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Explaining China’s ‘People’s Congress’ Through the Tales of Three: A Hand-raising Automaton, An Independent Candidate, and An Electoral Activist

Teng Biao, March 12, 2019

Independent candidates and electoral activists: clockwise from top left: Yao Lifa, Tang Jingling (severing a 5-year sentence since June 2014), Xu Zhiyong (released in July 2017 after serveing a 4-year sentence), and Liu Ping (serving a 6.5-year sentence since April 2013).

As the Communist Party held this year’s “Two Sessions” (两会), Beijing activist Hu Jia (胡佳) was kept under control by being forcibly moved across the country to Guangdong. Human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永), of the New Citizens Movement, received midnight visits in Zhengzhou and were interrogated without explanation. The number of human rights defenders who are under house arrest or have been disappeared is in the thousands. The security departments at all levels are operating at full capacity on a nationwide scale with the capital at the center, consuming a great deal of manpower and financial resources as they use high-tech means to monitor every corner of society.

In its editorial Bring an Immediate End to the Human Rights Disaster of the Two Sessions (《立刻停止制造“两会”人权灾难》), Minsheng Watch (民生观察) wrote that “each March, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) hold their so-called Two Sessions. On paper, the Sessions should represent public opinion, and use the insights gather from it to form national policies and regulations. In fact, the Two Sessions have become a tool for obstructing, suppressing, and banning popular will; they have become associated with the abduction, detention, house arrest, surveillance, harassment, and disappearance, of dissidents and human rights activists. The Two Sessions have become a total human rights disaster for the Chinese people.”

Which national parliament meeting needs the protection of over a million personnel from the military, police, public security, national security and civilian security personnel? Who holds a meeting with such trepidation, as if walking on thin ice, mobilizing so many public resources? This lays bare the truth that the NPC is a tool to isolate and oppose the people. Behind this, it reflects the two-track political calculus of the Chinese authorities: to flex its muscles in front of the people by making a show of force and privilege, and to try to cover up the Communist Party’s greatest anxieties.

In fact, even if the petitioners are able to stuff the petition materials into the hands of the people’s representatives, few of the representatives would so much as take a look. These NPC deputies are not elected by the people. According to China’s electoral system, these people were elected by “indirect elections”: at no juncture throughout all levels of the “people’s representatives,” from county to city, from city to province, and from province to the National People’s Congress, does the “indirect” have anything to do with the people who are supposedly being represented. It is, plain and simple, a power game. In the twenty-first century, Chinese citizens are unable to directly select their national leaders and legislators, and unable to directly elect provincial and municipal leaders and deputies to the People’s Congresses on these levels. They can’t even directly elect the heads of county and township.

While in theory county- and township-level People’s Congress representatives are directly elected, those elections are completely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without multi-party competition, freedom of association, and freedom of the press, the election is doomed to be a farce. The majority of NPC deputies are from the Party, the government, the judiciary, and the military. They are legislator, executor, and judge all at once. There is no division of the three branches of power; the unity of party and state amounts to political incest.

On top of this are a small number of models workers, writers, academicians, celebrities, ethnic minorities, and the like, who are arranged to participate for the sake of political decoration. They have no task apart from stay in luxury hotels, give enthusiastic applause, and spew flattery.

The most amazing NPC deputy is an 89-year-old grandma named Shen Jilan (申纪兰). Starting when she was a girl of 18, she has been elected 13 times as an NPC deputy — the only person to hold this distinction. “She supported the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Commune, and the Cultural Revolution. She was in favor of struggling against Liu Shaoqi, and she agreed to fight Deng Xiaoping. Later, she agreed to denounce the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune, she agreed to the denunciation of the reforms, and she agreed to rehabilitating Liu and Deng.” She raised her hand in favor of all these contradictory positions, without fail, for decades.

Shen Jilan explained: “The representatives’ job is to listen to the Party, so I have never voted against it.” When a reporter asked her whether she would communicate with the voters during the election process, she said, “We are democratically elected, it’s inappropriate to have discussions with [voters.” This “hand-raising automaton” is a living, breathing specimen of Party spirit (党性). She claims to represent the peasantry, but she is actually a retired cadre at the prefecture level. Many of her family members are local officials. As an outstanding representative of the NPC, Shen Jilan presents, in concentrated form, the falsehood, absurdity, and ugliness of the legislature under the CCP.

In the election of deputies to the county-level People’s Congresses, the Communist Party guarantees the finalists of the audience through various nuanced means, by hook or crook. Candidates recognized by the Party can easily be elected without any need to promote and campaign. However, since the law does not prohibit citizens from independently participating in county-level people’s congress deputies, some brave citizens have tried to explore this approach, and in the case of a slightly liberal environment, some individuals can still be elected successfully. In the election of the (Beijing) Haidian District People’s Representatives in 1980, Fang Zhiyuan (房志远), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Hu Ping (胡平), and Zhang Wei (张炜) of the Peking University constituency successively posted election campaign declarations, organized voters’ meetings, debates, held opinion polls, and published “Electoral Shortwaves” and other neutral publications. In the end, Hu Ping was elected.

Since 1987, Yao Lifa (姚立法) of Hubei Province has written himself in as a candidate in the elections for the People’s Congress of Qianjiang City four times (湖北潜江). He was finally elected in 1998 and was the first People’s Representative to be elected in China after 1988. In 2003 and 2008, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a lecturer at Peking University of Posts and Telecommunications, was twice elected as a representative of the Haidian District People’s Congress as an independent candidate. One of the aims of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) initiated by Xu Zhiyong and myself is to encourage and help citizens from all over the country to run as independent candidates at the grass roots in elections for local People’s Congresses. This has become an important part of the rights protection movement since 2003. The independent candidacy reached a zenith in the election at the end of 2011. Many laid-off workers, students, professors, journalists, lawyers and IT professionals, including well-known online writers such as Li Chengpeng (李承鹏) and Xia Shang (夏商), ran as independent candidates. In encouraging participation in the electoral process through online agitation and offline activism, they built up quite an impressive force.

However, many independent candidates have been harassed, threatened, monitored, and even brutally beaten during the electoral process. Dissident Zhao Changqing (赵常青) became a deputy candidate for the People’s Congress in Nanzheng County, Shaanxi Province in 1997 (陕西南郑县). However, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “crime of endangering national security” after he exposed illegal acts during the election. In Wuhan in 2006, democracy activist Sun Bu’er (孙不二) was followed, beaten, and forced to withdraw his candidacy during the election. He was later arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. The very few independent representatives who were successfully elected were quickly squeezed out after the authorities realized they were disobedient, or were easily taken out in the next election.

At this juncture, I can’t help but mention my good friend, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) who is still serving his prison sentence Guangzhou. In 2006, he launched the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” (赎回选票运动),  a nonviolent non-cooperation movement that fought back against rigged elections and raised civic awareness. By publicly stating that they refused to vote, they made clear that they would not take part in or comply with the pseudo-elections that did not represent the people, and in this way hoped to awaken the voters’ awareness of their rights.

Hundreds of people responded to the campaign and publicly voiced their refusal to participate in the election. I am also one of them. I also wrote to support and promote this movement, analyzing its similarities and differences with civil disobedience. In 2014, Tang Jingling was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” because of the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” and other pro-democracy and human rights activities. The independent participation of citizens in elections and the visible non-cooperation in the elections are different ways of revealing the fraudulent nature of Chinese elections in different directions.

Shen Jilan spent her life as a tool and accomplice to dictatorship, while it is those like Yao Lifa and the imprisoned Tang Jingling who truly represent the Chinese people’s bitter and courageous struggle for democracy.

Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer who now lives in New Jersey.


Related:

For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping, November 1, 2016.

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A Declaration by Yao Lifa and 57 Other Candidates for People’s Representative in Qianjiang City, Hubei Province

November 6, 2016

Mr. Yao Lifa (姚立法) has been an advocate of grassroots elections in China since 1998. – The Editors    

 

yao-lifa

Yao Lifa

We live on the lowest rung of society; we yearn for a brighter future.     

We think that changing the status quo isn’t as arduous as some people make out — because we can vote.

We have the right to elect the electorate group leader and deputy group leader in our constituency,

We have the right to jointly nominate preliminary candidates for People’s Representative elections,

We have the right to be nominated as preliminary candidates for People’s Representative elections,

Our approval or disapproval of preliminary candidates is the basis on which the election committee decides the formal list of candidates for People’s Representative elections,

We have the right to meet and ask questions of these preliminary candidates,

We have the right to fill out the ballot according to our true personal intent,

We have the right, on election day, to oppose the candidates who have been officially nominated and to instead vote for the candidates of our own choice!

We have the right to boycott the candidates who are either rich or politically powerful, or who aren’t qualified to be People’s Representatives,

People’s Representatives at the county level and below are directly elected by us — which actually means that we are indirectly electing the county chief, the district chief, and the president of the court, among others.

We believe that the ballot is the origin of power and that we are masters of power and masters of the country.

If we give our vote to a wicked man, then it would be no surprise if the officials in government and judiciary committed wicked acts.

We can no longer play dumb, and pretend we don’t understand what is going on.

We’re now uplifting our own spirits, and getting clarity of mind.

We, who wish with all our hearts to wake up the true holders of power of this country, hereby sign a declaration to run as candidates for the office of People’s Representative — for the purpose of enlivening those who possess both virtue and talent, who wish to uphold the interests of the people, and who are capable of navigating the political world, to step forward in front of the people and allow themselves to be elected.

We, who wish with all our hearts to wake up the true holders of power of this country, hereby sign a declaration to run as candidates for the office of People’s Representative, so as to awaken other voters, to help the scales fall from their eyes, and to tell them that they should only vote according to their own true wishes, and give their vote to only those they know, understand, and trust will dare to truly represent them.

Candidates for People’s Representative in Qianjiang City county-level, or county and township-level elections, hereby sign their names as follows:

   1、姚立法 Yao Lifa 18972198964
   2、伍立娟  Wu Lijuan 13707227753
   3、潘向荣 Pan Xiangrong 15826894661
   4、黄行芝 Huang Xingzhi 13117123901
   5、李万凤 Li Wanfeng 13235535449
   6、陈 平 Chen Ping 13545969565
   7、刘应安 Liu Ying’an 13307228233
   8、郑康元 Zheng Kangyuan 18871545639
   9、彭 峰 Peng Feng 17763002016
   10、李银秀 Li Yinxiu 15307224834
   11、谢光武 Xie Guangwu 13886956727
   12、王荣州 Wang Rongzhou 18972192635
   13、张玉还 Zhang Yuhai 15027298826
   14、彭 平 Peng Ping 13886993522
   15、彭其林 Peng Qilin 13477476246
   16、王兰英 Wang Lanying 15926057377
   17、彭其玉 Peng Qiyu 15007227885
   18、杨汉珍 Yang Hanzhen 13545951139
   19、王 敏 Wang Min 15629292880
   20、程 伟 Cheng Wei 13697367565
   21、杨 军 Yang Jun 13098347832
   22、吴海啸 Wu Haixiao 18672688297
   23、彭桃山 Peng Taoshan 17764122210
   24、陈中进 Chen Zhongjin 13277451381
   25、李金萍 Li Jinping 13277681278
   26、曾祥军 Zeng Xiangjun 13047147834
   27、彭宣明 Peng Xuanming 13733405538
   28、彭红颜 Peng Hongyan 13407285151
   29、朱文芳 Zhu Wenfang 13886957415
   30、余后群 Yu Houqun 18986958435
   31、邱永红 Qiu Yonghong 15671161887
   32、谢书珍 Xie Shuzhen 15549091682
   33、余士平 Yu Shiping 13647289355
   34、彭武松 Peng Wusong 13872966565
   35、李家林 Li Jialin 13380885590
   36、曾令鑫 Zeng Lingxin 15586301051
   37、余桃珍 Yu Taozhen 15871898973
   38、汪 华 Wang Hua 13477421986
   39、彭晓星 Peng Xiaoxing 13886964517
   40、郑文华 Zheng Wenhua 13907224856
   41、万小云 Wan Xiaoyun 15027298155
   42、康姣英 Kang Jiaoying 13972619064
   43、彭冬香 Peng Dongxiang 13545973116
   44、丁元顺 Ding Yuanshun 13687239542
   45、李翠莲 Li Cuilian 15027296876
   46、王冬梅 Wang Dongmei 15826928270
   47、孙 惠 Sun Hui 13368295239
   48、杨春光 Yang Chunguang 13972924798
   49、廖梅枝 Liao Meizhi 15827972048
   50、毛大明 Mao Daming 15671196630
   51、朱春风 Zhu Chunfeng 18995999430
   52、杨文平 Yang Wenping 15727289188
   53、翟前枝 Zhai Qianzhi 13094298755
   54、嵇金涛 Ji Jintao 15572801432
   55、陈代玉 Chen Daiyu 17092691730
   56、徐金平 Xu Jinping 18972192378
   57、张高兵 Zhang Gaobing 13872967108
   58、张文芳 Zhang Wenfang 07286201460

November 1, 2016

 

湖北潜江市姚立法等58位竞选市人大代表的宣言

 

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Related:

Record Number of Beijing Residents Declare Their Independent Candidacy for Local People’s Congress Seats, China Change, October 22, 2016

For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping, November 1, 2016

Financial Times: Lone Beijing independent intimidated ahead of China elections, November 4, 2016

 

 

Record Number of Beijing Residents Declare Their Independent Candidacy for Local People’s Congress Seats

China Change, October 22, 2016

“Participation is the simplest, most direct, most realistic, and most effective political action.” — Yao Lifa, 2016

“Actually, the result is not what is most important. What’s most important is to take part. I hope that my participation will tell everyone: Believe in our laws, believe in the progress of this era. Please believe that we have a genuine right to vote.” — Xu Zhiyong, 2003

 

Update on November 17: 5-minute BBC video tells everything you need to know about Chinese elections.

 

This year, 2016, is an election year in China: every five years, Chinese citizens elect their people’s representatives (PR), and the vote is on November 15. In Beijing, over 70 people have declared that they are taking part in the elections as “independents,” candidates not recommended by the Party or Party-controlled organizations. On October 14, 18 Beijing residents issued a statement: 

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….As long-time and grassroots residents, we know very well how difficult it is to communicate with our government, the People’s Congress, the courts, and the Procuratorate. We do whatever we can to locate and talk to our People’s Representatives, but to no avail. … As the district- and county-level election for People’s Congress is getting underway, we have a strong desire to be People’s Representatives! We will make sure that everyone — neighbors, the old and the young — can talk to us anytime. We are willing to speak for you and serve you. Please cast your votes for us, giving us the opportunity to sincerely represent your interests and fulfill our duty.     

On October 17, another 32 Beijing residents announced their candidacy for PR, and made a similar promise: They will make sure every voter knows who they are and how to reach them with their problems, and as their representatives, they will monitor the government and its functions. As of last Thursday, the number has grown to 54.

In Shanghai, the renowned rights defender Feng Zhenghu posted an open letter to the voters of his constituency on October 5, announcing his candidacy for PR. He promises to “defend the Constitution, defend the implementation of law in the constituency, and defend the civil rights of constituents.” He said he is “participating in the political process for the sake of the people,” and he asked the residents not to give up their right to vote.

China Change spoke to Mr. He Depu (何德普), one of the 70 or so independent candidates in Beijing, on Friday. He said, any citizen has the right to vote and the right to be elected, and he or she only needs the recommendation of ten voters to register as a candidate. But in reality, there are many hurdles for candidates not recommended by the Communist Party, or by an organization (which is still controlled by the Party), to be selected as an official candidate. In addition, he said, the government has internal instructions to limit and exclude ordinary citizens from taking part.

Mr. He said that the first time he took part in the People’s Representative elections was in the fall of 1980, when he was a young worker in a factory in Beijing. “According to my experience in competing for the District PR in 1980,” he wrote in an article a few years ago, “the candidates recommended by ordinary citizens had the same chance as the candidates recommended by the political parties and organizations in the first round of selection. But the problem is, when it gets to the process of choosing the official candidates from the initial pool of candidates, which lasted only about 10 days, the current law and rules are stacked heavily against the independent candidates.”  

Indeed, the Chinese government makes its attitude towards citizens trying to compete for PR seats very clear by harassing them and sometimes throwing them in jail. Last week, police in Beijing prevented independent candidate Ye Jinghuan (野靖环)* from being interviewed by Japanese journalists. In Jiangxi province, independent candidate Yang Wei (杨微) was taken away by security guards when he went to the local People’s Congress to get a candidate recommendation form, and later given a 10-day administrative detention. In Hunan, dissident Guan Guilin (管桂林) has been detained for “disrupting an election” after he attempted to register as an independent candidate in his township in September.  

This June in Yongjing county, Gans Province (甘肃永靖), the human rights defender Qu Mingxue (瞿明学) and a number of others were detained for over a month after they recommended a number of independent candidates. On October 16, the netease blog “China Election Observation” (中国选举观察) by Yao Lifa (姚立法), an expert on elections in China and former People’s Representative in Qianjiang, Hubei Province (湖北潜江), was erased. It has been a platform that Yao has been using to publicize and promote grassroots elections in China for years. His recent “Open Letter to Voters Nationwide,” in which he explained the 19 rights citizens have with regard to elections, and outlined details of election procedures, was also purged from domestic websites.

In 2011, the year the last PR elections were held, the 13 independent candidates were all harassed, surveilled, summoned to speak with police, and even abducted following the announcement of their candidacy. They held a few campaign events in the beginning that were tightly controlled by police, but all the rest were disrupted by the authorities or unable to be held because the candidates had been detained in some manner. Of the 13, only Han Ying (韩颖), an NGO worker in Haidian District, was able to enter the primary election (the process between being nominated and becoming a formal candidate). Han Ying told the media that she had “been coercively told to drop out of the race,” and that her phone had been stolen, she’d been “illegally searched, illegally detained, subjected to forced interrogations through the night,” and had her freedom so restricted that she “simply couldn’t do anything.” In the fall of 2014, Han Ying was detained for several months for openly supporting the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong.

In 2011 another independent candidate from Haidian District, the leader of the New Citizens Movement, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), sought to extend his term as a People’s Representative. Students who supported him sent text messages telling him that they were pressured by the university authorities to instead support the university president. Xu Zhiyong implored his supporters to, on the day of the election, directly write his name on the ballot in the “other candidate” column. Xu was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2013 for his support for educational equality and calling for officials to make public their personal assets.

Liu Ping (刘萍) from Jiangxi Province was detained and tortured for declaring her independent candidacy; in 2014 she was sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment for her involvement in the New Citizens Movement.

Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University, has participated in People’s Representative elections three times as an independent candidate. He recently spoke to Radio Free Asia: “Why do the authorities so fear independent candidates? One reason is because the regime is a one-party dictatorship, and people standing up to participate in elections is seen as a challenge. The other is that those who act as independent candidates will definitely represent views that aren’t in line with the Communist Party’s. They might criticize the authorities, or go around speaking to crowds, place posters, and represent their political views — and this isn’t allowed.”

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On Wednesday October 19, about 30 independent candidates from Beijing gathered in the garden outside the Beijing Municipal Government headquarters, spreading awareness about election law and procedure, and discussing their election tactics. He Depu, who will be taken away from Beijing by police to “travel” until October 28, told China Change that those participating in elections this year are people with a strong sense of civic responsibility. They’re enthusiastic about serving voters, and they dare to face off against the government’s pressure.

Mr. He added: “We don’t know who our People’s Representatives are, and we don’t know what they’re doing. So our undertaking is very basic: if we’re elected, we’ll let all voters know who we are, and we’ll truly represent their interests.”

Starting October 24, candidates from the group of 18 will be campaigning in front of their neighborhood committees. Many of them have been visited by police.

*Ye Jinghuan is the author of a memoir titled “A Worthwhile Trip—A Documentation of Beijing Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center.” China Change has a translation of Teng Biao’s preface to it – “To Remember Is to Resist.”


Related:

Beijie Village: a Land Grab Case, a Village Election, and a Microcosm of China, December 16, 2014