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China Change, July 15, 2017
Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永), leader of the New Citizens Movement, was released from prison on July 15, after serving a 4-year sentence.
Xu Zhiyong’s defense lawyer Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) confirmed that Dr. Xu has returned home in Beijing. He was picked up earlier by the security police, a source said.
Yesterday, scores of citizens traveled to the vicinity of Kenhua Prison in Ninghe District in Tianjin where Xu Zhiyong had been imprisoned since he was sentenced in February 2014. Dr. Xu, 44 years old, is a legal scholar and the founder of Gongmeng, a civil society group that pioneered China’s “rights defense movement” and in recent years campaigned for equal education rights for migrant workers’ children in large cities, and engaged in citizen activism under the banner “Freedom, Justice, and Love.”
The crackdown on the New Citizens Movement began in April 2013. Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013.
Friends who tried to visit Xu this morning were blocked by three plainclothes security agents at the entrance of his residential compound. It’s unclear whether Dr. Xu will be placed under some kind of restriction in his movement and communications — illegal but common practices used by the Chinese government against leading dissidents.
Yesterday, activists who went to the prison to welcome Dr. Xu found that the roads around the prison were closed, allowing only inbound traffic. During the night, police raided the guest rooms of the activists. On the morning of the 15th, police stopped activists approaching the prison, telling them that Xu Zhiyong had been released already.
On July 13, Liu Xiaobo, the founder of China’s political opposition movements and the only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the world, died in custody from liver cancer, marking, some say, the end of an era and with it the hope of a gradual transition to democracy in China.
Dr. Xu is a leader of the younger generation of Chinese activists; he returns, four years later, to a much harsher environment for political opposition.
The China Manifesto – detained activist Xu Zhiyong calls for end to ‘barbaric’ one party rule, The Telegraph, January 23, 2014.
Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part One, April 10, 2014.
Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part Two, April 13, 2014.
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:
By Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, published: August 19, 2015
The Chinese government has lately carried out a massive campaign to arrest, summon, and threaten Chinese lawyers. The propaganda machine has followed in lock-step, operating at full strength to tarnish these lawyers’ reputations by describing them as a “criminal gang,” “hooligans,” and “scum of the lawyer community” (here, here, and here).
Rights lawyers first emerged in the 2000s at the onset of a Chinese rights-defense movement. For more than a decade, they have fought courageously for legal justice and been on the front lines of promoting rule of law in China by taking part in innumerable cases of all sizes dealing with some of the most important problems in Chinese political and social life, such as social justice, free expression, religious freedom, food safety, property rights, economic charges, political rights, power abuses, wrongful convictions, and the rights of ethnic minorities and disabled people.
Some of them call themselves “die-hard lawyers.” Lawyer Si Weijiang explains (Chinese) that the “die-hard lawyer” are no different from ordinary criminal defense lawyers, except that they’re particularly persistent about procedures and refuse to play by any of the “hidden rules” of the Chinese legal system.
Though more and more lawyers have begun to join the fight for justice and their numbers have grown from just a handful to (according to some estimates) over a thousand, rights lawyers remain a tiny minority among China’s 270,000 practicing lawyers. But in contrast to the distorted and insulting way the propagandists present them, to a great degree they are the only true lawyers in China.
For their efforts, they have been subjected to all sorts of attacks from the authorities, including having their licenses revoked, physical threats, being summoned for questioning, imprisonment, and torture. Despite all of this, more than 200 individuals—many of them rights lawyers themselves and members of the legal community—have refused to be intimidated and have recently signed a statement (Chinese) of protest, accusing China’s Ministry of Public Security of carrying out an illegal and abusive act against rights lawyers.
We have selected 14 cases from the past dozen years that represent and exemplify the rights-defense movement, our goal being to answer a question that many of our readers might ask: “What kinds of cases do rights-defense lawyers handle?”
In China’s legal environment, the efforts of rights-defense lawyers often end in failure. In the eyes of the authorities, however, these Sisyphean efforts clearly represent a kind of defiance. Examining the cases that rights lawyers have taken on over the years helps us understand the origins and logic of the fierce repression they are experiencing under the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule.
Sun Zhigang Case (Custody and Repatriation)
In 2003, a recent university graduate from Hubei named Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) found a job in the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong (广州广东). As he had only recently arrived, he had yet to obtain a temporary residence permit. On March 17, police apprehended him in the street on suspicion of being an “illegal migrant” and sent him to a “custody and repatriation” center, used to hold people unable to produce an ID card, temporary residence permit, and work permit together. Three days later, Sun Zhigang was brutally beaten to death by guards and other inmates while he was being held in a medical clinic affiliated with the center. News of his death rocked China after it was reported in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily.
In May, three young legal scholars named Yu Jiang (俞江), Teng Biao (滕彪), and Xu Zhiyong (许志永) submitted a recommendation to the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, pointing to the restriction of citizens’ personal freedom under custody and repatriation as a violation of the constitution and requesting that the regulations governing the measure be changed or abolished. In June, the State Council announced that the Custody and Repatriation Measures would be abolished. At the same time, those who took part in the beating of Sun Zhigang were tried and convicted.
Xu Zhiyong also provided defense for Yu Huafeng (喻华峰), the general manager of the Southern Metropolis Daily who was retaliated for his paper’s investigation of the Sun Zhigang story and the SARS story.
Many at that time believed that Sun Zhigang’s death would “bring about the birth of a system of constitutional review (Chinese) long-hoped-for by Chinese people.” The “successful rights defense” of the three young legal scholars was praised as a milestone in China’s legal history, and the incident filled Chinese intellectuals with hope about the development of rule of law in China.
Educational Equality Movement (Household Registration System)
After the “Sun Zhigang Affair,” the three young legal scholars and their friends established a public-interest civil society organization called “Gongmeng” (also known as “Open Constitution Initiative”). Consisted mostly of lawyers, Gongmeng worked to provide legal aid in cases involving social injustice. After Gongmeng experienced many years of repression, it evolved into the “New Citizen Movement.” One of the movement’s initiatives concerned the fight to provide the children of China’s migrant population with equal rights to education by ending the segregation of those with rural household registration and the discrimination and injustice associated with that status. The education equality movement called for the children of migrant workers to have the right to take the university entrance examination in the cities where their parents had come to work, instead of forcing those children to leave their parents and return to their places of household registration in order to take the exams. Xu Zhiyong organized many signature and petition campaigns in support of this cause.
The education equality movement achieved limited success in provincial cities throughout China, but Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013 and sentenced the following January to four years in prison for the crime of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Lawyer Ding Jiaxi, another important participant in the New Citizen Movement, was also sentenced to 3½ years’ imprisonment in 2014.
Sun Dawu Case (Economic Reform)
Sun Dawu is a well-known private entrepreneur from Hebei Province and chairman of the Dawu Group, a producer of agricultural and pastoral products. Unable for many years to borrow money from state-owned banks, the Dawu Group turned to its employees, friends and relatives, and local residents to raise capital—a method commonly used by private businesses in China.
In May 2003, Sun Dawu was arrested on charges of “illegally taking public funds.” After he received near-unanimous support from public opinion and experts, Sun was given a suspended sentence and released. Sun’s defense counsel Xu Zhiyong considered this to be the “most ideal resolution” (Chinese) in a country where a court cannot admit that it shouldn’t have tried the case in the first place. Xu Zhiyong later wrote that he had hoped to “use Sun Dawu’s case to promote market reforms in China and improve the environment in which private enterprise can exist and grow.”
Four years later, in March 2007, a wealthy young woman entrepreneur from Zhejiang named Wu Ying (吴英) was arrested by the authorities for “illegally taking public funds.” Wu Ying’s fate was starkly different from that of Sun Dawu, however, as the Zhejiang High People’s Court eventually sentenced her in 2012 to death, suspended for two years, for the crime of “fraudulent fundraising.”
After the mass arrest of lawyers on July 10, Sun Dawu wrote to express his support for rights lawyers: “Corrupt officials and people with special privileges don’t believe in the law and won’t care one bit whether or not there are lawyers. But ordinary people want their society to be well ordered. In the past, when they had an economic dispute, a divorce, or were involved in some criminal violation, they might have gone looking for connections or someone powerful to protect them. Now, the first thing people will think of is getting help from a lawyer.”
Taishi Village Recall Case (Anti-Corruption, grassroots democracy)
In 2005, residents of Taishi (太石村), a village in Panyu District, Guangzhou (广州番禺), formally requested to recall the village head because of dissatisfaction over graft and corruption by members of the village committee. The Panyu government mobilized several hundred police officers to suppress the recall campaign, beating many participants and arresting several of their leaders.
As the situation in Taishi became more serious, it attracted widespread attention and intervention by rights-defense activists, lawyers, scholars, and media organizations from both inside and outside China. The Guangzhou-based lawyers Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Guo Yan (郭艳) were sought out to take on the case by village residents and rights activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄). Lawyers Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Zhang Xingshui (张星水), Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Heping (李和平), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永) were among those who formed the “Taishi Village Legal Advisory Group” to provide support to this case.
The recall campaign ended in failure, but this case gave further momentum to the rights-defense movement. As Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) wrote: “The Taishi Incident is not only a striking indicator of how far local democracy in China has come; it is also an incident in which ordinary people have again paid a price and one that will certainly be inscribed in the history of progress toward grassroots democracy in China.”
The lawyers who took part in the Taishi Village case went on to become core figures in the rights-defense movement for many years. Tang Jingling, Li Heping, Xu Zhiyong, and Pu Zhiqiang are all behind bars today. Though Gao Zhisheng has been released from prison, he has not yet regained his freedom.
Guo Feixiong, one of the pioneers of the rights defense movement and the central figure in the Taishi Village case, is also behind the bars today. Lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), who represented Guo, is among the lawyers detained on July 10th.
Linyi Violent Family Planning Case (One-Child Policy)
Coercion and violence have always been part of the implementation of China’s “one-child” birth control policy. In 2005, the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) began investigating the “birth control campaign” being carried out in Linyi, Shandong (山东临沂), where the authorities made widespread use of detention and beatings, carried out forced tubal ligation and abortion, imprisoned families that had “too many children,” tore down houses, and forced people to attend and pay for “study classes.” In addition to helping victims defend their rights, Chen Guangcheng invited several lawyers from Beijing—including Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Chunfu (李春富), Li Heping, and Teng Biao—to go to Linyi to carry out on-the-ground investigations and provide legal aid.
Beginning in August 2005, Chen Guangcheng and his wife were put under residential surveillance and subjected to numerous beatings. Not long afterward, a local court sentenced Chen to four years and three months in prison for “intentional destruction of property” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.”
After Chen Guangcheng was released from prison in September 2010, he was once again put under house arrest. This led to a nationwide campaign to “Free Chen Guangcheng.” In April 2012, Chen escaped his village of Dongshigu. After hiding out in the US Embassy, he went into exile in the United States.
Melamine Milk Powder Case (Food Safety)
In September 2008, Beijing resident Zhao Lianhai (赵连海) discovered that his infant son had a 2mm stone in his right kidney. Upon further investigation, he found that companies were mixing the industrial chemical melamine in their milk powder in order to give the appearance of having higher levels of protein. He established a website called “Home for Kidney-Stone Babies,” which he used to investigate, report on, and exchange information about poisoned dairy products and to call on victims of melamine milk-powder poisoning to join together in a lawsuit to defend their rights. 300,000 infants were found to suffer from urinary-system diseases after consuming melamine-laced milk powder. At least six children died as a result.
In November 2009, Zhao Lianhai was placed under criminal detention on suspicion of “provoking a serious disturbance.” Li Fangping (李方平) acted as his lawyer. One year later, Zhao was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.
Between 2008 and 2011, Peng Jian (彭剑), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), Li Fangping (李方平), and more than 100 other public interest lawyers sued the Sanlu Group in the Supreme People’s Court and hundreds of local courts—including in Hong Kong—to seek compensation for the victims and their families. More than 200 poisoned babies got justice beyond the official plan for state compensation, with the highest amount of compensation awarded to an individual reaching 350,000 yuan.
Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), one of the lawyers who took part in the lawsuit against the Sanlu Group, is one of the lawyers detained on July 10, while Li Fangping is one of the 269 lawyers called in for questioning and threatened since that date.
Tan Zuoren Case (Political Persecution)
Tan Zuoren (谭作人) is a writer and editor from Sichuan. After the Wenchuan Earthquake (汶川) in 2008, he called on civil society to investigate the construction quality of schools that had collapsed during the earthquake and set up a database collecting information about the thousands of students who lost their lives in the school collapses. In March 2009, Tan was detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion.”
After the court handed down a five-year sentence against Tan Zuoren in February 2010, his lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) excused himself. Standing in the hallway outside the men’s room, Tan’s wife heard him bawl like a child. Pu said: “This was a political trial, decided on the basis of political factors.”
Even though Tan Zuoren has now been released from prison, Pu Zhiqiang is unfortunately behind bars in what is commonly believed to be retaliation by the authorities against his history of advocacy in rights-defense cases. Another one of Tan Zuoren’s defense lawyers, Xia Lin, has also been jailed for defending civil society leader Guo Yushan (郭玉闪).
Tang Hui Case (Re-Education Through Labor)
Re-education through labor (also known as laojiao) was a system of administrative punishment in which public security organs could directly sentence offenders to up to four years of imprisonment and compulsory labor without trial by a court. Tens of thousands Chinese were sent to laojiao after it was set up in 1957, and over the years the number of ridiculous grounds for which people were sent to laojiao grew too numerous to mention—for example, playing mahjong, cursing officials, or posting items online. Laojiao camps were rife with various human rights violations, and those sent to laojiao were forced to work overtime and were frequently abused and beaten.
In October 2006, a 10-year-old girl who came to be known as “Lele” was abducted from nearby her home in Yongzhou, Hunan (湖南永州). She was put to work in a nearby brothel and raped by numerous men before being found by family members nearly three months later. Lele’s mother, Tang Hui (唐慧), went to the police to demand a criminal investigation, but her demands led nowhere. This led her to begin petitioning.
In August 2012, the Yongzhou Public Security Bureau sentenced Tang Hui to laojiao for 18 months on charges of “disturbing social order.” When Tang Hui requested an administrative review by the Hunan Laojiao Committee, that committee annulled the original laojiao decision and released Tang Hui after less than two weeks. In January 2013, Tang Hui and her legal team including Pu Zhiqiang applied for state compensation from the Yongzhou Laojiao Committee. A court eventually awarded her compensation in the amount of 2941 yuan.
Public calls for the abolition of laojiao had been growing over recent years, and those calls reached their high point around the time of the Tang Hui case. At the end of 2013, the NPC Standing Committee announced that laojiao would be abolished. Lawyers handling Tang Hui’s case—Si Weijiang (斯伟江), Xu Liping (徐利平), Hu Yihua (胡益华), and Pu Zhiqiang (who handled several other cases involving laojiao)—have been credited with making major contributions toward the ultimate elimination of laojiao.
Xia Junfeng Case (Violence by Urban Enforcement Officers)
One day in May 2009, a Shenyang street vendor named Xi Junfeng (夏俊峰) and his wife were selling barbecued meat skewers on the street when they were accosted by around a dozen members of the local urban enforcement squad (or chengguan)—a para-police organization set up in Chinese cities to enforce urban planning regulations and maintain order. An argument ensued, and officers began beating Xia, who was then taken to the local chengguan office. There, he was subjected to further beatings by two officers. As the beating was going on, Xia pulled out a knife he carried to slice sausages and fatally stabbed two officers and wounded another in the course of trying to escape. During the trial, the court refused to accept the testimony of six witnesses who saw the officers beat Xia Junfeng in the street and only accepted testimony from other chengguan officers. In September 2013, Xia Junfeng was executed for intentional homicide.
Teng Biao, who represented Xia Junfeng in his appeal trial, said: “The decision in this case is intended to send a message: namely, that no defiance of the government will be tolerated—even when that defiance is directed at local law-enforcement personnel.”
The afternoon that Xia Junfeng was executed, 25 Chinese lawyers issued a joint statement (Chinese) protesting the execution and demanding that the Supreme People’s Court release its written decision confirming the death sentence. They also demanded that the Supreme People’s Court reform its process of reviewing death sentences by doing away with the secrecy surrounding that process and implementing the principle of judicial openness.
Nian Bin Case and the Leping Case (Wrongful Convictions)
In July 2006, several members of two households were poisoned in Pingtan County, Fujian (福建平潭), leading to the deaths of two children. Local police investigators established that someone had poisoned the families with rat poison and identified neighbor Nian Bin (念斌) as the chief suspect.
Nian was arrested by police and subjected to severe torture in an effort to secure a confession. His hands and feet were bound, books were tied around his ribs while police beat him with a hammer, and slivers of bamboo were placed in the spaces between his ribs. In the process of handling the case, police also fabricated test results showing that the deaths were caused by rat poison, revised the timeline of the crime, and concealed crucial witness testimony.
Nian Bin was forced to endure numerous trials and was sentenced to death four separate times, with Nian appealing the verdict each time. On August 22, 2014, the Fujian High People’s Court issued a final verdict in the “Nian Bin Poisoning Case,” proclaiming Nian innocent of all charges and releasing him from custody. The victory in the Nian Bin case was the product of many years of perseverance by a group of Chinese lawyers who sought justice in his case, including Si Weijiang, Zhang Yansheng (张燕生), Li Xiaolin (李肖霖), Zhang Lei (张磊) and Gongxun Xue (公孙雪).
The “Leping Wrongful Conviction Case” on the other hand was connected to a robbery, rape, and dismemberment case that occurred in Leping, Jiangxi (江西乐平), in 2000. In May 2002, police arrested Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强) and three other suspects. The four men were forced to confess under torture and sentenced to suspended death sentence, and they remain imprisoned to this day.
However, as early as November 2011, the suspect in another case confessed responsibility in the Leping case. Lawyers Zhang Weiyu (张维玉), Wang Fei (王飞), Yan Huafeng (严华丰), and Zhang Kai (张凯) joined together to prepare a petition requesting that the case be retried, but the Jiangxi High Court refused their lawful request to review files in the case. In May of this year, they carried out a sit-in protest together with victims’ family members outside the Jiangxi High Court. Wu Gan (吴淦), an activist taking part in the protest, was arrested in May. Among the lawyers recently arrested or summoned, Zhang Weiyu of Beijing’s Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所) was briefly detained, while Zhang Kai was summoned for questioning and given a warning.
Jiansanjiang Case (Religious Freedom, Falun Gong)
In March 2014, rights lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong, Wang Cheng (王成), and Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) went to Heilongjiang to provide legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners who were being held illegally in a so-called “legal education base”—really a “black jail”—at Qinglongshan State Farm. The next day, the four lawyers were taken away by local public security officers and placed under administrative detention for “using a cult to endanger society.” During their detention, the lawyers were brutally beaten. After news spread of their detention, other lawyers and ordinary people from throughout the country went to Jiansanjiang to show their support, many of them also ending up subject to detention and abuse.
At the end of April, the Heilongjiang General Administration for Agricultural Reclamation disbanded its “legal education bases.” Lawyer Li Fangping remarked (Chinese): “This outcome was achieved through rights defense lawyers putting their own bodies on the line in protest.”
In China, it is extremely dangerous to defend Falun Gong practitioners. Gao Zhisheng, who was the first lawyer to investigate the persecution of Falun Gong, was punished with nine long years of torture and imprisonment between 2005 and 2014. After being released from prison on August 7, 2014, he remains under “soft detention” at a relative’s home in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and is unable to be reunited with his family in the United States.
In addition to Gao Zhisheng, other well-known rights defense lawyers who have defended Falun Gong practitioners include Wang Yu (王宇), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Jiang Tianyong, Mo Shaoping (莫少平), Li Heping, and Shang Baojun (尚宝军). These lawyers not only understand that they have no chance of winning these cases—they are also clear that their defense of Falun Gong cases has the potential to bring them huge risks and even personal harm. There have been instances of licenses being revoked and lawyers being subjected to surveillance, detention, home raids, and beatings for defending Falun Gong practitioners’ religious freedom.
Ilham Tohti Case (Free Expression)
Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木∙土赫提) was an economics professor at Minzu University of China (formerly known as Central University for Nationalities). In the 1990s, he started using his writings and lectures to criticize and make recommendations regarding the central government’s policies toward ethnic minority groups. For this, the authorities punished him by barring him from publishing and suspending him from teaching.
In 2006, Ilham Tohti established a website called Uyghur Online, which disseminated news and provided a platform for peaceful Uyghur-Han interaction. The website was frequently attacked by hackers and was finally forced to shut down in 2009.
After the July 2009 riots in Urumqi, Ilham Tohti was subjected to much harsher treatment in Beijing, including short-term detentions, house arrest, verbal and physical abuse, and being barred from traveling abroad. He was arrested in January 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment that September for the crime of “separatism.” Many foreign governments, human rights groups, and international organizations have issued statements strongly protesting and condemning the verdict against Ilham Tohti.
Rights lawyers Li Fangping and Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原) served as defense counsel for Ilham Tohti, preparing a meticulous analysis of the charges against him and pointing out all of the various procedural violations during the trial. After the trial had concluded, the two defense lawyers pointed out on WeChat that the Xinhua News Service reporting on the trial contained many factual errors and concealed other facts and that it was a serious violation of the law for the court to allow the media to reveal evidence from the case files before Ilham Tohti had had a chance to appeal. Wang Yu (王宇) also previously took part in the Ilham Tohti case.
Fan Mugen Case (Resistance to Forced Evictions)
Suzhou resident Fan Mugen (范木根) was forced to go into hiding when he couldn’t bear the violence of the gangs carrying out forced evictions in his neighborhood. He returned to his home in Yanshan Village, Tong’an Town, Suzhou (苏州通安镇严山村), after 6 a.m. on December 2, 2013. Early the next
morning, a gang of around 14 or 15 men charged into Fan Mugen’s home brandishing steel clubs. Fan Mugen, his wife, and their son were all injured in the attack. Fan Mugen defended his family with a knife, fatally wounding two of the most violent attackers.
Lawyers Wang Yu (王宇), Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Guo Haiyue (郭海跃), Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), and Lü Zhoubin (吕州宾) all got involved in the case on behalf of Fan’s defense. Several dozen rights-defense lawyers and public intellectuals have taken part in efforts to support Fan Mugen, including holding seminars, filing requests to disclose official information, submitting written allegations of wrongdoing to state judicial bodies, and organizing a legal support team. Fan Mugen’s trial was held in February 2015, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison on May 8.
Fan Mugen and his family members were preparing to appeal when their lawyer Wang Yu was thrown in jail. Wang was the first lawyer to “disappear” during the sweeping arrest of lawyers on July 10. The only female lawyer among the detained lawyers, she is currently held under “residential surveillance at a designated place” and has been denied of access to lawyers for having “endangered the state security.”
Yaxue Cao edits this website; Yaqiu Wang researches and writes about human rights in China.
Posts on the recent arrest of rights lawyers on ChinaChange.org:
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, by Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, by Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
Getting Rid of Lawyers Is the Start of Fascism, by Zhai Minglei, July 27, 2015.
What Can You Do in the Face of Terror – A Chinese Entrepreneur Responds to Arrest of Rights Lawyers, by Sun Dawu, July 24, 2015.
What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’, by Yaqiu Wang, August 2, 2015.
A Letter of Protest Against China’s Arrest of Rights Lawyers, to be read at a rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and then formally delivered, by multiple groups in DC area, August 12, 2015.
Wu Gan the Butcher, by Yaqiu Wang, July 22, 2015.
Tackling a Wall of Lies – Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, a Chinese Human Rights Lawyer, by Abertine Ren, September 14, 2014.
The Court Statement by Guo Feixiong
Translated by Louisa Chiang and Perry Link, published: November 28, 2014
According to the defense lawyers, the trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng was forced by the court to conclude at Beijing time 2:50 am, November 29, in Tianhe Court, Guangzhou. Despite repeated interruptions by the head judge and denial of his right to make a closing statement, Guo Feixiong defended himself forcefully and eloquently. China Change is pleased to present his court statement in full in English. – The Editor
1984, Orwell’s masterpiece about totalitarianism that could have been a blow-by-blow script for the People’s Republic of China, also happens to be the year that launched my personal journey as part of China’s movement for freedom and democracy.
That year, on a blustery, chilly night, in a café on the campus of East China Normal University (華東師範大學) in Shanghai, I had the good fortune to hear an old man speak. The lines of his face were as rugged as if hewn by a blade, and his short, thin frame was almost entirely muffled in a gray trench coat. In sharp Mandarin with a southern Chinese accent, he was criticizing Deng Xiaoping, then the top leader in China, for being a dinosaur, for stifling thought, and for suppressing the creative freedom of writers at the slightest provocation. I had arrived in Shanghai from a remote part of Hubei Province less than three months before. This venerable old man was Wang Ruowang (王若望), and this was the first time I ever saw anyone lambaste the supreme leader by name in public. The impact on me runs so deep I cannot describe it.
Shanghai in that era was experiencing an “Indian Summer” of unprecedented freedom for the expression of liberal ideas. Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), an enlightened politician, had reversed a political pendulum that had swung to the extreme left and had declared at the Fourth Congress of the All-China Writers’ Association that the Communist Party would no longer interfere with creative freedom. Liberal-minded professors, intellectuals and writers were full of impassioned thoughts and words on politics and philosophy. In seminars, academic conferences, salons and cafés, they called for free thought and political reform. It was as if an invisible hand was guiding them to vie with one another to show who could bring more novelty and depth to the introduction of modern culture and thought and who dared most to give voice to the need to oppose dictatorship and fight for democracy. Wang Ruowang was one of the boldest of the free-thinking writers.
To be honest, these sowers of freedom, and their peers all around China, may not have been as expert in their academic disciplines as they ought to have been. Yet the way they wrote and acted was reminiscent of the dauntless and passionate thought of the French Enlightenment. Theirs was the idealism, innocence and simplicity that characterizes the original human spirit and that set the tone for the democrats who followed them. I personally owe my awakening to this Indian Summer in China. I gained much from the bold, open and diverse views that were expressed. As a student of philosophy, I drew from the theoretical riches of the Chinese and Western classics; my character and political tendencies are entirely a product of the free spirit of the 1980s.
I heard Mr. Wang’s speech at a time when I was wending my way through a variety of political discussions and seminars. From the sidelines, I watched a soccer-fan riot, strikes at dining halls, and other outbreaks of the restless young. Those were years when people found the confines of their post-totalitarian life increasingly unbearable. An impulse for direct action grew among the students and finally exploded in the student protests of December, 1986. Shanghai was at the center of those protests.
The demonstrations of December 22, 1986, marked the first time I joined an independently organized and high-risk democracy movement. I clearly recall the nerve-wracking moment when a few of us, banner in hand, suddenly faced several thousand young workers who rushed forward, with thumping strides, to join us. Such a public assembly would have been high treason in earlier times.
I was already teaching at a college in Wuhan (武漢) when immense waves of protest in spring, 1989 inundated China. I acted out of my sense of duty as an intellectual that year, just as I had in 1986. In the years that followed, I returned several times to Wuhan and would linger at sites where I had spoken in public. Sometimes particularly dangerous moments came back to me. I recalled a time when, rallying to a student’s sudden yell of “Charge!” (a vestige of the military propaganda films we had grown up with), hundreds or even thousands broke into a run. In an incredible, surreal moment, the bridge over the Yangtze River began to sway under our feet and twist like a snake. Deep inside I understood that my life was inexorably tied to the era of Tiananmen.
The massacre of students and other young people in Beijing who were protesting peacefully on the Boulevard of Everlasting Peace (長安街) on June 4, 1989, was one of the most grotesque events in human history. It cleaved Chinese society irreconcilably from its government. At that moment I decided never to compromise with the autocrats who had slaughtered innocent citizens and to throw myself into the work of bringing freedom and democracy to China to the full extent of my abilities and of the will of heaven.
Censorship and draconian social control prevented people from learning until much later how, from that darkest moment onward, many intrepid souls, each on his own island, began as if by agreement to explore and build an opposition movement. Within the next decade or so, my generation of activists tried a number of peaceful tactics of resistance, like the mythical Chinese emperor who tasted every herb for the first time and unlocked the secret of medicine. In the late 1990s, liberalism as a system of political thought seeped deeper into China, and after that the thinking of democrats reached maturity.
As the millennium dawned, the Internet, out of the blue, came in to connect the long-isolated activists to one another. From 2003 to 2005, constitutionalist liberals founded the “rights defense” movement, which provided for China’s political opposition a highly original, homegrown and ineradicable path on which to grow and expand.
On January 28, 2005, Fan Yafeng (範亞峰) and I joined several others in attending the farewell ceremony in honor of the former Secretary General of the Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), who had been ousted and held under house arrest until his death because of his support for the 1989 protesters. Hugging a large photo of Mr. Zhao to my chest, I left the ceremony with a heavy heart. A throng of policemen was on the other side of the street. I turned back toward the funeral home and asked Fan how many people he thought had been there. After a pause, he answered that it looked like at least two or three thousand.
Fan and I had been meeting with others on how to promote effective connections within civil society. We noticed one major difference from the 1980s: the commemorations of the reformist politician Hu Yaobang in 1989 had been open and legal, but in order to attend Mr. Zhao’s funeral, people had to register using their government-issued IDs as police looked on. The uncertainty of such exposure, like the sword of Damocles, kept many people away. Still, several thousand people braved the odds to attend. To us, this proved that moral courage was returning everywhere, and we had new hope for the future of the democracy movement. Responding to this subtle political signal, we decided to take a series of steps to try to push the movement to a new stage.
Within half a year, an unprecedented number of groups were formed for political and legal action. This development showed the spiritual ties between the Tiananmen protests and the new rights-defense movement. Activists drew their strength from their shared tie with the towering figure, Hu Yaobang, who died with his character unsullied by betrayal.
We worked together within the law (which the government was obliged to pretend, at least, to recognize) to defend political and human rights and raise democratic awareness. Everything we did was completely open. We kept no secrets. We supported landmark cases, including Cai Zhuohua’s (蔡卓華) imprisonment for printing Bibles and the collective efforts of Taishi Village (太石) residents to impeach corrupt officials. The impact of these cases was magnified by the Internet, where they won broad sympathy and support from society at large. As participation grew, hunger strikes emerged. With the help of courageous human rights lawyers, citizens at the grassroots fought back, drawing attention to wrongs they had suffered and using political means that not long before had been unthinkable. The tide of this movement brought the political opposition back from the margins, making it once again central to the spiritual life of civil society. Terrified, the post-totalitarian machine sprang into action, and crackdown followed.
As a founder of this movement as well as one of its foot soldiers, I came into the line of fire several times. From April, 2005, until now, I have been criminally detained four times and jailed three times, for a total of five years. I was taken to six detention centers, evenly split among the provincial, municipal and district levels. The police have interrogated me more than two hundred times, which is probably some sort of record. Sometimes they had other prisoners carry me, more than once a day, and faint from hunger striking, on a stretcher to a room where they tied me to an iron chair. My five hunger strikes lasted 3, 59, 24, 75, and 25 days respectively, for a total of 186 days.
My extreme fasting struck a chord within the liberal camp and set a sort of example for the relay hunger strikes in 2006. One friend, though, a secular humanist, told me that he did not understand what I was doing. “We who believe in liberal democracy call for humanism and rational self-interest,” he said, “but you are always starving and putting yourself through the wringer. This seems shaky on humanitarian grounds and in any case cannot accomplish much.”
I did not want to resort to high-sounding principles so never formally responded to his criticism. Over time, I stopped keeping diaries of my strikes, writing memoirs, or publicly encouraging others to fast. But when occasions arose, I still did strikes on my own.
Why? Why fast and insist on fasting? My answer has always been the same: a hunger strike is not only a strong voice of protest against political persecution in a totalitarian system, but also address of the highest ideals that reside within myself – the ideals that I am serious about what I am doing and am loyal to the cause of freedom and democracy. Fasting keeps my mind free from the danger of taint.
The prototype for hunger strikes is the self-mortification of monks, who challenge the physical limits of the human body in order to pursue ideals. Like theirs, my fasting is safe and under control. Its process is dignified. After my first hunger strike, I was struck by how dazzling white the walls around me were, which I had until then looked at but never saw. It was then that I understood the inner purity of true believers. Suddenly I, who had been enmeshed in the pettiness of daily life, had the chance to cast it off and seek that purity. The clarity that protracted physical deprivation brought to me gradually helped to purge me and to help me reach an inner purity.
The system of free democracy that we aspire to transcends our personal destinies of success and failure. This is the sacred nature of this earth, which transcends the earth and rules it at the same time. The price that I pay to immerse my life in this movement is worth it. Perhaps not always, of course – and yet each fasting brings an experience of sustained euphoria, when I feel how truly fortunate I am to be sharing or projecting the spirit within me. Its bright image provides ultimate and pure joy. In our transient and prosaic life, what can eternity mean? Eternity is just such moments.
I never urged other people to join any of my longer hunger strikes. The rule for the 2006 relay hunger strike was that each person fasts no longer than 48 hours. This was not because I believe fasting to be against human nature. It is not. It is a powerful means of peaceful resistance, a show of inner strength for democrats, and a testimony to responsible suffering. It contains an idealism that is inherent in humanity and natural law and that is implicit in individual freedom, autonomy and the sovereignty of the people.
Our generation faces ubiquitous political terror imposed by a regime that has a rare record of brutality. This is why we need to draw upon the ideals that lie within each of us in forceful and disciplined ways. This is rational self-interest. Democracy is not opposed to passions, self-interest, and materialism; it is about accommodating such things and setting rules for them. The democracy movement is there to awaken our awareness and agency as free human beings and citizens. My hunger strikes are my homework as a prisoner. They purify and motivate me. I cherish this personal experience and its political ideals.
When faced with interminable interrogation by police and secret police, I provide almost no information. Because I keep silence and refuse to cooperate, my interrogators have used excessive force on me and have resorted to many forms of torture. They have tasered my head, hands, shins, thighs and private parts in sequence, yelling things like “You were offered parole and you said no! You prefer jail and making the Communist Party look bad! We’ll see who is the real SOB here – you or the Party!” Their torture aims at coercing a confession in court, where they want me to admit that I am wrong to oppose the Party and that I will give up the fight for democracy of my own free will in exchange for parole and for getting my university job back. Their broader intent is to undermine the image of the rights defense movement and to demoralize civil society by getting a few “standard bearers,” as they put it, to accept parole. Later generations might find it hard to imagine that in 2007 an honest commitment to promote democracy by going to jail was such an arduous thing to attempt.
For thirteen days and nights, they put me through marathon interrogations and denied me sleep. For forty-two days, I was reviled, beaten, and shackled, with the shackles nailed to a bed. My hair was plucked out. Once my torturer applied a high-wattage taser to my groin. To defend my dignity as a man, I had to confess to the utterly groundless accusation of an “illegal business operation.” I barely escaped the fate of my cellmate, whose penis was zapped to a blackened smear. The next morning, in fury and pain, I threw myself headlong toward the window and then the wall. Death was to be my protest. I survived, fortunately, but after Chinese New Year, the taser shocks resumed.
Through all of this, including the torture, I held to two principles; don’t abandon ideals and don’t betray anyone. Eventually, my interrogators were impressed and relented somewhat. Put to draconian tests, treatment hardly in keeping with peacetime, I stuck with precepts I had learned in childhood. I can smile and tell others and myself that my behavior under duress was consistent with being a human being. I have not wronged others. That is enough. I have lived.
It has been said that it is easier to go to your death in a surge of courage than to submit to a sacrifice that is slow and drawn out. In fact, sacrifice is not the hardest thing there is. After your eyes close and your body is destroyed, your spirit can endure forever. The endless physical and mental agony imposed by unbridled violence, which leaves you drained of life and denies you the relief of death, may be harder to guard against than the choice of self-sacrifice.
I do not use my personal choices as benchmarks in the judgment of others. People who compromise temporarily under pressure and return to the path of righteousness later have my wholehearted respect. Even those who break down and capitulate should not be judged harshly. The horrors of my experience have made me more tolerant and understanding of the hard choices that everyone confronts. Only when we offer our understanding and support can victims recover their mental health and dignity. We should save our condemnation for the perpetrators, the people who deny their opponents dignified prison time and dignified death, who trample such dignity underfoot. We should never use philosophical contortions to rationalize the bestiality of totalitarian rule.
In 2007, the security apparatus gave up on interrogating me and sentenced me to five years in prison. I had thwarted their aim. However weak my pushback, it stuck in their craw. Meanwhile, for democrats generally, it was a flourishing time. Hu Jia was struggling against the tide, Gao Zhisheng’s human rights work was showing tremendous courage, and Zhang Zuhua and Liu Xiaobo were mobilizing intellectuals to give voice to constitutional reform. Both Hu and Liu received prestigious prizes from the international community. Since then, China’s multipolar opposition movement has come back stronger after each crackdown, and this fact is deeply unsettling to the rulers. I would like to think that the resultant “butterfly effect” contains a few flappings of my own wings.
Today, with the exception of Wang Gongquan (王功權) – an activist in the New Citizens movement (新公民運動) who is known as “the conscience of the business world” – and the Three Heroes of Chibi – Huang Wenxun (黃文勳), Yuan Xiaohua (袁小華) and Yuan Fengchu (袁奉初), who have to date been detained for fifteen months without due process or indictment – the honor of imprisonment is no longer so hard to attain. Dozens of democrats have won it in smooth processes that include few surprises.
The mental and physical tortures that are used to extort confessions, grotesque and fantastic in their variety, are on the wane. Even though the practice persists, the brutal powers that we contend with must feel a bit of shame over their vicious acts. Our dream, passed from generation to generation among activists, to see “the prisons overloaded with conscientious objectors,” is nearing realization. Our faith is that totalitarianism, which negates so completely the humanity in its minions, will one day be driven from the earth.
During my challenge to the government and the tumult of my arrest and imprisonment, my wife and children have suffered the most. On the morning of March 10, 2006, when Taishi village residents were running for People’s Congress, my wife was stopped by secret police on her way out to buy groceries. When I went out to reason with the agents, they beat me up and left me with a bloody face. When I took my ten-year-old daughter and five-year-old son to buy books, several secret agents took turns taking photos and videos of them on the bus. They did this obtrusively, making an intimidating show for other passengers to observe.
My daughter, older than her brother, came to know fear. One day, when the four of us went out for our regular morning exercise in a small nearby park, six or seven agents followed on our heels, speaking loudly in Cantonese. My daughter kept turning her head to watch them, her little face terrified. She whispered to me, “Daddy, this is all your fault! Your fault!”
I felt too pained to say anything. Over the last eight years, this scene has played over and over again in my mind.
In the spring of 2007, Guangdong security agents who were interrogating me threatened that, if I continued to refuse to confess and accept parole, my son would not be allowed to go to elementary school and my daughter would be assigned to a middle school far away. When she goes to high school, they continued, the computer will assign her to a rural school from which she will not be admitted to university. I had no reason to doubt them. I knew the rules they operate under and knew their track record.
On February 8, 2006, I went on a hunger strike outside the gates of the State Council building. I did this to protest the threats to my children’s safety, to protest a police shooting of several innocent farmers who had been protecting their land from illegal seizure, and to protest curbs on press freedom in the case of Freezing Point magazine. I was detained, and then, from prison, could no longer do public protests.
On November 14, 2007, the Tianhe District Court (天河區法院) announced my five-year prison sentence. As I was being taken away, I turned and asked my wife, who had been allowed to attend, “Is our son in school?” She said no, they won’t let him go. At the Guangzhou municipal detention center, I tossed and turned that night, barely able to sleep at all. A few days later, a cellmate who had been sentenced for white-collar crime suddenly asked me, “Dude, how come that whole patch of your head turned white?” I did not quite believe him. There was no mirror in the cell, so I could only ask other cellmates to take a look, and I believed the story only after everyone said the same thing. Then, for the first time, I knew the ancient tale of Wu Zixu (伍子胥) – whose hair turned white overnight in flight, after his entire family was executed by the king – might not be imaginary.
The man who had discovered my white hair appeared to be in his fifties. I told him about the fate of my son. At first, he merely shook his head: there should be no way something like this can happen in this day and age. I explained what happened in detail. He had a good opinion of me and came to believe what I was saying. This white-collar criminal, who during his childhood had been ruthlessly persecuted because he came from a landowner family that had been labeled as “class enemies,” suddenly fell to his knees and covered his face, sobbing without a sound. I did not cry when they turned my son out of school, but this man did. Although I did not cry, my heart bled. In the year that followed, a voice inside kept reminding me, “Things cannot go on like this; I can’t sit by and watch the future of my children be destroyed; I must act.”
This was why, in 2008, I suggested to my wife, through the visitor’s window in Meizhou Prison (梅州監獄), that the three of them should find a way to leave China. It was a choice that a parent in my shoes had to make, hoping that his children could go to a free country where their right to education would not be blocked. With the help of several people, including the fearless Ms. Wang, my family made its way to Thailand. But there, their visa applications ran into unexpected difficulties; several Chinese who behaved suspiciously moved into their hotel; and they almost got run over by a mysteriously-driven car.
At this pivotal juncture, it was the esteemed Reverend Bob Fu (傅希秋), along with a wonderfully kind Christian woman from England, who took tremendous personal risk to bring my family to the United States. The United States government and people took them in and helped them. Schooling will never be a problem again. I am most grateful to all the people who helped us, and I thank the humanitarianism of the American government and the Christian Church. I shall remember their great deeds until the day I die. Through their help, I began to feel, in the most direct and deep way, how universal, selfless and noble human love is, and how generous democratic culture is. For me it was a kind of baptism.
After my release on September 13, 2011, I was finally able to communicate with my family through the Internet. My daughter sent me a comic strip she drew of her escape and her stay abroad. It shows how helpless and lost she felt, how hard it was to adapt to a different country, and how much she misses her childhood friends back home. As I read it, my tears flowed, on and off by turns, for three days.
I am a man, and I had never shed a tear over anything in jail, including my children. Yet when my daughter asked me, “Cried after you read it, didn’t you?,” I said I did. I cried a lot.
My daughter was no longer the baby who had once wanted me to hold and carry her. She was grown, indeed had grown tall. She was now proud and rebellious, and wanted to make her own decisions on everything; I felt she was drifting away from me. She began to harbor a resentment about all the love and obligation that I owed her as her father from my eighteen years of democracy work. She referred to this work every so often in a sarcastic way and rarely called me “Dad.” I feel pangs of pain inside but I didn’t know what I can do. I am flooded by guilt when I think about my family.
After release I was rearrested. Just a few months ago, on July 4, 2014, during visiting hours at the Tianhe Detention Center, my lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (張雪忠) told me that my daughter had drawn my portrait. He said it looks a lot like me. In the picture, I am surrounded by mountains, and the caption, a Chinese proverb, reads: “Someone lofty to look up to.” This portrait was on display in a noteworthy building, as part of a campaign to rescue me. While I know I am far from deserving such a description, I do read a deeper meaning in what he told me. The revelation leaves me bright-eyed, as if I can see through the thick brick walls and sail through the open sky between us: My dearest child, I have once again won your love, and you have acknowledged it.
When I left prison in 2011, seeing how robust and widespread the struggle for freedom was, I felt unspeakably excited. My choice—there was no other—was to be part of this ferment. I worked alongside my peers; we took concerted action and nothing turned us back.
We experimented with the opportunity to support the anti-censorship efforts at the reformist newspaper, Southern Weekend (《南方週末》), and, proceeding with caution and peaceful discipline, to break through the limits on freedom of assembly. We also organized a signature campaign to demand that the National People’s Congress ratify the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). We coordinated small-scale street protests in eight cities in support of ICCPR and the government’s anti-corruption policy. Both actions were part of our strategy to promote the drafting of sound laws and the abolition of harmful ones. This activity was a significant step forward in pressing against government red lines and in addressing universal values in civic action—not just protesting individual grievances. We made waves, and many others followed.
It is no surprise that the government construed these two political experiments as my crime of “disturbing the public order.” An ancient proverb laughs at the folly of “bargaining with a tiger for its skin,” but that is precisely the task we have to undertake. We need to force a totalitarian government to shed its tiger’s skin, resume its humanity, and return to us the rights that belong to us.
The sentencing that I will now be facing will be consistent with the government’s entrenched habits of persecution. I am very honored to have landed in jail for my work. I hope that more citizens will come forward to join the fight for freedom when they see the dozens of us who are in jail. For me personally, another stint in prison may help to cleanse and mend me in small ways. Regardless of how long my sentence is this time, the first thing I will do when they let me out will be to go out and support constitutional democracy through direct action.
For those of us who are committed to this cause, action is imperative. Only through action can we prove to history that we did not surrender our dignity to dictators. It is unacceptable that they should slaughter the innocent and enslave others. The chief and greatest punishment for totalitarianism is a thorough rejection of its rejection of justice and humanity. We believe that future generations will always make the same choices on the same principles. Outnumbered as we are, and Sisyphus though we may be (or the hero Kuafu who died chasing the sun), the prevailing meaning of our opposition movement persists in our refusal to give up or give in.
Another reason why action is imperative is that we need to show to others real-life examples of resistance that can encourage them to act on their own. During a transition we will need to prevent plutocratic groups from continuing the enslavement of the Chinese people by monopolizing political power for themselves. As civilization evolves, the culture of dictatorship and violence sometimes absorbs new resources and takes on new forms. Even after the dissolution of dictatorship, China could still face a tug-of-war between constitutional democracy with checks and balances on the one hand and Singapore or Russian-style “birdcage rule” on the other.
If Chinese democrats wish to avoid the strong-man or bird-cage scenario, whose legacy will be continued stagnation and unrest, we must be committed to working together and have the wisdom to build an independent and strong civil society that can balance the political power of the state. The end goal is a tripartite system where power is evenly distributed and transferred through institutionalized elections. Such a system best serves the sovereignty and the fundamental interests of the Chinese people. Chinese civil society has reached the view that an opposition party is essential for bringing such a result about. Such an opposition party must act decisively, transparently and without guile, seeking round-table consensus, whether through a revision of the laws and institutions or by winning the sympathy and direct participation of the people. And its members must be prepared to bear the costs that might be inflicted upon them.
As an aging veteran whose life has been given to democracy, when I look back over the last thirty years, I truly feel that our exploration and toil have not been in vain. Our path is becoming ever clearer, and the horizons of our souls ever broader. To have had the opportunity to rush forward on the front line of the movement for freedom, tortuous as it has been; to have gone against the tide and borne the cost of doing so; and to have glimpsed the beauty inherent in my personal tragedy and in the sacred purity that is part of paying the price – these have been the immense good fortune of an ordinary man, whose feet are planted on the ground and over whose head the heavens arch, as conceived by our ancestors long ago and writ large in the Chinese character for “human.”
Yang Maodong (aka Guo Feixiong)
Lawyers Describe Trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, November 28, 2014.
Meet Guo Feixiong, a profile by human rights lawyer Xiao Guozhen
Guo Feixiong: Willing to Be Cannon Fodder, Will Be a Monument, a profile by Xiao Shu
By Xiao Guozhen, published: July 28, 2014
Before Li Huaping (李化平) became known by his real name, he was known among Chinese netizens as “Norwegian Wood” (挪威森林) after the Beatles’ song. His blogs by the same name, before they were deleted by government censors, bore the tagline: “Uphold common sense and restore truth in the face of terror and lies. I reject totalitarianism; I do not accept tyranny; I am a child of freedom.”
This child of freedom lost his freedom when he was arrested on August 10, 2013, in Changsha, Hunan province. At that time, Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Li Wei (李蔚), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成) and several others were arrested for unfurling banners on Beijing streets calling for Chinese officials to disclose their assets. And elsewhere, scores of New Citizens Movement activists also were arrested. Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was detained in mid-July and Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) on August 8 in Guangzhou. The authorities were tracking down Li Huaping. I was his attorney then. He was in touch with me every day letting me know his whereabouts. They got him a few days after I left China.
“Are you ready?” He asked himself in an article (Chinese) posted on July 27. “I am ready,” he answered himself calmly. “Face the disappearance that could come upon me any time with ease; with even more ease face the trial of conscience that surely awaits. What do I fear? The trial of conscience turns these crimes into laurels.”
Doing the bidding of the Communist Party in a country where rule of law is less than nominal, prosecutors in Hefei, Anhui province, indicted Li Huaping on May 5th this year on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” According to the Indictment, his offense was to demonstrate and demand that the young daughter of a dissident be allowed to go back to the elementary school from which she had been booted as a reprisal against her father. Reading
this contrived indictment, readers will be hard pressed to find criminality in what Li Huaping and his friends did because they committed no crime. Instead, the arrest and the trial of Li Huaping is part of the more than one-year-long crackdown on the New Citizens Movement to put an end to citizen activities on the rise across China.
Unlike some of the other activists of the New Citizens Movement who have been tried and sentenced, Li Huaping is not a rights lawyer or veteran dissident, nor does he have a decade of rights defense experience behind him. In a blog post titled “Myself” (Chinese) he wrote, “at the beginning, I was just a quiet person like everyone else. Then I was merely a critic who observed what was going on and expressed my views publicly, hoping that the system would reform itself slowly. But insolent as they are, they do not even tolerate such moderate voices, threatening ordinary people for reposting only a picture or a poem. Enraged by such intimidation, I overcame my fear gradually, and I came to the realization that the system is the problem and it must be changed completely.” He went on recounting his own transformation and it had a precise date. “For fellow compatriots, the night of December 9, 2008, was nothing special, but for me it was the game changer. ….Mr. Liu Xiaobo was disappeared again, I came to understand that, my own wellbeing as well as China’s wellbeing would not fall from the sky naturally. My mind has expanded since that night: it cannot go on like this anymore, whether for myself or this country. Returning home [after an evening Majong game] I made up my mind: I will devote the rest of my life to restoring truth and disseminating common sense.”
On the Road for 17 Months
Li Huaping and I were both from the central area of Hunan province and went to the same high school – the First High School of Lianyuan – except he was several classes ahead of me. He went to college in Chengdu studying geology in the mid-1980s and graduated in 1987. In the early 1990s he went to Shenzhen to start a business. After 2000, he settled in Shanghai to be with his wife where he owned a computer company and a few other businesses. What he liked most though was reading and making friends. Joining the New Citizens Movement gave him a sense of purpose and direction.
Soon after I got to know him in the spring of 2012, he told me that he had traveled for months on end, and the Shanghai authorities warned him not to go back to Shanghai, or they would harass him, even arrest him. Before he left Shanghai to travel in June 2011, he wrote (Chinese), “the security police have raided my home and interrogated me N times, and I have been summoned for tea NN times during which I was warned and threatened.”
For the next 17 months, Li Huaping traveled all over China from cities, to towns, to the remote countryside, sightseeing, making friends, networking with like-minded citizens, and making observations on a wide range of events.
His first stop was Hunan, our home province, but not his hometown. “It’s not that I don’t want to go home or I don’t love my hometown; I just don’t want to have to explain things every day. So for the time being, I am wandering in the high mountains, homesick and remorseful.” (“Memories of the Ethnic Miao Country: Mother Called on Duanwu Festival,” Chinese).
From October to December, 2011, he spent two and a half months in Tibet. In an international youth hostel in Lhasa, he, an ethnic Han, was allowed to stay but not the young Tibetan couple whom he had met on the road. He described the machine guns on the roofs, and the fortress-like police stations built in every Tibetan township. He invited his Han compatriots to listen to the “sizzling sound of life burning itself” in protest and despair. He noted that for the month or so in Lhasa and the Tibetan countryside, once a place teeming with dark-skinned Indians and white foreigners from Europe and America, he seldom saw visitors from other countries.
On the New Year of 2012, he returned home to his dying father (Chinese), a boat tracker and then factory worker who sweated for every dime he earned but left some of the most tender memories to his son.
In February, Li Huaping was in Wukan in Guangdong to witness an election never seen in the 63-year rule of the Communist Party in China, thanks to the villagers’ hard-fought battle against local corruption and the incredible attention from the world media. He marveled at the villagers’ meticulous attention to electoral procedures and their pride in taking part, and he argued (Chinese) against the wide-spread belief that the Chinese population is not ready for one-person-one-vote democracy because of its “low quality.”
In April, he was in Chongqing where just about everyone he talked to sang the praise of Bo Xilai. He could see why: crime was down, government was more efficient, and life improved. “But the biggest issue with Bo Xilai’s Chongqing was that it still relied on the rule of one man to solve social problems,” he reflected (Chinese). “Doing so with total disregard for procedural justice would further damage whatever rule of law remains and inflict more pain on the people in the long run.”
In Sichuan, he also met with friends as well as the wives of Liu Xianbin and Chen Wei, two prominent dissidents serving prison terms currently.
During the Chinese New Year he visited Li Wangyang (李旺阳) in Shaoyang, Hunan, then returned in June after the labor leader who had been imprisoned for over 20 years was found “hanged” in a hospital ward. Li Huaping wrote an open letter to the Minister of Public Security and China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate demanding an investigation of Li Wangyang’s death. In Shaoyang, the security police confiscated his documents and threatened him.
At the end of June, he was in Beijing attending one citizen dinner gathering after another, meeting scores of New Citizens Movement members. That was when I first met him after having worked with him on the Li Wangyang case.
In early July, he was in Tianjin Ji county (天津蓟县) to investigate the fire that raged on June 30 in a bustling, five-story shopping center. He observed (Chinese) the general fear and hush-up in the city and broadcast his findings online which were corroborated by other citizen reports: the death toll was in the hundreds, not the official number of ten, and everyone was ordered to keep their mouths shut about the fire. The taxi driver quizzed him to decide whether he was a plainclothes or a visitor as he claimed to be.
Days later in Taishan (山东泰山), police visited him four times one night to check his ID, and his iPad was stolen, but not his wallet nor his cellphone. And contact information in Tianjin and his documents about the fire were all stored in the laptop.
At the end of July and early August, Li Huaping was in Qidong (江苏启东), the coastal town where, on July 28, tens of thousands of residents demonstrated and “raided” the city government demanding that a plan to build a sewage pipe from Nantong to the sea via Qitong be scraped. The government announced the permanent cancellation of the plan in the face of public outrage. Talking to residents, Li Huaping concluded (Chinese), it was a contestation “between the desire for local autonomy and the top-down dictatorial system, between law-biding people and the arrogant rulers who are above the law.” “The key to the contestation,” he wrote, “is that you have power to show and you let the other side see your power. Isn’t that what ‘shiwei’ is all about?” [“示威”literally mean “display power.”]
From Xitang, Zhejiang (浙江西塘) where he stayed for 35 days, he posted in late August an essay about young workers at a Foxconn factory. What interested him most was why the employee turnover was so high at the factory where less than 70% of the new employees would stay past one month, and less than half three months. Among the reasons he explored was the internal policing force and other inhumane treatment that debased human beings to less than a machine status. “A world-class manufacturer with nearly $250 billion in annual output value and a highly developed management system,” he wrote (Chinese), “can integrate so seamlessly with the communist methods.”
In September, he was in Lanzhou visiting Chen Pingfu (陈平福), the street violinist and blogger charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” He wrote in the essay “Subvert Common Sense vs. Subvert the State Power: A Visit to Chen Pingfu” (Chinese), “in China, the reality is such that there are no traffic lights, no pedestrian crossings, the drivers (rulers) drive however they want, make turns at will, without regard to the pedestrians (the people). Each one of us is approaching danger without knowing it.”
From Lanzhou, he went to Urumqi, Xinjiang.
On the road he wrote, “Any ideology, system, or organization that is against human nature is bound to crumble, and that is our optimism. We help bring it down not because we are great and noble, but because it generates from our concern for others’ fate and for our own prospects. We shall persevere without giving up.”
As a Christian, he brought only one book, the Bible. “Lying down by the gurgling water, I feel blissful and satisfied.”
Back to Shanghai
On October 24, 2012, after more than 400 days on the road, he returned to his home in Shanghai. The Shanghai police kept their word: the very day after he arrived, eight police officers came and took him to the police station to “be investigated for disrupting social order.” His communications were under 24/7 surveillance.
In “Security Police Officer Zhang Lei vs. Citizen Li Huaping” published in April, 2013, he said in less than six months since his return he had been summoned nearly 50 times for “obstructing performance of public duties,” “spreading rumors,” or “inciting street demonstrations.” In addition, the security police took his wife’s laptop, in which he stored thousands of photos from his travels, without providing a search warrant or list of confiscated objects, and did so by breaking into his home when he was away. Then they confiscated his nephew’s laptop, his own desktop, and a hard drive belonging to his wife, a history professor at Tongji University. “It stored years of my wife’s work, and it’s priceless,” he said.
I was the one who sent news of so many of his “summons” or short detentions in the name of “summon” online. During the latter, he would refuse to eat or drink.
In Shanghai, the citizen dinner gatherings were monitored, harassed and often prevented with participants receiving personal threats and intimidation.
The security police threatened him saying, if he continued to participate in citizen activities, he would endanger his family. They also tried to get him to leave the country. Because of him, his wife, who taught for 20 years at Tongji University, was dismissed by the university and forced to live in exile in the U.S. with their daughter.
On December 10, 2012, World Human Rights Day, Li Huaping wrote an open letter (English) to Xi Jinping. “It is a matter of fact that you are the wielder of the highest power in mainland China, and it doesn’t matter whether I disagree with how the supreme leader of 1.3 billion mainland Chinese is determined,” he wrote.
Sir, you are a busy man who has ten thousand things to take care of every day, and I won’t splash too much ink here. In this letter, I only want to talk about one issue: When dealing with dissidents, you and the government of the People’s Republic of China should, and must, observe procedural justice according to the law.
As a Doctor of Law, Mr. Xi Jinping of course understands that “Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.” While “to be done” addresses the outcome of justice, “seen to be done” stresses the necessity for such justice being done in a visible manner. And both are equally important, and neither should be denied. Without appropriate procedure, there would be no procedural justice to speak of. “Justice” achieved through inappropriate, unlawful procedure is like the flower of a pernicious plant, and must be cast away no matter how pretty it looks.
I admit that I am a “dissident”, but I didn’t set out to be one. Even if I devote all my time to this cause one day, it will not be a career, but an attitude of existence: To live my life honestly and truthfully.
On July 30th, Li Huaping will be tried for the Hefei demonstration. If the indictment is any indication, we are unlikely to see the procedural justice he so eloquently demanded be served.
From Ideas to Actions
Between 2010 and the spring of 2013, he had had 14 blogs and all but one were deleted by censors. His last blog was shut down after the CCP’s 18th Congress in November 2012. It existed for only a little over one year and has 4,350,000 page views. Shortly before his arrest, some of his articles were uploaded to Boxun blog.
“What makes me cringe in China is not the evil of the state apparatus but the majority of the population telling you: this is how this country is; you can’t change it, you just have to get used to it. They can be your schoolmates, colleagues, friends, relatives, and loved ones. As long as they are not hurt themselves, they will keep their eyes shut about anyone else being hurt,” he wrote (Chinese) in 2010.
“Through quiet exposition and independent thinking, we have to first of all understand what common sense is: Constitutionalism is the most important of all! Constitutionalism brings four ideas together: liberalism, democracy, republicanism, and rule of law. Of the four, liberalism is the objective, democracy is the foundation, republicanism is the structure, and rule of law is the restraint and form. It is more important for us to devote our efforts to disseminate this common sense. When constitutionalism becomes society’s mainstream discourse, its common sense and agreed values, then fairness and justice will come as water runs down its course” (2010, Chinese).
The CCP authorities must have come to the same conclusion. To make sure constitutionalism does not become the consensus of Chinese society, the party issued the notorious Document No. 9 to ban any discussions of it in schools and media.
In the New Citizens Movement, Li Huaping found his calling. He wrote about a citizen’s awareness and responsibilities, about how to build citizen circles in Chinese cities; how the more people practice their political rights, the less sensitive it becomes, and the more difficult it is for the government to crack down. He believed that serving the public interest is essential for citizen circles to connect with the people, to spread love, and to develop itself.
He wrote “Guidelines to Same-city Citizen Dinner Gathering” (Chinese) in December 2012 laying out the specifics of organizing and growing citizen circles and the tasks of key members.
When the arrests of New Citizens Movement members started in the spring of 2013, he initiated the Citizen Watch Initiative (公民守望工程) to provide aid to those in prison, material, spiritual and in terms of public opinion. His idea was to provide sustained support to families of imprisoned citizens to ensure their normal living standards. Before he himself was arrested, some prisoners of conscience were already receiving help from the initiative.
His last post titled “The New Citizens Movement: the Current Situation and Our Tasks” (Chinese) was published a day before his arrest. “You can wait for the CCP dictatorship to collapse and it will, but civil society will not grow on its own. It has to be built bit by bit,” his first sentence reads. He believed that it is a good choice to unite the opposition movement on the citizen platform, and that the growing number of citizen teams across the country will change China.”
His lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) recently reported that the authorities said to Li Huaping that they will free him if he agrees to acknowledge his wrongdoings. He he rejected it, for he was already bound. “Yesterday when we were setting up to camp, a rainbow fell on me. I said to myself: Free China. This is a covenant between the God and me.”
Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), born in 1972, is a Beijing-based lawyer from Hunan. She is a graduate of the University of International Business and Economics School of Law in Beijing. Because of her rights defense-related work, she has been subjected to police surveillance, threats, and unlawful restriction of personal freedom. She is currently a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
A Chinese Dissident Makes Demands of Xi Jinping, by Li Huaping
(Translated by China Change from a version rewritten for this site with updates. All photos are taken from Li Huaping’s blogs or online.)
By Xiao Guozhen, published: July 23, 2014
This is China Change’s second profile of Guo Feixiong. Read the one by Xiao Shu.
On August 8, 2013, Guangzhou-based rights activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, a.k.a. Yang Maodong) disappeared. Ten days later following a sustained uproar on social media, his sister finally confirmed his criminal detention upon receiving a notice of such from the Chinese police for allegedly “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Assembling a crowd? Disrupting order? Where? People familiar with Guo Feixiong wondered, including myself. His lawyer at that time, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), explained: the allegation has to do with street demonstrations in support of the Southern Weekend at the beginning of the year. Before him, in Beijing, starting that spring, the New Citizens Movement participants, including Dr. Xu Zhiyong and lawyer Ding Jiaxi, had been arrested and similarly charged for unfurling banners and giving speeches on street calling for government officials to disclose their assets and for China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The arrest of Guo Feixiong was part of the ongoing nation-wide crackdown on politically active citizens who had sought to exercise their rights.
Guo Feixiong was indicted on June 19, 2014, on the same charges for his role in the Southern Weekend protests and other street demonstrations, and his trial is expected soon. If the trials of Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Liu Ping, and many more over the last a few months are any indication, Guo Feixiong will be found “guilty” and given a harsh sentence, I fear.
A Pioneer of China’s Rights Movement
It would be his 2nd prison term. In the summer of 2005 during the Taishi villagers’ struggle to impeach their village officials for corruption, Guo Feixiong provided villagers with legal assistance and initiatied a media campaign, working
with an assortment of lawyers, journalists, and scholars in one of the earliest incidents that ushered in the rights movement in China. At the time he had already participated and worked with rights lawyers in a number of cases defending rights and freedoms, such as the cases of Cai Zhuohua “illegally” printing Bibles and the Shaanxi private oil rigs. As a philosophy student at East China Normal University in Shanghai, he was an active leader in student democracy movement in 1986 and again in 1989. In September 2005, he was criminally detained by Guangzhou Fanyu Public Security Bureau, and in December was released after the prosecutors dropped the case. He was one of the 14 Persons of the Year of Yazhou Weekly (HK), along with Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Li Heping (李和平) and six others. In September 2006, Guo Feixiong was arrested for rallying support for lawyer Gao Zhisheng who had been arrested a month earlier for his defense of Falungong practitioners and his condemnation of atrocities against them.
The horrendous tortures of Gao Zhisheng have been well documented. Guo Feixiong was tortured nearly as badly. When he was convicted of “the crime of illegally operating a business,” in a trial that had no physical evidence but statements obtained through coercion, was sentenced to five years in prison on November 12, 2007. He described these tortures in his self-defense to the court: In Guangzhou First Detention Center, he was interrogated for 13 consecutive days and nights and prevented from sleeping; he was put in shackles for over 100 days, and for 42 days, he was tied to a wooden bed with hands and feet cuffed to it so that he could not bend his body. In the secret detention facility in Shenyang, he was beaten savagely by the police covering his head with a black hood; he was put in the infamous “tiger bench” (老虎凳) for 4 hours; his manhood was shocked by police using high-voltage electric baton, and, unable to endure it, he attempted to end his life by thrusting toward a glassed window; he was put in the same cell with inmates on death-row and, when an murderer threatened to pluck his eyeballs out, he broke a window and defended himself with broken glass.
“Free” for Twenty-Three Months
Upon release from prison in September, 2011, Guo Feixiong told Deutsche Welle in an interview, “What I have experienced in the hands of police was far worse than what [overseas Chinese] media had reported. But for the time being, I do not want to expose anything or anyone. I want to promote something rare in the Chinese society, a concept of tolerance. [We] do not oppose individuals, [we] do not create hostility; instead, [we] advocate democracy and rule of law in China by way of a happy ending.”
Free of bitterness (I don’t know how he did it), he began picking up where he had left and catching up, while living alone in Guangzhou. His wife and daughter left China during his imprisonment to seek asylum in the U. S.
The first time I worked with Feixiong was on the Li Wangyang case. Li Wangyang was a labor activist in Shaoyang, Hunan province (湖南邵阳), during the 1989 democracy movement across pretty China. Li Wangyang had served two prison terms and one labor-camp sentence totaling twenty-one years on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement, and subversion. He lost both his sight and hearing and almost all of his teeth as a result of torture endured in prison. On June 6, 2012, one year after his latest release from prison and four days after a Hong Kong media outlet broadcast an interview of him in commemoration of the Tiananmen Movement anniversary, he was found “hanged” in a hospital ward in his hometown. Li Wangyang’s death outraged the activist circle and touched off a massive protest in Hong Kong.
Feixiong and I worked on a statement calling for rights lawyers and legal scholars to form a legal support team and to demand an investigation and justice.
Working with Feixiong was like on a secret mission. We couldn’t talk on the phone because – he told me through more secure (or so we thought) communication — “there is high-tech surveillance equipment outside my apartment building and they watch everything I do and stalk me wherever I go.”
For drafting the statement with Feixiong and campaigning to collect signatures, I was summoned and questioned in police custody for 8 hours. Afterwards, Feixiong encouraged me to write an account of the experience. “It will generate publicity for the team of signers, but also a frontal declaration of our belief and determination. It will shake our persecutors on the inside.”
At the end of July, 2012, Feixiong visited Beijing and we met almost every day at different gatherings. He met with friends old and new, veteran dissidents and young bloods, rights lawyers and activists, scholars and artists. He talked about cooperation and networking. He had his eyes on building a connected citizen block across professions and geographic barriers. I think that was the drive behind his Beijing trip.
Not surprisingly, everywhere we were, whether outside the home of Mr. Hu Shigen (胡石根), with whom Feixiong stayed, or inside a restaurant, or leaving 798 art district, there were security police around or trailing behind us. One time, with Hu Jia behind the wheel, we shook off the vehicle following us at an intersection, unloaded Feixiong who quickly hid behind a billboard at a bus station, and continued driving to lead the security police away. You only see scenes like this in a movie, but this was on the streets in Beijing.
Finally they kidnapped Feixiong to stop him. Midday On August 2nd, Zhao Changqing, who is serving a two years and six months prison term for being a key figure in the New Citizens Movement, told me that Feixiong had been taken away by the police and could not be reached by phone. The next morning I finally got hold of Feixiong. He was in police custody for 13 hours through three transfers: from the neighborhood police station near Mr. Hu’s home to Beijing security police to Guangzhou security police and finally to his neighborhood police station.
Later that day, having managed to slip past surveillance he boarded a train to Beijing as though in a contest of will with the security police. Back in Beijing, he visited the Great Wall in Badaling (八达岭长城) and, a month later, he sent friends a photo of him on the Great Wall taken by a tourist. “I want to send you the most recent photo of me in case I am detained again,” he wrote.
Throughout the summer and into the fall and winter, he was repeatedly summoned for interrogation, but he kept it to himself. “During the five years in prison, I had been through countless torture sessions and beatings. It’s tiring to expose the kind of summons, stalking, and mental harassment I go through now.” But in December, he decided to publicize them. “The security police violate the rights of democracy activists and rights defenders by routinely employing house arrest, summons and forced travel and other egregious means. Few fight back directly, but I reject it categorically, so they are very incensed and take it out on me – they made this clear to me,” he wrote in an email. “If we don’t expose such insidiousness, we could be encouraging them while inadvertently preventing people new to the freedom movement from learning about and receiving training on the struggle.”
Rallying Support for Colleagues
Feixiong’s first prison term was, in part, due to his frantic actions to rescue his close friend, lawyer Gao Zhisheng more than ten years ago. “I propose that all forces, internationally and domestically, be mobilized for a strong and resolute campaign to rescue Gao Zhisheng,” he wrote in August, 2006. “We are not just rescuing one individual but the conscience of the country. The rescue helps the overall democracy movement and rights movement in China.” “The dictators believe they can control and strangle us. It’s time for us to tell them, with our actions, that, no, they can’t!” (link in Chinese)
In July, 2009, while a prisoner in Meizhou, Guangdong, Feixiong exposed a homicide between inmates to the prison management and tried to protect the life of another prisoner. He managed to send the news out to rights lawyer Liu Shihui and spread it. For this Feixiong was beaten dozens of times by thugs doing the authorities’ bidding. The prisoner he protected, risking his own life, escaped execution and was eventually released. Liu Shihui marveled, “Guo Feixiong’s bravery is extraordinary….while a prisoner himself, he identified the murderer in front of the lawyers.”
When the nation-wide crackdown on the New Citizens Movement and other activities started in the spring of 2013, he was concerned and anxious. In emails to me, he urged support in various fashions for Li Huaping (李化平) in Hefei, Liu Ping (刘萍) in Xinyu, the first four NCM activists in Beijing, and the dozen or so activists in Guangdong. After Ding Jiaxi and Zhao Changqing were arrested in April, Feixiong penned an article (link in Chinese) singing the praise of the two “democracy heroes in Beijing.”
Feixiong’s efforts do not stop at organizing protests and defense teams and drafting statements. With any given case he was involved, his eyes were set on systematic change. Following the Li Wangyang tragedy, us and other colleagues studied the Coroner’s Report and the Coroner’s Court system in Hong Kong. “We want to launch a social movement to try to introduce the coroner’s court into mainland China.” Cao Shunli’s death in March this year would have further advanced Feixiong’s effort should he be “free.”
All of our efforts, of course, point to the ultimate question: It is difficult and futile to plan a good tree in poisoned soil, and in China, what needs to be changed is the soil itself.
In January, 2013, during the Southern Weekend incident, Feixiong gave speeches on street arguing, straight to the point: “China’s media censorship is the most reactionary thought policing system that should have long been abolished. We are here today to support the Southern Weekend, not just because they were suppressed; we are here to fight for a universal right, and that universal right is the freedom of speech.”
While battles still have to be fought one at a time, Feixiong initiated the campaign to demand the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the Chinese National People’s Congress. China signed the ICCPR in 1998 as it bid for WTO entry but has never ratified it.
Feixiong didn’t seem to have foreseen his own arrest in August, 2013. Or maybe he did, taking it as a close possibility on any given day. His two crimes, according the indictment whose crudeness and ludicrousness the Chinese authorities are not shy from showing to the rest of the civilized world, had to do with protests during the Southern Weekend incident, the street demonstration for the ratification of ICCPR, and asset disclosure by officials.
Theorist and Strategist
Everyone knows Guo Feixiong is fierce and indomitable. When he was detained in 2005 in connection to his work in providing legal training to Taishi villagers, he staged a hunger strike for 59 days in protest. In Meizhou prison where he started to serve the five-year sentence in 2007, he was on a hunger strike for 75 days demanding political reform from the Chinese government. He again was on a hunger strike for 25 days protesting his illegal detention which he believed was for no other reason but to prevent him from continuing his activism as well as being a sustained reprisal for his role in China’s rights movement.
Everyone knows he has been a doer, and has made profound contributions to the development of civil society in China over the last decade or so.
But fewer people know that he is also a theorist who wrote more than 40 articles between spells of prison terms, reflecting on topics ranging from the complexity of Deng Xiaoping’s character to the causes of the collapse of the USSR, from the positive impact of the rights movement on all levels of society to the concept of “popular sovereignty.”
He placed major rights defense events into larger perspectives. In an essay titled The Taishi Incident and China’s Rights Movement – Speech at Harvard University Fairbank Center for East Asia Research on June 20, 2006, he analyzed the social causes of the event and the key players in addition to the villagers themselves. He wrote, exuding optimism for the future of the rights movement, “together, the development of civil society and an independent judiciary are the two primary goals of liberal and democratic advocates.”
In his long article Reflections on the Three-day Political Gatherings in Front of the Southern Weekend Offices, published in January, 2013, his thoughts centered on two things: citizens and action. “A citizen,” he wrote, “is by definition a man who possesses political rights and exercises his political rights. Real citizens are active citizens.” “To push forward the constitutional democracy process and to build civil society, we must start from direct actions, from exercising citizens’ political rights.”
Apart from the usual “suspects” such as rights lawyers, veteran activists, liberal thinkers and online opinion leaders, he saw grassroots young activists, not college students, as in 1989, as the main players in future democracy movements, especially when they joined with the urban middle class. Meanwhile he made positive calls to the authorities in Guangdong and beyond: “civil society’s democracy experiments need assistance from both the authorities and the civil society itself. The authorities need not to support them; it shall be enough if they do not oppose them, sabotage them and illegally suppress them.”
Fexiong’s arrest and indictment must be a cruel awakening. He will be tried soon, and in all likelihood, he will be “convicted” and locked up in jail again as they did to the New Citizens Movement activists in Beijing and the Xinyu Three and more in Hefei, Chibi, Zhengzhou and those elsewhere waiting to be tried.
For much of the past eight years his friend Gao Zhisheng has lost his freedom and suffered unspeakable torture and spent the last two years and eight months in the remote Shaya prison in Xiangjiang. His friend Gao Zhisheng due to be released on August 7, but Feixiong is again in jail facing trial. Such is China’s political reality, and the history of China’s rights movement in a nut shell. It is true that people’s awareness of, and demand for, rights have grown tremendously over the last decade, but precisely because of it, the economically strengthened dictatorship in China is suppressing such demand with unprecedented resources and harshness. The two forces are tearing China apart. They can put Guo Feixiongs and Xu Zhiyongs in jail, but they will not stop this ever expanding divide.
News brought back from lawyers’ meetings with Feixiong is worrisome. He is suffering from joint pains and general weakness. His sister, a MD, said a hunger strike caused his health to deteriorate rapidly and the prison diet and living conditions don’t help. I would add that, from case after case we know that the Chinese authorities have destroyed the physical and mental health of many politically prisoners. Last July, days before being secretly detained, he asked me to “please help call for attention” to his case should he be in trouble again. My heart was broken. I have told his stories to everyone and anyone I can, and I have prayed for him. Here I am, writing what I know of him in the hope that more people will get to know Guo Feixiong, and more people will speak out and do what they can to demand his freedom.
Too often we tend to recognize and admire the heroes when they are gone, but we must realize that sometimes they live right in our midst. I think Feixiong is such a person and we must cherish him here and now.
Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), born in 1972, is a Beijing-based lawyer from Hunan. She is a graduate of the University of International Business and Economics School of Law in Beijing. Because of her rights defense-related work, she has been subjected to police surveillance, threats, and unlawful restriction of personal freedom. She is currently a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“‘I Want to Be a Man of My Word’: A Summary of the Guo Feixiong Case and His Political Goals” by his lawyer Zhang Xuezhong
Journalists at the Southern Media Group Speak out, Again, discrediting charges against Guo Feixiong and other activists
(Translated by China Change from a version rewritten for this site)