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Explaining China’s ‘People’s Congress’ Through the Tales of Three: A Hand-raising Automaton, An Independent Candidate, and An Electoral Activist
Teng Biao, March 12, 2019
As the Communist Party held this year’s “Two Sessions” (两会), Beijing activist Hu Jia (胡佳) was kept under control by being forcibly moved across the country to Guangdong. Human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永), of the New Citizens Movement, received midnight visits in Zhengzhou and were interrogated without explanation. The number of human rights defenders who are under house arrest or have been disappeared is in the thousands. The security departments at all levels are operating at full capacity on a nationwide scale with the capital at the center, consuming a great deal of manpower and financial resources as they use high-tech means to monitor every corner of society.
In its editorial Bring an Immediate End to the Human Rights Disaster of the Two Sessions (《立刻停止制造“两会”人权灾难》), Minsheng Watch (民生观察) wrote that “each March, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) hold their so-called Two Sessions. On paper, the Sessions should represent public opinion, and use the insights gather from it to form national policies and regulations. In fact, the Two Sessions have become a tool for obstructing, suppressing, and banning popular will; they have become associated with the abduction, detention, house arrest, surveillance, harassment, and disappearance, of dissidents and human rights activists. The Two Sessions have become a total human rights disaster for the Chinese people.”
Which national parliament meeting needs the protection of over a million personnel from the military, police, public security, national security and civilian security personnel? Who holds a meeting with such trepidation, as if walking on thin ice, mobilizing so many public resources? This lays bare the truth that the NPC is a tool to isolate and oppose the people. Behind this, it reflects the two-track political calculus of the Chinese authorities: to flex its muscles in front of the people by making a show of force and privilege, and to try to cover up the Communist Party’s greatest anxieties.
In fact, even if the petitioners are able to stuff the petition materials into the hands of the people’s representatives, few of the representatives would so much as take a look. These NPC deputies are not elected by the people. According to China’s electoral system, these people were elected by “indirect elections”: at no juncture throughout all levels of the “people’s representatives,” from county to city, from city to province, and from province to the National People’s Congress, does the “indirect” have anything to do with the people who are supposedly being represented. It is, plain and simple, a power game. In the twenty-first century, Chinese citizens are unable to directly select their national leaders and legislators, and unable to directly elect provincial and municipal leaders and deputies to the People’s Congresses on these levels. They can’t even directly elect the heads of county and township.
While in theory county- and township-level People’s Congress representatives are directly elected, those elections are completely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without multi-party competition, freedom of association, and freedom of the press, the election is doomed to be a farce. The majority of NPC deputies are from the Party, the government, the judiciary, and the military. They are legislator, executor, and judge all at once. There is no division of the three branches of power; the unity of party and state amounts to political incest.
On top of this are a small number of models workers, writers, academicians, celebrities, ethnic minorities, and the like, who are arranged to participate for the sake of political decoration. They have no task apart from stay in luxury hotels, give enthusiastic applause, and spew flattery.
The most amazing NPC deputy is an 89-year-old grandma named Shen Jilan (申纪兰). Starting when she was a girl of 18, she has been elected 13 times as an NPC deputy — the only person to hold this distinction. “She supported the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Commune, and the Cultural Revolution. She was in favor of struggling against Liu Shaoqi, and she agreed to fight Deng Xiaoping. Later, she agreed to denounce the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune, she agreed to the denunciation of the reforms, and she agreed to rehabilitating Liu and Deng.” She raised her hand in favor of all these contradictory positions, without fail, for decades.
Shen Jilan explained: “The representatives’ job is to listen to the Party, so I have never voted against it.” When a reporter asked her whether she would communicate with the voters during the election process, she said, “We are democratically elected, it’s inappropriate to have discussions with [voters.” This “hand-raising automaton” is a living, breathing specimen of Party spirit (党性). She claims to represent the peasantry, but she is actually a retired cadre at the prefecture level. Many of her family members are local officials. As an outstanding representative of the NPC, Shen Jilan presents, in concentrated form, the falsehood, absurdity, and ugliness of the legislature under the CCP.
In the election of deputies to the county-level People’s Congresses, the Communist Party guarantees the finalists of the audience through various nuanced means, by hook or crook. Candidates recognized by the Party can easily be elected without any need to promote and campaign. However, since the law does not prohibit citizens from independently participating in county-level people’s congress deputies, some brave citizens have tried to explore this approach, and in the case of a slightly liberal environment, some individuals can still be elected successfully. In the election of the (Beijing) Haidian District People’s Representatives in 1980, Fang Zhiyuan (房志远), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Hu Ping (胡平), and Zhang Wei (张炜) of the Peking University constituency successively posted election campaign declarations, organized voters’ meetings, debates, held opinion polls, and published “Electoral Shortwaves” and other neutral publications. In the end, Hu Ping was elected.
Since 1987, Yao Lifa (姚立法) of Hubei Province has written himself in as a candidate in the elections for the People’s Congress of Qianjiang City four times (湖北潜江). He was finally elected in 1998 and was the first People’s Representative to be elected in China after 1988. In 2003 and 2008, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a lecturer at Peking University of Posts and Telecommunications, was twice elected as a representative of the Haidian District People’s Congress as an independent candidate. One of the aims of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) initiated by Xu Zhiyong and myself is to encourage and help citizens from all over the country to run as independent candidates at the grass roots in elections for local People’s Congresses. This has become an important part of the rights protection movement since 2003. The independent candidacy reached a zenith in the election at the end of 2011. Many laid-off workers, students, professors, journalists, lawyers and IT professionals, including well-known online writers such as Li Chengpeng (李承鹏) and Xia Shang (夏商), ran as independent candidates. In encouraging participation in the electoral process through online agitation and offline activism, they built up quite an impressive force.
However, many independent candidates have been harassed, threatened, monitored, and even brutally beaten during the electoral process. Dissident Zhao Changqing (赵常青) became a deputy candidate for the People’s Congress in Nanzheng County, Shaanxi Province in 1997 (陕西南郑县). However, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “crime of endangering national security” after he exposed illegal acts during the election. In Wuhan in 2006, democracy activist Sun Bu’er (孙不二) was followed, beaten, and forced to withdraw his candidacy during the election. He was later arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. The very few independent representatives who were successfully elected were quickly squeezed out after the authorities realized they were disobedient, or were easily taken out in the next election.
At this juncture, I can’t help but mention my good friend, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) who is still serving his prison sentence Guangzhou. In 2006, he launched the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” (赎回选票运动), a nonviolent non-cooperation movement that fought back against rigged elections and raised civic awareness. By publicly stating that they refused to vote, they made clear that they would not take part in or comply with the pseudo-elections that did not represent the people, and in this way hoped to awaken the voters’ awareness of their rights.
Hundreds of people responded to the campaign and publicly voiced their refusal to participate in the election. I am also one of them. I also wrote to support and promote this movement, analyzing its similarities and differences with civil disobedience. In 2014, Tang Jingling was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” because of the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” and other pro-democracy and human rights activities. The independent participation of citizens in elections and the visible non-cooperation in the elections are different ways of revealing the fraudulent nature of Chinese elections in different directions.
Shen Jilan spent her life as a tool and accomplice to dictatorship, while it is those like Yao Lifa and the imprisoned Tang Jingling who truly represent the Chinese people’s bitter and courageous struggle for democracy.
Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer who now lives in New Jersey.
Members of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, March 8, 2019
Lu Tingge (卢廷阁) is a lawyer based in Shijiazhuang (石家庄), the capital of Hebei province. He is one of the newer faces in the community of human rights lawyers in China. In February he put forward a proposal to limit the legislative authorities of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and more than a thousand Chinese citizens signed to support the proposal. He has been missing since March 2. — The Editors
We have learned from multiple sources that, on March 2, the Shijiazhuang-based lawyer Lu Tingge was taken away by officials of Shijiazhuang municipal Justice Bureau and his neighborhood police officers, and that his family and colleagues have not been able to get in touch with him for seven days as of today.
Lawyer Lu called his wife once on the evening of March 2, not using his own cell phone, but that of Xing Qiang (邢强), an official of the Bureau. Since then his family has not been able to get in touch with him.
We as lawyers believe this is a serious violation of a citizen’s basic human rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of communication. It is a typical act of enforced disappearance. Those who are involved in disappearing lawyer Lu Tingge have committed the crime of extralegal detention defined by Article 238 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.
We have reasons to believe that the enforced disappearance of lawyer Lu is probably related to his proposal for amending the Constitution and his gathering signatures of support because several lawyers who signed have been summoned for talks by officials of their local Justice Bureaus.
Lawyer Lu’s disappearance reminds us of a number of human rights defenders whose freedom has been partially restricted for their expressions. We believe that:
First, it is immoral to secretly categorize and identify citizens for their expressions and political orientations; it is immoral to conduct secret and prolonged investigations of lawful citizens who are merely exercising their constitutional rights.
Second, it is illegal to forcibly evict or limit the movement of certain citizens based on such secret categorization and identification when the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), or the Chinese Communist Party’s national conference convenes, or on dates deemed particularly sensitive. It is a blatant contravention of constitutional rights and in opposition to the government’s claim of governing the country according to the law.
Third, the central requirement of governing the country according to the law is to respect and protect basic human rights and to allow citizens to be free of fear. Enforced disappearances by the government will create permeating fear. Such inappropriate exercise and transgression of power sets a precedent and can easily be multiplied, creating threats to all citizens. The enforced disappearance of lawyer Lu Tingge will inevitably and adversely affect ordinary people.
Fourth, according to article 16 and article 23 of the United Nations’ “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers,” “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” that “lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly,” and that “they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…”
We call on Shijiazhuang Justice Bureau and neighborhood police to immediately restore lawyer Lu Tingge’s physical freedom and freedom of communication.
We call on the Hebei provincial government’s disciplinary and supervisory entities to investigate the civil servants who have been involved in committing the crime of illegal detention in this case and to eliminate the ill effects it has created.
Members of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团)
March 8, 2019
Earnest Request to the National People’s Congress to Form a Special Committee of Inquiry into the “July 9 Crackdown” on Lawyers
By relatives, defense counsels, and concerned lawyers, published: March 4, 2016
To the deputies, presidium, and delegations attending the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress:
We are a group made up of defense lawyers and family members of individuals taken into custody during the “July 9 Crackdown,” together with other lawyers and citizens who care about this incident. We are concerned about protecting the rights and interests of the detained and troubled even more by the current state of China’s rule of law and human rights.
The “July 9 Crackdown” refers to the sweeping arrests that took place on July 9, 2015, and the several days that followed. Under the direction of the Ministry of Public Security, police throughout the country placed at least 19 practicing lawyers and rights activists under residential surveillance in a designated location. The vast majority of them were formally arrested after six months on charges of inciting subversion or subversion. The crackdown also extended to at least 317 lawyers and activists who were summoned, forced to meet with police, threatened or harassed. This major social and legal incident has attracted worldwide attention.
We believe that police handling these cases have, through the acts listed below, demonstrated failure to fulfill the state’s responsibility to protect human rights as set out in the UN Charter and international treaties that the Chinese government has signed and the NPC has ratified. They have maliciously interpreted and violated the basic criminal justice principles and provisions set out in China’s constitution, criminal law, and criminal procedure law, as can be seen in these specific acts:
- Breaking down doors to arrest people in the middle of the night, scaring detainees’ family members and neighbors.
- Meeting with more than 300 lawyers and rights activists in a short period of time throughout the country and using threats to prevent them from acting as legal counsel or speaking out on behalf of the detainees.
- Placing restrictions on the ability of human rights lawyers and rights activists to travel abroad.
- Failure to explain the reasons for detention at the time of taking suspects into custody and afterwards failing to notify family members or tell them the location of detention, the specific unit or individuals in charge of the case, or the crime.
- Despite the clear lack of any relevant criminal circumstances, carrying out arbitrary prosecutions on serious criminal charges of inciting subversion and subversion in order to prevent lawyers from meeting with detainees.
- Abusing Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law regarding use of residential surveillance in a designated location,
- Refusing to provide lawyers with basic details of the case in accordance with the law, refusing to allow lawyers to correspond with detainees, and illegally depriving defense lawyers of their rights to meet with detainees and provide defense.
- Taking matters into their own hands and appointing lawyers for the detainees, refusing to accept the defense lawyers retained by family members, refusing to hand over documents from the detainee required to dismiss a lawyer, and refusing defense lawyers’ requests to meet with detainees to verify in person their true intentions regarding legal representation.
- Police use of guilt by association, isolation, and character assassination, challenging social ethics and creating an atmosphere of terror:
(1) Guilt by association: For example, the sons of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun and of Fengrui Law Firm lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan have both been prevented from going abroad to pursue their educations because of unlawful restrictions on their personal freedom. The father of rights activist Wu Gan has been prosecuted on groundless charges, and several others have been implicated in the case and arrested, including: the wife of rights activist Gou Hongguo; Li Heping’s younger brother, Li Chunfu, and his two assistants, Gao Yue and Zhao Wei; and Zhou Shifeng’s assistant, Li Shuyun.
(2) Character assassination: On the one hand, police have deleted posts, closed social media accounts, shut down blogs, and otherwise prohibited speaking out in order to prevent defense lawyers and family members from disseminating the truth about the “July 9 Crackdown.” On the other hand, the police have used state media like China Central Television, People’s Daily, Xinhuanet, Global Times, and Wenzhou TV to broadcast slanderous statements and forced confessions about and by the detained lawyers and rights activists. They have used these media to reveal personal details about people to disparage them and parade them in public in order to convict them in the media before any trial has even taken place.
After the “July 9 Crackdown,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, treaty bodies like the Committee against Torture, and governments, bar associations, and non-governmental organizations from many foreign countries have protested and expressed concern about Chinese police repression of the country’s lawyers and rights activists, who meet the standard for human rights defenders.
We believe that, even though there are many difficulties associated with China’s social transition, the detained lawyers and rights activists have not created these problems. On the contrary, they have demonstrated initiative and courage by placing these difficult issues on the table in hopes of resolving them through legal channels. There is a global consensus about the important role that lawyers and rights defenders play in societies with rule of law. The long-term, large-scale, systematic, and so far unrepentant manner in which Chinese police in this case have brutally undermined and challenged international treaties, national law, and social ethics has not only seriously violated the interests of the many individuals in this case but also negatively affected the public’s rational expectations for rule of law and China’s national image. If this situation is allowed to continue to deteriorate and is not brought to a stop, it will have an incalculable and irreversible negative impact on China’s modernization process.
For these reasons, we believe that the urgency and importance of this case meets the conditions for the National People’s Congress to initiate a committee of inquiry into specific issues under Article 71 of the Constitution of the PRC. Recalling Article 46 of the National People’s Congress Rules of Procedure (“The presidium, three or more delegations, or a group of one tenth or more of the number of deputies may propose the appointment of a committee of inquiry into specific issues. The proposal shall be submitted by the presidium to a plenary meeting of the session for decision.”), on the occasion of the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress, we as citizens of the People’s Republic of China and direct victims of this incident hereby make the following solemn requests:
- Upon receipt of this letter, the deputies, presidium, and delegations attending the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress should immediately carry out their representative duties and their supervisory responsibilities as the highest organ of state power and initiate, in accordance with the law, a special committee of inquiry into the “July 9 Crackdown” that will thoroughly investigate unconstitutional and illegal actions carried out by relevant state organs and individuals and take measures to rectify those acts continuing to take place in violation of the constitution and the law.
- We welcome and will actively cooperate with any investigation by the special committee of inquiry carried out in accordance with the law! We also hope that our fellow Chinese throughout society will follow their conscience and reason and truthfully provide any information they have to this special committee of inquiry. Together, we can say “no” to all bad behavior that tramples on human rights and ignores China’s constitution and laws! Together, we can show our concern and give assistance to those Chinese who are struggling in the depths of misery and show support to those brave human rights defenders on the front lines!
Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), wife of lawyer, Henan
Fan Lili (樊丽丽), wife of Gou Hongguo, Shanxi
Li Wenzu (李文足), wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Hubei
Wang Quanxiu (王全秀), sister of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Shandong
Yuan Shanshan (原姗姗), wife of lawyer Xie Yanyi, Liaoning
Zhao Yonghong (赵永洪), father of lawyer’s assistant Zhao Wei, Henan
Zheng Ruixia (郑瑞霞), mother of Zhao Wei, Henan
Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of Xie Yang, Hunan
1. Yu Wensheng (余文生), for Wang Quanzheng
2. Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), for Zhang Kai and Tang Zhishun
3. Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀), for Liu Sixin and Zhai Yanmin
4. Wen Donghai (文东海), for Wang Yu
5. Chang Boyang (常伯阳), for Lin Bin
6. Zhang Zhongshi (张重实), for Xie Yang
7. Cheng Hai (程海), for Wang Quanzhang
8. Lei Qilei (蔺其磊), for Xie Yan, Zhang Wanhe, Yin Xu’an
9. Ren Quanniu (任全牛), for Zhao Wei
10. Ji Zhongjiu (纪中久), for Gou Hongguo
11. 吕洲宾 (吕洲宾), for Bao Longjun
12. Huang Hanzhong (黄汉中), for Bao Longjun律师（包龙军）
13. Ma Lianshun (马连顺) for Li Heping
14. Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) for Chen Taihe
15. Yan Xin (燕 薪) for Wu Gan
16. Wang Fei (王飞) for Gao Yue
17. Li Yuhan (李昱函) for Wang Yu
18. Wang Lei (王磊律师（刘四新）
19. Jiang Yuanmin (蒋援民) for Xie Yang
20. Li Baiguang (李柏光) for Xie Yanyi and Hu Shigen
21. Chen Yixuan (陈以轩) for Chen Taihe
- Shang Baojun (尚宝军) for Liu Yongping
- Zhang Lei (张磊) for Zhang Kai
- Ran Tong (冉彤) for Chen Taihe
- Shang Manqing (尚满庆) for Liu Yongping
- Gao Chengcai (高承才) for Li Chunfu
- Liu Rongsheng (刘荣生) for Xie Yuandong
Also signed by 52 other lawyers (see the list in Chinese)
Wu Kuiming, Zhong Jinhua, Wang Qingpeng, Li Junquan, Dong Qianyong, Tang Jitian, Liu Shihui, Chen Jinhua, Xu Hongwei, Chen Keyun, Lu Fangzhi, Han Qingfang, Jiang Tianyong, Li Ruyu, He Weimin, Fu Ailing, Chen Jinxue, Zou Lihui, Deng Linhua, Lu Xintao, He Wei, Ji Laisong, Li Weida, Meng Meng, Zhao Qingshan, Liang Xiaojun, Wang Shengsheng, Guo Lianhui, Huang Zhiqiang, Ma Wei, Li Dawei, Liu Wei, Wang Qiushi, Chen Jianggang, Liu Shuqing, Zheng Enchong, Qu Yuan, Li Fangping, Tong Chaoing, Yu Quan, Li Yongheng, Lu Tingge, Luo Qian, Li Jinxing, Zeng Yi, Liu Zhengqing, Tan Yongpei, Wang Zhenjiang, Wen Haibo, Teng Biao, Wang Quanping, Xu Guijuan
March 4, 2016
Addendum: List of detained lawyers and other individuals (33 in all, listed in alphabetical order):
(1) Lawyers and legal workers
Bao Longjun, Chen Taihe, Huang Liqun, Li Chunfu, Li Heping, Li Shuyun, Liu Sixin, Sui Muqing, Wang Quanzhang, Wang Yu, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, Xie Yuandong, Zhang Kai, Zhou Shifeng
(2) Other individuals
Fang Xiangui, Gou Hongguo, Gao Yue, Hu Shigen, Huang Yizi, Lin Bin, Liu Peng, Liu Yongping, Tang Zhishun, Wang Fang, Wu Gan, Xing Qingxian, Yao Jianqing, Yi Xu’an, Yan Xiaojie, Zhao Wei, Zhang Wanhe, Zhai Yanmin
Witnesses, victims, people in the know, and any PRC citizens who are concerned with the rule of law and the progress of human rights in China are welcome to sign this request. E-mail collection point: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once again the meetings have started. At the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), you will be “elected” as the nation’s President. There will be no surprises, as there have never been over the last 60 years or so. Meanwhile, tens and thousands of people, myself included, who seek a just society, continue to face illegal restrictions on our freedom of movement in the name of “stability maintenance.”
The Chinese Constitution states that the NPC is the ultimate authority in legislation, election, supervision, and decision-making on important matters of the country, having more power than any parliament in the world, but in reality, NPC is nothing more than a rubber stamp, and its annual convention more like a press event for the emperor’s new clothes, a grand show full of artifice, disgrace and evil.
CCTV’s Evening News claims that the NPC has representatives from every ethnic group, every occupation, every level of social status, with many young people, many with advanced degrees, many workers, many farmers, etc. In the previous era, the most classic example was Vice-Premier Chen Yonggui (陈永贵)wrapping a white towel around his head, to show he was a representative of the peasants. Today we have Shen Jilan (申纪兰)who has been a “peasant representative” for sixty years. Does she really represent China’s rural population? Who has voted for her? On what basis can she say she represents the farmers? Besides applauding and voting “yea,” what else has she done as a “representative?”
This year, a young woman of the post-’90s generation has become a representative because she had helped someone courageously, but she has no idea why she has become a representative. A woman told the media that she represented the “foot washing girls.” Do they know who they are and why are they there?
The most absurd aspect of “people’s representatives” in China is the idea of representatives having to represent a certain class. According to the system of representation, no matter what your profession is, once you are elected to be a representative, you assume the duty of a member of the country’s legislative body according to the law. This is a representative’s most important duty, so much so that it becomes their only professional identity. A representative’s basic job is to draft laws, elect the head of the nation and national officials, and decide the nation’s budget, and his or her job has no connection to their original identity as a worker or a farmer. But this plain and simple truth has been distorted by the propaganda machine. It makes it look like only workers may represent workers, and only farmers may represent farmers; that, instead of enacting laws and welding the power to vote, the representatives are meeting just to give the leaders “advice.” Look, it says, we have workers, farmers, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, 90’s generation, even foot-washing girl, how broad the representation is and how splendid our socialist democracy truly is!
Since only farmers may represent farmers, in the old time when two third of the Chinese population was farmers, the NPC would have necessarily been the National Congress of Farmers’ Representatives. To avoid such awkwardness, China reduced the representation of the farmers to one eighth, and later raised it to one fourth. Such discrimination, worse than the racial discrimination over one hundred years ago in the United Stated, wasn’t corrected until 2010. But the absurd idea of identity representation is still being widely touted as a “superiority of socialism.”
In name, the NPC is China’s supreme body of state power, but its members are moonlighters. Each year they convene for two weeks only, but even that is too long. Making legislative proposals is supposed to be their job, but in reality, each proposal is screened by the head of the delegation and then by the presidium. China has no shortage of serious issues to discuss, such as elections, the budget, anti-corruption efforts, frontier ethnical groups, territorial disputes, so on and so forth, but the main job of the representatives is actually to hash out the wording of the “Report on the Work of the Government.”
Housed in heavily guarded hotel rooms according to strict hierarchy of each representative’s worth, ordinary representatives are no more than “extras” on a movie set who have no independence whatsoever to speak of. On the other hand, during China’s district/county level of elections of representatives, the state has employed almost every form of the state power to clamp down on independent candidates, including tearing the candidates’ posters, summoning them, investigating their tax records, intimidating voters, sabotaging meetings, refusing to accept lawsuits against government wrongdoings, illegally restricting candidates’ freedom of movement, and more.
The Congress conducts “elections” and voting without the least competition, for there is only one candidate for each position, and that candidate is likely to have been decided beforehand, if not several years before. On top of that, the representatives know nothing about the candidates, nor do they care whether the candidates are competent or corrupt. After all, some of China’s most corrupt officials, such as Cheng Kejie (成克杰), Wang Huaizhong (王怀忠), Wang Baosen (王宝森) and Liu Zhijun (刘志军), have all been elected in such a manner through each level of People’s Congress. And on each level, the process is controlled strictly by the Communist Party.
The representatives don’t bother to ask questions about how the country’s trillions are spent, the gapping deficit in China’s social security fund, the monstrous spending on stability maintenance that surpasses the military spending. No, they have no questions. Each resolution is passed in near-perfect vote of yea, and the rubber stamp is thus stamped. Inside the system, this is called “walk the procedures.” The representatives don’t care. Their positions don’t come from the people; for them, being a representative is an honor bestowed on them by the power holders, and it is a cherished ticket to the club of the privileged.
For being so artificial, the NPC cannot help but being ugly. Everyone is canny with his or her own calculations, fathoming carefully the intention of a superior, speaking only the “right” things, making only the “appropriate” proposals. Shen Jilan, who has never voted a no is able to hold onto her representative status for over sixty years, while Yao Xiurong (姚秀荣),who began to speak up for the disempowered in her second term, has since disappeared. They show one face when they are sitting at the podium and another when they are not. What they speak is never what they think. They discuss trivial matters, falling asleep listening to reports. In the evenings they swirl around dinner parties to forge connections. The few young and fresh faces in their midst look more like decoration than anything else. In front of the media, they would sometimes talk about the livelihood of the people; and their proposals are forgotten as soon as they are made. When they speak during the sessions, they do so in the order of their official rankings and seniority, in the style of partyspeak. They are unanimously “inspired” when they review the government’s work report; they ingratiate their superiors but also take the opportunity to promote themselves. They pledge loyalty before the voting; during panel discussions they condemn in unison petitioners, a nuisance for their officialdom.
Ordinary citizens don’t care who represent them. Not that it matters if they do. Year after year, the citizens of this country make the annual NPC and CPPCC their pastime by picking the most flabbergasting proposals and speeches, laughing at the yawning and slobbering representatives, gossiping the movie stars’ luxurious homes, the fallen corrupt officials, and the mistresses of the superrich. It gets more ridiculous every year.
Hidden behind such falsity and shamefulness is the inevitable evil. Some lies go away, such as that of the Great Leap Forward, but other lies have been paraded for more than six decades. Among them are lies that the system of people’s congress is China’s “fundamental political system,” and that the NPC is “the supreme body of state power.” Moreover, the system is billed as the most advanced democracy, and presented every March in a grand ceremony! Behind the extravagant show, however, black jails dot the capital city from Jiujingzhuang camp (久敬庄), run by the state, to certain outlaying, walled-in residences in Changping (昌平), from the backyard of the Youth Guesthouse (青年宾馆) to the basement of Juyuan Guesthouse (聚源宾馆), not to mention the Beijing Offices of all levels of local governments. Thousands of government employees and temporary hires crowd the entrances of the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CCP, the Supreme Court, and the State Bureau for Letters and Calls [to intercept petitioners], while petitioners, in the number of tens and thousands, are subjected to harassment, illegal stalking, illegal detention, and brutal physical abuses.
In November 6, 2012, Petitioner Zhang Yaowen (张耀文) from Henan province was taken away from Jiujingzhuang relief center by force, and was beaten to death in a car with tinted windows because he refused to surrender his cell phone. Since his death, his sister Zhang Yaohua has not been able to file a case in any court.
I hope there will be no more sacrifice of innocent Chinese citizens to the show in 2013!
The grandiose National People’s Congress has nothing to do with the people. The most deep-rooted belief of China’s political system is still “power grows from the barrel of the gun,” and the operation of the regime is built on this terror-based ideology: Politics is barbaric; whoever wins the power struggle will rule; the harder your fist the more say you have; politics is for self-enrichment; the red regime cannot change color, and stability is above everything else; politics is cruel, a life-and-death game in which one must have no qualms in pursuing one’s objectives. In short, China’s foundation is not the people, not humanity, not conscience, but guns, the law of jungle, and the duo of violence and lie.
Over the decades, citizens of China have grown indifferent to whoever become the representatives, to the “rubber stamp” itself, to the trillions in taxpayers’ money, to the lavish show itself. Never do they think the country is theirs. But in a country where even monks are fitted with administrative grade levels, how can anyone truly stay away from politics? When a country is built on an artificial, shameful and evil foundation, how can we expect to have a sound society?
Every March, the state propaganda apparatus hangs out the “Learn from Lei Feng” flag in an attempt to rebuild “socialist morality.” CCTV’s “Touch the Heart of China” evening gala was all about smuggling goods for the party: the honorary president of the Red Cross recommended legislation to punish private charities; “the most beautiful born-after-1990”girl was bewildered that she had become a people’s representative; “the most beautiful female teacher” propped herself up from her sickbed to pledge life-long commitment to communist ideals, so on and so forth. On the other hand, the last thirty years have seen a slow awakening of civil awareness with citizens taking initiatives to claim their civil rights and responsibilities, but the dirty hands of the government have been everywhere to obstruct them and sabotage them.
I understand there isn’t a society that’s perfect. I don’t expect every official to be a role model and a clean civil servant, but they at least cannot be such a hypocritical, greedy, cruel and despicable group as they are today. I don’t expect everyone to be an angel, but at least they should not be distrustful, hostile and mutually harmful as they are now. It might be too much to ask for perfect fairness and justice, but China must not be a place shrouded in the smog of injustice as it is today. This country must change its foundation and bring to an end the authoritarianism. China shall be reinvented on the principle of liberty, justice and love.
I hope Mr. Xi Jinping will be one of the greatest idealists of our time. The mission of a real man is not to prolong the life of a rotten interest group, but to build a free and happy future for the 1.3 billion Chinese. It’s been over sixty years, and now it’s time to put an end to the lie of “the supreme body of state power,” to eradicate the belief in “gun-barrel regime.” And it is time to finally make good on the promise of the “People’s Republic.”
Every year in March, China holds its annual Two Meetings—the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) –to “discuss and decide” the important matters of the country. Chinese citizens might not know who in the Great Hall of the People represents them, but they do know life becomes considerably more inconvenient during the Two Meetings. For some, it can mean major infringement on their rights and freedom. For still others, it can be outright scary and brutal.
If you are a dissident, a rights lawyer, an activist campaigning for any cause, or an outspoken intellectual, you have probably been placed under some sort of house arrest.
Since February 22, dissidents across the country have been Shanggang-ed (上岗). That is, outside their homes, policemen, or guards hired by the authorities, set up posts to watch them and make sure they don’t leave home, or don’t leave home without their company. In Beijing, the list of being shanggang-ed is long. Among them are Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), He Depu (何德普), Zha Jianguo (查建国), Wang Yonghong (王永红), to name just a few. Some veteran dissidents, too tired of the surveillance, chose to leave home. For example, Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) and Wu Gan (吴淦, known as Tufu the Butcher) are travelling in the south, while Mo Zhixu (莫之许), who had been away from Beijing for the Chinese New Year holiday, has been told to stay away.
In Guizhou (贵州), Shanghai (上海), Guangzhou (广州), Hubei (湖北), Hunan (湖南), Anhui (安徽), Zhejiang (浙江), more people are being restricted in their movement, media interviews, and online activities. Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia, who has collected information about “stability maintenance” measures during the Two Meetings, reported that dissidents and activists in the provinces had been forced by state security police to write statements pledging that they would not go to Beijing, nor express any views, during the Two Meetings.
Hu Jia also observed that this year, while he had been frequently subjected to house arrest, this time around, the measures are more drastic. As never before, he tweeted that a gang of plainclothes encamped outside his apartment door in the stairwells, smoking and talking loudly, and he and the neighbors had to argue with them.
Ai Weiwei (艾未未) tweeted that a car with a few people in it parked outside his home 24 hours a day. The other day when he and his friends came out with a video camera to film these people, they drove away and didn’t come back. Tweeting a parody of Xi Jinping’s hardline speech in Mexico in 2009, Ai Weiwei said, “There are some police officers, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to interfere with my life. I do not export Jasmine [revolution], embezzlement, corruption, nor do I make trouble for you. Just what else do you want?”
Hu Shigen (胡石根, @hushigen), who served 16 years in prison from 1992 to 2008 for organizing a political opposition party, tweeted Monday that “I want to know, in Beijing and in mainland China, how many more people have been barred from leaving their own homes? I want to seek lawyers to bring lawsuit against the government for illegally restricting citizens’ freedom of movement.
In a particularly egregious episode of this year’s clamping down on dissidents, on February 27 in Hefei, Anhui (安徽合肥), four men kidnapped Zhang Anni (张安妮), the 10-year-old daughter of Zhang Lin (张林), after the school let out, and took her to the local police station. There she was detained for 20 hours without being given food or water, or even a blanket to stay warm. Later, the police also searched Zhang Lin’s home, taking away his computer, cell phone, cash, and other important necessities. The father and daughter have since been deported to Bengpu (蚌埠) where Anni, scared and refusing to talk for days, has no school to go for the time being.
A Tsinghua-trained nuclear physicist, Zhang Lin is a veteran dissident who has served three prison terms since the 1980s, totaling 13 years.
Of course the crackdown on dissidents and activists is only part of the picture, a small part at that. A newspaper in Shanghai reported that, beginning from March 1, passengers taking long-distance buses to Beijing will have to register using their real names, as passengers of trains and airplanes do, and, when boarding the bus, a passenger’s name, address, seat number and ID number will be recorded. In addition, check points have been set up around Beijing to scan or inspect IDs of passengers entering the city.
While the government is on high alert to clamp down on any possible source of perceived trouble, petitioners make special efforts to try to get to Beijing around this time of the year to voice their grievances. Weiquanwang (维权网), a website focusing on rights defense, has reported many ongoing incidents of petitioners being jailed, mistreated, locked up in black jails in Beijing, or rounded up and sent back to where they had come from, while the Economist also has a report on these black jails recently.
In recent days, Sina Weibo blocked many Weibo accounts, including some verified account with large followings. Writer Zan Aizong (昝爱宗), whose account has been repeatedly cancelled, told RFA that the recent raid is part of stability maintenance prior to, and during, the two meetings, and that Weibo has become more and more sophisticated in controlling expression, controlling news, and monitoring “sensitive people.” “They don’t care whether they are sowing seeds for a more and more unstable society in the future; all they want to do is to keep everything under a tight lid for the time being.”
The authorities are certainly not afraid of going too far to stop people from going about their normal business. On March 3, the legal publication Lawyer’s Digest in Beijing was due to hold its annual meeting of lawyers and legal professionals, but some of the high-profile participants, such as Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), He Weifang (贺卫方) and Mao Yushi (茅于轼) were unable to attend because policemen confined them to their homes, and the meeting was forced out of its original venue to a small conference room in a law firm.
On March 1st and 2nd, renowned independent writer Ran Yunfei (冉云飞) was scheduled to hold book-signing sessions with readers in Xi’an for his new book Give Freedom to Your Beloved, but they were arbitrarily cancelled by police. In Hangzhou, historian Fu Guoyong (傅国涌) received a call from the authorities that ordered him to cancel a lecturer about the recently-deceased Mr. Xu Liangying (许良英).
While citizens’ rights are subjected to arbitrary, gratuitous violations on a daily basis, a signature campaign is making the rounds calling for the NPC to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that China signed in 1998 but never ratified. Hundreds of Chinese intellectuals, lawyers, activists and ordinary citizens have signed up so far and more people are joining in every day by sending their name, city of residence, and profession to email@example.com.
The other day when someone commented on Twitter how the heavy-handed security resembles the Olympics in 2008, someone else shot back coolly, “Well, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Remember who headed the CCP’s Steering Group for Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games?”
Xi Jinping did.