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China Change, July 27, 2018
Xu Lin (徐琳), who described himself as “a dissident, poet, singer-songwriter and senior construction engineer in mainland China,” was put on trial in the Nansha District Court in Guangzhou on July 27, where he faced charges of ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’ (寻衅滋事) for a series of songs about sensitive political topics that he composed, sung, and posted online.
Xu pleaded not guilty to the charges. The court did not deliver a sentence at the end of the trial.
Xu Lin was arrested and criminally detained in September 2017 while visiting his sick father in Hunan. Among the list of his supposed crimes were the songs he composed supporting human rights lawyers targeted in the July 9, 2015 crackdown, as well as articles he wrote.
The authorities initially said they would reserve two seats in the court for Xu’s family members to witness the trial, but this was denied on the actual day, according to a Ms. Wang, Xu Lin’s wife, who was interviewed by RFA immediately after the trial.
“The trial has just finished, and there were definitely major issues with it. It was completely unfair to Xu Lin. Right now, whatever they say goes. You can’t say anything. And even if you do, they won’t listen,” she said in the interview. Ms. Wang was in the end able to observe the proceedings through a closed video feed in the court house.
Two defense lawyers, Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) and Liu Hao (刘浩), pointed out the procedural irregularities of the case, and stated that citizens had the right to express themselves, to criticize the government, and to produce creative work that commentates on current affairs. The lawyers argued that Mr. Xu’s case is a case of persecution.
Mr. Xu himself was anything but repentant. He said in his court statement that he was merely exercising his constitutional rights. “If I am found guilty, shame on you, not me.”
Public security authorities had made extensive preparations for Xu’s trial, staging paramilitary and uniformed police in the streets within a two or three kilometer radius of the court, according to Xu Kun (徐昆), an activist who managed to get into the court house. He was quickly apprehended by seven or eight officers and dropped off at the train station, he said in an interview with RFA.
“The police seemed to know that people would be coming [to watch the trial].”
Liu Sifang (劉四仿), another activist composer who worked with Xu and was also arrested late last year, says that Xu may have been able to avoid prosecution if he expressed his penitence, declared guilt, asked for the favor of the authorities, and promised not to re-offend. It’s a course of action Xu declined to embark upon.
Xu’s commitment to his ideas are clear from his blog posts and lyrics.
On April 9, 2016 — his 52nd birthday — Xu reflected on the meaning of his activism and the significance of imprisonment, and even death, in the service of his commitments. He wrote:
“What can I do outside of jail? I don’t organize, and even less join violent movements. I also don’t have the ability to call everyone to rise up and oppose the authorities at key moments. The greatest skill I have is song composition. Though many people rate my songs very highly, if they’re not heard by 10 million people, then no matter how many I write, it won’t have much of an impact. If my imprisonment leads to my songs being spread much more widely, and wakes up more people, who rise up and resist, well then I’m ready to go to jail. I’m even content to die.”
Xu also wrote in 2016, “Popular songs are one of the most powerful weapons for mobilizing people… everyone’s brave resistance to this dictatorship is an endless fountain of inspiration for my works.”
Xu’s songs include “The Secretly Detained Human Rights Lawyers,” with the lyrics: “Mother, father, forgive your son’s filial failure. I couldn’t be with in your older years, because my comrades have disappeared for two years.”
Trained as a construction engineer, where he worked as a senior manager, Xu has pursued his activism through writing and song for nearly two decades. He has composed works about the June 4 massacre, the political persecution of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the plight of petitioners in China, and other topics. He was part of the 2013 Southern Street Movement in Guangdong, and has composed poems about the persecution of dissidents since 2010.
His August 2015 energetic, rock-tinged composition “Song of the Righteous Lawyers,” appeared to infuriate the authorities, leading to a month-long detention.
“We are brave rights defense lawyers. We bear the mission of safeguarding fairness and justice,” the chorus says.
Xu Lin had previously been threatened by Guangdong authorities, in a particular thug-like manner as he recounts in a December 2015 video on YouTube. “One of the police officers said that the station was really sick of me, and that someone in the public security division threatened to find someone to break my legs. Every time I made a post, they’d come and get me, until I was dead. They said the same thing to my wife.”
If the goal of the intimidation was to stop Xu Lin from posting his songs and poems online, it didn’t work. “They don’t frighten me,” he said in the same video. “This simply demonstrates all the more that this evil system has to be abolished.”
China Change, February 12, 2018
On February 9, lawyer Chen Wuquan (陈武权) was criminally detained with five villagers on an island off the coast of Zhanjiang (湛江), on the southwest peninsular of Guangdong Province. He was not a lawyer representing clients in a land rights defense case, as one may assume. Instead, he was a disbarred lawyer living at home in his village, leading an effort against forced demolition, illegal land reclamation, and the logging of redwoods along the beach. The group of six had petitioned on behalf of the village, and the police responded by detaining them for “obstructing the start of construction.”
On February 11, Chen Wuquan’s family received notice of his criminal detention.
Before he led villagers to protest illegal reclamation, he had anticipated what might befall him and authorized the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, of which he is a member, to defend him. He briefly told his story as follows:
I was born on China’s fifth largest island, Donghai Island, in the village of Diaoluocun (东海岛调逻村).
Our village is in the northeast of the island, and features an expanse of beautiful beaches, mudflats, and mangroves. It’s a popular tourist destination. Donghai’s tidal flats are not only beautiful, but also highly fertile, producing an abundance of sea snails, oysters, shrimps, lingula [a kind of mussel], and more. This natural abundance has provided for Diaoluocun villagers for over 700 years. When I was four or five, I remember my mother taking me to the seaside to catch fish and shrimp and dig up sea snails and mussels. Only after beginning senior high school and moving to the city did I start to drift away from the ocean.
In 1998 after graduating from police college, I worked as a police officer in Zhanjiang. In 2004, I was given an internal Communist Party warning over the “4.25 Incident.”*
On April 25, 2005, I decided to leave my government job and become a lawyer. I focused my energies on preparing for the bar exam, and in September of that year scored 360 on the test. In March 2006 I became a lawyer.
It’s a wide world we live in, and I wanted to see it. At the end of 2011, full of dreams of distant adventures, I traveled to Switzerland to participate in a training on the United Nations human rights mechanism held by an NGO.
In early 2012 I joined Beijing lawyer Dong Qianyong (董前勇) representing a religious freedom case in Shantou, Guangdong. As part of that process, I penned and posted two articles — “Where is the Path to the Rule of Law in China?” and “The Ugly Privileged” — for which I was disciplined in April 2012.
On May 6, 2012, while in Beijing I agreed to represent Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew. Due to this, I was subjected to an immense amount of pressure. I overcame the pressure of being disbarred and continued to proceed with the case. I thought that I still had some land and the ocean to live on back home if the worst came. On May 18, 2012, my license to practice law was rescinded.
In November 2012, under pressure from all directions, I returned to Zhanjiang. It was only when I got back, however, that I realized that the tidal flats that saw me through my childhood were no more. They’d been turned into dry land and a dumping ground for construction trash. The sea snails, oysters, shrimps and mussels were all gone. It pained my heart.
The difficulty of actually making a living after being disbarred also began to pinch, and I wanted to get back my license to practice law. I was born and grew up in Zhanjiang after all, had been a police officer there for seven years, and had friends and acquaintances throughout local government departments. For all these reasons, I refrained from publicizing any criticisms of the Zhanjiang government.
In May 2017, after lying low for five years, I entered the election for village chief. Yet the authorities still treated me with hostility, a potential threat, going around to undercut my support, even spreading propaganda that I was a criminal. Even after that, I received 1943 votes.
In October 2017 I made requests for information under the government’s open information regulations, whereupon I found that the tidal flats around our village had not even been lawfully acquired. Without any legal process, developers had simply filled in and destroyed the natural habitat. These were the tidal flats that had sustained our village for 700 years! I could not longer bear to do nothing, and at this point it was clear that my license to practice law would not be reinstated either. So I decided to put up a fight to protect the seaside, so my village — and even more, myself and my grandchildren — would still have blue skies and a healthy ocean for generations to come.
It was only at this point that villagers became aware of the fact that their legal rights had been infringed upon. They joined the push to defend the seaside in droves. They even pulled their boats on to the beach.
On December 25, 2017, the government mobilized armed police, public security forces, riot police, and urban enforcers — numbering into their hundreds, arrayed with guns and shields — against villagers defending the sea. They ripped out the vegetation that locals had planted as a tide break, and detained two villagers. Under the protection of other villagers, I was able to escape unharmed.
The authorities began slandering me, saying that as a lawyer I’d once defended an ‘evil religion,’ and what I did at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I don’t understand: even if it was an ‘evil religion,’ why could one not offer a legal defense? I’ve defended individuals accused of robbery — does that make me an accomplice to robbers too? At the Chinese University of Hong Kong I’d once protested on behalf of human rights lawyers in China with foreign women present — is there anything wrong with that?
Once the arrow is shot, there’s no getting it back. At this point, honor does not permit me to retreat.
And no matter how scurrilous the means used to attack me, I will face it all calmly. I sincerely ask my colleagues to defend me.
* The “4.25 Incident” likely refers to the Falun Gong mass petition in Beijing that occurred on April 25, 1999. It’s unclear what Chen Wuquan’s involvement was when he was still a young student, and why the internal discipline occurred in 2004.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January, 2018.
Zhuang Liehong, November 23, 2016
“Wukan is a big prison now. Scores of villagers have been detained, including my father. Police patrol the streets and roads, and life is difficult.” – Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong
Wukan, a fishing village in eastern Guangdong Province, occupies an area of about 5,765 acres and has a population of 13,000. Since 1993, corrupt officials have conspired with businessmen to secretly sell off the collectively-owned, arable village land, and pocket the proceeds.
This led to large-scale petitions and protests to defend villagers’ rights from 2009 to 2011. As they fought for their land and for democracy in their village, Wukan residents were faced with extreme hardship, and the local government did everything it could — including plots and conspiracies — to deny and block these demands. In 2011, the authorities launched a crackdown on the village, and a number of the key villagers involved in defending their rights, including myself, were arrested. Xue Jinbo (薛锦波) was treated particularly cruelly, and died in prison.
Under the gaze of international media, then-Party chief of Guangdong Province (and current Politburo member and vice premier), Wang Yang (汪洋), made a show of goodwill, sending Zhu Mingguo (朱明国), then-vice Party secretary of Guangdong, to the village to ease tensions, affirm that the villagers’ demands were legitimate, and promise that the demands would be met. Now, however, it appears that all this was simply the government buying time while the world was watching.
In 2012, after Wukan formed its own democratically-elected village committee, the government used a range of methods to sow discord among villagers, erode the bonds of trust between them, lay traps for the most active village rights defense activists, and manipulate and control public opinion. Four years on, the government has put overwhelming emphasis on “stability maintenance” (meaning police and other security forces), and has not met any of the villagers’ demands for the return of the stolen land. Between 2012 and 2016, the authorities arrested one villager, (Zhang Dejia [张德家]), and sentenced three others — Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮), Yang Semao (杨色茂), and Lin Zuluan (林祖銮) — to prison.
In order to avoid the same fate, I fled to the United States on January 27, 2014, and applied for political asylum. For 85 days between June 19 and September 12, 2016, Wukan villagers organized daily protest marches through the streets, with about 4,000 participants every day.
On September 13, they were violently suppressed by thousands of riot police.
At about 3 a.m. on September 13, a battalion of armed police moved on the village, raiding houses and arresting 13 villagers that the government considered to be the most high-profile, including my father, Zhuang Songkun (庄松坤). Come dawn, thousands of fully-armed People’s Armed Police locked down village street intersections, dividing the crowd and then crushing the protest. They fired countless rounds of rubber bullets, and volleyed canisters of tear gas and shock grenades into the unarmed villagers. Then they began surrounding and violently beating villagers, without regard to whether they were old, women, or children. Faced with this violent, armed suppression, villagers resorted to throwing rocks and bricks. Hundreds of villagers were injured during the conflict, and reports indicate that an old woman died after being shot twice with rubber bullets. Nearly 100 villagers are believed to have been arrested.
Following the incident a large number of armed police, SWAT teams, and plainclothes officers installed themselves on practically every street corner in the village, even organizing patrols along the thoroughfares and back alleys. They severed internet access to block news about what happened from getting out, and stopped Hong Kong and international media from getting in. While all this was taking place, official media published gravely false reports about the suppression of the village. In the nearly three months since then, Wukan has become one big prison. Heavily armed riot police patrol the streets and alleys, members of the village Party committee act as spies, and the arbitrary arrest of villagers continues.
There are multiple indications that the violent suppression of Wukan this time was carried out on the direct orders of the Guangdong provincial government. Reports say that the vice-secretary of Guangdong was commanding the suppression from the nearby city of Lufeng (陆丰市), and that the thousands of riot and SWAT police deployed had been mobilized from the Huizhou Military District (惠州军区). The only one authorized to bring this level of force to bear is the current Guangdong Party secretary, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), so I’m positive that the violent suppression of Wukan was ordered by him.
On September 19, activist Yao Cheng (姚诚), a friend, and I were on our way to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to protest, when we were accosted and harassed by over a dozen men in identical black suits and blue raincoats — apparently national security agents from Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s (李克强) security detail. After we all got into an argument, one of the men took an open letter I handed to him, addressed to the Chinese Consul General in New York. We proceeded to the designated area at the UN and held our protest as planned. The following morning, however, I was shocked to receive a telephone call from the Lufeng public security bureau, who had detained my father, and were forcing him to tell me to keep quiet. On the one hand I was so glad to be in America, yet also realized that my right to express myself freely here is still limited by the Chinese authorities, and my own personal safety is even put at risk.
Wukan is still fraught with tension and conflict: the villagers have had two thirds of their land stolen from them, and this already put their basic livelihood under enormous pressure. Now, the entire area has been turned into a jail. So many villagers have been badly injured and arrested, which is another severe blow. Many families don’t even have the money to pay for proper medical treatment, and now rely on relatives from nearby villages to send them rations just so they can survive.
For all these reasons, I make the following demands of the Chinese authorities:
I. Cease the suppression and detention of Wukan villagers;
II. Release Lin Zuluan, Hong Ruichao, Yang Semao, Wei Yonghan (魏永汉), Zhang Xiangkang (张向坑), Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), Yang Shaoji (杨少集), Liu Hanchai (刘汉钗), Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠), Zhuang Songkun, Lin Desheng (林德升) and all other Wukan villagers who sought to defend their legal rights to the village land, and release the body — or, if still alive, the person — of the 80-year-old grandmother who was shot twice at close range with rubber bullets and reportedly killed;
III. Arrange for the immediate medical care of the roughly 100 villagers who were severely injured by riot police, and who are now hiding in their homes attempting to recover;
IV. Return the stolen land to Wukan village;
V. Hold accountable the chief culprit that orchestrated the violent suppression of peaceful Wukan villagers on September 13: Guangdong Party Secretary Hu Chunhua.
Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong (庄烈宏)
November 22, 2016
By Mo Zhixu, April 13, 2016
“When the Southern activists stood amidst heavy traffic and photographed themselves holding placards of protest, the feeling it gives is a little surreal….”
On April 8, 2016, after a year and half in detention, two activists arrested in 2014 for holding banners on the streets of Guangzhou in support of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement—Wang Mo (王默) and Xie Wenfei (謝文飛, real name Xie Fengxia 謝豐夏)—were sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court. In addition, they will be deprived of political rights for three years. On the same day Zhang Shengyu (張聖雨, real name Zhang Rongping 張榮平), who held a placard in support of the Hong Kong students, was sentenced to four years.
That all three were convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” is no surprise. During the trial last November, Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei not only shouted pro-freedom slogans in court, but their defense statements were upfront, and were disseminated widely online. About them was none of the oft-seen attempts to depoliticize their stance, or hide their positions; instead, each man voiced their ideals openly and directly. In doing that, they represented the ethos of today’s new wave of activists.
Xie Wenfei, Wang Mo, and Zhang Shengyu all recognize themselves, and are recognized by others, as members of the “Southern Street Movement” (南方街頭運動). This “movement” sprung up in the last few years, and has a distinct character: It contains a thoroughgoing opposition to the political system, promulgating slogans like “abandon one-party dictatorship” and “establish a democratic China.” Further, the Southern Street Movement doesn’t focus on interacting with the regime as a path to change, but instead directly appeals to the people. The movement treats itself as a match, attempting to set ablaze a conflagration of mass protests across the country and thus activating a comprehensive transformation. For all these reasons, the movement is often seen as a radical form of political opposition.
Political opposition movements have always been around in mainland China, despite the ever-present threat of harsh crackdowns by the dictatorship. After 1989, there was the Liberal Democratic Party (自由民主黨) in 1992, the secret campaign to organize the Social Democracy Party (社會民主黨), the campaign to openly form the China Democratic Party (中國民主黨) in 1998, the joint signature campaign around Charter 08 in 2008, and so on. All of these movements are deeply tied to the 1989 student movement, and carried on the basic demands of the 1989 student movement: among the chief demands has always been to call for a full re-evaluation of the historical incidents in China—referring to previous political campaigns like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the massacre of students—and to make known the truth of history. The key representatives in this movement had often participated in the student movement and other democratically-inclined protests. Because of all this, these post-89 groups are seen as opposition movements led by elites who rebelled against the system from which they had come.
In contrast, the Southern Street Movement was only in its embryonic stages a few years ago in Guangzhou. Most of its membership was composed of new social classes: entrepreneurs, small business owners, laborers. So the movement came to have about it a genuine grassroots feel, and it demonstrated new mechanisms in which democratic movements can take rise. Specifically, it was the incursion of free markets that augmented the formation of these new social classes—but they found that the fruits of their own innovation were systematically robbed from them, that their basic rights as citizens had been stripped away, and that any attempts to demand their rights or benefits would be met with total suppression.
It was the recognition that they were being systematically deprived of their rights and interests that became fertile soil for a tendency toward opposition among this newly formed population. New social classes empowered by markets are able to readily apprehend that there exists between them and the political system a vast and deep chasm of opposing interests. It’s no accident that the movement sprung from Guangdong, the most fertile ground for the new social classes.
While the 1989 student movement and subsequent political movements were inspired by ideals and historical memory, the Southern Street Movement makes a clear break from that in the guiding ethos of its resistance: it’s a new creature brought about by contemporary circumstances. In an information-rich age, the movement didn’t have a design; instead it learned from many popular civil society movements over the last decade or so. Like other movements that sprung up around the same time, such as the New Citizens Movement (新公民運動), the Southern activists would hold periodic events like “criminal feasts” (飯醉; the Chinese term literally means “eat and drink” but is a homophone for “commit a crime”), or organize flash mobs, or get on Twitter and QQ groups to transmit their message to the people. Clearly, in the face of a “stability maintenance” system that becomes more harsh by the day, the Southern activists’ stance and mobilization tactics were bound to meet with suppression. And this is precisely what has happened: it was attacked from the very beginning, and the brutal clean-up operations against Southern members continues to this day.
Due to the zero-tolerance policy toward dissent by the authorities, most people have never even heard of political opposition, whether it’s the Southern Street Movement or otherwise. Meanwhile, its stance of total opposition to the government, and plans for thorough political transformation, actually differ quite significantly from mainstream liberal thought.
What the mainstream liberals really hope for is that liberal developments take place from within the system, to arrive at a gradual transformation via a kind of dialogue with the regime. Thus, they’re more apt to recognize and support the more restrained and gradualist agenda of the New Citizens Movement, and not the radical approach of the Southern Street Movement. For all this, since the birth of the Southern movement till today, it has not only needed to face down attacks by the regime but also survive in the absence of any support from mainstream liberals. It’s been a lonely struggle all along. Wang Mo and others have engaged in lengthy disputes with liberals on Weibo about this.
Though the Southern activists like to see themselves as a match that lights a fire, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that, in the face of a neo-totalitarian system that is strengthening its power by the day, this agenda is too simplistic. The regime has ample resources and means of identifying and weeding out activists. On the eve of the recent court judgement, for instance, due to suspicions that there would be protests on the day, Guangzhou police mounted a sudden raid on over a dozen activists while they while were eating dinner together. They were all given a criminal summons and several of them were forcibly escorted back to the place of their household registration.
Just as the New Citizens Movement went quiet after being hit with an intense and rapid succession of crushing blows in 2013, the Southern movement will likely also be forced to give in as the Party’s continuous siege drags on. Nevertheless, the conflicts and antagonisms between the marketized neo-totalitarian system and the people are only escalating, and one match could very well spark a blaze. The sacrifices of the Southern activists may come to nil, but they can’t be said to be mistaken.
When the Southern activists stood amidst heavy traffic and photographed themselves holding placards of protest, the feeling it gives is a little surreal: one struggles to understand how those strolling past maintain their indifference, or how the action fails to gain more support and attention online. It invites curiosity, and makes one wonder how grassroots activists like Xie Wenfei, Wang Mo, and Zhang Shengyu, maintain such firm conviction, such extraordinary courage, to not only resist blows from the dictatorship, but also withstand glaring indifference.
Perhaps this is inseparable from their own experiences: their deep recognition that their opposition to the unfairness of the system is right and correct, and that the goals they pursue are legitimate and indisputable. All this is what sustains them and allows these lonely warriors to light up our age.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy.
Guangzhou Activists Sentenced to Jail After Backing Hong Kong Protests, the New York Times, April 8, 2016.
Grassroots Activist Tells Court: I Committed No Crime Trying to Subvert the Communist Regime, Wang Mo, November 22, 2015.
The Southern Street Movement, China Change, October, 2013.
China activists push limits, protest dictatorship, AFP, December, 2013.
Also by Mo Zhixu on China Change:
A 2016 New Year’s Message from China’s Labor Community
Dear fellow workers, compatriots, and friends from around the world: Happy New Year!
Toward the end of 2015, the labor community in China experienced an unprecedented attack. A group of activists who have dedicated years to defending the rights and interests of workers were detained, monitored and interrogated by the police. It could have been a moment for fear and paranoia to set in. But those in the labor community and other walks of life responded quickly by drafting a petition to the Communist Party Central Committee, National People’s Congress, and State Council. The petition described in no uncertain terms the severe and widespread violations of workers’ rights and interests over the last few decades, and the inevitable emergence of independent labor NGOs and worker centers and their valuable contribution to the protection of labor rights and social justice, and demanded the release of the detained activists. In less than two weeks, over 490 people added their names to this petition, and over 60 Chinese lawyers joined a legal aid team. This response was followed by petitions, appeals, and demonstrations by over 200 organizations and thousands of individuals from the international labor and academic community in over 40 countries condemning the crackdown and expressing support for the arrested labor activists.
Their calls, however, fell on the deaf ears of the Chinese authorities. The detained activists have to this day still not been allowed to meet with their lawyers. In addition, the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus—the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and China Central Television (CCTV)—launched a smear campaign against these activists, in particular Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋), essentially sentencing them without a trial in the court of public opinion. Feiyang’s wife and child have been intimidated, and Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅) has been separated from her baby daughter, whom she was breastfeeding when she was detained. The families of the other detained activists—He Xiaobo (何晓波), Meng Han (孟晗), Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), Deng Xiaoming (邓小明)—are all sick with fear, and the whereabouts of another former worker-turned-collective bargaining specialist, Chen Huihai (陈辉海), is still unclear. Their treatment reflects a cowardly approach to the rule of law, and the criminal proceedings are rife with legal and procedural unfairness.
Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends: If the rights and interests of workers who make up the large majority of China’s population cannot be protected, if workers are increasingly deprived of their economic, political, cultural, and social rights, if the confrontations between officials and citizens, workers and employers, rich and poor, continues to worsen, then what are the prospects for everyone to live in a free, equal, fair, democratic, law-based society where “socialism is the core value”? It is doubtful that even our most basic survival and security can be assured in such a society!
It follows then that defending and fighting for workers’ rights and interests is not only essential for workers, but also to the stability, security, fairness, and well-being of society as a whole. Labor rights activism is not a crime! Labor rights organizations have not committed any crime! Labor rights activists have not committed any crime! Not only are they are not guilty of any crime, they have also made great contributions to our society, state, and nation. They are the underlying force behind a labor movement that has emerged in waves since 2010. They are why people from all walks of society are increasingly paying attention to, and supporting, the labor movement.
China’s 30 years of rapid economic growth is already in its last gasps. Now, demographics are changing, reducing the labor force, and the environment is severely damaged. At the same time, social contradictions and historical debt hidden by growth are surfacing one after the other. Government, businesses, and workers face the dual burden of an economic recession and social instability, and workers bear the greatest share: in times of economic growth they gain the least, and in downturns they inevitably lose the most. Not only are they the first to lose their jobs and fall into poverty, but as soon as they protest they are repressed by the government’s stability maintenance apparatus.
How can it be that the working class is fated to ceaselessly bear all the costs through economic growth as well as recession? Why should the powerful reap the profits when the economy grows and flee in times of recession? In early 2015, the labor community made a proposition to the government known as “the New Deal for Workers,” suggesting reforms to the system of wealth distribution, and universal social insurance coverage. It could be a way to boost domestic consumption, but this requires the government and businesses to give a bigger piece of the pie to labor and society. Similar policies helped the United States make it through the Depression of the 1930s, but do Chinese officials have that kind of heart and will?
Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends, it’s true that we wait on the government to appraise the situation and put forward the correct policy, but we also know that freedom, equality, justice, safety and happiness are things that we cannot wait for—they can only be obtained by fighting for them. We may have to make sacrifices if we choose to fight, but we will gain nothing without fighting for it.
In this new year, labor activism may face an even grimmer situation. But we are convinced that the labor movement will keep advancing. The rights to organize, bargain collectively, and to strike, and the economic, political, cultural, and social rights of workers, will all be achieved step by step.
“Strong grows the grass on plains made rich with blood, in winter-frozen earth spring starts to quicken.” Let this couplet be the labor community’s New Year Greetings that also set our outlook for 2016.
January 1, 2016
 Lu Xun, “Strong grows the grass,” translated by W. F. Jenner. (鲁迅《无题·血沃中原肥劲草》).
Chinese Authorities Orchestrate Surprise Raid of Labor NGOs in Guangdong, Arresting Leaders, Yaxue Cao, December 10, 2015.
Labour Activist Zhu Xiaomei speaking to workers, 2-minute Youtube video with English subtitles.
中文原文《寒凝大地发春华：中国劳工界2016年新年献辞》, translated by a volunteer.
(Tom is unable to post his piece at the moment. Yaxue substitutes.)
Xi Jinping created quite a stir with his recent trip to Guangdong province, which has been seen by many as a demonstration of his determination to continue with (economic) Reform and Opening up. On this trip he impressed many by proceeding in a much less flashy fashion than most expect from Chinese gov’t officials. While his recent promotion of waste-preventing guidelines and anti-corruption policies show a strong desire to limit these ills of the Party, there is little hope that these alone will make a difference.
Xi is right to focus on these issues early on in his leadership, as graft and abuse of power are widely seen as the biggest threats to the Party, but he fails to recognize that these are unavoidable consequences of the current political structure. As it stands in China, the flow of resources is still largely controlled by a massive bureaucratic system. This gives a large number of individuals power over very valuable, finite commodities; which provides them the opportunity to extract bribes and use their positions for their own personal benefit. Because these petty officials are only beholden to the Party, and not the people affected by their actions, there is little need for them to produce results that would help their communities (and the results they produce are generally in effort to further their own careers). Without massive reforms, corruption will continue to be major problem.
Furthermore, as we’ve seen time and again, China’s leaders are excellent at producing laws, edicts, speeches, and slogans; but are incapable of ensuring their enforcement. There is little reason to believe that Xi’s latest efforts will produce a different outcome than the dozens of similar speeches made during Hu Jintao’s time. The problem is that to date, anti-corruption efforts have relied heavily on gov’t investigators instead of public oversight. In reality, this is simply creating another opportunity for graft, as these investigators can use their power to extract bribes from other officials.
I believe that the current strategy of the Party is simply to present the appearance of a clean up. After all, if many people in China believe that the Communist Party of the 50’s and 60’s was incorruptible (even though officials feasted through Mao’s great famine), than it should be possible to convince them of this again while maintaining the “perks” of officialdom that produce the unquestioning loyalty that the Party requires of it servants.
Last week though an open letter to Xi Jinping outlined clear initiatives that could be taken if the Party was really serious about cleaning up corruption, instead of just giving the appearance of caring. Signed by 65 Chinese intellectuals, legal professionals, teachers, engineers, media professionals and people from other professions, the letter reads as follows:
“Corruption is a very serious social problem in China, as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping said on November 17, 2012, during a study session of the Political Bureau, “The problem of corruption is becoming increasingly severe, and could ultimately bring down the Party and the country.” On November 19, 2012, the head of the CPC Commission for Discipline Inspection, Wang Qishan, gave a speech in the meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision also stressing the importance of “steadfast opposition to corruption”.
But over the years, the anti-corruption slogans, campaign-style anti-corruption efforts have not been able to solve the increasingly serious problem of corruption. On July 11, 2010, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the CPC Central Organization Department, the Ministry of Supervision jointly issued “Rules Regarding Cadres Reporting Personal Matters” that stipulate that cadres at and above the division level (处级, lower-middle level officials) must report personal income, real estate holdings, and investments of his/her own, as well as that of the spouse and children living with them.” But the information has not been made public, and did not work toward eradicating corruption.
The fundamental way to solve the problem of corruption is transparency. In 1766, in order to limit the power of the king, the Swedish Parliament enacted “freedom of the press,” which gave the Swedish citizens the right to access information about the property of all officials. Over 240 years, the official property declaration system has proven to be an effective weapon in fighting corruption, and many of the countries in the world have emulated it, including China’s Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
In the face of this grim situation, we demand that the official property publicity to be started from the top, not only because “high-level officials display better ideological and political quality, their job performance stands out, and they also enjoy a relatively high degree of respect by the masses,” but more importantly, because senior officials wield enormous public resources, and hold the power to affect the well-being of China’s 1.3 billion citizens.
During the 18th Party Congress, Shanghai Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng said, as soon as the central authorities made the decision, he could easily make his information public, “because I do not have much property.” The same day, the Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang said, answering questions about official property declarations, that Guangdong is implementing pilot official property declaration system, and will continue exploring it. During last year’s Two Meetings, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian said that, if officials are to make public of their properties, he would be the first to do so. From these public statements, we see that the conditions are ripe for officials’ property holdings to be known to the public.
As prescribed in Article 41 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to put forward criticisms of, and suggestions for, anyone working in any state organ.” As citizens of the People’s Republic of China, we ask the 205 most senior officials of China, as listed below, set an example by publishing the income, real estate, investment and other holdings of their own, their spouses’ and their children’s to curb the corrupt behavior of officials from the source, and to build a better China.”
It seems as though Xi would benefit from the wisdom of his newly minted catch phrase, “empty talk harms the country,” as it stands, this trip to Guangdong is nothing more than another hollow gesture that is not substantially different than any of the anti-corruption measures that have come before. If he wants the country to benefit fully from the idea that “hard work prospers the nation,” his first step should be implementing a transparent system for reporting the wealth of officials.