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Guo Yushan, September 22, 2016
On September 22, after nearly two years in detention and a trial in August, lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖), my friend, will finally face his sentence.
Whatever he’s been charged with, it’s clear to everyone that it was only because he defended me that he has been imprisoned, and suffered as he has to this day.
In May 2014, Xia Lin got dragged into a number of disputes because of his involvement in Pu Zhiqiang’s (浦志强) case. One day in mid June, me, Xia Lin, and Kaiping (黄凯平) were sharing drinks at Beijing Worker’s Stadium, lamenting Pu’s case. At a break in the conversation, Xia Lin suddenly said to me: “If you get sent to prison in the future, I’ll be your lawyer. I’ll fight your case publicly to the end and I’ll do whatever it takes.” I replied that, of course, if I’m thrown in jail, fight it by all means, fight it as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences for me. That we concluded, with Kaiping as witness, raising our hands in toast and draining our cups.
Who’d have thought that the day would come so soon? Three months after the drinks at Worker’s Stadium, both Kaiping and I were taken into custody [in October 2014]. Xia Lin indeed defended me. A month later, he was also detained. In the time that followed I was bounced between three detention centers, while he was kept in the Beijing First Detention Center. A year later I was released on bail — but they kept him behind bars because he refused to supply a confession. Another year passed, and only now is he going to meet a verdict.
We’ve all paid the price we expected.
The price is bound to be exacted, given that we’ve chosen our stance toward this country since when we were young. Xia Lin made his choice in the flush of his youth, as part of the 1989 generation, choosing to go to Tiananmen Square, wearying his spirit in the struggle with his peers to improve this country. He again made his choice when he was a student at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law (西南政法学院), where he made an open vow never to be a lackey or collaborator with evil.
This he achieved. He never wavered from his course for 27 years. From Guizhou to Beijing, from a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer: the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul stirring.
As for the price of a life to be paid — Xia Lin, like me, is ready for it. He’s much more awake than I to the reality of how the system reacts, and its brutality.
Our lives have been interwoven together, as if by fate, from our first meeting in Mao Haojian’s (茅海建) course on modern Chinese history at Peking University. In 2004 after fellow students and I were surrounded on the Jingyuan Lawn on campus, where we protested [over the death of a female student], he came with law books and an attorney contract, walking around the lawn, always within reach. In 2008 during the Deng Yujiao case (邓玉娇案), he was in Badong County, Hubei, and I rushed there from Beijing to be a help to him.
In 2012, after I drove Chen Guangcheng to the American Embassy, Xia Lin sat in my study and combed through all the possible charges the authorities could resort to for reprisal, from “subversion of state power” to “illegal business operations.” He analyzed and whittled through them one by one. Two years later, when I found myself in prison, all that probing became precious legal experience.
We all know the fates we’ll come to assume in history. Both Xia Lin and myself, and so, so many of our colleagues, are all fated to be the stepping stones, the paving stones, for the age of the future. Accepting this humble place in history is our honor.
As for what lays ahead, we’ve not changed what has animated us from the beginning, and we won’t.
Whether we’re slandered or given heavy sentences — what surprise will it be in today’s China? When I was first arrested, I repeated to myself, and to the authorities, over and over again: If I were to be sentenced, one day will be the same as a decade. With Xia Lin, who is so proud, it’s the same.
The September 22 sentence might be, say, 11 years imprisonment, or it might be 2 years, but however many years it is, it will have had nothing to do with the law. This is our fate. We have no choice but to accept it.
Such is our world — so top up the goblet. On September 22 I’ll be outside the court with wine, waiting for the outcome. But for Xia Lin, for myself, for the judge Yi Daqing (易大庆), for the 101 Special Investigation Team assigned to my and Xia Lin’s case, this isn’t the conclusion. It’s just the beginning.
September 20, 2016
Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) was the head of the now disabled Transition Institute (传知行), an independent think tank in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. Mr. Guo was one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng公盟). He was detained in October 2014, tortured during detention, and released on bail in September 2015.
Also by Guo Yushan:
Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, August 10, 2013.
The Sword of Damocles Hanging Over Every Chinese NGO: Thoughts on the Sin of Transition Institute and the Uselessness to Stay “Apolitical”
By Lu Chai, published: May 21, 2015
“[F]ew options remain. You can turn your back on groups that are targeted and in trouble, and continue to advertise your own abstention from all things political. Or you can face up, with honesty, to the reality that civil society has little space to work in, muster your courage, and raise objections.”
The Beijing public security authorities have issued an indictment opinion that hammers the first nail into the coffin for the Chinese nonprofit think tank Transition Institute (TI, 传知行). The opinion recommends that the procuratorate indict Guo Yushan (郭玉闪）and He Zhengjun (何正军)on the charge of “illegal business operation.”
There isn’t much to say about the case itself. A lot of solid commentary with a sound command of the law have already been written about the fact that the accused are innocent, and that the crime in question either cannot be established, or amounts to deliberate framing.
Here are the three parts of evidence the indictment lays out:
First, the acceptance of foreign funds. According to recent statistics, the proportion that foreign funds constitute in NGO aid in China is plunging rapidly, but still clocks in at 15%. A significant number of Chinese groups used to draw the bulk of their support from foreign funders. Even as those funders are gradually sidelined, a certain number of groups are still recipients of their assistance. Moreover, given that many foreign funders have supported the charitable work of poverty alleviation and disaster aid in China, singling them out this way smacks of demonization. The fact that this funding has now become the hook with which the authorities are reeling in these two defendants is also reminiscent of the harsh tactics with which Russia went after foreign funders.
Second, TI is accused of investigating and analyzing social issues. Its main activities of analyzing social issues, writing reports and holding lectures are hardly unfamiliar to us; these are the standard ways in which public interest groups conduct their work. As for the promotion of structural social and livelihood reforms, such is the mission of public interest groups. TI also hardly differs from other groups in this regard.
Third, TI is charged with printing and publishing its own reports without permission. The so-called “illegal business operation” amounts to no more than compiling research data into books which were then printed and distributed. If TI had bought a government-issued book number, they would have had to pay another 20,000-plus RMB ($3,220). That is the reason they self-published their books and reports without planning to sell them on the market. May I ask which civil society group is swimming in so much cash, that they would buy an official book number for each publication they issue? The target audience for public interest content is quite small as it is, and this type of publication has no chance of survival within a market-based and censored system.
For example, the opinion from public security mentions that TI published a number of books over a span of seven years, however the total was calculated to be 19,000 copies only. If we put this in market terms, any publishing company that do things this way would have lost its shirt a long time ago. Therefore, the only way NGOs can overcome such controls is to do their best not to apply for book numbers, and to give away the publications they compile. Groups give away free books to grow their impact, and in the best scenario these gifts ramp up donations. Groups pray that someone would go home and send them money, but would not object if the reader pulls out some bills on the spot. Nonetheless, it is in the end this most uneventful part of NGO work that became the core allegation brought by public security against the Transition Institute.
Regardless of whether we knew of, or understood, TI, or if we agree with or support the group, when faced with the criminal charges against Guo Yushan and He Zhengjun, what stance are we to take? A look at the indictment opinion makes it clear that virtually all Chinese NGOs have acted in ways that are considered by the authorities to be criminal. That is to say, if all other factors are excluded, then virtually all NGOs have already been tripped up by and guilty of the crime of “illegal business operation.” With this sword of Damocles hanging over us, can we still afford to hide our heads in the sand? Perhaps we still can. This is not the first time something like this has happened to groups in our profession. However, a lot of people are acting, ostrich-like, as if what happened to TI is an isolated case and not symptomatic of the general pressure all of us share.
For those who choose to poke their heads in the sand, they draw their line at what they deem to be “political.” The reflex of a lot of people, when they hear about the tribulations visited on the Transition Institute, is to say “Those guys are too political with the things they do,” and muse that those of us who want to get things done in China must be quite cautious and take politics out of what we do.
By sheer coincidence, due to long-standing and random factors, the head of Transition Institute was involved in the Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚)case, so the organization got caught up in a political incident. However, TI has for a long time very conspicuously insisted on taking politics out of what they do; the staff have been involved in politics and know it well. Compared to the vast majority of Chinese NGOs, they have a much more calibrated and precise grasp on what is politically sensitive. Judging from both the group’s strategic plan and concrete action, it is very hard to find another action-oriented group that toes the line so closely to avoid political sensitivity. We can also see, in the treatment of Guo and He, that the authorities were in fact not able to put together a political angle on the case, and ultimately had to settle with “illegal business operation” as their rationale.
At the same time, thirty and more individuals are being charged with subversion or inciting subversion. “Illegal business operation,” relative to subversion crimes, are couched in more gracious terms, even though the sentence sought is just as long.
Given the way this crime is defined, which NGO can declare with confidence that it won’t be “violating the law?” Never mind “illegal business operation;” there are a whole bunch of crimes no one has ever heard of waiting in the wings, ready to pounce on their prey at any moment.
That is how absurd our reality is. The organization that insisted the most on taking politics out of what they did and now mired in crisis, is considered too political by groups that are even more careful about not being political. Let’s be honest about what we are facing: there is not a fixed political ceiling over our head.
Can NGOs, simply by announcing that they will never participate in politics, escape the ubiquitous snare? We still don’t know what happened with the shutdown of Liren rural libraries (立人图书馆) or the harassment of Aisi Youth Group (爱思青年). As for action-oriented environmental groups, they must in the end help the victims of the worst pollution cases challenge state-owned enterprises and, by extension, the government. Whether it is tipping off the government or pushing for transparency, people have gone to jail for these most reasonable steps. All that the five young feminists wanted to do was to fight sexual harassment, and for their pains they were taken on a weeks-long tour of detention centers. You can’t count the number of times those who take the initiative to depoliticize issues and choose the most prudent strategy for what they do, still end up irking the authorities.
If we ignore these problems, we can say that the relationship between civil society groups and the government is of course not an antagonistic one, nor do these groups have the wherewithal to take such a stance. Until now, the pressures from the state follow no clear logic and processes that can be identified. As the steak on the chopping block, we see no inspired way to escape the blade. Even One Foundation (壹基金), headed by the star Jet Li and the epitome of innocuous charity, could not presume on an exception. Pigeonholed as the enemy of government-affiliated charities, and bombarded in a smear campaign orchestrated by the Maoist left, One Foundation was pilloried for its emphasis on being independent.
“Political” is a neutral term, and its use and meaning are not limited to political parties. All public issues are political. We have nowhere to hide. The less social space there is in a country, the more politicized social problems become. It’s not that you are choosing to be political, but that politics would pick you.
If we take it one step further, can those groups that announce they would never become political targets still be in a position to help move society forward for the better? Many conflicts are continuing to emerge. Since NGOs are all about being the voice of public interest, advancing social progress, and solving problems, then they will inevitably have a hand in overcoming social divisions and challenging vested interest. If they stay away from absolutely everything that the state hints is off-limits, then in all honesty they won’t be able to do anything. It would be more straightforward for such groups to join the ranks of government employees outright, than to shuffle along as an extension unit of the state without pay.
Philanthropy groups have to challenge the state monopoly on the sector; environmental groups must take on government malfeasance and companies breaking the law; labor groups have to dare to defend the rights of workers; and animal activism clashes with antiquated assumptions. The way things are now, the only absolutely safe group is one that does nothing; any group that does something must necessarily run afoul of vested interest. And so long as the group does something, eventually it will inevitably cross the political red line and be met with government pressure in one form or the other.
Therefore, few options remain. You can turn your back on groups that are targeted and in trouble, and continue to advertise your own abstention from all things political. Or you can face up, with honesty, to the reality that civil society has little space to work in, muster your courage, and raise objections.
As the object of top-down controls, civil society is one indivisible community. The treatment TI received at the hands of the authorities is meant as a warning to all groups not to cross the line and to stay out of the prohibited zone. However, we have never been told even once where the boundaries are.
Groups can recognize that they belong to the same community. Or, they can see themselves as tiny clusters set apart and distinguished by their own specialized “depoliticizing” skills, all the while chanting the magic formula under their breath: This time it is only the Jews that are taken away, and this time the Catholics. When those within a disadvantaged population do not identify with the whole, but keep on choosing to cut away those who drop out of the pack, to hold their peace and to watch which way the tide turns, civil society can only grow more isolated until its collective demise. The future of civil society in China is exactly what those disadvantaged groups its represents are doing: United they stand, and say no together.
Groups that embraced political aspirations had been shut down, followed by those who did not. If we do nothing, where will the sword fall next?
Transition Institute releases a list of its alleged “illegal publications” (in Chinese), April 29, 2015.
For Whom the Bell Tolls: One Chinese NGO’s Alleged Crime of “Illegal Business Operation, Wan Yanhai, May 15, 2015.
China’s new foreign NGO law will help silence critics, Maya Wang, March 25, 2015.
(Translated by Louisa Chiang)
Chinese original 《传知行之罪：每个公益机构头上的达摩克利斯之剑》
A translation of a VOA report in Chinese, published: March 11, 2015
Professor Xia Min of CUNY: “Xi’s fear is exactly that the maturing of civil society will organically provide, with the organizing capacity and solidarity within Chinese society, a platform for the building of political parties.”
A documentary produced by the well-known investigative journalist Chai Jing, formerly with CCTV, Under the Dome, has struck a deep chord in China. At the end of the documentary, Chai mentions that as China’s revised Environmental Protection Law is implemented, civil society environmental groups will have the unprecedented right to bring public interest lawsuits against polluting companies.
However, according to a Beijing News (《新京报》) article , since the law went into effect in January 2015, only three suits have been brought out of more than 700 environmental groups accredited to bring public interest litigation. The newspaper reports that most of these are organizations run by the government, including many trade associations, that are lukewarm at best about such lawsuits. Only a handful of civil society groups are “both able and willing” to try. The vast majority of civil society NGOs often lack both funding and energy for such an undertaking, nor do they have law professionals on board.
The dilemma of public interest litigation Chinese environmental NGOs face is a reflection of what Chinese civil society looks like today. According to available statistics, China has more than half a million NGOs that are registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. However, a significant number of these are semi- or quasi-official organizations, some of which indeed only parade with an NGO front in order to qualify for government funding. The vast majority of the small number of independent civil society groups work in areas that are not considered politically sensitive, such as charity, environmental protection and the rights of women and children. In addition, China has another 1.5 million civil society groups that are not formally registered. These groups are likely to meet with pressures from the government if they venture into politically sensitive areas such as worker rights, the rule of law, or the rights of HIV patients [infected through government-sanctioned malfeasance].
Deteriorating Conditions for Independent Civil Society Groups
According to the New York Times, China’s independent civil society groups have “…long struggled to survive inside China’s ill-defined, shifting margins of official tolerance.” However, this sliver of margin for NGOs is shrinking further. Within the last several months, the Chinese government has targeted many NGOs.
Chinese human rights lawyer and former member of Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng, 公盟), Teng Biao, said that since Xi Jinping assumed power, the environment for independent NGOs has deteriorated. “Groups that used to be able to do things, such as the Transition Institute (传知行) and Liren rural libraries (立人图书馆) that were not considered too sensitive, have now been shut down. A lot of the people in charge of the groups were arrested and sentenced. The government’s controls on funding sources, as well as its ideological control, are clearly tightening,” he said.
In May 2013, the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee issued, for internal circulation, the “Report on the Current Status in the Area of Ideology,” known as “Seven Don’t” for short, in which Party members are asked to wage a struggle against “dangerous” Western values. “Do not mention civil society” ranks third among the seven forbidden topics.
Xia Ming, a professor of political science at CUNY, said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with Xi Jinping at its center, sees ideas about civil society and “small government, big society,” promoted by the West, as two prominent and gigantic traps Western nations set up for China. “This is why last year we saw enormous destruction visited on some Chinese NGOs, with the most symbolic landmark incident being the arrest of Xu Zhiyong and approximately one hundred other people in his team; he himself got a four-year sentence,” Xia said.
The founder of Open Constitution Initiative (OCI) and constitutional scholar Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in January 2014. Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court ruled that Xu was guilty of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Xu Zhiyong’s imprisonment, as well as the long-term harassment of other civil society groups, throws into relief the Chinese rulers’ zero-tolerance policy toward any societal force that may pose a threat to its power. Teng Biao said: “They are afraid that civil society NGOs, including some human rights defense groups and defenders, are growing in strength, and thereby becoming a challenge to the government. To be blunt, they are afraid that peaceful evolution, Color Revolution, will endanger the party’s rule.”
Limited Space for Civil Society Organizations
Other viewpoints hold, however, that the Chinese government does not take a monolithic stance towards NGOs. According to the Economist, some Party members believe that it is impossible to completely bar the growing middle class from social participation, and carefully limited participation can help the CCP win popular support. By 2014, four types of civil society groups can freely register, and they are trade associations, science and technology groups, charity groups, and groups dedicated to social service. Karla Simon, author of the book Civil Society in China, is confident that as the registration threshold is lowered, Chinese NGOs are likely to double within the next several years.
Tightening Control on Funding Sources of NGOs
Even so, CCP still insists on tightly controlling the funding sources of NGOs. The Economist reports that money for a lot of Chinese NGOs comes directly from local governments. In 2012, Guangdong provincial government gave as much as 466 million RMB to NGOs, while Yunnan province spent 300 million. However, in order to receive funding, civil society groups need sponsorship from entities with government ties, and they are not allowed to solicit funds from the public, even though they have permission to receive corporate and individual funding. This means that, through funding channels, the government can effectively rein in the vast majority of NGOs.
In addition, the Chinese government has recently stepped up monitoring of NGOs that receive foreign donations. In November 2014, Guangzhou government issued “Management Rules of Social Organizations,” putting in place the requirement that, effective January 1, 2015, NGOs that receive foreign funding must submit a written report to registration and relevant authorities 15 days before the receipt of funds at the latest. This requirement in effect blocks the funding conduit for the majority of labor NGOs which rely on foreign funding. According to the New York Times, employees of Transition Institute said that the bulk of the 3-4 million RMB of their organization’s budget is from overseas. Such overseas connections increasingly convince the Chinese government that Transition Institute is a dangerous entity. In its opinion, overseas funding is a tool for subversion.
Sometimes, even when NGO funding is domestic, they are still targeted by the government. Xia Ming of CUNY said, “Even when your money is from within China, the government still targets you quite harshly. One of the more obvious examples is Xu Zhiyong getting money from Wang Gongquan (王功权), a billionaire, who was arrested for a time too. This is the best kind of warning to make sure that Chinese private entrepreneurs would not get mixed up in supporting civil society organizations.” Wang Gongquan is a co-founder of the New Citizens Movement headed by Xu Zhiyong. On September 13, 2013, the Beijing police placed Wang in criminal detention, allegedly for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Wang was paroled in January, 2014.
China is also ramping up controls on foreign NGOs in China. Fu Ying, a spokesperson for the National People’s Congress (NPC), told the media before the Third Session of the 12th NPC began, that China needs to better manage foreign NGOs from the standpoint of national security. She said that legislation will be undertaken so that foreign NGO activities can abide by them. According to Chinese media reports, the Foreign NGO Management Law will require foreign NGOs to register and receive government approval before setting up branches in China.
Anxiety about a Color Revolution in China
Chan Kin-man (陈健民), a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Director at the Civil Society Research Centre, believed that even though Chinese NGOs are growing exponentially in number, the space for their activities is shrinking. Xia Min of CUNY said that CCP will not, in all probability, allow independent civil society groups to develop unfettered. “The outcome of deepening civil society development must be the organizing of political parties,” he said. “Therefore, I think Xi’s fear is exactly that the maturing of civil society will organically provide, with the organizing capacity and solidarity within Chinese society, a platform for the building of political parties.”
Judging from the series of steps the government has taken towards NGOs recently, while it may have sensed already the enormous potential of these groups, they are held to be dispensable up against the goal of sustaining CCP rule.
 I was unable to find this article in Beijing News. It might have been censored. – The editor.
National security? China ready to slam door on foreign NGOs, the Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 2015.
In China, Civic Groups’ Freedom, and Followers, Are Vanishing, New York Times, February 26, 2015.
Chinese civil society: Beneath the glacier, The Economist, April, 2014.
(Translated by Louisa Chiang)
By Zhai Minglei, published: February 4, 2015 (Chinese original was published in October, 2014.)
Get a glimpse of one of the quietest but most admirable NGO activists in China who has been held incommunicado since October 10th, 2014. – The Editor
At this very moment, I am in Shanghai, jotting down some memories of mine. In China, some people are often silently disappeared for what their conscience has led them to do, and this is more terrifying than death. In the last two days, two of my good friends, Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) and Kou Yanding (寇延丁), were detained. When something like this happens to your own friends, you feel the sort of anger and helplessness that is difficult to convey unless experienced first-hand. Perhaps China will see a new writing style that commemorates and advocates for disappeared friends with a conscience. In such dark times, writing makes no difference, but it can add some warmth to our souls that are chilled through. Fewer people know about Kou, so I’ll talk about her first.
It all started with a goof-up. I got a letter one day from someone who wanted to meet me, saying that they would like to understand my inner journey, given that I had done a few things in the NGO sphere. The letter was signed, “Taishan Kou Yanding,” and the language was concise and direct. I thought it was by a foreigner, a man who must have given himself this Chinese name to show his appreciation of the movie “Tarzan.” When I picked up the phone, a woman’s voice spoke. I chuckled for a long time to myself. [Translator’s note: Taishan’ can be both a famous mountain range in Northern China or “Tarzan.”]
We agreed to meet at Zeng Jinyan’s (曾金燕) office in Beijing. I got there early. Walking by a lawn, I noticed a woman sitting on a bench, not because of her looks, but rather the calmness about her. She sat there with such serenity that the world seems to settle down around her. My instincts told me that was Kou, but I just smiled and went upstairs.
She came in on time, and indeed it was the woman I had seen. Our interview went quite smoothly. I felt a natural trust toward her, and did not hold back any of my pain, apprehension, and frustration. Afterwards, she wrote the article Zhai Minglei: The Child Who Spoke the Truth. I sensed true empathy in her.
That title has it right; I am a curious child inside, and just had to ask her why she called herself “Taishan Kou Yanding.” The answer was quite straightforward. Kou grew up in Tai’an, in the shadows of the Tai Mountain. She owns a cottage in the mountains, and would go and hole up there in wintertime. Then she told me about her days there: the wisteria-flower pancakes, the hikers passing by, the fresh milk from the farm, the flowers in the yard of her cottage, and how time flowed by. She then warmly invited me and my wife to spend some time there. Her eyes sparkled, white skeins lurked in her hair, and she was sensitive and a bit shy. She may have been a freelancer, but was in fact closer to a hermit who stands apart from the world’s toil and strife.
During the interview, I told her my favorite story, and she wrote it down. A scorpion wants to get to the other side of a stream, and asks the frog to take it, promising not to sting. Midstream, the scorpion stings the frog anyway. The sinking frog weeps and asks, “Why did you sting me? Don’t you know we will now both die?” The scorpion, also crying, replies: “I know I should not have, but I could not help it, because it is my nature.” Yanding wrote in her article:
“There is bound to be some people like this, whose yearning for freedom surpasses their expectations of safety, who will strike out onto a path of their own after much confusion, exploration, and uncertainty.”
Now, it would seem that this is a prophecy both about me and about herself.
At the time, the civil society work I was doing inevitably came with some risk.
Yanding wrote about a question, intended for my wife, that she had in the end given up asking:
The first time I met Zhai Minglei was in the afternoon; he had to catch the evening train back to Shanghai. I saw him off at the boarding gate of the Beijing station. It was a direct overnight train. However, early next morning I got a call looking for him. He did not get home on time, and his wife Cao Xia, worried that something had happened, hunted for him high and low. Turned out Zhai was just stuck in traffic, and his phone battery died; it was a false alarm.
I eventually met this beautiful woman with a sweet voice, and saw the magazine they co-edited. It featured an article she wrote titled, “My Beloved Died;” it is a record of a dream where her beloved leaves her, and it is a dream of wrenching pain. After I finished reading it, I put the magazine back, and only spoke of the views of my hometown around Tai Mountain, rather than the topic I had planned on, where she and I would talk about both the fear and the courage of what they were doing.”
This is the kind of woman Yanding is: Full of empathy.
Because of our similarities, we became friends on our first meeting.
Later on, some colleagues and I started a magazine, Civil Society (《民间》). I was the chief editor. We had two and a half reporters, one of whom was Yanding. She wrote a lot of good pieces for the magazine, including the protest of Shenzhen residents against a tunnel project. “Act to Change Lives” was our core tenet, and became the title of one of the books Yanding eventually wrote. During those three unforgettable years, Yanding did what everyone else did, staying in farmhouses, spending the night in a sleeping bag, and interviewing bona fide citizens (as opposed to imperial subjects.)
The government forced Civil Society to close its doors. I continued to speak up through the Internet as a citizen reporter. Before the shutdown, Yanding had been running around Sichuan Province, doing relief work for children survivors of the Wenchuan earthquake in the Qingchuan area. Her kind do not waver. Anxious from the work, she would sometimes pour out her thoughts to everyone she runs into; she was full of those children.
I asked her why she picked Qingchuan (青川). She said it was because most of the media coverage was on Wenchuan (汶川) and Beichuan (北川); Qingchuan, devastated to the same degree, was overlooked and received the fewest resources, and needed help from NGO workers the most.
She went to every corner of the villages of Qingchuan.
At that time, whenever she saw me she would tell me about the stories from Qingchuan – about its children. Sometimes I did not even have the heart to look at her eyes, because there was really so little I could do.
Two or three years after the earthquake, Wenchuan was gradually forgotten. The nonprofit groups that had made extravagant promises pulled out of the desolate disaster zone, one by one. Yanding still threw herself into Sichuan; she kept at her project for six years, and showed no sign of letting up.
In 2012, I turned toward the cultural arena, while Yanding was still busy on the front line of civil society work. The true heir to the spirit of Civil Society: “Do What Is Impossible with Our Feet on the Ground, and Act to Change Lives,” is not I, the erstwhile chief editor, but Yanding.
She is no longer the shy hermit we knew, but a heroine.
She and Liang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕) went to see the blind lawyer Chen Guangchen, who was then under house arrest, at the risk of being assaulted. She was as calm and sorrowful as always when she told me what she had seen on her visit.
The next time I saw her, she and Yuan Tianpeng (袁天鹏), Gao Tian (高天), and Yang Yunbiao (杨云标) teamed up to give trainings on parliamentary rules, otherwise known as Robert’s Rules of Order, in rural areas. She invited me to join them. She had arrived; no longer did she seem rather unsure of herself, as when she was seeking my advice on how to help disabled artists.
Yuan Tianpeng, a graduate of Alaska University in the United States, loves to drink Coke. Yanding went to quite a bit of trouble getting him to convert American parliamentary procedures into the sort of language farmers can listen to. In the most celebrated true story, Yuan, in a fit of excitement, lifted his right arm high and threw down his left, and shouted to his audience: “This is what procedural justice is all about!” The farmers, as was to be expected, merely stared, and a deflated Yuan lowered his arm.
Yanding, therefore, had to take this procedural justice expert in hand, getting him in touch with the speech and mentality of farmers.
Tianpeng compressed Robert’s Rules into thirteen accessible parts. I took it one step further and turned them into jingles. The participants put the jingles to music on the spot and started singing, and in the end even redubbed them “Rhubarb and Cabbage Rules.” Yunbiao, Gao Tian, Tianpeng and I are all men. Yanding, whose gentleness and delicate attention to details set her apart, was the bridge between us and the communities. She arranged the filming of events, took notes, and sifted through them with a comb. Those who act do so in silence and adapt as needed. We slept on benches, sometimes chilled to a shiver, but the fire in our hearts never went out. Her book, “Operable Democracy,” came out of the notes from those events. It is a good book that slowly wins you over and helps you savor the goodness of democracy.
Yanding is no longer young, and I can call her Older Sister. She has absolutely no interest in fame or fortune; everything derives from the goodness of her nature. Despite everything, there is a number of angelic beings in this world, and Yanding should be counted among them. Unlike many men who like to dwell on court intrigue and power struggles, she only talks about the most concrete details of nonprofit work. Nor does she, like some women, have time for gossip. She is always on the road and in the field.
Because we are such good friends, I never made any effort to remember what she said, or to keep letters from her. Now that she is gone, I find that I don’t have anything to hold on to, maybe because she never held forth to impress others, down to earth and modest as she is. Even when she gave talks she rarely talked about herself, but focused on the people featured in her books. She has no tinge of egotism about her.
Her inner peace often made me aware how beset with sound and fury I was. I don’t remember her ever running after material gain, or thinking any food beneath her. Every time she stayed with us, she came lugging a lone hiking backpack that held no makeup. Where is she now, and who is interrogating her? I cannot imagine how a woman who finds even a raised voice grating can cope with the harsh cross-examinations.
And what kind of accusations are in store for her? Any allegation of crime against her can only be a joke and an insult. “Picking quarrels and making trouble?” She only makes things happen. I have never so much as seen her argue with anybody. Subverting the state? How did this witch hunt single out a defenseless woman like Kou? Unlike the conscientious objector Lin Zhao (林昭), Yanding has never even discussed her political beliefs in public. What other crimes can the authorities have in mind? Bring them on!
All the accusations against her can be rolled into one, and that is her nature: Good, selfless and upright. This is the sort of crime that the scorpion admits to, and so would I, and so would she.
Zhai Minglei (翟明磊) is a Chinese journalist and a well-known activist in the Chinese NGO field. He was a reporter for the Southern Weekly for about three years from 2001 – 2003, and the magazine Civil Society (《民间》) he founded in 2005 was shut down in 2007 by the government. His most recently book A Big Incident Happened (《出大事了》, available in bookstores in Hong Kong) examines major public events during 2003-2012 where citizen activists played significant roles in shaping the development as well as the outcome of the events. He lives in Shanghai.
Friends Gone to Jail – Chinese Activists Kou Yanding and Guo Yushan, by Zeng Jinyan, October 30, 2014
Just Man Guo Yushan, by Xiao Shu, November 9, 2014 (the original was published in the New York Times Chinese website).
(Translated by Louisa Chiang)
By Xiao Shu, published: January 11, 2015
I no longer have the desire to argue about the treatment of Guo Yushan and his colleagues from a legal perspective. We know that “illegal business practices” was the charge for which Guo was formally arrested on December 6th, after remaining in extralegal detention for more than two months. Back in 2007, the authorities used the same charge to sentence activist Guo Feixiong, while in 2013 it was the charge of “disturbing public order” that landed Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing and other members of the New Citizens Movement in jail. Today, the charge of “illegal business” has been used on Guo Yushan and, as with before, it is never about the law .
The punishment of its citizens stands at the core of the regime. “Class struggle” (“阶级斗争” was of course about punishment, as was the “crackdown on peaceful regime change” (“反和平演变”). Today they have “stability maintenance” system in place and they mount “opposition to color revolutions,” but again, these are just other ways of smiting dissent. Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋), was able to boast that he’d never attacked anyone in his life. Who among the leaders today could make such a claim?
Just last week, Shanghai suffered a horrible tragedy in which 35 people were trampled to death. Did they have any warning mechanism for such a tragedy?
For those who died in the recent highway collapse in Guizhou, where was the government’s early warning?
Looking back a bit further, what did the government do to prevent 300,000 infants from being poisoned by the melamine-tainted milk formula? When, during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the poorly constructed school buildings which collapsed like tofu took the lives of the thousands of young students, where was their prevention and warning?
When we string together this list of tragedies, it becomes very long indeed, and the moans of those lost souls becomes equally loud.
China might be “rising” in the world, but it is a country with no defenses against disasters, man-made or natural. China’s leaders are only interested in keeping a tight rein on the people, and they are skillful doing that with unchecked monopoly on power and resources. In case after case, they aggravate sufferings by treating families of disaster victims as potential trouble-makers and placing them under strict control. The cruelty of it is beyond the pale.
Everywhere one looks there are public hazards, with the most obvious being the absence of effective restrictions on state power.
Whereas they destroy, Guo Yushan saves. When the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng fled from his illegal imprisonment, it was Guo Yushan who rushed to his assistance. He was there too, for months on end with his team, to help the victims of the melamine scandal.
Guo Yushan would be the happiest man in the world if he could live in peace and solitude to be the scholar that he has always wanted to be. But he happens to be someone who is unable to turn his back on the injustices and sufferings around him. He has had no choice but to become involved, and today the government’s revenge has finally been meted out.
He was aware of the consequences of his efforts. If you insist on saying that he is guilty of “illegal business activities,” then it must be remembered that his business was to save others. He believes that the rise and fall of a regime have its own logic beyond any individual’s control, but in China where there is no safeguard of basic human rights, the regime manufactures cycles of human rights disasters, and it is imperative that we help those in need in any possible way.
Coming to the aid of others can be perceived and treated a challenge to the existing political order, as the arrest of Guo Yushan shows abundantly.
Xiao Shu (笑蜀), the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly and the Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, and an active participant in the New Citizens Movement. He is currently a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
Just Man Guo Yushan, by Xiao Shu, November 9, 2014.
Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan, August 10, 2013
Exile in My Own Country – A Letter to Domestic Security Officer Li in Beijing, by Yang Zili (Transition Institute researcher), December 13, 2014
China Arrests Activist amid a Clampdown, the New York Times, January 6, 2014.
Chinese Scholar Who Helped in an Escape Is Detained for ‘Picking Quarrels’, the New York Times, October 12, 2014.
Buffett-Style Dinner Bids Woo Chinese for Just Society, Bloomberg, August 20, 2013.
(Translation based on an edited version with the author’s permission)
By Yang Zili, published: December 13, 2014
The Transition Institute researcher is on the run, and his letter provides clues (or no clues) about the recent detention of Guo Yushan and other TI personnel. – The editor
Dear Officer Li,
This is Yang Zili (杨子立), a veteran employee of Transition Institute (传知行社会经济研究所). For lack of a safe way to reach you, I decided to write you this open letter, which I hope you will see, to let you know my thoughts and my position. Out of my own initiative, I also want let the public know what has happened to Transition Institute (TI), now that all of its main leaders have been detained.
Among the current employees of TI, two are detained, and one is criminally detained. If we are to include former colleagues of TI, there are a total of six who have been taken into custody, if we don’t count Xia Lin (夏霖), the lawyer who represents Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), the founder of TI. One after another, TI employees were taken away or summoned for interrogation, and in most cases, their homes were raided. Some have been released, perhaps out of sheer luck, while others have not been heard from. Like a herd of sheep waiting to be slaughtered, we watched our colleagues disappear without protest, indeed without so much as a whimper. We are merely confused and afraid.
We don’t understand why a blow like this is being dealt to a NGO such as TI that engages in social policy research. We did not advocate for street action. Even when we were holding a purely academic seminar, we tried not to do anything that would tick off the domestic security police officers. On the struggle for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, thousands of miles away, TI was nonetheless careful not to take any sort of public stand Why, then, did this strike fall on our heads, out of the blue? We are afraid because we don’t know why. Nor do we know what to expect next. Didn’t the Communist party emphasize rule of law in its recent 4th Plenary Meeting? How can your colleagues disregard the basics of the Criminal Procedure Law? Guo Yushan and Huang Kaiping (黄凯平) have been detained for over 50 days already. If they have been formally arrested, why have the authorities not notified their families in accordance with Article 91 of the Criminal Procedural Law? If they are not being arrested, you should have released them.
When, than rather the shield that protects civil rights and liberties, law is reduced to a weak pretext to be wielded at the pleasure of the proletarian dictatorship, how can we not be afraid? You probably know more about the case of Guo Yushan and TI than I do, since your job used to include monitoring TI. But still, I would like to explain to you how fear has, step by step, come over everyone working at TI.
The first domino that fell was the energetic young woman Ling Lisha (凌丽莎). About two years ago she came to work at TI, following her boyfriend Chen Kun (陈堃). In honor of her lively humor, we called her Little Hot Pepper. She did illustration, design and typesetting, and was a big help to us researchers. She left TI after a few months but we have always regarded her as a little sister of ours. It was said that she was detained because she staged performance art on October 1st in support of the Hong Kong students and Occupy Central. There was nothing surprising about our Little Hot Pepper showing solidarity for the student movement in Hong Kong. After all, nowadays trendy youth and forward-thinking artists all express their individuality in unconventional ways. As her friends, those of us at TI did not protest her detention; instead, we wanted to help this young woman, full of naïve notions, to get out of custody as early as possible. Of course our efforts were in vain, and the detention center did not even accept the money and supplies we tried to deposit for her.
At that time, we did not worry about ourselves at all. After all, TI didn’t have anything to do with Occupy Central. And according to past experiences, people who were taken away for “picking quarrels and creating disturbances” would be released in a few days, or at any rate no more than 37 days. But a week had passed, and Lin’s mother called TI to ask about her situation. By then each one of us was feeling uneasy, so much so that we forgot to comfort Lisha’s mother over the phone. I later called her up to apologize for our behavior. By now Lisha has been detained for more than 60 days, way beyond the legally prescribed duration for criminal detention, but her family has not received any notice of arrest. [Ling Lisha was released on probation on December 11, 2014, two days after this letter was written. – Editor]
From October 6the onward, we were no longer able to reach Lisha’s boyfriend Chen Kun (陈堃). We grew more anxious, but not yet fearful. Chen Kun was in charge of organizing conferences, and as recently as this March, helped me to put together a training session on how to interview the underprivileged and downtrodden members of Chinese society. Mid-year this year, he had left TI to go work for Liren Academy (立人大学). To me, both Liren Academy and Liren Libraries are public interest projects, similar to what TI does, except that they serve the public even more directly. Though we seldom saw him after he left, we were still shocked by Chen Kun’s detention. Given that more than 20 Liren Libraries had recently been shut down, we thought his detention was part of the destruction of Liren Academy. We didn’t speculate what would happen to him.
Two weeks later, Chen Kun’s family received notice of his criminal detention that says he is detained in Haidian Detention Center, but his lawyers made four trips there without being able to meet him. The detention center told the lawyers that Chen Kun wasn’t there. In other words Chen Kun has been disappeared. According to Chinese law, he should not have been disappeared for so long no matter what crimes he has committed.
Fear struck us only when Guo Yushan was detained. He was taken away at 2 am on October 9th, and his home was searched. TI’s office was also raided around the same time. I did not find out until I was called up the next day to go attend a meeting at our office. Even though we all had foreboding that the authorities were going to finally settle score with TI, we still held out a ray of hope, little justified as it was. At the time the rumors had it that Lisha had a receipt that she put in TI’s name, but the truth remains that what she did had nothing to do with TI. If this was the reason Guo Yushan was detained, he should have been let go in at most 37 days. Even if this is about settling scores, Guo has broken no laws; TI had paid taxes for every penny it made. Don’t tell me that the government waited a whole two years to punish Guo Yushan for his role in the Chen Guangchen incident, whose persecution at the hands of the security forces was manufactured in a flagrant abuse of power by the disgraced ex-chief of the secret police Zhou Yongkang (Guo and friends picked up Chen Guangcheng from Shandong and helped him to enter the U. S. embassy in Beijing in April, 2012. – Editor].
But the fact remains that Guo Yushan has already been detained for over two months, and his wife has not received a detention notice. A leading figure in growing nascent civil society in China, Guo Yushan has made an enormous contribution, and his reputation, ability and connections are unparalleled. If even he is denied the due process under the law, how can the rest of us expect fair treatment?
By the time Huang Kaiping, director of TI, was “disappeared,” fear spread among all of us. On October 12th, your colleagues took him away and there has been no word of him since. In order for TI to survive, Guo Yushan and the Institute have learned to bite the bullet over the years, and Guo Yushan even resigned from the directorship and withdrew from TI projects. Huang Kaiping, a young man born during the eighties, was completely absorbed in his research projects. None of us ever saw this coming. The day after Guo Yushan was detained, Huang Kaiping filed for the dissolution of TI, giving up everything its researchers have done over the past seven years, willingly putting up with low salaries. Having embraced so much sacrifice and paid such a high price, TI still did not manage to preserve itself. Is that the fate of Chinese NGOs?
It came as no surprise, then, when He Zhengjun (何正军), another TI employee, was summoned for questioning and ended up detained. What surprised us was that other TI employees actually made their way out again after interrogations and even house raids. If these detentions were not about Occupy Central, then this can only mean that TI is now being treated as a criminal group. It is then no wonder for you to detain He Zhengjun, the administrator and financial officer of TI. It’s possible that each one of TI employees has now become a criminal suspect.
So, when your colleagues looked for me urgently on November 27, I had to weigh it carefully: Do I go or do I not go? If I go, I would no doubt be detained as well, and I don’t know for how long I would be in custody. I will absolutely not be providing witness testimony regarding Guo Yushan, so I would not be making a simple trip to the police station. In my interaction with you, I believe that as an individual you have some goodness in you, but since all of my colleagues who have thus far been detained have not received fair treatment in accordance with legal procedure, how could I trust the system in which you work? If I don’t go, I will have to choose self-exile. After consideration, I chose the latter. It means that I will not be able to go home to my wife and child; I will not be able to find a job to support my family and myself; I will have to constantly worry about being captured; and at the same time I will not want to cause my old parents to worry about me. This is exactly my current situation. But if I were thrown into jail, the situation will be worse. Luckily, I have a lot of friends and, wherever I go, I can get help from them.
It was only after I chose self-exile that I heard about my ex-colleague, Liu Jianshu (柳建树). It turned out he has also been criminally detained, in secret, for several days already. He is a stellar law graduate who studied overseas [at Oxford University]. We have not seen much of each other recently, and people told me he was doing public interest law projects. News on the Internet has it that he is being indicted for “illegal business operation,” which I suspect the government pulled out of a hat, since to my knowledge he has never done anything like that. His arrest convinces me once again that I was right to get out.
You may be thinking: If I were confident I had broken no laws, why don’t I just explain everything to the authorities? It would all come out alright then. Well, that is exactly what I would have thought myself fifteen years ago. The price for my naivete was eight years spent in prison. The group we started, the New Youth Study Group, was nothing more than an amateur get-together of recent college graduates, where we talked about the problems rural areas faced and what we came across in our research. For that, the four of us received a total of 36 years.
Was it possible that Liu Yong (刘勇), the head of the Pretrial Office, did not know the truth about our case? That the two procurators, Li Leisen (李磊森) and Han Xiaoxia (韩晓霞), as well as the two judges Bai Jun (柏军) and Jin Xing (金星), did not know that we never planned or did anything? Can anyone who looks at the mission of our group, “proactive exploration of social reform,” bring himself to say that we were there to overturn the government? However, anything that we were allowed to say or was brought in as evidence in court went to prove our guilt. All it took was an airily trumped-up charge for the four of us to turn into middle-aged men behind bars, where our health, willpower and intellect all suffered.
I had the good luck to meet Guo Yushan the day after I left prison. Joining the organization he founded, Transition Institute, helped me get back into society. My first marriage fell apart after my sentencing, and now I was able to remarry and have a child. Even though we could not afford a house, which meant our son was unable to have the Beijing household registration that would have entitled him to enroll in school, at least I had a stable job that pulled me out of severe post-prison depression.
At Transition Institute, my job was to research the problems that rural areas and migrant workers face. I am sure you know all about our reports and workshops. Over the last three years, I organized some twenty lectures and workshops, wrote seven research reports and three analysis papers. I also organized almost two hundred interviews of grassroots Chinese with the help of volunteers I trained, and we published three volumes of these interviews. If you had taken me against my will, I may not have told you as much for your interrogation record, so I might as well tell you about what I did at TI in this letter.
You may also want to know why I often find lawyers for human rights activists. The reasons are very simple. First of all, as someone who has suffered deeply from political persecution, I understand all too well that only genuine rule of law can guarantee the rights of citizens. I particularly feel sympathy for the victims of power abuses by the underlings of Zhou Yongkang, the disgraced ex-chief of the secret police. Secondly, I got to know a lot of human rights lawyers through the Internet; they know about what happened to me, and trust me. I believe that these lawyers, whose ranks keep swelling, will be the mainstay of China’s progress towards rule of law and attainment of a civilized society. I cannot become a lawyer myself because of my criminal record, but I can be a good friend to lawyers.
Finally, please convey my apology to your colleague, E. I promised to meet with him, but could not keep our appointment in the end. In a life-or-death situation, our first reaction is going to be to run for our lives. That is not quite where I am at, as I am only sidestepping danger for the moment being. Lies are often told in order to get to a suspect, but to date no one who has told such lies in order to catch somebody has ever apologized to those he arrested.
I would have liked to, if I could, come off as a fearless hero, but my disastrous past warned me that I still have to do my duty by my family. I have parents and a child, our monthly rent poses quite a burden, and my wisest option is to avoid prison. I can also believe that Officer E would not wrong me on purpose. But in my mind, all of you must put the orders from your superiors above the law, since you have no other way to a promotion as police officers.
If my crimes are indeed egregious and a warrant for my arrest is put on the Internet, I will turn myself in immediately. Otherwise, I will continue to be on the run, until the case against Guo Yushan and TI is over. You may tell me that if I were guilty I would not be able to get out of it, and if I were innocent, there would be no need to go into hiding. Theoretically, you are quite right, but the gap between theory and China’s reality is rather too wide.
I can tell you about an example I experienced personally. Haike, my New Youth peer sentenced to ten years for subversion, has a classmate Yanhua who participated in New Youth Study Group alongside Haike every step of the way. However, he was not formally arrested. Yanhua wrote to the judge saying that since Haike got ten years, as someone who took part in everything Haike did, he asks for a ten-year sentence for himself. He never got a response.
The real reason for the discrepancy in the way they were treated was that Haike was picked up in Beijing and Yanhua in Tianjin. The Beijing Security Bureau wanted to make a big deal out of our case to score a success, while the Tianjin Bureau looked at the exact same thing and thought it did not constitute a crime.
Many of the Beijing officials who slapped together the wrongful conviction against us have since gone to jail for corruption, but the system that allowed them to trap the innocent has never changed. After leaving prison in 2009, I had the occasion to deal with the domestic security police force, and feel much better about these interactions than my dealing with the National Security folks. The former are people you can at least deal with. However, it is still undeniable that political power operates above the law. My boss and colleagues, now in custody, have personally testified to that fact. So I ask you and Officer E to please understand my choice.
Even though I chose to run, we can still be in touch. This can only be done through my Google email, firstname.lastname@example.org. The more advanced Chinese Internet technology becomes, the more I believe only Gmail can guarantee both my privacy and safety.
Researcher, Beijing Transition Institute
December 9, 2014
Yang Zili (杨子立), born in 1971 and has a master degree in mechanical engineering from Peking University in 1998. In August 2000, he and a group of young intellectuals formed the New Youth Study Group (新青年学会) to “explore ways to reform the society.” He and three others (Xu Wei, Jin Haike and Zhang Honghai) were detained in March 2001. On May 28, 2003, a court in Beijing convicted them of “subversion of state power,” and Yang was sentenced to eight years in prison while Xu Wei and Jin Haike were sentenced to ten years, and Zhang Honghai eight years, in prison. Yang Zili was released on March 12, 2009. He has since been working at Transition Institute.
Just Man Guo Yushan, by Xiao Shu, November, 2014
Friends Gone to Jail – Chinese Activists Kou Yanding and Guo Yushan, by Zeng Jinyan, October, 2014
Few Clues in Chinese Editor’s Detention, Sinosphere, the New York Times, December 3, 2014
Rural Library Chain Closes, Citing ‘Tremendous Pressure’, Sinosphere, the New York Times, September 22, 2014
Chinese Government Moves to Limit and Eliminate Public Service NGOs: the Case of Liren Rural Libraries, by Song Zhibiao, November, 2014
Young, Idealistic and Caught Up in a Wave of Detentions, Sinosphere, the New York Times, December 10, 2014
Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan, August, 2013
More on the New Youth Study Group:
Two Chinese Dissidents Freed After Years in Prison, the New York Times, March 14, 2009.
New Youth Study Group Members to Become Eligible for Parole, CECC analysis, March 16, 2006.
(Translated by Louisa Chiang and Yaxue Cao)