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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 Wang Mo, published: November 22, 2015
On October 3, 2014, Chinese activists Xie Wenfei (谢文飞, a.k.a. Xie Fengxia 谢丰夏), and Wang Mo (王默, real name Zhang Shengyu 张圣雨) held banners in the streets of Guangzhou, expressing support for the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. They were arrested the same evening and indicted on May 12, 2015, for “inciting subversion of state power.” On Nov. 19, Wang Mo was tried in a Guangzhou court (Zhang had been tried separately a week earlier.) Verdicts in both trials are pending. Following is an abbreviated translation of Wang Mo’s defense. The translation remains unauthorized because permission could not be secured from the writer. – The Editors
Decades ago Chinese Communist Party, crying slogans about opposing corruption, opposing dictatorship, and pursuing liberty and democracy, subverted the Nationalist regime of the Republic of China and drove the Nationalist government to Taiwan. The Republic of China was then split into two countries: the Mainland and Taiwan, and the Republic of China [as it was known] was no more.
I was charged with the crime of “inciting subversion of state power” and found myself a defendant in the court simply because I held a banner in support of Occupy Central in Hong Kong. I have no idea what logical or causal connection there is between a simple banner and inciting the subversion of state power.
Common sense tells me that as long as the state exists, a state regime will exist. Only if a country is invaded, defeated, annexed, or split apart by foreign invaders could its regime really be said to have been subverted. Hong Kong is part of China, and all that Hong Kong people want through their protests is universal suffrage, based on one-person one-vote, for the election of the city’s chief executive, and greater freedom. All these are stipulated in the constitution as the rights of citizens, and protected by the law. From afar in Guangzhou I held a banner to express my support for the Hong Kongers, and you are telling me that’s inciting subversion of state power? If this act of mine counts as inciting subversion of state power, then what crime are the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers guilty of?
I’d like to hereby solemnly declare that all along it has been my private wish to topple the rule of the Chinese Communist Party’s autocracy—a dictatorial regime—but not to subvert the state regime. A country should belong to its people; it’s not the property of this party or that party. A ruling party being toppled from power isn’t the same as the state being subverted, because as long as the country exists then the state regime will exist. Of course, if the court believes that the country is the Party and the Party is the country, and that China is indeed the Communist Party’s country, then trying to subvert the ruling party would be equivalent to subverting the state regime. So, would the court please explicitly state that China belongs to the Chinese Communist Party, and that China’s governing paradigm is that of the model of a Party-State? Failing that, the attempt to charge me with inciting subversion of state power has no ground.
A century ago the Xinhai Revolution succeeded, signalling the end of 2,000 years of feudal imperialism. Since 1949, the Chinese communists have imprisoned countless political opponents—people who pursued liberty and democracy, and to that end sought to get rid of the communist dictatorship—on charges of subversion. But it was the Chinese communists who seized power with slogans claiming they were pursuing liberty and democracy. Please tell me: in China today, where is the liberty? Where is the democracy?
The Chinese constitution expressly stipulates: All state power belongs to the people, citizens have the freedom express themselves, assemble, organize, march, demonstrate, and to elect and be elected. That’s to say that only the people have the right to decide to whom state power belongs, and have the right to remove from power any ruling party. Voting is a mechanism for entrusting power to, or remove power from, a ruling party. The people may also express their support or opposition to the ruling party or government through such actions as speech, assembly, the formation of organizations, protests, etc.
Let me explain why I personally wish to remove the Chinese communist dictatorship from power. Since they seized power in 1949, the communists have instigated political campaigns, including land reform, collectivization, the Three-Anti and Five-Anti campaigns, and countless others—including the madness of the Cultural Revolution—which have directly or indirectly led to the unnatural deaths of around 20 million Chinese people. In the three years from 1958-1960, it’s believed that around 50 million Chinese starved to death as a result of the communists’ disastrous agricultural policies and plunder of grain from the rural population. As someone from the countryside, I cannot forget these 50 million lives. Further, in the 1980s the Communist Party began forcibly implementing birth control policies that continue to this day, which include induced abortions at late term pregnancy, forced injection of drugs to cause miscarriage, forced abortions and other methods, all of which have directly or indirectly led to the unnatural killing of around 30 million babies and fetuses. Taken together, the Chinese Communist Party has eliminated the lives of 100 million Chinese people.
Starting in the 1980s, even though the Party, in order to ensure its own survival, abandoned mass political mobilization and persecution and began focusing on economic construction, it has never ceased its slaughter of the Chinese people. In June 1989 on the streets of Beijing, hundreds and thousands of young students and people from all walks of life came out to oppose corruption, and countless died during the Party’s bloody crackdown. Over all these years too, others have died at the hands of the police or other security enforcers, from such varied causes as: Being sent to black jails, being incarcerated in mental hospitals, being beaten to death, dying during forced demolition of their homes or as their land is expropriated, dying from beatings by the chengguan, dying from ethnic repression, religious suppression, or in prison under the guise of playing “hide and seek,” drinking hot water, or dying from torture as the police attempt to extract a forced confession. The Chinese communists have never ceased relying on violence and persecution to maintain their dictatorship.
In the face of such an inhuman, bloody, sinister, and dark regime, that has in the space of just 66 short years severed the lives of 100 million people, it is my constitutional right to wish to topple and subvert it, and such a wish is also in accord with natural law. Getting rid of the outlaws and allowing the people to live in peace, and using violence to end violence have always been the innate rights of those living under oppression. There’s no crime in my wanting to subvert that regime—the real criminals are those whose hands are dripping with the blood of the Chinese people, the power-holders who uphold their dictatorship, and the running dogs, accomplices, and hired thugs who work on behalf of that regime.
The charge of “inciting subversion of state power” is naked political persecution, the Chinese Communist Party’s tool for shutting down and repressing political opposition. In this context, the public prosecutor and the judge on the case are merely fulfilling a “political task” by staging a trial with the sole purpose of sending political opponents to jail. There’s no possibility of fairness or justice in this; conscience and human nature are absent from the prosecutor and judge. I hope that after the conclusion of today’s trial, the names of the prosecutors and the judges will be remembered by many, and I also believe that one day, for your role in this case, aiding in the political persecution of myself and Xie Wenfei, you’ll pay a price.
I would like to thank my defense counsel Chen Keyun (陈科云) and Tan Chenshou (覃臣寿) , as well as Chen Jinxue (陈进学) for his prior involvement. Thanks are also due to the two lawyers defending Xie Wenfei. I also thank the friends who have given me financial aid from the day I was arrested, as well as the supporters who came to the court today but were blocked from entering and made to stand outside. I also thank the friends, netizens, brothers, and kindred spirits who have shown so much support, concern, and attention since I was taken into custody. It was the support from all of you that kept up my spirits in prison, allowed me to rid myself of fear and loneliness, made life a little easier, and led me to not give up. It’s your support that has made me realize that the journey towards liberty and democracy in this land of ours is never a solitary one. Countless members of previous generations came before us, among us we have a great many sympathisers, and after we’re gone there will be innumerable to follow. It’s your support that has given me warmth and strength.
Democracy movement for China has no path of retreat. Nor is there any possibility of a third way, or a middle way, by which we can negotiate with the CCP. Resistance is the only way: continual, endless resistance, and every possible form and manner of resistance. Only through resistance will we gain freedom, only through resistance will we gain dignity, and it is only resistance that will bring about change.
September 19, 2015
For Freedom, Justice and Love — My Closing Statement to the Court, Xu Zhiyong, January 22, 2014.
The Sovereignty of the People: My Conviction and My Dream, Guo Feixiong’s Court Statement, November 28, 2014.
The Southern Street Movement, China Change, October 19, 2013.
By Chang Ping, published: January 18, 2015
Three months after friend and assistant Zhang Miao (張淼) was arrested, Angela Köckritz, Beijing correspondent for the German paper DIE ZEIT, wrote a detailed account to publicize the case and her own experience in the event. I admire Ms. Köckritz’s action. In similar cases, the Chinese government has used methods to impose silence on insiders, and in Zhang Miao’s case too, “her family asks that only a little be made public.” The authorities claim, explicitly or otherwise, that publicizing these cases would harm the detainees, and in a way, they are acknowledging that the Chinese judiciary can be swerved this way or that way at will depending on the public’s opinions. When families and insiders are forced to cooperate, the authorities are in fact likely commit more abuses in the absence of media and public attention.
Köckritz’s article is rife with information, including dark humor. For example, “From the beginning, it has said that Occupy Central is a ‘color revolution’ backed by foreign powers. Its argument would be more credible if it could produce a suspected spy. Maybe me?” But as a Chinese I find it hard to laugh, especially when officer Zhang, after learning that Zhang Miao didn’t have German passport and is still a Chinese citizen, said to Köckritz that “in any case Zhang Miao is a completely normal Chinese citizen. And we will treat her like we deal with Chinese citizens.” During a routine briefing of the Foreign Ministry last October, the spokesman Hong Lei, answering a question about Zhang Miao, also emphasized that “the person you mentioned is a Chinese citizen.”
If you understand why so many Chinese would do anything to secure a foreign passport for themselves and their families after they have made money or gained power, you would understand what it is like to be “treated as Chinese citizens.” Köckritz is lucky that she could still walk out of the police station after being accused of separatism and of organizing the Occupy Central protests – she cannot “enjoy” treatment reserved only for Chinese citizens.
If you are a Chinese citizen, you can be disappeared without even a plausible charge. In the aforementioned briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman said Zhang Miao was detained for “allegedly provoking disturbances,” but Köckritz said in her article that she was at first told that Zhang Miao was “involved in a village squabble,” and then, she was told that Zhang Miao’s case is “about the security of the state, about its territorial integrity,” and “about inciting unrest.” The judiciary procedure prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Law of PRC is supposed to regulate how police go about making charges. But the police told her that “the Criminal Procedure Law doesn’t apply.”
Ten years ago, Chinese news assistant Zhao Yan (赵岩) working for the Beijing Bureau of the New York Times was arrested on charges of leaking state secrets. Seven months later, the charges morphed into fraud. Then, shortly before Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States, the prosecutors dropped all charges against Zhao Yan. Two months later, the same prosecutorate indicted Zhao Yan again on fraud charges, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. Currently, both lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and scholar Guo Yushan were detained on one charge and then officially arrested on another. One may conclude that it is the Chinese government that is really committing fraud.
In my twenty years as a journalist in China, I have known many Chinese news assistants working for foreign media. Most of them were in fact journalists but since the Chinese government prohibits foreign media organizations to hire Chinese citizens as journalists, they could only work as assistants or researchers. Almost all of them have been interrogated by Chinese security police in the name of “chatting.” Some are forced to work for the security apparatus as informants, collecting intelligence and making routine reports. But most of them loathed it and were terrified. These circumstances are not only unfair to these Chinese media professionals, they are also a threat to freedom of press worldwide.
In China, over 200 people have been arrested for voicing support for the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and Zhang Miao is one of them. This itself is absurd persecution against expressions. The police’s interrogation of Köckritz shows that, working for Die Zeit can be another charge against Zhang Miao in addition to supporting the Umbrella Movement. She can be investigated for, or charged with, colluding with foreign forces to separate the country, and divulging state secrets. German media and government have the responsibility to call for her freedom, and doing so is also fighting for its own press freedom.
This is the reality we must face: on the one hand, international opinion and governmental negotiation are still the forces, even the only forces, to constrain Chinese government’s wanton behaviors; on the other hand, the Chinese government cares less and less about these forces, and they even turn around to leverage against them. More foreigners are receiving the “treatment of Chinese citizens,” and in 2013, for example, Chinese-American Charles Xue was humiliated on the national TV after being detained for visiting a prostitute.
More and more foreign journalists in China have to learn to self-censor when reporting political topics, or they could be forced out of China just like Ms. Köckritz was. Reading her reports, I can see that she is a journalist who has in-depth understanding of Chinese politics and society. Forcing out such a foreign journalist, Chinese security police have once again scored big points.
Chang Ping (长平) is a veteran Chinese journalist and commentator of current affairs. He lives in Germany now.
(Translated by China Change)
By Zeng Jinyan, published: October 30, 2014
“Watching his friends, who happen to be the hope of a better China, going to prison one after another, is more than personal shame. It is the shame of our time.”
Kou Yanding was taken away by police in Beijing on October 10th for “picking quarrels and provoking disturbances.” The day before on October 9th, Guo Yushan was criminally detained on the same charge.
Two days before the arrest, Kou Yanding, otherwise known as Button, was free in Hong Kong, helping me make a breakfast of eggs in noodle soup in my kitchen. To her friends in the NGO circle, Kou Yanding is a bestselling author on such incendiary subjects as trying on parliamentary procedures in Chinese villages and endurance walking. To my daughter, she is Auntie Button. This past year, on her numerous trips to Hong Kong, Yanding slept on my living room couch, or else took the top of my bunk bed. She would take my daughter to the park and clown around with her. When she was with us, I noticed my daughter did not get upset with me nearly as often. She made Shandong-style buns, the skin crisp and the filling juicy, to share with mainland students studying in Hong Kong.Kou writes about hiking as social cohesive. But given how controls on freedom of association still hem in all communal activity in China, even hiking is seen by the authorities as political.
Along with local hikers we had just met, we trekked deep into the mountains of the New Territory, in the middle of the night. Through pouring rain, we glimpsed fireflies swarming over the source of the reservoir and abandoned farmhouses. Most of the time, she left bright and early at six or seven, a bag of water slung over her shoulder. Trudging in toe shoes, she chatted with locals on the mountain paths, interviewing the city’s residents, academics, reporters and activists, trying to understand Hong Kong grassroots and civil society through endurance walks and long hikes. In her books, she set down what she found out for the mainland Chinese audience. When she went home to write ‘in lock-down mode,” shutting everything else out, she felt like “a foaming crab” with the words flowing steadily out of her. She was completely drawn into what she saw.
None of this is meant to portray her as some armchair bricklayer of words who never lifts a finger to act. I cannot, however, write down all the things she has done, for her goodness only counts as so much crime in the eyes and hands of the powers that be, who have made a sport out of pinning “provocation and quarrel” on activists. Suffice it to say that she established support organizations for disabled artists and survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and is a vegetarian and environmentalist. She rarely talks about herself, and absents herself from all her books in order to focus everything on the people she writes about. Her writing, however, speaks volumes on her thinking and deeds. (A list of her books is included at the end of this article.)
The last time she helped me with breakfast, she was passing through Hong Kong, only staying one day. I thought Occupy Central, the protest movement for universal suffrage, an excellent opportunity for her writerly observation and, as part of our larger discussion on what was happening in the region, asked why she did not plan to stay longer. Feverish with concern, she could not wait
to get back to Beijing. She cracked jokes about the rapidly diminishing odds of her book, which was on endurance walking in Hong Kong, getting the go-ahead from the censors. Never mind the slew of prizes that came her way. Once Occupy Central started, mainland censors would leave virtually no space for maneuver on anything having to do with Hong Kong. She was casual about the prospect of getting blocked, saying she may as well finish up writing about hiking in Taiwan.
While we were all worried, we thought it unlikely anything would happen to her. For she has been, over many years, low-key, pragmatic and generous in accommodating wrongs inflicted upon her. All she cares about is communicating with her audience in China, looking for ways to motivate each person to take a baby step, to put out a little toward our society’s progress. The public knew nothing about her and Lang Xiaoyan (梁晓燕), a veteran environmentalist, making a risky visit in 2005 to the blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangchen, who was then under house arrest and suffering abuse from his guards. Or about the secret police stalking and investigating her after she came to see me. Or the fact that she was a leading reporter at the independent journal, “Civil Society,” that was eventually shut down by the government. Or to have the opportunity to hear her speak openly about the pressures and political travails she withstood to keep her NGO alive.
She always wears light, comfortable cotton or linen clothes that draw no attention, her dark hair twisted into a knot at the back. She usually wears running or toe shoes. Carefully neat, briskly efficient, she is quiet, open, and easy to get close to. Her backpack always supplied with simple food and a water cup, she is someone who makes demands on herself and takes thoughtful care of her own needs, all the while ready to adapt and to take care of others, anywhere, anytime.
Button usually does not talk about politics as such. She gets down close to each person as they are, with deep empathy for the constraints they live under, giving voice to their stories. She and Guo Yushan, another friend detained on Oct 9, represent a most valuable group in today’s Party-State China. They are clear-sighted, have no interest in reaping applause with criticism, but would rather quietly work at what they believe. Faced with misunderstanding and reproach, they are always able to achieve what they begin, and afterwards retire without bothering with the limelight. You can say they bow to political pressure, or that they do it out of love for their family, but they are always willing to bend their necks. In this way, they survive each wave of political persecution.
In the campaign to rescue Chen Guangchen, an untold number of people held heaven knows how many meetings and worked both openly and under the radar. Out of sheer chance, the challenge fell to Yushan, who ran with it and beat the system at great odds. He worked with others to hide the blind lawyer in various locations, evading the secret police with Mission Impossible ingenuity, and succeeded in getting Chen to the Americans. That he executed such a spectacularly daring conclusion to one of the largest human rights campaigns ever seen in Communist China, and still managed to avoid prison until now, says everything about him.
In 2009, my husband Hu Jia, an environmental activist and Buddhist, was in prison. The company where I used to work was sold. I started a child care service in my neighborhood, and the government shut it down. A job at a floral delivery company evaporated when the police told my boss to let me go. My baby daughter had to be fed, and my life hit an all-time low. I craved an opportunity to work in the physical world rather than the virtual online space, with a steady income, the chance to come in contact with other people, where I can realize my self-worth. This was easier said than done. A friend extended an invitation to translate articles for a magazine under a pen name. However, my name got stuck in the mandatory political vetting at the human resources department. I also balked at the thought of interacting with the editors under an identity not my own and the nagging worry over the political risk my employment posed for the management, who did not know about my trouble with the police. Eventually I called it off. When Yushan found out, he invited me to go work at his think tank, Transition Institute, and he is the only friend who was able to directly help me realize my dream to have a job.
I used to flatter myself that I am someone with my feet on the ground, but my idealism was, after all, often too heavy for the world to handle. Not only did Yushan not blame me, he was able to catch the thorny ideas I tossed his way, nursing each one until it became reality. It does not cost much to criticize the Chinese government. To serve the target population, to patiently attend to each thorny task, in order to change the state’s economic and social behavior – how many civil society players and organizations can keep to this in the long haul?
Transition Institute took measured and solid steps. This made its raid and closure inevitable. When dealing with the Chinese government, you can’t simply take the high ground of political correctness and wash your hands of the whole thing, dismissing all action not absolutely radical as immoral and futile. Nor can you afford to focus on technicalities and reaching objectives, for ignoring the unjust processes of the system will land you in a moral quagmire. The constraints and consequences of following either of these paths may not always be apparent to the eager netizens who yell and wrangle on the Internet over the paths to democracy and freedom. Yushan may have reached a better balance. He never took the easy technical way out or fell back on ideological righteousness. Motivated by a rich spirit of humanism, he took on concrete problems with flexibility, paving the way in incremental steps for the transition of Chinese society.
The moment I found out, all at once, that Yushan was criminally detained, and Yanding taken by the police, I was watching, in one of the liveliest camps of Occupy Hong Kong protest, the members of a local artist community enclave putting down their performance art installations on the streets of Mong Kok. I regretted not insisting on Button staying. She would have fallen in love with Mong Kok. Nathan Road, a main thoroughfare usually crowded to the bursting point, has turned into a playground for strolling residents and citizen politics. Under the rubric of the fight for universal election, grassroots citizens whose background is so diverse as sometimes even to give pause, began with apathy, doubt and sideline spectator sport, and have now taken to the streets of Mong Kok, strolling, selling freshly squeezed juice and digital must-haves for taking protest selfies, putting up soapbox corners for debate and protest signs, culminating in jumping into the fray to protect the students against the police and the anti-protest demonstrators.
As the protest draws out, the daily political struggle of a Hong Kong under the rule of an autocratic Chinese government and large corporations slowly emerged on Nathan Road. Residents in the neighborhood halted, for the moment being, their tense and mechanical schedule, wresting back the space and lives cut off by the flow of cars on Nathan Road. Walking to take back the road once more, they think over the issues behind the struggle that are closest to them. How can they make sure that their grounded lives on these vibrant streets are not drowned by highrises and high-speed cars? How to make sure that bakeries, florists, locksmiths, plumber and tailor shops survive the onslaught of jewelry and luxury boutiques catering to mainland tourists? How can Hong Kong provide education, employment and professional prospects with dignity to its youth, rather than forcing them to interview as early as kindergarten, with opportunities expanding at the bottom rungs while shrinking for the most highly educated?
The takeover of Nathan Road by grassroots participation, for all its vibrancy and richness, still affords many with the option to distance themselves from politics, something often symptomatic of post-totalitarian societies. If the mainland had been willing to protect Hong Kong’s basic freedom of speech and rule of law, even if democracy was still a distant vision, the people of Hong Kong would have simply put up with the status quo, and would not have joined the protests. Those who know what to do, like Guo Yushan and Kou Yanding, would have patiently acted through their ideas, backed up with thoughtful action aiming for gradual success.
Whenever an old friend was arrested and sentenced, Yushan would have his outbursts in anger and pain, his wife Pan and the rest of us – a few female friends – would glare at him in unison: “Fatso, you had better not get yourself in there!” The prison of the despot ravages the frail flesh in order to tempt the best to betray their friends, and it’s not to be taken lightly. Yushan knows this as well as anybody. He swallows this the best he can, and is often hijacked by the sting of humiliation, while he gives help to the family of political prisoners, in silence and doing what is possible. Watching his friends, who happen to be the hope of a better China, going to prison one after another, is more than personal shame. It is the shame of our time.
Now, leaving his parents, wife and child behind, he is also gone inside. Button is gone too. The last we heard, after a week of disappearance, she is in a detention center in Beijing, accused of the crime of “provocation and causing disturbances.” I am worried that the machinery of the state would brand their flesh with torture, and at the same time I have faith that they would be able to hold on to who they are in the interrogations, getting across to their individual opponents with their humanity.
In the city of Sodom, the virtues of the good are no other than their innate sin.
List of Kou Yanding’s works:
- Poems by My Side, Essays at My Side, 2002, Yuanfang Publishing.
- Dreaming of Beauty, the first nonfiction work about disabled artists, 2005, Beijing Publishing.
- Everything Starts with Changing Myself, nonfiction on civil society organizations, 2007, Hainan Publishing.
- Tell the World How Beautiful It Is, the first series of disable artists’ work, 2011, first volume.
- Hands-on Democracy, Introduction of Robert’s Rules in China at the grassroots level, 2012, Zhejiang University Publishing.
- Actions Changing the Way We Live – Civil Society Forces, 2013, Zhejiang University Publishing.
Guo Yushan’s bio: Guo Yushan was born in 1977 in Putian, Fujian Province. He has a master’s degree from Beijing University in Political Economy, and is one of the founders of Open Constitution Initiative, one of the most prominent and few public interest law groups giving aid to victims of official injustice. Founder and executive director of Transition Institute, whose major areas of research include livelihood issues, economic analysis of taxation and regulatory issues in public policy, anti-monopoly reforms, effect of monopoly on taxi driver income, and the environmental and economic impact of the Three Gorges dam construction, the largest hydraulic dam project to date. Yu Shicun, a writer, describes him as “a passionate scholar who has run salons for freedom of speech, philanthropy, academic work, translation, environmental protection, and defense of civil rights.”
Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) is an activist, blogger and scholar. She is currently doing her Ph.D. on state-society online/offline relationship, feminist practice, cyber activism and documentary activism in China. Among her recent publications is “The Politics of Emotion in Grassroots Feminist Protests: A Case Study of Xiaoming Ai’s Nude Breasts Photography Protest Online,“ The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(1), 2014. Together with Hu Jia she documented their life when he was in house arrest in the film Prisoners in Freedom City (2007).
Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, by Guo Yushan
(Translated by Louisa Chiang)
By Leung Man-tao, published: October 26, 2014
While riding a minibus in Taipo to the MTR station the other day, I overheard a man sitting in front of me talking loudly about the current events in Hong Kong. It seems he had already seen through the situation as he confidently declared: “These are all the conspiracies of the pan-democratic camp and their intentions are too sinister. . . ” Because his traveling companion gave him a dubious look, the man more stridently and forcefully emphasized: “What, you haven’t heard yet? Actually, there is a good deal of evidence pointing to the fact that behind the scenes the Americans are supporting Occupy Central. Even the students are incited by the Americans and the British.”
After I got off the minibus, I walked into the MTR station lobby where I was met by girls wearing black who were passing out leaflets. By their looks, I guessed they were college students. I took a leaflet and, moving to the side, read it carefully. At the top of the leaflet were printed the reasons that the students were striking and their appeals for support from the city’s inhabitants. After I read it, I walked over to the girl who had handed me the leaflet and addressed her saying “Miss,” but by so doing I startled her. I then remembered that this generation of college students are more accustomed to being addressed as “fellow student.” I then spoke to her in a reassuring tone telling her that, even though the contents of the leaflet were clear and powerful, the leaflet did not have the names of the printers and publishers, and that it seemed inappropriate to leave the origins of the leaflet unclear. This small, skinny “fellow student” laughed embarrassingly and, gentle and polite to a fault, replied: “You are quite right. I’m so sorry. I will report this to my classmates. Thank you, Sir.”
After I walked away, I couldn’t resist turning around for another look. I saw her and two other girls with their heads buried in the leaflet, the stuffed animal doll ‘Soft Bear’ on her backpack swaying left and right. Just then, the emotions that I had been holding in for several days burst forth, and the usually imperturbable me wound up weeping at that most ordinary moment. So these are students instigated and mobilized by the “hidden American and British forces”?
How have we come to this today? Society is so polarized that we can find no way to sit together and discuss matters. When did this start? We have lost the capacity to discuss the facts and reason for right and wrong. Everything is seen as “intentions,” “ulterior motives,” and “forces behind the scenes.” In this hot weather, we have so many juveniles wearing black and marching in the streets doing all they can to fulfill the dream that people have had for more than thirty years. Is this not my fault, my generation’s dereliction of duty? In order to account for things I should have done but did not do, and in order to understand the ins and outs of the current situation, I must put in order my observations and thinking over the more than two years past, and say a few things that are perhaps inopportune (and are being said too late).
I don’t have a crystal ball, and at the very moment that I am writing this, I have no way of knowing how this massive Occupation Movement will end. As with so many historical events of great significance, however, it is easier to infer the movement’s long term effects than its specific short term direction. Let’s discuss the destructive aspects of Occupy Central. A great many commentators, when they discuss Occupy Central, only pay attention to the movement’s ability to inconvenience daily life. They fear the movement will disrupt traffic, and strike a blow to the economy. If, however, we compare it with the forces it will gradually exert after the movement ends, then the effects that the movement produces at its inception are really insignificant.
Based on the original estimates of the three initiators of Occupy Central, there would only be about 5,000 people participating in the whole operation, and if 10,000 participated, that would exceed expectations. These 10,000 were expected to sit obediently on the ground, not charging at anything, and not destroying anything, just sitting there waiting for the police to take them away one at a time when the police came to clear the area. Based on how well Hong Kong police cleared demonstrators in previous protests, it wouldn’t take too long to clear away the “occupiers” – at most two or three weeks. The real problems would start after these 5,000 to 10,000 demonstrators were brought back to the police stations.
Authorities Wanted to Stop Occupy Central from Happening as Planned
On the surface, the operations of the Hong Kong police on the evening of September 28 were incredibly stupid. We should not, however, when explaining these events, think that the police were so stupid. Just using “mental deficiency” and other such explanations to muddle by when in fact they do not clarify the rational for the operations. On the contrary, we should, as much as possible, think of the situation from the ‘rationale’ of the decision makers. There were rumors that the protest site had to be cleared before the 1 October National Day; there is the so-called “hawks syndrome” that I will elaborate later. But the explanation I can think of for the police’s action was that the authorities did not want to see Occupy Central start at all. Strictly speaking, they did not want Occupy Central to unfold according to the movement’s original plans. Including the decision makers in the security agencies and the attorney general’s office, all the authorities certainly knew the plans of Occupy Central’s chief promoter, Mr. Benny Tai (because he had written in detail about them), so they were willing to use tear gas and brute force to drive out quickly the majority of the people, or as Mr. Chow Yung (Robert Chow) has said, even let those among the people who oppose Occupy Central to take it upon themselves to clear the area. (Did Mr. Chow mean the violence perpetrated by thugs over the past two days?) As much as possible, the authorities did not want to allow the movement to continue too long and, as much as possible, they wanted to avoid arresting too many people.
Why? First of all, the police force does not have the capability to fight a protracted war of attrition. More than 10,000 police officers worked overtime every day, and leave was cancelled for several months. This was not just a simple matter of diverting normal distribution of the police force, but rather real problems of police morale and resources. We should not forget that canceling leave and adding overtime means expending a large amount of money, and perhaps the Pan-Democratic City Council members might want in the future to grab a copy of the government’s budget that shows security expenditures and cry foul. A rational decision maker would not overlook that possibility.
Secondly, while the occupation of Central is formidable, an even bigger problem is the scene after those several thousands of defendants enter judicial prosecution procedures. According to the analysis of legal scholar Mr. Max Wong (王慧麟), based on Hong Kong law, the ten thousand cannot be interrogated via collective representation, but rather, they must be interrogated in batches based on the specific crimes or they even have to make individual appearances in court. Just imagine, a single defendant, when giving an oral statement for the record to the police, can play all kinds of tricks (just as many lawyers have said, a college student of history, when recounting the way he remembers the events, could talk about the books he was reading at the time and relate historical events from the Goddess Nu Wa patching the sky to the establishment of the Communist government in 1949, and the police officer must wearily record every word without error). Afterwards, the Department of Justice must review every single case before it goes to trial in the court. With ten thousands of defendants, for the entire judicial process to be completed (not counting the time required for appeals), several years probably are not time enough. When that time comes, it will not be traffic on the Hong Kong inland that will be paralyzed but Hong Kong’s entire judicial system. (Unless of course the Chief Executive decrees a state of emergency and allows a simpler procedure to take effect, but that would raise even bigger issues).
Anyone with some knowledge of the history of civil disobedience knows that its main stage is not the [protest] site but the court, especially where there is an independent judiciary system. Each and every trial of the 10,000 people will be an opportunity for making eloquent speeches and appealing to the public. How many times will these trials rouse feelings and inspire? For example, when a certain 70-year-old “Uncle Fung” is on trial today, wouldn’t supporters flock outside the court to “support Uncle Fung,” thus mobilizing a small-scale occupation? The authorities can’t detain thousands of people for a long time without releasing them on bail; while waiting for trial, they will go back into the fray like many activists do now as a contingent of combatants, repeatedly committing civil disobedience and repeatedly being charged. The entire process, under close attention of the media and popular opinion, could ferment larger civil disobedience movements as a result of moral inspiration. Take tax resistance for another example. It is also an unlawful act that will be tried, but because the judicial system is slowed down by the sheer number of cases, throngs of defendants will be on streets, not in prison, and they will surely turn it into another low-cost but highly attractive act of conscience. When various acts of civil disobedience, such as tax resistance, erupt one after another, it will be an endless cycle with a possible ripple effect. By comparison, a few weeks of traffic inconvenience and stock market fluctuation that we are currently experiencing is nothing. When last month Mr. Benny Tai proposed not to launch Occupy Central on a workday so as not to affect the financial market, many people criticized him for being diffident, but these folks, for the moment at least, probably forgot what Occupy Central is all about.
A Moral Movement Regardless of Costs
It is true that the occupation movement has already exceeded everyone’s expectations. It’s unlikely that thousands sitting on the streets will be cleared out. But unless all occupiers disperse peacefully and of their own accord (we all know this is unlikely either), there will be a clear-out operation sooner or later. Can the police simply drag protesters away without arresting and charging them? Even if this absurd development would turn out to be the case, or if the police only detain a few hundred, how can they stop those determined protesters from surrendering themselves? How can they stop small civil disobedience actions from “blossoming everywhere”? (Don’t forget that, if over 100,000 or even 200,000 Hong Kongers who are taking part in the occupation movement suffer no consequences, then it would encourage more civil disobedience acts in the future.) Therefore, the aforementioned scenario will arrive eventually. The police’s actions on September 28th perhaps were meant to prevent such a scenario but, instead, they ended up bringing it about sooner and to wider international attention. (International attention should have been in the script of the Occupy Central anyway, but it might not have come so soon and so overwhelmingly.)
Over the last few days, friends who are supporters of the occupation movement have been discussing how the whole thing will end, especially what its short-term goals and appeals are, and what to do if none of these goals and appeals materialize. The answer is very simple: do nothing; just sit. As Mr. Benny Tai said before, this movement was heading to a “defeat” even before the NPCSC decision was issued, given that its purpose is to force the Central Government to make concessions and allow universal suffrage in the election of chief executive without constraining the nomination process. Since that point, it has become a moral movement regardless of costs. But on the other hand, it is also creating a crisis for the government in Hong Kong and Beijing that will not be resolved for years to come.
(Translated by Ai Ru and Yaxue Cao)
By Chang Ping, published: October 7, 2014
Our very first take on Occupy Central, the movement for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, is a radical protest in a society governed by law. Fully aware of the law and its consequences, participants willingly incur punishment for the sake of their ideals. We imagine the police making arrests with all due courtesy, the courts conducting trials ceremoniously, and those who break the law walking into their jail cells with graceful aplomb. Society as a whole, spurred by what they do, will rethink and debate the issues at hand in a rational manner, and all will end in a step forward for democracy.
The next thing that popped up in everyone’s mind was the blood of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, still so very much with us today. We cannot help worrying that the People’s Liberation Army stationed in Hong Kong would clear the demonstrators out by force. When police then used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd, we saw civilized Hong Kong, whose political right to demonstrate is protected by police and has long been the envy of those in the mainland, fallen overnight to the same Red Terror ruling over the rest of China.
The next surprise for the protesters came as assaults from members of the mafia, posing as ordinary citizens. We now have enough evidence that the Anti-Occupy Central crowd, emblazoned with blue ribbons, can count on the government’s support, if not direct organization and command. Even if the thugs are not in the government’s pay, the way they rammed into protesters, beating up and sexually harassing them, is deplorable enough. One commentator remarked that even the mafia looks down on their behavior as a discredit to all thugs in Hong Kong.
In the history curriculum imposed by the Chinese Communist Party, its former political rival, the Nationalist Party, played the role of colluding with gangs of thugs to undermine the student movement. The climax came during its military defeat and the eve of its retreat to Taiwan, when kidnapping and assassinations became commonplace. Chinese people derived much gratitude from these accounts; it appeared that the Communists saved China. For the reason that human beings formed nations and governments, especially those of the modern variety, must be to authorize legitimate force through democracy in order to protect everyone’s rights and put an end to the state of nature, rife with gang rivalry and vigilante justice.
However, it turns out that no one is as adept at making use of the mafia and its tactics as the Communist Party itself. From the moment it took power, the Party aimed to erase all culture and refinement from China’s political life and laws. No longer did they appeal to the minds of intellectuals through fair debate; “soul engineering” was undertaken through slurs, insults, beating, public struggle sessions and coerced self-criticism. They discarded due process, including publicized arrests and trials. Dissidents who tried to exercise their freedom of speech one last time, like their predecessors who cried “Long Live the Communist Party” on the execution grounds of the Nationalists, may find their windpipes cut as a precaution. Down to the present day, print and broadcast media style dissidents “traitors to China,” “black hands,” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Illegal demolition of private property is made possible by hiring thugs to harass, threaten and attack the owners. Those who petition against travesties in the legal system find themselves thrown into illegal jails and even psychiatric hospitals.
The people in Hong Kong are shocked by the ongoing mafia attack. I am sorry to say that this is almost negligible violence compared to what happens to mainland Chinese in their everyday lives. This is an inevitable step in the absorption of Hong Kong into Communist China. If the people of Hong Kong don’t put a stop to it, eventually they will become inured to everything that we currently are. They will be perfectly used to being too afraid to protest in the streets, or to utter words the government has decided to censor, indeed to make any sort of demand for freedom and democracy. Like many brainwashed mainlanders, they would accept that there is no right or wrong in politics, that morality can be dispensed with altogether, and that thuggery is a global and human condition without exception. They will be disgusted by the courage of protesters, pronouncing that they have no “privilege” to fight for freedom, and have even less justification to disturb their own ordered and comfortable lives of servitude. As the Chinese writer Lu Xun once wrote, when a slave who refuses to put up with abuse any longer and sets out to smash their prison, it is the other slaves who will denounce and pounce on him first.
Today the protesters can, with an effort, detect mainland thugs from their accent. As time goes on, the Communist Party will save you the trouble. It is perfectly possible that they can reshape and cultivate homegrown Hong Kong residents to do the job. It is my sincere hope that such detection would, rather than making you detest people from certain regions more, encourage you to work harder not to become like them.
When the police stands by watching the thugs inflict violence and does nothing to protect innocent victims, it is of course very important for citizens to form their own patrols. However, we must also understand that division of labor is essential to modern life and citizen patrols cannot hope to replace the police. I believe it is more important, therefore, to insist on demanding the police commander be held responsible and replaced.
Chang Ping (长平) was former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》), and his writings have been banned and obliterated by the Chinese authorities. He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.
Violence Erupts in Hong Kong as Protesters Are Assaulted, the New York Times.
(Translated by Louisa Chiang)