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Hermann Aubié, September 5, 2017
During the eight and a half years that Liu Xiaobo spent in Jinzhou prison, only intermittent attention to both his fate and Liu Xia’s detention kept him from becoming gradually invisible, despite being the world’s only imprisoned Peace Nobel laureate. Now that Liu Xiaobo has passed away of liver cancer on July 13, 2017, there is an even greater danger that what he expressed and stood for will be either poorly remembered or completely forgotten.
In the absence of a comprehensive bibliography of his writings, I compiled this list of Liu Xiaobo’s texts that were found on various Chinese websites, magazines, journals and books that had mostly been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as part of my dissertation that provides the first comprehensive academic study in English of Liu Xiaobo’s human rights struggle from a socio-historical perspective. In addition to several interviews with foreign media, Liu published eleven books and about one thousand articles covering an impressive range of topics. After translating all the titles of his texts into English, I added brief annotations and footnotes about the general topic of each text when the titles did not provide any obvious indication on their own.
Because only a few translations of Liu Xiaobo’s writings are available in English (in total less than 1% of all his writings), the discussion of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights in Western media and academia has often been limited to a small set of quotes that are not representative of what he stood for as a whole. As a result, there is still a gap of understanding between Chinese and foreign writings on Liu Xiaobo. Hopefully, this bibliography will inspire future researchers to look deeper into his work to improve the public knowledge and understanding of what Liu Xiaobo gave his life for.
A note on the hyperlinks: All the text that is hyperlinked in blue was originally linking up to the text of his articles or translations, but many of them might have changed since then. If the URL is no longer functional, a simple Google search will turn up valid substitutes.
About the author:
Hermann Aubié is a lecturer in sociology and policy at Aston University in Birmingham, England; he completed his PhD at the Centre for East Asian Studies of the University of Turku (Finland) in 2016 with a dissertation titled “Liu Xiaobo’s Struggle for Human rights: A Contextual Analysis from a Historical Perspective” which is forthcoming as a book.
After doing his BA and MA at the University of Western Brittany in France and the University of Glasgow, he spent five years working in China as a teacher, researcher and consultant for the EU-China Civil Society Dialogue.
His research focuses on contemporary politics, human rights, and civil society transformations in China and East Asia, with particular attention on how citizens use the law and media to promote socio-political change, and to redress injustice for individuals/groups who are persecuted and discriminated against.
From Brittany, in Memory of Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit and Voice of Conscience, Hermann Aubié, August 9, 2017
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
By Chang Ping, July 18, 2017
On July 7, the German professor Markus W Büchler, Chairman of the Department of Surgery, University of Heidelberg, traveled to Shenyang to take part in diagnosing the condition of Liu Xiaobo. Media reports noted that it was the first time in almost a decade that Liu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had seen a foreigner. When I read this line I felt full of grief. The visit of a doctor isn’t anything like that of a friend calling in. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for his speech and thought, and apart from the small number of family members who’ve long been under house arrest, no one has been able to see him for all these years. Until he got late-stage liver cancer, when his days on earth were numbered, the only people he was able to see — apart from the doctors, nurses, and a few family members — were the police who had been ordered to keep him under close guard. On July 13, he left the world completely cut off from it.
A group of 154 Nobel Prize laureates signed a joint statement hoping that the Chinese authorities would let Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia freely see their family, and that Liu be allowed to receive treatment anywhere he wished. UN human rights officials, politicians from around the world, human rights organizations and numerous Chinese citizens have said the same thing. The Chinese government pretends they don’t hear it — like a black hole that swallows everything that enters.
While silencing dissidents and shutting up their supporters, the Chinese government has also started projecting its voice on the international scene. Xi Jinping has been more assertive and bolder than any previous leader in boasting in international fora; Chinese state media has even suggested that he’s going to point toward the future direction of mankind. Buying up media, suppressing foreign journalists, and changing global public opinion have become the Chinese government’s undisguised combat strategies. Angela Merkel is content to chat with Xi Jinping for a long while about pandas at the zoo, but when it comes to a dying Liu Xiaobo, she won’t say a word in public. It’s clearly not that she doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care for Liu Xiaobo, but that she’s being stifled by the Chinese government.
Publicly humiliate the Communist Party, or let the Party publicly humiliate you?
Last week, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing on human rights conditions in China, which included the remarks of Terence Halliday, co-director of the Center on Law & Globalization at the American Bar Foundation. Halliday said that “At this moment from our longstanding research I have no doubt that when the world speaks out loud and publicly, China listens. China has a very thin skin” (video, 1’33”). Some may see this as publicly shaming to China — but in fact, it’s the Communist Party that has been shaming human rights and democracy. The most Western nations can do is stop or lessen this dishonor.
Would publicly criticizing China have any use? Some would defend Merkel’s failure to publicly mention Liu Xiaobo — that she is making a compromise and getting things done in a low-key manner. Whether it’s getting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on the brink of death released, or changing China’s authoritarian political system, many people think that “private dialogue” is the most effective path. They even suppose that public pressure will have the opposite of the result intended. Over the past twenty years, the European Union has been holding dialogues on human rights with China quietly, and it is termed “quiet diplomacy.”
But in fact, those who are provided succor are those who have been reported on in the media the most — those who make dictators truly feel the pressure of international public opinion. There are countless unknown victims who have received no lenience since they are so “low key.” In fact, they’re often subject to the most cruel and brutal treatment.
This is not limited to only individual cases. The German scholar Katrin Kinzelbach’s 2014 book “The EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with China: Quiet Diplomacy and its Limits,” traced the development of the EU’s rights dialogue with China from its founding in 1995 until 2010, relying on internal memoranda, a vast array of documents, and extensive interviews with officials from over 20 member states. She spoke with former chairpersons of the dialogue committees and traced the institutional changes in the process. The conclusion of her research was that “quiet diplomacy” exerts almost no positive impact at all on human rights in China. Not only did the dialogue fail to achieve the hoped-for outcome, but it led to the Chinese government holding human rights in more contempt, turning the dialogue into a perfunctory affair and an occasion for them to rebut all questions, criticisms, and suggestions.
China points the world in a dark direction
Two weeks ago Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Initiatives for China, International Campaign for Tibet, Human Rights in China, International Society for Human Rights, and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) made a joint statement calling on the European Union to suspend human rights dialogues with China. Their reasoning was that this sort of quiet diplomacy, on a particularly low-level this year, hasn’t improved the circumstances of China’s human rights in China, but instead has become a shield for the EU to avoid a thorny issue.
In her book, Kinzelbach writes that the “quiet diplomacy” strategy of human rights dialogues has shown itself to be weak and ineffectual, and that the only effective policy that Europe had on the issue was the prohibition of weapons sales to China after the June 4 massacre. If it wants to change human rights in China, the EU needs to summon up the courage, truly persevere, and support the immense significance of the human rights cause.
When politicians are laughing together about how cute the pandas are, and silent and unmoved while China’s most prominent dissident is dying in isolation, perhaps what China’s official propaganda mouthpieces have said is entirely accurate: In fact, Xi Jinping is pointing to a new direction for mankind, that is, abandoning the painful development of a political culture that safeguards human rights, democracy and liberty, and instead focusing on success in advanced economics and high technology, establishing an even more barbaric, darker, and despicable society that operates according to the law of the jungle.
Chang Ping is a Chinese media veteran and current events commentator now living in political exile in Germany.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
Also by Chang Ping:
One Belt, One Road, Total Corruption, May 18, 2017.
China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.
We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.
A China Change interview with Chang Ping:
Zhao Xin, September 11, 2016
“Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.”
From August 2 to 5, The Tianjin Intermediate People’s Court carried out a four-day so-called “open trial” against Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), where they were charged with subversion of state power. The first two were sentenced to 7.5 and 7 years of imprisonment, while the latter two were given suspended sentences. Their punishments were so severe, on evidence that was so rash and far-fetched, in a trial that was so expedited, that both foreign media and China watchers were outraged. The Chinese activist community called it Beijing’s version of the “Moscow show trials.”
The four were among the over 20 human rights lawyers and activists arrested in what’s known as the “709 incident” (referring to a rash of arrests on July 9, 2015). Over the past year they have been put through secret detentions and forced to “make statements” dismissing their own lawyers, while also being deprived visitation from them. After the four trials, not one of the victims lodged an appeal. In the following weeks and months, more lawyers and activists will be forced to perform the same farcical show trials.
However, one of the unintended products of the four trials in August is the discussion and dissemination of “Hu Shigen thought” and the “topple-the-wall movement,” thanks to the hysterical vilification of the veteran dissident. Immediately following the trials, Communist Party mouthpieces including Xinhua, People’s Daily, CCTV, and Legal Daily, published articles with headlines like “How Hu Shigen’s ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory Bewitches and Poisons the People’s Minds,” “Using the ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory to Subvert State Power,” “Instead of Repenting, Hu Shigen Sentenced for Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’,” and “Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’ But Only Toppling Himself.”
All of these were clear demonstrations that Hu Shigen was being tried and punished as a thought criminal. The concept of “toppling the wall” has been familiar to Chinese political activists for a long time already, but thanks to the Communist Party’s propaganda, many people who are afraid of politics, or afraid to ask about politics, are inquiring: What is Hu Shigen’s thinking? What is the ‘topple the wall’ movement?
As someone who has known and worked with Hu Shigen for 26 years, I’ve been asked many of these questions myself. In the following passages I will set down what I know about these questions, as a preliminary explication.
I. Hu Shigen’s ideas are the consensus for China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy
During the show trials, the state media reported the following: “According to the testimony of multiple witnesses, this gathering (in an Anhui restaurant called Qi Wei Shao, 七味烧) was not a simple dinner party. Instead, it was a meeting for exchanging views and perfecting ideas about subverting state power, and for planning and implementing the overthrow of the socialist system. The gathering had a number of strict and set regulations, with clear, explicit topics for discussion about the subversion of state power, including a summary of the activities to subvert state power undertaken in 2014, and the secret conspiracy and plot for continued organization to subvert state power in 2015. The meetings also set forth systematic theories, methods, and steps for the subversion of state power, and these were also concrete acts by Hu Shigen and others to organize, plot, and carry out the subversion of state power.”
The activists were also accused of “widely spreading so-called ‘state transition’ and other subversive theories.”
In reality, the so-called “Hu Shigen thought” and so-called “state transition and other subversive theories” are no more than topics that have become a matter of widespread consensus in Chinese civil society about China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy. The reason the Chinese authorities made such an implausible attempt to point out Hu Shigen’s “harmful thinking” was in order to leverage his status as a veteran of the democracy movement to make false charges against rights defense lawyers and human rights defenders, casting the peaceful attempts to defend civil rights and the rule of law as nefarious efforts to subvert state power. The goal, of course, is to strangle the rights defense movement of the last decade or so.
In the years since the June 4 massacre in 1989, China’s civil society has gone through different stages of political activism for change, and it has also reached a consensus that China needs a peaceful, rational and nonviolent transition, not a violent revolution, toward democracy; that rights defense should be based on the law (thus the role of lawyers came to the fore); and that a free and democratic constitutional republicanism, not a totalitarian dictatorship, is the future for China.
A component of this consensus is that the Communist Party could transform itself into a socialist party, or a democratic socialist party, participate in democratic elections, and that its officials could hold government offices. It could even, after laying down a clear roadmap for transition to a constitutional government, consider making the Communist Party itself a legal transitional ruler.
For all these reasons, it’s clear that this is a moderate, rational, and constructive consensus, and that it can guide Chinese society toward a broad and open road with the least risk, the lowest cost, and the greatest value, where there are no losers and only winners. But all this has been besmirched by a terrified dictatorship as “subversive thinking.”
II. The Three Factors (三个主要因素) and the Five Proposals (五个方案) for China’s Peaceful Transition to a Constitutional Democracy
Chinese state media have engaged in widespread and targeted criticism of the three factors and five proposals for China’s transition. The “three factors” refers to the three main forces needed to push forward China’s transition:
- A powerful citizenry: A mature civil society and a strong citizenry are the fundamentals for social progress;
- Splits in the ruling clique: Given that the Communist Party has previously produced types like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, it’s entirely possible that a catalyzing figure, like Chiang Ching-kuo or Boris Yeltzin, may yet emerge;
- The involvement of the international community: A hardline totalitarian regime is not in the interest of the world.
The Five Proposals include:
- Transition: That the transition to constitutional government be peaceful, steering clear of violence;
- Nation-building: That a democratic constitutional government system be established;
- Livelihood: The communists tax heavily but neglect the people, while maintaining massive bureaucratic institutions. Post-transition China will need to focus on education, healthcare, care for seniors, housing, welfare, and other aspects of the people’s livelihood;
- Rewards: All those who made contributions and sacrifices should be recognized through rewards, thus asserting a set of social values;
- Punishments: Reconciliation should be extended on the basis of truth and righteousness, while the obstinate criminals will be accorded punishments.
III. The Three-Stage Roadmap for Social Change
During the trial in Tianjin, Hu Shigen “confessed” the following: “On multiple occasions of citizen meal gatherings (同城饭醉) with lawyers and petitioners present, I talked about my concept of a ‘peaceful transition,’ in particular the ‘three main factors,’ ‘three stages (三个阶段),’ and ‘five proposals’ for transition. I inculcated these ideas in other people in order to achieve the goal of a ‘color revolution.’”
Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.
The three stage roadmap for social progress that Hu Shigen proposed can be summarized as follows:
- The Phase of Enlightenment
The root of this enlightenment can be traced back to the enlightenment movement at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the early Republican Era. The Democracy Wall-era of Wei Jingsheng and others in the late 1970s was a continuation of this, with the most recent episode being the enlightenment of public intellectuals in the post-1989 era. While this enlightenment has not been completed over the last century, and faced brutal repression under communist rule, the ideas have not died. The importance of movements to enlighten and transform the thinking of the masses by spreading truth and common sense has been a consensus of all liberal Chinese citizens who favor democracy.
In 2004, when Hu Shigen was still serving out his 20-year sentence in prison for organizing political groups and activities shortly after the Tiananmen Massacre, I wrote an essay titled: “The Plight of Hu Shigen Is a Test of the Conscience of Every Chinese,” in which I quoted something he said to me during the post-June 4th white terror. He said (roughly): China doesn’t need heroics. What China needs is for every citizen to find a little conscience and courage inside themselves, a bit of public spiritedness and sense of civil responsibility. If everyone can think, beginning with themselves, to proactively get involved, then our country will definitely have hope and future.
This is what he ardently hoped for — and he practiced what he preached. Over the last few years he and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) and other like-minded people have steadily organized and expanded the same-city dinner gatherings across the country. They have met with threats and crackdown, but the activities remain alive among activists.
- The Rights Movement Phase
At the heart of civil consciousness and the development of non-government citizen organizations, is the struggle and defense of citizens’ rights. This includes economic rights, political rights, cultural rights, religious rights, and personal rights.
The Communist Party claims that it’s the vanguard of the working class, and that its political base is an alliance of workers and peasants. But the greatest irony is that, given that the Chinese economy is an oligarchy and reforms are rudderless, those harmed the most by China’s vested interest groups have been workers, peasants, and urbanites.
So where is the social base for those in favor of constitutional democracy? Where is the breathing room for this opposition group to survive? Which groups should those committed to China’s social advancement represent? This is what Hu Shigen thinks, and it’s also the consensus of China’s rights defense community: we need to rupture the authorities’ plan to marginalize us, and also the tendency to marginalize ourselves. We defend everyone’s rights, be they workers, farmers, city-dwellers, businessmen, military officials, intellectuals, religious believers, victims of forced sterilization, the elderly, and those demanding equal education and healthcare. In the final analysis, if one has no political rights, then one has no right to other rights. A system of constitutional democracy is for safeguarding all lawful rights of every Chinese citizen.
As early as 1991, again since his release in 2008, Hu Shigen emphasized repeatedly: rights defense is the greatest enlightenment. Every citizen should help to defend the rights of everyone from every strata who has been harmed, and use every rational and reasonable means to do so. Only by completely disintegrating the Communist Party’s social base and undermining its foundation can the temple of constitutional democracy be constructed.
That is the “Topple the Wall” theory.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Phase
How will a post-democratic transition China treat the 88 million Communist Party members and their families? This is a massive social constituency. If they have no future, China has no future — because they’ll form the greatest obstruction to social progress. Absorbing and reconciling with them, thereby reducing as much as possible the obstacles to peaceful transition, needs to be at the forefront of our work.
Hu Shigen was determined to learn from the examples of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, who advocated a truth and reconciliation movement in their country. At an appropriate time in the future it will be necessary to carry out the same process in China. Just as Archbishop Tutu said: If there is no truth, there can be no justice, and if there is no forgiveness there can be no future.
Hu Shigen remarked on many occasions that since the social transition in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communist Party has been needlessly terrified and anxious about a future peaceful transition to constitutional democracy in China. The reason, as Hu said during that Qi Wei Shao dinner, is because the social transformation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe demonstrated one principle very clearly: as long as Communist Party officials aren’t “blinded by their Party nature so much that they sacrifice their lives for it,” and as long as they mobilize when the time is right and become a force for social progress and not an obstruction, then they will have made a great contribution to the future constitutional democracy. Whether the Chinese Communist Party re-organizes itself to become the Chinese Socialist Party, or the Socialist Democratic Party, current party members will be in a relatively better position to play a larger role in every aspect of Chinese society to promote positive changes.
According to statistics, following the social transition of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as many as 95 percent of the key social positions, with the massive social resources those posts commanded, were still held by former Communist Party members. Hu Shigen joked about this: There are golden bricks in the Berlin Wall — we’re just waiting for the Chinese Yeltsin. In the future, China is bound to produce minor and major “Yeltsins,” guiding the China’s transition to constitutionalism.
Twenty six years ago, Hu Shigen declared before me: Sitting around and waiting for freedom is a poor cousin to getting up and fighting for it. Twenty six years later in the Qi Wei Shao restaurant in Beijing, Hu Shigen is said by communist mouthpiece media to have made the following rousing declaration before his colleagues: “It’s better to mount a rebellion than wait to be shot.”
August 11, 2016
Zhao Xin (赵昕) is a student leader in 1989 and one of the earliest rights movement activist. After years of being blocked from traveling overseas, he was able to leave China recently and relocate to San Francisco. This article was written for China Change.
Chinese state media sources:
China Sentences Hu Shigen, Democracy Advocate, to 7 Years in Prison, the New York Times, August 3, 2016.
Hu Shigen: The Prominent Yet Obscure Political Prisoner, Ren Bumei, August 2, 2016.
Mo Zhixu, July 1, 2016
2016 is also an election year in China, in case you are not aware of it.
A struggle is once again brewing in Wukan. Four years ago, after a protracted struggle during which village representative Xue Jinbo (薛锦波) lost his life under mysterious circumstances in police custody, the people of Wukan were able to elect a village leader that they trusted. But several years later, they still haven’t been able to win back their rights and things have again become unsettled. Police recently detained Lin Zulian (林祖恋), the elected head of Wukan’s village committee, and then put him on television to confess to accepting bribes.
And in just the past few days in Gansu Province, independent candidates for local People’s Congresses, like Qu Mingxue (瞿明学), have been detained on criminal charges of “sabotaging elections.”
It wasn’t long ago, back in the heyday of Weibo, that everyone was talking about how the village elections in Wukan and the appearance of independent People’s Congress candidates were hopeful signs for grassroots democracy and politics in China. Back then, both media and netizens placed considerable hope in these phenomena. But a short five years later, we’re once again in an “election year” and the situation looks as bleak as ever.
High Hopes for Grassroots Democracy
After 1989, China found itself in a deep freeze as far as political participation was concerned. As radical transformation became impossible, and what came to replace it after Deng Xiaoping’s “Southern Tour” in 1992 were various visions of gradual change premised on the spread of market forces in China.
Entering the 21st century, China joined the WTO and successfully held the Beijing Olympics. Economic development went relatively smoothly, leading to the rapid formation of new social strata. At the same time, the authorities targeted particular opposition groups with continuous repression and severe crackdowns. In this atmosphere, there’s been a gradual withering-away of the idea of radical transformation that had guided the tragic movement in 1989. In its place, gradualism has become the new mainstream — even politically correct — discourse.
The main evidence supporting these visions for gradual change have been phenomena like grassroots democracy, legal rights defense, the opening up of discursive space through commercialized media, spaces for online expression, and the development of civil society and NGOs. Grassroots democracy has quite an important place in this discourse. This is because rights defense, the opening of discursive space, and the development of civil society are more facilitative or necessary conditions for political transition, or else serve as substitutes for political participation in certain periods where such participation is difficult or impossible.
Grassroots elections, on the other hand, is the essence of political participation itself; moreover, they can be seen as the true beginning of the gradual political transition made possible by the maturation of those other conditions.
At the end of the 1990s when the Law of Self-Rule by Village Committees (《村委会自治法》) appeared, the prospect of direct elections or use of “write-in ballots” first sparked hopes that grassroots democracy might lead China’s democratic transition. However, the practice of village-level democracy remained within the scope of self-rule and didn’t affect the overall political system. Nevertheless, grassroots democracy at this level has been put under all sorts of control and finds itself breathing what may be its last, dying breath. As Chang Ping (长平) recently wrote in “Wukan: China’s Domestic Experiment with ‘One Country Two Systems’”: “Within the overall dictatorial environment, small-scale democratic elections face all sorts of difficulties and inevitably wind up at a dead end.”
Comparatively speaking, the appearance of independent candidates in township- or county-level people’s congress elections was invested with even greater hope and even seen as a possible transition path. This is because, under China’s current electoral system, it remains possible for members of the public to nominate their own candidates or even to elect a write-in candidate by selecting the box of “other” on the ballot. This is how Yao Lifa (姚立法) got elected in Qianjiang City, Hubei, for example, back in 1998.
Independent candidates are formally allowed under the current system and there is a theoretical chance of ultimately being successful. And when you factor in the new market forces and online modes of communication, it’s possible for regional independent candidates to become known throughout China and even internationally. For these reasons, many people hoped that independent candidacy might serve as a path to broader political participation and, in the process, advance China’s democratic transition. For these same reasons, whether it was at the beginning of the new Hu-Wen regime in 2003 or during the heyday of Weibo, grassroots elections, and especially independent candidates, were seen as the next step and something in which people could invest their hopes for political transition. For a time, more hope seemed to be invested in it than internet expression, participation in public interest causes, and rights-defense activities.
The Uselessness of China’s ‘Elections’
It’s always been open to debate, however, whether or not China’s electoral system can sustain such hopes. For a variety of reasons, mainland Chinese observers often take Taiwan’s transition to democracy as a point of reference. There’s no doubt that elections played quite a significant role in Taiwan’s democratic transition, and for this reason Chinese gradualists never tire of talking about the subject. However, comparing the electoral systems in Taiwan and mainland China, as well as Taiwan’s road to democracy, we can see that it’s much more difficult under China’s electoral system for independent candidates to play the important role of pushing forward this transition.
First of all, the elections in which they compete take place at too low a level. Everyone knows that People’s Congresses at all levels in China are rubber stamps, and Chinese elections are merely decorative to the dictatorship. China’s so-called elections are limited in that no executive offices are chosen through direct elections and even elections for delegates to People’s Congress are restricted to the county and township levels only. Taiwan, on the other hand, had put in place direct elections for county commissioners, and representatives in both county and provincial assemblies in as early as 1954. Starting in the late 1960s, there were competitive elections for some seats of the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan.
Direct elections thus cut across executive and legislative branches and span from the central government down to the local level. It was only because of this that elections were able to have a social influence and promote transition to democracy in Taiwan. And under these circumstances, the officials and legislators who ran for office could form a political core outside of the KMT. Whether it was the 1979 demonstrations by Huang Shin-chieh (黃信介) and other members of the opposition in the Kaohsiung Incident or the formation of the Tangwai Research Association for Public Policy, these independent politicians were able to have an impact and eventually lead to the formation of an opposition party because of Taiwan’s particular electoral system and election practice.
A second difference between Taiwan and mainland China is that many constraints have been placed on China’s electoral system. The essence of dictatorship is total control over society and the elimination of spontaneous political participation. Since China’s electoral system is merely decorative, it was designed from its inception with all sorts of restrictions and mechanisms to limit participation.
So-called independent candidates can only take part in elections for county and township people’s congresses, but even these elections have been painstakingly engineered so that small electoral districts are coordinated with the political structure in order to facilitate control and mobilization. In order to prevent members of the public from nominating their own candidates, an “incubation phase” has been set up to ensure that any unacceptable individuals can be weeded out from the formal list of candidates. Given all of these various measures, it takes a miracle for any candidate who isn’t part of the political system to get elected. This not only considerably dampens enthusiasm to participate; it also means that it’s nothing but a pipe dream to hope that elections will somehow lead to a democratic transition in China.
Finally, we must consider the long interval between elections in China. Because Taiwan holds elections for executive and legislative offices over three levels of government from central to local, contests are frequent and “election season” is always just around the corner. Under Taiwan’s particular form of authoritarian reality, “election season” served to expand political participation and ultimately created favorable conditions for Taiwan’s democratic transition. China’s “decorative” electoral system, on the other hand, only allows for direct election of county and township people’s congress delegates once every five years, meaning that “election season” arrives much less often in China. And considering how much participation is suppressed, this long five-year interval between elections makes it difficult to gather a sustained accumulation of experience.
Altogether, it means that there’s little hope that independent candidacy alone will do much to promote democracy. This is why, from almost the very beginning, those who have advocated for independent candidacy have all made even higher demands for the electoral system.
They expect the electoral system to undergo a number of reforms. First, they want to see direct elections at higher levels of government, including for executive offices. Others want to see the system of village elections expanded to direct elections for government positions at the township level and above. In 1998, 6,000 voters in Buyun Township in Suining, Sichuan (四川遂宁步云乡), chose the first township head elected through direct vote since 1949. Afterwards, similar experiments were conducted in Shenzhen and other places. This attracted much attention from the media and liberals, but in the end it never led anywhere. In recent years, among the reform proposals Prof. Yu Jianrong (于建嵘) has repeatedly been peddling, county-level direct election reform has been a core proposal.
A Reality Check
Unfortunately, things have gone in precisely the opposite direction from what people had hoped for. The expansion of market forces has led to the emergence of a variety of rights demands and stimulated the desire of new social strata to take part in politics. These new social strata have gravitated toward independent candidates. The craze for independent candidates that appeared on Weibo back in 2011 was based on these socio-economic changes. However, thanks to the political logic in place since 1989, the current system hasn’t changed in any way to accommodate these new demands. Instead, the regime continued to pursue its policies of stability maintenance. The stronger these social forces became, the more rigid the stability-focused regime grew. In this way, Chinese authorities have come to see independent candidacy as a form of protest that must be restricted and suppressed.
The irony is that even when independent candidates have a desire to work inside the existing system, the authorities see them as representing the “other.”
Five years ago, during the online craze for independent candidates, I reminded people that running for office was a form of protest: “Those running for People’s Congress want to broaden political participation in China, but the stability-maintenance regime is focused on using autocratic deterrence and management and repression of society, including the elimination of political participation. Standing for election thus constitutes a direct challenge to the stability-maintenance system and must be suppressed. The fate of people like Liu Ping (刘萍) is proof of this point. I hope that Li Chengpeng and others who want to run as independent People’s Congress candidates will be prepared.”
What happened afterward proved that my judgment was correct: “Under the stability-maintenance system, there will be no hesitation about repressing independent candidates or blocking information about elections.” Such a system can’t even tolerate the presence of an independent candidate as a token of democracy. Given that running as an independent candidate is a form of protest, it will inevitably meet with even greater repression. The criminal detention of Qu Mingxue and others demonstrates this escalating repression. Of course it also demonstrates further that any hope of using independent candidacy to further the transition to democracy is unfounded.
But protest is never insignificant. Some people shy away and retreat after having taken part in this form of protest, but others like Liu Ping emerge from their participation in grassroots elections to follow even more resolute paths of protest. In this respect, elections may not be able to change the system, but taking part in them can have a transformative effect on us as people. Once we cast off our false hopes, perhaps our struggle will finally generate some real hope.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy.
Also by Mo Zhixu on China Change:
原文：莫之许《独立参选的五年一梦》, translated by China Change.
By Yang Jianli and Han Lianchao, published: September 26, 2015
26 years ago, after the bloody massacre in Beijing in 1989, we came to Washington to urge the U.S. government to link China’s most-favored-nation (MFN) status to China’s respect for human rights. Without such a linkage, we argued, continuing normal trade with China would be like a blood transfusion to the Communist regime, making it more aggressive and harming the interests of both the American and Chinese people.
But our warning fell on deaf ears. After a lengthy debate, the U.S. government decided to grant permanent MFN to China in 1992. We were assured by U.S. policymakers that democratic development would inevitably follow from economic development.
26 years on that warning has become a reality. With money and technology pouring in from the U.S. and other Western countries, the Chinese Communist regime not only survived the 1989 crisis, it catapulted into the 21st century. The country’s explosive economic growth lifted it from one of the poorest countries in terms of GDP per capita to become the number two economy in the world; but China remains firmly near the bottom of indicators on democratic development.
The Chinese Communist regime has instead grown into a Frankenstein’s monster, terrorizing peoples both domestically and internationally.
China is using the economic power it has gained with the help of the West to build a formidable, modern military that can reach every corner of the earth. As its power grows, China is demanding a re-write of international norms and rules. China wants to create a new international order with China at the center of the Asia-Pacific region, bringing regional and world peace under threat.
What went wrong with America’s engagement policy?
First, China upturned the traditional linkage between economic prosperity and democracy and re-wrote the rules of development. While China’s model of political repression paired with economic freedom is showing signs of cracking, nevertheless it has achieved tremendous economic gains over the past twenty years.
Secondly, the United States has encouraged this uneven development with its lack of moral and strategic clarity in its dealings with China.
The origin of the error can be traced back to the early 1970s when then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger claimed that by integrating Beijing into the international community economically and politically, China would behave responsibly, abiding by international norms and rules.
This amoral, geo-politically pragmatic strategy failed to recognize the evil nature and hegemonic ambitions of the communist regime, as reiterated in President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” of a great red empire, to challenge, and eventually supersede, the western civilization with the so called China model.
Washington policymakers also failed to understand that economic growth may be a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one, for cultivating democracy. Consequently, this policy has fundamentally undermined America’s national interests and security.
The alternative is to engage China with a moral strategic compass: China under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule cannot rise peacefully, and its transition to a democratic country that respects human rights, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, is in everyone’s best interest, including China’s own. In other words, the U.S. must push for a peaceful democratic transition in China.
The reason for this is simple:
To support China’s totalitarian regime, a regime that ruthlessly represses its own people, denies universal values to justify its dictatorship, and that challenges the existing international order to seek its dominance, is morally corrupt as well as strategically unsound.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, China is now seeking to revenge against its creator — the West. It will destabilize and endanger the world. We’ve already seen other countries that have copied and are now suffering under the China model, an amoral political system that rewards the corrupt while offering crumbs to its citizens.
While many policymakers in Washington have now realized that it is time to get tough on China, some still believe that the present and future conflicts between the U. S. and China can be managed. Our view is this: Without China’s democratization, a clash between the U. S. and China is unavoidable because the two countries’ strategic goals are on a clashing course and their core interests cannot be compromised.
The only way to prevent a future war with China is to pursue its democratic transformation now.
To start, the Congress should pass a China Democracy Act that flatly states that enhancing human rights and democratic transition in China is decidedly in America’s national interest and that directs the Federal government and all its agencies to make democracy and human rights advocacy the core of all engagement with China.
Current policy allows and even encourages U. S. agencies to assist China just for the sake of engagement, with no regard to any effort to promote political reform and freedom. The act will serve as America’s grand strategy toward China, setting a firm foundation that not only guides U. S. activities with China in all spheres, but also makes clear of the U. S. intentions to the Chinese government and sends an unequivocal message of support to the Chinese people.
Is a peaceful transition to democracy possible in China?
Absolutely. Despite significant restrictions on the internet and the absence of media freedom, access to information has greatly improved and is changing China, particular the younger generations. Civil society is awakening; religious belief is flourishing. The growth of a middle class, as well as the disaffection of certain groups in China, mean that many are longing for a political system that ensures equal opportunity and fairness for all. Even the ruling elite want the rule of law to protect their wealth, because without it no one is safe in China.
Immanuel Kant and modern-day social science has shown that democracies are less disposed to go to war with each other. Long-lasting peace and friendship between the U. S. and China means that China must transition to a democracy.
If the U. S. does not place the highest priority on the development of a democratic China, we worry that China will continue down the perilous path of achieving world dominance through militarism and aggression. That is a war that the world cannot afford.
Yang Jianli (杨建利) is the founder and president of Initiatives for China, a Washington-DC based advocacy group, and former political prisoner of China. Han Lianchao (韩连潮) is the vice president of Initiatives for China and a research fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The Historic Opening to China: What Hath Nixon Wrought? by Joseph Bosco, Harvard National Security Journal, September 2015.
To Obama – Why China Does Not Have a Nelson Mandela, by Yaxue Cao, China Change, September 23, 2015.
By Mo Zhixu, published: July 23, 2015
This commentary was written and published in March 2014 in connection with the Jiansanjiang incident (建三江事件) in which four rights lawyers went to Heilongjiang province to free Falun Gong practitioners from a black jail. The lawyers were tortured and temporarily detained. Dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu’s observations about the political climate in China (paragraph 3 onward) stand out even more today in light of the recent large scale arrests of rights lawyers. – The Editors
Recently, when lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Wang Cheng (王成), and Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) went to the Jiansanjiang Agricultural Reclamation District in Heilongijiang to provide legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners being held at a so-called legal education center, they and relatives of the detainees were all detained by local police. After repeated inquiries by numerous parties, it has now been confirmed that Tang and Jiang have been given 15-day administrative detentions for “using a cult to undermine social order.” At this time, it remains unclear what has become of Wang and Zhang. To rescue the four lawyers, a group of lawyers including Li Jinxing and Qing Shi [Zhang Lei] and around a dozen rights activists have quickly made their way to Jiansanjiang, where they have launched a 24-hour hunger strike outside the detention center and demanded to meet with the detained lawyers.
This incident might have occurred because of its connection to Falun Gong practitioners. Most incidents of violence against lawyers in recent years have been connected to Falun Gong—for example, the illegal detention and beating of lawyer Zhang Kai in Chongqing in 2009. However, there is something else about the identities of these four lawyers that makes this incident unusual. Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, and Wang Cheng are three principal contacts in Chinese Lawyers for Human Rights, a group that has been active lately. In rounding up all three at once, it might be a sign that the authorities are planning a total crackdown against human rights lawyers. On his Sina Weibo microblog account, lawyer Qing Shi expressed this concern: “The safety of the majority of lawyers is due to these few lawyers being out in front and taking on the risk. Today, they’ve been arrested; tomorrow, it will be us. So this isn’t only about these four individuals, and it’s not only about a group of lawyers, either.”
The authorities have long been on guard against rights-defense lawyers. On July 31, 2012, the overseas edition of People’s Daily published an article by Yuan Peng, director of the Institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, in which he wrote: “Over the next three to five years . . . the United States will use a variety of non-military means to delay or hinder China’s progressive rise. . . . In the name of ‘Internet freedom’ . . . [it will attempt to] transform the traditional mode of pursuing top-down democracy and freedom by utilizing rights lawyers, underground religious activity, dissidents, Internet leaders, and vulnerable groups as core constituencies with the aim of infiltrating China’s grass roots ‘from the bottom up’ and creating conditions to ‘transform’ China.” Many summed this up as a “New Black Five Categories”—a listing of undesirables in which rights lawyers were shockingly listed first.
Such concern by the authorities over rights lawyers is not without reason and has been long in the making. Since 2000, the advance of limited market reforms and China’s entry into the WTO have necessitated that the authorities strengthen efforts to build the requisite legal system. At the same time, development of the economy and society has created many disputes over rights and interests, and there has been a significant increase in rights-defense cases of all sorts. Encouraged by this, some activists seem to have identified the potential to use rights defense as a means of promoting rule of law and to use rule of law as a means of further promoting political transformation. These activists put forward the idea of a rights-defense movement and attempted to promote political transformation in China by “legalizing political problems and proceduralizing legal problems.” Beyond ordinary cases involving the protection of rights and interests, the rights-defense movement hoped even more to utilize cases involving civil and political rights as a means to gain entry and further the process of political transformation.
The authorities have shown considerable concern and vigilance regarding the rise of the rights defense movement. On the one hand, they recognize that the continued growth of China’s economy necessitates marketization, globalization, and information technology, making it difficult to avoid having an increasingly plural society, an increasingly active state of free and dissenting expression, and even an increasingly frequent number of protests. They consequently understand the necessity of showing a certain degree of tolerance toward such things. On the other hand, however, the authorities’ tolerance for such things must have a limit, and they are unwilling to allow things to lead toward any political liberalization.
In the eyes of those in power, concessions in the area of rights would have only a minor effect on promoting the continued economic development upon which the legitimacy of their rule ultimately depends. But once the civil society that is now developing by leaps and bounds gains possession of these rights, it will significantly increase the capacity to coordinate and mobilize, civil society will achieve a much higher level of integration, and it will become much harder to curb progress toward political liberalization. For precisely these reasons, the rights defense movement—particularly rights defense activity in the area of civil and political rights—has become a focus of the authorities, something that must be vigorously suppressed.
Rights lawyers occupy a core position in the rights defense movement. They are direct participants in rights defense cases, and they also act to disseminate information about these cases and explain their significance. Rights lawyers thus play a pivotal role as bridges drawing links between specific cases and the wider social environment. Individual rights cases can take on broader legal and political significance and become part of the rights defense movement only through the efforts of rights defense lawyers. Of the “New Black Five Categories” described above, only rights defense lawyers work with all groups participating in rights defense actions, including petitioners, followers of underground religious, dissidents, and Internet leaders. Naturally, the authorities cannot overlook this important, central role played by rights defense lawyers.
Therefore, ever since the rise of the rights defense movement, the authorities have met that movement with repression each step of the way. During a high moment for the movement in 2005, Asia Weekly (Yazhou zhoukan 《亚洲周刊》) named 14 Chinese rights defense activists as its “Persons of the Year.” Afterwards, all of them suffered various types of repression. Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was imprisoned for three years for inciting subversion. Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠) was imprisoned for three years for providing state secrets to overseas entities. Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) was imprisoned for four years and three months for intentionally destroying property and gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic. Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) was imprisoned for five years for illegal business activity. Now, Xu Zhiyong (许志永) has been imprisoned for four years for gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place. In addition, Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Baiguang (李柏光), Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), and Li Heping (李和平) have all been subjected to various types of repression, such as secret detention, arrest, and beatings. As a result, all of these individuals have to a certain degree distanced themselves from rights defense or at least no longer engage in such sensitive activity as before.
Even so, spurred on by the new social conditions, there has been no let-up in rights defense activity of all types. More and more rights lawyers are taking part, and their actions have taken many new forms. In each of these new types of action, legal rights defense activists remain prominent, such as Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Sun Hanhui (孙含会), and others in the New Citizen Movement. The Chinese Lawyers for Human Rights group is yet another new form of action that has emerged recently. By seeking broader publicity for human rights cases, this group has quickly come to receive broader attention and support. In the wake of the serious crackdown against the New Citizen Movement, the emergence of the Chinese Lawyers for Human Rights is even more notable. This, of course, has also brought them a high degree of scrutiny from the authorities. This explains why, in the eyes of many, the detention of these four lawyers in Jiansanjiang goes beyond any individual case and has become a decisive case through which to observe how the authorities might further crack down in the name of “stability maintenance.”
As I write this, the incident in Jiansanjiang is still unfolding as activists from all over continue to issue calls for assistance and rush to the scene. Under the influence of rigid stability maintenance, it is unlikely that these activists will see their demands satisfied anytime soon. As far as the four detained lawyers are concerned, it is difficult to tell whether their detention is the beginning of a broader crackdown following in the wake of the New Citizen Movement activism or instead a lesser sort of punishment aimed at temporarily curbing their activism. At present, either seems possible. However, if the logic I’ve laid out in the analysis above continues to hold, in order to prevent the appearance of further political liberalization, the authorities’ repression against rights lawyers will not stop. So long as the original motivations of rights defense lawyers don’t change, the crime and punishment of people like Gao Zhisheng—along with the associated glory and suffering—will inevitably befall them as well.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile of one of the seminal and most important rights activists in China, by Yaqiu Wang, China Change, July 22, 2015.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
(Translated by China Change)