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Tan Zuoren, January 13, 2019
Huang Qi’s trial opens today (January 14, Beijing time) in Mianyang Intermediary Court, Sichuan Province. – The Editors
Huang Qi (黄琦), 55, is from Neijiang City in Sichuan Province (四川内江市), southwestern China. He holds a bachelor’s degree and is the founder of 64 Tianwang (六四天网) as well as the China Tianwang Human Rights Affairs Center (中国天网人权事务中心). He has for years devoted himself to public interest work, and he is also a dissident. Huang Qi’s late father was a soldier. His mother is a retired cardiologist Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清), 85 years old this year.
Huang Qi graduated from the Radio Department of Sichuan University in 1984. Following his graduation, he worked for years as a businessman. In 1998, Huang Qi and his wife Zeng Li (曾丽) pooled the resources of their family and founded the “Tianwang Center for Missing Persons” (天网寻人网站)—the first such Chinese public welfare organization—in Chengdu. On October 23 of the same year, he founded China’s first private office for locating lost persons. Through this organization, Huang Qi and his wife helped the police crack down on kidnapping and assist the relatives of abducted women and children in finding and rescuing their loved ones.
Tianwang’s work was acknowledged and praised by major Chinese media. The People’s Daily published a special report called “The Many Exploits of Tianwang’s Searches for the Missing” (《天网寻人故事多》). Feature reports by other media include, among others, “My Dream Is to Reunite Ten Thousand Families” (《万家团圆是我的心愿》), “The Missing Persons Center Handles Every Case With Love and Tears” (《寻人事务所一一用爱和泪水来经营》), and “She Founded China’s First Missing Persons Center” (《她创办了中国首家寻人事务所》).
On June 3, 2000, Huang Qi was arrested and imprisoned for posting “sensitive rights defense information on the website of Tianwang Missing Persons Center. It was his first. After two and a half years of detention, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” During his five-year sentence, Huang Qi was repeatedly beaten by police officers, prison guards, and other inmates, leading to serious ailments such as hydrocephalus, brain atrophy, bilateral ventricle enlargement, and narrowing of the urethra.
On June 2, 2005, after Huang Qi was released from prison, the Tianwang Missing Persons Center, still running when he served out his sentence, was officially renamed 64 Tianwang. The core mission of 64 Tianwang is to “stand in solidarity with those who have no power, no money, and no influence” (与无权无钱无势的弱势人群站在一起). It has served as a comprehensive, peaceful, and effective service to protect the rights of petitioners throughout the country who have no other recourse available to them. The volunteers who run 64 Tianwang adhere to the facts in their reports, exposing public corruption scandals and information about civil rights activism. It is the first private media organization in China to provide a wide range of information services for petitioners.
During the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, Huang Qi actively participated in disaster relief efforts, and was first to report the shoddily-built tofu-dreg classrooms (校园豆腐渣工程) scandal via 64 Tianwang, incurring the anger of the Sichuan provincial authorities who were under the factional patronage of Zhou Yongkang (周永康). Charged with “Illegal possession of state secrets,” Huang Qi was sentenced again, this time to three years in prison.
By 2011, when Huang Qi was released from his second sentence, he was suffering from a terminal kidney illness. Despite his condition, he continued his public interest activities with 64 Tianwang, and founded the China Tianwang Human Rights Center (中国天网人权事务中心). Huang Qi’s determination did not waver even as his family broke up. Together with other Tianwang volunteers, he established a nationwide information network for petitioners and civil rights, providing first-line, first-hand information from all levels of government about human rights and “stability maintenance” for the public.
On November 28, 2016, Huang Qi was accused of illegally providing state secrets to foreign agencies. This third time, he was arrested and imprisoned for disclosing the contents of a supposedly secret internal document.
On July 28, 2017, after six long-distance trips made in as many months, Huang Qi’s defense lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was finally able to meet with the ailing Huang Qi at the Mianyang City Detention Center. By this time, Huang Qi’s condition was very serious, and the investigation associated with his criminal case had been concluded several days prior and had been transferred to the prosecution for review.
Despite the obvious deterioration of his health, Huang Qi was in good spirits during the meeting with Sui Muqing. He expressed full confidence that China would move toward constitutional governance, democracy, and social justice.
While Huang Qi remained unyielding throughout his 18-year campaign for civil rights, he has always been willing to provide constructive support for government work in specific issues. In helping a large number of petitioners resolve matters of practical urgency, he won their broad respect and support around the country. Internationally, Huang Qi has earned an honorable reputation for his contributions to the cause of human rights, and has received multiple international awards for his work.
Huang Qi’s rights-protection cause has inevitably hindered the authority and interests of many local governments. Naturally, he has become a crackdown target, spending half of the 18 years of his public interest work in jail! It is indeed very regrettable!
In fact, if we abandon the old ideological prejudice and the unilateral political/rule interest calculation, the human rights cause that Huang Qi supports is indisputably a force that is both in line with fundamental moral values and universal consensus. It is a cause that benefits the fundamental, long-term interests of all society, and as such ought to receive encouragement and support at all levels of government. Especially when China’s political system remains imperfect and society is rife with serious upheaval, Huang Qi is a humanitarian who strives both to protect disadvantaged groups, and as such, he helps maintain social stability. His is perhaps the greatest contribution a citizen can make to the nation!
In view of the uniquely arduous conditions that Chinese political prisoners must cope with, and in view of the painful experience of dissidents such as Li Hong (力虹), Cao Shunli (曹顺利), Peng Ming (彭明), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), and Yang Tianshui (杨天水), we hope that the authorities will, in keeping with the humanitarian spirit, grant the terminally ill Huang Qi medical leave as soon as possible, so that he can access timely and effective treatment, as well as living conditions suitable for his medical state.
Political issues are complex and perilous, while the humanitarian spirit is humble and simple, and forever. Huang Qi’s release would also mean release for his aging mother, and it would not do the least harm to the authorities. The matter is just this simple: I hope that the relevant authorities will consider this matter and make the decision to release Huang Qi in time and avoid yet another human tragedy!
August 20, 2017
 Over the period of this article’s writing to now, both lawyer Sui Muqing and lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), who succeeded Sui to defend Huang Qi, have been disbarred.
Tan Zuoren (谭作人), born on 15 May 1954, is an environmentalist, writer and former editor of Literati magazine based in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was imprisoned for five years from 2009-2014 for investigating student deaths during the Wenchuan earthquakes in 2008. [Wikipedia entry]
Translated from Chinese 《民间维权十八年，换来牢狱祸连连》
China Change, April 4, 2018
Between February and March this year, rights activists from provinces around China were summoned, questioned, and threatened by secret police who demanded that they withdraw from the ‘Rose chatgroups,’ also known as the ‘Rose team.’ These chatgroups have attracted relatively large numbers of internet users on different portals such as QQ, Skype, WeChat, Telegram, and WhatsApp. The intervention by Chinese police took place following the criminal detention of Xu Qin (徐秦), a leading activist and a spokesperson among these online groups, on February 9. She was accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble.’ Prior to this, the initiator of the Rose chatgroups and Wuhan dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) was detained on January 9, 2015.
Between March 2013 and December 2014, Qin published a series of 12 open letters demanding that the government open a dialogue with the citizenry, that it safeguard human rights, and that it initiate a peaceful transition towards democracy in China. By the end of 2014, nearly 2,000 people had signed this appeal, the vast majority of them petitioners who had for years been suppressed and denied access to justice. Naming his movement after the rose, Qin set up chat groups on QQ, Skype, and WeChat, eventually resulting in a series of Rose groups online. Each group elected its own chat administrator through competitive elections and voting; altogether the initiative became a virtual gathering ground for like-minded petitioner-activists.
On June 4, 2014, Qin and his group set up the ‘Rose China’ website. It had 13 sections, including ‘Rights Observer,’ ‘Focus News,’ ‘Major Issues of Public Welfare,’ ‘Learning Center’ and more. The site also began holding online lecture series and meetings. Qin Yongmin tried to set up an organization called ‘China Human Rights Observer,’ though the authorities refused to register it as an official civil group.
Rose China’s website, hosted on servers outside the country, went offline for a short period recently, but is back up and running now.
In June 2016, the Wuhan Municipal Procuratorate indicted Qin Yongmin with “organization, scheming, and carrying out [a plot to] subvert the state regime.” It wasn’t until August 2017 that Qin saw his lawyer for the first time. His trial has been postponed again and again, and is now set for May this year. The indictment cited his organizing the Rose Group, among other things, as evidence of crime.
Qin, 64, is one of China’s most veteran political prisoners. The earliest years of his activism go back to the 1970s. In 1981 he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for participating in the ‘China Democracy Party,’ and was freed in 1989. He spent 1993 to 1995 in a forced labor camp after initiating the ‘Peace Charter’ (《和平宪章》). In 1998 Qin established the website China Rights Observer in Wuhan, as well as the Hubei branch of the China Democracy Party, for which he was charged with subversion of state power and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He completed the sentence in November 2010.
Xu Qin, 55, got into activism by the need to defend her own rights — but she soon began defending the rights of others, and became an active participant in the Rose chatgroups. After Qin Yongmin was arrested in 2015, Xu took up the mantle of leadership of the Rose groups, and began to speak publicly about China’s human rights situation, in particular to foreign journalists, making her one of the few active voices in the now largely dormant China human rights scene. On February 9, 2018, before the Chinese New Year, Xu Qin disappeared while visiting her hometown of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. It was soon confirmed that she had been arrested. In March she was placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ and the initial charge of ‘provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble’ was upgraded to ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ She has not been allowed access to a lawyer.
Since February, a number of activists have been summoned and questioned by state security officers, including Ding Yu’e (丁玉娥) in Shandong, Guo Chunping (郭春平) in Henan, Wang Jiao (汪蛟) in Anhui, Huang Genbao (黄根宝) in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, and Fan Yiping (范一平) in Guangzhou. State security agents demanded that they leave the Rose chatgroups and threatened “If you don’t listen, you’ll bear the consequences yourself.” Guo Chunping was beaten by police while in custody.
Even human rights lawyers have been questioned about their possible connections with the Rose chatgroups. On March 30, Friday, the recently disbarred lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was visited by two police who wanted to ask questions “about WeChat Rose chatgroups.” Lawyer Sui wondered why the Rose groups have become the target of such widespread action and concluded that the interrogations and arrests had to have been ordered and coordinated by a central organ in Beijing. He declined police’s request for questioning.
Separately, the whereabouts of at least two activists (Yang Tingjian [杨霆剑] in Jiangxi and Xu Kun [徐昆] in Yunnan) are currently unknown. But their disappearance is believed to be connected to crackdown on Rose chatgroups.
The Rose activists that were interrogated by police were told that these chatgroups have been designated an ‘illegal organization.’ Police said that 51 people have been arrested so far in connection with the groups, though there is currently no way of independently corroborating the figure.
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (民生观察网), a Chinese human rights website, on March 29 published a statement that said: “From the limited information revealed by the media, it is clear that the Chinese communist authorities have launched a national, large-scale suppression of the Rose chatgroups, in order to, 1) crush the chatgroups by conducting mass summonses, threats, and arrests of participants, and 2) gather ammunition for bringing false charges against Rose chatgroup leaders Qin Yongmin, Xu Qin, and
China Change understands from activists in China that many people have already quit the Rose chat groups, and that some chat rooms were long ago suspended, shut down, or had no administrators. Some activists say, however, that a few groups are still active. The chief editor of the Rose China website quit the Whatsapp Rose chat group for activists in Hubei.
The targeting and attempted obliteration of the Rose chatgroups indicates that the government in Beijing is methodically dismantling activist groups, including even loose or casual connections between activists. In the past five years, it has first taken out the leading activists across the country and imprisoned them, including with the now infamous 709 incident against human rights lawyers. Having done that, it is now engaged in a second and third round, to purge any continuing human rights activities.
Members of Petitioners Group ‘Rose China’ Detained, Yaqiu Wang, January 18, 2016.
By Yaqiu Wang, published: January 18, 2016
Xu Qin (徐秦), the acting secretary-general of Rose China (玫瑰中国), a human rights organization based in Hubei Province, was taken away by the Beijing police on January 8. Xu’s family later received a notice from the police informing them that Xu was arrested on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” Rose Group’s deputy secretary-general Pan Lu (潘露) told China Change.
According to Pan, Xu’s arrest was somewhat anticipated, given that she has been a citizen rights activist for years. “Ms. Xu has gone to the street and raised protest signs to demand the release of the Feminist Five, Pu Zhiqiang and other human rights activists. She has also formed close relations with petitioners, serving as a connector between rights activism and petitioning,” Pan said.
After suffering from an incident of medical fraud which resulted in disability about six years ago, Xu began legal action to seek justice, and also travelled to Beijing to petition. After numerous failed attempts to gain redress for her case, she became disillusioned with the Chinese political and judicial system, as she wrote in an essay in which she announced her decision to renounce her Communist Party membership. Xu later joined Rose Group, a human rights organization formed by prominent dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏), in 2014.
Largely unreported, the 61-year-old Qin Yongmin and his wife have been taken away by police from their home in Wuhan for just over a year now. Last September the police claimed that they were investigating Qin for “inciting subversion of state power” but have not brought formal charges against him. Mr. Qin has spent 23 years of the last 30 years in prison.
The mission of the Rose Group is to “promote political dialogue and strive for peaceful transition,” according to the group’s website. The group has published letters to President Xi Jinping, calling on him to hold dialogues with Chinese citizens and uphold the constitution and the rule of law in China. The group has also repeatedly tried, unsuccessfully, to gain official registration from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its affiliated group China Human Rights Observer (中国人权观察), on the basis that freedom of association is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.
Pan suspected Xu’s arrest could be related to her meeting with petitioners in Beijing a couple of days before her arrest on January 8. In December, a call for petitioners to travel from around the country to petition in Beijing on January 10 quickly spread online through WeChat groups. “Petitioners who answered the call were from all realms — victims of the Fanya Investments scheme, illegal land expropriation, education inequality, and others. Nowadays petitioners’ appeals are no longer only economic, but also political,” Pan said.
But the plan was largely derailed after local police forces intervened, and the hundreds who arrived in Beijing were taken away by nearly a thousand police stationed near the State Bureau of Letters and Calls, Radio Free Asia reported.
The arrest on January 8 was not Xu’s first. In November 2013 she was detained without explanation, she believes for her role in uncovering the Food and Drug Administration’s cover-up of hospitals using sham medical products. In March, while en route to Beijing for work from her hometown in Gaoyou (高邮), Jiangsu Province, she was briefly detained by local police. She was later prevented from leaving her own home because the Communist Party’s Two Meetings were being held in Beijing.
Xu is not the first member of the Rose Group to be detained. Founder and director of the group Qin Yongmin and his wife have been missing since January 2015. Authorities have to this day refused to respond to their families and lawyers’ repeated inquiries about their situations. In May, another key member of Rose Group, Liu Xinglian (刘兴联), was arrested and later charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Pan told China Change that over a dozen activists connected in one way or another to the Rose Group have been arrested since 2014, and that he himself is under constant police surveillance. “The government arrested all of our key members,” Pan said. “The only reason they haven’t arrested me is because I’m in poor health.”
Yaqiu Wang researches and writes about human rights in China. Follower her on Twitter @Yaqiu.
By Teng Biao, published: January 6, 2015
A shorter version of the article appeared in Washington Post on December 28, 2014. Here is the full text. – The Editor
I’m afraid that those of you who excitedly applauded the Communist Party’s rehashing of the term “governing the country according to the law” have forgotten the famous words of Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu, who once warned sternly, “Don’t use the law as a shield.” I don’t understand why some people only remember the pleasant words they speak and but forget their blatant opposition to universal values; why some people are always willing to believe what they say, but disregard all the things that they do. The Communists once boasted wildly about “liberty and constitutional democracy” before they violently seized political power and established a frightening totalitarian rule, but they have since opposed judicial independence, democratic elections, freedom of press and freedom of belief. They have not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and they refused to nationalize the military.
It is not the first time they come out with the banner of “governing the country according to the law.” In 1997, “governing the country according to the law” was written into the Report Delivered at the 15th Congress of the Communist Party of China, in 1999 it was written into the Constitution. But it was in 1999 that they launched the savage oppression of the Falun Gong, with hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners illegally taken into custody and subjected to torture, with more than 3,700 people persecuted to death. Since Xi Jinping came to power, no fewer than 400 rights defenders and intellectuals have been thrown into prison for political reasons. Properties have been forcefully expropriated or demolished, free speech has been restricted, religion has been suppressed, women have been forced to have abortions, the judiciary has been fraught with scandals, and the incidence of torture has multiplied. These abuses have never stopped, but have grown in intensity. In Xinjiang and Tibet, the authorities have been perpetrating one shocking human right catastrophe after another.
It turns out that the Chinese Communist Party’s “governing the country according to the law” is not the rule of law you and I understand. The essential element required for rule of law — using the law to limit the authority of the government–was exactly what the Communist Party opposes ideologically and in practice sternly guards against. The rule of law that they talk about in reality is “Lenin + Emperor Qin Shi Huang,” modern totalitarianism combined with the pre-modern Chinese “legalism,” which is nothing more than a tool to further control of society. Or in the Party’s own language, public security organs are the “knife hilt” of the Communist Party. In the “Resolution” of the Party’s recent Fourth Plenum, the term “Party’s leadership” appears at least 17 times. The rule of law is superimposed by the rule of the Party, and there is not a shred of doubt about this.
In China, the legislative organs controlled by the Communist Party have promulgated volumes and volumes of statutes. The judicial organs, also controlled by the Party, are busy dealing with cases. The legal professions, including lawyers, have been developed. However, the question remains: Is the law at the center of the governing order? In the words of Professor Fu Hualing (傅華伶), in addition to China’s legal processes, there are a large number of extra-legal processes, such as re-education through labor, shuanggui (an extralegal system within the CCP for detaining and interrogating cadres), and media restrictions, and then there are the extra-extra laws, such as house arrest, black jails, etc., not to mention all the illegal methods of governance: secret police, chengguan (a para-police force that works with police across the country to help enforce minor city rules and regulations), illegal detentions, monitoring and spying on citizens, extra-judicial torture, forced disappearances, internet police, and gangs. Think about it. Without these tools, how long could the Communist Party continue to rule?
Together with things such as the Three Represents and Harmonious Society, “governing the country according to the law” is Communist Party’s yet another attempt to address the crisis of legitimacy. These slogans have gone quite a way in reaching the Party’s goal of tricking people within China and the international community. However, legitimacy in contemporary politics can only come via the recognition given through free elections. But the Communist Party wants to cling to one-party rule, and it completely rejects general elections, even in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It’s not difficult to understand why that real rule of law would necessarily mean the end of the one-party system. This is the limitation on the legalization process that began in the late 1970s that cannot be overcome.
I must admit that the term “governing the country according to the law” is different from other clichés in that it provides “rhetoric room” for citizens defending their rights “according to the law.” Over the past 10 years, I and other human rights defenders have consistently used existing laws to carry out our human rights work, and occasionally we’ve been able to achieve success in some legal cases. However, the limitations are obvious. The authorities have rejected any significant reform of the judicial system or democratization, and whenever they feel a threat from civil society, they suppress more and harsher. I myself have had my lawyer’s license revoked, have been expelled from my university, and have been kidnapped and disappeared several times. When the security police were torturing me, they shouted, “Don’t talk about any of this law stuff with us.”
In enumerating progresses being made in China legal system, people pointed out the fallen number of death sentences, the new criminal procedure law, the abolishment of reeducation through labor, reform of the local court system, government’s willingness to provide information, and the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. To begin with, it is questionable whether or not most of the above are actually progresses in the legal system. Even if they are, the major driving force for these changes has been the people, each a result of the probing, pressure and paying price by rights lawyers, democracy activists, and the countless Chinese on the lower rungs of society.
Xi Jinping once talked about locking up power in a cage, but this is not much different than a magician wrapping an iron chain around himself. In reality, what they would like to do, are doing and want to do, is to lock the people up in a cage. The APEC meeting that just concluded in Beijing has allowed people around the world to experience the power of “governing the country according to the law.” In Huairou, close to 9,000 homes were demolished, cars from outside the city were not allowed to enter Beijing, electric motor scooters were forbidden from being on the streets, stoves within a 5km circumference of the meeting center were prohibited, milk companies had to temporarily stop delivering milk, and express mail services were not allowed to deliver packages to Beijing. In Hebei, more than 2,000 companies were ordered to stop production, Tianjin cut off heating, street peddlers were driven away, a large number of human rights petitioners were detained, and even marriage registration offices of Beijing municipal government temporarily stopped operating, and crematoriums were ordered not to cremate the dead.
From between the lines of Party documents, sycophants inside and outside China are able to imagine a “spring for rule of law” that doesn’t exist while ignoring human rights disasters suffered by Ilham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong, Cao Shunli, Gao Zhisheng, Uighurs, Tibetans, petitioners, Falun Gong adherents, and house churches. The kind of selective blindness has hindered Western readers and politicians from understanding the reality in today’s China. It’s no surprise that this type of seemingly even-handed wishful thinking has become the excuse for Western governments to adopt short-sighted policies of appeasement in dealing with autocratic regimes and for favoring trade over human rights.
Teng Biao is a human rights lawyer, visiting fellow at Harvard University Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other op-eds by Teng Biao:
Ilham Tohti should get the Nobel peace prize, not life in prison, Guardian, September 24, 2014.
Gao Zhisheng, out of prison but not free, Washington Post, September 7, 2014.
China’s growing human rights movement can claim many accomplishments, Washington Post, April 18, 2014.
(The author wishes to thank Paul Mooney @pjmooney.)
By Yaqiu Wang, published: December 16, 2014
An election in a heartland Chinese village in Henan province, held on December 13th, attracted attention from Chinese scholars, netizens and activists. A 73-year-old man, Chen Ji’en (陈纪恩), was re-elected Chairman of the 8th Village Committee of Beijie Village (北街村) by fellow villagers in what was reported by observers as a fair and free election. Chen was respected, popular, even considered a hero, due in no small part to his leadership during the past eight years as Beijie villagers fought to resist property developers from building commercial real estate projects on the farmland they owned. But Chen Ji’en is unpopular with the local government, and the local government is attempting to deny the election result.
The troubles for the people of Beijie began in March 2006 when, right before Beijie village was to be redistricted (link in Chinese), the government of Yanjin county (延津县) of Xinxiang municipality (新乡市), under whose jurisdiction Beijie village fell, expropriated 1,769 mus or about 300 acres of land from Beijie, which constituted about 90 percent of the village’s total arable land. Villagers were compensated with a mere 25,000 yuan (4,200 dollars) for each mu seized. The land was then promptly sold to commercial property developers for a price many times higher (link in Chinese).
According to pleas posted by villagers online (links in Chinese), on June 9th, 2006, the Yanjin government deployed over a thousand policemen and government workers and several dozen police cars and shovel loaders to forcefully demolish the crop fields. Villagers clashed with the demolition crew and the police, resulting in several injuries and the detention of a dozen or so people.
With little land left to farm, no alternative job opportunities and their compensation quickly running out, the villagers began to seek redress.
The Beijie villagers first filed administrative lawsuits against the Yanjin county government. They believed the Yanjin county government’s actions were illegal because the Basic Agricultural Protection Regulations (link in Chinese) stipulate that any conversion of basic agricultural land requires the State Council’s approval. Apparently, the expropriation of Beijie village’s land, which was indeed categorized as basic agricultural land, did not get the approval from the State Council. Nevertheless, the lawsuits were all thrown out of different levels of courts with the courts claiming that the villagers had missed the statutory time frame for filing their case.
Villagers also petitioned different levels of government, from local Yanjin county all the way to the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, and the Ministry of Land and Resources in Beijing. The local government offices informed villagers that the compensation standard for the expropriated land was in accordance with the law. And provincial and higher-level offices passed the buck back to local offices. In some instances, petitioners were detained and mistreated. One petitioner, Ren Yinlin, was held in a mental hospital for over 40 days and tortured, according to her Sina blog (link in Chinese).
In May 2013, Chen Ji’en went to Beijing to petition, but he was forcefully escorted back home by Yanjin officials. First criminally detained on trumped-up charges of “damaging public property” and “extortion,” Chen was later formally arrested and put in jail. It was not until 10 months later that Chen’s trial was held. Chen was sentenced to 13 months (link in Chinese).
Beijie villagers’ efforts have come to nothing. Their experience is hardly unique. In China, disputes over land expropriation account for about half of all “mass incidents,” the official term for protests, riots, and other forms of social disorder in China. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there are more than 100,000 such “mass incidents” across the country annually.
On June 23rd of this year, the day when Chen Ji’en was released from jail (link in Chinese), he was welcomed to the village by hundreds of villagers standing in line awaiting his return. Banners were held up and fireworks crackled as he arrived. Villagers pinned a big red paper flower on Chen to honor their beloved “old village head.” Meanwhile, forced demolitions and new house construction were continuing. Chen and the village vowed to continue the fight.
In October, the Xinxiang municipal government issued an announcement (link in Chinese) stipulating that anyone who had been released from prison for less than five years was ineligible to run in village elections. The announcement amounted to barring Chen from running. As Zhang Qianfan (张千帆), professor of law at Peking University, penned in this Financial Times op-ed (link in Chinese) titled An Example of the Unconstitutional and Unlawful Grassroots Elections,
“The 34th Article of the Constitution made it clear enough: all citizens who are 18 and older have the right to stand for election, except those deprived of their political rights in accordance with law. First of all, only laws passed by the National People’s Congress or its standing Committee can set restrictions on qualifications of candidates. Xinxiang municipal government’s announcement doesn’t even count as a law or regulation… It’s completely invalid. Secondly, only those who committed serious crimes could be deprived of political rights and thus could be deprived of the right to be elected… ‘Being released from prison for less than five years’ is far from something due to which a candidate’s eligibility can be deprived constitutionally.”
On December 13th, Beijie village held its election. Chen Ji’en’s name was not on the ballot, however, 845 of the total 1,415 voters cast a write-in vote (links in Chinese) for him. Chen won his third consecutive term as the chairman of the Beijie Village Committee.
Activist Wu Gan (吴淦), known as the Butcher, was invited by the village to witness the election. Other observers were on the scene too. Right after the vote, Wu wrote on Twitter (link in Chinese), “the municipality party secretary declared that he won’t allow Chen to be elected, because if so, Chen will not cooperate with him on his real estate projects in Beijie.”
Indeed, after the election, the Xiaodian township government, the administrative authority with direct jurisdiction on Beijie village, posted an announcement in the village declaring that the election result was awaiting further investigation. The announcement bore the village Election Committee’s seal that the township officials illegally confiscated.
Xiong Wei (熊伟), director of Civic Participation and Legislation Research Center of the Beijing-based private think tank New Enlightenment Institute (新启蒙研究所公民参与立法研究中心) who was also invited to witness the election, commented on his Weibo that this is as ridiculous a tale as it is scandalous” (link in Chinese).
In China, village elections were launched in 1987 with the enactment of the Organic Law of Village Committees (link in Chinese). In the 20 years that followed, though often beset with corruption, cronyism and weak accountability, a good number of reasonably free and fair (link in Chinese) elections have been held across the country. The situation, however, has gradually taken a turn for the worse in the past decade. As tension between villagers and local governments continues to rise over land expropriation and environmental issues, the crackdown on village elections has increased and grown harsher. In more and more cases, the elected village heads who genuinely represent villagers’ interests are not what the local governments want.
The Carter Center, the think tank founded by former United States President Jimmy Carter who is credited with normalizing US relations with China, had been working in China monitoring village elections since the 1990s. In December 2012, Carter was told by Xi Jinping himself to steer clear of China’s internal affairs and only focus on US-China relations. One can say that hostility towards village elections is not limited to local governments.
In 2011, the Wukan uprising in Guangdong province (广东乌坎) captured the attention of the world. Villagers rose up to protest against their local government for corruption and illegal land seizure. The government responded to villagers’ demands by promising free elections and the return of illegally seized land. The event was hailed as a victory for democratic forces in China. So far, however, only a small portion of Wukan villagers’ lands have been handed back. This October, seven months after villagers Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮) and Yang Semao (杨色茂) got elected, they were sentenced to four and two years respectively in prison after a secretive trial on “corruption charges.”
The fate of the Beijie election is still uncertain. The latest update (link in Chinese) from Wu Gan and Xiong Wei is that the Xinxiang municipality police had gone to Beijie to threaten the election committee members and their families, warning them not to endorse the election results.
“Article 12 of the Organic Law of Village Committees clearly stipulates that ‘the elections of village committees shall be presided over by village election committees.’ So who is violating the law?” Asked Xiong Wei.
Once again the meetings have started. At the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), you will be “elected” as the nation’s President. There will be no surprises, as there have never been over the last 60 years or so. Meanwhile, tens and thousands of people, myself included, who seek a just society, continue to face illegal restrictions on our freedom of movement in the name of “stability maintenance.”
The Chinese Constitution states that the NPC is the ultimate authority in legislation, election, supervision, and decision-making on important matters of the country, having more power than any parliament in the world, but in reality, NPC is nothing more than a rubber stamp, and its annual convention more like a press event for the emperor’s new clothes, a grand show full of artifice, disgrace and evil.
CCTV’s Evening News claims that the NPC has representatives from every ethnic group, every occupation, every level of social status, with many young people, many with advanced degrees, many workers, many farmers, etc. In the previous era, the most classic example was Vice-Premier Chen Yonggui (陈永贵)wrapping a white towel around his head, to show he was a representative of the peasants. Today we have Shen Jilan (申纪兰)who has been a “peasant representative” for sixty years. Does she really represent China’s rural population? Who has voted for her? On what basis can she say she represents the farmers? Besides applauding and voting “yea,” what else has she done as a “representative?”
This year, a young woman of the post-’90s generation has become a representative because she had helped someone courageously, but she has no idea why she has become a representative. A woman told the media that she represented the “foot washing girls.” Do they know who they are and why are they there?
The most absurd aspect of “people’s representatives” in China is the idea of representatives having to represent a certain class. According to the system of representation, no matter what your profession is, once you are elected to be a representative, you assume the duty of a member of the country’s legislative body according to the law. This is a representative’s most important duty, so much so that it becomes their only professional identity. A representative’s basic job is to draft laws, elect the head of the nation and national officials, and decide the nation’s budget, and his or her job has no connection to their original identity as a worker or a farmer. But this plain and simple truth has been distorted by the propaganda machine. It makes it look like only workers may represent workers, and only farmers may represent farmers; that, instead of enacting laws and welding the power to vote, the representatives are meeting just to give the leaders “advice.” Look, it says, we have workers, farmers, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, 90’s generation, even foot-washing girl, how broad the representation is and how splendid our socialist democracy truly is!
Since only farmers may represent farmers, in the old time when two third of the Chinese population was farmers, the NPC would have necessarily been the National Congress of Farmers’ Representatives. To avoid such awkwardness, China reduced the representation of the farmers to one eighth, and later raised it to one fourth. Such discrimination, worse than the racial discrimination over one hundred years ago in the United Stated, wasn’t corrected until 2010. But the absurd idea of identity representation is still being widely touted as a “superiority of socialism.”
In name, the NPC is China’s supreme body of state power, but its members are moonlighters. Each year they convene for two weeks only, but even that is too long. Making legislative proposals is supposed to be their job, but in reality, each proposal is screened by the head of the delegation and then by the presidium. China has no shortage of serious issues to discuss, such as elections, the budget, anti-corruption efforts, frontier ethnical groups, territorial disputes, so on and so forth, but the main job of the representatives is actually to hash out the wording of the “Report on the Work of the Government.”
Housed in heavily guarded hotel rooms according to strict hierarchy of each representative’s worth, ordinary representatives are no more than “extras” on a movie set who have no independence whatsoever to speak of. On the other hand, during China’s district/county level of elections of representatives, the state has employed almost every form of the state power to clamp down on independent candidates, including tearing the candidates’ posters, summoning them, investigating their tax records, intimidating voters, sabotaging meetings, refusing to accept lawsuits against government wrongdoings, illegally restricting candidates’ freedom of movement, and more.
The Congress conducts “elections” and voting without the least competition, for there is only one candidate for each position, and that candidate is likely to have been decided beforehand, if not several years before. On top of that, the representatives know nothing about the candidates, nor do they care whether the candidates are competent or corrupt. After all, some of China’s most corrupt officials, such as Cheng Kejie (成克杰), Wang Huaizhong (王怀忠), Wang Baosen (王宝森) and Liu Zhijun (刘志军), have all been elected in such a manner through each level of People’s Congress. And on each level, the process is controlled strictly by the Communist Party.
The representatives don’t bother to ask questions about how the country’s trillions are spent, the gapping deficit in China’s social security fund, the monstrous spending on stability maintenance that surpasses the military spending. No, they have no questions. Each resolution is passed in near-perfect vote of yea, and the rubber stamp is thus stamped. Inside the system, this is called “walk the procedures.” The representatives don’t care. Their positions don’t come from the people; for them, being a representative is an honor bestowed on them by the power holders, and it is a cherished ticket to the club of the privileged.
For being so artificial, the NPC cannot help but being ugly. Everyone is canny with his or her own calculations, fathoming carefully the intention of a superior, speaking only the “right” things, making only the “appropriate” proposals. Shen Jilan, who has never voted a no is able to hold onto her representative status for over sixty years, while Yao Xiurong (姚秀荣),who began to speak up for the disempowered in her second term, has since disappeared. They show one face when they are sitting at the podium and another when they are not. What they speak is never what they think. They discuss trivial matters, falling asleep listening to reports. In the evenings they swirl around dinner parties to forge connections. The few young and fresh faces in their midst look more like decoration than anything else. In front of the media, they would sometimes talk about the livelihood of the people; and their proposals are forgotten as soon as they are made. When they speak during the sessions, they do so in the order of their official rankings and seniority, in the style of partyspeak. They are unanimously “inspired” when they review the government’s work report; they ingratiate their superiors but also take the opportunity to promote themselves. They pledge loyalty before the voting; during panel discussions they condemn in unison petitioners, a nuisance for their officialdom.
Ordinary citizens don’t care who represent them. Not that it matters if they do. Year after year, the citizens of this country make the annual NPC and CPPCC their pastime by picking the most flabbergasting proposals and speeches, laughing at the yawning and slobbering representatives, gossiping the movie stars’ luxurious homes, the fallen corrupt officials, and the mistresses of the superrich. It gets more ridiculous every year.
Hidden behind such falsity and shamefulness is the inevitable evil. Some lies go away, such as that of the Great Leap Forward, but other lies have been paraded for more than six decades. Among them are lies that the system of people’s congress is China’s “fundamental political system,” and that the NPC is “the supreme body of state power.” Moreover, the system is billed as the most advanced democracy, and presented every March in a grand ceremony! Behind the extravagant show, however, black jails dot the capital city from Jiujingzhuang camp (久敬庄), run by the state, to certain outlaying, walled-in residences in Changping (昌平), from the backyard of the Youth Guesthouse (青年宾馆) to the basement of Juyuan Guesthouse (聚源宾馆), not to mention the Beijing Offices of all levels of local governments. Thousands of government employees and temporary hires crowd the entrances of the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CCP, the Supreme Court, and the State Bureau for Letters and Calls [to intercept petitioners], while petitioners, in the number of tens and thousands, are subjected to harassment, illegal stalking, illegal detention, and brutal physical abuses.
In November 6, 2012, Petitioner Zhang Yaowen (张耀文) from Henan province was taken away from Jiujingzhuang relief center by force, and was beaten to death in a car with tinted windows because he refused to surrender his cell phone. Since his death, his sister Zhang Yaohua has not been able to file a case in any court.
I hope there will be no more sacrifice of innocent Chinese citizens to the show in 2013!
The grandiose National People’s Congress has nothing to do with the people. The most deep-rooted belief of China’s political system is still “power grows from the barrel of the gun,” and the operation of the regime is built on this terror-based ideology: Politics is barbaric; whoever wins the power struggle will rule; the harder your fist the more say you have; politics is for self-enrichment; the red regime cannot change color, and stability is above everything else; politics is cruel, a life-and-death game in which one must have no qualms in pursuing one’s objectives. In short, China’s foundation is not the people, not humanity, not conscience, but guns, the law of jungle, and the duo of violence and lie.
Over the decades, citizens of China have grown indifferent to whoever become the representatives, to the “rubber stamp” itself, to the trillions in taxpayers’ money, to the lavish show itself. Never do they think the country is theirs. But in a country where even monks are fitted with administrative grade levels, how can anyone truly stay away from politics? When a country is built on an artificial, shameful and evil foundation, how can we expect to have a sound society?
Every March, the state propaganda apparatus hangs out the “Learn from Lei Feng” flag in an attempt to rebuild “socialist morality.” CCTV’s “Touch the Heart of China” evening gala was all about smuggling goods for the party: the honorary president of the Red Cross recommended legislation to punish private charities; “the most beautiful born-after-1990”girl was bewildered that she had become a people’s representative; “the most beautiful female teacher” propped herself up from her sickbed to pledge life-long commitment to communist ideals, so on and so forth. On the other hand, the last thirty years have seen a slow awakening of civil awareness with citizens taking initiatives to claim their civil rights and responsibilities, but the dirty hands of the government have been everywhere to obstruct them and sabotage them.
I understand there isn’t a society that’s perfect. I don’t expect every official to be a role model and a clean civil servant, but they at least cannot be such a hypocritical, greedy, cruel and despicable group as they are today. I don’t expect everyone to be an angel, but at least they should not be distrustful, hostile and mutually harmful as they are now. It might be too much to ask for perfect fairness and justice, but China must not be a place shrouded in the smog of injustice as it is today. This country must change its foundation and bring to an end the authoritarianism. China shall be reinvented on the principle of liberty, justice and love.
I hope Mr. Xi Jinping will be one of the greatest idealists of our time. The mission of a real man is not to prolong the life of a rotten interest group, but to build a free and happy future for the 1.3 billion Chinese. It’s been over sixty years, and now it’s time to put an end to the lie of “the supreme body of state power,” to eradicate the belief in “gun-barrel regime.” And it is time to finally make good on the promise of the “People’s Republic.”