, and the call was routed somewhere else. Li Xiongbing couldn’t hear anything and Jiang Tianyong could hear someone on the other end laughing and saying that Li Heping got what he deserved. Our mobiles, email, and telephones are all being monitored.

AI WEIWEI: How do you know for sure?

LI HEPING: There’s noise on the mobiles, you can hear it clearly. There are times when we’re unable to send text messages, especially when we’re working on big cases. Sometimes we can’t make calls, our phones are specifically targeted. Then, when the moment has past, they unfreeze the phones.

There are even stranger things. Back when Li Jinsong (李劲松) and Cheng Hai (程海) were in Shandong working on Chen Guangcheng’s case, the police detained Li Jinsong. A few of us lawyers back in Beijing were discussing how we should respond, and the discussion got pretty heated. Suddenly, I got a text message from my wife. It was probably 2006, but the message was one that my wife had sent me in 2004 or 2005—the same exact text! It read: “Dear, you’re always working on these public interest cases! Not only do they pay less, but they bring danger to our family and there are threats to your physical safety. What’s a wife supposed to do? If you won’t think of yourself, think of your wife and child! If something were to happen to you, what will become of the two of us?” My wife rarely uses that tone of voice with me, so I remember this text very clearly. But one year later, the people that monitor us sent it out again with the exact same timestamp. It’s really incredible!

 [Ai Weiwei asking about more examples of kidnapping and brutality and Li Heping’s answer are abbreviated.]

Only Institutional Protections Can Prevent Torture

Under the current Chinese system, no citizen can fight back once he falls into their hands. If you resist, you become a target for torture. They have cameras at the Pingfang Police Station in Beijing, but they decide whether or not to save the footage or make it public. The way to prevent use of torture to coerce confessions is the right to have a lawyer present during questioning and the right to remain silent.

Without the right to remain silent, no one can hold out. Take Guo Feixiong, for example. He’s a real tough guy, but faced with electric shocks to his genitals he had no choice but to confess. Gao Zhisheng is another really tough guy, but was forced under torture to write a statement of regret. Then there’s Li Zhuang, a guy with a military background. When he was thrown into that Chongqing jail, he had no choice but to admit to crimes. What can you do? Humans are made of flesh and blood. When you’re being tortured, you don’t want to go on living. There’s no protection for human rights under this system.

After I went public about being beaten, that sort of thing happened much less frequently. For instance, when they kidnapped Teng Biao for three days, they didn’t harm him physically—they just held him for three days. Torture certainly needs to be made public, because publicity is a deterrent. If no one ever went public about what happened to them, then who knows how arrogant with power the authorities would become. So, I think that the film you’re making here is very important.

AI WEIWEI: When we heard what happened, we were very angry and felt it was all so hard to believe. What we can do is give a clear and factual account. Once it’s made public, then it becomes part of history. There’s no other way.

LI HEPING: In some religious cases in the Northeast, they soak you to the bone and then throw you in a freezing cell in the middle of winter. Torture is everywhere in China.

AI WEIWEI: You’re a lawyer working on behalf of justice who has experienced this kind of thing yourself. You still have some compassion and a capacity to act, and you’re willing to do this kind of work as a lawyer. But do you ever feel desperation or fear?

LI HEPING: Speaking of fear, one of the guys who beat me put it very clearly: “I’m going to give you nightmares.” They want to make it impossible for me to sleep, to have nightmares when I think of them. That’s their goal. But fortunately, I’m the kind of person who thinks that you have to sleep, even in hell.

It’s not so easy for them to give me nightmares. But it’s caused much more harm as far as my family is concerned. I can bear it, but how about my family or my wife? They’re under considerable pressure. When I would turn my phone off, my wife would go crazy with worry if she wasn’t able to reach me, searching all over thinking that I’d been taken away by the police. My friends are like this, too, worrying that if they can’t reach me by phone I must’ve been taken away by the guobao. They get really worried!

AI WEIWEI: How many times have you been detained, in all?

LI HEPING: The first time was the time I was beaten up. Later there were a number of temporary “conflicts.” For example, the Pingfang Police Station called me in to give a statement. It lasted four or five hours. They wanted me to stick around, but I refused. So there was trouble. “You have to remain here!” They grabbed my arm and made me stay. Then they put a chair in front of me and said, “Sit there!” I refused to sit. But all of them insist that I sit, so what could I do? Are you going to fight them? For this kind of official business, why do I have to sit there? But if you don’t sit, those guys will lift you up and carry you over there and your arms will get hurt.

So, individual protest isn’t enough: without institutional protections, there’s no way that China will prevent torture.

AI WEIWEI: Why does the system allow them to act this way? What are they trying to achieve? The regime is supposed to be a public good, but they control all of the resources. What are they trying to do?

LI HEPING: These days, many police will say: “We just follow orders. We do what our superiors tell us to do. We’re just trying to put food on our tables.” The time I was beaten up, the leader of the police said something really funny: “Now that you’re in my hands, you just watch how I’m going to torment you and fix you! When you guys take charge in the future, however you want to take your revenge is up to you!”

I said: “What are you talking about, ‘take charge’? Aren’t I just a lawyer?” They have no confidence in their own system, that’s the truth.

[Discussion about how to fight back police’s denial of brutality is abbreviated.]

Citizens’ On-the-Scene Support and Social Media

AI WEIWEI: Is it useful for citizen activists to gather at the scene to voice their support?

LI HEPING: Of course, it’s extremely important. When someone does something wrong, he worries that others will remember. Don’t you see how police hide their badges and serial numbers when they’re doing bad things? They’re afraid.

AI WEIWEI: What do you think of the public discussion taking place on blogs and Twitter? What impact will that have on China?

LI HEPING: I think that instant communication tools like Twitter and Skype are extremely important for China, because China completely lacks any civil society. It’s like a plate of loose sand, without any platforms for formation of any general will. In a certain sense, Twitter helps citizens create a kind of public opinion by gathering and expressing people’s views. When it reaches a certain point, it can lead to action. I think that in the future these will truly change our society.

Only when citizens are able to make contact with and trust one another can they work together to build their own country. Moreover, consensus is ultimately achieved through people’s exchange of ideas, through agreement and compromise with each other. This needs time. Twitter and other Internet tools provide citizens with a convenient platform for communication. But you know what the limitation is? At present, only some elites are on Twitter, but many elites within the system don’t use it. But I think this is only a matter of time.

[Editors’ Note: This was when Sina Weibo, launch in the fall of 2009, was yet to take off.]

I believe the Internet can break down the iron curtain of China’s totalitarian regime, so still have some confidence in China.


AI WEIWEI: What religion are you?

LI HEPING: I’m a Christian.

AI WEIWEI: Are you devout?

LI HEPING: I’m— . . . My wife is extremely devout. I’d like to be a bit more devout, but I’ve still got a ways to go, still have some doubts. I think it would be a lot easier for me if I were a devout Christian.

AI WEIWEI: When did you start being religious?

LI HEPING: I was baptized in 2003. Religion really helps make humanity stronger, braver, and wiser. It gives you a much greater capacity to withstand pressure. Otherwise, you just have the strength of an individual—it’s not enough.

AI WEIWEI: So, on that day when you were rolling on the ground and they were beating you, did you think of Christianity?

LI HEPING: I really did—and I also prayed. It’s like when Teng Biao was detained—he hadn’t even been baptized yet—he prayed: “Lord, hurry up and rescue me.” It’s different when you’re religious. At the time when they were beating me, I even laughed. I truly laughed, I kid you not.

AI WEIWEI: That must have frightened them, no?

LI HEPING: That I don’t know. I suspect it didn’t frighten them—after all, there were a lot of them. I felt that I hadn’t done anything wrong. They can do what they want, I’m still going to be me. What they did was really foolish, but that foolishness has its origins in the system. They committed heinous sins but don’t have to take any responsibility, because they have the Communist Party to protect them. It’s foolish because it’s the reputation of the party and the government that gets damaged.

AI WEIWEI: I’ve said the same thing, too. If you allow a minority to damage the interests and reputation of the state through their unlawful behavior, there’s no way that ordinary people will continue to have any faith in it. You’re just like the mafia, I said to them.

LI HEPING: Yeah, their actions certainly do call into question the legitimacy of their rule. But these days access to information is blocked and many people know nothing about these kinds of incidents. But if you go online or have access to more channels of information, you’ll soon become aware of these things. Especially petitioning. After trying it a few times, everything will become clear. When they hear stories about houses being demolished, many people still think: “There’s no way the government could be this evil, like a bunch of gangsters!” But when it happens to them, they finally realize the government’s brutality.

China Is a Foxcomm Regime

AI WEIWEI: When it comes to certain fundamental questions of principle, the government acts with a kind of primitive brutality and can’t be reasoned with.

LI HEPING: I feel that they currently lack the ability to make necessary distinctions when it comes to these kinds of things. They lump a bunch of things from different areas together without any distinction. If they were to make clearer distinctions, I think they’d have no need to do things this way.

There are some matters where they ought to loosen up. There are some areas where, even loosening up quite a bit wouldn’t cause any problems. But in other areas where there are fears of social problems, it’s understandable to want a bit of control. But I think that they’re unable perform this kind of analysis.

They take some of the most fundamental issues and give the greatest power to the most idiotic people. Think of citizens’ rights to liberty or property—these are big issues. But they give the police control over people’s personal liberty. Police can detain and lock you up however they please and even send you away for a few years. Where else in the world do you see that? If you’re going to punish someone by taking away their freedom, you at least have to bring them before a court! This is a stupid, stupid way of doing things. [The editors can’t help pointing out how ironic this is!]

There’s another way they do things: they put the courts under the control of the party out of a belief that this helps preserve social stability. They never imagine that allowing courts to rule on cases independently would make society seem a bit fairer and that the courts would be able to resolve conflicts when they arise. But because the Communist Party manipulates the courts, by linking the entire system together you push conflict into other areas until it fills the whole system. I think there’s a problem with their way of thinking on this. . . .

AI WEIWEI: So, you’ve arrived at the subject of judicial independence.

LI HEPING: Judicial independence. Now whenever I see them, I make another suggestion: China should adopt a system of citizen juries and let citizens decide as to whether or not a crime has been committed. When you try to control and take charge of everything yourself, can you really have control?

To put it bluntly, China is currently a Foxcomm regime. China is like Foxcomm—it looks awesome from the outside, but too many restrictions are put on people’s freedoms and it’s like living in a prison. It’s unsustainable.

AI WEIWEI: Are you worried for this country?

LI HEPING: I think for sure that no good will come of continuing on like this.

AI WEIWEI: How old are you?


AI WEIWEI: What year were you born? What’s your birthdate?

LI HEPING: October 26, 1970. We Chinese say, “At 40, I had no more doubts.” Since I turned 40, my doubts have only just begun. Everything that you once thought was correct turns out to be mistaken. Now that I’m 40, I’ve slowly come to realize: “Oh, so many things turn out to be false.” I’m only starting to extract my mind out of the pit that my past education’s dug for me. “Oh, see—it turns out that this is the way the world is!” It’s different. The pit they dug for you is so huge, it takes you 40 years to crawl out. So at 40, I’ve just begun to have doubts [laughs]. Slowly but surely!

AI WEIWEI: You’re a real optimist!

LI HEPING: I guess I’m more-or-less optimistic [chuckles]. There’s no way to do this sort of work if you don’t have this kind of personality. The police are always coming to find you. Since 2005, they’ve been following me now for five years. I’d reckon that for more than a year of that time the police were following me around the clock, come rain or shine. When they follow you like that, what can you do?

AI WEIWEI: It’s such a waste of money!

LI HEPING: Yeah. I calculated it for them once. At first there were eight police watching me—how much do eight police make a day? A hundred yuan a day, per person, so at least 800 yuan. Those eight police use three cars, at 300 yuan per day that’s 900. What about meals? To follow me, they have to spend at least 3000 yuan a day.

AI WEIWEI: That means the state spends more than a million to follow you for a year.

LI HEPING: That’s right! And that doesn’t include the cost of monitoring my phone or my Internet! Then there’s all the secret stuff—who knows how they’re doing this stuff?

I consider myself to be this kind of person: no matter what I do, I do it in accordance with the law. There’s no need for all this stuff! It’s like a guobao from the Beijing Public Security Bureau said to me during the Beijing Olympics: “Lawyer Li, the Olympics is very important to us. Security standards during the Olympics are very high, so you mustn’t go out of bounds!”

I said: “Who’s drawing those boundaries, you or me? Why do you need to draw boundaries for me? What gives you the right? How about you observe the boundaries, too? Don’t bother drawing boundaries for me. You respect the law and I respect the law, then there’ll be no problems. Don’t mess around!”

He replied: “It’s like having sand in your shoes. Just put up with it for a while and it’ll be gone. We have orders from above.”

So what can you do? They do these things without any plan. It’s truly unwise to treat lawyers this way. I’ve spoken to people at the judicial administration bureau about this. I tell them I’d like to be able to communicate with you guys, including the police. I’d like to communicate, because we have so many suggestions about how to solve many of society’s problems. We’re on the front lines. We’re not radicals. We can give you solutions for how to solve these kinds of problems. If you follow our suggestions, the problems will be resolved. Isn’t that great? So why must you send security guards, police officers, guobao to watch us? Are guobao necessarily better at solving these problems than lawyers? In what way are guobao better?

[The interview is interrupted by a woman passerby . . . ]

Passerby: Excuse me, what are you filming here?

AI WEIWEI: This is a private film. I’m interviewing him.

Passerby: What do you mean, “private”?

AI WEIWEI: It’s for my personal use.

Passerby: For personal use? Do you have a permit for this activity?

AI WEIWEI: Personal use. Hey, you must be from Beijing TV.

Passerby: Did you contact anyone before doing this?

AI WEIWEI: No, we’re just individuals. We came here for an interview—it’s like having a chat.

Passerby: But this . . . individuals?

AI WEIWEI: Yeah. Don’t you see people carrying cameras all the time and filming each other? We’re interviewing him. He’s my friend.


[The End]



14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015

By Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, published: August 19, 2015

Photo: @chrlcg

Photo: @chrlcg


The Chinese government has lately carried out a massive campaign to arrest, summon, and threaten Chinese lawyers. The propaganda machine has followed in lock-step, operating at full strength to tarnish these lawyers’ reputations by describing them as a “criminal gang,” “hooligans,” and “scum of the lawyer community” (herehere, and here).

Rights lawyers first emerged in the 2000s at the onset of a Chinese rights-defense movement. For more than a decade, they have fought courageously for legal justice and been on the front lines of promoting rule of law in China by taking part in innumerable cases of all sizes dealing with some of the most important problems in Chinese political and social life, such as social justice, free expression, religious freedom, food safety, property rights, economic charges, political rights, power abuses, wrongful convictions, and the rights of ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Some of them call themselves “die-hard lawyers.” Lawyer Si Weijiang explains (Chinese) that the “die-hard lawyer” are no different from ordinary criminal defense lawyers, except that they’re particularly persistent about procedures and refuse to play by any of the “hidden rules” of the Chinese legal system.

Though more and more lawyers have begun to join the fight for justice and their numbers have grown from just a handful to (according to some estimates) over a thousand, rights lawyers remain a tiny minority among China’s 270,000 practicing lawyers. But in contrast to the distorted and insulting way the propagandists present them, to a great degree they are the only true lawyers in China.

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) around 2005.

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) around 2005.

For their efforts, they have been subjected to all sorts of attacks from the authorities, including having their licenses revoked, physical threats, being summoned for questioning, imprisonment, and torture. Despite all of this, more than 200 individuals—many of them rights lawyers themselves and members of the legal community—have refused to be intimidated and have recently signed a statement (Chinese) of protest, accusing China’s Ministry of Public Security of carrying out an illegal and abusive act against rights lawyers.

We have selected 14 cases from the past dozen years that represent and exemplify the rights-defense movement, our goal being to answer a question that many of our readers might ask: “What kinds of cases do rights-defense lawyers handle?”

In China’s legal environment, the efforts of rights-defense lawyers often end in failure. In the eyes of the authorities, however, these Sisyphean efforts clearly represent a kind of defiance. Examining the cases that rights lawyers have taken on over the years helps us understand the origins and logic of the fierce repression they are experiencing under the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule.

Sun Zhigang Case (Custody and Repatriation)

Xu Zhiyong (许志永)

Xu Zhiyong (许志永)

In 2003, a recent university graduate from Hubei named Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) found a job in the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong (广州广东). As he had only recently arrived, he had yet to obtain a temporary residence permit. On March 17, police apprehended him in the street on suspicion of being an “illegal migrant” and sent him to a “custody and repatriation” center, used to hold people unable to produce an ID card, temporary residence permit, and work permit together. Three days later, Sun Zhigang was brutally beaten to death by guards and other inmates while he was being held in a medical clinic affiliated with the center. News of his death rocked China after it was reported in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily.

In May, three young legal scholars named Yu Jiang (俞江), Teng Biao (滕彪), and Xu Zhiyong (许志永) submitted a recommendation to the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, pointing to the restriction of citizens’ personal freedom under custody and repatriation as a violation of the constitution and requesting that the regulations governing the measure be changed or abolished. In June, the State Council announced that the Custody and Repatriation Measures would be abolished. At the same time, those who took part in the beating of Sun Zhigang were tried and convicted.

Xu Zhiyong also provided defense for Yu Huafeng (喻华峰), the general manager of the Southern Metropolis Daily who was retaliated for his paper’s investigation of the Sun Zhigang story and the SARS story.

Many at that time believed that Sun Zhigang’s death would “bring about the birth of a system of constitutional review (Chinese) long-hoped-for by Chinese people.” The “successful rights defense” of the three young legal scholars was praised as a milestone in China’s legal history, and the incident filled Chinese intellectuals with hope about the development of rule of law in China.

Educational Equality Movement (Household Registration System)

Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜)

Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜)

After the “Sun Zhigang Affair,” the three young legal scholars and their friends established a public-interest civil society organization called “Gongmeng” (also known as “Open Constitution Initiative”). Consisted mostly of lawyers, Gongmeng worked to provide legal aid in cases involving social injustice. After Gongmeng experienced many years of repression, it evolved into the “New Citizen Movement.” One of the movement’s initiatives concerned the fight to provide the children of China’s migrant population with equal rights to education by ending the segregation of those with rural household registration and the discrimination and injustice associated with that status. The education equality movement called for the children of migrant workers to have the right to take the university entrance examination in the cities where their parents had come to work, instead of forcing those children to leave their parents and return to their places of household registration in order to take the exams. Xu Zhiyong organized many signature and petition campaigns in support of this cause.

The education equality movement achieved limited success in provincial cities throughout China, but Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013 and sentenced the following January to four years in prison for the crime of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Lawyer Ding Jiaxi, another important participant in the New Citizen Movement, was also sentenced to 3½ years’ imprisonment in 2014.

Sun Dawu Case (Economic Reform)

Sun Dawu is a well-known private entrepreneur from Hebei Province and chairman of the Dawu Group, a producer of agricultural and pastoral products. Unable for many years to borrow money from state-owned banks, the Dawu Group turned to its employees, friends and relatives, and local residents to raise capital—a method commonly used by private businesses in China.

In May 2003, Sun Dawu was arrested on charges of “illegally taking public funds.” After he received near-unanimous support from public opinion and experts, Sun was given a suspended sentence and released. Sun’s defense counsel Xu Zhiyong considered this to be the “most ideal resolution” (Chinese) in a country where a court cannot admit that it shouldn’t have tried the case in the first place. Xu Zhiyong later wrote that he had hoped to “use Sun Dawu’s case to promote market reforms in China and improve the environment in which private enterprise can exist and grow.”

Four years later, in March 2007, a wealthy young woman entrepreneur from Zhejiang named Wu Ying (吴英) was arrested by the authorities for “illegally taking public funds.” Wu Ying’s fate was starkly different from that of Sun Dawu, however, as the Zhejiang High People’s Court eventually sentenced her in 2012 to death, suspended for two years, for the crime of “fraudulent fundraising.”

After the mass arrest of lawyers on July 10, Sun Dawu wrote to express his support for rights lawyers: “Corrupt officials and people with special privileges don’t believe in the law and won’t care one bit whether or not there are lawyers. But ordinary people want their society to be well ordered. In the past, when they had an economic dispute, a divorce, or were involved in some criminal violation, they might have gone looking for connections or someone powerful to protect them. Now, the first thing people will think of is getting help from a lawyer.”

Taishi Village Recall Case (Anti-Corruption, grassroots democracy)

Left to right: Guo Feixiong, Tang Jingling, and Liu Shihui, three rights leaders in Guangzhou.

Left to right: Guo Feixiong, Liu Shihui, and Tang Jingling, three rights leaders in Guangzhou.

In 2005, residents of Taishi (太石村), a village in Panyu District, Guangzhou (广州番禺), formally requested to recall the village head because of dissatisfaction over graft and corruption by members of the village committee. The Panyu government mobilized several hundred police officers to suppress the recall campaign, beating many participants and arresting several of their leaders.

As the situation in Taishi became more serious, it attracted widespread attention and intervention by rights-defense activists, lawyers, scholars, and media organizations from both inside and outside China. The Guangzhou-based lawyers Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Guo Yan (郭艳) were sought out to take on the case by village residents and rights activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄). Lawyers Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Zhang Xingshui (张星水), Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Heping (李和平), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永) were among those who formed the “Taishi Village Legal Advisory Group” to provide support to this case.

The recall campaign ended in failure, but this case gave further momentum to the rights-defense movement. As Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) wrote: “The Taishi Incident is not only a striking indicator of how far local democracy in China has come; it is also an incident in which ordinary people have again paid a price and one that will certainly be inscribed in the history of progress toward grassroots democracy in China.”

The lawyers who took part in the Taishi Village case went on to become core figures in the rights-defense movement for many years. Tang Jingling, Li Heping, Xu Zhiyong, and Pu Zhiqiang are all behind bars today. Though Gao Zhisheng has been released from prison, he has not yet regained his freedom.

Guo Feixiong, one of the pioneers of the rights defense movement and the central figure in the Taishi Village case, is also behind the bars today. Lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), who represented Guo, is among the lawyers detained on July 10th.

Linyi Violent Family Planning Case (One-Child Policy)

Li Heping (李和平)

Li Heping (李和平)

Coercion and violence have always been part of the implementation of China’s “one-child” birth control policy. In 2005, the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) began investigating the “birth control campaign” being carried out in Linyi, Shandong (山东临沂), where the authorities made widespread use of detention and beatings, carried out forced tubal ligation and abortion, imprisoned families that had “too many children,” tore down houses, and forced people to attend and pay for “study classes.” In addition to helping victims defend their rights, Chen Guangcheng invited several lawyers from Beijing—including Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Chunfu (李春富), Li Heping, and Teng Biao—to go to Linyi to carry out on-the-ground investigations and provide legal aid.

Beginning in August 2005, Chen Guangcheng and his wife were put under residential surveillance and subjected to numerous beatings. Not long afterward, a local court sentenced Chen to four years and three months in prison for “intentional destruction of property” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.”

After Chen Guangcheng was released from prison in September 2010, he was once again put under house arrest. This led to a nationwide campaign to “Free Chen Guangcheng.” In April 2012, Chen escaped his village of Dongshigu. After hiding out in the US Embassy, he went into exile in the United States.

Melamine Milk Powder Case (Food Safety)

Li Fangping (李方平)

Li Fangping (李方平)

In September 2008, Beijing resident Zhao Lianhai (赵连海) discovered that his infant son had a 2mm stone in his right kidney. Upon further investigation, he found that companies were mixing the industrial chemical melamine in their milk powder in order to give the appearance of having higher levels of protein. He established a website called “Home for Kidney-Stone Babies,” which he used to investigate, report on, and exchange information about poisoned dairy products and to call on victims of melamine milk-powder poisoning to join together in a lawsuit to defend their rights. 300,000 infants were found to suffer from urinary-system diseases after consuming melamine-laced milk powder. At least six children died as a result.

In November 2009, Zhao Lianhai was placed under criminal detention on suspicion of “provoking a serious disturbance.” Li Fangping (李方平) acted as his lawyer. One year later, Zhao was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

Between 2008 and 2011, Peng Jian (彭剑), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), Li Fangping (李方平), and more than 100 other public interest lawyers sued the Sanlu Group in the Supreme People’s Court and hundreds of local courts—including in Hong Kong—to seek compensation for the victims and their families. More than 200 poisoned babies got justice beyond the official plan for state compensation, with the highest amount of compensation awarded to an individual reaching 350,000 yuan.

Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), one of the lawyers who took part in the lawsuit against the Sanlu Group, is one of the lawyers detained on July 10, while Li Fangping is one of the 269 lawyers called in for questioning and threatened since that date.

Tan Zuoren Case (Political Persecution)

Tan Zuoren (谭作人) is a writer and editor from Sichuan. After the Wenchuan Earthquake (汶川) in 2008, he called on civil society to investigate the construction quality of schools that had collapsed during the earthquake and set up a database collecting information about the thousands of students who lost their lives in the school collapses. In March 2009, Tan was detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion.”

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强).

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强).

After the court handed down a five-year sentence against Tan Zuoren in February 2010, his lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) excused himself. Standing in the hallway outside the men’s room, Tan’s wife heard him bawl like a child. Pu said: “This was a political trial, decided on the basis of political factors.”

Even though Tan Zuoren has now been released from prison, Pu Zhiqiang is unfortunately behind bars in what is commonly believed to be retaliation by the authorities against his history of advocacy in rights-defense cases. Another one of Tan Zuoren’s defense lawyers, Xia Lin, has also been jailed for defending civil society leader Guo Yushan (郭玉闪).

Tang Hui Case (Re-Education Through Labor)

Re-education through labor (also known as laojiao) was a system of administrative punishment in which public security organs could directly sentence offenders to up to four years of imprisonment and compulsory labor without trial by a court. Tens of thousands Chinese were sent to laojiao after it was set up in 1957, and over the years the number of ridiculous grounds for which people were sent to laojiao grew too numerous to mention—for example, playing mahjong, cursing officials, or posting items online. Laojiao camps were rife with various human rights violations, and those sent to laojiao were forced to work overtime and were frequently abused and beaten.

In October 2006, a 10-year-old girl who came to be known as “Lele” was abducted from nearby her home in Yongzhou, Hunan (湖南永州). She was put to work in a nearby brothel and raped by numerous men before being found by family members nearly three months later. Lele’s mother, Tang Hui (唐慧), went to the police to demand a criminal investigation, but her demands led nowhere. This led her to begin petitioning.

Since July 10, five lawyers have been blocked from traveling outside China. From left to rights: Cheng Hai, Si Weijiang, Zhang Qingfang, and Li Fangping.

Since July 10, five lawyers so far have been blocked from traveling outside China. From left to rights: Chen Wuqian, Si Weijiang, Cai Ying, Zhang Qingfang, and Li Fangping. Photo: @chrlcg. Click to enlarge.

In August 2012, the Yongzhou Public Security Bureau sentenced Tang Hui to laojiao for 18 months on charges of “disturbing social order.” When Tang Hui requested an administrative review by the Hunan Laojiao Committee, that committee annulled the original laojiao decision and released Tang Hui after less than two weeks. In January 2013, Tang Hui and her legal team including Pu Zhiqiang applied for state compensation from the Yongzhou Laojiao Committee. A court eventually awarded her compensation in the amount of 2941 yuan.

Public calls for the abolition of laojiao had been growing over recent years, and those calls reached their high point around the time of the Tang Hui case. At the end of 2013, the NPC Standing Committee announced that laojiao would be abolished. Lawyers handling Tang Hui’s case—Si Weijiang (斯伟江), Xu Liping (徐利平), Hu Yihua (胡益华), and Pu Zhiqiang (who handled several other cases involving laojiao)—have been credited with making major contributions toward the ultimate elimination of laojiao.

Xia Junfeng Case (Violence by Urban Enforcement Officers)

One day in May 2009, a Shenyang street vendor named Xi Junfeng (夏俊峰) and his wife were selling barbecued meat skewers on the street when they were accosted by around a dozen members of the local urban enforcement squad (or chengguan)—a para-police organization set up in Chinese cities to enforce urban planning regulations and maintain order. An argument ensued, and officers began beating Xia, who was then taken to the local chengguan office. There, he was subjected to further beatings by two officers. As the beating was going on, Xia pulled out a knife he carried to slice sausages and fatally stabbed two officers and wounded another in the course of trying to escape. During the trial, the court refused to accept the testimony of six witnesses who saw the officers beat Xia Junfeng in the street and only accepted testimony from other chengguan officers. In September 2013, Xia Junfeng was executed for intentional homicide.

Teng Biao (滕彪)

Teng Biao (滕彪)

Teng Biao, who represented Xia Junfeng in his appeal trial, said: “The decision in this case is intended to send a message: namely, that no defiance of the government will be tolerated—even when that defiance is directed at local law-enforcement personnel.”

The afternoon that Xia Junfeng was executed, 25 Chinese lawyers issued a joint statement (Chinese) protesting the execution and demanding that the Supreme People’s Court release its written decision confirming the death sentence. They also demanded that the Supreme People’s Court reform its process of reviewing death sentences by doing away with the secrecy surrounding that process and implementing the principle of judicial openness.

Nian Bin Case and the Leping Case (Wrongful Convictions)

In July 2006, several members of two households were poisoned in Pingtan County, Fujian (福建平潭), leading to the deaths of two children. Local police investigators established that someone had poisoned the families with rat poison and identified neighbor Nian Bin (念斌) as the chief suspect.

Nian was arrested by police and subjected to severe torture in an effort to secure a confession. His hands and feet were bound, books were tied around his ribs while police beat him with a hammer, and slivers of bamboo were placed in the spaces between his ribs. In the process of handling the case, police also fabricated test results showing that the deaths were caused by rat poison, revised the timeline of the crime, and concealed crucial witness testimony.

4 lawyers in front of the Jiangxi Higher Court last May demanding access to case files.

4 lawyers in front of the Jiangxi Higher Court last May demanding access to case files.

Nian Bin was forced to endure numerous trials and was sentenced to death four separate times, with Nian appealing the verdict each time. On August 22, 2014, the Fujian High People’s Court issued a final verdict in the “Nian Bin Poisoning Case,” proclaiming Nian innocent of all charges and releasing him from custody. The victory in the Nian Bin case was the product of many years of perseverance by a group of Chinese lawyers who sought justice in his case, including Si Weijiang, Zhang Yansheng (张燕生), Li Xiaolin (李肖霖), Zhang Lei (张磊) and Gongxun Xue (公孙雪).

The “Leping Wrongful Conviction Case” on the other hand was connected to a robbery, rape, and dismemberment case that occurred in Leping, Jiangxi (江西乐平), in 2000. In May 2002, police arrested Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强) and three other suspects. The four men were forced to confess under torture and sentenced to suspended death sentence, and they remain imprisoned to this day.

However, as early as November 2011, the suspect in another case confessed responsibility in the Leping case. Lawyers Zhang Weiyu (张维玉), Wang Fei (王飞), Yan Huafeng (严华丰), and Zhang Kai (张凯) joined together to prepare a petition requesting that the case be retried, but the Jiangxi High Court refused their lawful request to review files in the case. In May of this year, they carried out a sit-in protest together with victims’ family members outside the Jiangxi High Court. Wu Gan (吴淦), an activist taking part in the protest, was arrested in May. Among the lawyers recently arrested or summoned, Zhang Weiyu of Beijing’s Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所) was briefly detained, while Zhang Kai was summoned for questioning and given a warning.

Jiansanjiang Case (Religious Freedom, Falun Gong)

Four lawyers on March 21, 2014, in front of the "Legal Education Base of Heilongjiang Agricultural Reclamation Administration"

Four lawyers on March 21, 2014, in front of the “Legal Education Base of Heilongjiang Agricultural Reclamation Administration.” From left to right: Jiang Tianyong, Zhang Junjie, Wang Cheng, and Tang Jitian.

In March 2014, rights lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong, Wang Cheng (王成), and Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) went to Heilongjiang to provide legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners who were being held illegally in a so-called “legal education base”—really a “black jail”—at Qinglongshan State Farm. The next day, the four lawyers were taken away by local public security officers and placed under administrative detention for “using a cult to endanger society.” During their detention, the lawyers were brutally beaten. After news spread of their detention, other lawyers and ordinary people from throughout the country went to Jiansanjiang to show their support, many of them also ending up subject to detention and abuse.

At the end of April, the Heilongjiang General Administration for Agricultural Reclamation disbanded its “legal education bases.” Lawyer Li Fangping remarked (Chinese): “This outcome was achieved through rights defense lawyers putting their own bodies on the line in protest.”

Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)

Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)

In China, it is extremely dangerous to defend Falun Gong practitioners. Gao Zhisheng, who was the first lawyer to investigate the persecution of Falun Gong, was punished with nine long years of torture and imprisonment between 2005 and 2014. After being released from prison on August 7, 2014, he remains under “soft detention” at a relative’s home in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and is unable to be reunited with his family in the United States.

In addition to Gao Zhisheng, other well-known rights defense lawyers who have defended Falun Gong practitioners include Wang Yu (王宇), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Jiang Tianyong, Mo Shaoping (莫少平), Li Heping, and Shang Baojun (尚宝军). These lawyers not only understand that they have no chance of winning these cases—they are also clear that their defense of Falun Gong cases has the potential to bring them huge risks and even personal harm. There have been instances of licenses being revoked and lawyers being subjected to surveillance, detention, home raids, and beatings for defending Falun Gong practitioners’ religious freedom.

Ilham Tohti Case (Free Expression)

Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木∙土赫提) was an economics professor at Minzu University of China (formerly known as Central University for Nationalities). In the 1990s, he started using his writings and lectures to criticize and make recommendations regarding the central government’s policies toward ethnic minority groups. For this, the authorities punished him by barring him from publishing and suspending him from teaching.

In 2006, Ilham Tohti established a website called Uyghur Online, which disseminated news and provided a platform for peaceful Uyghur-Han interaction. The website was frequently attacked by hackers and was finally forced to shut down in 2009.

Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)

Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)

After the July 2009 riots in Urumqi, Ilham Tohti was subjected to much harsher treatment in Beijing, including short-term detentions, house arrest, verbal and physical abuse, and being barred from traveling abroad. He was arrested in January 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment that September for the crime of “separatism.” Many foreign governments, human rights groups, and international organizations have issued statements strongly protesting and condemning the verdict against Ilham Tohti.

Rights lawyers Li Fangping and Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原) served as defense counsel for Ilham Tohti, preparing a meticulous analysis of the charges against him and pointing out all of the various procedural violations during the trial. After the trial had concluded, the two defense lawyers pointed out on WeChat that the Xinhua News Service reporting on the trial contained many factual errors and concealed other facts and that it was a serious violation of the law for the court to allow the media to reveal evidence from the case files before Ilham Tohti had had a chance to appeal. Wang Yu (王宇) also previously took part in the Ilham Tohti case.

Fan Mugen Case (Resistance to Forced Evictions)

Suzhou resident Fan Mugen (范木根) was forced to go into hiding when he couldn’t bear the violence of the gangs carrying out forced evictions in his neighborhood. He returned to his home in Yanshan Village, Tong’an Town, Suzhou (苏州通安镇严山村), after 6 a.m. on December 2, 2013. Early the next

Wang Yu (王宇)

Wang Yu (王宇)

morning, a gang of around 14 or 15 men charged into Fan Mugen’s home brandishing steel clubs. Fan Mugen, his wife, and their son were all injured in the attack. Fan Mugen defended his family with a knife, fatally wounding two of the most violent attackers.

Lawyers Wang Yu (王宇), Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Guo Haiyue (郭海跃), Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), and Lü Zhoubin (吕州宾) all got involved in the case on behalf of Fan’s defense. Several dozen rights-defense lawyers and public intellectuals have taken part in efforts to support Fan Mugen, including holding seminars, filing requests to disclose official information, submitting written allegations of wrongdoing to state judicial bodies, and organizing a legal support team. Fan Mugen’s trial was held in February 2015, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison on May 8.

Fan Mugen and his family members were preparing to appeal when their lawyer Wang Yu was thrown in jail. Wang was the first lawyer to “disappear” during the sweeping arrest of lawyers on July 10. The only female lawyer among the detained lawyers, she is currently held under “residential surveillance at a designated place” and has been denied of access to lawyers for having “endangered the state security.”


Yaxue Cao edits this website; Yaqiu Wang researches and writes about human rights in China.


Posts on the recent arrest of rights lawyers on

Breaking: This Morning in Beijing, One lawyer Gone Missing, Another Lawyer Kidnapped, and Fengrui Law office Visited by Police, China Change, July 9, 2015.

Biographies of Lawyers, Staffers and Activists Detained or Disappeared in the July 10 Nationwide Raid Against Rights Lawyers, China Change, July 23, 2015.

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, by Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.

The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, by Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.

Getting Rid of Lawyers Is the Start of Fascism, by Zhai Minglei, July 27, 2015.

What Can You Do in the Face of Terror – A Chinese Entrepreneur Responds to Arrest of Rights Lawyers, by Sun Dawu, July 24, 2015.

What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’, by Yaqiu Wang, August 2, 2015.

A Letter of Protest Against China’s Arrest of Rights Lawyers, to be read at a rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and then formally delivered, by multiple groups in DC area, August 12, 2015.

Wu Gan the Butcher, by Yaqiu Wang, July 22, 2015.

Tackling a Wall of Lies  – Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, a Chinese Human Rights Lawyer, by Abertine Ren, September 14, 2014.





In China, to Destroy Lives Is Legal, but to Save Them Is Not

By Xiao Shu, published: January 11, 2015


Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

I no longer have the desire to argue about the treatment of Guo Yushan and his colleagues from a legal perspective. We know that “illegal business practices” was the charge for which Guo was formally arrested on December 6th, after remaining in extralegal detention for more than two months. Back in 2007, the authorities used the same charge to sentence activist Guo Feixiong, while in 2013 it was the charge of “disturbing public order” that landed Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing and other members of the New Citizens Movement in jail. Today, the charge of “illegal business” has been used on Guo Yushan and, as with before, it is never about the law .

The punishment of its citizens stands at the core of the regime. “Class struggle” (“阶级斗争” was of course about punishment, as was the “crackdown on peaceful regime change” (“反和平演变”). Today they have “stability maintenance” system in place and they mount “opposition to color revolutions,” but again, these are just other ways of smiting dissent. Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋), was able to boast that he’d never attacked anyone in his life. Who among the leaders today could make such a claim?

Just last week, Shanghai suffered a horrible tragedy in which 35 people were trampled to death. Did they have any warning mechanism for such a tragedy?

For those who died in the recent highway collapse in Guizhou, where was the government’s early warning?

Looking back a bit further, what did the government do to prevent 300,000 infants from being poisoned by the melamine-tainted milk formula? When, during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the poorly constructed school buildings which collapsed like tofu took the lives of the thousands of young students, where was their prevention and warning?

When we string together this list of tragedies, it becomes very long indeed, and the moans of those lost souls becomes equally loud.

China might be “rising” in the world, but it is a country with no defenses against disasters, man-made or natural. China’s leaders are only interested in keeping a tight rein on the people, and they are skillful doing that with unchecked monopoly on power and resources. In case after case, they aggravate sufferings by treating families of disaster victims as potential trouble-makers and placing them under strict control. The cruelty of it is beyond the pale.

Everywhere one looks there are public hazards, with the most obvious being the absence of effective restrictions on state power.

Whereas they destroy, Guo Yushan saves. When the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng fled from his illegal imprisonment, it was Guo Yushan who rushed to his assistance. He was there too, for months on end with his team, to help the victims of the melamine scandal.

Guo Yushan would be the happiest man in the world if he could live in peace and solitude to be the scholar that he has always wanted to be. But he happens to be someone who is unable to turn his back on the injustices and sufferings around him. He has had no choice but to become involved, and today the government’s revenge has finally been meted out.

He was aware of the consequences of his efforts. If you insist on saying that he is guilty of “illegal business activities,” then it must be remembered that his business was to save others. He believes that the rise and fall of a regime have its own logic beyond any individual’s control, but in China where there is no safeguard of basic human rights, the regime manufactures cycles of human rights disasters, and it is imperative that we help those in need in any possible way.

Coming to the aid of others can be perceived and treated a challenge to the existing political order, as the arrest of Guo Yushan shows abundantly.


Xiao Shu (笑蜀)

Xiao Shu (笑蜀)

Xiao Shu (笑蜀), the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly and the Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, and an active participant in the New Citizens Movement. He is currently a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.



Just Man Guo Yushan, by Xiao Shu, November 9, 2014.

Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan, August 10, 2013

Exile in My Own Country – A Letter to Domestic Security Officer Li in Beijing, by Yang Zili (Transition Institute researcher), December 13, 2014

China Arrests Activist amid a Clampdown, the New York Times, January 6, 2014.

Chinese Scholar Who Helped in an Escape Is Detained for ‘Picking Quarrels’, the New York Times, October 12, 2014.

Buffett-Style Dinner Bids Woo Chinese for Just Society, Bloomberg, August 20, 2013.


Chinese original

(Translation based on an edited version with the author’s permission)




Just Man Guo Yushan

By Xiao Shu, published: November 9, 2014


Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), the Knight Lightening Strike。

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), the Knight Lightening Strike。

I remember that it was October 10, and, as I was strolling along Jingmei River [in Taiwan], I suddenly thought that it had been over a week since I last heard Guo Yushan’s voice.  The day before I had sent a private message to him but there was no response. This was unusual as we kept in frequent contact, and so I could not but be apprehensive. I immediately phoned him. No one answered the first call; ditto the second and the third calls. I reluctantly hung up the phone with a sense of foreboding:

Something is wrong. Something must be wrong.

Sure enough, it was quickly confirmed. In the early morning hours of October 9, the Beijing police detained Guo Yushan for “picking quarrels and creating disturbances” with no indication of how long the detention would last.

This was not the first time I had the foreboding that something bad happened to him. Since April 2012, when Guo Yushan miraculously broke through the heavy defensive lines of the State Security agents to secret away the blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to the U. S. Embassy in Beijing, Guo Yushan’s life has been turned upside down completely without another quiet day. Several months of continuous house arrest was normal, and days when he was not under house arrest, State Security agents were with him constantly wherever he went.

We knew at that time that, sooner or later, there would be reprisals no matter how low key Guo Yushan stayed. The Chinese authorities were simply waiting for the best opportunity to retaliate against him.

Guo holds a Masters of Economics degree from Peking University, and he is the founder of the Transition Institute, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank in social and economic research. He was one of the founders of Gongmeng (Open Constitutional Initiative), the famed public interest organization for rights defense, along with Xu Zhiyong and Teng Biao. Of course Guo’s most astonishing initiative was saving Cheng Guangcheng, and for which, he got the nickname Knight Lightening Strike [after the movie Flash] and notoriety, and for which he has been paying a high price.

Before he acted to save Chen Guangcheng, he prepared himself for that high price. Everyone knows the dramatic moment when Guo Yushan saved Chen Guangcheng, but they do not know how much effort he had exerted to bring that moment about. At the beginning, not many people knew who Chen Guangcheng was. Guo Yushan, carrying a camera on his shoulder, interviewed his friends one by one to discuss Chen Guangcheng. He made the interviews into a video and distributed it online. On Weibo [China’s Twitter-like social media], Guo Yushan very carefully proliferated discussions about Chen Guangcheng. Time and again, his Weibo account was deleted by the censors, and time and again he would open a new account. Guo Yushan persevered in this for several years.

In August of 2005, Chen Guangcheng traveled to Beijing and sought help from Guo Yushan in his struggle against violent and forced abortion practices in Linyi City in Shandong province. From that time onward, Chen and Guo formed a fraternal friendship. Chen was sentenced to five years in prison and, when the sentence was up, he was placed under house arrest, something that deeply anguished Guo Yushan. Guo Yushan could not help weeping each time he spoke to me about Chen. He thought of finding a band of martial artists to go to Chen’s home town of Dongshigu village to rescue him by force. He even had a plan to free Chen Guangcheng by digging a tunnel to where Chen was being detained. He made elaborate plans including where to start digging, and how to dig, the tunnel.  I still remember how engrossed he was when telling me his plans for the tunnel. He also said that the Linyi municipal authorities got wind of the tunnel plan and were terrified, moving quickly to reinforce with concrete the floor of the room where Chen was detained.

“Have you thought of the consequences of this tunnel plan? It’s quite possible that, instead of saving Chen Guangcheng, you will land yourself in jail.” With this remark I tried to put a damper on his tunnel plans. Without even thinking, Yushan blurted out: “I would have no regret for doing what I want to do and getting what I ask for.”

My heart thumped upon hearing this. What is a just spirit? What is a person of chivalry and justice? I suddenly understood at that moment. He is known as Knight Lightening Strike, and he is the person willing to make a lightening strike for justice.

Here is another Guo Yushan story of chivalry. In 2009, the Beijing police, regarding Gongmeng as a thorn in their sides, claimed that Gongmeng had evaded taxes, seized Gongmeng’s property, and detained Xu Zhiyong who was in charge of Gongmeng. The police also implicated Gongmeng’s accountant Zhuang Lu (庄璐). The jail experience deeply traumatized the young woman. After her release, she quietly returned to her home village in Fujian province, and severed her relationships with her colleagues in Beijing. A guilt ridden Guo Yushan managed to raise a sum of money as compensation for Zhuang, found Zhuang Lu’s whereabouts, and gave Zhuang’s father the money, while apologizing profusely for what had befallen Zhuang Lu. Initially, Zhuang’s father felt quite aggrieved over what had happen to his daughter, but he was so moved by Yushan’s efforts that he bore no grudges.

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕).

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕).

Guo Yushan is a Confucianist who venerates in particular the Confucian concept of ren[1]. Ren is the very soul of Confucianism, also the core of Guo Yushan’s values. If the Renaissance in the West is based on the humanist traditions of the ancient Greek city of Athens, then ren in Confucianism is Guo Yushan’s Athens. But Yushan does not declaim about ren, he doesn’t take ren and fly it like a flag on some mountain top. On the contrary, he only uses ren for his own code of conduct and, in the best Confucian tradition, unifies knowledge and action.[2]

Being together with Guo Yushan, one feels deeply his generosity, sense of justice, and benevolence. He describes these virtues as “old school morals.” In today’s morally degenerate world, these “old school morals” are so refreshing and so rare. This is the very reason that Guo Yushan has friends everywhere.

After his baptism by fire in the French Revolution, the French author Victor Hugo made a succinct summary of revolution: standing above a positive revolution stands a positive humanism.  Guo Yushan’s understanding of the Confucian concept of ren would be in perfect  agreement with what Hugo called the humanist tradition, or the whole western humanist tradition for that matter. Guo Yushan has always strived to use ren to reconstruct China’s political ethics, especially the ethics of China’s political opposition. He has been striving to establish ren, which is both humanitarian and humanistic, as a value foundation for China’s politics, especially the opposition politics.

To be a person of ren is to love people. Driven by his compassion, Knight Lightening Strike expended most of his energy helping people even though he has a background in economics. In 2008, the Sanlu milk powder scandal hit China causing a fury.[3] Government and industry engaged in mutual recrimination while they both kicked the 300,000 victims, babies with kidney stones, back and forth between them like a football, as neither government nor industry was willing to pay compensation or the follow-up medical treatment costs. Guo Yushan rose to the occasion, became the general coordinator for the various victims’ assistance groups, and strove to establish a foundation for the babies with kidney stones. To this end, Guo Yushan traveled around the country with a relief team, visiting and verifying children afflicted with kidney stones nationwide, and raising several hundred thousand RMB in the course of two years.

Guo Yushan’s latest work was the “Delivering Meals Party,” a ‘party’ he formed with the famous blogger “Meaty Monk.”[4] On-line on Taobao, they opened the “Butcher Shop” where items were sold at premium prices to raise money for prisoners of conscience who had lost their sources of income. Uniting commerce and public interest in one place, they used a market mechanism to normalize the “Delivering Meals” campaign, making it a kind of miracle in China’s civil society. Not only did this party mobilize more than a hundred thousand people who participated on-line, and not only did it allow such prisoners of conscience as Xiao Yong and Xu Wanping to obtain assistance, more importantly it made a breakthrough in exposing the suffering prisoners of conscience undergo and in making this suffering the focus of people’s attention. Guo Yushan’s sophisticated planning and precise management remains an inspiration to the continued development of China’s civil and political society.

As writer Wu Zuolai (吴祚来) pointed out, “Private citizens like Guo Yushan, following their moral sense of doing good, amend the shortcomings, even crimes, of the governemnt, and they lend a glow of humaneness to our society.” But in China, where tyranny and injustice have become lucrative businesses and are maintained with state violence, all acts of compassion and justice are treated as threats to the state; and all just people are treated as enemies of the state. What awaits the just is often imprisonment. How could Knight Lightening Strike be spared?

For the time being, I cannot get my telephone calls through to Guo Yushan. But it is not just his number that I can no longer reach. Since March of last year, so many of my friends – brothers and just persons — have disappeared one by one from my reach, and so many familiar phone numbers have gone dead. Initially, I energetically sought everywhere to aid them, and I wrote articles appealing their cause in both small and large publications. But then it became too much. In the end, I was unable to do anything for them, and I was simply exhausted. The publications, both the small and the large, experienced a saturation. The persecution of the just in this ridiculous country of ours has now become the new normal, ceasing to scandalize people.

The more that persecution becomes the new normal, the more people are fatigued and silenced. The more that there is no dread over the perishing of ren, love, and justice,  the more that persecution will have no inhibition. The more that the hatred and violence nourished by persecution become widespread, the more any hope for this country becomes bleak.

But such a situation can not be what Knight Lightening Strike, nor the many just people who have gone to jail, wish to see. For this very reason, struggle must be our duty, our everyday subject matter.


Footnotes by translator:

[1] Ren (仁), the Confucian ethical ideal, is variously translated as “charity,” “benevolence,” “love,” and “kindheartedness.”

[2] “The unity of knowledge and action” (知行合一)was a concept formulated by the Ming dynasty Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming.

[3] The scandal began in July 2008 with revelations that the Sanlu company’s milk products, including infant formula, were adulterated with the toxic substance melamine to make the products appear high in protein.

[4] The name “Delivering Meals Party” (送饭党) is also a play on the name of the Communist Party (共产党). Meaty Monk (肉唐僧) is a famous blogger on China’s Sina Weibo.


Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu (笑蜀) is the pen name of Chen Min (陈敏), previously a senior commentator for “Southern Weekend” newspaper, and an editor for the magazine “Yan Huang Weekly.”



Friends Gone to Jail – Chinese Activists Kou Yanding and Guo Yushan, by Zeng Jinyan, October 30, 2014.

Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan, August 10, 2013

Buffett-Style Dinner Bids Woo Chinese for Just Society, Bloomberg News, August 20, 2013.


(Translated by Ai Ru)

Chinese original


Friends Gone to Jail – Chinese Activists Kou Yanding and Guo Yushan

By Zeng Jinyan, published: October 30, 2014

“Watching his friends, who happen to be the hope of a better China, going to prison one after another, is more than personal shame. It is the shame of our time.”


Kou Yanding was taken away by police in Beijing on October 10th for “picking quarrels and provoking disturbances.”  The day before on October 9th, Guo Yushan was criminally detained on the same charge.

Kou Yanding (寇延丁)

Kou Yanding (寇延丁)

Two days before the arrest, Kou Yanding, otherwise known as Button, was free in Hong Kong, helping me make a breakfast of eggs in noodle soup in my kitchen. To her friends in the NGO circle, Kou Yanding is a bestselling author on such incendiary subjects as trying on parliamentary procedures in Chinese villages and endurance walking. To my daughter, she is Auntie Button. This past year, on her numerous trips to Hong Kong, Yanding slept on my living room couch, or else took the top of my bunk bed. She would take my daughter to the park and clown around with her. When she was with us, I noticed my daughter did not get upset with me nearly as often. She made Shandong-style buns, the skin crisp and the filling juicy, to share with mainland students studying in Hong Kong.Kou writes about hiking as social cohesive. But given how controls on freedom of association still hem in all communal activity in China, even hiking is seen by the authorities as political.

Along with local hikers we had just met, we trekked deep into the mountains of the New Territory, in the middle of the night. Through pouring rain, we glimpsed fireflies swarming over the source of the reservoir and abandoned farmhouses. Most of the time, she left bright and early at six or seven, a bag of water slung over her shoulder. Trudging in toe shoes, she chatted with locals on the mountain paths, interviewing the city’s residents, academics, reporters and activists, trying to understand Hong Kong grassroots and civil society through endurance walks and long hikes. In her books, she set down what she found out for the mainland Chinese audience. When she went home to write ‘in lock-down mode,” shutting everything else out, she felt like “a foaming crab” with the words flowing steadily out of her. She was completely drawn into what she saw.

None of this is meant to portray her as some armchair bricklayer of words who never lifts a finger to act. I cannot, however, write down all the things she has done, for her goodness only counts as so much crime in the eyes and hands of the powers that be, who have made a sport out of pinning “provocation and quarrel” on activists. Suffice it to say that she established support organizations for disabled artists and survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and is a vegetarian and environmentalist. She rarely talks about herself, and absents herself from all her books in order to focus everything on the people she writes about. Her writing, however, speaks volumes on her thinking and deeds. (A list of her books is included at the end of this article.)

The last time she helped me with breakfast, she was passing through Hong Kong, only staying one day. I thought Occupy Central, the protest movement for universal suffrage, an excellent opportunity for her writerly observation and, as part of our larger discussion on what was happening in the region, asked why she did not plan to stay longer. Feverish with concern, she could not wait

Kou Yanding (寇延丁)

Kou Yanding (寇延丁)

to get back to Beijing. She cracked jokes about the rapidly diminishing odds of her book, which was on endurance walking in Hong Kong, getting the go-ahead from the censors. Never mind the slew of prizes that came her way. Once Occupy Central started, mainland censors would leave virtually no space for maneuver on anything having to do with Hong Kong. She was casual about the prospect of getting blocked, saying she may as well finish up writing about hiking in Taiwan.

While we were all worried, we thought it unlikely anything would happen to her. For she has been, over many years, low-key, pragmatic and generous in accommodating wrongs inflicted upon her. All she cares about is communicating with her audience in China, looking for ways to motivate each person to take a baby step, to put out a little toward our society’s progress. The public knew nothing about her and Lang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕), a veteran environmentalist, making a risky visit in 2005 to the blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangchen, who was then under house arrest and suffering abuse from his guards. Or about the secret police stalking and investigating her after she came to see me. Or the fact that she was a leading reporter at the independent journal, “Civil Society,” that was eventually shut down by the government. Or to have the opportunity to hear her speak openly about the pressures and political travails she withstood to keep her NGO alive.

She always wears light, comfortable cotton or linen clothes that draw no attention, her dark hair twisted into a knot at the back. She usually wears running or toe shoes. Carefully neat, briskly efficient, she is quiet, open, and easy to get close to. Her backpack always supplied with simple food and a water cup, she is someone who makes demands on herself and takes thoughtful care of her own needs, all the while ready to adapt and to take care of others, anywhere, anytime.

Button usually does not talk about politics as such. She gets down close to each person as they are, with deep empathy for the constraints they live under, giving voice to their stories. She and Guo Yushan, another friend detained on Oct 9, represent a most valuable group in today’s Party-State China. They are clear-sighted, have no interest in reaping applause with criticism, but would rather quietly work at what they believe. Faced with misunderstanding and reproach, they are always able to achieve what they begin, and afterwards retire without bothering with the limelight. You can say they bow to political pressure, or that they do it out of love for their family, but they are always willing to bend their necks. In this way, they survive each wave of political persecution.

In the campaign to rescue Chen Guangchen, an untold number of people held heaven knows how many meetings and worked both openly and under the radar. Out of sheer chance, the challenge fell to Yushan, who ran with it and beat the system at great odds. He worked with others to hide the blind lawyer in various locations, evading the secret police with Mission Impossible ingenuity, and succeeded in getting Chen to the Americans. That he executed such a spectacularly daring conclusion to one of the largest human rights campaigns ever seen in Communist China, and still managed to avoid prison until now, says everything about him.

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

In 2009, my husband Hu Jia, an environmental activist and Buddhist, was in prison. The company where I used to work was sold. I started a child care service in my neighborhood, and the government shut it down. A job at a floral delivery company evaporated when the police told my boss to let me go. My baby daughter had to be fed, and my life hit an all-time low. I craved an opportunity to work in the physical world rather than the virtual online space, with a steady income, the chance to come in contact with other people, where I can realize my self-worth. This was easier said than done. A friend extended an invitation to translate articles for a magazine under a pen name. However, my name got stuck in the mandatory political vetting at the human resources department. I also balked at the thought of interacting with the editors under an identity not my own and the nagging worry over the political risk my employment posed for the management, who did not know about my trouble with the police. Eventually I called it off. When Yushan found out, he invited me to go work at his think tank, Transition Institute, and he is the only friend who was able to directly help me realize my dream to have a job.

I used to flatter myself that I am someone with my feet on the ground, but my idealism was, after all, often too heavy for the world to handle. Not only did Yushan not blame me, he was able to catch the thorny ideas I tossed his way, nursing each one until it became reality. It does not cost much to criticize the Chinese government. To serve the target population, to patiently attend to each thorny task, in order to change the state’s economic and social behavior – how many civil society players and organizations can keep to this in the long haul?

Transition Institute took measured and solid steps. This made its raid and closure inevitable. When dealing with the Chinese government, you can’t simply take the high ground of political correctness and wash your hands of the whole thing, dismissing all action not absolutely radical as immoral and futile. Nor can you afford to focus on technicalities and reaching objectives, for ignoring the unjust processes of the system will land you in a moral quagmire. The constraints and consequences of following either of these paths may not always be apparent to the eager netizens who yell and wrangle on the Internet over the paths to democracy and freedom. Yushan may have reached a better balance. He never took the easy technical way out or fell back on ideological righteousness. Motivated by a rich spirit of humanism, he took on concrete problems with flexibility, paving the way in incremental steps for the transition of Chinese society.

The moment I found out, all at once, that Yushan was criminally detained, and Yanding taken by the police, I was watching, in one of the liveliest camps of Occupy Hong Kong protest, the members of a local artist community enclave putting down their performance art installations on the streets of Mong Kok. I regretted not insisting on Button staying. She would have fallen in love with Mong Kok. Nathan Road, a main thoroughfare usually crowded to the bursting point, has turned into a playground for strolling residents and citizen politics. Under the rubric of the fight for universal election, grassroots citizens whose background is so diverse as sometimes even to give pause, began with apathy, doubt and sideline spectator sport, and have now taken to the streets of Mong Kok, strolling, selling freshly squeezed juice and digital must-haves for taking protest selfies, putting up soapbox corners for debate and protest signs, culminating in jumping into the fray to protect the students against the police and the anti-protest demonstrators.

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕).

Left to right: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村), and Zhou-lao-yan-er (周老燕儿). Photo from @yanyun8964

As the protest draws out, the daily political struggle of a Hong Kong under the rule of an autocratic Chinese government and large corporations slowly emerged on Nathan Road. Residents in the neighborhood halted, for the moment being, their tense and mechanical schedule, wresting back the space and lives cut off by the flow of cars on Nathan Road. Walking to take back the road once more, they think over the issues behind the struggle that are closest to them. How can they make sure that their grounded lives on these vibrant streets are not drowned by highrises and high-speed cars? How to make sure that bakeries, florists, locksmiths, plumber and tailor shops survive the onslaught of jewelry and luxury boutiques catering to mainland tourists?  How can Hong Kong provide education, employment and professional prospects with dignity to its youth, rather than forcing them to interview as early as kindergarten, with opportunities expanding at the bottom rungs while shrinking for the most highly educated?

The takeover of Nathan Road by grassroots participation, for all its vibrancy and richness, still affords many with the option to distance themselves from politics, something often symptomatic of post-totalitarian societies. If the mainland had been willing to protect Hong Kong’s basic freedom of speech and rule of law, even if democracy was still a distant vision, the people of Hong Kong would have simply put up with the status quo, and would not have joined the protests. Those who know what to do, like Guo Yushan and Kou Yanding, would have patiently acted through their ideas, backed up with thoughtful action aiming for gradual success.

Whenever an old friend was arrested and sentenced, Yushan would have his outbursts in anger and pain, his wife Pan and the rest of us – a few female friends – would glare at him in unison: “Fatso, you had better not get yourself in there!” The prison of the despot ravages the frail flesh in order to tempt the best to betray their friends, and it’s not to be taken lightly. Yushan knows this as well as anybody. He swallows this the best he can, and is often hijacked by the sting of humiliation, while he gives help to the family of political prisoners, in silence and doing what is possible. Watching his friends, who happen to be the hope of a better China, going to prison one after another, is more than personal shame. It is the shame of our time.

Now, leaving his parents, wife and child behind, he is also gone inside. Button is gone too. The last we heard, after a week of disappearance, she is in a detention center in Beijing, accused of the crime of “provocation and causing disturbances.” I am worried that the machinery of the state would brand their flesh with torture, and at the same time I have faith that they would be able to hold on to who they are in the interrogations, getting across to their individual opponents with their humanity.

In the city of Sodom, the virtues of the good are no other than their innate sin.


List of Kou Yanding’s works:

  • Poems by My Side, Essays at My Side, 2002, Yuanfang Publishing.
  • Dreaming of Beauty, the first nonfiction work about disabled artists, 2005, Beijing Publishing.
  • Everything Starts with Changing Myself, nonfiction on civil society organizations, 2007, Hainan Publishing.
  • Tell the World How Beautiful It Is, the first series of disable artists’ work, 2011, first volume.
  • Hands-on Democracy, Introduction of Robert’s Rules in China at the grassroots level, 2012, Zhejiang University Publishing.
  • Actions Changing the Way We Live – Civil Society Forces, 2013, Zhejiang University Publishing.

Guo Yushan’s bio: Guo Yushan was born in 1977 in Putian, Fujian Province. He has a master’s degree from Beijing University in Political Economy, and is one of the founders of Open Constitution Initiative, one of the most prominent and few public interest law groups giving aid to victims of official injustice. Founder and executive director of Transition Institute, whose major areas of research include livelihood issues, economic analysis of taxation and regulatory issues in public policy, anti-monopoly reforms, effect of monopoly on taxi driver income, and the environmental and economic impact of the Three Gorges dam construction, the largest hydraulic dam project to date. Yu Shicun, a writer, describes him as “a passionate scholar who has run salons for freedom of speech, philanthropy, academic work, translation, environmental protection, and defense of civil rights.”


Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕)

Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕)

Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) is an activist, blogger and scholar. She is currently doing her Ph.D. on state-society online/offline relationship, feminist practice, cyber activism and documentary activism in China. Among her recent publications is “The Politics of Emotion in Grassroots Feminist Protests: A Case Study of Xiaoming Ai’s Nude Breasts Photography Protest Online,“ The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(1), 2014. Together with Hu Jia she documented their life when he was in house arrest in the film Prisoners in Freedom City (2007).



Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan


(Translated by Louisa Chiang)

Chinese original