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709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers
Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018
In China, lawyers who handle cases according to the law and uncover the illegal activities of the authorities have increasingly filled the Chinese Communist Party with dread. Their courage has invited strict surveillance and repression. The methods of repression incorporate not only the past experiences of ‘class struggle,’ but have been further refined through continuous innovation to form a comprehensive and more deceptive mechanism of control.
1. Unlawful ‘Annual Review’ of Lawyers
Each year, Chinese lawyers must complete a so-called ‘inspection’ with their local judicial bureau. Those who pass receive a blue seal on their practice license to confirm that they are ‘qualified’ (称职). Over the years, the authorities have used this as a means of muzzling lawyers. Not being allowed to pass the review and get the seal creates massive obstacles for lawyers in their practice, as the public security authorities can use it as an excuse to refuse them access to case files. Recently three lawyers in Guangdong province with a track record of defending human rights cases were given the blue stamp of ‘unqualified’ (不称职) on highly spurious grounds.
Under Chinese law, lawyers are qualified to practice as soon as they obtain their licenses, and there’s no specific rule that requires the annual review, which was originally administered by law firms. Now it has turned into a ‘administrative permit’ issued by the Justice Bureaus and is an instrument the authorities use to keep lawyers under control despite vocal opposition from the legal community.
2. The Illegal ‘Reporting System’
The authorities have outlined 10 categories of cases that are subject to the so-called ‘reporting system’ (报备系统), including cases involving national security, religious beliefs, and mass incidents. Lawyers who take on these cases and have any confrontation with public security officials, the procuratorate, or court, can be forced to withdraw from the case, and can be barred from handling any such cases in the future. This new requirement has indirectly placed restrictions on lawyers and law firms by exerting an extra level of pressure. To avoid trouble, some law firms either refuse to provide paperwork to facilitate their lawyers’ work, or flat out reject certain cases.
3. Clamping Down on Lawyers’ Social Media Expression
In the name of ‘preventing hype,’ the CCP has restricted lawyers from using social media to voice their opinions, and prevent them from engaging in discussions concerning the judiciary. Lawyers have been forced into silence despite being fully aware that the Party meddles in the judicial process in order to maintain its empty claims of a harmonious and prosperous society.
Several local judicial bureaus have asked lawyers to report their Twitter and Facebook usernames this year, marking tightening control over their social media use. The joint statement of the Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Justice made on April 24 also specified that lawyers “are not allowed to hype up cases online by issuing statements, open letters, or calls to action, whether by using personal accounts or other persons or media.” Those who refused to heed these demands saw their WeChat or Weibo services restricted or suspended. The authorities also picked at faults in their posts and threatened to suspend their eligibility for pass in annual review or even revoke their licenses.
4. Using Gangster Tactics to Obstruct Lawyers’ Work
When lawyers insist on their right to defend or file complaints against judicial irregularities perpetrated by police, the procuratorate, and the courts, they are often obstructed and labeled ‘anti-Party.’ This is particularly true for human rights cases. The authorities would force the defendants or family to cease contact with their lawyers or block the two parties from meeting. They can stop lawyers from viewing case files or giving defense in court. There are compulsory security measures such as body searches, and the authorities are not above beating or unlawfully confiscating lawyers’ equipment to intimidate and delay them. Short of practicing law in China as a human rights lawyer, it’s hard to imagine the extent the Chinese government would go to wreck your work and your person.
5. Co-opting Lawyers’ Associations to Exert Pressure on Lawyers and Law Firms
When lawyers receive ‘judicial advice’ from the court or the procuratorate, they can expect trouble from the judicial bureau regardless of whether their practice is in line with the law. Trouble can come directly from the government organizations or via the lawyers’ association. Lawyers and law firm directors are asked to give written reports of their cases, give up records and supporting documents, or come in for ‘talks’ in person. ‘Politics’ is used as a carte blanche to bypass legal reasoning and intimidate law firms and lawyers; this excuse can even be used to impose actual restrictions, such as forbidding them to continue work on their cases.
If the judicial bureau isn’t satisfied with the lawyers’ attitude, it can pressure them using other methods. In the past, this has included asking the law firm to report the lawyer’s personal information, how he or she came to represent the case, as well as inspecting all of the lawyer’s documentation and equipment. The main aim of this is to give the lawyer a hint that he or she is ‘a target under watch’ and needs ‘to be obedient.’ Sometimes the authorities threaten penalties or instruct the firm to terminate the lawyer’s contract.
The CCP doesn’t go easy on the firms that support these human rights lawyers either. It prohibits them from accepting intern lawyers, which makes it difficult for them to obtain the experience needed to receive official licenses. Staff and partners of the offending firms will be targeted as well: lawyers and their associates may be forced to transfer or quit their positions; property owners may be told to not renew leases for office space. Firms can be subjected to so-called rationalization, have their annual inspections be intentionally delayed, or be stripped of their business licenses.
6. Disbarring Lawyers and Persecuting Them Financially
For the lawyers whose practice was interrupted under persecution, the judicial bureau throws off all pretense and further beats them down. Lawyers who are forced out of their workplace have found that no other firms are willing to receive them, as the judicial bureau has previously warned them away. Lawyers who chose to establish their own practices face challenges from the departments concerned, which finds every possible excuse not to approve the application. According to Chinese law, if a lawyer can’t find a firm in six months, his or her license will be revoked.
The financial persecution doesn’t end here. It is difficult for lawyers who have lost their license to represent certain types of cases [that do not require license lawyers], since the neighborhood committees are wont to deny these lawyers local certification for them to do so. Restrictions can extend to their relatives. Shanghai-based lawyer Peng Yonghe and his wife were discharged from several companies due to pressure from the authorities.
7. Revoking Licenses and Canceling Law Firms
The methods of suppression described above are covert and have little impact on general society, so the authorities usually get their way. When roundabout methods fail, the authorities use more direct measures such as flat-out disbarring lawyers and shutting down their firms.
The Chinese authorities have recently taken to suspending or revoking lawyers’ practice. Due to a directive issued by Zhang Jun (张军), former Minister of Justice, lawyers Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武) had their licenses revoked and the business license of Beijing’s Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所) was canceled.
The licenses of a number of human rights lawyers, including Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Wen Donghai (文东海), and Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), were revoked under the watch of Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), former Deputy Minister of Public Security and the current Minister of Justice. The Baijuming Law Firm (百举鸣律所) in Guangxi Province was also forced out of business.
Post 709 Crackdown, administrative penalties have become a key method that the CCP uses to retaliate against and persecute human rights lawyers and law firms. On the surface, it may appear less severe compared to the mass arrests and torture that marked the 709 Crackdown, but these abuses of power wreak broader harm upon not only these individuals and their families, but also society by cowering the legal profession and the civil society at large.
As all this was not enough, the government has more tools in store for lawyers.
8. Criminally Jailing Them on False Charges
The authorities have made a habit of charging human rights lawyers with severe-sounding crimes, typically ‘subverting state power’ or ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ The CCP has acquired a lot of ‘case experience’ from the 709 Crackdown that it now brings to bear against the lawyers: residential surveillance at a designated place; denying them access to lawyers; forcing relatives to disengage the lawyers of their own choosing; forcing the detained lawyers to go on national TV to confess their ‘wrongdoings’ by threatening them with the safety of their loved ones, especially their children.
Lawyer Wang Quanzhang’s (王全璋) case has already reached court, but he has not once been able to meet with his lawyer, and he has been held incommunicado for 1091 days as of today. Lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生), who was arrested on January 18, 2018, has not been allowed to see an attorney either. Despite this, the work unit in charge of his case produced documents claiming that Yu had cancelled the service of the lawyers engaged by his wife. In the case of lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), the authorities forced him to deny that he had been subject to torture and abuse in custody.
I believe that in China the administration of justice is progressively coming under the total control of Domestic Security (国保, a CCP secret police organ) operations. We have seen how Domestic Security has often forced the judiciary to obey its orders. Nowadays, in some places, essential positions in the judicial administration are directly filled by Domestic Security agents. This is becoming more and more common.
The CCP’s ‘rule of law’ is little more than an Orwellian catch-phrase, given the severe repression meted out to human rights lawyers. Even so, there are some who still have hope in the system’s ability to reform. But this possibility, which was small to begin with, is rapidly fading. Lawyers’ attempts to file suit or appeal against the injustice done to them have virtually no chance of success. Wrongdoers are rarely punished, and the powers-that-be are becoming more blatant and arrogant in their abuse.
Lü Shijie (闾视界) is a human rights lawyer in China who wishes to remain anonymous.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.
Zhuang Liehong, November 23, 2016
“Wukan is a big prison now. Scores of villagers have been detained, including my father. Police patrol the streets and roads, and life is difficult.” – Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong
Wukan, a fishing village in eastern Guangdong Province, occupies an area of about 5,765 acres and has a population of 13,000. Since 1993, corrupt officials have conspired with businessmen to secretly sell off the collectively-owned, arable village land, and pocket the proceeds.
This led to large-scale petitions and protests to defend villagers’ rights from 2009 to 2011. As they fought for their land and for democracy in their village, Wukan residents were faced with extreme hardship, and the local government did everything it could — including plots and conspiracies — to deny and block these demands. In 2011, the authorities launched a crackdown on the village, and a number of the key villagers involved in defending their rights, including myself, were arrested. Xue Jinbo (薛锦波) was treated particularly cruelly, and died in prison.
Under the gaze of international media, then-Party chief of Guangdong Province (and current Politburo member and vice premier), Wang Yang (汪洋), made a show of goodwill, sending Zhu Mingguo (朱明国), then-vice Party secretary of Guangdong, to the village to ease tensions, affirm that the villagers’ demands were legitimate, and promise that the demands would be met. Now, however, it appears that all this was simply the government buying time while the world was watching.
In 2012, after Wukan formed its own democratically-elected village committee, the government used a range of methods to sow discord among villagers, erode the bonds of trust between them, lay traps for the most active village rights defense activists, and manipulate and control public opinion. Four years on, the government has put overwhelming emphasis on “stability maintenance” (meaning police and other security forces), and has not met any of the villagers’ demands for the return of the stolen land. Between 2012 and 2016, the authorities arrested one villager, (Zhang Dejia [张德家]), and sentenced three others — Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮), Yang Semao (杨色茂), and Lin Zuluan (林祖銮) — to prison.
In order to avoid the same fate, I fled to the United States on January 27, 2014, and applied for political asylum. For 85 days between June 19 and September 12, 2016, Wukan villagers organized daily protest marches through the streets, with about 4,000 participants every day.
On September 13, they were violently suppressed by thousands of riot police.
At about 3 a.m. on September 13, a battalion of armed police moved on the village, raiding houses and arresting 13 villagers that the government considered to be the most high-profile, including my father, Zhuang Songkun (庄松坤). Come dawn, thousands of fully-armed People’s Armed Police locked down village street intersections, dividing the crowd and then crushing the protest. They fired countless rounds of rubber bullets, and volleyed canisters of tear gas and shock grenades into the unarmed villagers. Then they began surrounding and violently beating villagers, without regard to whether they were old, women, or children. Faced with this violent, armed suppression, villagers resorted to throwing rocks and bricks. Hundreds of villagers were injured during the conflict, and reports indicate that an old woman died after being shot twice with rubber bullets. Nearly 100 villagers are believed to have been arrested.
Following the incident a large number of armed police, SWAT teams, and plainclothes officers installed themselves on practically every street corner in the village, even organizing patrols along the thoroughfares and back alleys. They severed internet access to block news about what happened from getting out, and stopped Hong Kong and international media from getting in. While all this was taking place, official media published gravely false reports about the suppression of the village. In the nearly three months since then, Wukan has become one big prison. Heavily armed riot police patrol the streets and alleys, members of the village Party committee act as spies, and the arbitrary arrest of villagers continues.
There are multiple indications that the violent suppression of Wukan this time was carried out on the direct orders of the Guangdong provincial government. Reports say that the vice-secretary of Guangdong was commanding the suppression from the nearby city of Lufeng (陆丰市), and that the thousands of riot and SWAT police deployed had been mobilized from the Huizhou Military District (惠州军区). The only one authorized to bring this level of force to bear is the current Guangdong Party secretary, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), so I’m positive that the violent suppression of Wukan was ordered by him.
On September 19, activist Yao Cheng (姚诚), a friend, and I were on our way to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to protest, when we were accosted and harassed by over a dozen men in identical black suits and blue raincoats — apparently national security agents from Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s (李克强) security detail. After we all got into an argument, one of the men took an open letter I handed to him, addressed to the Chinese Consul General in New York. We proceeded to the designated area at the UN and held our protest as planned. The following morning, however, I was shocked to receive a telephone call from the Lufeng public security bureau, who had detained my father, and were forcing him to tell me to keep quiet. On the one hand I was so glad to be in America, yet also realized that my right to express myself freely here is still limited by the Chinese authorities, and my own personal safety is even put at risk.
Wukan is still fraught with tension and conflict: the villagers have had two thirds of their land stolen from them, and this already put their basic livelihood under enormous pressure. Now, the entire area has been turned into a jail. So many villagers have been badly injured and arrested, which is another severe blow. Many families don’t even have the money to pay for proper medical treatment, and now rely on relatives from nearby villages to send them rations just so they can survive.
For all these reasons, I make the following demands of the Chinese authorities:
I. Cease the suppression and detention of Wukan villagers;
II. Release Lin Zuluan, Hong Ruichao, Yang Semao, Wei Yonghan (魏永汉), Zhang Xiangkang (张向坑), Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), Yang Shaoji (杨少集), Liu Hanchai (刘汉钗), Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠), Zhuang Songkun, Lin Desheng (林德升) and all other Wukan villagers who sought to defend their legal rights to the village land, and release the body — or, if still alive, the person — of the 80-year-old grandmother who was shot twice at close range with rubber bullets and reportedly killed;
III. Arrange for the immediate medical care of the roughly 100 villagers who were severely injured by riot police, and who are now hiding in their homes attempting to recover;
IV. Return the stolen land to Wukan village;
V. Hold accountable the chief culprit that orchestrated the violent suppression of peaceful Wukan villagers on September 13: Guangdong Party Secretary Hu Chunhua.
Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong (庄烈宏)
November 22, 2016
Zhao Xin, September 11, 2016
“Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.”
From August 2 to 5, The Tianjin Intermediate People’s Court carried out a four-day so-called “open trial” against Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), where they were charged with subversion of state power. The first two were sentenced to 7.5 and 7 years of imprisonment, while the latter two were given suspended sentences. Their punishments were so severe, on evidence that was so rash and far-fetched, in a trial that was so expedited, that both foreign media and China watchers were outraged. The Chinese activist community called it Beijing’s version of the “Moscow show trials.”
The four were among the over 20 human rights lawyers and activists arrested in what’s known as the “709 incident” (referring to a rash of arrests on July 9, 2015). Over the past year they have been put through secret detentions and forced to “make statements” dismissing their own lawyers, while also being deprived visitation from them. After the four trials, not one of the victims lodged an appeal. In the following weeks and months, more lawyers and activists will be forced to perform the same farcical show trials.
However, one of the unintended products of the four trials in August is the discussion and dissemination of “Hu Shigen thought” and the “topple-the-wall movement,” thanks to the hysterical vilification of the veteran dissident. Immediately following the trials, Communist Party mouthpieces including Xinhua, People’s Daily, CCTV, and Legal Daily, published articles with headlines like “How Hu Shigen’s ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory Bewitches and Poisons the People’s Minds,” “Using the ‘Topple-the-Wall’ Theory to Subvert State Power,” “Instead of Repenting, Hu Shigen Sentenced for Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’,” and “Trying to ‘Topple the Wall’ But Only Toppling Himself.”
All of these were clear demonstrations that Hu Shigen was being tried and punished as a thought criminal. The concept of “toppling the wall” has been familiar to Chinese political activists for a long time already, but thanks to the Communist Party’s propaganda, many people who are afraid of politics, or afraid to ask about politics, are inquiring: What is Hu Shigen’s thinking? What is the ‘topple the wall’ movement?
As someone who has known and worked with Hu Shigen for 26 years, I’ve been asked many of these questions myself. In the following passages I will set down what I know about these questions, as a preliminary explication.
I. Hu Shigen’s ideas are the consensus for China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy
During the show trials, the state media reported the following: “According to the testimony of multiple witnesses, this gathering (in an Anhui restaurant called Qi Wei Shao, 七味烧) was not a simple dinner party. Instead, it was a meeting for exchanging views and perfecting ideas about subverting state power, and for planning and implementing the overthrow of the socialist system. The gathering had a number of strict and set regulations, with clear, explicit topics for discussion about the subversion of state power, including a summary of the activities to subvert state power undertaken in 2014, and the secret conspiracy and plot for continued organization to subvert state power in 2015. The meetings also set forth systematic theories, methods, and steps for the subversion of state power, and these were also concrete acts by Hu Shigen and others to organize, plot, and carry out the subversion of state power.”
The activists were also accused of “widely spreading so-called ‘state transition’ and other subversive theories.”
In reality, the so-called “Hu Shigen thought” and so-called “state transition and other subversive theories” are no more than topics that have become a matter of widespread consensus in Chinese civil society about China’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy. The reason the Chinese authorities made such an implausible attempt to point out Hu Shigen’s “harmful thinking” was in order to leverage his status as a veteran of the democracy movement to make false charges against rights defense lawyers and human rights defenders, casting the peaceful attempts to defend civil rights and the rule of law as nefarious efforts to subvert state power. The goal, of course, is to strangle the rights defense movement of the last decade or so.
In the years since the June 4 massacre in 1989, China’s civil society has gone through different stages of political activism for change, and it has also reached a consensus that China needs a peaceful, rational and nonviolent transition, not a violent revolution, toward democracy; that rights defense should be based on the law (thus the role of lawyers came to the fore); and that a free and democratic constitutional republicanism, not a totalitarian dictatorship, is the future for China.
A component of this consensus is that the Communist Party could transform itself into a socialist party, or a democratic socialist party, participate in democratic elections, and that its officials could hold government offices. It could even, after laying down a clear roadmap for transition to a constitutional government, consider making the Communist Party itself a legal transitional ruler.
For all these reasons, it’s clear that this is a moderate, rational, and constructive consensus, and that it can guide Chinese society toward a broad and open road with the least risk, the lowest cost, and the greatest value, where there are no losers and only winners. But all this has been besmirched by a terrified dictatorship as “subversive thinking.”
II. The Three Factors (三个主要因素) and the Five Proposals (五个方案) for China’s Peaceful Transition to a Constitutional Democracy
Chinese state media have engaged in widespread and targeted criticism of the three factors and five proposals for China’s transition. The “three factors” refers to the three main forces needed to push forward China’s transition:
- A powerful citizenry: A mature civil society and a strong citizenry are the fundamentals for social progress;
- Splits in the ruling clique: Given that the Communist Party has previously produced types like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, it’s entirely possible that a catalyzing figure, like Chiang Ching-kuo or Boris Yeltzin, may yet emerge;
- The involvement of the international community: A hardline totalitarian regime is not in the interest of the world.
The Five Proposals include:
- Transition: That the transition to constitutional government be peaceful, steering clear of violence;
- Nation-building: That a democratic constitutional government system be established;
- Livelihood: The communists tax heavily but neglect the people, while maintaining massive bureaucratic institutions. Post-transition China will need to focus on education, healthcare, care for seniors, housing, welfare, and other aspects of the people’s livelihood;
- Rewards: All those who made contributions and sacrifices should be recognized through rewards, thus asserting a set of social values;
- Punishments: Reconciliation should be extended on the basis of truth and righteousness, while the obstinate criminals will be accorded punishments.
III. The Three-Stage Roadmap for Social Change
During the trial in Tianjin, Hu Shigen “confessed” the following: “On multiple occasions of citizen meal gatherings (同城饭醉) with lawyers and petitioners present, I talked about my concept of a ‘peaceful transition,’ in particular the ‘three main factors,’ ‘three stages (三个阶段),’ and ‘five proposals’ for transition. I inculcated these ideas in other people in order to achieve the goal of a ‘color revolution.’”
Chinese state media spilled much ink on the “three factors” and “five main proposals” to demonize Hu Shigen, but avoided discussing Hu’s “three stage” roadmap to change. This is because if the 88 million Communist Party members hear about such a moderate and rational roadmap for transition, some of them may very well embrace it, leading to fissures within the ruling clique itself.
The three stage roadmap for social progress that Hu Shigen proposed can be summarized as follows:
- The Phase of Enlightenment
The root of this enlightenment can be traced back to the enlightenment movement at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the early Republican Era. The Democracy Wall-era of Wei Jingsheng and others in the late 1970s was a continuation of this, with the most recent episode being the enlightenment of public intellectuals in the post-1989 era. While this enlightenment has not been completed over the last century, and faced brutal repression under communist rule, the ideas have not died. The importance of movements to enlighten and transform the thinking of the masses by spreading truth and common sense has been a consensus of all liberal Chinese citizens who favor democracy.
In 2004, when Hu Shigen was still serving out his 20-year sentence in prison for organizing political groups and activities shortly after the Tiananmen Massacre, I wrote an essay titled: “The Plight of Hu Shigen Is a Test of the Conscience of Every Chinese,” in which I quoted something he said to me during the post-June 4th white terror. He said (roughly): China doesn’t need heroics. What China needs is for every citizen to find a little conscience and courage inside themselves, a bit of public spiritedness and sense of civil responsibility. If everyone can think, beginning with themselves, to proactively get involved, then our country will definitely have hope and future.
This is what he ardently hoped for — and he practiced what he preached. Over the last few years he and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) and other like-minded people have steadily organized and expanded the same-city dinner gatherings across the country. They have met with threats and crackdown, but the activities remain alive among activists.
- The Rights Movement Phase
At the heart of civil consciousness and the development of non-government citizen organizations, is the struggle and defense of citizens’ rights. This includes economic rights, political rights, cultural rights, religious rights, and personal rights.
The Communist Party claims that it’s the vanguard of the working class, and that its political base is an alliance of workers and peasants. But the greatest irony is that, given that the Chinese economy is an oligarchy and reforms are rudderless, those harmed the most by China’s vested interest groups have been workers, peasants, and urbanites.
So where is the social base for those in favor of constitutional democracy? Where is the breathing room for this opposition group to survive? Which groups should those committed to China’s social advancement represent? This is what Hu Shigen thinks, and it’s also the consensus of China’s rights defense community: we need to rupture the authorities’ plan to marginalize us, and also the tendency to marginalize ourselves. We defend everyone’s rights, be they workers, farmers, city-dwellers, businessmen, military officials, intellectuals, religious believers, victims of forced sterilization, the elderly, and those demanding equal education and healthcare. In the final analysis, if one has no political rights, then one has no right to other rights. A system of constitutional democracy is for safeguarding all lawful rights of every Chinese citizen.
As early as 1991, again since his release in 2008, Hu Shigen emphasized repeatedly: rights defense is the greatest enlightenment. Every citizen should help to defend the rights of everyone from every strata who has been harmed, and use every rational and reasonable means to do so. Only by completely disintegrating the Communist Party’s social base and undermining its foundation can the temple of constitutional democracy be constructed.
That is the “Topple the Wall” theory.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Phase
How will a post-democratic transition China treat the 88 million Communist Party members and their families? This is a massive social constituency. If they have no future, China has no future — because they’ll form the greatest obstruction to social progress. Absorbing and reconciling with them, thereby reducing as much as possible the obstacles to peaceful transition, needs to be at the forefront of our work.
Hu Shigen was determined to learn from the examples of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, who advocated a truth and reconciliation movement in their country. At an appropriate time in the future it will be necessary to carry out the same process in China. Just as Archbishop Tutu said: If there is no truth, there can be no justice, and if there is no forgiveness there can be no future.
Hu Shigen remarked on many occasions that since the social transition in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communist Party has been needlessly terrified and anxious about a future peaceful transition to constitutional democracy in China. The reason, as Hu said during that Qi Wei Shao dinner, is because the social transformation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe demonstrated one principle very clearly: as long as Communist Party officials aren’t “blinded by their Party nature so much that they sacrifice their lives for it,” and as long as they mobilize when the time is right and become a force for social progress and not an obstruction, then they will have made a great contribution to the future constitutional democracy. Whether the Chinese Communist Party re-organizes itself to become the Chinese Socialist Party, or the Socialist Democratic Party, current party members will be in a relatively better position to play a larger role in every aspect of Chinese society to promote positive changes.
According to statistics, following the social transition of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as many as 95 percent of the key social positions, with the massive social resources those posts commanded, were still held by former Communist Party members. Hu Shigen joked about this: There are golden bricks in the Berlin Wall — we’re just waiting for the Chinese Yeltsin. In the future, China is bound to produce minor and major “Yeltsins,” guiding the China’s transition to constitutionalism.
Twenty six years ago, Hu Shigen declared before me: Sitting around and waiting for freedom is a poor cousin to getting up and fighting for it. Twenty six years later in the Qi Wei Shao restaurant in Beijing, Hu Shigen is said by communist mouthpiece media to have made the following rousing declaration before his colleagues: “It’s better to mount a rebellion than wait to be shot.”
August 11, 2016
Zhao Xin (赵昕) is a student leader in 1989 and one of the earliest rights movement activist. After years of being blocked from traveling overseas, he was able to leave China recently and relocate to San Francisco. This article was written for China Change.
Chinese state media sources:
China Sentences Hu Shigen, Democracy Advocate, to 7 Years in Prison, the New York Times, August 3, 2016.
Hu Shigen: The Prominent Yet Obscure Political Prisoner, Ren Bumei, August 2, 2016.