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China Change, May 31, 2017
Liu Shaoming’s (刘少明) work as an activist, while based in Guangdong, saw him travel across the country in recent years. In Guangdong he joined the calls for releasing dissident Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), and numerous other participants in the Southern Street Movement (南方街头运动). He traveled to Xinyu in Jiangxi Province (江西新余), Jixi in Shaanxi Province (陕西鸡西), Jiansanjiang in Heilongjiang (黑龙江建三江), and many other places where citizens gathered to scrutinize the abuse of power. Over the last few years he has been summoned in for talks with the police or detained in police lockups dozens of times, but by what he called “luck” he was spared serious persecution. One human rights lawyer has described Liu as enthusiastic and selfless — like a brother. Indeed, at 59 years of age and a veteran of the June 4 democracy protests, for most of those in the field today Liu is of an older generation of activists.
In May of 1989 he was a worker at a steel factory in Jiangxi; he left behind his wife and infant child to travel to Beijing and live in one of the tents on the square, joining the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation (北京工人联合自治会), administering first-aid to the student protesters. He stayed with them until the early hours of June 4, and departed the square with them. He was later identified and jailed for a year.
According to Liu Shaoming’s defense lawyer Wu Kuiming (吴魁明), since 2014 — apart from his civil rights activism — Liu has been most heavily involved in helping workers in the Pearl River Delta (珠三角) region defend their rights. In the evening of May 29, 2015, in Guangzhou, he was taken away by unidentified men; two weeks later he was detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事). His lawyer explained that the police have devoted enormous investigative resources to collecting and analyzing information about Liu’s participation in labor rights work, as supposed criminal activity. From this, the lawyer says, it’s clear that Liu’s labor rights work is the reason the authorities apprehended him.
Xiao Shu (笑蜀), a well-known writer on activist affairs who has observed the labor movement in Guangdong for many years, said that Liu Shaoming is one of the founders of the “Labor Defense Volunteers” (工维义工) collective in Guangzhou, a loose coalition of volunteers in southern China who advocate on behalf of workers’ rights. It had only been founded a few months before Liu Shaoming was arrested, but even by then the group had gotten involved in numerous labor rights incidents. Xiao Shu noted: “Over the last five months [in 2015], they’ve been involved in a strike at the Guangxin Shoe Factory in Ebu, Haifeng County, Guangdong (海丰县鹅埠广信鞋厂), and labor rights incidents at the Second Heavy Machinery Group in Sichuan (四川二重) and the Lide Shoe Factory in Guangzhou (广州利得鞋厂). The Lide strike was a total victory, and Liu Shaoming’s contribution was essential.”
On December 3, 2015, the Guangdong authorities targeted numerous labor NGOs in the Pearl River Delta region. Seven activists — including Zeng Feixiang (曾飞洋), Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅), Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), He Xiaobo (何晓波), and Meng Han (孟晗), among others — were arrested on charges of “gathering crowds to disturb public order” for organizing strikes and fighting for the legitimate rights of workers. Another several dozen people were summoned and interrogated. China’s state media engaged in an all-out character assassination of them, accusing their small-scale grassroots organizations of “long-term receipt of funds from foreign organizations, profiting off labor and management disputes, severely disrupting social order, and severely trampling on the rights and benefits of workers.” Over the course of 2016, under immense international pressure and domestic cries of support, these labor activists were gradually given suspended sentences or released on probation.
But not Liu Shaoming. He has been treated like a different sort of criminal, and was indicted on January 5, 2016. Despite the fact that the police had collected a vast amount of information and evidence about his labor rights activities, when they arrested him the focus of the prosecutor’s accusations lay elsewhere entirely. Their charges said:
“An investigation performed according to the law has ascertained: From 2014 to May 2015, the defendant Liu Shaoming himself composed and compiled the documents “A Letter to the CCP’s Low-ranking Soldiers and Police in the Armed Forces” (《给中共当局基层武装力量的士兵和警员的一封信》), “A Letter to My Chinese Compatriots” (《告中国同胞书》), “My Views on the Overseas Democracy Movement” (《我对海外民运的看法》), “My Personal Views on the Reformist and Revolutionary Schools” (《我个人关于改良派和革命派看法》), among many essays and expressions which engaged in rumor mongering and slander against the state power and socialism. These texts were distributed via WeChat, QQ, Telegram and other software on his cellular phone, and were received by numerous friends on WeChat and Telegram; he also on numerous occasions disseminated these texts to WeChat and QQ friend groups, under the circumstances that he was fully aware that there were a large number of friends in those groups, identifying himself under the term of endearment ‘Old Migrant Worker Liu Shaoming,’ all of which had the effect of inciting subversion of state power and overturning the socialist system.”
Two defense lawyers pointed out that the police arrest of Liu Shaoming was “simply because the police regard Liu is a ‘troublemaker.’ Even if they had no evidence, they would still have arrested him.”
China Change has observed a key feature of the Chinese government’s suppression of civil society over the last several years, which goes some way to explaining the “special treatment” Liu Shaoming has been subjected to: this is that, horizontally, Liu’s activism spanned across the rights defense movement, political dissent, and labor rights spheres, and vertically, that its origin can be traced all the way back to the June 4 democracy movement and the ideas that animated it. This, in the eyes of an increasingly paranoid Chinese government, makes Liu appear somehow more “dangerous” — even though all of the activities he has engaged in, whether 28 years ago with the June 4 demonstration, or the labor activism in the Pearl River Delta today, are perfectly permissible under the Chinese constitution.
“When it comes to political cases,” remarked a human rights lawyer who wished to remain anonymous, “the key basis for the decision to arrest, investigate, and sentence a politically sensitive individual is not a question of the facts of the matter, but a question of whether they want to do it or not. It’s all about whom they want to get rid of and persecute.” Liu Shaoming now suffers the misfortune of having become one of the people the Party authorities want to remove from the scene.
Liu Shaoming was tried in the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on April 15, 2016, for “inciting subversion of state power.” The hearing ended without a sentence. It is now over 13 months since the trial, and Liu has still not been sentenced. China’s Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that under normal circumstances “A people’s court shall pronounce the judgment on a case of public prosecution within two months or, not later than three months.”
In his statement of self-defense in court, Liu Shaoming responded to the charges thus: “Because of some essays and memoirs I wrote which accurately recorded that period of national and personal history, and because I expressed some political opinions that diverge from those of the authorities, I’ve been accused of ‘rumor mongering,’ ‘slander,’ and ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and put in the defendant’s chair in a court of law. Whatever the result, I will assume it calmly. This is the most I can do to comfort the fallen spirits of those who have laid down their lives for the project of democracy in China. As to whether I’m innocent or guilty, history will be the fairest judge. Whether it’s the 20 square meter cell of jail, or the 9.6 million square kilometer thought prison of the entire country, for those who yearn for freedom there is little difference.”
Of his own activism, he said: “The pursuit of liberty and democracy is what I have dreamed of and pursued my entire life… Our resistance and suffering today is nothing but the final stage of resistance and suffering in the five thousand years of history of the Chinese people. This time we’re making a stand without any of the slaughter and bloodletting of the past: this is a rational, peaceful, non-violent pursuit, to bring the light spring wind of constitutional democracy and liberty to this great ancestral land, and to bless China.”
He said that public security personnel in pre-trial interrogations focused exclusively on his involvement in labor activism, as well as on his support for human rights lawyers. But, he said, given that the indictment contained no mention of this, “You don’t mention it, I don’t defend it.”
In 2015 and 2016 China rolled out an intense battery of new legislation: the Foreign NGO Law (《中华人民共和国境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》), the Charity Law (《中华人民共和国慈善法》), the Cybersecurity Law (《网络安全法》), the State Security Law (《国家安全法》), and most recently a draft of the State Intelligence Law (《中华人民共和国国家情报法》草案), which will likely become a law in the near future. The international community has regarded this series of laws as primarily a formal codification of well-practiced repressive policies. They demonstrate how the Chinese authorities regard civil society as the greatest threat to the regime, and they’re aimed to maximally restrict the normal activities and growth of civil society in China.
From when he left Jiangxi as a steel factory worker, to his current imprisonment, half of Liu Shaoming’s life has been spent in the Pearl River Delta region as a migrant worker. He has worked as a porter, a construction laborer, an enterprise manager, a factory director, an advertisement salesman, and a copywriter for advertising pamphlets — he couldn’t be any more the Chinese everyman. Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), a colleague who has worked with him on labor rights, said: “He established a studio for advocating on behalf of workers and joined forces with them completely — eating together, living together. He never accepted any money from any organization, and no one ever gave him a salary or stipend. His juniors affectionately called him ‘Uncle Liu.’”
A 2016 New Year’s Message from China’s Labor Community
Dear fellow workers, compatriots, and friends from around the world: Happy New Year!
Toward the end of 2015, the labor community in China experienced an unprecedented attack. A group of activists who have dedicated years to defending the rights and interests of workers were detained, monitored and interrogated by the police. It could have been a moment for fear and paranoia to set in. But those in the labor community and other walks of life responded quickly by drafting a petition to the Communist Party Central Committee, National People’s Congress, and State Council. The petition described in no uncertain terms the severe and widespread violations of workers’ rights and interests over the last few decades, and the inevitable emergence of independent labor NGOs and worker centers and their valuable contribution to the protection of labor rights and social justice, and demanded the release of the detained activists. In less than two weeks, over 490 people added their names to this petition, and over 60 Chinese lawyers joined a legal aid team. This response was followed by petitions, appeals, and demonstrations by over 200 organizations and thousands of individuals from the international labor and academic community in over 40 countries condemning the crackdown and expressing support for the arrested labor activists.
Their calls, however, fell on the deaf ears of the Chinese authorities. The detained activists have to this day still not been allowed to meet with their lawyers. In addition, the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus—the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and China Central Television (CCTV)—launched a smear campaign against these activists, in particular Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋), essentially sentencing them without a trial in the court of public opinion. Feiyang’s wife and child have been intimidated, and Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅) has been separated from her baby daughter, whom she was breastfeeding when she was detained. The families of the other detained activists—He Xiaobo (何晓波), Meng Han (孟晗), Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), Deng Xiaoming (邓小明)—are all sick with fear, and the whereabouts of another former worker-turned-collective bargaining specialist, Chen Huihai (陈辉海), is still unclear. Their treatment reflects a cowardly approach to the rule of law, and the criminal proceedings are rife with legal and procedural unfairness.
Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends: If the rights and interests of workers who make up the large majority of China’s population cannot be protected, if workers are increasingly deprived of their economic, political, cultural, and social rights, if the confrontations between officials and citizens, workers and employers, rich and poor, continues to worsen, then what are the prospects for everyone to live in a free, equal, fair, democratic, law-based society where “socialism is the core value”? It is doubtful that even our most basic survival and security can be assured in such a society!
It follows then that defending and fighting for workers’ rights and interests is not only essential for workers, but also to the stability, security, fairness, and well-being of society as a whole. Labor rights activism is not a crime! Labor rights organizations have not committed any crime! Labor rights activists have not committed any crime! Not only are they are not guilty of any crime, they have also made great contributions to our society, state, and nation. They are the underlying force behind a labor movement that has emerged in waves since 2010. They are why people from all walks of society are increasingly paying attention to, and supporting, the labor movement.
China’s 30 years of rapid economic growth is already in its last gasps. Now, demographics are changing, reducing the labor force, and the environment is severely damaged. At the same time, social contradictions and historical debt hidden by growth are surfacing one after the other. Government, businesses, and workers face the dual burden of an economic recession and social instability, and workers bear the greatest share: in times of economic growth they gain the least, and in downturns they inevitably lose the most. Not only are they the first to lose their jobs and fall into poverty, but as soon as they protest they are repressed by the government’s stability maintenance apparatus.
How can it be that the working class is fated to ceaselessly bear all the costs through economic growth as well as recession? Why should the powerful reap the profits when the economy grows and flee in times of recession? In early 2015, the labor community made a proposition to the government known as “the New Deal for Workers,” suggesting reforms to the system of wealth distribution, and universal social insurance coverage. It could be a way to boost domestic consumption, but this requires the government and businesses to give a bigger piece of the pie to labor and society. Similar policies helped the United States make it through the Depression of the 1930s, but do Chinese officials have that kind of heart and will?
Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends, it’s true that we wait on the government to appraise the situation and put forward the correct policy, but we also know that freedom, equality, justice, safety and happiness are things that we cannot wait for—they can only be obtained by fighting for them. We may have to make sacrifices if we choose to fight, but we will gain nothing without fighting for it.
In this new year, labor activism may face an even grimmer situation. But we are convinced that the labor movement will keep advancing. The rights to organize, bargain collectively, and to strike, and the economic, political, cultural, and social rights of workers, will all be achieved step by step.
“Strong grows the grass on plains made rich with blood, in winter-frozen earth spring starts to quicken.” Let this couplet be the labor community’s New Year Greetings that also set our outlook for 2016.
January 1, 2016
 Lu Xun, “Strong grows the grass,” translated by W. F. Jenner. (鲁迅《无题·血沃中原肥劲草》).
Chinese Authorities Orchestrate Surprise Raid of Labor NGOs in Guangdong, Arresting Leaders, Yaxue Cao, December 10, 2015.
Labour Activist Zhu Xiaomei speaking to workers, 2-minute Youtube video with English subtitles.
中文原文《寒凝大地发春华：中国劳工界2016年新年献辞》, translated by a volunteer.
Who the activists are, and why the government is striking hard against their NGOs
By Yaxue Cao, published: December 10, 2015
Chinese police on December 3 began a series of sudden raids of labor rights organizations in Guangdong, questioning at least 25 staff members and managers of about five organizations, according to labor activists and lawyers in the area.
Three individuals—Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋), Zhu Xiaohai (朱小梅) and He Xiaobo (何晓波)—were confirmed to be criminally detained. On December 7, Deng Xiaoming (邓小明) was criminally detained, while two other NGO staff members are still in police custody and their status remains uncertain. The father, wife, and older brother of Zeng Feiyang have all been interrogated by police. Peng Jiayong (彭家勇) also may have been criminally detained, given that the police said that they had sent a notice to his address.
Many of the NGOs are based in Panyu, a district of Guangzhou with a high concentration of migrant workers.
Zeng Feiyang and Zhu Xiaohai, a manager and staff member respectively at the “Panyu Migrant Worker Service Document Handling Center” (番禺打工族文书处理服务部) in Panyu, Guangzhou, have been accused of “organizing a crowd to disrupt social order.” The NGO is typically known as Panyu Dagongzu Service Center.
He Xiaobo, the manager of the Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center in Foshan City (南飞雁社会服务工作中心), has been accused of “embezzlement”. It is unclear what charges have been levelled against Deng Xiaoming, a staff member at the Haige Labor Center (海哥劳工服务部) in Panyu, and Peng Jiayong, the leader of the Panyu Workers’ Mutual Assistance Group (番禺区劳动者互助小组).
A labor rights defense website reported that this “surprise attack” has targeted some of the leading NGOs defending and advocating labor rights and awareness in the Pearl River Delta.
The Panyu Migrant Worker Service Center (“Dagongzu” hereafter) was founded in 1998; its primary business was legal consultation and representation for workers. This included assisting injured workers in navigating applications for compensation, getting involved in collective bargaining and strikes in order to see that workers are paid their social insurance, assisting in the drafting of labor rights agreements, and abolishing the use of temporary labor agencies, among other activities. As one of the earliest labor rights NGOs in the Pearl River Delta area, it became a model for many of the later labor rights activists; before long, over a dozen similar labor NGOs had blossomed in the area, and Dagongzu earned the playful moniker of the “Whampoa Military School” for labor rights. (One of Republic of China’s military academies, Whampoa trained many top Nationalist and Communist Party military officers before 1949.)
The Foshan-based Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center was founded in 2007 and officially registered with the local Civil Affairs agency in 2012, according to Caijing, a business magazine. Nanfeiyan began with a focus on helping injured industrial workers to gain compensation, but its range of activities later expanded significantly, including the provision of service to migrants in Foshan. The range of community services it provides includes supporting education for the children of migrant workers who are denied enrollment in local public schools; medical insurance for women giving birth; and shelter services, among others. According to Nanfeiyan’s website, in the seven years of their operations up to 2014, the NGO has “provided legal training workshops to over 7,000 people, and cumulatively assisted nearly 10,000 injured workers in gaining legally prescribed compensation. The agency has accumulated rich NGO work experience from a large number of injury compensation cases.”
According to its Weibo account, the Panyu Mutual Assistance Group was founded by Peng Jiayong and advocates a worker representative system, direct elections for union leaders, collective bargaining, and solidarity among workers.
The Haige Labor Center in Panyu, although only founded in November 2014, is led by a veteran labor rights activist—Cheng Huihai (陈辉海). He began as a worker in a jewelry factory, first defending his own rights then helping and training other workers to defend theirs. In an interview this year he said that the Haige Labor Center primarily focuses on training workers to use collective bargaining to ensure the protection of their rights, and that many such cases have been successful.
Another labor rights NGO that has been raided and questioned is the Sunflower Women’s Center (向阳花女工中心) also in Panyu district.
The Detained NGO Workers: Who Are They?
Zeng Feiyang graduated from South China Normal University with an associate degree in law in 1996. Through family connections he secured a position in the judicial bureau of his hometown of Nanxiong in Guangdong—the sort of public service post widely sought after in China. But Zeng found it far too dull, left it in less than a year, and moved to the Jinglun Law Firm in Guangzhou, according to 2010 profile by Southern Window (《南风窗》).
At the law firm his principal job was to represent corporate clients in their disputes with workers: mediating wage negotiations, injury compensation, backwages, and more. His clients and his firm were very happy with his work, but he sunk into guilt. “The migrant workers make a living by selling their cheap labor. Now they have lost their only asset—a strong and healthy body—and can’t get fair compensation, how will they face the future?” He felt compelled to help them.
He soon became the head of the Panyu Migrant Worker Service Center, or Dagongzu. The first few years were a struggle: they received hardly any service fees, found it difficult to keep running, and were regularly harassed by the government. At one point their business license was revoked. In early 2000s Dagongzu transformed itself into an NGO and started accepting funding from Hong Kong and abroad, no longer charging any fees from migrant workers. Dagongzu became China’s first labor NGO.
In 2003 Dagongzu set up a “Migrant Worker’s Cultural Service Center” in the Shiqi township (石碁镇), using a sponsorship of $15,000 by Reebok. The center provided cultural and sporting facilities, and held training classes and activities that built fellowship among workers. There were computer classes, dancing classes, and English classes on a rotating basis. The goal of the center was to enrich the lives of migrant workers through learning and camaraderie, to give them a sense of belonging. Workers appreciated these activities. But in 2007 police closed it down because they feared that with hundreds of migrant workers congregating in one place, it would be easy for them to get organized and set off “mass incidents.”
Zeng Feiyang recognized that, while labor NGOs had resolved many problems for the government, by making life easier for workers and reducing their pressure and anxieties, the government’s stance towards these NGOs was still deeply suspicious and apprehensive. He remarked that the primary obstacle to the growth of labor NGOs in China came from “government and industry.” In reality, Zeng was perfectly clear on what he was doing: his organization was not based on creating a social movement, but serving and supporting migrant workers as and when they needed it. “Getting involved in mass protests—that’s absolutely off the table,” he says in the Southern Window profile.
A month prior, Dagongzu had helped Shatou street sanitation workers to win a collective rights defense case, awarding them their seniority compensation.
In December 2014, when Dagongzu was helping workers at the Lide Shoe Factory (利得鞋厂) in Guangdong in a collective bargaining negotiation, police detained Zeng Feiyang for 24 hours. While in custody, the police essentially threatened to kill him, intimating that these days, if someone dies under mysterious circumstances, police can’t always solve the case. Two days later Zeng was assailed by four unidentified men. Over 1,000 activists signed a petition protesting violence against labor activists.
Zhu Xiaomei is a worker at Dagongzu. At midday on December 3, police came with a warrant to search her home and make an arrest. Her husband, 10-year-old son, and still breastfeeding one-year-old daughter were all there. Her husband couldn’t take the baby because he had to work, and nor would the police allow Zhu Xiaohai to take her. In the end, the ten-year-old picked up the baby and watched on as police handcuffed his mother and led her away.
On December 4 the family received a notice of criminal detention informing them that Zhu Xiaohai was being held in the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center under suspicion of having “gathered a crowd to disturb social order.” When they attempted to bring the infant daughter to the lockup so she could be breastfed, they were turned away by police.
At the age of 16, Zhu Xiaohai came down from Henan to Guangdong to work, spending 16 years at a Hitachi factory in Panyu. When she’d just arrived in Guangdong she had little life experience and didn’t understand Cantonese (the local language). She was made to do endless overtime shifts, and she was afraid, lonely, and tired, yet didn’t dare tell her family back in Henan, according to an interview she gave to Chinese media this Mother’s Day. The first time she called home—when telephone calls still cost 3 yuan per minute—she said not a word, choking in tears before hastily hanging up. Because she worked diligently and took on hard tasks without complaint, she became a group supervisor within a few months. Four years later she was promoted to an entry-level manager. In 2014 Zhu, in her role as elected worker’s representative, sought to ensure that workers were provided with basic social security and received their pensions, as dictated by the law. For this she was illegally fired. She initiated a lawsuit against her employer for illegal dismissal, which she won, and then joined Dagongzu to become an NGO worker.
He Xiaobo went to work in Foshan in 2006 and soon lost three fingers on his left hand in an industrial accident. In hospital he encountered a Dagongzu volunteer and learned for the first time about worker’s compensation. For the next year or so he threw himself into learning the law and defending his own rights, while also volunteering for Dagongzu. He was 32-years-old then. He also experienced what every other migrant worker had faced: he had to leave behind his daughter in his hometown because she was not allowed to enroll in public schools in Foshan, and his wife was denied maternity insurance when she was pregnant with their younger daughter.
Later he founded the Rights Defense Workshop for the Injured, which was the predecessor of Nanfeiyan, and became a well-known labor activist. Up until last year his NGO was still working with the government on a number of projects and received official funding. Both He Xiaobo and his NGO received numerous recognitions and honors in Foshan: He was declared one of the Top Ten Social Workers, for instance, and Nanfeiyan was given the Red Rose Award for charity work, both awarded by the Foshan municipal government.
Peng Jiayong, from Yichang, Hubei Province, joined labor rights defense work in 2012. Previously he was himself a worker but was fired after participating in union elections and collecting bargaining at a foreign-invested enterprise in Zhongshan. He then began working at Zhongshan Laipowan (来泊湾, a labor NGO), Dagongzu, and the Haige Labor Center. In April he was assaulted by eight unidentified men and severely injured. In May he led the establishment of the Worker’s Mutual Assistance Group.
Deng Xiaoming, a native of Leiyang, Hunan, came to Guangdong to work when he was still a minor. After a work injury he got help from Dagongzu, and later became involved in labor rights NGO work, pitching in at Dagongzu and Haige.
Why the Authorities Launched This Crackdown
According to a report about the plight of Chinese labor NGOs by Financial Times Chinese earlier this year, Dagongzu began receiving fund from foreign sources in 2002, including from, at various points, the German-based Church Development Service (Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst), the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, and the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin, among others. But in September 2014 public security authorities warned Zeng Feiyang that his organization could no longer receive any funding from China Labor Bulletin, at that time their only source of financing.
In September and November, 2014, Zeng Feiyang attempted twice to enter Hong Kong and was refused on both occasions, upon which he was told that he had been placed on the list of those refused exit from China. When he attempted to fly to the Czech Republic for a human rights meeting in December 2014 he was again stopped by Customs.
In September 2015 several of Nanfeiyan’s service stations were shut down, their contracts with government severed. Their projects and funding for helping communities of migrant worker children were also affected, and their accounting books were re-audited by the authorities, looking for irregularities. In November, He Xiaobo was also restricted from traveling outside China.
The Sunflower Women’s Center in Panyu, meanwhile, used to be supported by the All-China Women’s Federation, but in June received a notice of administrative penalty from the Civil Affairs office, declaring that the center’s registration as an NGO would be revoked.
An open letter by Nanfeiyan in October provides some background on the sudden deterioration of the environment for labor NGOs in China:
“In July 2011, Wang Yang (汪洋), the then Party Secretary of Guangdong, put forth the ‘social construction’ doctrine during the 9th plenary meeting of the 10th Party Committee of Guangdong. … In March 2012, secretary Wang Yang came to Gaoming District in Foshan to conduct field studies for innovation in social management. He asked a manager of a company, who’s also a Party member: ‘If workers, wanting to have better benefits, come to odds with the factory, whose side will you lean to?’ The Guangdong government embraced the new social management concept in response to the increasingly acute confrontations between workers and their employers seen in the Pearl River Delta. As a result, in 2012, many NGOs in Guangdong, including Nanfeiyan, blossomed as never before: many groups were able to obtain NGO registration, and receive government funding to provide services. Between 2013-2014, Nanfeiyan also began to receive government funding for operating social work programs. However, the conditions changed abruptly at the end of 2014. The vibrant and innovative atmosphere for social management quickly withered. At first, the government suddenly cut funding for NGOs, including Nanfeiyan. Then, in the new social management regulations to be promulgated, the government made it very difficult for us to obtain foreign funding. On top of that, from around the end of 2014 to early 2015, we felt the government began to tighten control on, and suppress, a select group of NGOs. Our space for survival has sunk to its lowest, and we’re on the brink of extinction.”
A veteran labor activist based in Guangzhou, who wishes to remain anonymous, told NGO commentator Zhao Sile (赵思乐) that all the people detained or questioned this time have worked at Dagongzu at one point or another. He said that the authorities have been investigating Zeng Feiyang for a while. “It’s obvious that the raids were well planned from a higher level of government,” he said. “From the way several friends were questioned, you can gather that the authorities want to ‘prove’ that several independent labor organizations are part of a network, with Zeng Feiyang as the ring leader.”
This activist said that the latest assault on labor NGOs in Guangzhou and Foshan is a manifestation of the government trying to tighten control as the economy continues to slide. “On the surface it’s cracking down on labor NGOs, but in essence it’s suppressing the workers’ movement.” He predicted that the suppression will continue as more factories shut down and labor disputes multiply.
Guangzhou-based labor rights activist Liu Shaoming (刘少明) was arrested in mid-2015, charged with inciting subversion of state power, and has not yet been tried. In February 2015, the authorities in Guangzhou closed down a labor research center jointly operated by UC Berkeley and Sun Yat-sen University. Throughout the year, the Chinese government has closed or outlawed independent rights NGOs across the country, including NGOs for women’s rights, for HIV/AIDS patients, and for the disabled. The crackdown also aimed at independent think tanks. Meanwhile, China is moving towards passing the much-discussed “Foreign NGO Management Law.” It is widely believed that the regime seeks to pass such a stringent law in order to cut off foreign funding for NGOs, especially rights defense NGOs, in order to check the expansion of China’s civil society.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.