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Yaxue Cao, November 1, 2017
Li Aijie (李爱杰) is from Henan province, China’s central plains. She married a man named Zhang Haitao (张海涛) in Urumqi, Xinjiang, who moved from Henan to the far northwestern region in the 1990s seeking job opportunities after being laid off from a state-owned enterprise. He made a living trading in electronics. The couple were very much in love.
Embittered by personal injustices in the hands of authorities, he was attracted from 2009 onward to the thriving rights defense activism around the country. He partook in online forums that discussed democratic ideas; he volunteered for the human rights website Human Rights Campaign (“权利运动”); he signed a petition urging the Chinese government to abolish the extra-legal Reeducation Through Labor detention system; he gave interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on what he had observed on the streets of Urumqi. And so on.
He was arrested in 2014, and on January 15, 2016, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “prying into and illegally supplying intelligence abroad” (为境外刺探、非法提供情报罪) and sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate Court. The judgment cited 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweet, as evidence of inciting subversion, and named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “hostile foreign websites.”
Li Aijie was pregnant when her husband was arrested. She gave birth to a little boy whom the father named “Little Mandela” (小曼德拉). She has since moved back to Henan to seek refuge in her hometown among relatives.
On April 19, 2017, with the help of activists, Li Aijie embarked on a journey of over 2,000 miles to visit her husband, who had been serving his sentence in Shaya Prison in the heart of Xinjiang on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. She visited him again in late July after many calls asking permission from the prison, even though by Chinese law, prisoners are allowed only one family visit each month.
Her requests for visits since September have not come to fruition.
Zhang Haitao was jailed in solitary confinement to receive “education.” He described to his wife that the cell has a window that can let in air and a bit of sunlight. He stays in there all day and all night, and is not allowed yard time.
The first time she visited, the prison didn’t allow her to show and give him photos of his son. The second time they let her.
For the thousands of miles she traveled, they were allowed 30 minutes only at each of the two meetings.
Over the summer, she traveled to Beijing. She wanted to ask the Central Leadership to transfer Zhang Haitao to a prison in Urumqi for humanitarian reasons: to make her journeys to the prison one third shorter and easier to travel. At the Ministry of Justice, she said she never got past the gate. A person came out telling her to go to the Bureau of Calls and Letters (国家信访局). She went there and didn’t succeed in getting past the gate either.
On October 8 when Li Aijie visited her parents’ home, she was assaulted by her eldest brother and an older sister. They punched her on the face and the head. “Do you know how many times the police have talked to me?” the brother shouted at her according to her account. “What good is it to wait for Zhang Haitao? What does the future hold for you? Cut your relations with him! Stop going to Xinjiang!” “Look at the man you married!” The sister let out her anger. “You ruined yourself, now the whole family suffers from it, and you refuse to listen!”
They pushed her on the floor and kicked her. The elder brother was about to throw a chair at her when another brother stopped him.
Local authorities threatened the jobs of Li’s siblings if they don’t “rein her in.”
She wrote: “Am I wrong to love someone and wait for him? Visiting Haitao is my legal right. My son and I are the hope that Haitao lives for togets out of prison alive. I can’t leave him at a moment like this. I really can’t.” She said she’s never going to leave her husband, and asked those who interfered with her relationship to cease.
China Change has made considerable effort to bring Zhang Haitao’s case to the attention of our readers and the State Department. Among other things, we translated the entirety of the court decision to facilitate the evaluation of Zhang’s case. We argued that the U. S. government is obliged to defend its institutions when VOA and RFA—both funded by Congress— interviews are used as criminal evidence to imprison Chinese citizens.
A Call for Help
I spoke to a human rights lawyer in Henan, and Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁)—the founder and board director of Humanitarian China—spoke to Li Aijie herself for permission, which she gave, to raise money for her and her child to help cover her travels to Xinjiang.
If you want to help, you may make a donation to Humanitarian China stating the purpose of your contribution. Humanitarian China is a 501(c)(3) based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Humanitarian China has been providing financial support to political prisoners, their family members, and civil society activists in China since 2007. In the last few years it raised money for Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, independent journalist Gao Yu, the wife and children of Zhao Changqing, and the 709 human rights lawyers.
If you are a human rights organization with relief fund, please extend a helping hand to Li Aijie and her baby son.
Disclaimer: Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, is a board member of Humanitarian China.
Activist in Xinjiang Sentenced to 19 Years for Online Writings and Rights Activities, Yaqiu Wang, January 21, 2016
Appeal Begins of Harsh 19-Year Prison Term Given Xinjiang-based Activist Zhang Haitao, Yaxue Cao, February 21, 2016
U.S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, China Change, November 21, 2016
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Li Aijie, April 23, 2017
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Part Two, Li Aijie, April 29, 2017
Zhang Haitao Court Decision, a Full Translation by China Change
Zhang Haitao’s Appeal, a Translation by China Change
Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017
Early in September the Justice Department of Shandong province notified Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), a 36-year-old lawyer in Jinan, the provincial capital, that his “anti-Communist Party, anti-socialism” expressions online had “threatened national security,” and he was disbarred. Mr. Zhu requested a public hearing.
Zhu Shengwu heads the Shandong Xinchang Law Firm (山东信常律师事务所) which he founded about a year ago. He has been practicing for only five years, specializing in intellectual property rights, particularly online copyright disputes. Beginning this year, however, he began taking on so-called “sensitive cases” – i.e., involving human rights. Among others, he represented Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), a man from Shandong who was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to two years in prison last April for calling the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping “Steamed Bun Xi,” and the late Mao Zedong “Demon Mao” in online chat rooms. Zhu believes that his defense of Wang — in which he made a “systematic, thorough and determined defense of freedom of expression” — is the real motive for his punishment.
Apart from defending his clients, Zhu began exercising his own freedom of expression on Weibo, which he began using in March. The account, with around 2,000 followers, was shut down in August. On it, Zhu had described China’s judicial system as “a meat grinder that churns out wrongful convictions,” and said that “China is ruled through terror and lies.” He also mocked the talks he had been summoned to with Justice Bureau officials.
In the Chinese system, Justice Departments or bureaus at different levels of the governments have an office whose job it is to “regulate lawyers,” and it uses annual reviews — in which licenses can be suspended or revoked — as a way to rein them in. For human rights lawyers, the annual review is a Damoclean sword hanging over their heads, and some of China’s bravest and best known human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked over the years.
One of the Justice Department officials in Shandong asked Zhu Shengwu repeatedly whether he’d like to keep his license. Zhu replied: “All I’ve done is represent a sensitive case, write a defense systematically arguing for freedom of speech, and voice a bit of political criticism. For that you are going to revoke my license. Who’d dare keep a license like that?”
While the Lawyers’ Associations across the China are supposedly professional organizations looking out for the interests of their members, in reality they are designed to ensure that lawyers fall in line with the government and the Communist Party (indeed a large number of China’s 300,000 lawyers are Party members). The Lawyers’ Association functions like other mass organizations for what would otherwise be independent individuals or groups, including the Writers’ Associations for writers, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestant Christians. So it is no surprise that, on September 8, the chairman of the Lawyers’ Association of Shandong Province, a man named Su Bo (苏波), issued an angry statement on China’s popular social media WeChat denouncing Zhu Shengwu, and voicing support for the actions taken by the Party “after Zhu refused to repent and correct his wrongdoings.”
“I don’t know about lawyer Zhu Shengwu,” one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) wrote, who was himself sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve for his activities and expressions, and whose license was revoked by Beijing Justice Bureau last year. “But Su Bo was a schoolmate of mine at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. On the morning of April 27, 1989, we students gathered at the university gate, undecided as to whether we should to go out and protest.” The President and department chairs tried to stop the students. “I remember the sky was shaking and the air seemed to be on fire. Su Bo, shouldering a large sign with China’s Constitution written all over it, was at the forefront of the student procession. I heard him roaring, his voice hoarse: ‘If not today, when? Are we going to tolerate it forever?’ He was all sound and fury then. Twenty-eight years later, I appreciate this statement for giving me information about his whereabouts and achievements.”
Another well-known human rights lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), also recognized the chairman of the Shandong Lawyers’ Association, his classmate twenty-eight years ago. “He gave an inspiring speech in front of us all before the big protest procession on April 27, 1989. And I was so impressed, because I too wanted to speak to the crowd but when I got the mic, I was overcome by shyness and passed it on.”
Sui Muqing, who was held in secret detention from July 11, 2015, to January 6, 2016 as part of the 709 crackdown, offered to represent Zhu Shengwu at the hearing.
The hearing to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license “for allegedly making expressions that threatened national security” was held on September 21. Even though a hearing is a public event, it was filled with people sent by the Shandong Justice Department….to fill the spots. Zhu’s friends were stopped outside.
The hearing went on for three hours. Zhu and his two lawyers were allowed to speak, and they mounted a vigorous defense, questioning the authority of the Justice Department and the Lawyers’ Association to censor a lawyer for his private expressions. They disputed the preposterous notion of speech being a “national security threat,” and gave a rousing defense of freedom of expression.
The next day, on September 22, the Justice Department of Shandong province issued a decision to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license to practice law. “Upon investigation: Since March 2017, lawyer Zhu Shengwu frequently posted on his Sina Weibo account ‘祝圣武律师18668936828’ expressions that negate the fundamental political system and principles established by our country’s Constitution, made insinuations against the socialist system, and used the internet to instigate dissatisfaction with the Party and government, resulting in egregious social effects. [His behaviors] seriously damaged the image of the legal profession.”
Zhu Shengwu and his lawyers will appeal the decision through administrative review, and if necessary, bring administrative litigation against the Justice Department of Shandong province. But it will likely to be a resistance in the court of public opinion, because the law does not rule in China.
In a self-introduction, Zhu said he grew up in a faraway mountainous village in Hunan; he was the first in his village to go to college and the first to gain a graduate degree. He studied law at Shandong University and has never been the subject of complaints by clients or peers.
I was asked the other day whether, after the 709 Crackdown, the pressure on human rights lawyers will abate. First of all, the 709 Crackdown isn’t over. Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) are still in custody. Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for over 800 days. It is possible that Wang has been tortured to the point of disability — this is one of the few explanations as to why he still hasn’t been allowed to see his lawyers. Those who have been relieved on bail or on reprieve have been under surveillance and regularly threatened to keep silent about their experiences while they were in secret detention. National TV stations had human rights lawyers on camera confessing that their defense of human rights was illegal, and that they had been brainwashed by “Western concepts of human rights and the rule of law.” Probably because the government really didn’t benefit from the 709 crackdown, in recent months and weeks, it has been employing softer but still insidious tactics to corner human rights lawyers: denying their annual renewals, reviewing the accounts of law firms, forcing some lawyers out of their jobs, and in Zhu Shengwu’s case revoking his license altogether.
“Did you see Su Bo at the hearing?” I asked lawyer Sui Muqing.
“No, he was not in the room,” he said. “But I ran into him during the break. He praised my defense. I asked how he knew. He said someone told him. I think high-level officials of the Justice Department, and Su Bo himself, were in an adjacent room watching the video feed.”
“What else did you say to him?”
Lawyer Sui Muqing made no response.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
Li Aijie, April 29, 2017
This is the second and last installment of Li Aijie’s account of her trip. Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 15 years in prison on January 15, 2016, for “inciting subversion of state power” and 5 years for “providing intelligence to foreign organizations.” He’s currently imprisoned in Shaya Prison in remote western Xinjiang. He believes that he is innocent, and has retained an attorney to represent him for a petition for retrial (申诉). — The Editors
On April 22, 2017 I took a train from Urumqi, and arrived in Aksu on the morning of April 23 at around 8:00 a.m. Human rights volunteer Huang Xiaomin (黄晓敏) was already waiting at the train station. After breakfast the four of us—Huang, attorney Ran Tong (冉彤), a driver and I—drove in the cold drizzle. We arrived in the Shaya county seat soon after 5:00 p.m.
After we arranged accommodation, on the morning of April 24 we set off for Shaya Prison. Because we weren’t familiar with the road, we went the wrong way and had to turn back midway. At about 10:30 a.m. we finally arrived at the prison gates. My uneasiness and insomnia due to worrying whether the meeting would take place made me even more exhausted and nervous.
Upon seeing our IDs and paperwork, the guard told us that more procedures were necessary. Attorney Ran Tong and Teacher Huang argued, negotiated, and mediated on the basis of reason and law. The prison guard told us that he needed to ask for instructions from his supervisor. We waited anxiously. After inquiring with his supervisor twice, the guard slowly walked toward us and said: “Your paperwork isn’t complete, and today isn’t a visiting day.” My heart leapt into my throat. He continued, “But we’ve taken into account that you came such a long way. Remember to bring complete paperwork next time.”
The stone hanging in my heart finally fell. I was excited, and silently said to myself: “Praise the Lord! Thank God!” My ardent morning prayer was answered.
I was put on a prison bus with some visiting Uighur family members. Sitting on the bus, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears ran down my face just thinking that I would soon see my husband who I missed so much. The bus passed through an expanse of desert. Red poplar trees gave a sense of vicissitude and decay. Under the bright sunlight, they looked scorched and desolate.
About five or six minutes later, the bus stopped in front of a solitary white building. After we got off, men and women each formed a line and went through a strict security check that required removing our shoes. I took out my ID and money and stored the rest of my documents in a prison locker. I deposited 600 yuan, the maximum permitted, for Haitao. I sat on a stool waiting. The television on the wall was streaming the life of the prisoners.
A staff member led me to an office and explained some rules, such as that talking about politics would result in the termination of the visit, and the visit would only last 30 minutes. I was then taken out of the room. After going a short distance we entered another room.
“Your man is in this room,” a police officer said, pointing to my left. Upon entering, I saw three police officers waiting. I immediately saw Haitao sitting on the other side of the glass partition, with two officers standing behind him. Excited, I quickly walked up and sat down opposite. “Husband, you’ve lost weight!” I said hurriedly. “Wife, you have, too!” Haitao said it with a smile. He looked in good spirits and his complexion was good. He appeared clean and calm, which also comforted me.
“Husband, how are you? How is life in here? Have your foot shackles been removed? Does your stomach still hurt?” I bombarded him with questions, concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to say everything. “I’m not wearing foot shackles anymore. My stomach doesn’t hurt either. When I arrived at the prison I was given a physical exam at Shaya Hospital. Everything is fine. We have a regular routine here. Every morning we get up at 7:30 a.m. After washing, we exercise and then eat. After breakfast, we exercise for another ten minutes or so before we begin studying.” “What do you study?” “We study some traditional culture, such as the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.”
“Do you have a Bible inside? Can you read it? I brought you a Bible the Autumn Rain Church* gave you but I wasn’t allowed to bring it in.” “We’re not allowed to read it inside!” “But you need to pray to God for yourself, your family, friends, for this country, nation, even the police around you. You need to love yourself and love others, okay?” Haitao nodded.
He told me that for meals he has steamed bread, watery gruel, and some small side dishes. If they’re given soybean milk then they get no other dishes. He can have eggs, tofu, even chicken and rice pilaf when it comes time to “improve prisoners’ lives.” “I’m in very good health,” he said.
“Stand up then, walk around and let me see!” I wanted to see for myself. Haitao stood up and walked around. “Okay, not bad. You’re still full of spirit!” I felt relieved and sat back down. “Who accompanied you this time?” Haitao asked. “Huang Xiaomin and attorney Ran Tong. But they’re not allowed to come inside!” “Oh, that makes me feel better. Please thank them for me!” Haitao folded his hands in prayer.
“Before I left, friends all asked me to convey their concern and say hello to you. Sister Wang Yi and her husband Hua Chunhui, and many other friends. Even after I arrived in Shaya County there were still many friends who called to ask me to tell you to exercise, take care of your health, be strong, and hold on, that they’re sure that you will be free soon. We’re all waiting for you!”
Haitao became quiet for quite a while, hands folded in front of him. “Please thank everyone for me. I won’t get discouraged. Please tell everyone not to worry!”
Haitao told me that he will continue to appeal his case.
“I brought our son’s photos, but wasn’t allowed to bring them in. Our son is very naughty, he can’t stop kissing your picture. He also knows how to make calls and he ‘calls’ you. Next time I come I’ll bring him with me.” “Can he talk a lot? Are you all spoiling him too much, and that’s why he’s acting so naughty? Don’t pamper him too much. Can he stand such a long trip? If not, wait until he’s older,” he said, seeming calm. But I saw his eyes getting moist.
I asked Haitao if the prison allowed writing letters to family members. He said he’d mailed two letters. One of them was inspected and rejected by the prison authorities, but the other had been mailed. “You didn’t receive it?” He said he would send me letters every month.
“How are your parents? If you need anything ask my sisters, and tell them I said to do it.” “Okay,” I nodded emphatically.
Presently I heard an urgent voice from behind telling me that I had five minutes left. “Haitao, you must take care of your health. You owe me and our son a lot. When you get out you have to doubly repay us!” I said in a hastened and stern tone of voice.
Thinking that I would part with him soon, I couldn’t help letting my tears flow. A prison guard handed me tissues.
“Wife, I had a dream. It’s so clear I feel it’s real. You’re sitting at the small table where the phone is at home, and you can’t stop calling me. But all you hear is the message that no one is available at the number you’ve dialed. You keep calling, and the phone keeps saying the same thing.”
At this point Haitao was pulled up by two prison guards.
“You’ve gone overtime by almost five minutes!” the prison guard behind me said.
I stood up, putting my hands on the window. Haitao also stretched his hands out and put them against mine on the other side of the glass partition. “Yes, this is true. When you were just arrested I did call you non-stop like this. Husband, you must take good care of your health. Our son and I will wait for you. We will all wait for you!” I choked up with sobs, my tears falling like pearls from a broken thread.
The waiting room door opened. Haitao turned his head toward me, his hands shaking in prayer. Sunlight flooded in, making the whole room very bright, leaving only the corner dark.
I saw Haitao’s smiling face full of brightness and hope, and he was determined and calm. This greatly comforted me.
On my return journey, I thought of the poplar trees that can live for a thousand years. I believe that before long I will be walking freely hand in hand with Haitao.
I can’t help thinking of the suffering Mr. Gao Zhisheng experienced in this prison. It was the unremitting effort and resistance of him and others after him that improved the conditions Zhang Haitao is in now.
This was a long trip. Words can’t express how hard and mentally exhausting it was. A visit like this is also very expensive, something a family like mine can’t afford. I thank all my friends out there for the helping hands you extended to us. It’s your attention, love, and support that give me the strength to go forward. Without you it’s hard to carry on. I would also like to thank Huang Xiaomin for her company and support on this trip, and those who made contacts, arranged drivers and vehicles. Attorney Ran Tong also traveled with us the whole way and gave us free legal assistance. I, on behalf of my husband Zhang Haitao, thank all of you!
Next month I will take my son Little Mandela to Shaya Prison to visit his father whom he has never met. I respectfully invite my friends and people from all walks of life to continue to pay attention. My next visit will be May 25-26. However, the prison told us that we must contact them in advance.
Again, my deepest gratitude to everyone!**
April 25, 2017
*The Autumn Rain Church (秋雨之福) is a large house church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
**A note from our translator: “At first it seemed a bit stilted but it grew on me and I found it affecting.”
U. S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, November 21, 2016.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Li Aijie, April 23, 2017
Born in 1971, the Urumqi-based Zhang Haitao (张海涛) was arrested on June 26, 2015 for his online speech: to be precise, 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweets. On January 15, 2016, Zhang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and 5 years in prison for “providing intelligence to overseas [entities].” He was given a 19-year sentence. On November 28, 2016, the Superior Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region upheld the lower court’s ruling. On December 2, 2016, Zhang Haitao was sent to Shaya Prison in southwestern Xinjiang to serve his jail term, which ends on June 25, 2034, when he will be 63 years old. He hasn’t met his son, “Little Mandela,” born after his incarceration. On April 19, 2017, his wife Li Aijie (李爱杰) embarked on a journey over 2,000 miles that began from their hometown in central China to visit him. — The Editors
April 19, 2017
Zhang Haitao is a native of Henan Province. He’s a prisoner of conscience in Xinjiang for the crime of inciting subversion of state power. He received a severe sentence of 19 years for his “thought crimes.” His second trial was held on November 28, 2016. The Superior Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region upheld the original judgement and sentence. On December 2, 2016 he was sent to Shaya Prison in the desert of southwestern Xinjiang. On April 13, 2017, after four months waiting, Haitao’s second eldest sister finally received a telephone call from Shaya Prison approving a family visit.
I feel like a knight-errant. I packed my luggage and set out on the journey. But I don’t have the chivalrous calm and natural gracefulness of a knight-errant, nor his speed and sharpness.
This trip I didn’t bring Little Mandela to see his father, and felt very guilty! Even though I knew Haitao eagerly awaited seeing his son, and Little Mandela missed his father terribly, the journey is long and I didn’t know if his young body could bear it. I have to go first on my own, experience, feel, and learn from it, in order to know just how arduous the journey is.
First stop: Zhenping county — Nanyang city — Zhengzhou city (Henan Province). On the road it was hard to calm my thoughts. My heart and mind was agitated and sad, to such an extent that just starting the trip made me cry. On November 30, 2016, after almost five months of agony, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region detention center Haitao and I met for a brief 20 minutes. It felt like it had been ages since we last saw each other. It was such a difficult meeting, under what circumstances will we meet again? What condition will you be in?
Setting out, I pretend to be strong and chivalrous, but I know I’m just a weak little bird that can’t stand up to any wind. It’s all you friends that give our whole family selfless love and support that gives me the strength to spread my wings and move forward. Following in the footsteps of Mr. Gao Zhisheng*, I cherish the companionship, concern, and support of all you friends on this long journey to Shaya to see my husband! My deep and profound thanks!
April 21, 2017
Dear friends, yesterday I arrived safely at our home in Urumqi. As the plane was delayed, after arriving I had to do some errands and couldn’t respond to friends’ messages in a timely manner. My apologies.
After arriving back at the home I’d left almost five months ago, everything was the same, except it’s all covered by a layer of dust. Opening the bedroom door, my eyes were met by the sight of Haitao’s clothes I’d brought back from the detention center on November 30, 2016, folded neatly on the bed. I was overwhelmed by sadness. Things remain but people are no more. Haitao’s familiar silhouette appears before my eyes, and past events flash back scene by scene…
Although our home is small, only one bedroom and one living room, it’s suffused with love. After eating dinner you always carried me from room to room, never tiring of it, and calling it: “Losing-weight exercise.”
Returning from our walk after dinner, I’d petulantly say I couldn’t walk anymore because when I had just arrived in Xinjiang I thought living on the sixth floor was too high and there was no elevator. You pledged to me: “Don’t worry, I’ll carry you on my back!” You carried me up from the first floor, huffing and puffing, and I teased you: “Piggy carrying his bride!” Your Chinese zodiac animal is the pig, but you don’t want to live like a pig!
Often when we got to the third floor I would try to get off your back. You wanted to keep carrying me, but I didn’t want to tire you, my sweetheart. I remember our happy laughter and cheerful voices as if it was yesterday.
How I want to lean on your sturdy back, and let you carry me one more time! Until we’re so old we can’t go anywhere…
And the chubby child’s poster on the wall. I remember that day you entered the house in low spirits, I took your hand and pushed open the bedroom door. This cute chubby child’s poster appeared before our eyes and you immediately broke into laughter: We are ready to have a child of our own.
But you were not in a hurry: “The doctor said after taking medicine you should wait at least half a year before getting pregnant!” Yes, I was taking medicine to cure six uterine fibroids, and had only stopped for three months. And a month ago I was still taking anti-inflammatory medication (the doctor also said I should stop taking that medicine four months before pregnancy). And you said that we hadn’t shared enough of our two-person paradise yet. I disagreed: “We’re both getting old, we can’t just have a child whenever you want.”
Having so many uterine fibroids, I worried whether I could conceive. Not long before that you also received calls from your family, they wanted us to return home and adopt a child. Your elder sisters didn’t believe I could have a child of my own.
Whenever I think of our son Little Mandela, I am moved to tears! God had mercy on us and granted us this son. When I had been pregnant for a little more than three months, we were immersed in happiness, and then disaster struck. You were taken from our home. Since then, I’ve searched for you so many times in my dreams and couldn’t find you. Our family of three should be enjoying happiness, but now we’re separated by such a great distance.
Opening up the friend group [on WeChat], messages poured in from so many friends. Their love, support, and encouragement overflowed in their words. Their love moved me to tears. I invite all of my friends to continue this journey to Shaya with me!
Editor’s note: On 21st, Li Aijie told RFA that she was leaving Urumqi on the 22nd, she would arrive in Aksu on the 23rd, and Shaya on the 24th. There has been no updates from Li Aijie since the 22nd.
*Lawyer Gao Zhisheng was imprisoned in Shaya Prison from December, 2011 to August, 2014.
January 11, 2017
Hunan Province Changsha Municipal People’s Procuratorate
Bill of Indictment
CS Proc Crim Indict  No. 85
Defendant Xie Yang (谢阳), male, [redacted], Han ethnicity, master’s degree education, was a practicing lawyer at Hunan Gangwei Law Firm, [redacted]. On July 12, 2015, he was put under residential surveillance by the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau on suspicion of the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order. On January 8, 2016 this procuratorate approved his arrest on suspicion of the crime of subversion of state power. The arrest was executed the following day by the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau.
The Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case and, on August 8, 2016, referred the case to this procuratorate for prosecutorial review of defendant Xie Yang’s culpability for the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order. After receiving this case, the procuratorate on August 10, 2016, notified the defendant of his right to retain defense counsel, questioned the defendant in accordance with the law, heard the defense lawyer’s opinions, and reviewed the complete set of documents in this case. Due to some unclear facts and insufficient proof, on August 17, 2016 and October 17, 2016, this procuratorate twice returned the case to the public security organ for additional investigation. After the public security organ completed additional investigation on September 17, 2016, and November 17, 2016, the case was again transferred to this procuratorate for review and prosecution.
It is found upon review by law that:
I. Crime of Subversion of State Power
Defendant Xie Yang had long been influenced by the infiltration of anti-China forces and gradually formed his idea of overthrowing the current political system. Since 2012, Xie Yang has published many speeches attacking and defaming the government, judicial organs, and the state justice system, and openly incited others to subvert state power. He has also traveled abroad many times to receive training by overseas organizations. Through WeChat, Telegram, and other online methods—and in the name of “defending rights”—he colluded with Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), who was sentenced for the crime of subversion of state power, and other people inside and outside China who intended to overthrow our government to interfere and stir up incidents and events that happened in China in recent years. He attacked and slandered our country’s current political system, incited others to overthrow our government and the socialist system by willfully distorting facts, incited others to unlawfully assemble in public to make provocations, and instigated people who did not know the facts to resent the government by making use of public opinion, severely harming national security and exacerbating social problems. Specific facts are as follows:
- Since 2012, defendant Xie Yang registered on Sina two microblog IDs: “Xie Yang lawyer 911” and “Lawyer Xie Yang 911.” Through both he posted a large amount of writing attacking our government and current political system, advocating “overthrowing the regime is a basic human right,” and inciting others to overthrow our government. Upon investigation, it was found that more than ten thousand posts were posted on the above two microblog sites, with more than ten thousand followers. All the microblog posts were reposts of negative news about the government, judicial organs and the judicial and political systems of our country or negative comments on positive news and reports. About 180 or so posts directly attacked our government and incited the subversion of state power. These were read or clicked on around 300,000 times, and some of the microblog posts were heavily commented on and reposted.
- In April 2015, defendant Xie Yang represented Xie Fengxia (谢丰夏) (aka: Xie Wenfei 谢文飞) in his case on suspicion of the crime of subversion of state power. During the review and prosecution period of this case, Xie Yang visited Xie Fengxia as his defense attorney at the Guangzhou Detention Center. He then drafted an article titled “Attorney Xie Yang’s Meeting with Xie Wenfei” and posted it online, openly advocating “inciting to overthrow state power is not a crime and calling on everyone to work hard to end authoritarian rule.” This article was reposted by some personal microblogs and overseas anti-China websites, creating adverse political effects.
- In May 2015, a police attacker was shot and killed by a police officer in the waiting room of the Qing’an County Railway Station in Heilongjiang Province. After this incident, Xie Yang, together with attorney Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), who was dealt with in another case on suspicion of the crime of inciting subversion of the state power, Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) and others, traveled to Harbin and Qing’an County of Heilongjiang Province to exploit this incident by gathering crowds to provoke trouble offline and encouraging confrontation online. At the same time, they gathered unlawfully and held signs and banners at the Heilongjiang Province Public Security Department, Heilongjiang Railway Administrative Bureau, the Qing’an County Railway Station square, and the Qing’an County government, proclaiming: “Heaven and the people are angry at the killing of a citizen,” and “Make Qing’an police accountable, exercise constitutional rights.” He later published online the above-mentioned photos showing signs of the appeal and making fact-distorting speeches and statements to incite people who did not know the facts to oppose government organs.
- On May 18, 2015, during his defense in a case involving an economic dispute in Nanning Municipality, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Xie Yang suffered a minor injury in his lower leg during a violent fight between people of both parties. The Nanning City Public Security Bureau promptly dispatched officers to deal with the situation. Xie Yang later posted on his microblog a speech on his being beaten to maliciously slander the Nanning Public Security Bureau, claiming that “Nanning police organized criminals to interfere with the economic dispute,” and “Nanning police were the assailant,” and hinting that he was being persecuted for his defense work in the Qing’an incident, and inciting people who did not know the facts to oppose the government by defaming the government. After the said article was posted on his microblog, it was reposted and commented on by many media and internet forums, creating an adverse effect.
The above criminal facts are supported by the following evidence:
1. Material evidence such as photos of cellphone and computer(s); 2. Written evidence such as records of entry and exit, deleted microblog printouts provided by Beijing Weimeng Chuangke Net Technology Co., Ltd., explanation of case situation, household registration material; 3. Testimony by witnesses Wang Xun (王勋), Xie Fengxia (谢丰夏), and others; 4. Statement and argument by defendant Xie Yang; and 5. Electronic data.
II. Disrupting Court Order
From 2014 — March 2015, villagers from Shuangtang Group, Lianhu Village, Yuhua District, Changsha, Hunan, filed an administrative suit with the Changsha Municipality Yuhua District People’s Court regarding their eminent domain home demolition matter. Defendant Xie Yang was hired as attorney to represent 17 of these villagers in the case. He told the villagers that even if they didn’t win the case, they could use the delay of the trial to pressure the Yuhua District government to increase their compensation. To achieve this objective, defendant Xie Yang deputized non-lawyers Wang Quanping (王全平), Fan Biaowen (范标文) and others to handle this case, and they asked the villagers to trust and support every action they did in the courtroom, and do everything they could to convene their relatives and friends to come to the court hearing. After that they used the Internet and telephone to gather many unrelated people to come to the court hearing to “surround and watch” (围观). On the morning of March 9, 2015, Changsha Municipality Yuhua District People’s Court began to hear the case, the court decided that because Wang Quanping, Fan Biaowen and others didn’t have the qualifications to represent the appellants as their legal agents, so it demanded that Wang and Fan leave the trial. Defendant Xie Yang slapped the table and abused and insulted the judge and used other methods to incite the litigants and trial observers to oppose the court’s decision. A mob gathered and made a lot of noise and charged the court. The defendant Xie Yang and others obstructed the bailiffs’ maintaining court order, seriously disrupting court order and causing the hearing to be delayed two hours.
Evidence substantiating the above crimes is as follows:
1. Cell phone and other material evidence photographs; 2. Notice to appear in court, observer register; court hearing transcript and other documented evidence; 3. Testimonies by witnesses Xiang Bin (向斌), Zhang Libing (张莉斌), Zhou Jie (周杰), etc.; 4. Defendant Xie Yang’s deposition and defense; 5. Video and audio material from court hearing; 6. Digital data.
This procuratorate maintains that defendant Xie Yang incited others to subvert state power and overthrow the socialist system, thus committing major criminal acts. He also assembled mobs to create chaos and attacked a court, seriously disrupting court order. These actions constitute a violation of Articles 105(2) and 309(9) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The facts being clear and the evidence reliable and sufficient, defendant Xie Yang should be held criminally responsible for the crimes of subverting state power and disrupting court order. Therefore, in accordance with Article 72 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, this procuratorate hereby submits its indictment and requests that punishment be imposed in accordance with the law.
To: Hunan Province Changsha Municipal Intermediate People’s Court
Prosecutor: Fang Hui (方惠)
Acting Prosecutor: Li Zhiming (李治明)
December 16, 2016
Notes and Attachments:
- Defendant Xie Yang is currently detained in Changsha Number Two Detention Center.
- Case file (14 volumes, 24 CD-ROM disks).
- Witness List
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, July, 2015.
December 15, 2016
Yaxue Cao spoke with Chang Ping in Toronto on December 2, 2016.
YC: You used to be the director of the news department of the famed Southern Weekly and a columnist there, and you belong to a community of journalists who distinguished themselves in the 25 years of “market-oriented” media that coincided with the period of soaring economic development from early 1990s until recently. I’ve been wanting to hear your story, because I sensed that your trajectory as a journalist has also been the trajectory of China’s “market-oriented media.” So I’m very happy to see you. First of all, congratulations on receiving the CJFE International Press Freedom Award. They made a great choice.
Chang Ping: Thank you.
YC: I knew you were a 1989er, but I only learned yesterday, from watching the CJFE video, that you were detained for a month after the June 4th Massacre. Tell us a bit about your experience in 1989. Where were you?
Chang Ping: I was a sophomore at Sichuan University, majoring in Chinese Literature. In Chengdu, as in Beijing, college students took to the streets to protest, staged hunger strikes in the public square downtown, and held dialogues with the provincial government. I was involved in organizing some of these activities. After the crackdown, I was detained for a month and severely disciplined.
YC: How did you become a journalist?
Chang Ping: I wanted to be a novelist, and never thought much about journalism. I didn’t have a job after the June 4th protest, nor did I care for a career in the system. I stumbled on my first media job by accident: in Chengdu, a boss and I, just two of us, started a business intelligence magazine. That was 1991, the year before Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour. With scissors and glue, I cut out what I thought was useful business information and arranged it in categories such as policy, law, overseas information, etc. Back then it was still hot metal typesetting, and I had to go to the factory to set the characters with workers. In Chengdu region, small and medium businesses really needed that kind of information. Very soon we had a lot of subscribers. I had first-hand knowledge that, before Deng’s Southern Tour, the commercial impetus at the bottom half of society was already bubbling up. So for me, it wasn’t a surprise at all when, in 1992, the economy kickstarted after Deng’s tour. I also edited a book with the title “The Swelling Commercial Tides.”
After a while I quit the magazine and wrote short stories that were published in a journal called Young Writers. Some were recommended to the then-famous literary magazine Harvest. An editor asked me to revise my story, but I was so proud back then that I told him I wouldn’t change a word. At the same time I also compiled historical storybooks for young readers.
After 1992, the government began to push for market reforms. Some government-owned publications were outsourced. I leased a paper called Market Herald (《市场导报》), I was the deputy editor-in-chief, but the de facto editor-in-chief. But I loved reporting on everyday life, so I went out and wrote about, for example, Chengdu’s river channel improvement project, the living conditions of the blind, etc. The paper wasn’t making any money, so after two months it couldn’t go on. Right around that time, Chengdu Commercial Daily (《成都商报》) was founded by He Huazhang (何华章), and I joined as part of the earliest team, in charge of social reporting. Later I also edited the front page, and was one of the editorial managers.
Chengdu Commercial Daily pursued a vernacular style. Our reports, even some headlines, were written in everyday Sichuan dialect. When reporting the annual Two Sessions in Beijing, all newspapers had the same headlines as the People’s Daily, something like “The National People’s Congress Solemnly Opens in Beijing,” while our headline was simply, “NPC Held Meeting.” We were criticized for being not serious.
YC: Indeed, revolt often begins from aesthetics and taste.
Chang Ping: Chengdu Commercial Daily was an immediate success and made a lot of money. A year later, the municipal Party propaganda department took it into their hands as their own cultural achievement. Later, the paper formed a media group by consolidating with the Chengdu Evening News, which had been the leading paper of the city, a radio station, a TV station, and literary magazines, and was listed on China’s stock exchanges.
As Chengdu Commercial Daily became more and more mainstream, meaning more and more like the Party’s mouthpieces, my difference with other editors widened. I remember in early 1998 when the rock singer Cui Jian (崔健) issued “The Power of the Powerless,” I sent a reporter in Beijing to interview Cui and he talked about the difficulty of revolt. The propaganda department was very unhappy about it and chided me harshly. My commentaries were also criticized for “promoting a capitalist view of the press.”
Another event was the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997. We had never experienced anything like that and didn’t know how to report it. But all Chinese held the wisdom that you can’t mess around with this, and you must do whatever People’s Daily does. You have to use the standard script issued by Xinhua News — but how do we design the page? We studied how papers reported Mao Zedong’s death, what font and what size of font were used for headlines. As the Party’s mouthpiece in Sichuan, the Sichuan Daily had no pressure; they simply waited for the phototypesetting of People’s Daily that was sent to all over the country — at that point it was phototypesetting printing. Our pressure came from the market. We wanted to publish early. So the editor-in-chief came up with an idea. He went to the printing factory and cheated out the phototypesetting of the People’s Daily. The next day, Chengdu Commercial Daily was the first paper in the city with the news. We were so happy about our cleverness!
About a week later, I saw a weekend paper from Guangzhou. On the left it was a large photo of Deng Xiaoping, on the right the headline was simply “Mr. Deng Passed Away.” The text below was also Xinhua’s standard announcement, the same as everyone else. I was rather shocked: what we thought was creative and smart was really nothing; we were just toadying.
I didn’t want to stay in Chengdu anymore. I met with Shen Hao (沈灏), the news director of Southern Weekly (《南方周末》), who was in Chengdu on business. He wanted me to join the rising Southern Weekly. So I did.
YC: Shen Hao was sentenced to four years in prison last year and paraded on CCTV giving “self-confessions.”
Chang Ping: He Huazhang has also been also detained. He was working at Sichuan People’s Publishing House in 1989. His career stalled because he joined the protests. He left the state system to found Chengdu Commercial Daily. The success of the paper catapulted him to hero status in China’s market reforms. He returned to government and became head of the municipal Party propaganda department and deputy mayor. He was taken into custody by the CCDI, the Party’s disciplinary committee, following the fall of Zhou Yongkang (周永康). He’s been in detention for a year or two already without trial. Many Party officials are in the same situation: no legal procedures are applied to them, and there’s no news reporting on them.
YC: Southern Weekly attracted a lot of young and idealistic reporters.
Chang Ping: At Southern Weekly, I reported on local government corruption, and environmental degradation. In 1998, there were floods across China. Jiang Zemin (江泽民) and Zhu Rongji (朱镕基) stood in the Yangtze River and reporting abounded. Southern Weekly made a plan to investigate the cause of the flood along the Yangtze River, beginning from the Tibetan plateau. Most of our series were observations: deforestation and soil erosion. I wrote similar things too, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to look for stories. In Barkam (马尔康), northern Sichuan, I found a tree feller who had been honored for years as a model feller. He told me, “Now I feel the flood has something to do with me.” I wrote a report titled “The Last Model Feller,” because my sense was that there would be no more model fellers anymore, and it was a big success.
But soon Southern Weekly was “rectified.” Shen Hao was removed, and columnist Yan Lieshan (鄢烈山) and editor Cao Xihong (曹西弘) were censored.
YC: Why the rectification?
Chang Ping: Shen Hao organized a lot of reporting on the dark side of society — for example, publishing illustration of the varieties of torture police used to extract confessions. Yan Lieshan was an essayist well known for incisive criticism. Cao Xihong was the first to investigate the dark secrets of the railway and communication industries that the state monopolized.
After the rectification, I was appointed first the deputy director, and then the director, of the news department. I was responsible for news planning, page layout, and the deployment of reporters and editors. I also edited the front page, the Reporter’s Observations page, and the investigations page. Almost every weekend, I’d go out for stories, and I reported on judicial corruption, pollution, women’s rights, gay rights, and more.
At the time we tried to record changes in Chinese society using methods from anthropology and sociology. For example, we chose a village, a township, and a street in the heartland, the West, and the coast respectively — our plan was to revisit the same place at the end of every year for ten years to record its changes. I was forced to leave Southern Weekly three years later, but the editors and reporters continued and completed the plan. Ten years later, they published a book titled Here and There: A Report on the Transformation of Grassroots China (《这儿与那儿:中国转型期基层调查》).
YC: I’ll find that and take a look.
Chang Ping: I’ve always wanted to be an independent voice. At that time the majority of the journalists and commentators with dissenting views went about it by latching their own ideas onto those already in the air. For instance they’d take the “Three Represents” (三个代表) and try to explain the positive aspect of the theory, and then add in their own understanding: “Only by moving towards democracy, rule of law, and liberty will the will of the people be truly represented.” But I look at things differently. I am extremely sensitive to language. Words are not just a means of expression, they are the expression in and of itself. So if you even use “Three Represents” or similar slogans, you’re doing propaganda for it, no matter how much you try to smuggle in your own stuff. Also with Falun Gong — we were required to write about it as a political task, but we stubbornly resisted. We basically didn’t do any reports, whether good or bad. I got accused by some people of “rejecting the mainstream.”
In the spring of 2001 there was the case of Zhang Jun (张君), who for a while was a notorious triad boss. He robbed banks, killed cops, and had a record throughout Hubei, Hunan, and Chongqing, and of course had numerous mistresses. It had all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie. He was caught by Chongqing Public Security Bureau led by Wen Qiang (文强). In a photo, Wen had him on the ground, one foot on his face, and announced: “Zhang Jun is under my foot.” Wen Qiang, of course, was later executed by Bo Xilai (薄熙来) for protecting the mafia.
YC: And then Bo Xilai was himself jailed by Xi Jinping. In the Communist Party’s autocratic politics, anyone in the system can just be peeled off like a layer of cabbage — no one’s safe. Who’s to say that, in a few year’s time, Xi Jinping won’t be the one in jail?
Chang Ping: The capture of Zhang Jun was a big grand achievement for Chongqing public security — a chance for them to really bignote and back-slap themselves. They organized a lot of interviews, and a CCTV crew also went to interview Zhang Jun face-to-face in the detention center. I was mulling over how we should cover the case at Southern Weekly. Media around the country were running the story front page every day, and we were a weekly publication, so we were already a bit behind. I sent journalists to write a piece about how Zhang Jun grew up. It was titled: “Exploring the Zhang Jun Case: The Rise of a Brutal Syndicate” (《张君案检讨 – 一个极端暴力集团的成长》). It traced the story of how a simple village kid who left home to become a migrant worker in the end became the head of a triad group. It also scrutinized the operations of China’s criminal justice organs. As Zhang Jun himself put it, every time he entered prison, he came out worse. The article sent shockwaves through Hunan and Chongqing. Party bosses there wrote a letter to the Central Propaganda Department, saying Southern Weekly could even turn such a monumental achievement of law enforcement into a smear against socialism, against rural policies, and against the public security agencies.
In the autumn of 2001 Southern Weekly was “rectified” once again, after four articles we published were specifically called out and criticized. Editors and journalists were moved on and sacked. One of the four was the Zhang Jun investigation, and of the other three, one was about a cemetery for Red Guards who died in the Cultural Revolution, called “A Chongqing Cemetery Buries the Cultural Revolution’s Young Warriors” (《青春墓地埋葬重庆文革武斗》). Another was about a massive explosion in the city of Shijiazhuang, where the censors thought we’d just reported too many details. The last was a commentary about the situation in the Middle East, which made the key point that dictatorship is the source of turmoil in that region.
After those four articles were specifically named as problematic, I was removed, the editor-in-chief Jiang Yiping (江艺平) was transferred, and the deputy editor-in-chief was also transferred out. That was also the biggest turning point for Southern Weekly. I was transferred to be the deputy general manager of the circulation department — so I hadn’t actually been fired. They gave me a job title and salary, but no work.
YC: So it was just about two years after the previous “rectification.”
Chang Ping: Right. It was a time when independent voices won an unprecedented level of prestige for Southern Weekly, and it brought so much space for the imagination in freedom of speech and political reform in China. The paper also became a model that journalists and editors around China aspired to emulate. Many pro-reform scholars and lawyers were also very supportive. But it was all along also a target of repression.
YC: How many pages was the newspaper then?
Chang Ping: At the beginning it was 8, then we doubled, and then went to 24 pages. Sometimes we also added pages, and there were also experimental pages. On the professional side, Southern Weekly was really at the vanguard for trying new things, and it brought together so many people in the industry who had ideals, in particular many brilliant writers in the field. Our reports were very carefully done, and the writing was always well-crafted. Layout was exceptional, too — when I became the director of news, I put a lot of energy into photography and page design.
I left soon after I lost my editorial position. CCTV had just begun a new channel, 12, and I was invited to be the editor of a talk show. I did that for two months, so I gained some understanding of CCTV. But I simply couldn’t stand the culture there. I had to get out. In 2002, with friends from Chengdu and Guangzhou, we founded The Bund (《外滩画报》) in Shanghai. Shanghai is a city with extremely strict ideological controls — there’s a certain lifelessness about it. We hoped to inject some vitality into the place, but from the beginning we were put under strict monitoring and control. We hardly had space to operate. In 2003 I accepted an offer from the University of California, Berkeley, for a one year visiting scholarship. After I returned I went back to The Bund as deputy chief editor. In 2005 the propaganda department was unhappy with the job our official supervisor, the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House (上海文艺出版社), was doing keeping us in line, and they forced them to sell us to the Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group (文新集团). They didn’t want to buy, and we didn’t want to sell, but the deal went through regardless.
YC: It sounds similar to what happened recently with Yanhuang Chunqiu.
Chang Ping: Right. The Bund is still around, though it’s now turned into a fashion magazine. In 2005 I returned to Guangzhou and rejoined the Southern Group, running Southern Metropolis Weekly (《南都周刊》) as the deputy chief editor in charge of daily operations.
Southern Metropolis Weekly is a magazine of urbanized China — it focuses on civil society, the environment, women’s rights, and issues related to rights movements, ideas, culture, and so on. It’s relatively moderate in tone compared to Southern Weekly, but it’s still been hit with a lot of criticism by the authorities.
In the midst of all this, I also started writing a syndicated column, commenting on current affairs and culture. In April 2008 I published a commentary in the Chinese version of Financial Times titled: “Tibet: Nationalist Sentiment and the Truth” (《“西藏：真相与民族主义情绪”》). This was after the March 14 unrest in Tibet, where official media failed to carry any substantial reports, while social media and a number of websites let loose with a barrage of criticism against CNN, BBC, and other foreign media, accusing them of false reporting. In the piece, I wrote that if their concerns were really about news values, they shouldn’t be exclusively focused on exposing the misreporting of the Western press, but should also be calling into question the information found in the Chinese media, and the strict controls over the press in China. The latter deals far greater damage to the media environment than the former, the column argued. I also suggested that the narrow-minded Han nationalism common in China should be carefully examined. That article stirred up a tempest, and websites like China Online, KDnet, Utopia, and a few other Han nationalist sites pinned it on top of the page, and went into overdrive hyping it up. Just a single one of these forum posts got several hundred thousand hits, with tens of thousands of comments, most of them attacking me. Some people even threatened that they’d harm me and my family.
At the time too there was a Duke University student, Grace Wang (王千源), who during a campus demonstration was accused of supporting Tibetan independence. She was attacked by Chinese students at Duke, and her parents in China were attacked too. Her parents had to move into a hotel for their own safety, after attackers left feces at their door.
Beijing Evening News (《北京晚报》) took the rare step of publishing an article directly attacking me, called “Chang Ping Is a Rumormonger” (《造谣自由的南都长平》). The author, Mei Ninghua (梅宁华), writing under the pseudonym “Pen Spear” (文锋) was the president of Beijing Daily [the official mouthpiece of the Beijing municipal propaganda department]. His article caused an uproar. This dispute was the opening volley in a five year-long running debate about universal values, which Xi Jinping shut down in 2013.
Because of this I was again removed from my post, and prohibited from doing any work in the newsroom. They transferred me to the Southern Media Group’s research institute. But I kept writing columns for Southern Weekly and Southern Metropolis Daily (《南方都市报》). After six months those columns were also brought to a halt. They told me that if I agreed to stop writing, I might be able to keep my job. I refused, and kept publishing current affairs commentary in other outlets. At the end of 2010 the propaganda department demanded that the Southern Media Group completely cut off all association with me.
Newspapers, websites, and publishing houses around the country were from that point on prohibited from publishing or printing my articles or books, and websites were ordered to delete my previously-published articles and author information. At that point I had a large number of readers, and a lot of websites syndicated my blog, even real estate websites carried my column. It wasn’t me updating them. I saw myself disappearing from the internet before my own eyes — they weren’t only not publishing me, but erasing my existence. For a while, it was hard to even find my name online.
YC: It’s terrifying when you think about it. As long as they want to do it, they can make someone disappear. They can also make history, or reality, disappear. Even a journalist such as yourself can turn into such a nightmare for them, so much so that they want to expunge you completely.
When the wave of arrests in spring 2011 took place during the so-called Jasmine Revolution, what were you doing?
Chang Ping: I was a visiting scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University, and like a lot of mainlanders who came to Hong Kong to study, I went home on the weekends. Someone said to me at one point: You shouldn’t go back. Apart from writing my columns, I don’t do anything else — so should I follow this instruction and not go home? I didn’t want to be intimidated. It just so happened that right at that time I received an invitation to go to France for a forum. A number of others, including Yu Hua (余华), Zhan Jiang (展江), and Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), also participated. When I was in Paris, police in China came to my home to arrest me.
When I went back I remained in Hong Kong and helped found iSun Affairs (《阳光时务》.)
YC: iSun Affairs was a publication with serious ambition, and it brought together so many talented people, including yourself and Cheng Yizhong (程益中), who also worked for years in the Southern newspapers. iSun’s reporting on Wukan (乌坎), in particular, left a deep impression on me. You were chief editor at the time, but a lot of people may not realize that you were in Germany and had turned your schedule upside-down to work remotely. What happened there?
Chang Ping: I never expected it, but the Hong Kong government dragged out the approval of my work visa for two years (and in the end, rather than say that they had “rejected” it, they simply said that they “were no longer processing it.”) They came up with all sorts of reasons for investigating me, including an absurd attempt to establish whether or not I had taught illegally when I was a visiting scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University. As soon as they did this, it was clear that I couldn’t return to mainland China. With a PRC passport I could stay in Hong Kong for seven days at a time, so every weekend I flew to neighboring countries for “vacation,” including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia. After two months of that, Hong Kong immigration personnel told me that I couldn’t stay in Hong Kong like that — I would have to return to China or else the next time I arrived, there’d be trouble. So I never went back. After I received an invitation from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, I went from Cambodia to Germany.
Thanks to the support of my Hong Kong colleagues, I was able to stay on as the chief editor of iSun Affairs, working from Germany, for the next two years. But it also was extremely difficult, and the magazine was banned in China. In the end, we parted ways. I stayed in Germany and continued writing commentary for publications in Germany, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and continued to address the Chinese authorities’ repression.
YC: So in that case you haven’t been able to return to China since 2011. iSun Affairs had to shut down after a little over a year; one of the main investors, Chen Ping (陈平), was violently attacked in Hong Kong, Cheng Yizhong relocated to the United States, and you went to Germany. Later you wrote a column for Deutsche Welle and South China Morning Post, and got into an intense debate with another Deutsche Welle columnist, Frank Sieren, about the June 4 massacre. After SCMP was sold to Jack Ma, they immediately shut down your column. Earlier this year when the letters urging Xi Jinping to resign came out, your family in China was harassed.
Of course, the storied Southern Weekly is no more after the “Southern Weekly Incident” in January 2013. A great experiment has ended.
In 1999 “Southern Weekly” published a very famous New Year’s dedication, titled “There is a power that moves us to tears,” which said in part: “May the powerless be empowered, and may the dispirited continue forward.” This line inspired a generation of aspiring media figures. Now in 2016, press freedom in China has not only failed to progress, but has regressed dramatically. Please share some final thoughts for our interview today.
Chang Ping: Many years ago we were very optimistic. At that time I believed that every step made in the news field would promote progress in Chinese society, and that every word we wrote contained power — even if it could only be measured in milligrams. Looking back now, I often feel quite dejected. China is going backwards in so many areas. But I have never doubted the value of fighting for freedom of expression. Even if there’s no tomorrow, we still need justice today. It’s just as I put it in my acceptance speech for this award in Toronto: freedom of expression is not merely necessary for all other freedoms, but speech itself is freedom.
I made the following line the signature for my blog and social media accounts for many years: “If criticism is not free, praise is meaningless.” A friend and I translated it from the French: “Sans la liberté de blamer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.” It became popular and widely quoted in China, and made many people come to see how meaningless the Chinese government’s self-flattery is once it has gone around crushing all dissenting views. It makes us also see the value of critique, which was the goal of my being in the news and commentary field for so long. Now, I could disappear, but these ideas are already deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.
Chang Ping (长平) lives in Germany. Follow him on Twitter @chang_ping
Yaxue Cao (曹雅学) edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.
‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award, December 1, 2016
The Virus of Censorship, by Cheng Yizhong, 2012.