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Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech

Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017

 

Zhu Shengwu_单人

Zhu Shengwu

Early in September the Justice Department of Shandong province notified Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), a 36-year-old lawyer in Jinan, the provincial capital, that his “anti-Communist Party, anti-socialism” expressions online had “threatened national security,” and he was disbarred. Mr. Zhu requested a public hearing.

Zhu Shengwu heads the Shandong Xinchang Law Firm (山东信常律师事务所) which he founded about a year ago. He has been practicing for only five years, specializing in intellectual property rights, particularly online copyright disputes. Beginning this year, however, he began taking on so-called “sensitive cases” – i.e., involving human rights. Among others, he represented Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), a man from Shandong who was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to two years in prison last April for calling the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping “Steamed Bun Xi,” and the late Mao Zedong “Demon Mao” in online chat rooms. Zhu believes that his defense of Wang — in which he made a “systematic, thorough and determined defense of freedom of expression” — is the real motive for his punishment.

Apart from defending his clients, Zhu began exercising his own freedom of expression on Weibo, which he began using in March. The account, with around 2,000 followers, was shut down in August. On it, Zhu had described China’s judicial system as “a meat grinder that churns out wrongful convictions,” and said that “China is ruled through terror and lies.” He also mocked the talks he had been summoned to with Justice Bureau officials.

In the Chinese system, Justice Departments or bureaus at different levels of the governments have an office whose job it is to “regulate lawyers,” and it uses annual reviews — in which licenses can be suspended or revoked — as a way to rein them in. For human rights lawyers, the annual review is a Damoclean sword hanging over their heads, and some of China’s bravest and best known human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked over the years.

One of the Justice Department officials in Shandong asked Zhu Shengwu repeatedly whether he’d like to keep his license. Zhu replied: “All I’ve done is represent a sensitive case, write a defense systematically arguing for freedom of speech, and voice a bit of political criticism. For that you are going to revoke my license. Who’d dare keep a license like that?”

While the Lawyers’ Associations across the China are supposedly professional organizations looking out for the interests of their members, in reality they are designed to ensure that lawyers fall in line with the government and the Communist Party (indeed a large number of China’s 300,000 lawyers are Party members). The Lawyers’ Association functions like other mass organizations for what would otherwise be independent individuals or groups, including the Writers’ Associations for writers, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestant Christians. So it is no surprise that, on September 8, the chairman of the Lawyers’ Association of Shandong Province, a man named Su Bo (苏波), issued an angry statement on China’s popular social media WeChat denouncing Zhu Shengwu, and voicing support for the actions taken by the Party “after Zhu refused to repent and correct his wrongdoings.”

“I don’t know about lawyer Zhu Shengwu,” one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) wrote, who was himself sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve for his activities and expressions, and whose license was revoked by Beijing Justice Bureau last year. “But Su Bo was a schoolmate of mine at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. On the morning of April 27, 1989, we students gathered at the university gate, undecided as to whether we should to go out and protest.” The President and department chairs tried to stop the students. “I remember the sky was shaking and the air seemed to be on fire. Su Bo, shouldering a large sign with China’s Constitution written all over it, was at the forefront of the student procession. I heard him roaring, his voice hoarse: ‘If not today, when? Are we going to tolerate it forever?’ He was all sound and fury then. Twenty-eight years later, I appreciate this statement for giving me information about his whereabouts and achievements.”

Another well-known human rights lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), also recognized the chairman of the Shandong Lawyers’ Association, his classmate twenty-eight years ago. “He gave an inspiring speech in front of us all before the big protest procession on April 27, 1989. And I was so impressed, because I too wanted to speak to the crowd but when I got the mic, I was overcome by shyness and passed it on.”

Sui Muqing, who was held in secret detention from July 11, 2015, to January 6, 2016 as part of the 709 crackdown, offered to represent Zhu Shengwu at the hearing.

The hearing to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license “for allegedly making expressions that threatened national security” was held on September 21. Even though a hearing is a public event, it was filled with people sent by the Shandong Justice Department….to fill the spots. Zhu’s friends were stopped outside.

 

Zhu Shengwu_听证会

Zhu Shengwu, his two legal counsels, and friends who wished to attend the hearing but were rejected.

 

The hearing went on for three hours. Zhu and his two lawyers were allowed to speak, and they mounted a vigorous defense, questioning the authority of the Justice Department and the Lawyers’ Association to censor a lawyer for his private expressions. They disputed the preposterous notion of speech being a “national security threat,” and gave a rousing defense of freedom of expression.

The next day, on September 22, the Justice Department of Shandong province issued a decision to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license to practice law. “Upon investigation: Since March 2017, lawyer Zhu Shengwu frequently posted on his Sina Weibo account ‘祝圣武律师18668936828’ expressions that negate the fundamental political system and principles established by our country’s Constitution, made insinuations against the socialist system, and used the internet to instigate dissatisfaction with the Party and government, resulting in egregious social effects. [His behaviors] seriously damaged the image of the legal profession.”

Zhu Shengwu and his lawyers will appeal the decision through administrative review, and if necessary, bring administrative litigation against the Justice Department of Shandong province. But it will likely to be a resistance in the court of public opinion, because the law does not rule in China.

In a self-introduction, Zhu said he grew up in a faraway mountainous village in Hunan; he was the first in his village to go to college and the first to gain a graduate degree. He studied law at Shandong University and has never been the subject of complaints by clients or peers.

I was asked the other day whether, after the 709 Crackdown, the pressure on human rights lawyers will abate. First of all, the 709 Crackdown isn’t over. Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) are still in custody. Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for over 800 days. It is possible that Wang has been tortured to the point of disability — this is one of the few explanations as to why he still hasn’t been allowed to see his lawyers. Those who have been relieved on bail or on reprieve have been under surveillance and regularly threatened to keep silent about their experiences while they were in secret detention. National TV stations had human rights lawyers on camera confessing that their defense of human rights was illegal, and that they had been brainwashed by “Western concepts of human rights and the rule of law.” Probably because the government really didn’t benefit from the 709 crackdown, in recent months and weeks, it has been employing softer but still insidious tactics to corner human rights lawyers: denying their annual renewals, reviewing the accounts of law firms, forcing some lawyers out of their jobs, and in Zhu Shengwu’s case revoking his license altogether.

“Did you see Su Bo at the hearing?” I asked lawyer Sui Muqing.

“No, he was not in the room,” he said. “But I ran into him during the break. He praised my defense. I asked how he knew. He said someone told him. I think high-level officials of the Justice Department, and Su Bo himself, were in an adjacent room watching the video feed.”

“What else did you say to him?”

Lawyer Sui Muqing made no response.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Account of My Recent Disappearance

By Xu Zhiyong

Dr. Xu Zhiyong is a lecturer of law at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and one of the founders of Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) that offers legal assistance to petitioners and rights defenders, and has been repeatedly harassed, shut down and persecuted. In 2010 it changed its name to simply “Citizen”. Just weeks ago in May 29, Dr. Xu posted a blog post titled China’s New Civil Movement to renew his call for a “new civic movement are a free China with democracy and the rule of law, a civil society of justice and happiness, and a new national spirit of freedom, fairness and love.” The post has since been deleted by the authorities, and he himself was taken away by security police to answer questions. With Dr. Xu’s permission, Yaxue translated his account of the recent disappearance.

Xu Zhiyong

Going downstairs around ten o’clock in the morning of June 7th, I was met by seven men. Two of them were security officers from Security for Cultural Institutions, Beijing Public Security Bureau, others I had never met before. Lieutenant Cao walked up to me, said he needed to talk to me, and proposed that we find a place to have a question-and-answer session with a written record (笔录).

With me in it, their car drove towards north in the direction of Changping (昌平, an outlaying district of Beijing). A few minutes later, they took out a black cloth and covered my head with it, telling me that they wanted me to rest. Knowing that many of my friends had gone through this before me, I did nothing to resist. No use to resist anyway.

Having traveled for about half an hour, first on highway and then over a bumpy road, we arrived and got out of the car. Intuitively I tried to remove the black cover over my head when a man huffed, “Don’t!” and two men seized me by the arms.

We got into a room, as I sensed, and I was pressed down into what seemed to me like the corner of a sofa. I was stripped of my belt, my shoe laces and everything I had with me. People were shuffling in and out of the room. One voice said to me, “For now, think what you have done lately. Think hard! We’ll ask you questions in the afternoon!” I sat still and said nothing.

Many friends of mine, such as Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), Li Fangping (李方平) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), had gone through this before [all of them rights lawyers–Yaxue]. I waited for insults, fists and feet that could rain on me at any moment now. I waited.

About one hour passed when a man came in and asked me whether I had done my thinking. I said nothing. Someone came over and removed the cloth over my eyes. Now I saw I had been sitting at the corner of a bed in a hotel room.

Lieutenant Cao came in. He said this wasn’t a big matter, and all he wanted was to ask me about the activities of Citizen and keep a written record of the inquiry. I said, “You don’t have to employ such method to just have a talk, and, to protest against the use of the black hood and illegal detention, I will not answer any questions.” I asked them for their understanding.

For most of the time thereafter, there would be silence except for brief exchanges here and there. Two of them are worth mentioning.

At one point when I was going to the bathroom, a thirty-something man by the last name Wen (温), who had probably also guarded Teng Biao before, insisted on keeping the door open and watching me. I said, when I came out, “You don’t have to be so keen on me.” He said, “I’m not keen on you; people like you must be guarded with extra care.” I said, “‘People like me’… Do you know what you are doing?” He said, “I don’t care what I am doing.”

Then there was another man by the last name Zhao (赵) who was in his 50s and rather straightforward. He was convinced that “people like me” believe China is up to no good at all while foreign countries are flawless. He was sure I don’t watch CCTV’s Evening News, and I said I often do. Then he said, “Since the West is so great in your eyes, why don’t you go there?” Upon this I raised my voice, “This is my country, my own motherland! Of course I will stay here! And I have a responsibility to make her better! At least I would not allow that –ism of the West to destroy my country!” He asked me what “-ism of the West” I was talking about, and I replied, “Didn’t your Communism come from the West?”

In the evening they gave me a carry-out meal. I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t eat during illegal detention.” This is a decision I made a year ago. If no room is left for me to do things to improve the society, I can at least protest against illegal detention with hunger strike—that’s the least I can do.

Last June when I was taken to a hotel in a hot-spring resort because of a relatively large-scale petition for equal rights for education. The security police said to me, “We are taking you here to have a good time and to relax. Now that you refuse to eat, we can’t have fun anymore.” They repeatedly said to me, “Take it easy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all go out and have fun? To wherever you want to go.” But for me, of course, there is no such “tourism.” I said to them, “When you are no longer in this profession, we could go and travel together, but illegal detention is what it is, and as a free citizen, I oppose it.”

Because of the wide attention I was receiving, I was treated humanely. But that was not the case with many, many anonymous people in China who suffered horrendous brutality. One day in March, 2009, a 16-year-old high school student from Henan province (河南) was beaten so badly that he sustained concussions in a black jail in a youth guesthouse near Tao Ran Pavilion Park in Beijing (陶然亭公园). During Mid-Autumn Festival of the same year, petitioner Li Shulian (李淑莲) from Shandong province died in a basement black jail in Longkou (龙口), and her relatives were tracked down by police for demanding justice. In a black jail in Beijing maintained by the municipal government of Xiangfan, Hubei (湖北襄樊), an old man became ill during the Two Meetings in March, 2012, was not allowed to see doctors, and died ten days later. When his family demanded compensation, they too were detained. These are cases I have witnessed myself. There have been many religious believers who have been detained illegally for years on end, some of them tortured to death. Over the last ten years or so, so many Chinese have died in all sorts of black jails as a result of torture; what I was going through was nothing.

I didn’t sleep well that night. Guards who took turns to watch me chatted. Some snorted later on. At 8 o’clock in the morning, Lieutenant Cao woke me up, telling me his boss was coming over to speak to me. Now I understood the black-hood strategy. It was a ritual leading up to this talk with the boss. I was to be intimidated first, a “mild” boss would then come forth. Stockholm syndrome is a common psychological phenomenon in which one captor plays rough while the other plays nice. You would have the induced illusion that the mild man is nice and you would want to pour out to him. It’s a common tactic of the police, and of dictators in general.

Minutes later Deputy Captain Hao (郝) came in. We met once two years ago. He said, “This time all we want is to have a good communication.” I said, “Sure, but to do that, there is no need to use something as ridiculous as a black hood.”

With three of his subordinates present, he started the “talk”. He said that it was a very serious matter that Citizen was organizing, and I could be charged according to Article 105. “This time it won’t be ‘tax evasion,’” he said. So on and so forth. [Article 105 is “Inciting subversion of state power.” As director of Citizen, Dr. Xu was arrested with “tax evasion” charges in August, 2009. The case was withdrawn ten days later after much protest from intellectuals and activists.]

I said, “All of our efforts are to protect the liberty and human rights of each and every Chinese, including everyone here, and I hope we understand and respect each other’s position and role. No one will be able to reverse the historical tide, so don’t over do it.” I gave the example of Wang Lijun (王立军), but he cut me short. “Wait here for our deliberation,” he said and left the room.

I felt I had made a mistake. During a Haidian District People’s Representatives Meeting [Dr. Xu had been a two-term district people’s representative until earlier this year when the university he works for warned the students not to vote for him.], an elder once reminded me to pay attention to the way I delivered my criticism and that I should give “face” to others. So I said to Lieutenant Cao that I had been too straightforward and I would like to have a few words with Captain Hao again to explain myself.

Half an hour later, Captain Hao returned. He said he wasn’t upset. I said “I am glad you were not.” We went off, just the two of us, to the courtyard to chat. We talked about equal rights for education, about corruption, and whatnot. All in all, he continued to warn me that I was courting danger; I must restrain myself and be more cooperative with them. I thanked him for reminding me that, but I said I didn’t mean to create trouble for them. The country needed change, I said, and I was willing to pay a price for the freedom of the people. I said, “You may not believe me, but for me, life is very simple, which is to use wisdom bestowed on humans to make the society better.”

The new civil movement calls individual citizens to spread the principles of democracy and rule of law, to abide a civil code of actions, to reject privileges and corruption. And we advocate liberty, justice and love, which is the spirit of the new civic movement. Our mission is to end, from the root, the cycle of regime change through violence and give freedom back to each and every Chinese. This is the reason for which I lost my own freedom for the time being.

Lieutenant Cao motioned me to renew the interrogation session. I said, “I am sorry, but you have stepped way over the boundaries. I have a responsibility to reject the black hood treatment and illegal detention. I won’t answer any questions, nor will I sign anything. Your transcript will have nothing to do with me.” He asked me about the “Citizen” pins. I replied, “Ask no more.”

The “Citizen” pin Dr. Xu’s NGO Citizen has been distributing.

He wrote a few lines and left.

Another group of men came in. All in all I had seen 12 of them. I knew these newcomers; one of them was in poor health. I said, “What a fuss to have this many people dealing with me. Besides, it’s such a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Then we argued some more about equal rights for education.

3 o’clock passed in the afternoon, they began to gather their stuff and, finally, returned me my belt and shoe laces. Before getting into the car, Lieutenant Cao asked me, “Do you have things to do this afternoon?” “Of course I do,” I said. When he asked what things, I said “I’m a free citizen, and I am free to do whatever.”

He made a call. Then he said things seemed to have changed and he was taking me home.

So they took me home, but didn’t leave [and stayed outside Dr. Xu’s apartment building].

I know that, for some years to come, my freedom will be more and more restricted, but the free China I have dreamed of will be closer and closer. More and more people are emerging as new citizens, and with their actions, they are heralding a beautiful future for the Chinese people. I am grateful.

Citizen Xu Zhiyong

June 10, 2012

(The Original is widely circulated online. Here is a link: http://08charterbbs.blogspot.com/2012/06/blog-post_5296.html?spref=tw)

Related posts:

Chen Guangcheng has landed in the US

For seven years Chen Guangcheng has been silenced in China for his role in opposing illegal forced abortions in Shandong province, that ended today with his arrival in the US. Even after his escape from thugs in Linyi, the gov’t in Beijing kept him in a tightly guarded hospital room. Finally, he will have a chance to talk openly about his experiences and the situation facing hundreds of other activists in China.

I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the power of that image – a man once tortured and imprisoned, now is able to stand in front of the world.

I wanted to say that he was no longer afraid of the Chinese gov’t and their reprisals, but much of Chen’s extended family are still facing harassment from officials in Linyi. Even 10,000 miles away from Beijing, he is reminded that “opportunities and risk exist at the same time,” and is not yet truly free from the authorities.

Image is from NYT, read their full article here

Video of Chen’s speech in NY from New Tang Dynasty

Who is Chen Guangchen – From a Small Prison to a Big One

By Yaxue Cao

…Continued from earlier posts, this is part 3. Part 1, Part 2

From a Small Prison to a Big One

Chen Guangcheng was released on September 9, 2010, and has been under illegal house arrest since then. His home is monitored by multiple cameras, floodlit 24 hours a day, and all communications with the outside world are severed. Close to a hundred men guard his home and are present on every road leading to his village, intercepting, beating, robbing, and humiliating visitors.

After a video of him was smuggled out and shown to the world, he and his family were beaten. In a letter smuggled out later to seek help, his wife described how Zhang Jian (张建), the Deputy Party Secretary of Shuanghou Township, and about 70-80 national security officers raided their home and beat the couple severely, how they searched the premise and took away their computer, video recorder, tapes, chargers, flashlight and more. Later on, their windows were covered with metal sheets, and more objects were seized including Chen Guangcheng’s cane, paper and pens. Their daughter was not allowed to leave the house, and her books and toys were removed too. Three people followed Chen’s mother wherever she went. Mostly worryingly, Chen Guangcheng’s health was deteriorating from gastrointestinal bleeding.

Yuan Weijing’s Letter (click to enlarge)

In late July, Chen Guangcheng succeeded in calling a friend in Beijing on a stormy day when the mobile phone block failed. He and his wife were again severely beaten.

The efforts to free Chen Guangcheng started as soon as he was released from prison when a trickle of friends and netizens tried to visit him without success. Recently, the trickle has become a stream, widely reported and closely watched by many.

Who Are They? Where Does the Order Come from?

Who are Chen Guangcheng’s persecutors anyway? We know there was Li Qun (李群), the Party Secretary of Linyi who has since been promoted to Party Secretary of Qingdao, a much bigger and more important city, and a member of the Standing Committee of Shandong Provincial Party Committee.

Li Qun

There was Liu Jie (刘杰), the head of Linyi Public Security Bureau and scores of other officials and officers from the government to the court to the township.

Why are so many people in China willing to defy the law to carry out orders from their superiors? Where else on earth is power so unchecked, so ugly, that hundreds of thousands of people are subjected, in such a blithe way, to unbearable suffering for the interest of a mere few?

For the audience of this blog, it is particularly interesting to note that Li Qun was an assistant to the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut for three months after studying in the MPA program in the University of New Haven, in the early 2000s, through Shandong province’s cadre overseas training program. He was so proud of that three months that he wrote and published a book entitled “I Was an Assistant to an American Mayor” (《我在美国当市长助理》, Xinhua Press, 2004).

Since Chen Guangcheng’s case has become an international affair, it is clear that what has happened and is still happening in Linyi has the backing of Beijing. Where does the order come from? Why are they so afraid of this blind man?

Place of Origin

Chen Guangcheng hails from a very special place. As Li Chengpeng (李承鹏), a renowned online commentator reminded us, a mere 170 kilometers northwest of Linyi is the home of Confucius who tirelessly preached “benevolent governance.” Even closer to him once lived Jiang Tai Gong (姜太公) and Mengzi (孟子) who advised the rulers to always put people and their communities first so as to nourish peace for everyone.

Jiang Tai Gong (姜太公)

With affection, his friend Teng Biao (滕彪) described Chen’s warm, confident voice, his sensibility to others’ pain, and how he directed their car, followed by officers, “insouciantly” through the streets to eventually get rid of their pursuers.

The sages would have been proud of Chen Guangcheng. Indeed, he, like them, represents the best of China.

A very short distance from Chen Guangcheng’s village was a place called Meng Liang Gu (孟良崮), where in 1947, the Communist Army fought and defeated the Nationalist Army and moved another step closer to the new China they envisioned. Linyi area was one of the oldest bases of the Communist Party before 1949 where people supported and made sacrifices for the communist cause.

What do they get?

A display in Meng Liang Gu Battle Memorial in Linyi depicting people of Yimeng Mountains supporting the war effort.

“To toll the bell,” someone commented online, “sometimes a blind man will do.”

(Sources for this article: Writings by Teng Biao (滕彪), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), Zhai Minglei (翟明磊) and others. I apologize for not documenting the sources professionally as I should. )

 Take Action:  Front Line Defenders offers an easy way for you to support Chen and his family, it just takes a minute to send the form letter to your ambassador asking them to press for Chen’s freedom.

Activist Ge Xun, who runs a website supporting Chen, told Tom that he believes the only hope for Chen Guangcheng is continued domestic and international pressure. The action on the ground must be taken by Chinese people, but they are bolstered in their efforts knowing that there are friends overseas who will advocate on their behalf if they too are wrongfully imprisoned.

Who Is Chen Guangcheng – A Celebration of Life on His 40th Birthday

By Yaxue Cao, published: November 12, 2011

 

To say life didn’t start promisingly for him is a vast understatement. He was born on November 12, 1971, in the impoverished village Dong Shi Gu (东师古) in Yinan County, Shandong province, the youngest of five boys. He lost his vision to high fever when he was around one year old. He didn’t go to school until 18 years old. In the Chinese countryside, where living is at its barest, expectations are a rare commodity to begin with, and for the disabled, there are none. For most of the part, they are seen and treated as a family scourge that must be borne.

chen-guangchengA Naughty Boy

Despite blindness, he told friends he had a happy childhood. His father read to him centuries-old Chinese classics such as Outlaws of the Marsh (《水浒》) and The Three Kingdoms (《三国演义》). He helped his parents in the field. Of the two popular boys’ sports, snatching eggs out of bird nests and catching fish in the river, he exceled in both, using his hearing as guide. “I couldn’t see fish, but I knew where fish were and under what rock they liked to stay.”

Being blind, sometimes he got picked on. He couldn’t catch the offender, but he could remember his voice. Next time he heard it again, he would grab him and teach him a lesson.

He grew up to be a young man who liked to talk and liked to laugh, who was tall, strong and, by all standards, handsome.

At 18 years old in 1989, he entered Linyi Elementary School for the Blind. From 1994 to 1998, he attended the School for the Blind in Qingdao (青岛), Shandong. From 1998 to 2001, he studied in Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. At the time China had only two universities that accepted blind students, and, nationwide, only 40-50 blind people were admitted each year, all studying Chinese medicine and massage, the only subject deemed suitable for them. Still, he was one the luckiest to have gone that far in life.

Continue Reading

Growing People Power – Netizens are changing China for the better

When I first arrived in China in 2007, the attitude of many of my Chinese friends was that the system was broken, but there was absolutely nothing they could do to fix it. I clearly remember chatting with a professor in Longzhou. He said, “They talk a lot about a ‘harmonious society’ but what the hell does that mean? The price of everything is going up and things are getting worse. I don’t care about ‘harmony’ I care about actually having a good life.”

At that time I was surprised to hear people openly complain about their situation, and was bothered by their sense of hopelessness. Now though people are far more willing to vent their frustration, not only with foreigners (who are seen as a safe choice for venting), but also online.

Initially I was skeptical that anything would change as a result of messages on Weibo. Four years later, I am continually surprised at what can be accomplished by netizens.

This of course is not to say that China has been democratized, stories are still scrubbed from the forums, and many movements are deemed a threat to social harmony. However, I believe that we are seeing the next step being taken in public participation of government decisions.

The most recent example of this started back in the first week of October, when Beijing was draped in a smog that friends on Twitter described as “apocalyptic”.  When a foreign doctor commented on the health risks associated with such pollution, Global Times responded by saying it wasn’t that bad (read more in my post: An incredible lack of integrity). In short their argument was that the time was not yet right for Beijing to measure PM2.5, which are more harmful particles than what had been previously measured.

After a sustained campaign by citizens, roughly one month later, Beijing has acceded to higher air quality standards, and even The People’s Daily has taken a very different tune.

“The country now only reports air quality based on readings of PM10, particulate matter smaller than 10 microns, which is why monitoring results do not match people’s sense of pollution.

Zhang Lijun, vice-minister of environmental protection, said that Chinese cities are facing severe air pollution.”

In the last few months we have seen several effective environmental protests that have led to meaningful results, most of which started online. It is wonderful to see Chinese standing up to polluting factories, and that local governments are now being pushed to heed their demands is the result of an increased focus on the environment that started in the Central Government.

Once netizens get the taste for flesh and blood activism, we could see movements call for something more daring than the shuttering of dangerous polluters, perhaps something like freeing a blind lawyer and his family in Shandong province.

For more on China’s Environment I strongly recommend Jonathan Watts’ book, “When A Billion Chinese Jump,” you can read my review here