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By Teng Biao, published: August 27, 2013
(The article first appeared in Life and Death in China (a multi-volume anthology of 50+ witness accounts of Chinese government persecution and 30+ essays by experts in human rights in China). When I wrote it, Xu Zhiyong was under house arrest; when it was published, he had already moved to the Beijing Third Detention Center. I dedicate this little essay to Xu Zhiyong and all those reactionaries whose homes have become prisons or who have made prisons their homes. – Teng Biao)
When Xu Zhiyong and I received the “Ten People in Rule of Law in 2003” award at CCTV, the host Sa Beining (撒贝宁) asked us, “What is the power of the rule of law?” I said, “it is when everyone will stand up fighting for the rule of law.” At the time, neither Xu Zhiyong nor myself, nor the two sponsors of the event — CCTV and the State Office for Disseminating the Law — would have thought that, in a few years, the two of us would become “rights activists,” “dissidents,” “elements of the New Five Black Categories” (see note below), or in short, “the enemies of the state.”
Meanwhile though, this outcome is so natural and inevitable.
The back story for the award went like this: Following the Sun Zhigang Incident (孙志刚事件) in 2003, Xu Zhiyong, Yu Jiang and I, known as the “three PhDs,” made a public appeal to revoke the custody and deportation policy and, more than that, to conduct a constitutional review of the policy. It was a carefully-considered “open conspiracy” on our part, and we were prepared for the potential risk in making such calls. To our wildest surprise, instead of being punished, we were commended by the government. Honestly I’m little embarrassed now that there was once a time when I was not shamed of being praised by this government.
With a PhD degree from Peking University, a bar certificate, a headful of ideas about freedom, democracy and constitutionalism that are deemed “reactionary” by the party doctrines, a pen that can argue and incite, and an inflated sense of self due to hype from domestic and overseas media outlets, I became active and quickly known in China’s human rights movement, thanks to the bountiful injustices found everywhere in the country. I was involved in legal aid; I represented clients in human rights cases; I founded Gong Meng (公盟) with two others and China Against the Death Penalty (北京兴善研究所), two reactionary NGOs ; I accepted interviews by reactionary media outlets; I indulged in the reactionary “foreign Weibo” (better known as Twitter), I wrote reactionary articles and received reactionary payments for them; I either initiated, or participated in, reactionary citizen signature campaigns; I took part in street demonstrations and mass look-on protests (围观); I gate-crashed black jails and brainwashing classes sponsored covertly by local governments; I promoted the New Citizens’ Movement and hopped everywhere for dinner gatherings. Step by step, I abandoned the party and its universal truth and walked onto an anti-revolutionary path.
Not only did I walk on the wrong path, I went further and further. When the Sun Zhigang incident occurred, I spoke out for all the migrant residents and homeless people in China; when Peking University’s “yi ta hu tu” bbs (一塌糊涂) was shut down, I protested on behalf of that reactionary online platform; In the Cai Zhuohua case (蔡卓华), I lent support to the underground Christian churches that were also one of the Five Black Types; I was involved in forced demolition cases defending owners of “nail households;” I went to Shanxi to defend the rights of enslaved brickyard workers; I made appeals on behalf of victims of melamine-tainted milk formula; during the Wenchuan earthquake, I condemned the tofu-dredge projects; in the Wang Bo (王博) case and a few other Falungong cases, I defended freedom of religion for those whose beliefs were branded as an “evil cult;” after the March 14, 2008 unrest in Tibet, I organized lawyers to provide legal assistance to arrested Tibetans; following the July 5th incident, I flew to Urumqi, Xinjiang, to try to overturn the case against Uighur journalist Gheyret Niyaz (2010); in the Xia Junfeng case (夏俊峰案), I was a defense lawyer for the street vendor in Shenyang (2010); in the persecution of Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), I fought hard against forced abortionists, law abusers, illegal detainers, and users of unlawful violence; in the case of Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Liu Wei (刘巍), I helped these two rights lawyers to challenge the Bureau of Justice; and I was in the Gao Zhisheng case and Hu Jia case, in actions opposing the singing-red-and-striking-down-black campaign in Chongqing, the equal education rights movement, the campaign for asset disclosure by officials, direct elections in lawyers’ associations, Charter 08…….
In one incident after another, I have never chosen the right stand. This cannot be explained away by rashness or accidental missteps; instead, it’s clear that this is a person who has completely lost his class stand, who hates the socialist slavery with Chinese characteristics, who has been completely brain washed by the capitalist hypocritical notions of political democracy and human rights, and who has no gratitude toward the party-state’s generosity of educating him and not having murdered him. In short, he turns against the cook after being fed full.
To be perfectly honest, I have done all these to make my life a little better, starting from the Sun Zhigang case, to all my expressions and actions thereafter. As for terms such as reactivating the constitution, defending rights through legal means, non-violence, and the New Citizens’ Movement, all of them were mere disguises. In time, I learned that there were a few blockheads in this world who felt awful when they saw others being bullied; when they felt awful, they were unwilling to keep it to themselves. So they shouted it out and wrote it up. Since they had no lethal weapons, they summoned the spiritual weapons in their hearts, legal tools in their heads, and took advantages of media outlets and the Internet that “had no clue about the truth.” They hurled themselves forward, huffing and shouting, determined to fight to the end without fear of getting their heads cracked or shedding their blood, whether the other parties were corrupt officials, ruthless power players, or naked officials (officials who have sent their family overseas); thugs, legal illiterates or illiterates; principals, bureau chiefs, or provincial heads; the tall-big-and-perfect, the great-glorious-and-total, or the universal truth. Among this small group of people were lawyers, scholars, journalists, artists, petitioners, farmers, netizens, and humble and anonymous members of society. They didn’t make a lot of money but they risked a lot; they derived pleasure from their hardship. They were vastly outnumbered, but every now and then they scored accidental victories here and there. Sometimes they lost the battle but gained in morale, emerging victorious from defeat. As a result, more discontented or naïve people joined the ranks of the Five Black Types and became bad elements. For a while, this contingency force was pretty geared up. Government petitioning, online mobilizing, street demonstrating, court challenging, they battled and lost and battled more and lost more. Short of an insurgency, they had done it all.
Now, this was getting out of hand, and had to be dealt with.
First, they came to me speaking softly: “Look, you have knowledge, fame and opportunities. Why mix with those people? You will enjoy many benefits if you side with the party.” I didn’t listen. I continued.
Then came the warnings: “It’s very dangerous if you continue. Take our advice, you’ll have a full belly. There will be consequences for giving trouble to the government. Don’t you see? Professional promotions, research funding, awards, you get none.” I didn’t listen. I kept going.
Then they began to dress me down. They confiscated my passport, so that I wouldn’t have a chance to experience the sufferings of life overseas. I didn’t listen. I kept going.
Then they disbarred me. The Chairman of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association Li Dajin and the chiefs at Beijing Bureau of Justice hissed: “We must find ways to smash the rice bowls of these lawyers.” I didn’t listen. I kept going.
Then they closed down my blogs, my Weibo accounts, and my reincarnated Weibo accounts. I was barred from media interviews and college lectures. Upon swiping my ID, the screen would display “key stability maintenance target.” Some of the people who knew me wouldn’t dare to dine with me or even call me anymore. I didn’t care. I kept going.
Then they used thugs to follow me and attack me when I was away from home working on cases. Around the country’s sensitive dates, regular or circumstantial, I would be placed under house arrest by the domestic security police, or taken to travel in their company as they attempted patiently to give me their political persuasions. I was obstinate, sinking only further and deeper.
Then, to save me, they used kidnapping. In the middle of the night, they covered me in a black hood, hand-cuffed me, and threw me in a little black car, took me to a black jail, and locked me in a little black room for two days and two nights. They threatened to throw me in jail for inciting subversion of state power. I didn’t repent. Instead, I wrote articles, acted as a citizen deputy in case after case and organized NGOs to assault the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics. If I stopped at any given point, repented, reinvented myself, I could still have had a great future.
The Jasmine flowers blossomed quietly in the early spring of 2011, and the bad people were all rounded up. Their education of me also escalated. Again, in a black night, with a black hood, handcuffed, in a black car, thugs kidnapped me and threw me in a black jail, this time adding fists and face slapping. No communications with the outside world, no sleeping, no receiving information, no freedom to stretch my arms or legs. During the 70 days in detention, I wore handcuffs 24 hours for 36 days, I was forced to stay in one position, facing a wall, for 18 hours for 57 days. Physically and mentally tortured, I began to write statements of repentance and statements of guarantee. I had to rewrite them over and over to improve my sincerity. Never so profoundly did I experience the super power of “the people’s democratic dictatorship.”
They had known all along, it turned out, the thing that I feared under the surface of bravery. They knew it from the very beginning and I should have known.
I feared for the people I love. Once my wife and daughter were hurt and faced with more threats, I was immediately caught in a dilemma. “Are you a responsible man or not?” In an irresponsible system, for a person wanting to be responsible, family responsibilities and social (historic) responsibilities are in direct conflict with one another. If you end up in prison, you will not be able to take care of your family; but to walk this path that I do, you will inevitably end up in jail or alternatives of jail. Away from this path, you may fulfill your family obligations, but you not only have to abandon your ideals, your children will continue to live in the same irresponsible system, and they too in the future will face the choice between family obligations and social responsibilities. Not to mention that it’s irresponsible to leave what we ought to be doing to the next generation.
All right, I would continue doing things, but not get myself in jail. Learn to restrain, to retreat, to use tactics, and to hitchhike. But the problem is, that you-know-who organization observes no clear rules and follows no particular patterns when it comes to arresting people. If there are predictable rules, we would have been more or less living in a regular society. But no, the totalitarian rulers are very much like a spoiled kid. Tactics you consider safe are not necessarily safe. Shi Tao (师涛) was handed a 10-year sentence for an email, Yang Chunlin (杨春林) a 6-year sentence for a slogan, and Wang Yi (王译) one-year reeducation-through-labor for a 5-character tweet. On the other hand, there were people who had made waves non-stop without being thrown in jail. For example, before 2008, Dr. Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) had written knife-sharp articles worth several million words and done many bad and provocative things, but he was fine. But being spared today doesn’t mean you will be spared tomorrow, and in the end, he did himself in. Will famous people be spared prison? Well, Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Hu Jia (胡佳) and Ai Weiwei (艾未未) were all pretty famous when they were snatched away. Will you be safe if you don’t organize political parties, don’t touch cases involving Falungong, Tibetans and Uighurs? Most of the political prisoners had nothing to do with these taboos. Oh, the handicapped and the elder will be spared. No, not so, just look at Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Luo Yongzhong (罗永忠), Yan Zhengxue (严正学), Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志). Examples abound, and at least two people in their 80s were sent to re-education-through-labor camps, and countless more elders were locked up in black jails.
The system needs such fogginess to emanate its menacing power.
All right, how about stepping back? Well, in terms of society as a whole, to trade freedom for safety, one will likely get neither in the end. But individuals do become safer when they don’t cause trouble for the government. The question then is: To where can you step back? When you feel it’s not safe enough to step one step back, you will need to step two steps back; still feeling unsafe, you step further back – all the way back to the point of pretending you are deaf and blind. You feel safe then. But if everyone is stepping back, the criteria by which they arrest people will change accordingly: Even if everyone protests in muffled voices, they will still find the loudest. If they couldn’t find it, they would fabricate one. Do you think the government will stop arresting people and the CCP-brand meat grinder will cease to work if we all turn into Li Zhong Ke (理中客, short for “reasonable, neutral and objective”), obsessing over strategies of how not to exasperate the authorities? If no one criticizes openly, they will arrest those who criticize privately.
Arresting people is a must, and the criteria depend on the overall level of the potential offenders. The extent of political tolerance on the other hand is expanded by the acts of those who have been imprisoned. This is precisely the twist and the trap of this system, and it also seems to be the destiny of democracy fighters and human rights defenders in China: one loses freedom for loving freedom; one fights for freedom by losing it. Those who realize this have no place to retreat.
Okay, for the sake of safety, let’s sing the praises of the party. But here a problem arises too: Praise singers are not always safe either; after all there is only one Shen Jilan (申纪兰), the only bipedalism who has sung the right songs over decades, and that’s kind of hard to emulate. To be like her, one surely will wake up from the Chinese dream with a fright! Others are selling themselves cheap; if your price is higher, no one will buy you. Of course if you mean to take part in the Chinese intellectuals’ contest for lowliness, well, that will be another story.
Liberty will not fall from the sky. One inch of blood is for one inch of liberty. Li Wangyang (李旺阳), Li Hong (力虹), Sun Zhigang (孙志刚), Xue Jinbo (薛锦波), Qian Yunhui (钱云会), Tang Fuzhen (唐福珍), Tapey (扎白)……bad elements are like chives, cutting down one batch, another batch grows. Last year I visited dissident writer Mu Chuanheng (牟传珩) in Qingdao. He was imprisoned for his writings. But in prison he continued to write reactionary articles and managed to send them out to reactionary magazines overseas. What are they going to do with a man like him? Sentence him again? To stop him from writing, the only way is to destroy his physical being. But if they destroy his physical being, they would have helped him make his body his last work against totalitarianism. Most of the political prisoners, when released from prison, were not repentant. They continued their criminal actions for which they were repeatedly thrown in prison. This is probably beyond the comprehension of the invincible communist vanguards. Open murdering can be problematic; perhaps assassinations are called for.
In the end, the spiritual resistance against totalitarianism will inevitably become physical resistance against it. We are calculating, at any given moment, the ratio of the spirit and the flesh in our lives. I am scared of death but am courting it; I’m indomitable but fainthearted at the same time. Every moment of my life is brimming with happiness, but just as much of it is imbued with pain. Such are the confessions of a reactionary.
Night of June 3, 2013
* In an article entitled Where China’s Challenges Are last year, the director of American Studies at the China Academy of Social Sciences named five categories of people as dangerous elements who want to overthrow the regime: rights lawyers, underground believers, dissidents, online opinion leaders, and the disadvantaged members of the society. They were quickly referred to by netizens as the “new five black categories” (新黑五类) in a refrain from the “five black types” denounced during the Cultural Revolution. The part about the five categories has since been removed from links to this article, but it has been widely noted.
(Translated by ChinaChange.org)
By Guo Yushan, Published: August 10, 2013
That government, powerful as it was, didn’t scare me into doing anything unjust.
— Ascribed to Socrates by Plato in The Apology
Congratulations for having been put in jail.
I have been worrying that, if they leave you free after arresting so many of your friends in the New Citizens’ Movement, how viciously they would have put you in an unjust position. Now it looks like the government is helping you out. Along with dozens of other participants in the Movement, you are also wearing the prison vest and paying the price that’s sure to come.
I know you have long prepared for this and are at ease with it, but still, I’m saddened. Ten years ago, we met on the campus of Peking University. We collaborated and we founded “Sunshine Constitutionalism” that later became Gong Meng (the Open Constitution Initiative, 公盟). We rented an apartment together where you had a room and I had a room. During the day, we engaged in activities, and in the evenings we drank bear together and talked about our social ideals. We have aged over the last ten years. I am tired even though my ideals remain. We both are still on the road, but you, tirelessly, have gone much farther.
I am shrewder than you, and you are more valiant than I am. Now that you are in jail, this very thought makes me ashamed of myself. Over beers ten years ago, you talked about how lonely you felt on the campus of Peking University. Before you got there, you had thought it was a place filled with idealists, but once there, you couldn’t find any. You were disappointed. One day it occurred to me, “Hey, why look elsewhere?” You yourself were the idealist. Ten years have gone by, you are persuading people to be new citizens in this Sodom, and your ideals have stirred people far and wide.
People in Sodom are vulgar, greedy and ruthless. You walk among them urging them not to submit to the rulers of the city-state without thinking, not to treat each other cruelly. You encourage them to be open, honest new citizens, to love and to be just, and to uphold the ethical principles in whatever they are doing. You have never been shy in acknowledging it is a political cause, because “citizenship” depends on the political structure of the city-state, and it is impossible to define “new citizens” without a new political structure. Of course, more than a political cause, it is also a social movement, because no fresh fruit will grow out of a venomous tree, and Sodom will forever be Sodom if its people don’t strive to be new citizens.
In Sodom, it is never a question whether the rulers are going to tolerate your ideals. Jehovah wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, two city-states of evil, with fire and sulfur, and Abraham pleaded with him to spare Sodom if ten just men could be found. However, ten just men could not be found in Sodom except for Lot, nephew of Abraham, and it was eventually destroyed by Jehovah and sunken to the bottom of the Dead Sea. Now, you are again looking for just men in Sodom, and will you be able to find ten of them to spare Sodom from destruction?
But before Sodom meets its fate, you have been put on trial. This is destiny, the destiny of being a just man in Sodom. The subjects of Sodom will encircle you, humiliate you, curse you, and throw rocks at you. They will even sing and dance to celebrate. Before the destructive fire and sulfur fell from the sky, they are willing to destroy all hopes, believing they can block Jehovah’s wrath through terror and recklessness. According to the Bible, at the last moment when Sodom was about to meet its ruin, the subjects of the city-state, coming from all directions, encircled the home of Lot and demanded that Lot surrender the two angels, who had arrived in Sodom and staying in Lot’s house, for their pleasure.
For you and for us, the idealists, the road is long and arduous.
And Sodom is not the only case. Even in Athens, they put Socrates and his new citizens’ movement on trial and sentenced him to death by drinking hemlock. Unlike Sodom, Athens was a blessed city-state, but even so, the Athenians couldn’t stand Socrates’ ceaseless questioning of their virtues. For centuries, the citizens of Athens had only accepted the epics of Homer and mythology of Hesoid, worshiping heroes and glorifying wars. Then came Socrates who, impoverished, idle, walked through the streets and alleyways of Athens, speaking to politicians, poets and craftsmen, piercing their pride, examining their merits as citizens, telling them that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” that the pursuit of virtue and wisdom should come before the pursuit of anything else, and that one should not soil one’s hands in unjust public life. He went on to say, “You, my friend, a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?” (The Apology by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett)
After 30 years of war with the Peloponnesians, Athens lost to Sparta, and its valued democratic tradition was ruined by the thirty oligarchs, but the citizens of Athens were even more upset by Socrates’ new citizens’ movement. Playwright Aristophanes penned the comedy The Clouds to lampoon Socrates as someone who was fanciful, living in the clouds, and whose house was burned to the ground by his own disciples. Anytus, Meletus and Lycos, three leading supporters of democratic movements in Athens, directly accused Socrates of corrupting the youth and of impiety, and the citizens of the Athens, upon hearing Socrates’ defense, wise as it was, still convicted him of their own accord.
Zhiyong, is that the inevitable end of an idealist facing the city-state?
Of course, Athens and Sodom were different. In Athens, it could be debated whether Socrates and his new citizens’ movement should be tolerated. The debate could go on forever, and the conviction could be regretted. After Socrates was executed, the Athenians indeed repented. Anytus was exiled and then stoned to death. But in Sodom, the destination for those unyielding citizens is dim prison and oblivion by the public. Discussion will be forbidden, for the rulers of Sodom will shut you up, shut me up, and shut everyone up.
By trying Socrates for corrupting the youth, Athens in fact glorified Socrates. Sodom will not give you such glory. They will carefully choose the charges against you. When you stand trial, the part that scares them most will not make an appearance at all, and Sodom’s subjects who watch the trial will cheer: he is the thief; he is the villain “who interfered with public traffic.”
But I know that you will stand trial as proudly as Socrates. In The Apology, Socrates told the court that he was a gift from God to Athens, and if they killed him, they would not easily find a successor, and that the state, a great and noble steed but tardy in its motions, required the stings of a gadfly like himself to stir it into life.
I am God’s gift to you, he told the Athenians. But Athens didn’t understand such pride, let alone Sodom. Therefore, Zhiyong, when you are tried in Sodom, do not defend yourself against the charges they impose on you. Let them charge you, let them torture you. Do as Socrates did, choosing prison and drinking the poison the Athenians handed him, even though Criton bribed off a guard and urged his teacher to run away. They cannot try the pride of an idealist. Socrates said, after being sentenced to death, he would rather be put to death for speaking what he spoke than live by speaking what they spoke. Athenians, in so little time you earned your shame for eternity.
So, standing in the seat of the accused, defend only what we want to defend. Zhiyong, even if you face a roomful of barbarous officials, thugs and schemers whose ears are deaf, whose eyes are copper coins and whose minds are arid desert, defend only what you love – the idea of new citizens and its meaning. Sodom can reject, or fail to understand, the words of a just man, but in the future, it will surely understand the judgment of God and the wrath that roars across the sky and brings their ruin.
You are in prison this moment, on your way to trial, and I too am under house arrest. Sitting vacantly in my living room where twilight is closing in, soon to be engulfed by the night, I feel sad all of a sudden, recalling what my friend Qiao Mu once said, “the road paved by stepping stones leads afar……”
Whether in Sodom or Athens, the fate of idealists will eventually be that of the stepping stones. Though trampled over, I hope our souls, yours and mine, will remain free, unfettered, and peaceful.
July 27, 2013
Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) is the head of the Transition Institute (传知行), an independent think tank in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. It was recently raided and banned after Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s arrest, though it was not in any way associated with Dr. Xu. Mr. Guo is a longtime friend of Dr. Xu, and the two, along with Dr. Teng Biao (滕彪), founded Gong Meng (公盟). Among his many distinctions, Mr. Guo was a key figure in the Free Chen Guangcheng movement during Chen’s house arrest from 2010 to the time he escaped in the spring of 2012. Mr. Guo was the very person who, with a group of friends, took Chen from Shandong after his escape and delivered him, eventually, to the safety of the US Embassy in Beijing.
(Translation by ChinaChange.org)
Published: July 16, 2013
According to our sources, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), one of China’s best known dissidents and activists, has been criminally detained on Tuesday, July 16. Per an earlier report by weiquanwang (维权网) and information circulated on Twitter, Dr. Xu was taken away from his Beijing home Tuesday afternoon, and his computers and cellphones were seized.
Dr. Xu is one of the founders of Gong Meng (公盟), or the Open Constitution Initiative, and a lecturer at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. In the last couple of years, he has been tirelessly advocating civil action such as same-city citizen dinner gatherings, equal education rights, and what is more generally known as the new citizens’ movement.
According to the Notice of Detention, Dr. Xu was detained for allegedly “gathering crowds to disrupt order in public venues.”
In addition, Song Ze (宋泽) has been disappeared since the night of July 12, and no relatives and friends have been able to get in touch with him. He is a volunteer with Gong Meng, and for much of 2012, he had been “residing under surveillance (监视居住).” Because another two activists associated with Gong Meng, Li Huanjun (李焕君) and Li Gang (李刚), were criminally detained also on the evening of July 12, it is believed that Song Ze was also detained.
The detention of Dr. Xu’s and three others are believed to be part of the crackdown on civic actions that is on the rise in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In April, Beijing police detained 10 citizens for publicly demanding asset disclosure by government officials. In May, the government announced the formal arrest of the ten on trumped up charges such as “illegal assembly” (非法集会), “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事), “gathering to disrupt social order” (聚众扰乱社会秩序), “inciting to subvert state power”(煽动颠覆国家政权) and more. One of the ten, Qi Yueying, a native Beijinger whose house was demolished in a grotesquely unfair compensation deal, was charged with “extortion.”
Dr. Xu has been under house arrest since April 12.
We also learned on Twitter that Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), founder of the Transition Institute (传知行研究所) and the man who picked up Chen Guangcheng, after the latter escaped, and sent him to the safety of the US Embassy in Beijing, has also been under house arrest for two weeks. It might have to do with his organizing the “Meal Delivery” activities on Weibo (送饭活动) that raise money for political prisoners and civil activists or their families who face extreme financial difficulty and need urgent relief.
Since Xi Jinping took power, close to 80 citizens have been detained or arrested for activities ranging from dinner gatherings to displaying banners in the streets to June 4th-related activities. Given the moderate nature of these acts, it is clear that the authorities are becoming extremely intolerant of anything they perceive as threatening, especially when the activities show any form of “organization.”
By Xu Zhiyong
China’s rights movement through the work of Gong Meng.
April 25, 2003, as SARS emptied out the streets in Beijing, I sat in front of my computer reading about the Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) coverage, tears quietly welling up in my eyes. Over the second half of 2002, I had started to investigate the laws concerning custody and repatriation (of migrant populations), and knew what Sun had gone through. Following Sun’s tragedy, Yu Jiang (俞江), Teng Biao (滕彪) and I proposed a constitutional review of the case. We mailed our recommendation on May 14 because, on the 13th, the propaganda department of the government banned further “hype” about Sun’s case. Headlines like “Three PhDs Request Constitutional Review” gave the media new fodder, and our action was a part of the public opinion campaign.
More than a month later, while I was interviewing a boy who had been given aid in a room in Tianjin’s Custody and Repatriation Center, I turned my head and saw CCTV’s Evening News announcing the abolition of the Custody and Repatriation system.
For many, that was a moment of joy and hope, and it became a symbol of the “new politics” of Hu and Wen. That night, the three of us talked on the phone, thankful for the moment but also full of regret – we were afraid the constitutional review we had hoped for was not going to happen. And it didn’t.
We moved on in 2003, registering a public interest organization. We represented Sun Dawu’s (孙大午) case, and we promoted the election of the People’s Congress. Starting from the Sun Zhigang case, we focused on individual cases that had wide significance for the defense of civil rights and the push for system building. Many people referred to 2003 as the start of what would be known as citizens’ rights movement.
Ten years on, Sun Zhigang has become taboo for media coverage; Teng Biao and I have become dissidents of this country; Dingjia Xi, Zhao Changqing, Dong Yuan, and many other brave citizens have been locked up in prison. A media friend asked me the other day: How do you evaluate this past decade, have we progressed or regressed? Suddenly I feel that this is a rather complex question to answer, and it prompted me to think about the path we have come along.
In July 2003, the Southern Metropolis Daily was first, and then repeatedly, investigated by Guangzhou’s judiciary and law enforcement system as a result of its vigorous reporting on the Sun Zhigang case. By the end of the year, the investigation “found” that there had been procedural violations when the paper’s management distributed a bonus of RMB 580,000 a few years back, and its general manager Yu Huafeng (喻华峰) was arrested on charges of graft and bribery. Our entire team got involved in the case, and I was one of the defense lawyers. It was also our first encounter with the stability maintenance. Our website was closed down, and the third meeting with netizens to spread the truth was “harmonized.” The day the “Sunshine Constitutionalism” website (阳光宪政网) was shut down, I wrote We Are Still Sincere:
“Perhaps we will face more difficulties even after constitutionalism is realized. We know very well that, there is the shadow of 2000 years of autocracy on this land, and the road to constitutionalism is bound to be long and arduous. But the endeavor for justice must be made by someone, and that’s why we are making it. …We are a group of Chinese citizens who take up this responsibility…… We are not just critics; we are also builders.”
In the second half of 2004, I was in the United States to study its constitution and elections, experiencing firsthand how an ordinary voter participated in politics as a grassroots volunteer for a presidential candidate. In the meantime, Guo Yushan and Teng Biao hosted the people’s representative election forum in our office in Huaqing Jiayuan (华清嘉园, a residential neighborhood in Beijing’s university district). In September, when Peking University’s “yi ta hu tu” bbs (一蹋糊涂) was shut down, Teng Biao, Yu Jiang and I co-authored a letter of protest while the students staged a lawn assembly to demonstrate in Jing Yuan (静园). Our action drew attention from “the relevant organ” and we were forced to suspend the use of the office. In March 2005, six private organizations for public service were shut down without being given any reasons, including the research center we had registered as well as Mr. Mao Yushi’s Unirule Institute of Economics (天则经济研究所). What I heard was that these NGOs caused someone to fear a “color revolution.” I asked the local director of Industry and Commerce why, and he said it was an order from his superiors. We gave up without bringing a lawsuit. In June, we registered Gong Meng, or the Open Constitution Initiative.
2005 was a year full of moving moments. In April, I lived in a petitioners’ village, and witnessed too much unwarranted suffering. At the hutong where the State Bureau of Letters and Calls was located, many petitioners were beaten, and my pants were covered with footprints after I passed through that alleyway packed with petitioners and those sent by local governments to intercept them. In May, we prayed for Christian Cai Zhuohua in a church in Poshang village, located next to the Party School of the Central Committee of the CCP, who had been arrested for printing Bibles. In July, Teng Biao and I visited a small town in Yulin, Shaanxi province, in an attempt to rescue lawyer Zhu Jiuhu who had been thrown in prison for his involvement in the case of a private oilfield development in northern Shaanxi. There we witnessed how greedy and domineering the regional government was and how utterly helpless the local private enterprises were. In October, lawyer Li Fangping and I were beaten by guards at Dongshigu village when we tried to visit Chen Guangcheng. That day, Chen Guangcheng broke through the line of guards, and, in the midst of over a hundred villagers and guards pushing one another, we hugged each other in a tight embrace. At the end of 2005, Asia Weekly (《亚洲周刊》) in Hong Kong named China’s human rights lawyers as their people of the year, and it marked the emergence, for the first time, of a citizen group outside the existing structure that had the ability to take sustained actions.
This group of rights lawyers was dealt a blow in the summer of 2006 as Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng were imprisoned. The rights movement dropped to its lowest point since 2003. For all these years, I had been feeling guilty for their imprisonment. I was Gao Zhisheng’s representative in his firm’s penalty hearing, and I was a member of the defense team as well as the coordinator of support actions in Chen Guangcheng’s case, but I was unable to help either of them. By September, circumstances improved, and it was again election time for the district/county-level People’s Congress. We sent letters to a few hundred of Property Management Committee directors in residential neighborhoods, to NGOs, and to more than a thousand lawyers, to encourage them to become candidates. We organized teams of volunteers to help various candidates design and distribute their posters and organize election gatherings for them. Thanks to the support of faculties and students at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, where I was employed, thanks to my election team led by Jin Huaiyu and Gu Xin, and also thanks to the University’s party secretary Zhang Shulin who openly supported the election, I was elected the people’s representative to Haidian District’s People’s Congress.
In 2007, we provided legal assistance to victims of illegal brick kilns in Shanxi province in administrative compensation suits, but to no avail. (In fact, lots of the cases we have provided legal assistance to have gone nowhere, such as the robbery case of Chen Guoqing and three others in Chengde. The four innocent men have served 19 years already, and in the 9 years when we have been representing them, we have made countless petitions, each in vain.) What was most shocking to me, in my first trip to the black brick kilns, was that the brickyard didn’t have encircling walls and it was right next to a village, less than one hundred meters away from the nearest house. Because of the fear from living under ruthless violence, because of the corrupt government that didn’t do its job, and because of the numbness commonly found in the Chinese countryside, all the Chen Xiaojuns were openly enslaved in a land that had lost its sense of right and wrong, good and evil. So big is this land of injustice that those who are underprivileged and powerless may never see an end to their suffering in their lifetimes.
A lot of things happened in 2008. Apart from the Olympics, there were the March 14 Unrest in Tibet, Wenchuan Earthquake, the poisonous milk powder scandal, and more. In August, we sent an investigative team to Tibet to find out about the economic and social causes of the March 14 unrest. In September, we organized a team of lawyers to provide legal assistance to child victims of the melamine-tainted milk formula. In the first stage, it took us three month of work to push the government to announce a compensation plan, but for many victims, the compensation fell far short of the harm they had suffered. In some cases, parents had spent close to RMB 100,000 on surgery for their sickened children alone, but were only compensated with RMB 30,000. Peng Jian, Li Xiongbing, Li Fangping and over 100 other pro bono lawyers continued to bring cases to the Supreme Court as well as to a few hundred local courts, but all in all, they succeeded in getting only ten cases filed, and of the ten cases, only two were tried and none received a verdict. The lawyers did everything they could, all the way to suing the largest shareholder of SanLu Group in a Hong Kong court. By September 2011 when the project concluded, we had fought for, and secured, compensation for more than 200 child victims in addition to the government’s compensation plan. The biggest single compensation was RMB 350,000, thanks to a court in Zhejiang that forced Yili Group to make concessions by insisting on a trial. The largest compensation settlement from a single source was almost the result of “blackmailing” a company. We had discovered falsehood in the company’s advertisement, and we sued them as consumers. Haidian Court in Beijing accepted the filing, and we told the company’s CEO quite frankly, when he came to Beijing to negotiate with us, that all we wanted was for his company to compensate the 50 or so victims of its brand. The CEO was moved by our sincerity and decency. Right around the time when Gong Meng was raising money to pay for the government fine on a trumped-up charge meant to destroy the organization, Lin Zhengzheng in the south sent a reparation of RMB one million yuan to the victims.
No matter how we upheld our conscience and our sense of justice, the regime was intuitively hostile to any entity that existed independently outside its grip. By 2009, our team had grown considerably, our office in Huajie Building became busier than ever, and we had provided legal services in the dog culling incident in Hanzhong, Shaanxi, the Green Dam uproar, and the Deng Yujiao case. In July, Gong Meng, the not-for-profit, public interest organization was fined for “tax evasion,” and Zhuang Lu (the accountant) and I were arrested. But thankfully, we live in a time when technology gives us room for expression, when NGOs for public interest mushroomed after the Wenchuan earthquake, and, more importantly, when people have elevated moral standards. The arrest upset many ordinary citizens, and in four days Gong Meng received more than RMB 400,000 in donations in a fundraising campaign to pay for the fine. Jiang Ping and Mao Yushi of the older generation made appeals in support of us. Hong Kong high school student Zheng Yongxin wrote an open letter to Wen Jiabao, and friends we had never known we had protested with T-shirts, pins and postcards. Confronted by powerful waves of support, the authorities retreated. We moved forward.
In a routine meeting at the end of 2009, Wang Gongquan, one of our members, proposed a new initiative: campaign to abolish the household registration, or hukou, requirement for children to take college entrance exams where they live. We had been pushing for hukou reform, and with this initiative we found a new focal point. We had the four parents, who had made the initial call for help, work as volunteers with our team to collect signatures. Two years later, we collected more than 100,000 signatures, and organized petitions in front of the Ministry of Education on the last Thursday every month. We also mobilized several thousand people’s representatives to submit proposals; we organized panel discussions of experts; we researched and drafted a plan for children living with their parents without a local hukou to take college entrance exams where they live, not where their hukous were; and we organized the “new Beijingers” to plant trees in parks. Two-and-a-half years on, we made a breakthrough when the Ministry of Education adopted a policy allowing youth to take the national entrance exams where they currently live, not where their hukous are. By the end of the year, 29 provinces and municipalities implemented, or promised to implement, the policy. However, the Ministry of Education’s policy was met with obstacles in Beijing and Shanghai where tens of thousands of parent volunteers had worked the hardest to push for the policy, but in the end were denied of its benefits. I am deeply sorry for them. They’ve strived for three years under the slogan “abolish hukou restrictions for the national college exams by 2012,” but as they themselves put it, they “succeeded in liberating all of China except for ourselves!” We need to continue the fight against the last two fortresses.
From the abolition of the Custody and Repatriation System, triggered by the Sun Zhigang case, that allowed millions upon millions of new immigrants to move away from home without fear of being captured and repatriated, to the equal education movement that enabled millions of children to attend schools where their parents work and live, we have labored for ten years to break the hukou segregation and to fight for the freedom and equality of new immigrants.
After the trumped-up “tax evasion” case in 2009, we registered a new company although Gong Meng was still a legal entity. Regardless, such a name ceased to mean much any longer, for it was far from enough to have a small group of brave citizens. The pursuit of democracy and constitutionalism requires broad participation by as many people as possible. We gave up on the name Gong Meng, and began to use a name that’s not a name–Citizen. “Citizen” is the common identity of all who are pro-democracy, and it serves as an open platform that belongs to every citizen who shares the same aspiration for democracy and constitutionalism.
In May 2012, we began to promote the “New Citizens’ Movement” in which we became real citizens working and moving forward together. We have been holding same-city dinner gatherings (同城聚会) across China to meet, and exchange views with, each other; we push for democracy and rule of law through legal assistance and civil actions such as demanding that officials disclose personal assets. Through these collective activities, we want to grow to be a healthy force outside the existing structure and to help eventually transition China peacefully toward a constitutional civilization. It is a movement for social change, but more importantly, it is a political movement for democratic constitutionalism. We don’t shun politics; in a jungle-like society where power is uninhibited and corruption rife, conscience is politics. We strive to tread out a new path for the Chinese nation, a path toward liberty, justice and love. Fear and hatred are the foundation on which tyranny has thrived, but overthrowing tyranny doesn’t necessarily mean the disappearance of its foundation. Until we dispel the fear and hatred that cloud over the deepest recesses of our hearts, we will not have a free and democratic China.
We have been the opposition throughout the last ten years. We oppose authoritarianism, we oppose autocratic culture, and we oppose lies, false accusations, and unscrupulousness whether they are on the part of the power holders or anyone else. We have been pious builders promoting social progress and building rule of law and civil society rationally. In the Investigation on the Mechanism of Letters and Calls in China that we issued, we pointed out that the authoritarian system was the root of the petition problem, and recommended judiciary independence and initiation of political reform through direct election on the county level. In our Report on the Investigation over the Truth about the Death of Qian Yunhui, we published our findings that Qian’s death was a traffic accident despite overwhelming public opinion that believed otherwise, and criticized the unfair land policies that were the underlying causes of the incident. In our Legal Opinions Concerning Compensation for Personal Injury in the High-Speed Train Accident on July 23rd, we criticized the government for offering too little compensation, of RMB 500,000, and recommended compensation over RMB 900,000. Public opinion forced the government to quickly accept our recommendation. In the equal education movement that fought against hukou segregation, our Plan for Children Living with Parents without Local Hukou to Take the National College Entrance Exam Locally has been accepted by most provinces and cities. Just before the ten citizens were arrested in Beijing, we had been preparing to draft a law concerning publishing officials’ personal assets. We are a group of responsible citizens. We oppose for the sake of building.
For ten years we have persevered to build the foundation, next to the decaying palace of the dictatorship, for a lasting democracy and constitutionalism. In our fight for freedom over the last ten years, it has become a commonplace for many of us to lose our own freedom fighting for freedom of strangers. We are proud to be living in this era. From the “citizens’ rights movement” to the “new citizens’ movement,” we have been walking on the same road, the road of conscience, the road toward liberty, justice and love.
The last ten years have been years of progress. With the fireworks of the Olympics, China continued to mix with the world; new immigrants have settled down; high-speed trains have compressed time and space; the remotest villages began to have rudimentary social security coverage; and internet and communication technologies connect different civilizations. Over the last ten years, the goodness in human nature has been reviving in China, the market economy has been deconstructing totalitarianism, and an independent spirit has been sprouting bit by bit. Public opinion condemns barbaric demolition; ten thousand people came out to lay flowers at the site of a fire disaster in Shanghai. The “Red Cross” might be dead, but the conscience is growing. Over these ten years, the new contended with the old, but the old does not just go away: the custody and repatriation policy was gone, but there have been black jails. The Criminal Procedure Law was amended, but the little bit of judiciary independence was taken away. The Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses was amended, but during the 2011 election, the media as a whole was forced to keep their mouths shut. The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen, graft and privilege are more rampant than ever, and the chasm between the government and the people is growing ever greater and deeper.
Entering 2013, China bid goodbye to the ten years of “raising no havoc” (Hu Jintao’s watchword) and arrived at the threshold of change. At the moment, the ten citizens have been arrested for advocating disclosure of officials’ assets, and the Citizen’s community in general is being dealt a new round of persecution. But on the other hand, more and more docile subjects are stepping out to become real citizens. I firmly believe that, after 2000 years of suppression and over 100 years of suffering, this is the time when the Chinese nation will be reborn for liberty, justice and love. We have chosen a beautiful road worthy to be the pursuit of a lifetime. We’ll not turn away from it no matter how trying it is ahead. It is a new road, long and arduous, but it’s the only road leading to a bright future.
Citizen Xu Zhiyong
May 16, 2013
(A translation by China Change.)
Once again the meetings have started. At the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), you will be “elected” as the nation’s President. There will be no surprises, as there have never been over the last 60 years or so. Meanwhile, tens and thousands of people, myself included, who seek a just society, continue to face illegal restrictions on our freedom of movement in the name of “stability maintenance.”
The Chinese Constitution states that the NPC is the ultimate authority in legislation, election, supervision, and decision-making on important matters of the country, having more power than any parliament in the world, but in reality, NPC is nothing more than a rubber stamp, and its annual convention more like a press event for the emperor’s new clothes, a grand show full of artifice, disgrace and evil.
CCTV’s Evening News claims that the NPC has representatives from every ethnic group, every occupation, every level of social status, with many young people, many with advanced degrees, many workers, many farmers, etc. In the previous era, the most classic example was Vice-Premier Chen Yonggui (陈永贵)wrapping a white towel around his head, to show he was a representative of the peasants. Today we have Shen Jilan (申纪兰)who has been a “peasant representative” for sixty years. Does she really represent China’s rural population? Who has voted for her? On what basis can she say she represents the farmers? Besides applauding and voting “yea,” what else has she done as a “representative?”
This year, a young woman of the post-’90s generation has become a representative because she had helped someone courageously, but she has no idea why she has become a representative. A woman told the media that she represented the “foot washing girls.” Do they know who they are and why are they there?
The most absurd aspect of “people’s representatives” in China is the idea of representatives having to represent a certain class. According to the system of representation, no matter what your profession is, once you are elected to be a representative, you assume the duty of a member of the country’s legislative body according to the law. This is a representative’s most important duty, so much so that it becomes their only professional identity. A representative’s basic job is to draft laws, elect the head of the nation and national officials, and decide the nation’s budget, and his or her job has no connection to their original identity as a worker or a farmer. But this plain and simple truth has been distorted by the propaganda machine. It makes it look like only workers may represent workers, and only farmers may represent farmers; that, instead of enacting laws and welding the power to vote, the representatives are meeting just to give the leaders “advice.” Look, it says, we have workers, farmers, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, 90’s generation, even foot-washing girl, how broad the representation is and how splendid our socialist democracy truly is!
Since only farmers may represent farmers, in the old time when two third of the Chinese population was farmers, the NPC would have necessarily been the National Congress of Farmers’ Representatives. To avoid such awkwardness, China reduced the representation of the farmers to one eighth, and later raised it to one fourth. Such discrimination, worse than the racial discrimination over one hundred years ago in the United Stated, wasn’t corrected until 2010. But the absurd idea of identity representation is still being widely touted as a “superiority of socialism.”
In name, the NPC is China’s supreme body of state power, but its members are moonlighters. Each year they convene for two weeks only, but even that is too long. Making legislative proposals is supposed to be their job, but in reality, each proposal is screened by the head of the delegation and then by the presidium. China has no shortage of serious issues to discuss, such as elections, the budget, anti-corruption efforts, frontier ethnical groups, territorial disputes, so on and so forth, but the main job of the representatives is actually to hash out the wording of the “Report on the Work of the Government.”
Housed in heavily guarded hotel rooms according to strict hierarchy of each representative’s worth, ordinary representatives are no more than “extras” on a movie set who have no independence whatsoever to speak of. On the other hand, during China’s district/county level of elections of representatives, the state has employed almost every form of the state power to clamp down on independent candidates, including tearing the candidates’ posters, summoning them, investigating their tax records, intimidating voters, sabotaging meetings, refusing to accept lawsuits against government wrongdoings, illegally restricting candidates’ freedom of movement, and more.
The Congress conducts “elections” and voting without the least competition, for there is only one candidate for each position, and that candidate is likely to have been decided beforehand, if not several years before. On top of that, the representatives know nothing about the candidates, nor do they care whether the candidates are competent or corrupt. After all, some of China’s most corrupt officials, such as Cheng Kejie (成克杰), Wang Huaizhong (王怀忠), Wang Baosen (王宝森) and Liu Zhijun (刘志军), have all been elected in such a manner through each level of People’s Congress. And on each level, the process is controlled strictly by the Communist Party.
The representatives don’t bother to ask questions about how the country’s trillions are spent, the gapping deficit in China’s social security fund, the monstrous spending on stability maintenance that surpasses the military spending. No, they have no questions. Each resolution is passed in near-perfect vote of yea, and the rubber stamp is thus stamped. Inside the system, this is called “walk the procedures.” The representatives don’t care. Their positions don’t come from the people; for them, being a representative is an honor bestowed on them by the power holders, and it is a cherished ticket to the club of the privileged.
For being so artificial, the NPC cannot help but being ugly. Everyone is canny with his or her own calculations, fathoming carefully the intention of a superior, speaking only the “right” things, making only the “appropriate” proposals. Shen Jilan, who has never voted a no is able to hold onto her representative status for over sixty years, while Yao Xiurong (姚秀荣),who began to speak up for the disempowered in her second term, has since disappeared. They show one face when they are sitting at the podium and another when they are not. What they speak is never what they think. They discuss trivial matters, falling asleep listening to reports. In the evenings they swirl around dinner parties to forge connections. The few young and fresh faces in their midst look more like decoration than anything else. In front of the media, they would sometimes talk about the livelihood of the people; and their proposals are forgotten as soon as they are made. When they speak during the sessions, they do so in the order of their official rankings and seniority, in the style of partyspeak. They are unanimously “inspired” when they review the government’s work report; they ingratiate their superiors but also take the opportunity to promote themselves. They pledge loyalty before the voting; during panel discussions they condemn in unison petitioners, a nuisance for their officialdom.
Ordinary citizens don’t care who represent them. Not that it matters if they do. Year after year, the citizens of this country make the annual NPC and CPPCC their pastime by picking the most flabbergasting proposals and speeches, laughing at the yawning and slobbering representatives, gossiping the movie stars’ luxurious homes, the fallen corrupt officials, and the mistresses of the superrich. It gets more ridiculous every year.
Hidden behind such falsity and shamefulness is the inevitable evil. Some lies go away, such as that of the Great Leap Forward, but other lies have been paraded for more than six decades. Among them are lies that the system of people’s congress is China’s “fundamental political system,” and that the NPC is “the supreme body of state power.” Moreover, the system is billed as the most advanced democracy, and presented every March in a grand ceremony! Behind the extravagant show, however, black jails dot the capital city from Jiujingzhuang camp (久敬庄), run by the state, to certain outlaying, walled-in residences in Changping (昌平), from the backyard of the Youth Guesthouse (青年宾馆) to the basement of Juyuan Guesthouse (聚源宾馆), not to mention the Beijing Offices of all levels of local governments. Thousands of government employees and temporary hires crowd the entrances of the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CCP, the Supreme Court, and the State Bureau for Letters and Calls [to intercept petitioners], while petitioners, in the number of tens and thousands, are subjected to harassment, illegal stalking, illegal detention, and brutal physical abuses.
In November 6, 2012, Petitioner Zhang Yaowen (张耀文) from Henan province was taken away from Jiujingzhuang relief center by force, and was beaten to death in a car with tinted windows because he refused to surrender his cell phone. Since his death, his sister Zhang Yaohua has not been able to file a case in any court.
I hope there will be no more sacrifice of innocent Chinese citizens to the show in 2013!
The grandiose National People’s Congress has nothing to do with the people. The most deep-rooted belief of China’s political system is still “power grows from the barrel of the gun,” and the operation of the regime is built on this terror-based ideology: Politics is barbaric; whoever wins the power struggle will rule; the harder your fist the more say you have; politics is for self-enrichment; the red regime cannot change color, and stability is above everything else; politics is cruel, a life-and-death game in which one must have no qualms in pursuing one’s objectives. In short, China’s foundation is not the people, not humanity, not conscience, but guns, the law of jungle, and the duo of violence and lie.
Over the decades, citizens of China have grown indifferent to whoever become the representatives, to the “rubber stamp” itself, to the trillions in taxpayers’ money, to the lavish show itself. Never do they think the country is theirs. But in a country where even monks are fitted with administrative grade levels, how can anyone truly stay away from politics? When a country is built on an artificial, shameful and evil foundation, how can we expect to have a sound society?
Every March, the state propaganda apparatus hangs out the “Learn from Lei Feng” flag in an attempt to rebuild “socialist morality.” CCTV’s “Touch the Heart of China” evening gala was all about smuggling goods for the party: the honorary president of the Red Cross recommended legislation to punish private charities; “the most beautiful born-after-1990”girl was bewildered that she had become a people’s representative; “the most beautiful female teacher” propped herself up from her sickbed to pledge life-long commitment to communist ideals, so on and so forth. On the other hand, the last thirty years have seen a slow awakening of civil awareness with citizens taking initiatives to claim their civil rights and responsibilities, but the dirty hands of the government have been everywhere to obstruct them and sabotage them.
I understand there isn’t a society that’s perfect. I don’t expect every official to be a role model and a clean civil servant, but they at least cannot be such a hypocritical, greedy, cruel and despicable group as they are today. I don’t expect everyone to be an angel, but at least they should not be distrustful, hostile and mutually harmful as they are now. It might be too much to ask for perfect fairness and justice, but China must not be a place shrouded in the smog of injustice as it is today. This country must change its foundation and bring to an end the authoritarianism. China shall be reinvented on the principle of liberty, justice and love.
I hope Mr. Xi Jinping will be one of the greatest idealists of our time. The mission of a real man is not to prolong the life of a rotten interest group, but to build a free and happy future for the 1.3 billion Chinese. It’s been over sixty years, and now it’s time to put an end to the lie of “the supreme body of state power,” to eradicate the belief in “gun-barrel regime.” And it is time to finally make good on the promise of the “People’s Republic.”
By Xu Zhiyong
Today and tomorrow, we bring to you two articles about the case of a young man called Song Ze. He was a volunteer at Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s Open Constitution Initiative, an NGO dedicated to providing legal aid to disempowered people in China. We at SRIC are in no position to fully report the many cases such as Song Ze’s, but what we can do, and are trying to do here, is to illustrate a case well enough so that it sheds light and provides insight. On China’s black jails which this article explains very well, you may also want to watch Melissa Chan’s report that allegedly got her expelled from China. Hannah is the translator of the following piece by Dr. Xu. –Yaxue
Around noon on May 4th, 2012, Song Ze (宋泽) received a phone call in which the caller said someone who had been put in a “black jail” [an illegal prison used mostly to detain petitioners, disempowered citizens who went to Beijing to file a complaint about his/her local government] hoped for help, and asked Song Ze to meet him in the lobby of Beijing South Railway Station at 2 o’clock. Same as ever, Song Ze did not hesitate to respond.
As Song Ze waited at the bottom of the designated escalator, an unexpected thing happened — his phone suddenly lost its signal. But he waited patiently anyway. After ten minutes or so, the signal returned, and with it suddenly appeared several men, who forcibly carried him off. A day later, he was spotted by a petitioner in the basement of the You Anmen (右安门) police station. More than ten days after Song Ze had gone missing, lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) finally managed to meet him in Fengtai District’s Detention Center. At that point Song Ze had already been detained as a criminal suspect, charged with “provoking disturbances.”
What had Song Ze done?
Song Ze’s original name is Song Guangqiang (宋光强), born in 1985 in a mountain village in Xiangyang (襄阳), Hubei Province. He graduated from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in 2010, majoring in international politics, and also minoring in finance. He received a dual-degree in law and economics. After graduating from college he worked at a foreign-capital enterprise, but he could not give up the ideals in his heart. In October 2011, he wrote a long letter to me, relating his own experience and dreams growing up, hoping to join the team of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟).
The first impression Song Ze gives people is that he is reticent and shy, but deep down he is a passionate idealist. He does not care how much money he makes, how hard he has to work; all he cares about is how his own actions would affect society.
As it turned out, the Petitioners’ Rescue Program was lacking in manpower, and so Song Ze’s responsibility was to contact the volunteer rescuers, to purchase new, or pick up donated, clothes and blankets, to distribute clothing and give sick people emergency aid. All winter long, Song Ze more or less had no Sundays and no holidays, keeping busy with volunteers at Beijing South Railway Station’s nearby ghetto, in the underground tunnel and other places where poor petitioners gathered. For many cold, cruel windy nights, he checked the bridge tunnels one by one to make sure new petitioners had cotton-padded blankets.
In China, even if it is just pure aid for the needy, humanitarian efforts face huge pressure because of the special identity of rescuees on the one hand and the social ideals of the rescuers on the other. On the night of the Lantern Festival (lunar January 15th), volunteers who were distributing rice dumplings to petitioners were blocked forcibly by police. Volunteer Yuan Wenhua was taken away, so was Song Ze when he asked the policemen to show their IDs. The rest of us waited outside the police station until they were released.
As winter passed and there was no need to worry about people freezing to death, Song Ze turned to providing emergency medical aid and to watch “black prisons.”
Black prisons are places where local governments illegally detain petitioners. If the petitioners try to go to the Prime Minister’s house or foreign embassies near Dongjiaominxiang (东交民巷), Wangfujing Street (王府井大街) or other places where they are not supposed to petition, they could be taken away by police. During the so-called sensitive time of Two Meetings each year, they could be apprehended just passing through Chang’an Street (长安街) and being found carrying petitioning materials. All these are labeled “irregular petitioning” and the petitioners who have been rounded up are sent to Jiu Jing Zhuang (久敬庄), the detention and deportation center run by the State Bureau of Letters and Calls. Jiu Jing Zhuang would order local governments’ Beijing offices to take away petitioners from their jurisdictions on the same day they arrive in Jiu Jing Zhuang. However, most petitioners cannot be dispatched back to their homes that same day. They must wait to be sent home, perhaps needing a few days or a few weeks, and this turns into a profiteering opportunity for some people.
People running the black prisons are those who have connections with officials in the State Bureau of Letters and Calls or local governments’ Beijing offices. They rent hotel basements, hire thugs, forcibly take the petitioners from Jiu Jing Zhuang, illegally detain them, and then order the local governments to come to get the petitioners and pay a fee for the latters’ stay. They fetch 80 to 200 RMB per petitioner per day.
Each year the black prison atrocities reach their height during the Two Meetings (National People’s Congress and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference). On the eve of the Two Meetings this year, Song Ze verified 49 black prison locations and sent out a map of Beijing’s black prisons. On March 5, 80-year-old petitioner Hu Yufu (胡玉甫) was put in a black prison. On the 7th he fell ill, begging to get treatment. To this, the secretary of the Committee of Politics and Law said, “Petitioners cannot be indulged! If he is sick, let him figure out what to do.” Hu was finally sent to the emergency room on the 12th, and died on the morning of 13th. Song Ze helped his son sue the Party secretary, mayor and other officials of Xinxiang municipality (in Henan province) for illegally detaining his father.
Starting from September of 2008, our organization’s volunteers visited and watched black prisons, exposing this crime to the public, and rescuing the petitioners. Over the last few years, conditions in black prisons have had improved, and police have taken more action to investigate them upon receiving reports. But black prisons still exist in large numbers. To visit black prisons and to try to rescue prisoners there exemplifies a citizen’s willingness and courage to right a wrong, but in this upside-down country, Song Ze was thrown in jail for this very reason.
Why was Song Ze detained?
On January 11 of this year, Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) , Song Ze and others received an urgent text message from Hunan petitioner Yu Hong seeking help. They braved the severe cold of Beijing searching for four hours, and finally found the exact position of Chenzhou’s (of Hunan province) black prison. Afterwards they got in contact with over ten reporters and volunteers, and together they went on a rescue mission.
On the morning of January 13, Zhao Zhenjia, Peng Zhonglin, Guan Weishuang, Song Ze, and others, ten people in total, came to the black prison. While videotaping the process, they broke into the room and rescued three elderly people who had sought help. They were 73-year-old Yu Hong, 57-year-old Chen Bixiang and 82-year-old Long Jiangbao. One of them had been detained for over 40 days already. The living conditions there were awful with no heat, and each person had only a thin blanket. They were not given enough food either, often just one pack of ramen noodles per person per day.
There were only a few guards on duty then, and before they realized what was going on, the petitioners had already been rescued. But soon the police came. Instead of punishing the real criminals, they tried to take away these courageous citizen volunteers. While arguing with the police, they managed to take the three petitioners onto a bus, even though some guards followed them onto the bus.
That day, when I hurried over to the scene, the rescuers had already gotten onto the bus and left. I told Song Ze (over the phone) that I would be waiting for them near OCI’s office on the East Third Ring Road. They got off the bus, with four guards from the black prison in tow. I stopped a taxi, Song Ze and three petitioners got in promptly, and I blocked the door to fend off the guards. The taxi made a loop and took Song Ze and the three petitioners to the office of OCI. He bought meal for them, and send them to the nearby long-distance bus station with enough money for them to go home.
This rescue mission became the very reason for Song Ze’s arrest, the charge being “provoking disturbance” and the reason for the charge being “disrupting the public order.” Before Song Ze, 60-year-old Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) had already been given a year and a half of reform-through-labor, a form of imprisonment, for his participation in the same event.
Of course, Song Ze could have been retaliated against for another reason. Several days before his arrest in early May, he did something that irked the authorities: he took a cab to Shandong, picked up the wife of Chen Kegui (nephew of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng), took her to Beijing and hid her. I regret to have sent him to do this—he risked too much.
But I had never imagined Song Ze would end up in prison.
Citizen Song Ze
Song Ze’s case was one directly handled by Beijing Public Security Bureau. Lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) made several trips to the detention center before finally being granted a meeting with Song Ze. Apart from the rescue on January 13, he was interrogated about how he met me and what he had done at OCI.
When the 37 days that he was sentenced were up, Song Ze was not freed. It is now such a preposterous case that the charges against Song Ze are too ridiculous to show to the world. The prosecution has not issued approval for an arrest, but the PSB does not want to let him go. Now they have placed him in residing under surveillance (监视居住).
In reality, residing under surveillance is more formidable than imprisonment. According to the new Criminal Procedure Law, the authority may designate the location for residing under surveillance, but it shall notify their relatives. But China being China, Song Ze’s family has not received any notification. He can still meet with his lawyer when detained in the detention center, but it’s been more than 40 days since he was put under residential surveillance, no one has been able to see Song Ze; and the PSB has refused to answer any questions on his whereabouts.
In our time, Song Ze is hard-to-find idealist. As he wrote in his letter to me, “I tried to force myself to just live my own life, but I discovered that this is quite difficult to do. If I see someone on the roadside in need of help but give no hand, I would be pained afterward. If I see something unfair around me but do nothing about it, I feel ashamed. When I see others who are able to give lot of help to the needy, I would blame myself for being useless, wishing I could do more……” We are all very concerned about Song Ze, and worry about what he is being putting through.
Xu Zhiyong (许志永), July 12, 2012