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An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’

China Change, October 31, 2018

This is part of China Change’s new interview series that seeks to understand the effort of civil society in bringing change to China over the past 30 years. The interview was conducted in June 2018 by Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, at Professor Xu Youyu’s home in Flushing, New York City. — The Editors

 

Xu Youyu, screenshot photo

Xu Youyu. Photo: China Change.

 

Yaxue Cao (YC): Professor Xu, would you mind first introducing yourself to our readers?

Xu Youyu (XY): My name is Xu Youyu (徐友渔); I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in 1947. I was in the graduating class at the Chengdu No. 1 Secondary School in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution erupted — right when I was enrolling for the national college entrance examination. Later, I got deeply wrapped up in the Cultural Revolution and became a leader of a mass organization, and as a result I gained a great deal of understanding of what it was all about. This has put me at an extraordinary advantage for studying the Cultural Revolution period in my scholarship now. I was one of the first new entrants to university in 1977 when matriculation resumed. But I’d only studied undergraduate for a little over a semester when, unprecedentedly, I was recommended to take the graduate exams. I transferred to the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1979 to become a grad student, and worked at CASS from then on until my retirement. During that period, in 1986, I studied at Oxford for a couple of years. I retired in 2008.

YC: You retired in 2008? You were still quite young at that point. What caused you to retire so early?

XY: It was CASS rules that stipulated 60 as the retirement age — and once you reached 60, out you go.

YC: But for a scholar, a thinker, 60s are quite possibly your golden years.

XY: As the definitions go in China, those under 60 are young and middle-aged scholars; the day after you turn 60, you’re a retiree. It’s absurd, but that’s just how it is in China.

YC: Where were you in 1989?

XY: I was in Beijing. During the Tiananmen protest I was on the Square nearly every day. I was near the center of the Square on June 3rd and 4th, close to the Monument, and I saw the entire sequence of events. I stayed there the whole time, until the early hours of the 4th when students were forced to retreat from the southeast corner. I waited at the edge of that corner until all the students had exited, and only then did I go home.

YC: Just like that?

XY: The route home passed through Liubukou (六部口), and the scene there left a peculiar impression on me. As I proceeded, I saw in the distance a tank facing off against a crowd. When the tank rushed toward the crowd, the latter retreated like the tide going out. Then the tank would stop, and the crowd would again roll back like a tide coming in, then the tank would retreat. That’s what greeted my eyes in the distance. Around me, riding on my bicycle, I had to stop, hoist it up, and step across a pile of people lying on the ground. And I thought, “Huh? How could they be sleeping so soundly, right there on the road when it’s so noisy?” This didn’t seem particularly strange at the time, because many people had been out for days and were completely exhausted. But only as I wended my way through them did it hit me: they were dead. This is one of the clearest and most lucid memories in my entire life: in the early morning on June 4, 1989, after the students had all evacuated Tiananmen and I was on my way home, I stepped across a pile of corpses.

YC: Had they been crushed by tanks or gunned down?

XY: They must have been shot. But I don’t think I saw bullet holes. The corpses were clearly in one piece, this I am absolutely sure of.

YC: What of the blood?

XY: I don’t remember seeing much blood either. I just stepped over; I was perturbed in my heart, and panicked. I didn’t stop to examine the bodies, but it was very clear that they were corpses there on the ground, not live people sleeping.

YC: Can you briefly introduce us to your scholarship?

XY: My field of study had been an extremely technical, specialized area, known as the philosophy of language. When I went to Oxford University my adviser, Michael Dummett, was one of the most well-known philosophers of language in England. After I returned from Oxford, the idea was for me to build an academic career in the system, and it would have been smooth sailing from there.

When the Tiananmen Movement occurred, the strongest feeling I had at that time was that Chinese intellectuals were woefully unequipped and unprepared. When the students put forward their demands, what they actually needed was to be mentored by the intellectuals. The authorities did claim that a few intellectuals were ‘black hands’ behind the scenes, but that wasn’t the case. The thing is, intellectuals should have actually been the ‘black hands,’ but no one was, not because none dared, but because none had the wherewithal. After this massive social movement erupted, just what should intellectuals have done? What theoretical guidance may they have proposed? At the time there were none. I know that Yan Jiaqi (严家祺) held a Democracy University on Tiananmen Square, so he lectured there, but it was far, far from enough for the rushing waves and roiling torrents of that movement.

I personally made a self-conscious turn at a time when I was ready to be the academic authority in my generation, I turned away from language philosophy and turned to political philosophy. I felt that the next time a social movement erupted forth in China, when it was time for us to put forward theories and answers, intellectuals couldn’t be like they were on June 4 — doing a few childish and simplistic things. We have to learn from the experience of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan. We need a huge number of people who understand the law, and understand politics. I knew our shortcomings. For instance, in 1988, a group of Chinese intellectuals submitted a petition to Party Central, calling for the release Wei Jingsheng (魏京生). I drafted the letter, yet I had no concept of China’s constitution or laws, and what I wrote was based completely on my personal feelings. When I thought about it later I felt really embarrassed. So I turned my focus to political philosophy.

I wasn’t the only one who made this change of orientation. The entire intellectual class in China went through a similar shift — because when the historical mission of 1989 was placed on our shoulders, we failed our role. One of China’s most well-known scholars in the 1980s Li Zehou (李泽厚) put particular emphasis on this — he wrote that the most remarkable change in the Chinese intellectual sphere after 1989 was a major orientation toward political philosophy. I knew that humanist philosophy was good, along with the Enlightenment, liberty, equality, etc. But when a social movement of true significance unfolded, what theories should be used to examine Chinese society? This requires specialized knowledge. It’s not something that a humanist scholar who relies on his personal passion and ideals can carry off. I’ve done a great deal of reading in the contemporary Western literature on political philosophy and political theory, and later I had many opportunities to travel outside of China.

Another part of my research agenda is the Cultural Revolution, since I was deeply involved in the movement myself, and I came to my senses and reflected on it early on. In the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, I formed a Cultural Revolution Studies group with friends, focusing on collecting documents. I think this part of my research is also very important. I’ve published quite a bit on this topic.

YC: Do you think that Chinese intellectuals of today can provide the kind of guidance you’ve been referring to?

XY: I think that if there’s another movement like June 4, intellectuals won’t be helpless in responding to it. I think that today China’s intellectuals can contribute a great deal of deep, quality thinking and analysis. But I still don’t think intellectuals are capable of successfully guiding a similar movement, because the reality of China today is just too complex. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, but I can’t focus on both theory and practice. If there’s a tectonic transformation in China sometime in the future, just what should be done? I don’t think one can demand the Chinese intellectuals to supply ideas. They can try, but my sense is that Chinese intellectuals cannot provide the kind of guidance and direction.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 1YC: When did you get to know Liu Xiaobo?

XY: I met Liu Xiaobo very late in the piece. Liu Xiaobo sought me out. I knew at the time that Chinese intellectuals were afraid of being in contact with democracy activists, just like people in the Middle Ages were terrified of leprosy. That was the overall attitude. But when Liu Xiaobo got in touch, I thought that if all intellectuals were afraid of having contact with democracy activists then, firstly, intellectuals would be just too pathetic. What are you afraid of? He’s a citizen; he’s not in jail, he’s free to contact anyone he wishes. Each one of us should be forthright and easy-mannered in our associations, and we should help normalize Liu Xiaobo’s social life. So, when Liu Xiaobo reached out to me I knew what was going on; I certainly knew there was some risk involved by associating with him, and the life I had of the quiet scholar in his study would be broken and it would go in a different direction. I also understood clearly that, because the police were monitoring Liu Xiaobo, they would then begin monitoring me too.

YC: What year was that? In one of the essays you wrote, you mentioned 2004, because you’d signed an open letter on the 15 anniversary of Tiananmen. Tell us more about the Liu Xiaobo you know.

XY: To me there are two parts of Liu Xiaobo. In the 1980s, I knew Liu Xiaobo’s thought and scholarship very well — as a scholar myself I have the habit of reading a great deal. Most people know that he’s the “Dark Horse,” but I went and carefully read through his doctoral dissertation. I thought it was truly execrable — a complete disaster. He loved philosophizing, but basically everything philosophical he had to say was mistaken [Laughs]. So I was really quite nonplussed about why he had gained such a grand reputation. And yet, I was completely different to those jealous of him for gaining notoriety so quickly. I saw his strengths early on: Liu Xiaobo’s thought, from beginning to end, I’ve felt, can be summed up simply: it is extraordinarily penetrating and thorough.

Let me tell you why. Objectively speaking, the thinking of Liu Zaifu (刘再复) and Li Zehou was rather modern in China in the 1980s’, and it indeed it helped to educate and enlighten the young people. But my point is that precisely because the level of thought in the entire Chinese public was so poor at that time that Liu Zaifu and Li Zehou were able to be the tutors. And it was Liu Xiaobo who challenged the role of Li Zehou as a spiritual lodestar that really shows his penetrating insight. I think he really got it.

So, before I met Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him was mixed. I simply felt that on the political level I must receive him, and the more the authorities tried to repress him, the more important it was for me to have an open and unhindered association with him. This was a rational consideration, not because I naturally like Liu Xiabo or have some sort of emotional resonance with him. There was none of that. I felt that as a citizen, I simply had to do these things out of my political conviction.

But once I actually got to know Liu Xiaobo, my impression of him changed for the better a great deal, and over the course of a decade it got better and better. I saw for myself Liu Xiaobo’s step-by-step process of bettering himself. He became a modest and humble man, and a man who puts himself in others’ shoes. This was completely different to the impression I had of him in the 1980s, and it’s because he himself went through a profound transformation.

YC: This is interesting. In April I visited Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) in Berlin, and he said the same thing, describing how he went from loathing Liu Xiabo to becoming his best friend.

You just said that there weren’t any intellectuals who could come out and guide China’s political life and social movements. Did Liu Xiaobo strike you as an intellectual who could have done so? What role do you think he had in China’s democracy movement, and how do you evaluate it?

XY: I think that he took on a leading role, but I don’t think it can be said that he was a leader. Let me give an example: Apart from Liu Xiaobo, I am also very close to Chen Ziming (陈子明), and I understand his thinking and also know the many things he did. When it comes to planning and leading actual political movements, I think Chen Ziming was stronger than Liu Xiaobo — much, much stronger. But if we examine a more recent democracy movement such as in the now Czech Republic, then I think what Liu Xiaobo has done is totally comparable to to the role Vaclav Havel played. He doesn’t meet the traditional definition of a revolutionary leader, and I think the days for that are long gone. If he wasn’t deprived of his freedom and persecuted to death, then I think he would have become more and more a mature and skillful leader.

YC: What’s your involvement in Charter 08?

XY: I had nothing to do with the origins of the Charter 08. On November 15, 2008, Liu Xiaobo came to me with a draft and asked me to sign it. I was reluctant initially and he seemed a little shocked. I said that open letters and statements must have a specific focus, and it has to be for something that you must speak out on. I said that you had already done a number of signature campaigns this year, and there would be more next year, and I was afraid that, with such frequency, this sort of initiative would become a meaningless formality. He seemingly hadn’t considered it from that angle.

But he was insistent, and in the end talked me into it. I said I’d consider it. I agreed to sign it when we met again three days later. I thought that the text itself had many defects, and as a scholar of political philosophy and political theory, I proposed many ideas [for how it might be revised], and Liu said he’d go back and talk it over with Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦). He sent back revisions for me to look at, and said that they were adopting basically all my suggestions.

YC: Not all petitions are equal. All the others have passed into oblivion while Charter 08 has entered into history. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in December of 2008; my impression is that you became more active afterwards, speaking out and trying to get him freed.

XY: When Liu Xiaobo was arrested, my first reaction was emotional — I was really furious. It was purely an issue of expression. Also, Charter 08 was very moderate and entirely in conformance with the constitution and laws of the People’s Republic of China. So this really got me: I wanted to speak up for Liu Xiaobo and do things for him. At the same time, I also felt that there were indeed so many things that needed doing, for example, explicating the basic principles of Charter 08 and defending them. That I became more and more active is a direct result of his arrest.

YC: You were part of the campaign to nominate Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Can you please tell us more about that? 

XY: When people first discussed the idea that Liu Xiaobo should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I supported it. I thought that he entirely met the criteria of candidates and accorded with the aims of the Prize. But how to make it happen? Someone said to me half jokingly: you call for it! I gave it some thought, and thought that I was actually in a unique position to do so. From 2001 to 2002 or so I was a visiting scholar in Sweden, not just any visiting scholar but the Olof Palme Visiting Professorship, which is a rather privileged position established not by a university, but the state, and it was named after former prime minister Olof Palme after his assassination. People [in Sweden] look upon this post with high regard, and I started the Palme Professorship with an acceptance speech. I thought this distinction might lend some weight to my nomination of Liu Xiaobo. So I wrote a recommendation letter to the Nobel Committee and set out my reasons. I put a lot of thought in it. I sincerely believed that he should be awarded the Prize, not because he is a Chinese person, or because he’s my friend, or because he fought for democracy and freedom.

I don’t think the role of this letter should be exaggerated. The day he won the prize, journalists from around the world, abroad, and in Beijing, wanted to interview me. I was fully prepared for what I had to say, and I spoke from morning to night the whole day: why they had awarded him the prize, why they should, the significance of it and so on. I had thought all of this through beforehand and was ready for it.

YC: I read that a group of people, yourself included, went to Prague for the Homo Homini prize. What was that?

XY: After Charter 08 was published, a human rights award in Czech Republic called the Homo Homini Award was given to Liu Xiaobo and all the signatories of Charter 08, and it invited some of us for the ceremony. We accepted the Homo Homini award on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and all Charter 08 signatories, and while there we had a lot of direct interaction with Vaclav Havel.

YC: It’s sad: come 2018, Liu Xiaobo is no more, and none of what you did then is possible now — signing Charter 08 and going abroad to receive a human rights award. 

XY: Before Xi Jinping came to power, the persecution was severe, and imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo was one example. Yet on the other hand we had a little bit of room to breathe. The day Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was taking interviews all day and I remember part of the day I was walking through a busy shopping street like Wangfujing (王府井), a really bustling part of town, while talking on the phone to foreign journalists. Nobody interfered with me. But that’s inconceivable in China now.

YC: A few years ago you and Hua Ze (华泽) compiled a book titled 《遭遇警察》. It was also published in English as In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China, which includes your own chapter ‘Defiance’ (《抗拒》). It left a very deep impression on me, and from it I understood the life of an intellectual living under the constant surveillance of China’s political police. China Change published the English-language version on our website.

XY: Police in China are unrestrained and shameless. Chinese police permeate into your everyday life. They’re there with you all the time; ubiquitous. They ‘make friends’ with you, go out drinking on the town with you, make jokes, give you a nickname, and so in the end, you get so used to their presence that the figure who was sent to spy on you becomes some kind of ‘friend’ of yours.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 2But I could never get used to it. I hate it. When the police come to visit me I often don’t let them in — but I can’t do that every time. They would force their way in. They can be polite, calling me ‘Teacher Xu,’ but the only reason they dare enter my home is because they’re police. They just come in with or without your permission or invitation because they can. As seemingly respectful and polite as they are, it’s still a humiliation. Every time they came visit me, it was an encroachment and insult on my dignity and personal liberty.

I was forever tortured by such questions. I could never get over it. For me, the basepoint is that I’m a free citizen. The police come, I subject myself to them, but I can’t reconcile with such subjugation.

YC: In May 2014, a dozen or so intellectuals, dissidents and lawyers held a commemoration of June 4 at your home. They included Qin Hui (秦晖) of Tsinghua University, professor Guo Yuhua (郭于华) also of Tsinghua, Hu Shigen (胡石根), and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Five were detained and you were one of them. Was that the first time you were held in a detention center? What was it like for you?

XY: That time was really just risible. I always see myself as a rational and careful person; I guaranteed everyone that it would be safe to hold such a gathering. Five years prior, in 2009, we’d held a similar event, and that time I felt it was extremely dangerous and the fallout would also be severe. Things got quite dramatic; I won’t talk about it all, but in the end it didn’t turn out so bad. So in 2014, I told everyone that there wouldn’t be any problems. I cited Chen Wei (陈卫) and Yu Shiwen (于世文), who in February of that year held a big event marking the death of Zhao Ziyang in Henan, and nothing happened.

YC: Although in July that year the couple was arrested, and Yu Shiwen was locked up until August 2016 — held without trial or sentence for two years before being released.

XY: So in May, 2014 when they arrested us, it was a surprise. In hindsight, things seemed a little off that very morning. The property management people had come to my apartment in the morning to fix something without an appointment; they were there fixing it for half a day but didn’t end up fixing anything. Later on I realized that they were there to watch me. They had been planning it all since the morning; they’d arranged everything, but I had no clue. So later on when the police came to our meeting, I said: “you didn’t come earlier and didn’t come later; you’re here right when I’m busy — what do you want?” They said that I had to come with them. So it happened just like that.

Some people gave the opinion that the arrests were mainly about taking Pu Zhiqiang, and the rest of us were just caught in the net. Some people love such analyses; the more they analyze it, the more esoteric it gets, and they think they’re so full of foresight — like ‘Look, I even know how the state security apparatus works.’ I really take exception to this stuff. What I stick to is one thing: Have I broken the law? Which law have I broken? Do you have evidence? Later when I was in detention center being interrogated, this is what I focused on.

YC: How long were you detained?

XY: Precisely a month, in the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

YC: What was it like for a Chinese philosopher?

XY: I had read so much about Chinese prisons, so I had some idea. For example, when new inmates come in, typically the veterans will bully them. They’ll make a show of strength and domination. They make you do the filthiest and most tiring work, give you the worst place to sleep, or do other things to take advantage of you.

It was early morning when I was sent to the cell, and the prisoners were just waking up. Everyone had their head shaved. It was a terrifying sight to behold. They all looked like bandits, with no clothes waist up, all with an ominous glint in their eyes. As soon as I got in, someone ordered me to squat: Who are you? I thought I’d be beaten up right then. I said that I’m a political prisoner and that I was being detained for commemorating June 4, and that I was a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As soon as I said this the entire atmosphere in the place changed. Their attitude turned around entirely. They were good to me the entire time I was there. There are things that I don’t dare to tell you even now. You wouldn’t believe some of the things if I said them, about how the police told the prisoners to treat me well.

The place they gave me to sleep was the second best to that of the cell boss. I was afforded all the preferential treatment that one could expect in prison — but of course, there wasn’t much of that. Overall, conditions were horrendous, but at least their attitude to me was completely different — all because I said I was a political prisoner and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, because I’d held a memorial for June 4. This was for me a real psychological relief. Those men, locked up for murder or whatever else, are actually very clear on what’s right and what’s wrong in the politics of Chinese society. They truly had a sense of respect towards me.

There was a murderer there who was very nice to me — if he didn’t help me out, I’d be in a sorry state, because when a prisoner was taken in, you had nothing. You have no toothbrush to brush your teeth with, no chopsticks to eat with, you have to buy everything. He gave me all of that. I would have been extremely miserable without them. He was someone who had committed homicide. Who did he kill? He killed the village official who was a corrupt embezzler and bullied everyone in the village.

There were other prisoners who were also quite nice. A young police officer told me privately, while taking me out of cell for this and that purpose, ‘Teacher Xu, I’ve read your books.’ To convince me, he began citing A Variety of Rebellions (《形形色色的造反》) and explaining its place in the history of scholarship on the Cultural Revolution. He knew a lot about it. But the police officer in charge of interrogating me was really bad. He had a female assistant officer and I wasn’t exactly polite with her. We got into an argument during interrogations. She seemed like she wanted to justify herself and said, ‘Oh, Teacher Xu, let me tell you, I’m a PhD graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law.’ As soon as I heard this I really had a fire in my belly and I retorted: ‘Oh, CUPL, I thought it was better, so you are what they produce.’ But later she was very nice to me. There were others who were even nicer. I can’t say how good they were because that would be bad for them. You’d find it hard to believe. Actually they understand exactly what’s going on. I think that most people in the police forces are like that. Of course there are some, like the one who interrogated me, who are just vicious. But other police would criticize him; they said to me that they themselves had already been on the force for years, but he was still young and felt the need to prove himself. This is how they’d talk to me in private, that he wanted to make a name for himself on the force and that’s why he was so fierce.

YC: Hearing you describe things this way, it seems like many people are simply keeping to themselves, living a kind of dual life.

XY: This is a question that can be subject to deep examination; but I’ll put it simply. A regime that does not enjoy popular support, or rather one that completely goes against human nature, can exist in two ways: the first is ideological deception. For instance in the Maoist era, everyone truly felt that Mao Zedong was an angel, truth incarnate. The other means of rule is, an illegitimate regime can use naked violence and power to get its way when the ideological control no longer works. The situation in China today is of this sort. This is something shown in history and contemporary times, in China and around the world. In the ancient past, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang could spark a rebellion and overthrow the [Qin Dynasty] regime, because a soldier and a peasant were about on par in terms of arms. The soldier had a broadsword and a lance; the peasant had a hoe and a sickle — the difference is not huge. In modern society, violent rule is able to rely on a massive gap in coercive power. But ruling by coercion doesn’t give the regime any more stature in the eyes of its subjects.

YC: This year, Xi Jinping announced that he was abolishing the system of term limits for state chairman. He’s also begun implementing and exhibiting some ‘Maoist-revival’ behavior, so some people have said that China is returning to the Cultural Revolution. Thus, in such a modernized, interconnected society, we seem to be in a situation where among China’s 1.3 billion people, Xi Jinping is the only one allowed to have his own thoughts: whatever he likes is correct; whatever he doesn’t like is wrong. At the same time, the regime is doing everything it can to monopolize ideas and thought. There is on the one hand a high level of economic capacity, yet on the other an extreme level of control and suppression. How do you think this country will end up if this new absurdity goes on?

XY: The first thing I want to say is that there’s a huge difference between the society of today and Mao’s time. You can say that during the Maoist era the idea was that Mao was the only one who could think, even though I know through my studies that during that time there were many heresies and folk schools of thought, but overall it can be said that, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was one brain controlling 800 million Chinese people. Nowadays, that is absolutely not the case. We could say now that of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, at least half have their own minds. The regime allows only one voice [in the public sphere], but there is no way they can control what people think. This is a fundamental change. These days the regime uses naked violence to force people to conform — this differs from ignorant people truly believing something. So from this perspective, the times have changed, and there is no going back to the Maoist era.

But unfortunately we must face one cruel reality: the use of naked violence to rule, though it has no moral value, can be maintained for a long period of time. I don’t think this situation in China will change anytime soon. I’ve prepared for the absolute worst, based on what I’ve lived through. From what we’ve spoken today, we can see one thing, which is that China doesn’t have a ‘worst’ period, it only has ‘worse’ periods. I’m very pessimistic.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the Cultural Revolution — though I also reflected on it very deeply afterwards. I wondered why the Cultural Revolution happened, and from there wondered why the Chinese communist revolution took place in China and why it is that the CCP was able to seize power. I feel that I thought it through deeply and thoroughly, and began to understand just truly how sinister and cruel the Chinese Communist Party is. I think that I see these things a little more thoroughly than most. I especially appreciated the thoroughness of Liu Xiaobo’s thinking, and I also consider myself a thorough thinker. As for how evil the Communist Party can be, I’ve had the time to psychologically prepare — this is what sets me apart from others. Everyone now thinks that things are the worst they can possibly get, and they can’t bear it — but when you look back and understand the Party’s own operating principles and guiding ideology, and especially its own history, I think the most evil things it may do are already within my expectations.

I don’t think that the fascist forces and tendencies in China have reached their extreme yet. The worst is yet to come. Under such circumstances, hoping for any kind of rapid change is impractical. As someone who loves thought and theorizing, the mission I gave myself is to tell the world just how this tragedy came to pass. There are no obstacles to the rise of fascism in China. I want to explain how it happened and why it happened and is still happening. These are the questions I’m observing and thinking over at present.

Xu Youyu, pullquote 3YC: After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 14, 2010, you and 109 Chinese liberal intellectuals, dissidents, rights lawyers, and rights defenders published a statement. Your name was first on the list. The first sentence of the statement reads: “In contemporary society, peace and human rights are inseparable.  The deprivation and trampling upon life takes place not only on the battlefield, but also in the workings of the tyranny and the Draconian laws inside a country.” Come 2018, Liu Xiaobo died in prison for more than a year, the repression in China is such that it would no longer be possible to find 109 firm voices to sign a letter like that. In the China of 2018, the violent deprivation and trampling upon life is even more vile, even more unrestrained. And yet China’s influence on the world stage has become ever greater. It’s truly distressing to behold. What would you say to our readers?

XY: Peace doesn’t depend merely on the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization distributing grain and cereals around the world — though of course this is very important; and it isn’t just about healing people who are ill and injured. The enterprise of promoting peace is not simply tender-hearted charity work — such an understanding of peace is far from sufficient. A country that is ruled by a tyrannical dictatorship that uses naked violence to mobilize the power of the state to ravage human life and destroy human freedom — this is a matter more worthy of attention than sickness and hunger. I hope that the international community pays more attention to the values that Liu Xiaobo fought and sacrificed for. An important component of peace is that we must stand up and fight against evil forces that take humankind as their enemy. It’s an extremely salient issue, and it’s something that people with ambivalent values find uncomfortable, and that they wish to avoid. But this cannot be avoided. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the enterprise of peace. I think that the use of the instruments of the state to, in an organized way, on a large scale, violate the principles of peace and violate human rights, is far more damaging than the natural and man-made disasters that happen, or the inter-ethnic conflict that breaks out. This is a task that we cannot avoid shouldering.

 

 


Related:

Defiance, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 13, 2014.

Intellectual Discourses in Post-Mao China and Today, Xu Youyu, China Change, May 24, 2014

The Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later: How It Echoes Today, Xu Youyu, Foreign Affairs, May 15, 2016.

 


Xu Youyu’s work in Chinese:

《“哥白尼式”的革命》,上海三聯出版社,1994年,获1995年金岳霖学术奖。
《羅素》,香港中華書局,1994年
《精神生成語言》,四川人民出版社,1997年
《形形色色的造反》,香港中文大學出版社,1999年
《告別20世紀》,山東教育出版社,1999年
《驀然回首》,河南人民出版社,1999年
《自由的言說》,長春出版社,1999年
《直面歷史》,中國文聯出版社,2000年
《人文立場》,中國青年出版社,2008年
《重读自由主义及其他》,河南大學出版社,2008年

 


Xu Youyu’s essays in Chinese:

http://www.aisixiang.com/thinktank/xuyouyu.html

 

 

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

Yaxue Cao, March 21, 2018

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

 

Li Baiguang 2005, 与刘晓波等自由知识分子、维权律师一起

Front row from left: Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), Li Baiguang (李柏光), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟); back fron from left: Teng Biao (滕彪), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Wang Yi (王怡), Mo Shaoping (莫少平), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Yu Meisun (俞梅荪), and Wang Guangze (王光泽). 2005.

 

Rights Movement Spread All Over the Country

By 2004, Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang were under constant threat. Fuzhou police told the village deputies that Zhao and Li were criminals, and demanded that the deputies expose the two. The Fujian municipal government also dispatched a special investigation team to the hometowns of Li and Zhao to look into their family backgrounds. A public security official in Fu’an said: “Don’t you worry that Zhao and Li are still on the lam — that’s because it’s not time for their date with the devil just yet. Just wait till that day comes: we’ll grab them, put them in pig traps, and toss them into the ocean to feed the sharks!”

On September 17, 2004, Zhao Yan was arrested by over 20 state security agents while at a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. At that point he had already left the China Reform magazine and was working as a research assistant in the Beijing office of The New York Times. He was accused of leaking state secrets, denied a lawyer for several months, and eventually sentenced to three years on charges of fraud.

On December 14, 2004, Li Baiguang and three lawyers, while on their way to Fu’an to handle a rights defense case that was likely a trap, were hemmed in by police vehicles and arrested. Li was accused of illegally providing legal services, because he did not possess a law license. On the evening of December 21, a dozen police officers from Fu’an broke into Li’s apartment in Beijing, pried open his cabinets, and confiscated his hard drives and documents related to dismissing officials.

Thanks to the efforts of his friend Yu Meisun and a host of liberal intellectuals and journalists, Li Baiguang was released on bail after 37 days in custody. December to January are the coldest months of the year in Fujian, and there was no heating. In a cell with dozens of people, Li Baiguang recalled later, “I wore a suit, and it was cold. As a form of punishment, they told the cell boss to make me bathe in freezing seawater every day. I lost a lot of hair, and lost so much weight that my cheekbones protruded. When I came out my nephew hardly recognized me.”

The removal of officials between 2003 and 2004 was one of the key campaigns that initiated the rights defense movement, and one of the largest-scale rights defense activities in China. Around the same time, rights defense initiatives took place. During the Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) Incident in March 2003, three Peking University law PhDs, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Yu Jiang (俞江) and Teng Biao (腾彪) wrote a letter to the National People’s Congress, demanding that they conduct a constitutional review of the law “Administrative Measures for Assisting Vagrants and Beggars with No Means of Support in Cities” (《城市流浪乞讨人员收容遣送办法》). He Weifang (贺卫方), Xiao Han (萧瀚), He Haibo (何海波), and two other well-known legal scholars demanded that the NPC conduct an investigation into how the ‘administrative measures,’ commonly known as ‘custody and repatriation,’ were actually being implemented. Gao Zhisheng began defending Falun Gong practitioners in court, demanded that the government respect freedom of belief, and called for the torture against practitioners to cease. Numerous other lawyers and legal scholars also began taking up human rights defense cases, bringing them to public consciousness. Other notable cases of the period included the defence of Hebei private entrepreneur Sun Dawu (孙大午), who was accused of ‘illegal fundraising’; the case of injured investors in the Shanbei oil fields; the case of Christian Cai Zhuohua (蔡卓华) who was arrested for printing the Bible; the Southern Metropolis Daily editor and manager Cheng Yizhong (程益中) and Yu Huafeng (喻华峰) who were punished for reporting on the Sun Zhigang case and broke the news of SARS; the ‘Three Servants’ religious case that involved hundreds of believers; the libel case against the authors of the Survey of Chinese Peasants (《中国农民调查》), and other incidents.

In fall of 2003 Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao, and Zhang Xingshui (张星水) founded the organization Sunshine Constitutionalism (阳光宪政) in Beijing, later changing its name to the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟). Gongmeng, as it’s often known per the Chinese title, became a hub — and incubator — for human rights lawyers and legal activists. They held a meeting nearly every week, and Li Baiguang was one of the regular participants.

In the winter of 2003 there was an upsurge in the participation of independent candidates in People’s Representative elections in Beijing, and a number of these candidates were successful.

Many independent NGOs focused on environmental protection, AIDS control and prevention, women’s rights, and disabled rights, had sprung up in Beijing and other cities. They used the law and advocacy to propagate rights awareness.

 

Li Baiguang, Taishi village

In Taishi village in Guangdong, Guo Feixiong assisted the villagers’ effort to village head for embezzlement of public fund.

 

Entering 2005, the dismissal of officials in Taishi Village (太石村), Guangdong Province, as well as the Linyi Family Planning Case in Shandong (临沂计生案), became public events involving lawyers, public intellectuals, and citizen activists from around the country.

At the end of 2005, Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly magazine highlighted 14 human rights lawyers and legal scholars, including Li Baiguang, as 2005 People of the Year.[1] It said that “these 14 rights defense lawyers aren’t afraid of power; they wield the constitution as a weapon, harness the power of the internet, and work to defend the rights of the 1.3 billion Chinese people granted in their own constitution, while pushing for the establishment of democracy and rule of law in China.” In the ensuing years, with the exception of one or two, these 14 lawyers and scholars would be arrested, tortured, disappeared, disbarred, or forced into exile. Still, the grassroots rights defense movement they helped to kick off would continue to expand, and gain new energy in the age of social media. We shall not elaborate on that here.

‘Turning into an Ant’

In late July 1999, after publishing Samuel Smiles’ “The Huguenots in France” (issued under the Chinese title “The Power of of Faith” 《信仰的力量》) , Li Baiguang went to a church in the Haidian district of Beijing, bought a copy of the Bible, and began to read it. In January 2005 after he was released from prison, he began attending the Ark Church in Beijing (北京方舟教会) to study the Bible and pray. The Ark Church was a meeting place for many dissidents, rights lawyers, Tiananmen massacre victims, and petitioners — and for this reason the house church suffered regular harassment by the police. On July 30, 2005, Li was baptized in a reservoir in Huairou (怀柔), Beijing. He loudly proclaimed his witness, telling of the several times in his life when he brushed shoulders with death. He spoke of the time that an inner voice told him to stop, as he was considering plunging to his death from a building at university. He told of the catastrophes he escaped in 1998, 2001, and then in 2004. He spoke of the cumulative impact that Samuel Smiles’ books had on him, and, finally, he expressed his gratitude to Jesus.

He began to tremble violently as he read, and only after the baptism was complete and he had sat down a while did it subside.

 

Li Baiguang, 2005, 受洗前宣读《爱的见证》

Li Baiguang read aloud his testimony before being baptised in July 2005.

 

For Li Baiguang, the freedom of the mind and soul and political freedom are simply two sides of the same coin. In 2000, while translating Smiles, Li wrote an essay titled “The Fountainhead of Modern Freedom is the Freedom of Individual Conscience” (《现代自由的源头是个体的良心自由》). He came to believe that only faith can shape and form conscience, and further, that the emergence of individual conscience is the origin and basis of freedom. This also makes it the source of the courage and motivation to fight for freedom and against despotism. He doesn’t believe that the widespread failure of Chinese to distinguish right and wrong, and the country’s moral decay, can be laid entirely at the feet of the Communist Party’s dictatorship.

In April 2006, in a session of “The Middle Forum” (《中道论坛》) with Fan Yafeng, Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), and Qiu Feng (秋风), Li said he was tired of liberal intellectuals’ decades-long discussions of grand themes like constitutional governance, reform, and future China. He described his own turning point of involvement in actual, real life rights defense work. Of the eight years between 1997 and 2005, he said, he too spent the first five focused on all sorts of macro abstractions. “Recently I’ve had a realization: I’m willing to become an ant. I want to take the rights and freedoms in the books and, through case after case, bring them into the real world bit by bit. This is my personal stance. The path to this is legal procedure. In summer, the ant gathers food. Today, I’m also transporting food under the framework of rights defense, and in doing so accumulating experience and results for the arrival of the day of constitutional government.”

“According to the principles of political mechanics, it’s impossible to change minds overnight in such a large system. All you can do is loosen the screws one by one and turn the soil over clump by clump,” he said. Li held high hopes in the future of the nascent rights defense movement, and the gradual dismantling of autocracy from the margins. He thought that the rights defense movement would be crucial to China’s future establishment of a constitutional democracy.

This was the first time he proposed the ‘ant’ idea. In the years afterward, this is how he characterized his work and it became very familiar to his friends.

In May 2005, the Midland, Texas-based NGO China Aid, as well as the Institute on Chinese Law & Religion[2], invited seven Chinese rights lawyers and legal scholars to join a “China Freedom Summit.” Among those invited, Gao Zhisheng, Fan Yafeng, and Zhang Xingshui were blocked from leaving China; Li Baiguang, Wang Yi, Yu Jie, and Guo Feixiong were able to make it to the United States. Li Baiguang delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute titled “The Legal Dimensions of Religious Freedom: Reality and Prospects in China.” It proposed a systematic approach for defending religious freedom according to the law in China, and included the following actions:

  • Submit an application to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for constitutional review of laws, regulations and policies related to freedom of religious belief, and demand the annulment of unconstitutional laws that infringe upon religious freedom;
  • Apply for religious services for prisoners in detention centres, prisons, and re-education camps in China who believe in God, or have come to believe while in detention, and send the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the above detention facilities;
  • Provide relief to Christians whose religious freedom has been infringed upon by agents of the state;
  • Provide restitution to Christians who have had their persons or their residences illegally searched by agents of the state;
  • Provide restitution to Christians who are being subjected to re-education through forced labor;
  • Provide restitution to Christians or Christian organizations who have been punished with large fines;
  • Provide restitution for those who have been harmed by the dereliction of duty of state organs.

On May 8, while at the Midland office of China Aid for one week of Bible study, the group learned that they would be granted a meeting with President Bush in the White House. On the morning of May 11, President Bush met with Yu Jie, Wang Yi, Li Baiguang, China Aid director Bob Fu, and Institute on Chinese Law & Religion director Deborah Fikes, in the Yellow Oval Room.

Li Baiguang, Bush meetingLi Baiguang presented President Bush with a gift — a copy of a proposal to make a documentary titled  “American Civilization.” It was exquisitely designed by the artist Meng Huang (孟煌). In 2003, Li and his intellectual friends in Beijing designed together two major documentary projects. One of them was a 30-episode series that would introduce the democratic experience in 30 countries. Another, “American Civilization,” would be a 100-episode documentary series that would provide Chinese people a comprehensive introduction to the establishment of America, including its political life, its judicial system, education system, and religious beliefs. “I want to make it a television special for the education of the public,” Li said. He established the Beijing Qimin Research Center (北京启民研究中心) to push the plans forward, but in the end the two ambitious projects were aborted.

The three Christians from China being received by President Bush was, at the time, a major news story. But for the ten years following, the meeting with the U.S. President was remembered more for a controversy that surrounded it: the so-called “rejecting Guo incident.” This is a reference to the fact that Guo Feixiong was excluded from the meeting, purportedly by Yu Jie and Wang Yi, who argued that the meeting was for Christians only and Guo should not attend because he was not a Christian. Later, Li Baiguang expressed his regret that this had taken place. He told rights defense lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) that if it didn’t occur, along with the enormous acrimony around it, the different groups in Chinese civil society might have been more unified and stronger.

Also during this trip to the U.S., Li was invited by Bob Fu to be China Aid’s legal consultant. When Li returned to China, he said in a 2010 interview, apart from his regular rights defense work, he “traveled across the country to provide legal support to persecuted house churches.” Li partnered with China Aid in this fashion until his death.

During that same period, Li sat the bar, passed, and became a lawyer. In December 2007 he hung his shingle with the Common Trust Law Firm (共信律师事务所) in Weigongcun, near Peking University.

In June 2008, Li and six other Chinese dissidents and rights lawyers were awarded the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award.

Law Career

Li Baiguang was among the 303 initial signatories of Charter 08. But after that point he gradually retired from the media and public spotlight. “Although the substance of my rights defense work has not changed,” he said in the 2010 interview, “my methods are more low-key and moderate than before. I no longer write articles attacking and castigating the authorities; all I want to do now is actually see implemented the laws that they themselves wrote, and win for victims the rights and freedoms that they should enjoy.”

Li Baiguang, 阅卷

Reading case files with colleagues in Fuzhou, 2017.

Over the following years Li, as a lawyer, left his footprints in every Chinese province except Tibet, acting as defense counsel in several hundred cases of persecuted Christians. The cases he was involved in include: the Shanghai Wanbang Church in 2009 (上海万邦教会), petitioning for Uighur church leader Alimjan Yimiti (阿里木江) in 2009, the 2010 Guangzhou Liangren Church case (广州良人教会), the 2010 Shuozhou Church case in Shanxi (山西朔州), the 2012 Pingdingshan Church case in Henan  (河南平顶山) , the 2014 Nanle case (南乐), and the Cao Sanqiang (曹三强) case in 2017, among others.

As for the result of defending house churches, Li Baiguang summed it up in 2010 as follows: “If we look at the outcome of the administrative review of every rights case, the judgment has ruled against the church almost without exception. But later, I found a very strange phenomenon: after the conflict dies down, looking back a year later, we find that the local public security and religious bureaus no longer dare storm and raid these house churches, and congregants can meet freely. Using the law as a weapon to defend religious freedom works. Where we’ve fought cases, churches and religious activities in the area have since been little disrupted.”

Li Baiguang_Photo_手拿材料During the same period, Li also defended numerous dissidents, rights lawyers, activists, petitioners, and peasants entangled in compensation disputes. These include Guo Feixiong’s appeal in 2009, the Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫) case in 2011, the lawsuit filed against the government in 2013 by Wang Xiuying (王秀英) for being sent to re-education through forced labor during the Olympic Games, the defense of lawyers Zhang Kai (张凯) and Liu Peng (刘鹏) in 2015, as well as the defense of 709 lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) in 2015, the mass arrest in Wuxi on April 16, 2016, the commemoration of the June 4 massacre by seven citizens in 2016, the mass arrests in Fuzhou as well as Suzhou during the G20 in 2016, and the defense of lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) in 2017.

While he was engaged in all this, Li also held rights defense training sessions for house churches around China. According to Bob Fu, director of China Aid, over the last roughly ten years, Li has trained several thousands people; the most recent was in January 2018 in Henan — conducted while he was lying on his back after he injured his leg, as church leaders from the local district gathered around to hear him discuss how they should defend their rights according to the law.

 

Li Baiguang, Urgent Action training session

Training barefoot lawyers.

 

Between 2011 and 2013, Li taught in a number of training sessions for “barefoot lawyers” under the aegis of the “Chinese Urgent Action Working Group” (中国维权紧急援助组). In 2016 he also helped with a workshop for independent candidates for People’s Deputies elections. The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group is an NGO founded by the Swede Peter Dahlins, American Michael Caster, and rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang in 2009, offering legal training to rights defense lawyers and funding cases.

Li was extremely dedicated and hardworking, according to Dahlins. He focused on details, followed guidelines, and was always a long term thinker. Dahlins often joked with Michael Caster that Li Baiguang, who had met presidents and prime ministers, dressed and looked like a peasant.

Li also took part, with other human rights lawyers and activists, in trainings on the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms in Geneva under the aegis of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (维权网), an NGO that promotes human rights and rule of law in China.

Li Baiguang, 得撒豆腐村In around 2009, the 40-year-old Li, who had been single his whole life, married his former college friend Xu Hanmei (徐寒梅). In around 2010 they moved to Jurong (句容), a small city near Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, and settled down in a village called Desadoufu (得撒豆腐村). The name Desa comes from the Hebrew “Tirzah,” a Canaanite town mentioned in the Old Testament; the village, originally known for its stone mills used to grind soybeans for tofu, got its name from a church established by Western missionaries. It’s since become a tourist attraction for its pseudo-classical building complexes meant to recall the past.

Most residents in the town are Christians, Li Baiguang told friends. The community built its own kindergarten and elementary school, vegetable gardens, and sports pitch. “I felt like they built their own little Shangri-La,” Yang Zili said.

The Jianxi Church (涧西教会) that Li was associated with is the largest in the area, with around 200 stable congregants, most of whom were like Li: well-educated, having moved permanently to the village from elsewhere in China. For weekend church service, parishioners and catechumen (gradual converts) came from Zhejiang, Shanghai, Anhui and elsewhere, packing the church to the rafters. For these reasons, the church came to be watched closely by local religious affairs officials.

‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here’

Li Baiguang was not part of any of the public incidents that have been brought to national attention by activists and netizens since 2008. In the mass arrests during the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, Li was not among them. When the New Citizens Movement became active between 2012 and 2013 and activists held regular dinner events, Li did not get involved. He wasn’t even part of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group (人权律师团), founded in 2013. The 709 mass arrests of human rights lawyers didn’t implicate him, though for a while he signed up for being a defense counsel for 709 detainee lawyer Xie Yanyi. Numerous human rights lawyers have been barred from leaving the country; Li, on the other hand, traveled back and forth to America at will from 2006 to 2018.

Even when he was given trouble by police and state security, he did his best not to go public with it.

Per his own assessment in 2010, the authorities were “tolerating me to a much greater degree.” But his state of hypervigilance tells another story. A friend, Zheng Leguo (郑乐国), said that whenever he was with Li Baiguang in public places, Li would quickly scan his eyes over everyone in the vicinity to detect anything out of order. He was extremely careful about what he ate. When they ate at McDonalds, Li chose a table near the door,  that way he could see people coming in and going out, and he could also escape at a moment’s notice if need be.

For Li Baiguang, 2017 was a disturbing year.

In January, he traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 15th anniversary of China Aid held at the Library of Congress. It was an invitation only event. During his remarks, Li said that apart from the suppression of civil society and human rights lawyers, attacks against house churches were also getting more severe. “From this point forward, human rights in China will enter its darkest period.” He added that rights defenders in China would use their God-given wisdom and intelligence to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; he also called on the international community and NGOs to do what they could to help. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here,” he said, citing Romans 13.

Li Baiguang_China Aid 15th Anniversary

Li spoke at the 15th anniversary of China Aid in January, 2017.

Li’s remarks were somehow leaked, according to Bob Fu, and reached the Chinese authorities — when Li returned home was treated “with severity.”

On October 17, 2017, a case Li was defending, involving seafood farmers in Wenling, Zhejiang, suing the government for malfeasance, went to trial. In the evening as Li was returning to his hotel, he was abducted by a dozen unidentified men. They took him to a forest and worked him over. They slammed their fists into his head and ordered him to leave the city by 10:00 a.m. the next morning, or else they would decapitate him and cut off his hands and feet. “When he mentioned that kidnapping,” Bob Fu said, “it was the most frightened I had seen him. The incident shook him badly.”

Another case Li took on in 2017 involved the apparent murder of a certain Pastor Han, of Korean ethnicity, in Jilin, northeastern China. Han was a pastor in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement who provided aid to North Korean refugees, and encouraged them to return to North Korea and spread the Gospel. It appeared that he was assassinated by North Korean operatives.

Towards the end of the year, Li met with the Beijing-based AFP journalist Joanna Chiu. After they met in a Starbucks, Li led her out into a small alley, across the street, and into another coffeeshop in order to avoid surveillance. He told Ms. Chiu how he’d been beaten, and also the suspicious death of the pastor.

In early February 2018, Li was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event dedicated to the discussion of religion in public life, attended by thousands, including the U.S. president, policymakers, and religious and business leaders. Bob Fu, in an interview with VOA after Li’s death, said that when Li was in the U.S. from February 5-11, the pastor of Jianxi Church was questioned about the whereabouts of Li and what he was doing in the United States. After he got back to China, he spoke with Fu twice, explaining that he was being investigated, and that danger felt imminent.

At 3:00 a.m. on February 26, 2018, Li Baiguang died in the Nanjing No. 81 PLA Hospital. In response to the widespread shock and suspicion, his family announced that he had died of late-stage liver cancer.

Coda

The death of Li Baiguang, like the death of Liu Xiaobo seven months ago, brings with it a momentous sense of ending. The PRC’s neo-totalitarian state grows more complete by the day; the discourse of political reform represented by Charter 08, and the rule-of-law trajectory sought by the rights defense movement, have hit a wall. Neither have room to expand. One by one, little by little, opportunities for further progress have been sealed and nixed. Truly, a ‘new era’ in China has begun.

The night is long; the worst is yet to come. Li Baiguang has died, like Liu Xiaobo, like Yang Tianshui, like Cao Shunli and all those who have fallen in the dark, but they live on; they are sparks of fire in the journey through night.

 

[1] They are Xu Zhiyong, Gao Zhisheng, Teng Biao, Pu Zhiqiang, Mo Shaoping, Li Baiguang, Zheng Enchong, Guo Feixiong, Li Heping, Fan Yafeng, Zhang Xingshui, Chen Guangcheng, and Zhu Jiuhu (许志永、高智晟、滕彪、浦志强、莫少平、李柏光、郑恩宠、郭飞雄、郭国汀、李和平、范亚峰、张星水、陈光诚以及朱久虎).

[2]  The Institute on Chinese Law & Religion was registered in Washington, DC. It is now inactive.

 

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

 

Read it in Chinese 《蚂蚁的力量:纪念李柏光律师》

 

 

 

 

The Glory and Suffering of Pu Zhiqiang

By Mo Zhixu, published: December 21, 2015

“Pu Zhiqiang has many facets to his character. He is a rights lawyer, an Internet opinion leader, and a dissident, in the broader sense of the word. His commitments and pursuits over the past 26 years help to explain how Pu has come to be so influential.”

 

Protesters outside the court on Dec. 14.

Protesters outside the court on Dec. 14.

 

On December 14, 2015, renowned human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) was tried by the Beijing Number Two People’s Court on charges of “provoking a serious disturbance” and “inciting ethnic hatred.” This case has been watched closely ever since Pu was first detained in May 2014.

On the day of the trial hearing, diplomats from the United States, the European Union, and other foreign governments went to read statements outside the courthouse. Many international media outlets were also on scene to conduct interviews and tape reports. Both the diplomats and the reporters were roughed up. A large group of Pu Zhiqiang supporters also gathered outside the courthouse, shouting “Pu Zhiqiang is innocent!” A total of 17 people were taken away from the scene. Now, a few days later, we know that Zhang Zhan (张占), Wang Su’e (王素娥), Qu Hongxia (渠红霞), and Ran Chongbi (冉崇碧) have all been placed under criminal detention. The others were released after being detained for a few hours or are being held at the Majialou “relief and assistance center,” where petitioners are often detained.

Pu Zhiqiang is a well-known human rights lawyer in the mainland. As a graduate student at China University of Political Science and Law, he took active part in the 1989 student movement and was one of 13 students from his university to take part in the first wave of hunger strikes in Tiananmen Square. Pu was also one of the last students to leave the square on June 4th.

Over the next 25 years, Pu Zhiqiang remained committed to commemorating the events of 1989 in his own way, which included going to Tiananmen Square each June 4th to pay homage to the dead. On the 15th anniversary in 2004, Pu Zhiqiang played a part in issuing the “Statement of the ’89 Generation on the June 4th Issue.” In 2008, Pu was also among the first group of 303 Chinese to sign Charter ’08. In addition, Pu Zhiqiang long maintained close and friendly relations with dissidents and liberals such as Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦), Zhang Xianyang (张显扬), Jiang Ping (江平), and Zhang Sizhi (张思之). He was active in the pan-liberal camp and could even, in a broad sense, be considered a dissident.

Pu Zhiqiang (the tallest) in 1989. Su Muqing (front center in blue jacket) is among the rights lawyers disappeared on July 10th, 2015.

Pu Zhiqiang (the tallest) in 1989. Su Muqing (front center in blue jacket) is among the rights lawyers disappeared on July 10th, 2015.

Pu Zhiqiang also became widely known for his public role as a human rights lawyer. Influenced by Hu Ping’s essay “On Freedom of Expression,” Pu became almost religious in his commitment to free expression. Very early after he became a lawyer he started getting involved in litigation related to freedom of expression, such as defending literary critic Xiao Xialin (肖夏林) in the lawsuit brought against him by author Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨) or representing the authors of the book An Investigation of Chinese Peasants, Chen Guidi (陈桂棣) and Wu Chuntao (吴春桃), in the defamation lawsuit brought against them by Zhang Xide (张西德), the former party secretary of Linquan County, Anhui.

Back in 2005, Pu Zhiqiang was featured alongside Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪) and others chosen by Asia Weekly (Yazhou Zhoukan) as “Persons of the Year” for their membership in the emerging “rights defense movement.” More recently, Pu has represented Tan Zuolin (谭作人), Ai Weiwei (艾未未), a series of individuals sent to re-education through labor in Chongqing, and the Hunan “petitioning mother” Tang Hui (唐慧), also sent to re-education through labor.

Relying on new social media platforms such as Twitter and Weibo and his use of other media such as the commercialized press, Pu Zhiqiang gained widespread public fame. In addition to being the subject of widely circulated features by several media outlets, he was also honored as “Influential Chinese Rule of Law Personality for 2013” by China Newsweek. He was seen as one of the leaders of the contemporary legal rights defense and the most influential of China’s human rights lawyers.

As Pu Zhiqiang took part in more and more human rights cases in recent years, his influence only continued to grow. As this was happening, Pu Zhiqiang never tried to hide his past history on the Internet or social media. From time to time, he would post an image of a march, hunger strike, or demonstration from 1989. Features published by the commercial media, such as the Southern People’s Weekly cover story “Pu Zhiqiang, Salt of the Earth” (《中坚浦志强》) might try to gloss over this history, but there were clear indications pointing to that year and more and more people came to know about the connection between Pu’s participation in the student movement and his later determination. You could say that, in the way he acted and expressed himself and through his own personal charisma and efforts, Pu Zhiqiang managed to bring that period of history back into the mainstream.

After June 4th, the authorities tried to use economic development and the fading effect of time to eliminate the problem of June 4th once and for all. To this end, they carried out 26 years of continuous pressure and attempts to isolate the incident from the public. This is why the authorities could not tolerate Pu Zhiqiang’s rising influence, and, to a great degree, it explains why they would go to ridiculous lengths to use a mere seven Weibo posts to charge Pu with two crimes. In fact, the very thing that ultimately led to Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest was a gathering of a dozen or so people in a private home to hold a seminar on the 25th anniversary of June 4th in Beijing.

Students on hunger strike in 1989.

Students on hunger strike in 1989.

Besides June 4th, the authorities have long been on guard against human rights lawyers. On July 31, 2012, the overseas edition of People’s Daily published an article by Yuan Peng (袁鹏), director of the Institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations [a think tank of the Ministry of National Security], who lumped together rights-defense lawyers, underground religious activity, dissidents, Internet leaders, and vulnerable groups like petitioners into a kind of “New Black Five Categories.” In the eyes of the authorities, rights-defense lawyers are direct participants in rights defense cases, and they also play a pivotal role by disseminating information about these cases and explaining their significance. It’s thanks to rights lawyers that individual cases can take on broader legal and political significance, and only lawyers are able to span different groups, such as petitioners, followers of underground religious groups, dissidents, and Internet leaders.

Of the 14 rights defenders who were, along with Pu Zhiqiang, selected as the Asia Weekly “Persons of the Year” in 2005, Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), and Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) have all since spent time in prison. Others have experienced different degrees of repression or been forced into exile.

In the social media age, there gradually emerged a group of rights lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang, who were sometimes known as “die-hard” lawyers. They frequently took on sensitive or controversial cases, such as the forced eviction case in Pingdu City, Shandong. Using new modes of communication and new online space for action, a new rights defense protest model began to appear, one that allowed sharing of costs in the public interest, the merging of online- and offline action, collective action across geographic boundaries, and positive expressions of protest.

For example, there was the attention surrounding the unnatural death of the father of democracy activist Xue Mingkai (薛明凯) in Qufu, Shandong; the effort to investigate the black jail at Jiansanjiang; the protests outside Zhengzhou’s Number Three Detention Center; and the attention focused outside the trial of Fan Mugen (范木根) in Suzhou. All of these cases involved legal defense carried out by die-hard lawyers who used social media and instant messaging software to disseminate information, giving them a much stronger capacity for mobilization, publicity, and sustainability. This posed a considerable challenge to the authorities’ model of rigid stability.

Even if Pu Zhiqiang did not directly take part in all of these cases, influential human rights lawyers like Pu, Si Weijiang (斯伟江), and others early on became seen as a threat. The large-scale crackdown on rights lawyers and related activists finally got fully underway on July 9, 2015. In this campaign of repression, 12 lawyers and more than a dozen others have been placed under criminal detention or residential surveillance, with more than 250 other lawyers having been temporarily detained, forced to take part in “meetings” with police, or summoned for questioning. In this sense, Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest a year earlier can be considered a harbinger or rehearsal of this crackdown.

More than anything, though, Pu Zhiqiang’s case is closely connected to the subject that concerned him most—freedom of expression. In the days before and after his trial for “provoking a serious disturbance” and “inciting ethnic hatred,” this was the focus of the media inside and outside China, as well as the public at large.

Pu’s case is widely seen as a test of the limits of free expression in today’s China. As China has gradually expanded the influence of market forces, the space for free expression in China’s commercial media and Internet has become closely linked to the liberal tendencies of the emergent social stratum commonly called the middle class. A kind of pro-liberal discourse has spread more widely and gained greater influence. This is especially true on the new microblogging platforms, where this discourse gets amplified and disseminated. It is there, too, where we find the emergence of liberal intellectuals, journalists, rights defenders, NGO activists, and entrepreneurs who are brought together through this shared discourse. There’s a spanning of geographic boundaries and a tendency for online action to turn into offline action.

浦志强_This kind of expression and its corresponding social potential concerned the authorities, who quickly took repressive measures, ranging from deleting the online accounts of popular Internet opinion leaders to rolling out a list of “seven unmentionable” subjects to the 2013 campaign to “cleanse” the Internet.

As both a lawyer and opinion-maker, Pu Zhiqiang became a quite active figure on the new social media platforms. He was an active participant in many cases and also a frequent contributor to the liberal discourse. His self-description on his microblog account as a “Formosan lawyer and godfather outside the system” was somewhat self-mocking, but it was not an exaggeration. Pu’s personal accounts were deleted dozens of times only to be “reincarnated.”

The offense of “provoking a serious disturbance” being used against him relies on the “Interpretation on Several Questions Related to the Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases Involving Provoking a Serious Disturbance,” issued by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate on July 5, 2013, as part of the authorities’ campaign to “cleanse” the Internet. For this reason, the attack against Pu Zhiqiang can be seen as an extension of that earlier campaign, both an effort to wipe out the huge influence that Pu once enjoyed and part of the overall attack on liberal discourse in China.

Pu Zhiqiang has many facets to his character. He is a rights lawyer, an Internet opinion leader, and a dissident, in the broader sense of the word. His commitments and pursuits over the past 26 years help to explain how Pu has come to be so influential. At the same time, they show how this idealist who has never forgotten his original intentions and this human rights defender who uses his role as a legal professional to fight for freedom of expression and justice must inevitably become an enemy of the regime.

The attack on Pu Zhiqiang is part of the wider repression of the memory of June 4th, rights defense lawyering, and the universal liberal discourse. Today, several days after the trial, we are still waiting for the verdict. [Mo’s article was first published on December 19]. Some are hoping for or imagining some sort of miracle. They simply cannot accept that such an upright person could be treated so cruelly and charged with such groundless crimes. This mindset makes them want to hope for a miracle and refuse to give up their illusions. They want to see a “touchstone,” a “watershed,” a “turning point,” a “milestone.”

At the moment, the question of Pu Zhiqiang’s fate is nothing less than a huge test of the public psyche. But faced with the strength of the market neo-totalitarian regime, Pu Zhiqiang’s fate was probably predestined long ago. I believe, however, that the history we’ve been waiting for him to usher in still lies ahead of us.

 

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:

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers

The Coming Information Totalitarianism in China

Fear of Losing Control: Why China Is Implementing an Internet Security Law

 

Chinese original 《莫之许:浦志强命中注定的荣耀与苦难, translated by China Change.

 

 

Pu Zhiqiang’s Indictment and the Seven Incriminating Weibo Posts

Number Two Branch of Beijing People’s Procuratorate

Bill of Indictment

BJ 2d Br Proc Crim Indict (2015) No. 48

 

浦志强起诉书1

Page 1. Click to enlarge.

Defendant Pu Zhiqiang, male, born January 17, 1965, identification number [redacted], Han ethnicity, from Hebei Province, master’s degree education, is a lawyer at the Beijing Huayi Law Firm and resides at [redacted] in Beijing. Placed under criminal detention by the Haidian Precinct of the Beijing Public Security Bureau on May 6, 2014, under suspicion of provoking a serious disturbance. With the approval of this procuratorate, arrested by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on June 13, 2014, under suspicion of illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information and provoking a serious disturbance.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case and, on November 13, 2014, referred the case to this procuratorate for prosecutorial review of defendant Pu Zhiqiang’s culpability for the crimes of inciting separatism, inciting ethnic hatred, provoking a serious disturbance, and illegally obtaining personal citizen information. Upon receiving the case, this procuratorate notified the defendant of his right to retain defense counsel, questioned the defendant in accordance with the law, heard the defense lawyer’s opinions, and reviewed the complete set of

Page 2. Click to enlarge.

Page 2. Click to enlarge.

documents in this case. Because of the complexity of the case, it was sent back to the investigating organ twice for additional investigation in accordance with the law and the deadline for prosecutorial review was extended twice in accordance with the law, each time by half a month.

Having reviewed the case in accordance with the law, we find:

1. Inciting Ethnic Hatred

Between January 2012 and May 2014 and in Beijing’s Fengtai District and other locations, defendant Pu Zhiqiang used several Sina Weibo accounts including “Little Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang,” “Simpleton Lawyer for the

Fake Tax Case,” and “Simpleton Lawyer for the Yongzhou Shuanggui Case (with a total of more than 130,000 combined followers) to publish eight Weibo posts in response to

Page 3. Click to enlarge.

Page 3. Click to enlarge.

incidents such as the violent terrorist attacks in Kunming, Yunnan, thereby using information networks to provoke ethnic relations, attracting a large number of online users to view, repost, and comment on his posts, undermining ethnic unity.

2.  Provoking Disturbances

From 2011 onward and in Beijing’s Xicheng District and other locations, defendant Pu Zhiqiang used several Sina Weibo accounts, including “Little Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang,” “Hopeful Simpleton Pu Zhiqiang,” and “Lawyer Pu Cuilan” (with a total of more than 200,000 combined followers), to vent his emotions by publishing Weibo posts in response to controversial public incidents. In these posts, he used abusive language to brazenly insult numerous people involved [in these incidents], such as Tian XX and Shen XX, attracting a large number of online users to view, repost, and comment on his posts and creating an odious social impact.

The evidence confirming the facts above includes: (1) documentary evidence, including an informational memorandum from the Beijing Network Industry Association; (2) testimony of witnesses, such as Tian XX and Shen XX; (3) search records from the Haidian Precinct of the Beijing PSB; (4) electronic data; (5) defendant Pu Zhiqiang’s statement and defense.

This procuratorate maintains that defendant Pu Zhiqiang used information networks to incite ethnic hatred with aggravated circumstances and brazenly insulted others with odious circumstances and damage to social order. His actions constitute a violation of Articles 249, 293(1)(2), and 69(1) of the Criminal Law of the PRC. The facts being clear and the evidence being reliable and sufficient, defendant Pu Zhiqiang should be held criminally responsible for the crimes of inciting ethnic hatred and provoking a serious disturbance. Therefore, in accordance with Article 172 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, this procuratorate hereby submits its indictment and requests that punishment be imposed in accordance with the law.

 

To: Beijing Number Two Intermediate People’s Court

Prosecutors: Jin Yi

                   Du Miao

Acting Prosecutor: Gao Peng

[seal]

May 15, 2015

Notes and Attachments:

  1. Defendant Pu Zhiqiang is currently detained in Beijing Number One Detention Center
  2. Case file (26 folders)
  3. Witness list
  4. List of seized items

 

[End of Indictment]

———————–

浦志强

The Seven Weibo Posts Used to Prosecute Pu Zhiqiang (posted 12 times) with translator’s notes

(I) Three Posts Related to the Charge of “Provoking a Disturbance”

  1. July 29, 2011 (12:55:56) [Account #3]

“That lady at the press conference was annoying, but the reporters are personally protected. She’s also proven how exceptional a spokesman Wang Yongping is for the Ministry of Railways. ‘In any case, that’s what I believe.’ [1] At least the Ministry of Railways lets you ask questions. Last July, CNPC made Dalian explode; [2] this year, they set another fire to mark the anniversary but wouldn’t tell you about it. [3] At least she’s just an old sow; if they sent one of those rabid-dog types, he’d be asking you: ‘What unit are you from? Your boss and I know each other! Can I play with your pen recorder for a bit?’” [4]

Comments: 49 Reposts: 97

[1] This references a Wang Yongping’s famous response to a question about the Wenzhou high-speed rail crash, in which he said: “Whether you believe it or not, in any case that’s what I believe” (至于你信不信,我反正信了).

[2] Refers to an explosion at a China National Petroleum Corp. pipeline in Dalian in July 2010.

[3] Refers to a PetroChina refinery fire in Dalian in July 2011.

[4] Refers to a March 2010 incident involving then-Hunan governor Li Hongzhong and a reporter from the Beijing Times. (Good summary in English here.)

  1. January 31, 2013 (14:48:18) [Account #10]

“Besides luck and blood relations, Shen Jilan is an NPC delegate and Mao Xinyu is a CCPPC committee member by dint of pretending to be a fool and truly being a fool. This shows that it doesn’t take much to be on either the NPC or the CCPPC—if you want to fit in, you either have to play the fool or be a fool. There’s no hope of Member Mao being smart, so I have to entreat old lady Shen: Life is as inconsequential as a goose feather, while death is as weighty as Mt. Tai—how great it would be if you just ended your life right now! You’re already 84, and you’ve been a delegate for 60 years. You’re finally reaching the end, so how about you take the opportunity to die on the battlefield and make the NPC confer on you the title of martyr?”

Comments: 145 Reposts: 129      Comments: 97 Reposts: 120

3, 4. July 26, 2013 (23:29:23) [Accounts # 9 & 8]

“‘Why Things Would Go Bad Without the Communist Party’? [1] How do you fucking know things would go bad?! Besides lies, deceit, and waving the hammer and sickle, what’s the fucking mystery that keeps this party in power? Listen, Xiang Ping: China will do just fine without anyone, so quit giving me directions. “A Book Every Chinese Person Should Read”? You’re nothing but a disgrace for writing such a lousy book! If Wu Hongfei hadn’t just gone to jail, [2] I’d tell your ancestors to get fucked! It makes me sick to have to read this stuff! Uggh!” (Note: There is suspicion that this was not written by Pu)

Comments: 165/192 Reposts: 251/330 (posted twice)

[1] Refers to this book.

[2] Refers to detention of singer Wu Hongfei for making a fake bomb threat in July 2013.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

(II) Four Posts Related to the “Inciting Ethnic Hatred” Charge

  1. January 25, 2012 (23:58:01) [Account #3]

“In the Tibetan Region [the government] is imposing the ‘Nine Haves’ [1] on temples and requiring them to hang portraits of Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu. In Ghulja, they’re banning beards and the wearing of veils. They take this series of actions and claim to be weakening religious consciousness. Are the Han people crazy in the head or are those who head the Han people crazy?!”

Comments: 22 Reposts: 2

[1] Note: The “Nine Haves” are: portraits of the four leaders, the national flag, roads, running water, radio and television, movies, libraries, and newspapers.

2, 3. January 25, 2012 (23:43:40) [Account #3]

“In Ghulja, they’ve completely banned Muslims from wearing veils, claiming that it’s to weaken religious consciousness. Have the Han gone completely crazy?”

Comments: 38 Reposts: 0 (posted twice)

4. March 2, 2014 (14:03:52) [Account #12]

“The Kunming Incident is so bloody, and the perpetrators have committed grievous sins. They say that those who support independence for Xinjiang carried out the terror, and this time I believe it. But this is the result, not the cause. When you sum up such heavy casualties and unbearable consequences in a sentence by saying that those who promote Xinjiang independence are savages and you bear no responsibility, I can’t agree. Day after day, you say that Party policies are good and that the Uyghur people favor the Party, so how can things get so bloody? Wang Lequan, president of the China Law Society, you pacified the western regions for more than a decade and know the area better than anyone. Tell me: Why? Who are they attacking?”

Comments: 1071 Reposts: 1930

5, 6, 7, 8. May 1, 2014 (13:36:02, 14:39:23) [Account #1] (14:33:21) [Account #4]

“‘Under the wide heaven, all is the king’s land/Within the seas, all are the king’s servants.’ If you say Xinjiang belongs to China, then don’t treat it like a colony and don’t act like conquerors and plunderers. Whether you ‘take the initiative to subdue the enemy’ or ‘gain mastery through counterattack,’ it’s all about subduing those you treat as your enemy and makes for a ridiculous national policy. The troubles have been brewing for quite a while and old habits are hard to break, so conflict is unavoidable. If people don’t fear death, then it’s pointless to use death to try to scare them. The attackers long to become martyrs for Allah, so whether you take the initiative or wait to counterattack, who’s going to be frightened? It’s time to adjust the policy toward Xinjiang.”

Comments: 23/42 Reposts: 60/81 (posted four times)

 

Source: https://twitter.com/duyanpili/status/674130882400161793

 

The Torchbearers – Participants in the 1989 Democracy Movement Who Are Currently in Prison

By Wang Yaqiu, published: June 4, 2015

 

Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波)

Liu Xiaobo in 1989, second from left.

Liu Xiaobo in 1989, second from right.

In the spring of 1989, Dr. Liu Xiaobo left Columbia University where he was a visiting scholar and went back to Beijing to take part in the democracy movement.  In Tiananmen Square, he became a leader and a mentor, drafting open letters, giving speeches and leading a hunger strike. Liu Xiaobo was instrumental in preventing further bloodshed by negotiating with the troops and persuading students to evacuate the Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4th.

After the crackdown, Liu was identified by the Chinese government as one of the instigators of the “turmoil” and jailed for two years. After being released in 1991, Liu published articles and gave interviews, urging the Chinese government to redress its actions in cracking down the protest and the grievances of the parents whose children were killed. He also drafted petitions to advocate for rule of law and democracy in China, and he called for dialogues between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.

In May 1995, he was arrested and held without charges for six months. In October 1996, he was sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” (劳教), a form of arbitrary administrative detention, for “disturbing social order.”

In the early 2000s, Liu wrote a large quantity of articles, published three books, and became the director of the Independent Chinese PEN center, a writers’ organization promoting free expression. At the same time, he was subject to surveillance and harassment.

In 2008, Liu was arrested for coauthoring Charter 08 (零八宪章), a manifesto calling for democratic reform in China. About 300 Chinese intellectuals signed the Charter initially, and all of them were later interrogated and threatened by the Chinese government. In December 2009, a Beijing court sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”

Liu is the recipient of the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Liu is currently incarcerated in Jinzhou Prison (锦州监狱) in Liaoning Province. His wife Liu Xia (刘霞) has been held under house arrest since the announcement of the Nobel Prize.

 

Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌)

Liu Xianbin (left) and Chen Wei went to Suining  High School together.

Liu Xianbin (left) and Chen Wei went to Suining High School together.

Liu Xianbin, a Sichuan native, was a student at Renmin University in Beijing when he took part in the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.  After the crackdown, Liu continued to organize activities until in 1991 when he was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement (反革命宣传煽动罪).”

After being released in 1993, Liu quickly resumed activism. He penned essays and petitions, campaigned for the release of other dissidents, and helped establish the China Democracy Party, which has been outlawed since 1998. As a result, Liu became a target of frequent house raids and interrogations. In 1999, Liu was given a 13-year prison term for “inciting subversion of state power (煽动颠覆国家政权罪).”

Liu was released in 2008. Once out of prison, Liu continued to write articles criticizing the Chinese one-party system, advocated for human rights cases, and organized gatherings to discuss political issues. Liu was also a signatory of Charter 08.

Liu was once again detained in June 2010 and, in March 2011, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, again, for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu has since been held in Sichuan Province’s Chuanzhong Prison (川中监狱).

 

Chen Wei (陈卫)

Chen Wei was a high school friend of Liu Xianbin and a student at Beijing Institute of Technology in 1989. For his role as a student leader, he was imprisoned after the Tiananmen movement until January 1991.

Chen was arrested again in 1992 for commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre and for organizing the China Freedom and Democracy Party. He was charged and sentenced to five years in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”

After he was released in 1997, Chen continued to organize democratic activities. He was the literary editor of Suining Culture (遂宁文化报), a small publication in his hometown, which was later shut down for publishing news about the banned Nobel Literature Prize laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健).  Chen was also a signatory of Charter 08.

In 2011, a Sichuan court sentenced Chen to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” The conviction was based on the essays he had penned for overseas Chinese-language websites. Chen Wei is currently jailed in Nanchong (南充), Sichuan. The Chinese authorities prohibited his wife and their daughter from leaving the country.

 

Zhao Changqing (赵常青)

Zho Changqing released from prison on November 27, 2007.

Zho Changqing released from prison on November 27, 2007.

In 1989, Zhao Changqing was a history student at Shaanxi Normal University in the northwestern city of Xi’an. On May 23 that year he came to Beijing for the first time to join the student protests in Tiananmen Square. He was one of the leaders of the Autonomous Student Union of Non-Beijing Universities (外地高校学生联合会) in support of the movement.

After the crackdown, Zhao was held in Qincheng Prison in Beijing for four months. Zhao said that his life-time commitment to advancing democracy in China stemmed from his experience in Tiananmen Square and Qincheng prison (秦城监狱).

After he graduated from college in 1992, Zhao became a high school teacher. In 1997, he wrote an open letter to the Chinese government urging political reform. In 1998, Zhao campaigned in the election of local people’s representatives as an independent candidate. He was soon arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for “endangering state security.”

He was released in March, 2001. In 2002, he again drafted an open letter to the 16th Communist Party Congress calling for political reform, and he collected nearly 200 signatures. Zhao was later arrested and sentenced for “inciting subversion of state power.” He spent five years in prison until 2007.

In April 2014, a Beijing court sentenced Zhao Changqing to two and a half years in jail for his involvement in the New Citizens Movement. Zhao is currently serving his sentence in Weinan Prison (渭南监狱) in Shaanxi province. His wife and his toddler boy were forced to move out of their rental apartment due to police pressure on their landlord.

 

Chen Xi (陈西)

Chen Xi

Chen Xi

In 1989, Chen Xi was a 35-year-old administrative worker at Jinzhu University in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in southwestern China. He had been an active member of local salons that discussed political ideas. During the Tiananmen Movement, Chen Xi established the Patriotic and Democratic Union in Guiyang, in solidarity with students in Beijing. For that he was jailed for three years.

In 1995, three years after he had been released, he was arrested again for organizing the Guizhou branch of the China Democracy Party. A year later, a Guiyang court sentenced him to ten years in prison for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group.”

After Chen was released in 2005, he continued to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law in China. He and several other Guizhou-based activists established the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, which was later declared an “illegal organization” by the authorities. Chen was also a signatory of Charter 08.

In November 2011, after announcing his intention to run for a seat in the local People’s Congress, Chen was detained. A month later, Chen was handed down a ten-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” The conviction was based on dozens of articles Chen had written for overseas websites.

Chen is currently held at Xingyi Prison (兴义监狱) in Guizhou Province. According to his wife, Chen has been suffering from chronic diarrhea and other ailments. He has not been allowed to write letters with family and friends.

 

Zhang Lin (张林)

Zhang Lin

Zhang Lin

Zhang Lin graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1983. In 1989, while living and working in his home province of Anhui in southeastern China, he organized and led local citizens to participate in the democratic movement that was quickly spreading beyond Beijing. Zhang was arrested on June 8 and sentenced to two years in prison.

After Zhang was released in 1991, he organized several underground groups to promote democracy and human rights. One of those groups was the Labor Rights Protection Union, for which he was sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1994.

In 1997, after his release, he came to the United States and became an active member in the overseas Chinese democratic movement. However, when he returned to China in October 1998, he was arrested upon arrival and later given another three years of “reeducation through labor.”

In January 2005, Zhang was detained after returning from a failed attempt to attend a memorial service for the deposed Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳).  In August, a court in Anhui sentenced Zhang to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and the conviction was based on his online writings and interviews he had given to overseas radio broadcasts.

In February 2013, Zhang’s 10-year-old daughter was taken out of school in Hefei one day by police without his knowledge. The school later rejected her on the ground of school jurisdiction. Netizens from around the country traveled to Hefei, demanding that the girl be allowed to resume school. Zhang Lin was accused of organizing these protests. In September 2014, Zhang was sentenced to three and half years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.”

Zhang is currently incarcerated in Tongling Prison (铜陵监狱) in Anhui Province. Zhang’s two daughters now live in the Untied States, thanks to the help of Ms. Reggie Littlejohn, the president of Women’s Rights without Frontiers.

 

Li Bifeng (李必丰)

Li Bifeng, front middle. Liao Yiwu, back right.

Li Bifeng (front center) and Liao Yiwu (back right) were among the June 4th political prisoners in Sichuan.

In 1989, the 25-year-old poet Li Bifeng was elected the president of the Chengdu Youth Autonomous Committee. He organized protests and mobilized local residents in Chengdu and Mianyang, cities in Sichuan province, to support the nation-wide democracy movement. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”

After being released in 1994, Li became a labor activist, advocating for workers’ rights. Li provided critical information about labor protests in the 1990s to foreign media and human rights organizations. In 1998, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on dubious charges of “fraud.”

In 2011, Li was arrested again because the authorities suspected him of financing the escape of his friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), a dissident writer and also a participant in the 1989 movement, who had fled to Germany months earlier. In 2012, Li was given a 12-year prison sentence for “contract fraud” which his lawyer and family believed was groundless. The sentence was later reduced to 10 years. Li is currently imprisoned at Chuanbei Prison (川北监狱) in Sichuan province.

 

Chen Yunfei (陈云飞)

https://www.youtube.com/embed/XxlWm0Sij4o

The ad saluting Tiananmen Mothers that Chen Yunfei placed in 2007.

The ad saluting Tiananmen Mothers that Chen Yunfei placed in 2007.

Chen Yunfei was a junior at Beijing Agriculture University in 1989 and one of the students on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. On May 18, he fainted and was taken to the hospital. On the night of June 3, when resting in his dormitory, Chen heard that the troops were marching into downtown Beijing. Chen and his friends went out, trying to block the troops’ movement. The riot police knocked him unconcious.

In the following two decades, Chen interviewed parents whose son or daughter were killed in the massacre, collected their information, and commemorated the June 4th anniversary every year. Chen has also campaigned tirelessly for human rights and environmental protection over the years, and has received constant harassment because of his activities.

On June 4, 2007, Chen placed an ad in the Chengdu Evening News (成都晚报) that read “Salute the brave mothers who lost their children on June 4th.” Two days later, he was detained for “inciting subversion of state power” and placed under house arrest for six months.

On March 25 this year, Chen was detained shortly after visiting the grave of a journalism student gunned down and bayoneted to death in the morning of June 4th. In April, he was formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Chen is currently detained at Xinjin County Detention Center (新津县看守所) and denied of lawyer visit.

 

Yu Shiwen (于世文)

Yu Shiwen and his wife.

Yu Shiwen and his wife.

In 1989, Yu Shiwen was a junior majoring in philosophy at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou and active in student affairs. After the democracy protests broke out, Yu was elected the president of the Autonomous Student Union of the university. He led student marches on streets, and staged a hunger strike in solidarity with students in Beijing. After the crackdown, Yu helped Beijing students who had escaped to Guangzhou. For this, Yu was detained for 18 months.

In the two decades that followed, Yu and his wife, who was also a student leader in 1989 at the same university, made a fortune from stock trading, but they had never forgotten 1989. They organized and hosted commemoration events over the years. In February 2, 2014, they organized a visit to the birthplace of Zhao Ziyang, the deposed Communist Party leader. Three months later, Yu and his wife, along with 10 others, were arrested.  While all the others were eventually released, Yu Shiwen was indicted on April 23rd for “picking quarrels and creating trouble.” He is currently detained at Zhengzhou No.3 Detention Center (郑州第三看守所).

Yu wrote from the detention center, “I feel at ease, and honored. I’m finally making a real contribution to the memories of June 4.”

 

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强)

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989.

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989.

Pu Zhiqiang was a graduate student in law at China University of Political Science and Law in 1989. He too was among the students on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square and remained there until the last moment. “On June 3, 1989, while in the Square,” Pu said years later, “I made a promise: ‘if I get out of here alive, I will revisit Tiananmen on this day every year.’” And he did.

In the years followed, Pu became one of the most prominent civil rights lawyers in China. He was the defense lawyer of, among many others, artist Ai Weiwei and dissident writer Tan Zuoren (谭作人) who was jailed for five years for investigating the collapse of school buildings during the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

Pu played a key role in ending the notorious “reeducation through labor” in China in 2012.

In May 2014, Pu was detained after attending a small gathering to commemorate the Tiananmen movement. On May 15, 2015, the Beijing Municipal People’s Procuratorate indicted Pu for “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and the evidence cited is a series of tweet-like comments he made online that criticized the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang and made fun of the Party propaganda.

Pu is currently held at Beijing No.1 Detention Center (北京第一看守所). He suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease and has been subjected to inhumane interrogations.

 

Gao Yu (高瑜)

1989 GaoyuIn 1989, Gao Yu was 45 years old and the deputy editor of the Beijing-based magazine Economic Weekly. After learning that the government might use force against the students, Gao went to the Square to talk to the student leaders in an effort to persuade them to leave. In the morning of June 3rd, Gao was taken away by plain-clothes policemen as she left her home. She was secretly jailed for 15 months in Qincheng Prison.

Not too long after she was released, in 1993, Gao was arrested again and sentenced to seven years in prison for “leaking state secrets,” after she wrote articles about elite Chinese politics for a Hong Kong publication.

She was released on medical parole in 1999. Gao Yu continued to report news and write commentaries critical of the Communist leadership. She has since won numerous international awards for her courage and her contribution to the freedom of speech.

In April 2014, Beijing detained Gao again, also on charges of “leaking state secrets.”  This time, the alleged secret was a Chinese Communist Party document known as the “Document No. 9,” which orders suppression of the ideas of constitutional democracy, rule of law, civil society, freedom press and other universal values. In April, a Beijing court sentenced the 71-year-old Gao Yu to seven years in prison.

 

Xu Zhiqiang, or Monk Shengguan (徐志强/圣观法师)

Monk Shengguan and His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

Monk Shengguan and His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

In 1989, Xu Zhiqiang was an engineer at a state-owned enterprise in Xi’an. He became a leader of the pro-democracy protests and a co-founder of the Xi’an Democracy Advancement Federation (西安促进民主联合会). Xu was arrested and jailed for a year.

In 2001, Xu became a Buddhist monk with the title Shengguan. In 2006, for performing Buddhist rituals to commemorate victims of the Tiananmen Massacre and promoting transparency in the temple in Jiangxi Province where he resided, Xu was evicted from the temple by police. In 2009, after Xu organized an event to pay tribute to Hu Yaobang, the liberal-minded Communist leader whose death triggered the 1989 movement, Xu was dismissed from the leadership of Honglian Tempe in Hunan Province.

In 2011, Xu met with His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

In May 2014, three days after Xu had hosted a small seminar in Wuhan to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, he was detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Xu was tried in April for “inciting subversion of state power,” but the court has yet to hand down a sentence. Xu is currently held at Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center (武汉市第二看守所) in Hubei province.

 

Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫)

Zhu Yufu

Zhu Yufu

In 1989, Zhu Yufu was an official at the Bureau of Housing Management in Hangzhou, the capital of coastal Zhejiang Province. He was detained for 27 days after taking part in in protests and lost his job.

Zhu was a co-founder of the outlawed opposition group, China Democracy Party, in the 1990s, and in 1999, he was sentenced seven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”

After his release in 2006, Zhu spoke out against the torture he had endured in prison and continued to promote democracy. A year later, he was detained again for pushing a police officer who was harassing his teenage son. He was sentenced to two years in prison for “disrupting public service (妨碍公务罪).” His son was jailed for 18 months too.

In 2011, Zhu was arrested during the crackdown of the “Jasmine Revolution,” a series of public assemblies that took place in over a dozen cities after an anonymous tweet called for peaceful protests in China. In February 2012, Zhu was sentenced to seven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” and his “crime” was a poem titled “It’s Time” that he had disseminated:

It’s time, Chinese!

The time is now.

The square belongs to all, and your feet belong to you,

It’s time to walk to the square to make a choice.

…….

Zhu is currently imprisoned at Zhejiang No. 4 Prison (浙江第四监狱) in Hangzhou.  Zhu suffers from poor health, and his application for medical parole has been denied repeatedly.

 

Chen Shuqing ( 陈树庆)

Chen Shuqing (front) and his friends from the China Democracy Party in 2010 when he was released from prison.

Chen Shuqing (front) and his friends from the China Democracy Party in 2010 when he was released from prison.

In 1989, Chen Shuqing was a 24-year-old graduate student at Hangzhou University (now Zhejiang University) and took part in the democracy movement.

Chen has since become an activist. In 1999, he was detained for four months for co-founding the China Democracy Party. After being released, he continued to organize activities on behalf of the Party, enduring harassment from the authorities.

In 2006, Chen was arrested in connection with his online expressions and the activities of the China Democracy Party. He served a four-year sentence.

In September 2014, Chen was criminally detained again on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Chen has been held at the Hangzhou Detention Center (杭州市看守所). His trial, scheduled for May, has been postponed.

 

Zhou Yongjun (周勇军)

1989 周勇军There is a famous photo of 1989 in which three students knelt on the steps of the Great Hall of the People, entreating an audience with the Chinese leaders. Zhou Yongjun, on the right, was a student at the China University of Political Science and Law and the president of the Autonomous Student Union of Beijing Universities, a student group formed during the protests.

Zhou was imprisoned for two years afterwards. He came to the U.S. in 1993. In 1998, he was arrested and sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” when he attempted to re-enter China to visit his parents.

Zhou came to the U.S. again in 2002. In 2008, after being repeatedly denied of visa to return to China, Zhou made a second attempt to re-enter mainland China. He was arrested in Hong Kong for using a fake passport. Seven months later, the Hong Kong authorities handed Zhou to the Chinese government.

In January 2010, Zhou was sentenced to nine years in prison by a court in Sichuan on undisclosed charges of financial fraud. Zhou is currently held in Chongzhou Prison (崇州监狱) in Sichuan. In August 2014, it was reported that Zhou suffered from serious liver failure and partial blindness. For a while it was feared that he might die in prison. There has been no more reports about his conditions since.

 

Yaqiu Wang (王亚秋) researches and writes about civil society and human rights in China.

———– 

Related:

Always Parting: My Life with Liu Xianbin, by Chen Mingxian, 2010.

Democracy Is My Love Affair – the Story of Zhao Changqing, by Gu Chuan, January 12, 2014.

Tamer of Beasts, Tamer of Despots, by Liao Yiwu, May 24, 2015.

Tackling a Wall of Lies – a Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, by  Albertine Ren, September 14, 2014.

Xi Jinping the Man, by Gao Yu, January 26, 2013.

 

The Looming Shadow of the Case against Pu Zhiqiang

By Chang Ping, published: January 20, 2015

 

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Photo from online.

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Photo from online.

On January 11, the Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) spent his fiftieth birthday behind bars. No one knows what was going through the mind of this famous and very vocal lawyer and writer. However, many lawyers, legal scholars and journalists wished him a happy birthday on the Chinese Internet; one message was re-broadcast 2,300 times and drew 500 comments. It amounted to a mass protest, Chinese style.

Some well-known lawyers and legal scholars did not sidestep their anger about the government’s crackdown on human rights lawyers. He Weifang (贺卫方), a law professor at Peking University, wrote: “The government is righting legal abuses with one hand and creating more with the other. There can be no greater folly or moral rot!”

This brings to mind the impassioned open letter by that brave scholar with a strong sense of ethics during the height of the princeling Bo Xilai’s power. Professor He Weifang attacked the grave legal abuses perpetrated under Bo around the Li Zhuang (李庄) case, including the revival of Maoist campaigns and crackdown on lawyers. Nor did he let some of his peers in the region off the hook, demanding that “scholars take a clear and firm critical stand and boycott” “interference with judicial independence, procedural violations, and acts that curb citizen rights and freedom.”

When Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer who defended a man accused of mafia crimes, found himself picked up, indicted and jailed by the Chongqing government on Bo Xilai’s watch, shock rippled through China’s legal world. Consequently, Bo’s downfall found many lawyers and scholars jubilant. What they did not foresee is that, after Xi Jinping took over, rights lawyers and the media are to have an even worse time than before.

The case against Pu Zhiqiang, compared against Li Zhuang’s, is ordained by higher-ranking officials, and furnished with more preposterous charges. The eloquent Pu became known in part through his moving defenses of two famous activists: the irrepressible artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), and Tan Zuoren (谭作人), convicted of leaking “state secrets” for compiling the names of children killed by tofu-dregs public schools in a 2008 earthquake. Now, Pu’s eloquence has landed him in a prison cell. What is more, his defense lawyer Qu Zhenghong (屈振红) was also detained under trumped-up charges. A few months later, the same thing happened to Xia Lin (夏霖), the defense lawyer hired on behalf of the scholar Guo Yushan (郭玉闪). Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine who would dare to write an open letter to protest. Voicing discontent on the Internet in the guise of birthday wishes risks much already.

Pu’s case is a classic when it comes to the suppression of free speech. Three out of the four allegations listed in his arrest warrant are based only on the thirty-odd microblogs he published on his Sina account: Provocation of trouble, the fanning of ethnic hatred, and inciting separatism against the state. The one other crime of “illegally obtaining information about other citizens” refers to some investigations he carried out in collaboration with several newspapers, including Caijin, Southern Weekend (《南方周末》) and Beijing News (《新京报》). Clearly, this too is a matter of free speech and media freedom.

These days, China’s political prisoners are almost all convicted on what they say. They hardly have the chance to do anything beyond speaking up, such as building an organization, raising money or mobilizing people to act. They have only to voice some views, write some articles, or even just tweet a few microblogs, and the government slams them in the clink for years. However, to invoke four crimes, two of which carry exceptionally long sentences, against a lawyer fond of giving vent to his opinions, is an unprecedented absurdity.

Chen Youxi (陈有西), a well-known lawyer, said: “Even if I were to take things from the government’s point of view, I still have to be honest here: You guys picked up the wrong guy when you picked up Pu Zhiqiang. The immediate people who planned this arrest are not doing the government any favors. Let Pu go as soon as you can.” Whether as a matter of sincere opinion or tactics, the hidden message behind what he said is that the top leadership may well not have wanted this to happen, and it only happened because the frontline workhorses were out of control.

This assessment, however, undercounts too much the control the Communist Party leaders exercise over their own system, especially given the gloves-off style of Xi, who whipped the “tiger hunt” anti-corruption campaign into a sustained frenzy. Xi naturally does not need to know the details of every case. Rather, beyond their vaunted ability to concoct abuses and wrongful sentences, the public security workhorses are even more valued for being able to gauge, with precision, what their boss wants.

If Pu is convicted of the crimes he is being accused of, the shadow cast by his case over China’s legal and media world will be enduring, and will last a long time.

 

————–

Ching Ping (长平) is a veteran Chinese journalist and commentator of current affairs. He lives in Germany now.

 

Related:

Tackling a Wall of Lies  – Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, a Chinese Human Rights Lawyer, Albertine Ren, September 14, 2014

China’s Empty Promise of Rule by Law, by Teng Biao, January 6, 2015

 

(Translated by Louisa Chang)

Chinese original