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Explaining China’s ‘People’s Congress’ Through the Tales of Three: A Hand-raising Automaton, An Independent Candidate, and An Electoral Activist
Teng Biao, March 12, 2019
As the Communist Party held this year’s “Two Sessions” (两会), Beijing activist Hu Jia (胡佳) was kept under control by being forcibly moved across the country to Guangdong. Human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Xu Zhiyong (许志永), of the New Citizens Movement, received midnight visits in Zhengzhou and were interrogated without explanation. The number of human rights defenders who are under house arrest or have been disappeared is in the thousands. The security departments at all levels are operating at full capacity on a nationwide scale with the capital at the center, consuming a great deal of manpower and financial resources as they use high-tech means to monitor every corner of society.
In its editorial Bring an Immediate End to the Human Rights Disaster of the Two Sessions (《立刻停止制造“两会”人权灾难》), Minsheng Watch (民生观察) wrote that “each March, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) hold their so-called Two Sessions. On paper, the Sessions should represent public opinion, and use the insights gather from it to form national policies and regulations. In fact, the Two Sessions have become a tool for obstructing, suppressing, and banning popular will; they have become associated with the abduction, detention, house arrest, surveillance, harassment, and disappearance, of dissidents and human rights activists. The Two Sessions have become a total human rights disaster for the Chinese people.”
Which national parliament meeting needs the protection of over a million personnel from the military, police, public security, national security and civilian security personnel? Who holds a meeting with such trepidation, as if walking on thin ice, mobilizing so many public resources? This lays bare the truth that the NPC is a tool to isolate and oppose the people. Behind this, it reflects the two-track political calculus of the Chinese authorities: to flex its muscles in front of the people by making a show of force and privilege, and to try to cover up the Communist Party’s greatest anxieties.
In fact, even if the petitioners are able to stuff the petition materials into the hands of the people’s representatives, few of the representatives would so much as take a look. These NPC deputies are not elected by the people. According to China’s electoral system, these people were elected by “indirect elections”: at no juncture throughout all levels of the “people’s representatives,” from county to city, from city to province, and from province to the National People’s Congress, does the “indirect” have anything to do with the people who are supposedly being represented. It is, plain and simple, a power game. In the twenty-first century, Chinese citizens are unable to directly select their national leaders and legislators, and unable to directly elect provincial and municipal leaders and deputies to the People’s Congresses on these levels. They can’t even directly elect the heads of county and township.
While in theory county- and township-level People’s Congress representatives are directly elected, those elections are completely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without multi-party competition, freedom of association, and freedom of the press, the election is doomed to be a farce. The majority of NPC deputies are from the Party, the government, the judiciary, and the military. They are legislator, executor, and judge all at once. There is no division of the three branches of power; the unity of party and state amounts to political incest.
On top of this are a small number of models workers, writers, academicians, celebrities, ethnic minorities, and the like, who are arranged to participate for the sake of political decoration. They have no task apart from stay in luxury hotels, give enthusiastic applause, and spew flattery.
The most amazing NPC deputy is an 89-year-old grandma named Shen Jilan (申纪兰). Starting when she was a girl of 18, she has been elected 13 times as an NPC deputy — the only person to hold this distinction. “She supported the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Commune, and the Cultural Revolution. She was in favor of struggling against Liu Shaoqi, and she agreed to fight Deng Xiaoping. Later, she agreed to denounce the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune, she agreed to the denunciation of the reforms, and she agreed to rehabilitating Liu and Deng.” She raised her hand in favor of all these contradictory positions, without fail, for decades.
Shen Jilan explained: “The representatives’ job is to listen to the Party, so I have never voted against it.” When a reporter asked her whether she would communicate with the voters during the election process, she said, “We are democratically elected, it’s inappropriate to have discussions with [voters.” This “hand-raising automaton” is a living, breathing specimen of Party spirit (党性). She claims to represent the peasantry, but she is actually a retired cadre at the prefecture level. Many of her family members are local officials. As an outstanding representative of the NPC, Shen Jilan presents, in concentrated form, the falsehood, absurdity, and ugliness of the legislature under the CCP.
In the election of deputies to the county-level People’s Congresses, the Communist Party guarantees the finalists of the audience through various nuanced means, by hook or crook. Candidates recognized by the Party can easily be elected without any need to promote and campaign. However, since the law does not prohibit citizens from independently participating in county-level people’s congress deputies, some brave citizens have tried to explore this approach, and in the case of a slightly liberal environment, some individuals can still be elected successfully. In the election of the (Beijing) Haidian District People’s Representatives in 1980, Fang Zhiyuan (房志远), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Hu Ping (胡平), and Zhang Wei (张炜) of the Peking University constituency successively posted election campaign declarations, organized voters’ meetings, debates, held opinion polls, and published “Electoral Shortwaves” and other neutral publications. In the end, Hu Ping was elected.
Since 1987, Yao Lifa (姚立法) of Hubei Province has written himself in as a candidate in the elections for the People’s Congress of Qianjiang City four times (湖北潜江). He was finally elected in 1998 and was the first People’s Representative to be elected in China after 1988. In 2003 and 2008, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a lecturer at Peking University of Posts and Telecommunications, was twice elected as a representative of the Haidian District People’s Congress as an independent candidate. One of the aims of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) initiated by Xu Zhiyong and myself is to encourage and help citizens from all over the country to run as independent candidates at the grass roots in elections for local People’s Congresses. This has become an important part of the rights protection movement since 2003. The independent candidacy reached a zenith in the election at the end of 2011. Many laid-off workers, students, professors, journalists, lawyers and IT professionals, including well-known online writers such as Li Chengpeng (李承鹏) and Xia Shang (夏商), ran as independent candidates. In encouraging participation in the electoral process through online agitation and offline activism, they built up quite an impressive force.
However, many independent candidates have been harassed, threatened, monitored, and even brutally beaten during the electoral process. Dissident Zhao Changqing (赵常青) became a deputy candidate for the People’s Congress in Nanzheng County, Shaanxi Province in 1997 (陕西南郑县). However, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “crime of endangering national security” after he exposed illegal acts during the election. In Wuhan in 2006, democracy activist Sun Bu’er (孙不二) was followed, beaten, and forced to withdraw his candidacy during the election. He was later arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. The very few independent representatives who were successfully elected were quickly squeezed out after the authorities realized they were disobedient, or were easily taken out in the next election.
At this juncture, I can’t help but mention my good friend, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) who is still serving his prison sentence Guangzhou. In 2006, he launched the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” (赎回选票运动), a nonviolent non-cooperation movement that fought back against rigged elections and raised civic awareness. By publicly stating that they refused to vote, they made clear that they would not take part in or comply with the pseudo-elections that did not represent the people, and in this way hoped to awaken the voters’ awareness of their rights.
Hundreds of people responded to the campaign and publicly voiced their refusal to participate in the election. I am also one of them. I also wrote to support and promote this movement, analyzing its similarities and differences with civil disobedience. In 2014, Tang Jingling was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” because of the “Ballot Redemption Campaign” and other pro-democracy and human rights activities. The independent participation of citizens in elections and the visible non-cooperation in the elections are different ways of revealing the fraudulent nature of Chinese elections in different directions.
Shen Jilan spent her life as a tool and accomplice to dictatorship, while it is those like Yao Lifa and the imprisoned Tang Jingling who truly represent the Chinese people’s bitter and courageous struggle for democracy.
Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer who now lives in New Jersey.
Earnest Request to the National People’s Congress to Form a Special Committee of Inquiry into the “July 9 Crackdown” on Lawyers
By relatives, defense counsels, and concerned lawyers, published: March 4, 2016
To the deputies, presidium, and delegations attending the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress:
We are a group made up of defense lawyers and family members of individuals taken into custody during the “July 9 Crackdown,” together with other lawyers and citizens who care about this incident. We are concerned about protecting the rights and interests of the detained and troubled even more by the current state of China’s rule of law and human rights.
The “July 9 Crackdown” refers to the sweeping arrests that took place on July 9, 2015, and the several days that followed. Under the direction of the Ministry of Public Security, police throughout the country placed at least 19 practicing lawyers and rights activists under residential surveillance in a designated location. The vast majority of them were formally arrested after six months on charges of inciting subversion or subversion. The crackdown also extended to at least 317 lawyers and activists who were summoned, forced to meet with police, threatened or harassed. This major social and legal incident has attracted worldwide attention.
We believe that police handling these cases have, through the acts listed below, demonstrated failure to fulfill the state’s responsibility to protect human rights as set out in the UN Charter and international treaties that the Chinese government has signed and the NPC has ratified. They have maliciously interpreted and violated the basic criminal justice principles and provisions set out in China’s constitution, criminal law, and criminal procedure law, as can be seen in these specific acts:
- Breaking down doors to arrest people in the middle of the night, scaring detainees’ family members and neighbors.
- Meeting with more than 300 lawyers and rights activists in a short period of time throughout the country and using threats to prevent them from acting as legal counsel or speaking out on behalf of the detainees.
- Placing restrictions on the ability of human rights lawyers and rights activists to travel abroad.
- Failure to explain the reasons for detention at the time of taking suspects into custody and afterwards failing to notify family members or tell them the location of detention, the specific unit or individuals in charge of the case, or the crime.
- Despite the clear lack of any relevant criminal circumstances, carrying out arbitrary prosecutions on serious criminal charges of inciting subversion and subversion in order to prevent lawyers from meeting with detainees.
- Abusing Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law regarding use of residential surveillance in a designated location,
- Refusing to provide lawyers with basic details of the case in accordance with the law, refusing to allow lawyers to correspond with detainees, and illegally depriving defense lawyers of their rights to meet with detainees and provide defense.
- Taking matters into their own hands and appointing lawyers for the detainees, refusing to accept the defense lawyers retained by family members, refusing to hand over documents from the detainee required to dismiss a lawyer, and refusing defense lawyers’ requests to meet with detainees to verify in person their true intentions regarding legal representation.
- Police use of guilt by association, isolation, and character assassination, challenging social ethics and creating an atmosphere of terror:
(1) Guilt by association: For example, the sons of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun and of Fengrui Law Firm lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan have both been prevented from going abroad to pursue their educations because of unlawful restrictions on their personal freedom. The father of rights activist Wu Gan has been prosecuted on groundless charges, and several others have been implicated in the case and arrested, including: the wife of rights activist Gou Hongguo; Li Heping’s younger brother, Li Chunfu, and his two assistants, Gao Yue and Zhao Wei; and Zhou Shifeng’s assistant, Li Shuyun.
(2) Character assassination: On the one hand, police have deleted posts, closed social media accounts, shut down blogs, and otherwise prohibited speaking out in order to prevent defense lawyers and family members from disseminating the truth about the “July 9 Crackdown.” On the other hand, the police have used state media like China Central Television, People’s Daily, Xinhuanet, Global Times, and Wenzhou TV to broadcast slanderous statements and forced confessions about and by the detained lawyers and rights activists. They have used these media to reveal personal details about people to disparage them and parade them in public in order to convict them in the media before any trial has even taken place.
After the “July 9 Crackdown,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, treaty bodies like the Committee against Torture, and governments, bar associations, and non-governmental organizations from many foreign countries have protested and expressed concern about Chinese police repression of the country’s lawyers and rights activists, who meet the standard for human rights defenders.
We believe that, even though there are many difficulties associated with China’s social transition, the detained lawyers and rights activists have not created these problems. On the contrary, they have demonstrated initiative and courage by placing these difficult issues on the table in hopes of resolving them through legal channels. There is a global consensus about the important role that lawyers and rights defenders play in societies with rule of law. The long-term, large-scale, systematic, and so far unrepentant manner in which Chinese police in this case have brutally undermined and challenged international treaties, national law, and social ethics has not only seriously violated the interests of the many individuals in this case but also negatively affected the public’s rational expectations for rule of law and China’s national image. If this situation is allowed to continue to deteriorate and is not brought to a stop, it will have an incalculable and irreversible negative impact on China’s modernization process.
For these reasons, we believe that the urgency and importance of this case meets the conditions for the National People’s Congress to initiate a committee of inquiry into specific issues under Article 71 of the Constitution of the PRC. Recalling Article 46 of the National People’s Congress Rules of Procedure (“The presidium, three or more delegations, or a group of one tenth or more of the number of deputies may propose the appointment of a committee of inquiry into specific issues. The proposal shall be submitted by the presidium to a plenary meeting of the session for decision.”), on the occasion of the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress, we as citizens of the People’s Republic of China and direct victims of this incident hereby make the following solemn requests:
- Upon receipt of this letter, the deputies, presidium, and delegations attending the 4th plenary meeting of the 12th Session of the National People’s Congress should immediately carry out their representative duties and their supervisory responsibilities as the highest organ of state power and initiate, in accordance with the law, a special committee of inquiry into the “July 9 Crackdown” that will thoroughly investigate unconstitutional and illegal actions carried out by relevant state organs and individuals and take measures to rectify those acts continuing to take place in violation of the constitution and the law.
- We welcome and will actively cooperate with any investigation by the special committee of inquiry carried out in accordance with the law! We also hope that our fellow Chinese throughout society will follow their conscience and reason and truthfully provide any information they have to this special committee of inquiry. Together, we can say “no” to all bad behavior that tramples on human rights and ignores China’s constitution and laws! Together, we can show our concern and give assistance to those Chinese who are struggling in the depths of misery and show support to those brave human rights defenders on the front lines!
Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), wife of lawyer, Henan
Fan Lili (樊丽丽), wife of Gou Hongguo, Shanxi
Li Wenzu (李文足), wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Hubei
Wang Quanxiu (王全秀), sister of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Shandong
Yuan Shanshan (原姗姗), wife of lawyer Xie Yanyi, Liaoning
Zhao Yonghong (赵永洪), father of lawyer’s assistant Zhao Wei, Henan
Zheng Ruixia (郑瑞霞), mother of Zhao Wei, Henan
Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of Xie Yang, Hunan
1. Yu Wensheng (余文生), for Wang Quanzheng
2. Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), for Zhang Kai and Tang Zhishun
3. Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀), for Liu Sixin and Zhai Yanmin
4. Wen Donghai (文东海), for Wang Yu
5. Chang Boyang (常伯阳), for Lin Bin
6. Zhang Zhongshi (张重实), for Xie Yang
7. Cheng Hai (程海), for Wang Quanzhang
8. Lei Qilei (蔺其磊), for Xie Yan, Zhang Wanhe, Yin Xu’an
9. Ren Quanniu (任全牛), for Zhao Wei
10. Ji Zhongjiu (纪中久), for Gou Hongguo
11. 吕洲宾 (吕洲宾), for Bao Longjun
12. Huang Hanzhong (黄汉中), for Bao Longjun律师（包龙军）
13. Ma Lianshun (马连顺) for Li Heping
14. Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) for Chen Taihe
15. Yan Xin (燕 薪) for Wu Gan
16. Wang Fei (王飞) for Gao Yue
17. Li Yuhan (李昱函) for Wang Yu
18. Wang Lei (王磊律师（刘四新）
19. Jiang Yuanmin (蒋援民) for Xie Yang
20. Li Baiguang (李柏光) for Xie Yanyi and Hu Shigen
21. Chen Yixuan (陈以轩) for Chen Taihe
- Shang Baojun (尚宝军) for Liu Yongping
- Zhang Lei (张磊) for Zhang Kai
- Ran Tong (冉彤) for Chen Taihe
- Shang Manqing (尚满庆) for Liu Yongping
- Gao Chengcai (高承才) for Li Chunfu
- Liu Rongsheng (刘荣生) for Xie Yuandong
Also signed by 52 other lawyers (see the list in Chinese)
Wu Kuiming, Zhong Jinhua, Wang Qingpeng, Li Junquan, Dong Qianyong, Tang Jitian, Liu Shihui, Chen Jinhua, Xu Hongwei, Chen Keyun, Lu Fangzhi, Han Qingfang, Jiang Tianyong, Li Ruyu, He Weimin, Fu Ailing, Chen Jinxue, Zou Lihui, Deng Linhua, Lu Xintao, He Wei, Ji Laisong, Li Weida, Meng Meng, Zhao Qingshan, Liang Xiaojun, Wang Shengsheng, Guo Lianhui, Huang Zhiqiang, Ma Wei, Li Dawei, Liu Wei, Wang Qiushi, Chen Jianggang, Liu Shuqing, Zheng Enchong, Qu Yuan, Li Fangping, Tong Chaoing, Yu Quan, Li Yongheng, Lu Tingge, Luo Qian, Li Jinxing, Zeng Yi, Liu Zhengqing, Tan Yongpei, Wang Zhenjiang, Wen Haibo, Teng Biao, Wang Quanping, Xu Guijuan
March 4, 2016
Addendum: List of detained lawyers and other individuals (33 in all, listed in alphabetical order):
(1) Lawyers and legal workers
Bao Longjun, Chen Taihe, Huang Liqun, Li Chunfu, Li Heping, Li Shuyun, Liu Sixin, Sui Muqing, Wang Quanzhang, Wang Yu, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, Xie Yuandong, Zhang Kai, Zhou Shifeng
(2) Other individuals
Fang Xiangui, Gou Hongguo, Gao Yue, Hu Shigen, Huang Yizi, Lin Bin, Liu Peng, Liu Yongping, Tang Zhishun, Wang Fang, Wu Gan, Xing Qingxian, Yao Jianqing, Yi Xu’an, Yan Xiaojie, Zhao Wei, Zhang Wanhe, Zhai Yanmin
Witnesses, victims, people in the know, and any PRC citizens who are concerned with the rule of law and the progress of human rights in China are welcome to sign this request. E-mail collection point: firstname.lastname@example.org.