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The Southern Street Movement: China’s Lonely Warriors

By Mo Zhixu, April 13, 2016

“When the Southern activists stood amidst heavy traffic and photographed themselves holding placards of protest, the feeling it gives is a little surreal….”


Xie Wenfei

Xie Wenfei

On April 8, 2016, after a year and half in detention, two activists arrested in 2014 for holding banners on the streets of Guangzhou in support of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement—Wang Mo (王默) and Xie Wenfei (謝文飛, real name Xie Fengxia 謝豐夏)—were sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court. In addition, they will be deprived of political rights for three years. On the same day Zhang Shengyu (張聖雨, real name Zhang Rongping 張榮平), who held a placard in support of the Hong Kong students, was sentenced to four years.

That all three were convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” is no surprise. During the trial last November, Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei not only shouted pro-freedom slogans in court, but their defense statements were upfront, and were disseminated widely online. About them was none of the oft-seen attempts to depoliticize their stance, or hide their positions; instead, each man voiced their ideals openly and directly. In doing that, they represented the ethos of today’s new wave of activists.

Xie Wenfei, Wang Mo, and Zhang Shengyu all recognize themselves, and are recognized by others, as members of the “Southern Street Movement” (南方街頭運動). This “movement” sprung up in the last few years, and has a distinct character: It contains a thoroughgoing opposition to the political system, promulgating slogans like “abandon one-party dictatorship” and “establish a democratic China.” Further, the Southern Street Movement doesn’t focus on interacting with the regime as a path to change, but instead directly appeals to the people. The movement treats itself as a match, attempting to set ablaze a conflagration of mass protests across the country and thus activating a comprehensive transformation. For all these reasons, the movement is often seen as a radical form of political opposition.

Political opposition movements have always been around in mainland China, despite the ever-present threat of harsh crackdowns by the dictatorship. After 1989, there was the Liberal Democratic Party (自由民主黨) in 1992, the secret campaign to organize the Social Democracy Party (社會民主黨), the campaign to openly form the China Democratic Party (中國民主黨) in 1998, the joint signature campaign around Charter 08 in 2008, and so on. All of these movements are deeply tied to the 1989 student movement, and carried on the basic demands of the 1989 student movement: among the chief demands has always been to call for a full re-evaluation of the historical incidents in China—referring to previous political campaigns like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the massacre of students—and to make known the truth of history. The key representatives in this movement had often participated in the student movement and other democratically-inclined protests. Because of all this, these post-89 groups are seen as opposition movements led by elites who rebelled  against the system from which they had come.


Voicing support for the Southern Weekend, January 2013.

In contrast, the Southern Street Movement was only in its embryonic stages a few years ago in Guangzhou. Most of its membership was composed of new social classes: entrepreneurs, small business owners, laborers. So the movement came to have about it a genuine grassroots feel, and it demonstrated new mechanisms in which democratic movements can take rise. Specifically, it was the incursion of free markets that augmented the formation of these new social classes—but they found that the fruits of their own innovation were systematically robbed from them, that their basic rights as citizens had been stripped away, and that any attempts to demand their rights or benefits would be met with total suppression.

It was the recognition that they were being systematically deprived of their rights and interests that became fertile soil for a tendency toward opposition among this newly formed population. New social classes empowered by markets are able to readily apprehend that there exists between them and the political system a vast and deep chasm of opposing interests. It’s no accident that the movement sprung from Guangdong, the most fertile ground for the new social classes.

While the 1989 student movement and subsequent political movements were inspired by ideals and historical memory, the Southern Street Movement makes a clear break from that in the guiding ethos of its resistance: it’s a new creature brought about by contemporary circumstances. In an information-rich age, the movement didn’t have a design; instead it learned from many popular civil society movements over the last decade or so. Like other movements that sprung up around the same time, such as the New Citizens Movement (新公民運動), the Southern activists would hold periodic events like “criminal feasts” (飯醉; the Chinese term literally means “eat and drink” but is a homophone for “commit a crime”), or organize flash mobs, or get on Twitter and QQ groups to transmit their message to the people. Clearly, in the face of a “stability maintenance” system that becomes more harsh by the day, the Southern activists’ stance and mobilization tactics were bound to meet with suppression. And this is precisely what has happened: it was attacked from the very beginning, and the brutal clean-up operations against Southern members continues to this day.

Due to the zero-tolerance policy toward dissent by the authorities, most people have never even heard of political opposition, whether it’s the Southern Street Movement or otherwise. Meanwhile, its stance of total opposition to the government, and plans for thorough political transformation, actually differ quite significantly from mainstream liberal thought.

What the mainstream liberals really hope for is that liberal developments take place from within the system, to arrive at a gradual transformation via a kind of dialogue with the regime. Thus, they’re more apt to recognize and support the more restrained and gradualist agenda of the New Citizens Movement, and not the radical approach of the Southern Street Movement. For all this, since the birth of the Southern movement till today, it has not only needed to face down attacks by the regime but also survive in the absence of any support from mainstream liberals. It’s been a lonely struggle all along. Wang Mo and others have engaged in lengthy disputes with liberals on Weibo about this.


Demonstration in Guangzhou on March 30, 2012.

Though the Southern activists like to see themselves as a match that lights a fire, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that, in the face of a neo-totalitarian system that is strengthening its power by the day, this agenda is too simplistic. The regime has ample resources and means of identifying and weeding out activists. On the eve of the recent court judgement, for instance, due to suspicions that there would be protests on the day, Guangzhou police mounted a sudden raid on over a dozen activists while they while were eating dinner together. They were all given a criminal summons and several of them were forcibly escorted back to the place of their household registration.

Just as the New Citizens Movement went quiet after being hit with an intense and rapid succession of crushing blows in 2013, the Southern movement will likely also be forced to give in as the Party’s continuous siege drags on. Nevertheless, the conflicts and antagonisms between the marketized neo-totalitarian system and the people are only escalating, and one match could very well spark a blaze. The sacrifices of the Southern activists may come to nil, but they can’t be said to be mistaken.

When the Southern activists stood amidst heavy traffic and photographed themselves holding placards of protest, the feeling it gives is a little surreal: one struggles to understand how those strolling past maintain their indifference, or how the action fails to gain more support and attention online. It invites curiosity, and makes one wonder how grassroots activists like Xie Wenfei, Wang Mo, and Zhang Shengyu, maintain such firm conviction, such extraordinary courage, to not only resist blows from the dictatorship, but also withstand glaring indifference.

Perhaps this is inseparable from their own experiences: their deep recognition that their opposition to the unfairness of the system is right and correct, and that the goals they pursue are legitimate and indisputable. All this is what sustains them and allows these lonely warriors to light up our age.


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.



Guangzhou Activists Sentenced to Jail After Backing Hong Kong Protests, the New York Times, April 8, 2016.

Grassroots Activist Tells Court: I Committed No Crime Trying to Subvert the Communist Regime, Wang Mo, November 22, 2015.

The Southern Street Movement, China Change, October, 2013.

China activists push limits, protest dictatorship, AFP, December, 2013.


Also by Mo Zhixu on China Change:

China’s Future: Unstable and Unsettled

The Glory and Suffering of Pu Zhiqiang

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers

The Coming Information Totalitarianism in China



Guo Feixiong, a Civil Rights Hero

By Xiao Shu, published: January 8, 2015

A verdict awaits the pioneer of China’s rights movement after he stood trial the second time last November. Veteran commentator Xiao Shu, writing originally in the New York Times Chinese, places Guo Feixiong in the larger picture of the rights struggle in China. – The Editor


A civil rights movement has been unfolding in China. As Martin Luther King Jr. was to the American civil rights movement, essential figures have been emerging from the movement in China. Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), who was tried on November 28 for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” is one of them.

While the American Civil Rights Movement fought for the rights of millions of African Americans, the Chinese civil rights movement is fighting for the rights of all but every Chinese citizen. For in China, it is not just the powerless who do not have rights; those who are in power are not protected by the law either, once they lose out in power struggles. Almost every Chinese can identify with African Americans fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, except that he or she is in an even worse lot where there is no freedom, equality or justice.

Well-respected maverick Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng (L) during a gathering with legal consultant Guo Feixiong in Beijing, 06 January 2006.  Guo was recently released after more than three months of detention for helping Chinese farmers campaign against their allegedly corrupt village chief, in the latest twist in a sometimes violent dispute seen as a test case in bringing grassroots democracy to China.  (AFP PHOTO)

Well-respected maverick Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng (L) during a gathering with legal consultant Guo Feixiong in Beijing, 06 January 2006. Guo was recently released after more than three months of detention for helping Chinese farmers campaign against their allegedly corrupt village chief, in the latest twist in a sometimes violent dispute seen as a test case in bringing grassroots democracy to China. (AFP PHOTO)

This is precisely why Guo Feixiong has devoted himself to the rights movement. Guo Feixiong, whose legal name is Yang Maodong (杨茂东), was born in Gucheng, Hubei province (湖北谷城) in 1966, and graduated from East China Normal University in Shanghai in 1988. He would have had excellent career prospects had he chosen to stay in the system and submit himself to all its constrains. Pursuing an independent publishing enterprise, he was successful enough to afford a luxury apartment in one of Guangzhou’s best neighborhoods. In 2001, however, he gave up his thriving business and chose the thorny path of an activist.

In 2005, Guo Feixiong came back to Guangdong as a legal advisor of Beijing Zhisheng Law Office [lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s law office] where he took part in the rights struggles in Nanhai (南海), Foshan (佛山) and Panyu (番禹), forging a bond with civil rights activists in Guangdong. The incident in Taishi Village (番禺太石村) drew international attention at the time in which villagers demanded the impeachment of corrupt village officials for financial irregularities, and the township government used hundreds of policemen to put down the demonstrations and arrest scores of protesters. As the confrontation escalated, Guo Feixiong, who represented the villagers, mobilized prominent intellectuals, journalists and lawyers to join the campaign, pioneering a multi-pronged civil engagement in rights defense cases that became a model for later cases. It was also the beginning of a trend in which the system is challenged at the lowest level.

The death of Sun Zhigang in a repatriation center in 2003 was considered to have ushered in China’s rights movement, but the incident of Taishi village in 2005 was considered the beginning of a movement for political and civil rights.

Around the same time as the Taishi incident in Guangdong, Gongmeng (公盟) was founded by Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao and Guo Yushan in Beijing; in Shandong, the barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng was imprisoned for standing up for people’s rights. These three major rights defense incidents took place in close succession, making 2005 the beginning year of the civil rights movement in China, and Guo Feixiong was one of its earliest initiators, architects and die-hard practitioners.

Two Guangdong activists holding a sign demanding freedoms.

Two Guangdong activists holding a sign demanding freedoms. Click to enlarge.

For his actions, he was subjected to cruel retaliation and has paid an enormous price. Over the last nine years since 2005, he has been arrested four times for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” On his third arrest in 2006 he was sentenced to five years in prison. He has undergone over 200 interrogations, including a marathon session that lasted for 13 days and 13 nights without him being allowed to sleep. Beatings, hair-pulling, and electrocution were all designed to destroy his will power, force him to surrender, and compel him to withdraw from rights activities.

But his persecutors underestimated his strength. Instead of giving in, he became steeled, setting a record of a total of 186 days on several hunger strikes.

In September, 2011, after being released from prison, he promptly returned to the civil rights struggles, working with activists in Guangdong to strengthen their ranks and fight tough battles. His most notable achievement was in organizing the street protests in connections with the widely-reported Southern Weekly Incident at the beginning of 2013. It was the first bold attempt at political assembly in China since 1989 in which citizens took the initiative and came out on the street to claim and exercise their political rights. Guo Feixiong was the leader among them. Immediately afterwards, he planned and led a signature campaign demanding the ratification of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the National People’s Congress. He organized the so-called “eight-city flash campaign,” sending small teams to eight cities to publicize rights efforts, and once again, breaking new ground in pushing for political assemblies.

Left to right: Guo Feixiong, Tang Jingling, and Liu Shihui, three rights leaders in Guangzhou.

Left to right: Guo Feixiong, Tang Jingling, and Liu Shihui, three rights leaders in Guangzhou.

As a civil rights activist, Guo Feixiong is rare for being fearless and unwavering, but his moderation and practicality are even more admirable. This was best manifested during the Southern Weekend incident. On the morning of January 7, at the suggestion of policemen on the scene, protestors agreed to withdraw from the front gate of Nanfang Metropolis Media Group on Guangzhou Avenue, a thoroughfare, taking up positions instead on sidewalks in order not to block traffic. Nor were the sidewalks crowded enough as to block pedestrians. The street demonstration lasted three days, peaceful and orderly from beginning to end. This has been corroborated by many witnesses as well as journalists of Nanfang Metropolis Media Group. This outcome had a lot to do with Guo Feixiong. At the beginning of the street protest, he set a clear scope and objectives. On the scene, he helped to direct the protesters, urging them to leave at 5:00 pm on January 7. As Guo put it later, “Our political aspiration is serious, our objectives are temperate, and our operation is aboveboard, peaceful and respectful.” The “eight-city flash campaign” that followed was conducted similarly, falling well in line with international norms – demonstrating in parks and sidewalks without disrupting order in public places.

Guo Feixiong has proved himself to be as courageous as he is wise. Having suffered unspeakable torture and brushes with death, he harbors no hatred or radicalism. His healthy humanity transcends the Maoist you-die-I-live philosophy of struggle and his goal is to secure civil rights. To allege as the Chinese authorities do that he does what he does to take revenge on the regime or to usurp power is a slur on him. His conviction to civil rights and constitutional democracy is akin to a religion and what he has pursued is a transcendental idealism rather than short-lived power. As a citizen, he insists on practicing what he preaches, honoring self-restraint and a balance between freedom and order. He is a determined opponent, but also a responsible and constructive one who is keen on civilized and peaceful political opposition that will also serve as an example for the kind of political transition that will surely arrive in China, one that skews chaos and destruction.

The words “civil rights movement” conjure up the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. However, constitutional democracy of the United States was compatible with civil rights, and the American civil rights movement was not about fighting against the political architecture but about perfecting it. Public support aside, Martin Luther King’s work was supported by three presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson), the Congress, as well as the Supreme Court. The result was political and societal synergy.

Activists in Beijing voice support for Guo Feixiong. Hu Jia, third from left; Wang Lihong, third from right.

Activists in Beijing voice support for Guo Feixiong. Hu Jia, third from left; Wang Lihong, third from right.

In China, it’s a different picture. Guo Feixiong has faith in humanity, including the humanity of those working in and for the system, but a totalitarian system exists by being rigid, unyielding to change. People within the system might stage a righteous uprising for which Guo Feixiong has always hoped, but the system itself will never be anything that’s compatible with civil rights. The civil rights movement in China is bound to be arduous and tragic. The dictatorship does not permit any challenge; it does not bow down to pressure; it does not tolerate growth of any social capital, be it intellectual or moral, and will kill any of it in its infancy. Consequently, the civil rights movement in China will inevitably go through many cycles of surging and failing. It’s not an exaggeration to say China’s transition to a constitutional democracy will be one of the most difficult political projects in human history.

For individuals, it takes extraordinary perseverance and willpower to commit to a cause that offers no light in sight. Guo Feixiong has known all along what he is doing. He further believes that there must be people who are equipped with courage as well as reason to make such a commitment to a steadfast and secure transition which minimizes social cost, helps the population overcome fear of change, and inspires confidence in its eventual success.

Nationalism, the people’s livelihood and civil rights have been the three basic themes of the last hundred years in China. Now that the problems of national independence and subsistence are behind us, civil rights takes the central place for the Chinese as a nation. We need a crash course in civil rights. It is imperative for the 1.3 billion Chinese to become true sovereigns, without being falsely represented, without being discriminated against and abused, free at last from the institutionalized separation that denies them of their political and civil rights. Rights alone will allow people to identify with the country, and rights alone will instill a sense of responsibility in them. Only then can the country become a community that enjoys peace, reconciliation, cooperation and a future. No other solution is in store. Technical solutions can buy some time in a limited scope, but even that is diminishing.

China has come to a crucial moment where civil rights are the only path left to confront its problems. Guo Feixiong once said, those who oppose constitutional democracy are traitors to the nation. Similarly, those who persecute Guo Feixiong and his comrades-in-arms are also traitors to the nation. While the dictatorial system is powerful and difficult to counter, it has been met with a still more powerful force, or a trend. This is the trend of the civil rights movement in which hundreds of millions of powerless people are awakening to claim their rights. All the Guo Feixiongs might be insignificant in their material possessions, but their ideals and aspirations are that of our time, and those in power should understand this.



Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu (笑蜀), the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly and the Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, and an active participant in the New Citizens Movement. He is currently a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.



Meet Guo Feixiong, a profile by Xiao Guozhen, July 23, 2014.

Guo Feixiong: Willing to Be Cannon Fodder, Will Be a Monument, by Xiao Shu, July 7, 2014.

Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng Indictment  


Chinese original

(Translated by Xiao Hua with the author’s permission)


Guo Feixiong: Willing to Be Cannon Fodder, Will Be a  Monument

By Xiao Shu, published: July 7, 2014


Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, pen name of Yang Maodong)  was arrested on August 8, 2013, and indicted on June 19, 2014, on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place.” Specifically, he is accused of organizing a demonstration outside the Southern Weekly headquarters during the paper’s New Year Greetings incident in January 2013, and of planning to hold signs in eight cities in the spring of 2013 calling for officials to disclose assets and for China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But cowardly, the indictment made no mention of his call for press freedom, asset disclosure and the ratification of ICCPR. His lawyer Sui Muqing stated that the case against Guo Feixiong is nothing but blatant political persecution against an influential activist. – the Editor


Guo Feixiong meeting with lawyer recently in Guangzhou Tianhe Detention Center.

Guo Feixiong meeting with lawyer recently in Guangzhou Tianhe Detention Center. Click to enlarge.

Guo Feixiong and I have been friends for years. Since I was expelled from the Southern Weeklyby direct order from Beijing in 2011, I have often stayed with him on my visits to Guangzhou to save expenses.

He lived in a residential development called Fame & Elegance Gardens in northern Tianhe District where he bought an apartment– at the time a luxurious one – more than a decade ago when he was a successful book dealer. His apartment, dilapidated after years of neglect, was furnished with only one desk and one chair. When he was imprisoned in 2005 and his wife and daughter subsequently immigrated to the US to get away from constant harassment by the authorities, the apartment was rented to a private daycare facility. To this day, the walls of the living room are still covered with faded childish drawings.

It took guts to stay with Guo Feixiong because he was someone who enjoyed “special protection”: the first floor had a “security office” just for him with five or six guards living there. Everything was on record: who went to see himand for how long. Walking with him into the building, you got a vigilant “eye salute” from the guards. Leaving the building with him, you would not only receive the same “eye salute” but also be trailed by a man ten meters behind. In his apartment, you couldn’t speak loudly, especially not in the living room, because there were listening ears on the other side of the walls.

I was not his only guest. A number of rights lawyers used his apartment as their guesthouse.

During my last stay with Guo Feixiong in February, 2013, I did at least two things. One was to write the first draft of Organized Rights Defense – the Only Way to Bid Farewell to the Era of Stability Maintenance (《组织化维权——告别维稳时代的必由之路》).He was very excited about the ideas in the article and we had a lot of discussions about them. Later, the article was a sensation when it was posted on Sina Weibo, causing the authorities to obliterate all of my accounts across the Internet. Such an accomplishment was surely due to Guo Feixiong’s contribution.

The other thing wasthe preparation for a signature campaign to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which China  signed in 1998 to ease its way into WTO but was never ratified. Guo Feixiong and I drafted two versions of the appeal, I a moderate one and he a strong one, and in February we launched the campaign before the annual “Two Meetings”. With the two versions together, we collected over 4,000 signatures and attracted a lot of attention from  international media.

When Guo Feixiong was released from  jail the 3rd time in September, 2011, I went to see him along with two others: Yan Lieshan (鄢烈山), a senior columnist with the Southern Metropolis Media Group (南方报业),  and a college professor. We talked for hours on end; he was still weak and pale but his eyes sparkled. After that, I  met him often,  on most occasions waiting for him in front of Guangzhou Jiujia Restaurant (广州酒家) near his home, and then we would walk aimlessly and talk about whatever was on our minds. He was so hungry and frantic for new information as though he was going to catch up on all that he had missed during the five years in jail overnight. Every time he saw me he told me  new things he had learned. His most important discoveries were the Internet and civil society.  He was incensed by his discoveries. “The conditions are so good now, much better than before I went in [to jail]. Society has changed so rapidly,” he enthused over and over again.

Guo Feixiong quickly resumed activism. More importantly, he had begun a decisive transition.  He was one of the pioneers of China’s rights movement before his imprisonment in 2007, best known for his role in the rights campaign in Taishi village, Guangdong (广东太石村).  This time around though, he would no longer limit his effort to traditional, case-specific rights defense. Instead, he would push to integrate rights defense that seeks justice for individual conflict into a broader citizens’ movement that takes aim at universal civil and human rights .

On Great Wall at Badaling in Beijing in September 2011.

On Great Wall at Badaling in Beijing in September 2011. Photo provided by Xiao Guozhen.

Guo Feixiong has always been known for defending his own rights at all costs. After he was secretly detained last August, he went on a 25-day hunger strike to protest the illegal arrest and detention. In 2005 in Taishi village, when he was detained for providing legal assistance to villagers, he staged a hunger strike that lasted 59 days. After regaining freedom in September, 2011, Guo Feixiong traveled to Beijing but was kidnapped and forcibly repatriated to Guangzhou by the Beijing State Security(国保). He was furious and managed to slip out away from surveillance and returned to Beijing by train shortly after arriving Guangzhou. He openly announced that he would defend his right to travel freely, regardless of possible retaliation. Perhaps his indomitability deterred his opponents; he was not obstructed the second time he went to Beijing.

This episode can be regarded as acontest of will and a tactical evaluation for both sides, also an important part of Guo Feixiong’s overall mapping of the boundaries.

Previously, he had launched a book salon in Guangzhou that organized friends to read a list of books on the subject of “peaceful political transition.” For each book he wrote a commentary. The salon started off smoothly, each time with twenty to thirty people attending. Over the meetings people discussed topics of democracy and autonomy, observing strictly the Robert’s Rules of Order to avoid dominance of a few. He invited me to give a speech to the salon in May, 2012, after I concluded my academic visit to the National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan.

The salon was quickly met with harassment from the authorities and could no longer be held in the bar used for the meetings. Guo Feixiong’s stubborness struck again: the salon violated neither the Constitution nor the law and it would be held no matter what. If it couldn’t be held in a bar, it would then be held in his apartment. As a result, Guo Feixiong’s desolate home in the Fame and Elegance Gardens became a bustling place. The salon was his attempt to network, and that was probably why he was so excited when he read my essay about organized rights defense. We understood each other.

Through the salon, Guo Feixiong quickly assembled a group of individuals, including several rights lawyer in Guangzhou. For example, lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) had not been part of the rights movement and citizens movement before he met Guo Feixiong. Since then, he has become a staunch supporter of Guo Feixiong and worked tirelessly to try to free him after his arrest last year. Lawyer Sui Muqing was by no means the onlyperson who was attracted to Guo Feixiong and his ideals.

As the most open region in China, Guangdong had been a tad more tolerant of dissent. Before Guo Feixiong’s release, Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) and YeDu (野渡) had been the leading figures in Guangzhou’s circle of activists. Guo Feixiong’s network building took it to the next level, laying a foundation for it to rise in China’s civil movements. During the Southern Weekly incident in January 2013, activists in Guangzhou took to the street in ways that surprised China and drew notice from the international media – there was Guo Feixiong’s work in it.

His work was not limited to Guangzhou. He traveled around the country to meet dissidents and activists. Everywhere he went, the local stability maintenance apparatus would be on high alert, monitoring his every move and warning those who he planned to meet to stay away from him. But these warnings were met with ridicule and Guo Feixiong was warmly received at each stop where, after a five-year hiatus, he was able to rebuild trust with friends across China.

The most noteworthy trip was the one made in July, 2012, to Xinyu, Jiangxi (江西新余) where Liu Ping (刘萍), Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) and Li Sihua (李思华)had been constantly harassed, tortured, or placed under house arrest for taking part in the local elections of people’s representatives as independent candidates in 2011. Guo Feixiong thought highly of ordinary citizens’ participation in elections and admired the three heroes of Xinyu, deeming them trail blazer for their grassroots activism. He and several colleagues drove hundreds of miles to Xinyu to express their support for the trio, to take photos and videos for future reference, and to prepare for possible lawsuit against local government for their illegal treatment of the three in the hope to deter further use of violence against the three.

There was more to his Xinyu trip, and that is his attention on local elections of people’s representatives. He firmly believes that China’s peaceful transition must begin from making breakthroughs in the local elections, and the civil society must make preparations for it sooner rather than later. In private exchanges with me, Guo Feixiong repeatedly talked about how he would position himself: He would either devote himself to organizing trainings for independent candidates, or campaign as an independent candidate himself to become the first elected mayor of a county in contemporary China. Such is Guo Feixiong’s vision of China’s transition to a democracy.

The constitutional democracy he has advocated, in his own words, “would erase the legitimacy of state, order and development [under the current one-party rule] and replace it with the one and only legitimacy of elections. This is the change to be. It is radical, and it is not gradualism.” However, in terms of operation, he is very cautious.

He is someone who has been badly treated by the Chinese regime: He has been subjected to horrific tortures, beatings and years of imprisonment, but he has not one iota of hatred in him, nor is he inclined to violence. Talking to him or reading his writings, you would be drawn to their peacefulness and moderation. He believes that the very concept of freedom and democracy is based on built-in elements of reason, humaneness , tolerance, goodwill, compromise, and mutual engagement, rather than a distorted and belligerent mindset. And he wrote, “a look at the dozens of countries in the third wave of democratic transition, reconciliation is the undisputed theme.”

Therefore, on the one hand, he strongly promoted civil actions to overcome fear and to fight openly for citizens’ political rights. He saw the need to build a stronger political force among citizens, to establish the leading role of civil society in China’s peaceful transition to a democracy.On the other hand, he does not believe that there are no good people at all in the system and he opposes the monolithic division of system and non-system. In a BBC interview in March, 2013, he even expressed goodwill towards China’s new leaders, this is because he believed that, among the variables to change, apart from citizen opposition, “there is a social variable with a strong forward push that cannot be ignored, that is, the power within the system that recognizes and identifies with the values of a constitutional democracy. If we do not take a naïve, absolutist view that ‘everyone in the system is evil,’…we can assert without hesitation that, just as there has been internal split in any era, there must be a significant number of doers in the system who have been believers of democratic values. They will not stay silent forever and become lost; they will rise at the right time to make an impact. They might even want to take the initiative to effect change and to embrace historic challenges and opportunities, because they too are humans.”

The Southern Weekly incident and the ICCPR signature campaign were Guo Feixiong’s practice of the kind of direct citizen action he advocates in order to build citizens’ political power, and today he is paying a huge price for it: he has committed no crime whatsoever, but he was arrested last August and charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.” On June 21, he was indicted.

This is the fourth time Guo Feixiong has been imprisoned. He knows what he is doing. Most of the front runners are stepping stones and sacrifices, he once said openly, and as a front runner, he is prepared to push the boundaries and build structures and spaces [for citizens’ opposition]: “We are willing to be the cannon fodder for freedom and democracy. If this democracy experiment of ours can lead to the civil society and internet communities to go beyond expressions and take actions, then our efforts and sacrifices will not be in vain.”

Guo Feixiong’s home at the Fame and Elegance development is probably covered in dust again. But I believe he will return soon, we will meet in his place again, no doubt a gathering ground for China’s civil political society.  Three rounds of imprisonment have not subdued him, and this time will be no exception. He will come out of this ordeal stronger, so will Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing and Liu Ping who have shown to the courts and the world their steadfastness in the face of persecution. They will be back and they will be leaders of China’s civil political community.

A tide of history has been formed; any obstructions and crackdowns will end up promoting it by trying to stem it. The crackdown on Guo Feixiong and the New Citizens Movement is but a new footnote to this iron logic. Their actions and their sacrifices will not be for nothing. They will not be cannon fodder but great monuments.


Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu at George Washington University in April, 2014.

Xiao Shu (笑蜀), the pen name of Chen Min, is a former columnist for the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly and the Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, and an active participant in the New Citizens Movement. He is currently a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.



Denied Meetings, Lawyers Fear for Advocate Guo Feixiong

Prominent Rights Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained

“‘I Want to Be a Man of My Word’: A Summary of the Guo Feixiong Case and His Political Goals” by his lawyer Zhang Xuezhong

Beyond Stability Maintenance – From Surveillance to Elimination, by Teng Biao


(Translated by Zhang Fan. Translation based on an abridgment of the original essay with the author’s approval.)

Chinese original

Journalists at the Southern Media Group Speak out, Again

By China Change, published: December 29, 2013


For China watchers, the year of 2013 began promptly with the Southern Weekend incident. As a New Year’s tradition, the liberal-leaning, Guangzhou-based paper issued its New Year’s greetings in an essay calling for a “dream of constitutionalism.” The essay drew the ire of the censors at the paper, was intercepted in the editing room, butchered, turned into something towing the Party’s line, all without the knowledge of the journalists working there. A few Weibo complaints morphed into national, then international, news in a matter of hours. In a few days, the paper was shushed and back to its normal operations with outsiders knowing very little about the internal repercussions and handling of the events.

Now, at the end of the year, two dissidents, Guo Feixiong (pen name for Yang Maodong) and Liu Yuandong (刘远东), were charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” for showing up outside the entrance of the Southern Media Group headquarters (where the Southern Weekend was housed) to voice their support for the journalists and call for a free press and freedom of expression. Of the hundreds of people who converged outside the SMG compound, the two were identified by the authorities as the ringleaders of the demonstrations. They will soon be standing trial in Guangzhou. As Xiao Shu (笑蜀) pointed out (in Chinese), “scores of Maoists also gathered outside the SMG compound to protest the Southern Weekend, and none of them have been charged. The authorities’ selective enforcement indicates that they were not concerned with gatherings per se; they are punishing Guo Feixiong and Liu Yuandong not because they disrupted anything or gathered a crowd, but because of their calls for democracy and press freedom.”

Friday, Lei Lei (雷磊), a journalist with the Group, exposed a statement made by the Group testifying about the “disruption” the crowds caused. A few days before, the defense lawyers of Guo Feixiong characterized the statement by the Group as ‘damaging:’

Statement made by the Southern Media Group.

Statement made by the Southern Media Group.

Explanation about the Crowding outside the Entrance of Southern Media Group January 6 – 9, 2013

The Southern (or Nanfang) Media Group is an influential media group in China. Under its flag, the Nanfang Daily is the Chinese Communist Party Guangdong Provincial Committee’s official newspaper, Nanfang Magazine, the provincial party committee’s official periodical, and the the official website of the provincial party committee and the provincial government. As a result, the Group had to open a side entrance on Dongxing South Road that was closed under normal circumstances to divert the flow of staff, and some of the Group’s meetings (events) had to be canceled.

From January 6 to 9, 2013, many people gathered outside the Group’s headquarters at No. 289, Guangzhou Avenue, middle section, and they significantly affected the normal work order of the Group, and the entrance’s normal in-and-out traffic of personnel and vehicles was encumbered. 

Now two days before the year is over, journalists in Guangzhou, more than 20 of them so far, are speaking out, again, against the organization that employs them:    

Dai Zhiyong (戴志勇, author of the New Year’s greetings that led to the Southern Weekend incident): This statement has violated the baseline of the matter, and I cannot agree with it. I personally didn’t feel my work order was disrupted or in any way affected by the ladies and gentlemen who were expressing their views outside the gate. Everyone has the right to express their opinions and judgment, whether they supported the Southern Weekend or otherwise. To strive for one’s lawful right of expression should be the most basic consensus.  

Fan Chenggang (范承刚): 2014 is right around the corner. My only hope is that Mr. Liu Yuandong and Mr. Guo Feixiong will receive fair and just treatment. As an ordinary member of the Southern Media Group, I have never thought my work was disturbed in any way at all. On the contrary, thanks to the support of many strangers at the beginning of the year, media outlets of the Group have received more lenient space to write and report. I appreciate everyone who came out to support us, and I also believe their voices should be tolerated and respected in a normal society.

Lei Lei (@雷磊ak): As an ordinary member of the Southern Media Group, I do not think that my work was disturbed at the beginning of this year. Everything went on as usual and, on January 10, my report on Yuan Lihai adopting abandoned children was published on the front page. In the coming new year, I wish Mr. Guo Feixiong and Mr. Liu Yuandong will receive fair treatment. I appreciate the support from these strangers, and I wish them the best.

Ximen Buan (@西門不暗): With this statement in front of me that aids and abets the evil-doers, I am deeply ashamed as a member of the Group. This is my personal statement: What I witnessed differs from what is described in the statement. The supporters were well-mannered and in good order. I hold different values from that statement.

Kuang Haiyan (@邝海炎): I am a member in the compound of the Southern Media Group, and I also am ashamed! Those who came to voice their support for the Southern Weekend were well behaved. They stood on either side of the street and kept the middle clear for the flow of traffic. When someone teased the opponents being 50-centers, someone else would come forward promptly saying, “The 50-centers have freedom of speech too.” They showed true civility!

Pan Xiaozhou (@潘小粥): As a member of the Southern Media Group, I feel deeply ashamed about this statement.

Xiao Rui (@萧锐): As a current member of the No. 289 compound, I can testify that the public order was good in those days and I witnessed neither destruction nor disturbance.

Zhou Zhimei (周至美): My work unit’s opinion does not represent my own stance. 

Su Shaoxin (苏少鑫): I hereby state that I am Su Shaoxin, editor of the op-ed page at the Southern Metropolis Daily. I was on duty on January 7 and 8, 2013. On both days, we held our headline discussion at 4:30 pm as usual, the page layout proceeded as usual, and the supervisors on duty reviewed the stories and signed off on them for publication as usual, and nothing was out of the ordinary from any other time during the two and half years I have worked here.

Shi Feike (石扉客): I submitted my resignation at the end of February and officially left my post at the end of March. When the Southern Weekend Incident erupted in January, I was on the editorial board managing the news section of the Southern Metropolis Weekly, an outlet of the Southern Media Group. By my own witnessing, I did not see the workplace order at the Weekly being hindered by any outside forces and the news section operated normally. As a former member of SMG and a signatory of the protest [against censorship at the Southern Weekend], I want to express my deepest respect for, and appreciation to, Liu Yuandong, Guo Feixiong and other citizens who voiced their support for the Southern Media Group.  

Luo Xiaofu (罗小敷): I was at the scene to throw fifty cents to the fifty-centers. The latter and I conducted ourselves in an orderly way. I state that the statement by the Group does not represent me at all, and I am humiliated by its shamelessness and unscrupulousness.

Lin Shanshan (林珊珊N号):  As a member of the Group, the event at the beginning of this year did not disturb my work.

Zhang Zhe (张哲): The Southern Media Group provided an absurd testimony in the Liu Yuandong case and Guo Feixiong case, both men charged with “disrupting order in a public place.” Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are the rights citizens ought to have, also rights that journalists pursue and defend, not to mention that there was no violent disruption whatsoever at the time. I was still working at Southern Weekend at the beginning of the year, and I completely disagree with the testament of the Group. I thank our supporters and condemn the action of the Group.

Qin Xuan's post.

Qin Xuan’s post.

Qinxuan (秦轩): I heard about the statement the Southern Media Group made in the cases of Liu Yuandong and Guo Feixiong who were charged with “disrupting public order.” Citizens should enjoy the right to assemble and the right to express themselves, and journalists seek and defend these rights as well. What crimes did they commit? Since no violence occurred, why do we even need to argue about it? The Southern Weekend is a subordinate unit of the Group. It may feel the need to protect some of its members, but what value will be left of the Southern Weekend if it sells out others and betrays principles for the sake of survival? I appreciate those who came out to support us at the beginning of the year, and protested what the Group did.  

More than 20 journalists at the SMG have so far expressed on social media their objection to the organization’s statement. And most of their messages have since been censored.


Related reading:

Indictment of Liu Yuandong

Police Indictment Opinion for Guo Feixiong & Sun Desheng

Guangzhou rights activist Liu Yuandong charged over press freedom protest

The Southern Street Movement

Guo Feixiong Talks to Onlookers Outside the SMG Compound during the Southern Weekend Incident Part 1 and part 2 (in Chinese)


Sources: Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, WeChat.

Indictment of Liu Yuandong

Guangdong Province Guangzhou Municipality Tianhe District People’s Procuratorate


 Tianhe Procuratorate  public criminal indictment [2013] No. 2242


Defendant Liu Yuandong, male, born March 30, 1978, ID number 44142419780330****, Han ethnicity, undergraduate university education, place of household registration: Guangdong province, Wuhua county, Shuizhai township neighborhood committee township government dormitory. Criminally detained on March 11, 2013, by Guangzhou Municipality Public Security Bureau Tianhe District Branch on suspicion of capital withdrawal. On April 3, 2013, the Tianhe District People’s Procuratorate approved the the arrest of the defendant, who was arrested on April 4 of the same year by Guangzhou Municipality Public Security Bureau Tianhe District Branch.

Defendant Yang Jinghu, male, born July 14, 1973, ID number  44082419730714****, Han ethnicity, undergraduate university education, place of household registration: Apt. 2504, No. 34 Jinhengbei first street, Haizhu District, Guangzhou Municipality. Criminally detained on March 1, 2013, by Guangzhou Municipality Public Security Bureau Tianhe District Branch on suspicion of capital withdrawal. On April 3, 2013, the Tianhe District People’s Procuratorate approved the arrest of the defendant who was arrested on April 4 of the same year by Guangzhou Municipality Public Security Bureau Tianhe District Branch.

Guangzhou Municipality Public Security Bureau Tianhe District Branch has concluded its investigation of the case. On June 3, 2013, the case was transferred to this Procuratorate for reviewing and indicting Liu Yuandong and Yang Jinghu on suspicion of false capital contribution; on November 27, 2013, Guangzhou PSB Tianhe District Branch submitted to this Procuratorate supplementary materials for reviewing and indicting Liu Yuandong on suspicion of gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place. Upon accepting the case, this Procuratorate notified the defendants of their rights to counsel and the victims of their rights to engage agent(s) ad litem. This Procuratorate questioned the defendants in accordance with the law, and examined the case materials in their entirety. During this process, this Procuratorate twice returned the case to Guangzhou PSB Tianhe District Branch for additional investigation, and extended the review period three times.

The review, conducted in accordance with the law, has ascertained:

I.  The crime of gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) gave a speech outside Southern Weekend building in January, 2013.

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) gave a speech outside Southern Weekend building in January, 2013.

On January 7, 2013, defendant Liu Yuandong went to the entrance area of the Southern Media Group at No. 289 Guangzhou Avenue, Middle Section. By holding up signs and giving speeches, the defendant attracted a large number of onlookers, and gathered a crowd to disrupt order in a public place. At the peak point, the crowd was a few hundred people, also obstructed police officers to enforce law, and seriously disrupted order in a public place. The same evening, Liu Yuandong contacted Yu Gang and others and gathered others to take part in the illegal assembly later at the same location. On January 8, 2013, Yu Gang and others, upon invitation, went to the aforementioned location where they held up signs, gave speeches, and took group photos, disrupting order in a public place. On January 9 the same year, defendant Liu Yuandong once again went to the aforementioned location, and gathered a crowd and disrupted order in a public place in the same manner.

II. The crime of false declaration of registered capital

Between November and December, 2011, defendant Liu Yuandong, without actually providing any capital, consulted with defendant Yang Jinghu, who was the legal representative of Guangzhou Sanji Financial Consultancy Co. Ltd. (hereafter referred to as “Sanji Co.”) and agreed that, defendant Liu Yuandong would pay a service fee of RMB 6,800, and Sanji Co. would apply and register with Guangzhou Municipality Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce on his behalf to establish the Guangdong Yuan’ao Biological Technology Co. Ltd. (hereafter referred to as Yaun’ao Co.) with a registered capital of RMB 500,000. Then, Sanji Co. first provided RMB 30,000 as Yuan’ao Co.’s registered capital, later applied to increase the capital to RMB 500,000. After the aforementioned company was verified and approved for registration, and issued business license, by the registration organ, Sanji Co. withdrew the registered capital of RMB 500,000 it had provided as a service.

Between November and December, 2011, Hu Shaogeng (胡绍耿, handled in a separate case), without actually providing any capital, consulted with defendant Yang Jinghu, who was the legal representative of Guangzhou Sanji Financial Consultancy Co. Ltd. (hereafter referred to as “Sanji Co.”) and agreed that, defendant Hu Shaogeng would pay a service fee of RMB 8,500, and Sanji Co. would apply and register with Guangzhou Municipality Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce on his behalf to establish the Guangzhou Xinrui Photography Co. Ltd. (hereafter referred to as Xinrui Co.) with a registered capital of RMB 1,000,000. Then, Sanji Co. provided RMB 1,000,000 as Xinrui’ao Co.’s registered capital. After the aforementioned company was verified and approved for registration, and issued a business license by the registration organ, Sanji Co. withdrew the registered capital of RMB 1,000,000 it had provided as a service.

On March 1, 2013, defendant Yang Jinghu was taken into custody; on March 11 the same year, defendant Liu Yuandong was taken into custody.

Evidence confirming the aforementioned facts includes:

1. Physical evidence, documentary evidence;

2. Witness testimonies by Li Chuang, Huang Pinqian, Huang Huijie, Luo Shan, Yu Gang, Chen Jinyang, Zhang Tichao, Yang Huiqing, Cai Lufeng, Lin Qingya, Mai Yuejiao, Hu Shaogeng, and identification records.

3. The statement and justification of the defendants Liu Yuandong and Yang Jinghu;

4. Evaluation reports; and

5. Audiovisual materials.

This Procuratorate believes that defendant Liu Yuandong and Yang Jinghu disregarded the country’s law, used fraudulent means to falsify registered capital when applying for and registering a company, and cheated the government registration organ to obtain company registration. The amount of money involved was huge, and their behaviors have jointly violated Article 158 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the criminal facts are clear and evidence conclusive and sufficient, and the defendants should be prosecuted for the crime of false declaration of registered capital. Defendant Liu Yuandong disregarded the country’s law, and gathered a crowd to disrupt order in a public place. The circumstances are serious, and he qualifies as a ringleader. His acts constitute a violation of the provisions of Article 291 of the Criminal Law of the PRC. The facts of his crimes are clear, and the evidence conclusive and sufficient; the defendant should be prosecuted for the crime of gathering a crowd to disrupt the order of a public place. Defendant Liu Yuandong committed multiple crimes and, according to Article 69 of the Criminal Law of the PRC, he shall be given combined punishment.

In accordance with Article 172 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, we hereby issue this indictment and request punishment in accordance with the law.


Sincerely submitted to:

Guangdong Province Guangzhou Municipality Tianhe District People’s Court


Assistant Procurator: Yang Fan (杨帆)

[Translator’s note: There is no date on the online copy of the indictment, and according to SCMP, Liu Yuandong was informed of the charge on December 16, 2013]

1. Defendants Liu Yuandong, Yang Jinghu are currently detained in Guangzhou Municipality Tianhe Detention Center.
2. Total 12 volumes of case documentation, evident and supplementary investigation, and 5 compact discs.


Related reading:

The Southern Street Movement


(Translation by

Chinese original

The Southern Street Movement

The first overview in English.

By China Change, published October 19, 2013


In recent years, street banner protests have become an emerging phenomena in China. We often see photos of petitioners rolling out banners to protest injustice or forced demolitions. But prior to this year, when the Chinese government launched a more severe crackdown in an attempt to put an end to these activities, cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and others had seen frequent street banner protests. Different from rights defense demonstrations, these street protests called for government officials to publicly disclose their finances and, more broadly, for democratic freedoms. They are a form of direct, conscious political behavior.

Wang Aizhong (王爱忠)

Wang Aizhong (王爱忠)

37-year-old Wang Aizhong (王爱忠)attended  a university in Guangzhou in the 1990s and has since lived in the southern metropolis. He is a senior manager for a company, and one of the earliest initiators of the Southern Street Movement (南方街头运动). Mr. Wang recently told Radio France Internationale (RFI) in a telephone interview: “At the beginning, around August, 2011, we felt that we had only been staying online to voice our opinions and expressed our concerns on various issues, and the actual impact of online expression had been very small. Later, several people in Guangzhou, including myself, Liu Yuandong (刘远东), Ou Longgui (欧龙贵) and Yang Chong (杨崇), worked on the idea of ‘Moving from the Internet to the Public Square.’ We initiated a monthly gathering at the Huanghuagang Memorial Park (黄花岗烈士陵园) where we met on the last Sunday of each month at two o’clock in the afternoon.  You could say that this was the start of the Southern Street Movement. Pretty soon a dozen more people joined us, including attorney Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华). Later on, we not only had native Guangzhou participants, but also people from Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Zhuhai and Huizhou. Further along, we even had people from neighboring Hunan and Guangxi provinces. As the number of participants grew, it didn’t take long before the authorities cracked down on us.”

Wang Aizhong said that the so-called Southern Street Movement is not an organization. In its current state, the term merely refers to activities related to making a political expression on the streets or in public sphere, and because it emerged in the south, it has been called the Southern Street Movement. In addition to the aforementioned ones, participants include Zhang Shengyu (张圣雨), Sun Desheng (孙德胜), Jia Pin(贾榀), Xu Lin(徐琳), Zhang Wanhe (张皖荷), Chen Jianxiong (陈剑雄), Huang Wenxun(黄文勋) and Yuan Fengchu (袁奉初). There are a lot of them. They come from all walks of life, including college graduates, businessmen, lawyers, laborers, the unemployed, and the petitioners.

Yu Gang (余刚) and a friend in Huanghuagang Memorial Park, Guangzhou, in 2012.

Yu Gang (余刚) and a friend in Huanghuagang Memorial Park, Guangzhou, in 2012.

Yu Gang (余刚) was 20 years old when the June 4th Tiananmen democracy movement took place in 1989.  He was a third-year college student and participated in the demonstrations. He has been a businessman for years and now lives in Shenzhen. In an interview this May, he told RFI, “In the twenty years since the June 4, 1989, incident until 2009, I saw little democratic progress in China. My friends and I wanted to take actions to change China. Starting in 2010, we gradually took to the street to hold demonstrations.”

In China, street demonstrations require courage and are often difficult to initiate. It had a rough start and the mobilization didn’t go well either. However, as Yu Gang and his friends persevered, their actions have received more and more response and grown increasingly daring. They include going downtown to publicly mobilize the people. “In 2010, we only held one event,” says Yu Gang. “We went to the heart of the Shenzhen downtown area to hold banner protests and give speeches. We demanded that the Chinese government hold general elections to choose leaders and abolish the ‘one-party’ political system. The entire demonstration lasted only one and a half hours. In 2011, we held four demonstrations, all in Guangzhou, demanding general elections, promoting World Human Rights Day, and supporting Wukan’s fight against local corruption. In 2012, we took to the streets seven or eight times, promoting democracy, criticizing the government, or calling for asset disclosure by officials. This year we have already held 40 demonstrations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. During the Southern Weekend Incident at the beginning of the year, we went out in full gear, holding heated on-site demonstrations for three days in a row.” 

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) gave a speech outside Southern Weekend building in January, 2013.

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) gave a speech outside Southern Weekend building in January, 2013.

As for why these street activities can emerge and flourish in cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Yu Gang’s explanation is that Guangdong, close to Hong Kong,  has always been China’s frontier for openness, and people enjoy relatively free thinking. “In the last 100 years of modern history,” said Yu Gang, “Guangdong has been the frontrunner in leading China towards a more westernized civilization. In their daily life, Guangdong people have always discussed politics in bold ways, and are not as afraid as people in the north.”

Wu Kuiming (吴魁明) is a lawyer who has been living in Guangzhou for more than 20 years. He has represented many human rights cases, and has a unique perspective of the street movement. He told RFI in a recent interview: “the street movement participants are mostly grassroots laborers, very different from our generation of college students in ‘89. They are non-locals who have come here to work. Most of them were born in the 1970s or 1980s, and weren’t influenced by liberal ideas in the 1980s as my generation had been. They entered adulthood in the 1990’s, a relatively constrained and oppressed era. Their arousal of political and civic consciousness was completely self-motivated. As the internet, Weibo, and QQ messenger have made communications convenient, they have become more confident, and were able to band together to flourish.”

In regards to the significance of the street movement, Mr. Wu gave unambiguous affirmation. He even believes that the people participating in the street movement are the driving force for reform. “In China’s current environment,” he told RFI, “the government, the business community, and the bureaucrats basically have no motivation to change. In every dynasty, intellectuals and students are supposed to be the progressives of the time, but when you look at China today, it’s no longer the case. Students have been completely brainwashed and indoctrinated. Intellectuals and social media opinion leaders (otherwise known as Big Vs) are more inclined towards reform within the system, and a lot of ideas about change just won’t work in China’s current societal structure. Therefore, there definitely needs to be more initiative and more pressure for the society to undergo sufficient reform. From this perspective, I think that the role of the street movement participants is very significant, and the impact of such grassroots activism on propelling the whole society forward cannot be overlooked. Of course, their overall ability to influence, including their ideas and knowledge, is weaker than previous generations, for example the ‘89 generation, but in today’s Chinese society, I highly value the contribution they are making.

From the start, the street movement has never been tolerated by the authorities. The suppression has been continuous and gotten steadily worse.

Up until the Southern Weekend Incident at the beginning of this year, according to Wang Aizhong, the Guangdong authorities had been relatively tolerant. When three or four people held up signs on the street, or in the park, the police would intervene but were by and large lenient.  They seldom took the participants into custody, let alone criminally detained them. Even administrative detentions were used sparsely. At most the authorities would summon the participants “to drink tea”, or make a record of the event.

Demonstration in Guangzhou on March 30, 2012.

Demonstration in Guangzhou on March 30, 2012.

Prior to this year, the most serious crackdown occurred at a picketing activity on the afternoon of March 30, 2012. That day, a dozen or so activists staged a street protest on the Long Dong pedestrian street (龙洞步行街) in the Tianhe District of Guangzhou, and the signs they held read “Fairness, Justice, Freedom, Equality, Human Rights, Legality, Democracy, Republicanism,” “Without elections, there is no future,” “Hu Jintao take the lead and publicize your finances,” and more. Their activities attracted some hundreds of onlookers, and they weren’t subsequently dispersed by the police. In early April, five of them were first administratively detained, then criminally detained, for “allegedly illegal assembly, parade, and demonstration.” After their lawyers intervened, and thanks to the overwhelming online support, four of them were released on bail awaiting trial, while Yang Chong was sent back to his hometown in Jiangxi where he was sentenced to one year in prison.

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) in front of a banner that reads "Liberty, Democracy, Constitutionalism."

Liu Yuandong (刘远东) in front of a banner that reads “Liberty, Democracy, Constitutionalism.”

Since the Southern Weekend Incident at the beginning of this year, Mr. Wang told RFI , criminal detention has been directly applied to people who have participated in street demonstrations. In February, biologist and businessman Liu Yuandong (刘远东), an important player in the Southern Street Movement, was arrested. He has been held without a trial ever since, far beyond the legally prescribed time limit. Recent reports said Mr. Liu has been mistreated in jail.

In May, Huang Wenxun, Yuan Fengchu and a number of others, all of them regular participants in the Southern Street Movement, were detained in Chibi, Hubei. They were all beaten up by the police, and Huang Wenxun was tortured with electrical shocks. Other participants were also detained. After Shenzhen resident Yang Lin (杨林) had been missing for a month, his family received a notice of his arrest and learned that he had been accused of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) on his "Bright China Tour" in April in Nanjing. He was soon arrested in Chibi, Hubei (湖北赤壁) where he and two others have been detained since.

Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) on his “Bright China Tour” in April in Nanjing. He was soon arrested in Chibi, Hubei (湖北赤壁) where he and two others have been detained since.

The crackdown is clearly nationwide. Since April, China has detained close to 200 dissidents and activists, including Dr. Xu Zhiyong, billionaire investor Wang Gongquan (王功权) in its crackdown on the New Citizens Movement and the prominent Guangzhou-based dissident Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄).

Right now the situation is severe, but the Southern Street Movement participants have not backed down from their aspirations. Wang Aizhong said, “We must unwaveringly continue on with the street movement, influencing more people through our actions, and making the street movement bigger and bigger. Of course, facing the current suppression, we do our very best to avoid unnecessary losses. Our consensus is that we need to lie low for the time being, suspending our street activities for a while and focusing instead on developing strength. Our ultimate goal is to build a China that is democratic, constitutional, and that conforms to modern political civilization.”


Related reading:

Denied Meetings, Lawyers Fear for Advocate Guo Feixiong

Prominent Rights Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained

The Young Man with the Coolest Sign in the World

China Retaliates against Activist


Yaxue’s exchanges with Mr. Wang Aizhong

(Translated by Jake Clark and Carolyn Tilney)