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The Might of an Ant: the Story of Lawyer Li Baiguang (1 of 2)

Yaxue Cao, March 20, 2018

 

Li Baiguang, 2006, Wenling

Li Baiguang, center, in light orange shirt, spoke to farmers who were organizing a cooperative in Wenling, Zhejiang, in 2006.

 

Li Baiguang (李柏光), a human rights lawyer, died on February 26, aged 49.

Li Baiguang, born on October 1, 1968, was the youngest of seven children in a tiny mountain village household in Jiahe county, Chenzhou, Hunan. His father died when he was seven years old. The family was impoverished. When Li reached school age, his playmates went to school, but he had to stay home another year and help his mother with chores. One day, after he herded the ducks back home, Li went to the school, leant on the window, and saw his friends all studying. He returned home and told his mother through tears: “If you don’t let me go to school, I’ll hack our ducks to death.”

In 1987, the child who used to sleep on the hard loft of a pigpen with his brothers matriculated to Xiangtan University (湘潭大学) majoring in philosophy. “While I was at university, my living expenses were roughly 50 yuan a month. Every cent of it was made by my mother selling bitter melon, squash, rice wine, and our pigs,” Li told an interviewer in 2010. One month in winter, when the family didn’t send money, he had to borrow from another student; by the next month, he couldn’t afford to pay it back. “It hurt me so deeply that I didn’t want to live anymore; I wanted to jump off a building. However, I was held back by the thought that if I did kill myself, I’d be letting my mom down.”

After graduating from the unremarkable Xiangtan University, Li scored well enough on a test to be admitted to China’s premier institution of higher education, Peking University’s School of Law. This feat by itself indicates his intelligence and grit. Despite that, “my family weren’t impressed that I’d gotten into PKU. When I finished my Masters and went onto a PhD, they were even less pleased. They said: You’re reading so many books, but no one back home benefits in the least. You’d be better off coming back and being a village cadre.”

At PKU, Li studied constitutional and administrative law; his advisor was the renowned Chinese constitutional law scholar Xiao Weiyun (萧蔚云). A series of lectures that he and classmates held about the constitution came in for criticism not only by his advisor (“Why aren’t you addressing the benefits of socialist rule of law, but instead talking about how French supreme court justices understand the constitution?” he jabbed), but also attracted the attention of the Ministry of State Security. In 1997 after Li received his PhD, his advisor was concerned that he would be trouble if he stayed, and thus rejected Li’s application for a teaching position at PKU.

At the end of that year, Li went to Hainan University. In the 1990s, Hainan was the largest Special Economic Zone in all of the country, and had attracted people from the rest of China hunting for opportunity. Many had been functionaries in the government until the violent suppression of the 1989 democracy movement crushed their political aspirations; others were student activists, at a loss and disillusioned. At Hainan University, a faraway and marginal institution, Li Baiguang continued to hold academic salons with students, taking great joy in their discussions on democracy and the rule of law.

The Year of 1998

In early 1998, a friend from Li Baiguang’s home province introduced him to a small group of democracy activists in Guangzhou. They were part of a campaign to organize an opposition party across cities and provinces.

In the 1990s, there were two major campaigns to organize independent political parties. The first, led by Hu Shigen (胡石根) in Beijing in 1992, involved a few dozen and was quickly met with severe repression. The leaders were given heavy sentences, with Hu Shigen jailed for 20 years. The next was in 1998.

The global context of the 1998 party organization event is worth sketching out. Following the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, U.S. Congress turned the annual review of China’s Most Favored Nation trade status into a debate and criticism of human rights conditions in China. For all that, from the beginning of the 1980s, the U.S. never once failed to grant China MFN status, including in 1990,[1] after the massacre in Beijing. China’s strategic goals through the 1990s were 1) to normalize trade relations with the U.S., 2) to join the World Trade Organization. Thus, the U.S. and China, and China and the world, were engaging in “trade for human rights” deals. They included the following:

  • In October 1997, China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (though did not ratify it until 2001);
  • In November 1997, China’s most well-known political prisoner, Wei Jingsheng (魏京生), was released and went into exile in the U.S.;
  • In June 1998, President Clinton asked Congress to abolish the annual review of Most Favored Nation status for China, and to grant China permanent normal trade relations;
  • On June 25, 1998, President Clinton arrived in Xi’an, kicking off a tour of China. His hosts had him observe local elections in Xiahe village, on the outskirts of Xi’an. “I understand that soon, like nearly half a million other villages across China, you will be voting to choose your local leaders,” he remarked;
  • In September, 1998, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited China;
  • In October 1998, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR; though 20 years later has yet to ratify it);
  • In November 1998, the National People’s Congress passed the “Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committees of the People’s Republic China” (《中华人民共和国村民委员会组织法》) which guaranteed that villages would be able to govern autonomously and carry out grassroots democracy.

The reader can very well imagine, in the context of all of this, how Chinese dissidents were full of hope about the unprecedented possibilities of 1998, and how their imagination was fired. The democracy activists’ plan was to formally and openly register a political party in China. This was, after all, one of the rights stipulated in the ICCPR, and the organizers were no longer interested in secretive and shadowy political opposition.

The 29-year-old law PhD Li Baiguang helped prepare the materials for the registration of the “Democracy Party of China.” He may have even authored the party’s charter. Having done what was entrusted to him, Li went back to Hainan. One afternoon, he received a telephone call telling him that the University’s Party Committee Secretary, as well as the head of the law school, wanted to speak with him. The three met at the law school, and they asked him about his teaching. When he left the meeting and went outside, two burly men were waiting. They strode over and, each grabbing an arm, hauled the five-foot Li into a waiting Toyota. Li asked, “Are you from the Ministry of State Security?” They laughed.

Li was detained for a week. They questioned him about his role in the party registration. All the related documents he had were confiscated during a raid of his apartment. They also demanded that he produce a written statement of guilt and repentance, and that he not leave Hainan. He wrote a confession and agreed to stay in the city. After that, security officials kept him under surveillance, and often demanded he grant them “chats.”

A fortnight later, in March 1998, Li booked an airline ticket from a friend’s house and the next morning quietly took the first flight out of Hainan straight to Beijing.

Li Baiguang_clinton in Xi'an village

President Clinton visited a village near Xi’an to observe village elections. Photo: Getty Images

The day Clinton arrived in China, Wang Youcai (王有才) and his colleagues in Hangzhou traveled to government offices to register the Zhejiang branch of the Democracy Party of China. Their application was denied. In September, Shandong activists traveled to local government offices to register the Shandong branch of the Democracy Party of China, also to no avail. In Wuhan, activists led by Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) went to the Hubei Provincial Civil Affairs Bureau and lodged the application for the Hubei provincial organizing committee of the Democracy Party of China, and were also rejected. In November, Yu Wenli (徐文立) and other activists in Beijing announced that they were establishing the Beijing and Tianjin headquarters of the party. Democracy Party organizers across the country were then tracked down and arrested, and at the end of 1998 charged with “subversion of state power” and given harsh prison sentences. Wang Youcai of Hangzhou got 11 years; Qin Yongmin of Wuhan got 12 years; Yu Wenli of Beijing, 13 years. Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌) in Sichuan persisted in party organizing and was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1999.

Following this — despite the continued arrest and imprisonment of independent scholars and political dissidents, as well as the brutal suppression of Falun Gong in 1999 — Clinton in October 2000 signed into law permanent normal trade relations with China. The following year, China proceeded to join the WTO. Nearly 20 years later, however, China has not made good on its trade promises, nor does it intend to; instead, China has undermined WTO rules and norms, as a January 2018 report by the United States Trade Representative says. Thus, though China, in bad faith, played the “trade for human rights” deals of the 1990s, it won every hand. This is because the Chinese government well knew that U.S. companies were salivating over the China market, that the U.S. would go along with the pretense that the Chinese authorities were sincere, and that no one would follow-up on the broken promises.

Now in 2018, we can imagine ourselves in a time machine, and take a fresh look at how both laughable and tragic were these “trade for human rights” negotiations in 1998.

Li Baiguang was spared prison in 1998 only because he was an inadvertent beneficiary of the negotiations underway. So as to not ruin their grand trade deal, the Party took a relatively lenient approach against the non-core party organizers.

If it were 2018 in which all this took place, Li would not only have not escaped jail time, but he wouldn’t have even been able to flee Hainan. Whether by plane, boat, or train, his ID card would have thrown out a “person of interest” alert, and facial recognition technologies would have picked up his movements. He’d have had nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide.

When he got to Beijing, Li holed up in a small house near Peking University; he didn’t contact anyone, and stayed off the telephone.

However, he didn’t stay hidden long. That year PKU celebrated its 100th anniversary of founding, and the houses of local residents around the campus were being razed for construction, sparking conflicts. Li and friends got involved in helping the residents resist the illegal demolition. One day, after he left a bookstore near the Southern Gate of PKU, he found that the bicycle he’d left by the door had been badly mangled. He knew it was a warning. As he explained in a later interview: “After that I holed up in the house again and dared not go out.”

Many of Li Baiguang’s friends and acquaintances in Beijing were young liberal intellectuals and political dissidents that had been tracked and tagged by the Ministry of State Security. Security agents were thus quickly able to identify his whereabouts. One evening in August of 1998, as Li was riding past the Eastern Gate of Peking University, he was knocked off his bicycle by a Volkswagen Santana. Two large men climbed out, shoved him in the car, hooded him, squashed him between them in the back seat, and rammed his head towards his crotch. After driving 40 to 50 minutes, he was dragged into a basement and interrogated by people who identified themselves as agents of the Beijing Bureau of State Security (北京市国家安全局), as well as agents who had come from Hainan. They wanted to know what he’d done since he left Hainan, and why he left without permission.

They released him that evening. The Beijing agents made him write a ‘guarantee letter’ promising that he would not flee again, and that he’d submit ‘thought reports’ regularly. Before long he began to find this unbearable and told the police that he would not write the reports anymore. His home was again raided, and they found that Li had cursed them and sworn revenge in his diary. He never kept a diary after that.

A friend remembers the deep impression left on Li by the harassment and monitoring of 1998: “They infiltrate your blood,” he said.

Book Business

Li Baiguang_Books_政治的罪恶After his return to Beijing, Li relied on translating, proofreading, and writing to make a living. This was the kind of work that Li enjoyed and felt at home with. In graduate school at PKU, he had translated Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” The book had already been translated before, but his version, titled in Chinese “The Way of the Ruler,” introduced it to a popular audience. In the summer of 1998 when he was proofreading “The New Asian Way,” he encountered the work Victorian author Samuel Smiles, in particular the classic “Self Help.”

He borrowed Smiles’ book from the PKU library and found it “deeply moving and inspiring.” Li wrote in a 2005 essay: “Samuel Smiles’ works, through moving stories that compel tears, gives amply convincing witness to the fact that nobleness of character and spirit is the salvation of every individual, country, and people — and that this is our sole path to freedom and happiness.”

Through the 1990s, numerous ‘shadow’ publication houses cropped up in Beijing doing a lively business in the book trade. In China, only books with an official publication number are allowed to be printed, and these publication numbers were only allocated to government-registered, state-run presses. Private publishers would buy publication numbers from the state presses to publish books. Most of the proprietors were intellectuals who couldn’t stand the oppressive restrictions of the official system; some were idealists who hoped to awaken the public through books and the spread of new ways of thinking. Many of these businesses were composed of just a few people, and most of what they published were translations.

Li Baiguang self helpLi Baiguang decided to translate and publish Samuel Smiles’ works (the copyright on which had already expired), and he became a publisher.

In January of 1999, Li published the Smiles classic “Self-Help” through the little-known  Beijing-based Yanshan Press (北京燕山出版社). In July, September, October, 1999, then in July and October in 2010, Li published a series of Smiles’ books under the Beijing Library Press, respectively “Character,” “Duty,” “Thrift,” “The Huguenots in France,” and “Life and Labour.” He marketed the series as the “Conscience Collection” (良知丛书). Li took on planning and editorial tasks for the series, while also performing some of the translation. He farmed out distribution and sales to contractors already established in the industry. Li’s obsession and dedication to the work is clear from the compressed timeline.

In November of 1999, The Commercial Press, a major Beijing publishing house, published Li Baiguang’s translation of American professor Robert Dahl’s “On Democracy,” a book of instruction on the history and fundamental tenets of democracy.

Among the works Li had first published was the 19th century French judge Louis Proal’s “Political Crime.” The Chinese version, based on the 1898 English-language translation, was published by Reform Press in April 1999. It immediately attracted the attention of the Ministry of State Security. As put by one of the translators and Li’s friend Wang Tiancheng (王天成), “The title of this book was just too outlandish for the authorities.” Indeed, the “political crimes” discussed in the book were not principally in reference to crimes against the government, such as treason and revolt, but instead crimes committed by governments and politicians, including assassinations, hatred, hypocrisy, political spoliation, electoral corruption, and so on.

State security agents came and confiscated everything off the desk of the typist. Li Baiguang went into hiding once more. “Political Crime” had its commercial life stunted.

The Conscience Collection, on the other hand, sold exceptionally well, in particular “Self-Help.” This put a little money in Li’s pocket.

Around strangers and new acquaintances, Li Baiguang was quiet and taciturn. But when he was with old friends, he wouldn’t quit talking. During gatherings at his apartment, once he got going on a topic, he rarely stopped, not caring whether his audience had lost interest or not. He also had a peculiar hand-gesture, well known to friends who tried to interrupt him: he pushed his palm down and said “Listen to me!” Those who know him, without exception, were left with a deep sense of his passion, energy, focus, and learning.

“He is a rather pure man,” one friend said.

After accumulating a small amount of capital with the Smiles venture, Li was in a position to buy up copyrights to translate and publish contemporary foreign books. This was not always successful, as his sales of American author and speaker John C. Maxwell’s series on leadership demonstrated. To make matters worse, not long after this one of Li’s distributors absconded with some of his money. Between 2002 and 2003, Li got out of the publishing business.

Li Baiguang, Hudson, 2006

Li Baiguang at Hudson Institute in 2006.

 

‘Stomp You to Death’

In around the year 2000, while he was still in the book business, the Ministry of State Security apparently decided that he wasn’t such a serious threat to national security after all, and assigned him to the Beijing Public Security Bureau for supervision.

On March 13, 2001, MSS agents in Beijing and Tianjin secretly arrested eight young people, six of whom were recent graduates, and two current graduate students, at universities in Beijing. They met each other through intercollegiate student clubs. In August of 2001, in the rented flat of a friend, the group signed their names, impressed their fingerprints, stacked their hands together and vowed to form an “organization.” The name they gave themselves was the “New Youth Study Group” (新青年学会), a nod to the “New Youth” journal established by one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party Chen Duxiu (陈独秀). Indeed, four of the young men were themselves CCP members; their guiding principles were “freedom, democracy, justice, equality.” Over the next few months they gathered now and then on campus, in a dorm, or outside, often speaking for hours at a stretch about official corruption, layoffs, or the burdens of farmers, among other emerging social problems in China. They also invited liberal scholars to come and give lectures. They were rarely unanimous in their ideas, but all agreed that Chinese society was becoming increasingly unequal by the day, and that the government was suppressing healthy discourse. They were united in the belief that China had to undergo democratic reforms.

The case of the “New Youth Study Group” was the most significant political incident to emerge in 21st century China. One of the two of the undergrads, it turned out, had long been an MSS asset; the other, the only female in the group, leveled accusations against four other members after numerous interrogation sessions. Statements given to the police by these two were used by prosecutors as the basis of charges of “subversion of state power” against the other four, who were sentenced to between 8 and 10 years of imprisonment.

On the evening of March 21, 2001, police came knocking on Li Baiguang’s door. He was taken to the Haidian district police station and interrogated; police wanted to know about his relationship with Yang Zili (杨子立). Yang, 28, was the oldest member of the New Youth Study Group; two years prior he had finished graduate studies at the Department of Mechanics at PKU, and was working as a software engineer. He and Li knew one another at PKU between 1995 to 1997, and Li introduced Yang, among other students, to thinkers like Hayek, Orwell, Mill, Montesquieu, and von Mises. Li also delivered lectures to Yang Zili and his friends on constitutional law, for which Li and Yang were summoned and questioned by state security.

Since returning Beijing in 1998, Li Baiguang had lived close to Yang and a few like-minded friends in Beijing. They would gather and converse, and Li sometimes delivered lectures to the “New Youth Study Group.”

The interrogation went for three hours that night. When police let Li go, they cautioned him: “We’re not through with you. We’ll see you again.” They told him to stay in town.

The police came again on March 24, three nights later. This time Li was taken to a secret interrogation facility at the foot of the mountains in Xiangshan, western Beijing. For the next seven days, as he recounted in a 2010 interview, he was put to extremely detailed questioning: they wanted to know where he grew up and what his family was like, his time studying in Beijing, his involvement in the Democracy Party of China in 1998, what he’s been doing in Beijing since, and other questions.

The secret interrogation likely touched on other things he was involved in — for instance, his submissions to VIP Reference (《大参考》), one of the largest pro-democracy email newsletters dispatched daily from the United States, which focused on news and analyses censored by the authorities. The newsletter’s influence was enormous from about 2000 to 2004, when it was said to have around one million recipients in China. Zhao Yan (赵岩), who worked with Li Baiguang over those years, told me that part of he and Li’s ‘underground work’ was submitting articles about rights defense incidents and internal Party struggles to VIP Reference. The only reason Li wasn’t caught by the MSS, Zhao Yan said, was because he wiped his computer daily. Li Hongkuan (李洪宽), the founder and operator of VIP Reference, said in a February 28 YouTube video: “In the process of founding VIP Reference…and over these years, Li Baiguang and I had always stayed in close touch.”

Secret police in the state security apparatus knew very well that Li Baiguang harbored a deep abhorrence toward the Chinese system of dictatorship, which he felt was unchanged for 5,000 years; they knew he castigated the Chinese, as a people, who have lost the sense of right and wrong and instead enjoyed the regressive tendencies and culture of mutual deception. These were the thoughts he often revealed to friends — but the fact that the secret police knew it all so clearly shocked him deeply. For a while after he was released, he wouldn’t dare to speak his mind as freely as he used to among friends.

After those seven days of interrogation in the secret MSS facility at Xiangshan, close friends of Li’s described him as being “panicked” and “shaken to the core.”

“They said they’re going to ‘stomp me to death,’” Li said in a phone call to his friend Wang Tiancheng. He told another friend that he was stomped on while in custody.

In the next two years he was visited continually and harassed by the neighborhood committee and local police. Police demanded that he listen to their orders and make himself available on demand. If he didn’t listen, they said, “we can run you out of town anytime we like. You don’t have a Beijing household registration. You’re just a temporary.”

Sacking Officials in Two Provinces and Five Places

Li Baiguang was introduced to Zhao Yan by Yu Meisun (俞梅荪) in 1997. Yu, an active liberal intellectual in Beijing, researched economic regulations at the State Council in the 1980s when Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were general secretary and premier. Zhao Yan is an independent, and maverick, freelance writer. In November 1998, a few months after the passage of the Organic Law of Villagers Committees, Zhao helped villagers in Harbin successfully dismiss corrupt officials through a vote. This was the first instance in which the new law was used to remove a village official; it attracted widespread attention from grassroots democracy activists at home and caused China observers to harbor illusions of a path to democracy.

Li was full of interest in Zhao’s work, and the two often chatted over tea. One day in late 2002, Zhao Yan said to Li: “Stop hanging about the house all day — what’s the point of digging into theory? Come out with me and take a look at the real world.” Zhao was a few years older than Li; at the time he had become the news director of the rural section of the “China Reform” (《中国改革》) magazine. The role meant that he was frequently approached by peasants from around the country complaining of local injustice. Zhao would head to the scene, conduct an investigation, then expose the the abuses in the magazine.

One of the first cases Li got involved in after teaming up with Zhao Yan was that of farmers in Fu’an (福安), Fujian Province, who’d had their land expropriated. The origins of the case stretched back 28 years, when a township government requisitioned land to build a reservoir; for 28 years, the farmers had not been compensated. They had petitioned for 20 years to no effect. Zhao and Li traveled to Fu’an, visited rural households, spoke with representatives of the aggrieved, and considered the options. The farmers said that trying to go the government route was a dead end, because the court refused to register their case. As Li said in a 2010 interview: “I was discussing it with Zhao Yan… through studying the law, I found there was a legal channel we could use. The reason these problems had been around so long was basically because the municipal Party Secretary, the mayor, the county Party Secretary, and the county governor had all simply been derelict in their duties. The ordinary folks pay the taxes for their government, so the government’s got a responsibility and a duty to resolve their problems. We could help the farmers initiate proceedings to strip these officials of their qualifications as people’s representatives in order to spur them into action and deal with this issue. Although these officials, whether mayors or Party secretaries, weren’t elected, according to the law their power comes from the people, so the people have a lawful right to dismiss them.” So Li and Zhao decided to help the villages by submitting a proposal to the local People’s Congress to dismiss the relevant officials. Li Baiguang acted as legal representative for the villagers.

Li Baiguang, 与赵岩在福建福安,2003

Li Baiguang and Zhao Yan in Fu’an, Fujian province, in 2003.

The recall motion enumerated instances of government malfeasance, including the theft of farmland, embezzlement of land compensation and public infrastructure construction funds, misappropriation of relief funds for the poor, river pollution, and the receipt of bribes. It implicated numerous townships and villages in the Fu’an municipality. One day in early April 2003, Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang assembled the village and township representatives, handed them pre-designed and typed forms, and looked on as they went door-to-door collecting signatures. The deputies wended their way through the mountains, working through the night, because they knew that they’d be blocked if the government found out. At noon the next day, the deputies brought in cardboard boxes and large bags with the signatures and wax thumb-prints of over 10,000 villagers. On April 8, Zhao and Li, as well as peasant deputy Miao Mengkang (缪孟康), submitted to the Fujian provincial People’s Congress Standing Committee and the Ningde municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee (one step up the chain of command from Fu’an) the motion for the recall of the mayor of Fu‘an as well as the ledger of 10,000 signatures in support of it.

This was the first instance in China where citizens had petitioned for the dismissal of a mayor. Li Baiguang, using the nom de guerre ‘Liu Baijiang’ (刘柏江), penned an article in the July issue of Modern Civilisation Pictorial (《现代文明画报》) with the headline “Can Citizens Dismiss a Mayor? A record of the first time in the New China that citizens demanded the dismissal of a city mayor.” What happened next was a textbook case of political governance with Chinese characteristics, which is true then and true today: first, the government mobilized police to prevent more people from signing the motion; second, they made threats to those who signed; third, they went to the offices of China Reform and pulled strings to stop further reporting and smeared Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang; fourth, they threatened and scared away journalists from other media; fifth, they told villagers that the dismissal proceedings had no legal basis, and thus were useless; sixth, they began exacting revenge against village deputies, including arrests; seventh, the provincial investigation team set up to look into the case came up with no results; eighth, they portrayed the incident as antagonistic toward the Party and the government; ninth, the mayor that villagers had petitioned to be dismissed, Lan Ruchun (蓝如春), was not only not dismissed, but promoted to deputy mayor of Ningde.

In January of 2004, Zhao and Li, working with local village deputies, again submitted a recall motion against Lan Ruchun. This time, under enormous public pressure, Lan was forced to resign, and the Fu’an municipal government gave villagers compensation of 1.5 million yuan ($237,000) for the expropriated land. This sum was less than a tenth of that owed.

In another case in Fujian Province, the government and investors had in the 1990s set out to develop a “Southeast Motor City” on the outskirts of Fuzhou (福州), the capital city. In doing so, they requisitioned a large amount of rural land — but after the fact, the peasants received neither the promised jobs in the factories in “Motor City,” nor any share of the benefits that accrued to the government from the development. Their share of the compensation was siphoned off by layer after layer of government, leaving them with next to nothing. In April 2004, Zhao and Li set about helping 20,000 villagers within Fuzhou municipality prepare a recall motion against the mayor of Fuzhou. Li Baiguang again was their legal representative.

In the same year in Tangshan (唐山) and Qinhuangdao (秦皇岛), Hebei Province, Li Baiguang, working with Yu Meisun and Zhao Yan, represented tens of thousands of villagers in recall proceedings against corrupt officials.

In a 2004 essay about the recall motions he represented in five cities and two provinces, Li wrote with passion about how so many villagers “took the path of using the constitution as a weapon to defend their rights because under the current legal structures of China today, every other method they tried ended in failure: for years they went to local and central government offices to petition, constantly, to no effect; they lodged complaints in court, but the court refused to accept their case… the cold, selfish, greedy and colluding local government bureaucrat-mafias strangled the villagers out of even their most basic rights to subsistence.” Using the constitution to dismiss officials  became their final remedy.

“This is a massive exercise in constitutional implementation,” Li told China Youth Daily in 2004. “Its value is not in whether it succeeds, but that through the process of studying and utilizing the constitution and the law, the seed of rule-of-law consciousness will begin to bud in the minds of Chinese villagers.” He added: “Understanding the proper relationship between the government and the people is their greatest gain.”

In a 2010 interview, Li said: “Back then we did it with such energy — standing up to these officials with the law, appealing to dismiss them every chance we could, taking them to court, and for the first time putting the fear into these insufferably arrogant men, it was really a delight.”

On another occasion though, he noted the failure of these motions and court cases to dismiss officials, a supposed constitutional right: “Rights without procedural guarantee are not real rights.” Indeed, no Chinese law provides such procedures.

Zhao Yan is the epitome of a certain Northeastern type; he has a robust physique, a gutsy attitude, and a forceful style of speech. Li Baiguang, meanwhile, is short, quiet, and restrained — but he executes with rigor and firmness. Between 2003 and 2004, the two of them traveled to seven or eight provinces, Zhao Yan as the investigative reporter, Li Baiguang as legal representative, getting themselves involved in countless land theft and compensation cases and cases of village governance and corruption. Wherever they went they handed out volumes of legal statutes they’d brought from Beijing, including the PRC Constitution, the Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committees , the Law on Land Administration (《土地管理法》), the Law on Deputies to the National People’s Congress and Deputies to the People’s Congresses (《人大代表法》), the State Compensation Law (《国际赔偿法》), the Administrative Procedure Law (《行政诉讼法》), and others, all to assist those whose rights had been infringed to file an administrative review or a complaint.

Li Baiguang, clients

Li Baiguang with farmers in Guizhou in 2004.

The villagers were often skeptical of such efforts. “We might use the law to solve problems, but government workers and police don’t, so what are we supposed to do?” they asked Li. His response: “Then you must insist on using the law! Even though in the process you may pay a price in blood and sweat, and perhaps even lose your personal freedom for a while, you have to keep going.” He firmly believed that persistence would lead to change. He told them a few stories that exemplified the power of using the law, including cases he was personally involved in. In one instance, the family farm of his client, Ms. Liu Jie (刘杰) in Heilongjiang, was expropriated, and she persisted in using legal rights defense (Li Baiguang also wrote an open letter to state premier Wen Jiabao, inviting him to appear him court to meet charges); another story he told was of Yao Lifa (姚立法) in Hubei successfully becoming a People’s Deputy; and another of blind Shandong lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) fighting for the rights of the disabled.

“The infringement of one’s rights is in fact a perfect opportunity for the awakening of civil rights consciousness,” Li said. “Before their rights are violated, they don’t grasp the natural conflict between power and rights. When rights are harmed, the fierce battle between power and rights begins. What we citizens can do is use the power of the law to repel those with unfettered power. The process is arduous, but there is simply no alternative.”

During his doctoral studies, Li Baiguang wrote a pamphlet titled “A Common Sense Reader for Chinese Citizens” (《中国公民常识读本》), using a question-and-answer format to address basic questions about human rights, government, autocracy, democracy, the constitution, economy, public opinion, education and faith, and military affairs, among other issues related to democratic constitutionalism. After the real world experiences of 2003 and 2004 however, he wanted to instead use actual cases to illustrate the basic principles associated with power and rights, burn them onto CD-ROM, and distribute them in every village. He saw the work as basic civics education for the Chinese people.

 

[1] Two weeks after the 1989 massacre, President Bush Sr. dispatched the National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft to Beijing to reassure Deng Xiaoping that the anger at, and criticism, of the Chinese government were merely temporary, would soon pass, and would not impact U.S.-China relations. Details of the visit and the reassurances made can be found in the memoirs of Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of State James Baker, and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

 

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao

 

The story of Li Baiguang, including his transition to a lawyer, his new approach to rights defense, his meeting with President Bush, and his defense of house churches around the country, will conclude tomorrow

 

Read it in Chinese 《蚂蚁的力量:纪念李柏光律师》

 

 

 

 

Lawyer Xia Lin Will be Sentenced on September 22, and It Will Have Nothing to Do With the Law

Guo Yushan, September 22, 2016

 

Lawyer Xia Lin. Photo: Initium Media

Lawyer Xia Lin. Photo: Initium Media

 

On September 22, after nearly two years in detention and a trial in August, lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖), my friend, will finally face his sentence.

Whatever he’s been charged with, it’s clear to everyone that it was only because he defended me that he has been imprisoned, and suffered as he has to this day.

In May 2014, Xia Lin got dragged into a number of disputes because of his involvement in Pu Zhiqiang’s (浦志强) case. One day in mid June, me, Xia Lin, and Kaiping (黄凯平) were sharing drinks at Beijing Worker’s Stadium, lamenting Pu’s case. At a break in the conversation, Xia Lin suddenly said to me: “If you get sent to prison in the future, I’ll be your lawyer. I’ll fight your case publicly to the end and I’ll do whatever it takes.” I replied that, of course, if I’m thrown in jail, fight it by all means, fight it as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences for me. That we concluded, with Kaiping as witness, raising our hands in toast and draining our cups.

Who’d have thought that the day would come so soon? Three months after the drinks at Worker’s Stadium, both Kaiping and I were taken into custody [in October 2014]. Xia Lin indeed defended me. A month later, he was also detained. In the time that followed I was bounced between three detention centers, while he was kept in the Beijing First Detention Center. A year later I was released on bail — but they kept him behind bars because he refused to supply a confession. Another year passed, and only now is he going to meet a verdict.

We’ve all paid the price we expected.

The price is bound to be exacted, given that we’ve chosen our stance toward this country since when we were young. Xia Lin made his choice in the flush of his youth, as part of the 1989 generation, choosing to go to Tiananmen Square, wearying his spirit in the struggle with his peers to improve this country. He again made his choice when he was a student at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law (西南政法学院), where he made an open vow never to be a lackey or collaborator with evil.

This he achieved. He never wavered from his course for 27 years. From Guizhou to Beijing, from a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer: the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul stirring.

As for the price of a life to be paid — Xia Lin, like me, is ready for it. He’s much more awake than I to the reality of how the system reacts, and its brutality.

Our lives have been interwoven together, as if by fate, from our first meeting in Mao Haojian’s (茅海建) course on modern Chinese history at Peking University. In 2004 after fellow students and I were surrounded on the Jingyuan Lawn on campus, where we protested [over the death of a female student], he came with law books and an attorney contract, walking around the lawn, always within reach. In 2008 during the Deng Yujiao case (邓玉娇案), he was in Badong County, Hubei, and I rushed there from Beijing to be a help to him.

In 2012, after I drove Chen Guangcheng to the American Embassy, Xia Lin sat in my study and combed through all the possible charges the authorities could resort to for reprisal, from “subversion of state power” to “illegal business operations.” He analyzed and whittled through them one by one. Two years later, when I found myself in prison, all that probing became precious legal experience.

We all know the fates we’ll come to assume in history. Both Xia Lin and myself, and so, so many of our colleagues, are all fated to be the stepping stones, the paving stones, for the age of the future. Accepting this humble place in history is our honor.

As for what lays ahead, we’ve not changed what has animated us from the beginning, and we won’t.

Whether we’re slandered or given heavy sentences — what surprise will it be in today’s China? When I was first arrested, I repeated to myself, and to the authorities, over and over again: If I were to be sentenced, one day will be the same as a decade. With Xia Lin, who is so proud, it’s the same.

The September 22 sentence might be, say, 11 years imprisonment, or it might be 2 years, but however many years it is, it will have had nothing to do with the law. This is our fate. We have no choice but to accept it.

Such is our world — so top up the goblet. On September 22 I’ll be outside the court with wine, waiting for the outcome. But for Xia Lin, for myself, for the judge Yi Daqing (易大庆), for the 101 Special Investigation Team assigned to my and Xia Lin’s case, this isn’t the conclusion. It’s just the beginning.

 

Guo Yushan

September 20, 2016

 

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) was the head of the now disabled Transition Institute (传知行), an independent think tank in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. Mr. Guo was one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng公盟). He was detained in October 2014, tortured during detention, and released on bail in September 2015.

 

—————

Also by Guo Yushan:

Civil Disobedience in Sodom – A Letter to Xu Zhiyong, August 10, 2013.

 

郭玉闪《江山如此,有酒盈尊》

 

 

 

Hu Shigen: The Prominent Yet Obscure Political Prisoner

Ren Bumei, August 2, 2016

In 2005, when Hu Shigen was serving the 13th year of his 20 year prison sentence for forming the Chinese Free Democratic Party, he was awarded that year’s Outstanding Democracy Activist Award by the California-based Chinese Democracy Education Foundation. This is an excerpt of a speech given by exiled dissident Ren Bumei (任不寐) titled “Hu Shigen and the Highest Aspirations of Our Age” (《 胡石根与我们时代的精神高度》), upon accepting the award on Hu’s behalf. Hu, among the first four of the July 9, 2015 detainees to be indicted, is being put through a show trial today (August 3, Beijing Time) in the Tianjin Second People’s Intermediate Court. This is our first post in a series about Hu Shigen. — The Editors.

 

Hu ShigenI’m grateful for the trust and confidence placed in me by Hu Shigen’s family and friends that allowed me, unworthy as I am, to share the honor bestowed on Mr. Hu. As a matter of fact, I can hardly represent Mr. Hu to say anything to the jury or the public. He’s spent 13 dark years in prison, and this award will add little to his suffering or glory. Instead, it is an opportunity for us. So today, I’d rather speak as an independent intellectual, recognizing the value of Hu Shigen’s existence for our time, and what it symbolizes for China’s cause of freedom.  

Mr. Hu Shigen was born in the countryside of Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, on November 14, 1954. His father, extremely impoverished, died when Hu was five — after putting up for adoption the three youngest of seven children. Hu Shigen didn’t begin his schooling until he was nine years old, when he enrolled in the Shitou Street Elementary School in Nanchang. As the oldest boy, at age 16 Hu began working at the Jiangxi Automobile Manufacturing Factory to support the family. In 1979 he passed the national college entrance exams to become a student at Peking University in Beijing. From 1979 to 1985, Hu Shigen studied at PKU, majoring in Chinese language (中国语言专业).* After graduate school, he was assigned to a teaching position at Beijing Language College (now Beijing Language and Culture University). He was quickly promoted to be an associate professor and vice department chair. He would have lived as a comfortable professor, but the arrival of the Tiananmen Movement and the June 4th massacre changed his life forever.   

Hu didn’t exhibit much political passion during the “soul-racking 56 days” of protest and repression. But it was in the post-Tiananmen period, when droves of student leaders and participants like myself were fleeing Beijing, telling of our escapes at every opportunity, and the entire country was shrouded in terror, that Hu Shigen came into his own.

Thus, June 4, 1989, became a dividing line. Those who continued to resist in the midst of the terror lock-down were the real political heroes of China. The manner of Hu Shigen’s resistance was regarded by many as radical. I don’t know until this day whether this was a scholarly, rational assessment, or just a cover for cowardice. Hu Shigen initiated the Chinese Free Democratic Party (中国自由民主党), the Chinese Progressive Alliance (中华进步同盟) and the Chinese Free Workers’ Union (中国自由工会) with Wang Guoqi (王国齐), Wang Tiancheng (王天成), Kang Yuchun (康玉春), An Ning (安宁), Liu Jingsheng (刘京生), Chen Wei (陈卫), Chen Qinglin (陈青林), Xing Hongwei (刑宏伟), Gao Yuxiang (高玉祥), Zhang Chengzhu (张承珠), Xu Dongling (许东岭), Zhao Xin (赵昕) and many more. They printed, posted, and mailed thousands of fliers promoting freedom and democracy, condemning dictatorship, and calling for a redressal of the June 4th Massacre.

They were planning to rain down fliers on Tiananmen Square from a remote-controlled airplane on the third anniversary of June 4. But their plans were leaked, and on May 28, 1992, Hu was arrested as the “principal organizer of a counter-revolutionary ring.”

Those who were tried with him told us how, in the fascist court, he roared thunderously, like a lion. We learned from eyewitnesses that he and his accomplices adopted a no-compromise, no-cooperation stance in court, and that he and Wang Guoqi, Wang Tiancheng, and Chen Wei, even shouted “Long Live Freedom and Democracy!” and “Down with the Chinese Communist Party!” Even today I still feel a quiver when I imagine the scene. What gives us pause is this: Why are these commonsense convictions still so shocking and unnerving?

Of course no one was more shocked by such resolve than the authorities. At the end of the “trial,” Mr. Hu Shigen was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “the crime of organizing a counter-revolutionary ring” and “the crime of  counter-revolutionary propaganda.” He and his peers were among the few democracy activists to receive such lengthy sentences in the post-June 4 years.

In 1995 Mr. Hu Shigen was sent to Beijing Second Prison to serve his term. That prison became notorious because of him. He fasted on June 4 every year to commemorate the massacre and the dead. For nine years he was locked up in a brig cell (禁闭室) for “rejecting reform” and “inciting disturbances.” Because of police brutality, his hands and feet are permanently crippled. This year The Washington Post interviewed John Kamm of the Dui Hua Foundation. According to Mr. Kamm, the Chinese government told him that Hu Shigen was not qualified for parole based on his attitude toward reforming himself. So Mr. Hu Shigen is continuing his one man defiance of the state.  

I agree with the assessment of others: Hu Shigen is a prominent political prisoner that few know about. Even though over 20 people across China were thrown in jail in the case of the “Chinese Free Democratic Party,” and it has been declared the biggest “counter-revolutionary ring” since 1989, the case has received little media attention, and few have paid attention to Mr. Hu Shigen’s conditions. Early last year, a friend googled “胡石根” and found only 600 or so results.    

Just as the prophets of the Old Testament said: misfortunes doubles down on those who were chosen to be the light and the salt, and put through tribulations. Hu Shigen and his like are not only the enemies of tyranny, they have also been forgotten by our times and rejected by their contemporaries — in particular by their dearest loved ones. The latter is so destructive that it resembles the work of Satan. Zhao Xin, a close friend of Mr. Hu Shigen, vividly recalled how Hu was slashed by his wife with a knife, eleven slashes in all, for not listening to her demands that he cease his activities. The marriage fell apart after 12 years, and he has met his daughter only once over the years since.

Hu Shigen_brothers

Hu Shigen’s two younger brothers traveled to Tianjin to attend his trial on August 1. Upon arrival, they were seized by security police and sent back to Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

Having spent 13 years in prison, he has developed health conditions that have never been effectively treated, such as hepatitis B, lumbar disc herniation, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraines. On October 17, 2004, his older sister Hu Fengyun wrote to the prison authorities voicing her concern about his health. On December 9, 2004, his younger brother Hu Shuigen wrote me that his health had been deteriorating rapidly and he was afraid that Hu Shigen might die in prison. He called on the international media and human rights groups to “save” Hu Shigen.

In May last year, I met someone in Zhengzhou who was a “criminal” in the same case as Hu Shigen. That was when I began to learn of his story, and I was shaken to the core. While I was ashamed of myself, it was also the first time since 1989 that I felt so proud of China: in this society of victims of political disaster, we have Hu Shigen. I hugged this friend and bid him goodbye, determined to speak out for Hu Shigen.  

I don’t mean to create a Hu Shigen myth, for the story of Hu Shigen is already a myth of our times.

Hu Shigen seems to be the post-Tiananmen Wang Weilin — but he’s not. That photograph of Wang as The Tank Man hangs on the office walls of numerous political activists around the world — but no one has heard of Hu Shigen. And yet, Hu Shigen is the Wang Weilin of the post-Tiananmen era. Hu Shigen, also, both is and isn’t the Václav Havel of China. After the June 4 crackdown, China’s intellectuals placed their hopes in a Havel-like figure, and yet no Chinese care to mention the Havel of China. Hu Shigen is also the Lin Zhao after Lin Zhao, the young women executed in custody during the Cultural Revolution, after a prison sentence of 20 years for two poems she wrote. And yet he’s not that, either. At a time when everyone is tearfully searching for Lin Zhao, Hu Shigen has assumed the same suffering, and the same propensity to shock the soul as she — and yet no one has written a word about him. In the peculiar age we live in, not only has Lin Zhao become a hero (which is as it should be), those who memorialize her have also become heroes (which is also of course as it should be), but Hu Shigen is the post-Lin Zhao Lin Zhao. Hu Shigen is also the Sophie of China — but also not. In China Sophie’s Choice has become a code word for the misery of the Cultural Revolution, in ways parallel to the misery of the Holocaust. Hu Shigen, on the other hand, is right now being tormented by his own choice, yet is absent from all this lofty discussion. Yet, Hu Shigen is the Sophie of China. Hu Shigen is China’s Aung San Suu Kyi  — but also not. Aung San Suu Kyi received the attention and support of the world, including the adulation of China’s intellectuals — yet Hu for over a decade has not received an ounce of similar respect. But all the same, Hu Shigen is China’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hu Shigen has also fallen into a spiritual prison that’s been built around him — this is the shame of our entire generation of “public intellectuals.” The fact that they are not even ashamed of this makes it all the more shameful. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, lamented in a famous speech: “When the historian of the future assembles the black record of our days, he will find two things unbelievable: first, the crime itself; second the reaction of the world to that crime. He will sift the evidence again and again before he will be able to give credence to the fact that, in the twentieth century of the Christian era, a great and cultivated nation put power into a band of assassins who transformed murder from a secret transgression into a publicly avowed government policy to be carried out with all the paraphernalia of State. He will find the monstrous story of the human slaughterhouses, the lethal chambers, the sealed trains, taxing the powers of belief… But when that historian, overwhelmed by the tragic evidence, sets down the verdict of the future upon this savage phenomenon, unique in the annals of mankind, he will be troubled by still another circumstance. He will be puzzled by the apathy of the civilized world in the face of this immense, systematic carnage of human beings…”

But allow me alter those famous words for our use: “When the historian of the future assembles the black record of our days, he will find two things unbelievable: first, the Hu Shigen case itself; second, the fact that this age produced a such a ceaseless number of outstanding public intellectuals in China. He will sift the evidence again and again before he will be able to give credence to the fact that, in the twentieth century, a nation that has produced so many public-spirited intellectuals, has put power into a band of assassins who transformed violence and imprisonment into a publicly avowed government policy to be carried out with all the paraphernalia of State — and where matters of such great import never became the topic of open discussion among the country’s intellectuals. He might find that the story of the persecution of Hu Shigen, for establishing the Chinese Free Democratic Party, taxes the powers of belief. But when that historian, overwhelmed by the tragic evidence, sets down the verdict of the future upon this savage phenomenon, unique in the annals of China, he will be troubled by still another circumstance. He will be puzzled by the apathy of China, international human rights organizations, and public intellectuals, in the face of this immense, systematic persecution of Hu Shigen.”

 

*Hu Shigen was a college classmate of Hu Chunhua (胡春华), the Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and current Party Secretary of Guangdong province. According to Mr. Wu Renhua, the researcher of the 1989 Tiananmen Movement, who shared the same bunk-bed with Hu Shigen in graduate school, since his release in 2008, whenever Hu Chunhua attended class reunions, Hu Shigen was excluded.

 

Ren Bumei is an exiled Chinese dissident living in France.

 

 

Take a Considered Position through Disciplined Thinking – An Open Letter to Wellesley College

By Fengsuo Zhou, Yaxue Cao, published: November 4, 2014

 

We did not foresee writing this letter. We didn’t think it was necessary. All we need to do, we thought, is to present facts to the public, including the Wellesleyans. And we thought that truth is the only thing that matters, and that, before racism and McCarthyism become issues, the first order should be to find out what happened.

Fengsuo Zhou

Fengsuo Zhou

Let us introduce ourselves first. Fengsuo was a senior and physics major at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1989. During the Tiananmen democracy movement, Fengsuo told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on May 30, 2014, “I was responsible for setting up a student network that directed the protesters on Tiananmen Square, provided medical services to thousands of students on a hunger strike as hundreds and thousands more poured in from all corners of Beijing to rally in support. Through this network, ambulances were able to pass every 5 minutes through the crowds. Through this network [which included a radio station], many Chinese were able to express freely and publicly, for the first and only time in their life, their love for freedom and democracy and their hope for a better China” (watch hearing here). After the movement was suppressed with machine guns and tanks on June 4th, 1989, Fengsuo was No. 5 on the Chinese government’s most-wanted list of 21 student leaders. He was jailed for one year in Qincheng Prison in Beijing. He came to the United States in 1995, studied finance at Chicago University, and he is a financial analyst, father of two, living in California. Fengsuo was one of the tweeps who took part in google-searching “步起跃” (Professor Charles Bu) and exchanging thoughts on our findings on November 23, 2013.

Yaxue Cao

Yaxue Cao

Yaxue attended Peking University from 1980-1984. She came to the United States to pursue graduate study in English and American literature in 1991. She is a writer, translator, mother of two living in Washington, DC. In June, 2013, she launched ChinaChange.org, a website “devoted to news and commentary related to civil society, rule of law, and rights activities in China. It works with China’s democracy advocates to bring their voices into English and to help the rest of the world understand what people are thinking and doing to effect change in China.” Reports and translations on China Change have been cited or hyperlinked by the New York Times, Time magazine, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, the Economist, the New Republic magazine, the Atlantic (to name a few) and Congressional reports.

Last fall, Professor Charles Bu wrote three articles, as far as our search results show, in connection to the Xia Yeliang incident. On October 22, 2013, he published the first of the three in Chinese in Xinhua News under his Chinese name Bu Qiyue (步起跃). In it, he defended Peking University’s decision to fire Xia Yeliang as a pure professional decision that has nothing to do with Professor Xia being a dissident intellectual, and he chided his Wellesley colleagues for writing an open letter calling on the college to reconsider its partnership with PKU. “What makes them think they can point fingers at the internal affairs of a university on the other side of the planet?” (Wellesley has a full translation). Professor Bu wrote again on October 29, in the Wellesley News: Why the PKU partnership is good for Wellesley and, then again on November 3, in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Journalists Should Ask Peking U. Students About Yeliang Xia.

While Yaxue explained, clearly and meticulously, how her article Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China came about in her Letter to the Editor on October 27, 2014, professor Bu has so far made no mention of his article on the Xinhua News website. Instead, Professor Bu hurled insults at Yaxue in his Letter to the Editor on October 30, accusing her of [making] false and defamatory statements, [feeding] a bogus story, and calling her a “complete joke.”

But to us, Prof. Bu’s Xinhua article is at the heart of the matter in terms of Professor Bu’s involvement, and the role he played, in the Xia Yeliang incident.

Professor Bu is entitled to his opinion about Xia, about his Wellesley colleagues, and about PKU’s decision. That’s not the problem. Yaxue’s report stated that in the very first paragraph.

Professor Bu might, or might not, have known his article was going to be used by all of CCP’s  major “mouthpieces” in what appears to us, to other China watchers, and to veteran Chinese journalists Yaxue talked to, a state engineered, all-out smear campaign against Mr. Xia, but this much is certain: Whether Professor Bu was approached to write this article, or he wrote it voluntarily and submitted it to Xinhua (highly unlikely by our assessment), when he wrote it “in Boston on October 21, 2013,” he knew perfectly that:

  • Xinhua is not an impartial and independent news organization, and as a CCP mouthpiece, it would never allow Mr. Xia to defend himself on Xinhua website;
  • if Bu himself, or anyone else for that matter, happened to be a supporter of Mr. Xia, he or she would not be able to voice their support on Xinhua either;
  • Professor Bu’s article could be published in Xinhua News precisely because it meets the need of official propaganda.

Let no one tell you that Xinhua News Agency is just like AP, Reuters, AFP or any other free and independent international wire service. China is an authoritarian state without press freedom where the Communist Party has a monopoly over the news organizations. According to Xinhua’s own description, “The work of the Xinhua News Agency has always been under the direct leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” “The Xinhua News Agency performs the duties assigned by the Central Committee: to be the mouthpiece, the ears and eyes, the think tank, and the information confluence.” “Xinhua News Agency follows the requirement of the Central Committee, upholds correct political direction, and directs the public opinion.”

In China, reporters and newspaper commentators have been regularly expelled, jailed, or beaten for dissenting from the Party line or for cutting-edge investigative reports. It is increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to obtain visas. Those whose reporting is deemed “critical” are denied visas altogether.

We believe that professor Bu’s engagement with Xinhua over the Xia Yeliang incident was highly problematic. At the very least, it shows his poor judgment as an American academic about what is, and what it is not, appropriate to do. If Professor Bu really wants to defend his honor and integrity, he can begin by telling us how his article for Xinhua came about, instead of hurling mud at people in a hysterical, unsightly manner.

From our search, we concluded that Professor Bu has close ties to the Chinese government. We believe anyone who has found what we have found will come to the same conclusion. He had been, until at least May, 2014, and may still be, an “overseas commissioner” of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou; he was received by the deputy director of the CCP’s department of United Front Work (see my report for further explanation of this party organ) in Changzhou; he and his family were guests at a banquet at Diaoyutai, China’s state guesthouse in Beijing. All of the above information was found on official websites of these government/Party entities. We welcome Professor Bu to explain his connections with the Chinese government and the CCP. He can begin by telling everyone what title and position an “overseas commissioner” is.

After Yaxue’s Letter to the Editor was posted on The Wellesley News, two reports, titled similarly “The Municipal Federation of Overseas Chinese Received [its] Overseas Commissioner Bu Qiyue,” one dated October 16, 2013, and the other May 26, 2014, were taken down from the official website of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou. Professor Bu owes the Wellesleyans an explanation.

According to both reports, Professor Bu thanked the Federation for “taking care” of his aging father. Professor Bu probably can also explain what “taking care” entails. We believe there is an issue of conflict of interest here.

In his agitated state, Professor Bu had trouble keeping his narrative together. In his article I Am Not a Communist Spy, he alleged that Professor Cushman worked with us against him. “Mr. Cushman and so-called ‘freedom fighters’ resorted to a McCarthy-style witch hunt. They couldn’t find anything, so they went after my hometown connection (Changzhou, a city most Americans have never heard of) and wrote a bogus story about me. In particular, it fabricated a ‘Communist Commissioner’ position for me, which I don’t even qualify.” (Again, nowhere in our report did we describe Bu Qiyue as a “Communist Commissioner.”) When this accusation fell apart, a week later in his Letter to the Editor, Professor Bu made Yaxue the main villain who “mislead Professor Thomas Cushman,” damaging not only Professor Bu’s reputation, the reputation of Professor Cushman, but also the reputation of Wellesley College. We are very amused by this remarkable show of mental gymnastics.

We are aware of the controversy over Professor Xia, Professor Cushman, and Professor Bu on the Wellesley campus. We are aware of the ongoing student petition and the issues raised by 20+ faculty members in their Letter to the Editor on October 22. We want to remind Wellesleyans that Yaxue’s report, which sums up the findings about Professor Bu by a group of Chinese Twitter users, is a key part of the whole picture, and should be considered carefully. In answering Professor Bu’s accusation that Professor Cushman worked with us to produce this report, Yaxue wrote to The Wellesley News and explained how our report came about. In this letter, we ask Professor Bu a few key questions and lay out some larger issues.

Wellesleyans know better than we do that identity politics at the expense of truth is poison. It can be easily manipulated to silence critics. For the sake of academic freedom, we ask Wellesleyans to carefully examine the facts first before letting loose these -isms. Wellesley students and faculty should not rush to sign a petition or take a side without knowing and understanding the facts of the case. Of all people, Wellesleyans should not be intellectually lazy.

Finally, we would like to share our thoughts on Wellesley’s partnership with Peking University. Professor Charles Bu has spoken glowingly of Wellesley’s partnership with Peking University and how great it is for Wellesley. Professor Cushman does not oppose such engagement but gives warnings about the limits and price of such exchanges. A reexamination of American universities’ partnerships with Chinese counterparts seems to be underway on some campuses, and we look forward to reading more studies from our scholars. Here we want to tell Wellesleyans a few stories you will not learn from your partnership with PKU.

Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was a PKU law student who went on to found Gongmeng, or the Open Constitution Initiative, in 2003, pioneering China’s rights defense movement over the last ten years. When Gongmeng was shut down by the government in 2009, he went on to launch the New Citizens Movement with a band of rights lawyers, journalists, liberal intellectuals, and pro-democracy netizens. Across China in over 30 cities, citizens met regularly to discuss current affairs, engage in activism, and to press for changes in social and legal arenas. When the crackdown on the New Citizens Movement came last year, scores were arrested and tried, and Dr. Xu Zhiyong himself was sentenced earlier this year to four and half years in jail for “disturbing order in a public place.” His court statement, which was translated by ChinaChange.org into English, was called “the China Manifesto” by the Telegraph. His close friend Teng Biao, also a PKU alumnus, is currently at Harvard, and perhaps Wellesley can have him over to discuss a few things you will never be talking about in your partnership with PKU.

Cao Shunli (曹顺利) was another PKU alumnus whose story you will never learn from your partnership with PKU. In September, 2013, Cao Shunli was detained in the Exit & Entry area of the Beijing Capital International Airport where she was en route to Geneva to attend human rights training. Her “crime” was to demand participation in China’s domestic plans to advance human rights, and report the progress to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of its Universal Periodic Reviews. For her work, she had been put in labor camp, and finally in jail. When her health deteriorated in prison last fall and this spring, the Chinese authorities denied her treatment. She died in custody in March, 2014. When NGO representatives around the world held up Cao Shunli’s photo on the floor of the UN Human Rights Council to protest her death, the Chinese delegates “went beyond diplomatic protocol….to block the moment of silence for Cao Shunli.”

Do you know Who Lin Zhao (林昭) is? She was another PKU woman you should know. She was executed during the Cultural Revolution for criticizing Mao Zedong and the Communist Party’s rule. You will not hear her name in your partnership with PKU but you can watch this documentary about her.

The list is long and this is not the place to enumerate it. As this letter is being posted, a 34-year-old PKU alumnus name Shen Yongping (沈勇平) is being tried in Beijing on November 4th for making a documentary about China’s failed one-hundred-year pursuit of constitutional democracy.

Although we are not Wellesleyans, based on our understanding of the Chinese Communist Party and our close knowledge of the Party’s practices, we are sure your partnership is sanitized and bleached to prevent you from any meaningful discussion with your PKU partners about some of the most important and riveting issues regarding China and the world.

And worse, since the university authorities, not independent but also directed by the Communist Party, have control over what you would be exposed to, and your activities would be monitored carefully, you would be led to believe the China they package and present to you is the real China if you are not thinking vigorously and seek out for yourself.

With spite and clenched teeth, Professor Charles Bu spoke of “freedom fighters.” We don’t know if we deserve to be call freedom fighters, but we are convinced that freedom is worth fighting for.

 

Fengsuo Zhou, California.

Yaxue Cao, Washington, DC.

 

 

——————————————-

A timeline of the events from September 2013 to the present:

 

1) On September 3, 2013, 100+ Wellesley professors published a letter to Peking University regarding the possible dismissal of Professor Xia Yeiang;

2) On September 13, 2013, Professor Cushman published the article Conscience and Compromise: The Troubling Case of Yeliang Xia in the Chronicle of Higher Education;

3) On October 18, 2013, a Friday, Peking University formally announced the dismissal of Professor Xia Yeliang;

4) On October 22, 2013, Professor Charles Bu published in Xinhua News website the article In American Universities Faculties Also Have to Be Evaluated to Get Contract Renewal (Wellesley has a full translation);

5) On October 29, Prof. Bu published the article Why the PKU partnership is good for Wellesley in The Wellesley News;

6) On November 3, Prof. Bu published the article Journalists Should Ask Peking U. Students About Yeliang Xia in the Chronicle of Higher Education;

7) On November 25, 2013, Yaxue Cao posted Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China on China Change website;

8) On February 27, 2014, Professor Cushman gave a presentation at Cato Institute: Chinese Intrusions into American Universities: Consequences for Freedom;

9) On Oct 5, 2014, New York Times published an article about Professor Cushman, Policing University Partnerships in Authoritarian Countries;

10) On October 22, 2014, Professor Bu published the article I am not a Communist spy in The Wellesley News;

11) On October 23, 2014, Professor Cushman published a rebuttal On Charles Bu’s Falsehoods in The Wellesley News;

12) On Oct 26, 2014, 20+ Wellesley faculty members voiced disapproval of Prof. Cushman in The Wellesley News;

13) On Oct 27, 2014, a faculty/student/alumni petition against Prof Cushman led by Sophia S. Chen, Class of 2013, was initiated. Unclear how many people have signed the petition;

14) On Oct 27, 2014, Yaxue Cao explained how her report from a year ago came about in a Letter to the Editor of The Wellesley News;

15) On Oct 30, 2014, Prof. Bu threatened to bring a lawsuit against Yaxue Cao in his Letter to the Editor of The Wellesley News;

16) On November 4, 2014, Fengsuo Zhou and Yaxue Cao posted Take a Considered Position through Disciplined Thinking – An Open Letter to Wellesley College on China Change website.

17) On November 6, 2014, Wellesley Student Tiffany Chan published the article Conflict between Professors Bu and Cushman Creates Unsafe Environment in The Wellesley News.

 

 

A Letter to Wellesley College

By Yaxue Cao, published: October 26, 2014

Almost a year ago, I posted a report titled “Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China” on this website. This week, on October 22, the story entered a second season when the math professor in question – Professor Charles Bu – posted the article I Am Not a Communist Spy in The Wellesley News. On October 23, Thomas Cushman, Professor of Sociology and Director of Wellesley’s Freedom Project, posted in the same paper a rebuttal, On Charles Bu’s Falsehoods, in response to Professor Bu’s accusations against Cushman. I am also among the people accused by Professor Bu of participating in a “McCarthy-style witch hunt.” The following is my response, and it is also available in The Wellesley News

 

Dear Professors, Administrators, and Students at Wellesley,

I am Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of ChinaChange.org and the author of Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China. I’m here to explain how this article about Professor Charles Bu came about.

On November 23, 2013, Professor Xia Yeliang, who had not been active on Twitter for a long time, and who was probably still riled up about being fired by Peking University, which made news headlines a month earlier, dropped the following tweet: “Charles Bu, a math prof at Wellesley College, tends to be extremely active to accuse and smear me. What’s benefits behind?”

I met Professor Xia once at a friend’s dinner party in the summer of 2012 when I was vacationing in California, where we exchanged pleasantries. That was the extent of my acquaintance with Prof. Xia, but I am one of his 54.7k Twitter followers. And as the editor of ChinaChange.org, I took a keen interest in Prof. Xia’s case.

I myself actually didn’t catch this tweet of his (I follow 1,400+ people and don’t read every tweet on my Timeline). Other tweeps did and got curious, while Prof. Xia seemed to have disappeared again from Twitter after sending that tweet.

If you are an active Twitter user, you will know that Twitter is a virtual teahouse where people congregate, post information, talk, and, occasionally, yes, look into things. Without Prof. Xia’s knowledge, several of us became curious about who Charles Bu was and why a math professor from Wellesley was so involved in the incident of Professor Xia. We quickly found his Chinese name is Bu Qiyue (步起跃) and in a matter of hours, we discovered that (search “步起跃” and “Charles Bu” on Twitter and you will see all the tweets):

       1. In the evening of October 22, 2013, in less than two hours, an article by Professor Bu Qiyue (Wellesley has a translation) was published by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency and then reposted by at least a dozen or so “mouthpiece” media outlets controlled by the Chinese government, such as the People’s Daily, People’s Daily Overseas, China Newsthe CCTV website, China Radio International, Global Times, China Daily, and more. It struck me, and everyone else who took an interest in the matter, as something extraordinary: the essay and its across-the-broad reposting in such a short time span had the appearance of a state-engineered and coordinated smear campaign.

       2. Prof. Bu has very close ties with the Chinese government: According to a report (google webcache available if original link is broken) on the official website of “the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou,” he was an “overseas commissioner,” and was received on October 14, 2013, by the deputy director of the local Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and the director of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou. The Federation of Overseas Chinese, as my report pointed out, is a unit in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is an arm of the Chinese government on both central and local levels.  The official website of the Federation describes it as “a people’s organization under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee.”

In fact, as recently as May, 2014 (google webcache available if original link is broken), Professor Bu was still an “overseas commissioner” of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou, and was again received by the Federation in that capacity.

Please note, nowhere in my report did I describe Professor Bu as a “communist commissioner,” and for a mathematician, such gross inaccuracy is deplorable.

       3.feature story (webpage freeze available if original link is broken) about Professor Bu on the official website of the Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee’s United Front Work Department mentioned that, among other things, Professor Bu and his family had once been received by a ministerial level Chinese official with a banquet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the place where Chinese government receives foreign leaders and dignitaries.

As a fellow Chinese who has also lived in the U. S. for over twenty years and whose journey to the U.S. was similar to that of Professor Bu, I want to offer readers some perspectives: for someone like Professor Bu, who apparently was the pride of his hometown Changzhou, it is not uncommon to be invited by local Chinese officials for a meeting or a dinner while visiting family in China. Once or twice I myself was approached as well. But to be retained as an “overseas commissioner” by local government, to be received by officials from the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, and to be invited to Diaoyutai in Beijing is anything but common.

Tweeps found more about Professor Bu on November 23, 2013, and one of them, who described himself as a mathematician too, even offered a professional evaluation of Prof. Bu.

I wrote the report and posted it on November 25, 2013. I summed up the collaboration of several tweeps (acknowledged at the end of my article). As far as I was concerned, I was interested in the fact that 1) Professor Bu’s article seemed to me (and to veteran Chinese journalists I talked to – read the comment section – after the article was posted) part of a concerted effort to discredit not only Professor Xia but his Wellesley colleagues as well, and 2) that Professor Bu had maintained close ties with the Chinese government.

Tweeps (I only know the identity of one of them) and I were not professional investigators on a mission. We were curious, we googled, and we found what we found on public sources available to everyone. While I documented our findings meticulously in my report, I made no accusation against Professor Bu. Instead, I closed my report with a very modest request for him: “…it is problematic to hold back such extraordinary ties from his Wellesley colleagues while criticizing their support for Mr. Xia [on Chinese state media], and Professor Bu owes his colleagues some perspective and balance.”

When Professor Bu wrote, “Mr. Cushman and so-called ‘freedom fighters’ resorted to a McCarthy-style witch hunt,” I suppose by “freedom fighters” he meant us: me and the tweeps. Let me just say that I didn’t know Professor Cushman at all; I had run into his name once when I did my research for the report, but I doubt the other tweeps knew anything about him. In any case, Professor Cushman, or Professor Xia for that matter, were completely irrelevant to our interest in Professor Bu and our subsequent research on him, and my report had nothing to do with either man. Neither man was aware of my report before it was posted.

I urge readers to search “步起跃” as well as “Charles Bu” on Twitter to find all the tweets (mostly in Chinese) tweeps tweeted on November 23, 2013, with their findings and thoughts, and you will have it all as I did. It’s as simple as that.

Sincerely,

Yaxue Cao

 

 

Related:

A Letter to the Newton (Massachusetts) Community, by Fengsuo Zhou and Yaxue Cao

 

Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China?

By Yaxue Cao, published: November 25, 2013

 

To be sure, there is nothing wrong about a math professor—or a marine biologist, an astronaut, an alchemist, for that matter–speaking out against Professor Xia Yeliang, defending Peking University’s decision to fire the professor of Economics who “happens to be” a dissident and a critic of the communist regime, and lashing out at his Wellesley colleagues for their support of professor Xia.

Professor Xia Yeliang gave a lecture. A screen shot of Silent Contest.

Professor Xia Yeliang gave a lecture. A screen shot of Silent Contest.

For those of you who have not been following news from China that closely, here is a quick review of the Professor Xia Yeliang Incident: Professor Xia is a professor of economics at Peking University. On October 18, the university notified him that a faculty committee voted not to renew his contract. Professor Xia’s firing made international news because it so happened that he has also been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime in China, and one of the first signatories of Charter 08, a proposal for political change in China initiated by Liu Xiaobo that landed him in jail for “subverting the state power” (He now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner in in the world). An ultra-anti-American, anti-West film titled Silent Contest, produced by the Chinese military that has been available recently, portrayed him as an enemy of the state along with other liberal intellectuals. The New York Times published an editorial to put the dismissal of Professor Xia Yeliang in the larger picture, an insidious pattern, of China’s effort to suppress academic freedom and political dissent.

Peking University, as well as state media, reacted promptly, declaring the decision to fire Professor Xia had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with how poor a teacher he had been and how poorly the students thought of him. A debate unfolded among many foreign journalists and China watchers. Mr. Eric Fish wrote in the Atlantic, on October 22, dismissing the outcries of American journalists and academics. He pointed out that no one had bothered to go to the university to talk to the students and find out what they had to say about Professor Xia. So he did. He didn’t explain how he found his samples (I wish he did and I actually asked him to do so on Twitter, given how diverse his samples were and how quickly he was able to identify, and talk to, them over a weekend), but he seemed to have found the near perfect sampling to reach his conclusion: Even in China, Dissidents Sometimes Get Fired Just for Being Bad at Their Jobs.

Another prompt response, largely unnoticed by English speakers, came from a “full professor of mathematics at Wellesley College” by the name Bu Qiyue (步起跃), and it was published almost simultaneously (within less than an hour) on the websites of Xinhua News Agency (Chinese), People’s Daily (Chinese) and CCTV website (Chinese) the essential mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party. I only read the article, written in Boston on October 21, this weekend.     

From the start, it was clear that Professor Bu was deeply irritated by over a hundred of his Wellesley colleagues who, “without any factual bases, jointly wrote an open letter to accuse Peking University of obstructing Professor Xia’s academic freedom and declared that the cooperative relationship between Wellesley and Peking University shall be reconsidered.”

Most of these hundred Wellesley professors “have never even been to China, and have even less an idea about the School of Economics of Peking University,” Professor Bu continued. “What makes them think they can point fingers at the internal affairs of a university on the other side of the planet?”

“Americans are used to freedom, especially on a noble issue such as academic freedom. So they responded with eagerness, signed their names in haste without thinking. However, ‘listen to both sides and you will be enlightened; heed only one side and you will be benighted.’ It only shows that even professors at a top American private college like Wellesley can be prone to such low-grade mistake when they only listen to one side.”

I would imagine Professor Bu doesn’t know either what was going on at the School of Economics of Peking University from Boston. He didn’t seem to think he is making the same mistake of listening to one side only when he quoted the decision of the School’s Faculty Evaluation and Appointment Committee to make his counter argument. While the side that supported Professor Xia has a well-documented pattern of suppression from which to draw their conclusions, the fact remains that in Peking University, there are plenty of inept professors who comfortably keep their jobs even though they are hated by students. I know this because I was a student there.

And what Professor Bu has to say next is anything but apolitical despite the article’s apolitical title In American Universities Faculties Also Have to Be Evaluated to Get Contract Renewal:

“It is worth noting that American media has been lopsided in their accusation of Peking University. This is probably the work of the cold war thinking in ideology. The American media have always cared and loved Chinese dissidents the most. Impartialness has long been inexistent in their coverage of China. On Tibet and on the Olympics, examples abound. This is why the New York Times and other American media outlets have a bad reputation among Chinese intellectuals, especially among young Chinese.”

Really? Chinese intellectuals and young people hate the New York Times? That’s news to me. I do know that China’s Great Fire Wall blocks all the sites of foreign media and social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and has long been using tactics to obstruct the work of foreign journalists in China from denying visas to outright personal threats.

On October 29, Professor Bu opined again, this time in English in The Wellesley News. He applauded the partnership between Wellesley and Peking University at length, and then he again criticized the one-sided coverage of American news media. “It is worth noting that Professor Xia’s case has attracted disproportionate coverage from U.S. news media, mostly one-sided. The reason for the outcries perhaps is that Professor Xia happens to be an outspoken activist against the Chinese government. Anyone familiar with China’s history knows that PKU is the most liberal university in China. All of the student movements in Chinese history originated from that campus. PKU faculty members are known to be outspoken about their political views which cover the whole political spectrum. Nobody has ever been fired for political reasons.”

Now, I’m really scared to reach the end of Professor Bu’s paragraphs. What a stop.

Professor Bu is right about that there have been many outspoken faculty members in Peking University, but that’s a quality, and courage, of these faculty members and not by the sanction of the university authority, which, as all universities in China, is under the strict control of the CCP. The truth is, free thinking has always been monitored closely and insidiously trammeled through varying methods. One of which is student reporting.  Some of Professor Xia Yeliang’s students “complained” to school officials about him talking about the political and economic disasters in the Mao Zedong era in the classroom. This spring, the CCP stepped up control over university teaching by issuing a gag order to universities, known as the “7 no-mentions” (七不讲), that bars discussion of Western constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, media independence, civil society,  pro-market neo-liberalism, and nihilist criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

I don’t know what time span the word “ever” covers when Professor Bu says “Nobody has ever been fired for political reasons.” It’s a ridiculous untruth if we go back to the 1950s, a terrible lie if we go back to the 1960 and 1970s, and a willful whitewash if we consider the faculties and students who were “disciplined,” fired, or put in jail in the wake of the Tian’anmen square democracy movement, from which Professor Bu might be a beneficiary.

(After the bloody crackdown, President H. W. Bush issued the Executive Order 12711 to defer deportation of Chinese nationals and their direct dependents who were in the US between 5 June 1989 and 11 April 1990, and gave them employment authorization. On May 21, 1992, the Senate passed The Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 to grant green card—also known as the “Blood Card”—to all Chinese who were born in China and entered the US before April 11, 1990. An estimated 100,000 benefited from the Act, and Professor Bu, a Chinese student at the time, his family and friends were likely among them.)

I digressed. Readers interested in researching more examples of political persecution at Peking University in the 1990s can look up these names: Chen Po (陈波, Department of International Studies), Wang Tiancheng (王天成, Department of Law), and Yuan Hongbing (袁红冰, Department of Law).

A more recent case was Jiao Guobiao (焦国标), an associate professor of journalism at Peking University until he was fired for writing the article Crusade against the Propaganda Department in 2005. “The university announced that I left the job of my own initiative,” professor Jiao told the Voice of America (Chinese). “But I have been persecuted by the university since I published the article. First they barred me from teaching the undergraduate, then, the graduate.  After that they tried to transfer me from the School of Journalism to the Center for Ancient Chinese Classics & Archives. I rejected it. The university was planning to fire me for rejecting the transfer. Right around that time, I was invited by the US National Endowment for Democracy for six-month academic research. The school opposed my trip to the US, but I came anyway. Now they punished me and announced that I had left my job at the university.”

I took pains to translate Professor Jiao’s explanation in order to show that, obstruction of academic freedom and punishment of political dissent come in different forms – often in more insidious forms than outright expulsion, such as secret monitoring and reporting by student party members, warning, non-promotion, teaching ban (Chinese), etc. This is particularly true today when Chinese universities are seeking more and more international alliances and trying to raise their profiles while benefiting from top-tier researchers around the world. They need to make their foreign counterparts believe they have academic freedoms, and they cannot afford to fire professors one after another for political reasons without losing their coveted “international cooperation.” For example, someone argued that, “Look, Peking University has not fired Professor He Weifang (贺卫方), and that goes to show Professor Xia Yeliang wasn’t fired for political reasons.” Well, no, the most obvious reason for keeping Professor He Weifang would be that Peking University will lose an arm or leg if they fire Professor He Weifang. Has He Weifang been pressured over the years? Google it for yourself, or better yet, talk to him.

On November 3rd, Professor Bu wrote again on the topic, this time in a letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education to bring its attention to the “only article from the U.S. that offered balanced view,” the Eric Fish piece in The Atlantic.

In all three articles, Professor Bu cited how important the Sino-US relationship is and what a success the partnership between Wellesley College and Peking University has been and must continue.

Well, Wellesley faculties have already voted to continue that partnership and no one in the world thinks the Sino-US relationship is unimportant. Professor Bu must have breathed a sigh of relief.

Now, has Professor Bu been writing as someone, anyone, who just happens to have an opinion about the matter, or is there more to it?

In April of this year, the website of Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee’s Department of United Front Work published a feature story (Chinese) about Professor Bu, titled Changzhou Bu Qiyue: Rewrite the History of a Famous American University.  We learned that he was the first Chinese to become the Chair of the Board of Admissions at Wellesley; that among Wellesley’s many distinguished alumni are two Secretaries of the State, Albright and Hillary Clinton, as well as Soong May-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, and Bing Xin, a prominent Chinese writer of the last generation; and that Professor Bu has been retained as an “overseas commissioner” of The Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou since 2006.

(The official website [Chinese] of the organization describes it as “a people’s organization under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee.” It is a unit in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. “Upholding high the patriotic, socialist flag, focusing closely on the Party’s central tasks, the Federation for more than two decades……has carried out all items of works….and contributed to the building of socialist modernism and the unification of the fatherland.” According to its bylaw [Chinese], it is financed by taxpayer’s money.)

We also learned from the same article that Professor Bu and his family had once been received by a ministerial level Chinese official with a banquet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse (钓鱼台国宾馆), the place where Chinese government receives foreign leaders and dignitaries.

That’s really impressive for a non-Nobel winner overseas Chinese. Has Professor Bu solved any crazy problem the like of Goldbach Conjecture? The common impression you get from reading Chinese newspapers is that Nobelists of Chinese descent and math supermen get that kind of treatment, but apparently Chinese leaders befriend other types too. 

As recently as last month, Professor Bu was received by the deputy director and Chairman of CCP Changzhou’s Department of United Front Work and the chairman of The Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou.

A screenshot of the search result of Professor Bu's article.

A screenshot of the search result of Professor Bu’s article.

In any case, I wonder, what channels one must go through, and what kind of coordination it takes, for an article by someone outside the Chinese government’s propaganda system on its very top level, and even outside China, to be posted not only on the site of China’s three most prominent propaganda organs almost simultaneously, but almost all other major state-owned media outlets as well, including Global Times (环球时报), China News (中新社), China Radio International (中国国际广播电台), and even a military site and many more? When I posed this question on Twitter, a tweep pointed out that, while Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV are all mouthpieces, they administratively belong to the State Council, the CCP Central Committee, and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television respectively, and the only authority that can get all media outlets to do something concertedly is the CCP’s Department of Propaganda.

As I researched for this article over the weekend, I learned that Wellesley’s Freedom Project is going to invite Professor Xia Yeliang to be a visiting fellow. I hope this materializes. It looks like Wellesley could be having more arguments over Mr. Xia where he has strong supporters and also at least one formidable detractor. Writing this post, my hope is that Professor Bu, in future discussions of Professor Xia, will be forthcoming about his close ties with CCP and the Chinese government. Nothing is wrong with having such ties, right? But many will agree that it is problematic to hold back such extraordinary ties from his Wellesley colleagues while criticizing their support for Mr. Xia, and Professor Bu owes his colleagues some perspective and balance.

 

(Thank tweeps @ZhouFengsuo, @fightcensorship, @HengHe and others for their help.)

 

【Update】

The following is a response from Mr. Eric Fish. When I wrote this piece, I was not aware of what he had subsequently written about the topic since his Atlantic piece. The only reason I mentioned his article at all is because it has some relevance to my discussion of Professor Bu.

Ah how easy it is for misrepresentations to flow and outright falsehoods to be reported when you don’t bother seeking comment from someone before putting words in their mouth. Amazingly, literally every word said about me (Eric Fish) in this piece managed to be false.

First of all, I did explain how I found my sources on Sinica several weeks ago:http://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/in-the-news

Secondly, as I’ve repeated probably at least a hundred times since that piece came out, I never “dismissed the outcries of American journalists and academics.” I don’t at all rule out that politics played a factor. But things tend to be a bit more complicated than the simple “bad teaching OR political persecution” false contradiction that’s dominated the debate on this issue. In my piece, I just reported what students said and devoted about half my article to Xia’s side of the story.

Thirdly, I never said “no one bothered to go to the university.” I said very few did. I know Andrew Jacobs talked to some current students prior to my piece, but I wasn’t so interested in talking to current students. Xia has known since the beginning of summer that this vote was coming up. If it were me, I’d dramatically change my teaching methods, so I wanted to contact students going back several years. And as it turns out, journalists Valentina Luo, Helen Gao AND Andrew Jacobs have since also found students saying the same things I found.

Fourthly, I didn’t find my sources “in a weekend.” I started looking a few days before Xia was officially fired because that’s when a random conversation with a PKU student alerted me to this story. Altogether I think it took about 5 days.