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

Yaxue Cao, March 21, 2018

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

 

Li Baiguang 2005, 与刘晓波等自由知识分子、维权律师一起

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

 

Rights Movement Spread All Over the Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Li Baiguang, Taishi village

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

 

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

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

‘Turning into an Ant’

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

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

 

Li Baiguang, 2005, 受洗前宣读《爱的见证》

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law Career

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

Li Baiguang, 阅卷

Reading case files with colleagues in Fuzhou, 2017.

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

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

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

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

 

Li Baiguang, Urgent Action training session

Training barefoot lawyers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Li Baiguang, 2017 was a disturbing year.

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

Li Baiguang_China Aid 15th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coda

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Read it in Chinese 《蚂蚁的力量:纪念李柏光律师》

 

 

 

 

Six Key Phrases to Construct Civil Society

Xu Zhiyong, November 19, 2017

 

Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was released on July 15, 2017 after serving four years for organizing social movements such as the New Citizen Movement and the equal education rights campaign.  He is a 44-year-old legal scholar, a pioneer of China’s rights defense movement, and a founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng 公盟) in 2003 which offers legal assistance to the disempowered and the wronged. — The Editors

 

Xu Zhiyong_New

A recent photo of Xu Zhiyong.

 

After getting out of prison I discovered a pessimistic sentiment in many of my friends. Some of them fled China. Others said that the Chinese people aren’t worth saving. With this totalitarian surveillance state and its repressed people, it feels like history is running in reverse. But I’m an optimist at heart and I remain optimistic. I see that authoritarianism is actually weakening, while the strength of liberty and democracy is on the rise. More and more citizens have woken up.

The authoritarian ideology, once powerful beyond compare, is in rout. The last few years have seen challenges to economic growth and nationalism—the pillars of legitimacy in the age of reform and opening up [China’s economic and social reforms beginning in the 1980s]. The economy is in recession, and nationalism has met with setbacks in the Diaoyu Islands and along the Sino-Indian frontier. Confucianism and other aspects of traditional Chinese culture are incompatible with Communism. A privileged class predicated on profit is sure to be brittle and weak. As we can see from the example of Yuan Shikai (袁世凯),* rule by vested interests betrays the current of history. When the time comes, it collapses overnight.

China’s finances are in a bad way. The economy relies on a monetary policy of forced stimulation that has reached a dead end. Endless sums are created, lent, and spent on inefficient infrastructure investments, betraying the principles of economics and making financial crisis unavoidable. The split Party and civil administration are almost like a double government, the hierarchies are multitudinous, and the burden upon the people is among the highest in the world. State revenues decrease while the cost of maintaining stability rises rapidly. Just like the imperial dynasties in their final years, today’s financial situation is dire.

However, the biggest uncertainty comes from the central leadership. Chinese officials are unenthusiastic and shirk their responsibilities by deferring everything to orders from above. Totalitarian systems are doomed to grow weaker over the generations as factional compromise saps the regime’s core strength and places mediocrities in positions of power. Even if there is someone who wants to restore the old order, his efforts will lead nowhere. He is ridiculed, not revered, by the majority. The leader is the greatest uncertainty of the system and indeed of the entire country.

Meanwhile, society is marching forward. Private wealth is increasing. Technology is improving, the world is becoming one. Pro bono lawyers, entrepreneurs of social care, independent intellectuals, and victims of the powers-at-large, the number of awakened Chinese citizens has increased during these four years [while I was in prison].

But we are still relatively scattered. How to concentrate the powerful energy of civil society is an urgent task that demands our full responsibility.

What does China need most for its social transformation? A mature civil society. If there is a mature civil society, we will incur fewer costs and a beautiful future awaits. Revolution is not the design of any one individual. Our responsibility is not to knock down walls—though of course, living freely and candidly is equal to knocking down walls. It would be irresponsible for us to wait for change. Our responsibility lies in construction, constructing ourselves as a civil body.

Is civil society possible? There is space for it. The critical matter is what is to be done, how it is to be done, and to which degree. We need to be wise and methodical. To build civil society and unite those Chinese who seek democracy and constitutional rule on one platform, I offer six key phrases.

The citizen is a common identity. This identity conveys rich inner meanings of power and responsibility, it implies a society and nation of citizens. The day that 1.3 billion Chinese are citizens is the day that China is truly beautiful. To become genuine citizens is our present and final objective. More importantly, citizenship can be an identity—yours, mine, everyone’s common identity. We can’t say “you are democracy, I am democracy,” but we can say “you are a citizen, I am a citizen.” This concept has roots in China over a century old. It cannot be taken from us or censored. However fearful people may be in private, all can come out and say “I am a citizen.”

Freedom, Justice, and Love are our shared core values. These values ought to be the new height following freedom, equality, and fraternity, the desired values of a future society. Freedom is the true sovereignty of individual action and existence, its scope expands with the development of civilization. Justice means a fair and just society—its meaning is richer than the egalitarianism that was once applied to the stratified French society. It is a society with democracy, rule of law, and rational boundaries between individuals—each to his own, each to his ability, each is provided for. Love is more generous and profound than fraternity; it is the wellspring of life and happiness.

One day these will become the core values of Chinese civilization. They don’t come from our ancestors. The core values of France—liberté, égalité, fraternité—were not those of the nobility, they were created by the people of France during their great revolution. Creating Freedom, Justice, and Love is the struggle of our generation of Chinese. For our ancient people and their civilization, these values will usher in renaissance and take common root across all humanity.

Truth shall be the common guiding principle in our actions. To be a true citizen. To uphold the citizen’s identity, rights, and responsibilities. To uphold and proactively implement the freedoms and rights written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Chinese Constitution. Late-stage totalitarianism also preaches democracy and liberty, but it doesn’t really mean it. In its crowning absurdity, the core values of socialism have become sensitive phrases and subject to online censorship. We uphold these things. The truth is the ultimate deconstruction of lies and absurdity, and the greatest tool for building a beautiful China. The 1.3 billion Chinese need not take radical action. If they all took the rights contained in the Constitution seriously, China would change.

A Beautiful China is our common direction. The China of our dreams is not only beautiful, but also free, just, and happy. A beautiful China encompasses beauty, but even more so embodies deeper values of democracy, rule of law, and freedom. Freedom, Justice, and Love is our direction, it is our mission and glory. Ours shall be a beautiful country reborn on the land where authoritarianism reigned for thousands of years. This is our purpose in life.

Citizens are not an isolated circle. Say not “you citizens,” but “we citizens.” Do not reject the noble identity of citizen just because some unscrupulous people may appropriate this title. Lawyers, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, judges, civil servants, regardless of your wealth, social class, you are citizens. All us Chinese shall identity as citizens. We may not necessarily all eat at the same table, lawyers and entrepreneurs may have their own circles, but our identity is a common one—the citizen.

The force of liberal democracy must be united. The identity of “citizen” is the best platform and the most solid cornerstone. Regardless of your social status or group, we are working forward together to a common goal. Communities of citizens can rise in each region and every industry. Assemble together, stay in touch with current affairs, and when the timing is favorable, take steps to coordinate with each other, for example by meeting on the last Saturday of each month. When millions and millions of Chinese assemble with the same identity, the same core values, and discuss the fate of the country and the people, they will have begun to form a civil body.

Being a citizen and building civil society does not equal being under someone’s leadership or joining some organization, it means independently wanting to be a citizen among citizens. Citizens in different regions act autonomously and make progress of their own accord. A community of citizens and civil society is necessarily an organic development.

Being a citizen, especially being a community of citizens, means standing up to oppression. If you abandon your identity in the face of pressure and don’t even want to be a citizen anymore, then you will have nothing to show for it. As the common body that shows the way towards social progress, the only way to build strength is to experience oppression and learn from the experience. If even the simple act of a same city dinner gathering (同城聚餐) means suppression, so be it. But this requires our perseverance. When the days comes that we are not even allowed to eat, there is still no problem: just go on hunger strike for a day. Even better, everyone go on hunger strike for a day. Have faith: your identity as a citizen can withstand oppression. It cannot be taken away from you.

I earnestly beseech every one of my compatriots seeking democracy and liberty to know their identity as a citizen and its significance. Be a dignified and upright citizen together with those who share your ideals and ambition, discuss with them when you meet, follow current affairs, spread the citizen’s ideal, and uphold social justice. If you are entrepreneurs, you can seek like-minded friends among your business circles and gather as citizen entrepreneurs. If you are lawyers, you can seek the like-minded among your legal circles and gather as citizen lawyers. If you are judges, you can discover the like-minded and gather as citizen judges. You have common ideals regardless of your professional fields, your wealth, or status. Seek out and join hands with the citizens by your sides.

I am a citizen, we are citizens. This is a pious faith. This is our responsibility to an ancient people. This is the struggle of our generation of Chinese, its undertaking, and its glory.

 

Citizen Xu Zhiyong (许志永)
November 2017

 

*Yuan Shikai was a general of the former Qing Dynasty who manipulated China’s republican movement in an attempt to establish his own dictatorship. His actions contributed to the chaotic warlord era.

 

 


Related:

Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part 1 of 2, April 10, 2014.

Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, part 2 of 2, April 13, 2014.

The China Manifesto – detained activist Xu Zhiyong calls for end to ‘barbaric’ one party rule, January 23, 2014.

 

 

 

New Citizens Movement Leader Xu Zhiyong Released From Prison

China Change, July 15, 2017

 

 
Xu zhiyongDr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永), leader of the New Citizens Movement, was released from prison on July 15, after serving a 4-year sentence.

Xu Zhiyong’s defense lawyer Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) confirmed that Dr. Xu has returned home in Beijing. He was picked up earlier by the security police, a source said.

Yesterday, scores of citizens traveled to the vicinity of Kenhua Prison in Ninghe District in Tianjin where Xu Zhiyong had been imprisoned since he was sentenced in February 2014. Dr. Xu, 44 years old, is a legal scholar and the founder of Gongmeng, a civil society group that pioneered China’s “rights defense movement” and in recent years campaigned for equal education rights for migrant workers’ children in large cities, and engaged in citizen activism under the banner “Freedom, Justice, and Love.”

The crackdown on the New Citizens Movement began in April 2013. Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013.

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Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s essays were published last fall,  “highly recommended” by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Friends who tried to visit Xu this morning were blocked by three plainclothes security agents at the entrance of his residential compound. It’s unclear whether Dr. Xu will be placed under some kind of restriction in his movement and communications — illegal but common practices used by the Chinese government against leading dissidents.

Yesterday, activists who went to the prison to welcome Dr. Xu found that the roads around the prison were closed, allowing only inbound traffic. During the night, police raided the guest rooms of the activists. On the morning of the 15th, police stopped activists approaching the prison, telling them that Xu Zhiyong had been released already.

On July 13, Liu Xiaobo, the founder of China’s political opposition movements and the only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the world, died in custody from liver cancer, marking, some say, the end of an era and with it the hope of a gradual transition to democracy in China.

Dr. Xu is a leader of the younger generation of Chinese activists; he returns, four years later, to a much harsher environment for political opposition.

 

 


Related:

The China Manifesto – detained activist Xu Zhiyong calls for end to ‘barbaric’ one party rule, The Telegraph, January 23, 2014.

Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part One, April 10, 2014.

Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part Two, April 13, 2014.

 

 

 

 

For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping

November 1, 2016

Updated on November 17: 5-minute BBC video tells everything you need to know about Chinese elections.

 

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Election debate at Peking University in 1980.

 

Yaxue Cao: This year is also an election year in China, with county- and district-level elections of People’s Representatives on November 15. Independent candidates have sprung up everywhere, and China Change recently ran an article about the independent candidates from Beijing, including the group of 18 organized by Beijing resident Ye Jinghuan (野靖环). Over the months leading up to the vote, they’ve held training sessions on election law and the electoral process — some of which was presented by lawyers. But since their announcement of candidacy, they’ve been harassed by police. On the first day (October 24) of their neighborhood campaign, police came and stopped some of them from leaving home, and blocked interviews with foreign media. Some candidates elsewhere in China have been subject to criminal or administrative detention.

Hu Ping: Right, that’s what happened. I’ve also been following this news.

Yaxue Cao: This is unbelievable given that we both experienced the Haidian District People’s Representatives elections at Peking University in the fall of 1980. You were a graduate student in philosophy at the time, one of candidates who got elected. Now, 36 years later, China has changed in almost every way — yet in all these 36 years, no progress has been made to expand elections. Not only has it not changed, in fact it’s worse than it was 36 years ago. This is why I wanted to speak with you about elections in China today: the fact that there has been zero change on this, over more than three decades, is an important lens through which to evaluate China politically.

So first, please explain to us: what are “grassroots elections”?

Hu Ping: There are two kinds of grassroots elections in China: those at the county and district level for electing the deputies to the People’s Congress, and those for electing the head of a village. Both are direct elections. Before the Cultural Revolution there were similar elections that I participated in once when I was in senior high school — it was a single-candidate election (等额选举). This means that when you wanted to elect a representative, there was only one candidate. And that candidate had been selected in advance by the higher-ups — there was no competitive process, and the whole thing was just a formality. It was a joke.

After the Cultural Revolution, Chinese society had been ravaged, and there was a sense that China needed democracy. Even the Party conservatives thought that these were just grassroots elections, and allowing the people to vote in a few petty bureaucrats wouldn’t impact anything. In 1980, the Party center promulgated a new election law, which said that apart from the regular channels of nominating candidates—social organizations [affiliated with the Party], Party organizations, and unions [controlled by the Party]—individual citizens can also nominate themselves to be candidates, as long as they have three people to second their nomination. The updated rules also stated that candidates could engage in publicity. This was an opening for electioneering in China.

Back then, the elections weren’t held at the same time across the country. For instance, Shanghai’s and Sichuan’s were a bit earlier in the year, and Beijing’s was held last. This was probably because Beijing is the political capital, and political passions there run hotter than elsewhere. Stacking Beijing last was about limiting the influence of the elections.

As elections were held around China, university campuses became very active. At Fudan University in Shanghai, undergraduates in the Chinese language department, philosophy department, and also graduate students, became candidates. This was reported in “China Youth Daily.” The elections in Beijing were held in November, and Haidian District, which has a concentration of universities, came last. Back then Li Shengping (李胜平), who was studying in Xicheng District at one of Peking University’s branch campuses, stood for election and won. He was one of the activists involved in the Democracy Wall (民主墙) and an editor of the “Beijing Spring” (北京之春) magazine. He was also involved in the April 5th incident, 1976.

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Candidate Yang Lichuan (杨利川) giving a speech at the Triangle at Peking University.

Because Haidian District had so many universities, the election activities there were especially active. Peking University was divided into two electoral constituencies: one for faculty, workers, and their families, and another for students and graduate students. The constituency for undergrads and graduate students elected two representatives, and 20-30 people ran as candidates. A range of activities were held to attract votes, including public debates, question-and-answer sessions, and so on. For about a month or more Peking University was soaked in the atmosphere of the election.

An important feature of the Peking University elections is that even though the post was for a largely irrelevant district representative, the political ideas proposed were of national significance: namely, how to foster the democratization of China. Actually, everyone was clear on what was really going on, which is that we were simply using the platform of an election to express our views to the government. I suspect that this is something the authorities didn’t anticipate. They thought that because the issues county- and district-level deputies can get involved in are so minor, there’s no political significance to the process at all.

Yaxue Cao: At that time I was a freshman still finding my ways on campus, and I remember during the elections there were people crowded near the The Triangle (三角地) every day, looking at the election-related big and small character posters. Even though I didn’t quite understand what was going on, I browsed some of them. I remember the back walls of the glass display board at The Triangle were covered too, and I remember reading an A4-sized poster titled “John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.”

Hu Ping: Also, during the elections students organized their own media, reporting on all the electoral developments. Some candidates also organized their own election teams. Back then the president of Peking University was very open-minded about it and provided the school auditorium for the debates. I myself held two debates at that auditorium.

Li Shengping’s triumph in the Xicheng District election put some of the old conservatives in Beijing on guard. The municipal government dispatched an internal notice demanding that party members not get involved in elections. This shows that the conservatives at the time were terrified of the idea of even a grassroots vote. But the entire social atmosphere was pursuing change, student passions were high, and most of the campus leaders and administrators were fairly open-minded and liberal — because so many people had experienced horrifying political persecution in the past.

At the end of 1980 the Solidarity Movement in Poland was formed. The conservative Hu Qiaomu (胡乔木) wrote an internal letter saying that the same sort of thing might transpire in China, and the Party elite started to get very nervous. The whole political atmosphere quickly became much more stern. After the election there was a rumor saying that the top Party leadership were very unhappy with the elections and wanted to crack down — they only reason they didn’t was because of internal disagreement.

Later they revised the election law and limited a number of election activities. At the next election in 1983 (they were held every three years), the Communist Party was running the so-called “anti-spiritual pollution” political campaign (反精神污染运动), and the political atmosphere was heavy, so there weren’t very many election activities held then.

Yaxue Cao: I was still on campus in 1983, but I don’t have any memory of the elections that year — so it mustn’t have been anything like 1980. In 1980, Chen Ziming (陈子明) was elected as a representative for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. You wrote in an essay that he was the convenor of the group of representatives drawn from universities in Haidian District. What did all you do as representatives?

Hu Ping: We proposed some draft resolutions, voted against or abstained from voting on some government work reports, and so on. It was all trivial stuff. Nothing we did had any impact on the big picture.

By the time 1986 came around, the atmosphere had loosened up again, and election activities started up once more. For instance, at Peking University Li Xianbin (李淑贤), a lecturer in the physics department, was elected as a representative, and she was of course the wife of Fang Lizhi (方励之). Professor Fang had already gained national prominence and influence at universities around China for his involvement in pro-liberalization and democratization activities, and the Communist Party saw him as an enormous headache. Fang was engaged in his own enthusiastic electioneering at the China University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui. Then the 1986 student movement started, beginning at CUST and then spreading to Shanghai and Beijing, with students taking to the streets. The police made some arrests, but when this stirred up even more students to go to Tiananmen Square to protest, they quickly let them go.

The lively political atmosphere throughout 1986 struck dread into the Communist Party leadership, and they made a major decision: they expelled Fang Lizhi, Liu Binyan (刘宾雁), and Wang Ruowang (王若望), and others, from the Party — and the reform-minded Party Secretary Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) was also forced out. The political atmosphere once again became severe.

What all this means is that before the 1989 movement, the hardliners at the top of the Communist Party had already lashed out against a tide of liberalism and democracy, but because China was still just emerging from the calamity of the Cultural Revolution, social elites — including some members of the top echelon of the Party — all actually sought some degree of freedom and democracy, especially the youth and the intellectuals. The yearning was deep. In China at that time, everyone was increasingly dissatisfied with the half-hearted opening up that the authorities had engaged in. This was followed up with a half-hearted repression, which didn’t truly strike fear into people’s hearts, and thus aroused even more disaffection. It was against this backdrop that the democracy movement of 1989 exploded.

After the June 4 massacre, the Communist Party was completely panicked and they viewed every collective activity as a major threat, and their attacks on dissent became fiercer. The whole political atmosphere of the 1990s was desolate and grim.

By the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, independent candidates began appearing again, such as Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and others. And again, it was at the universities — for instance Xu Zhiyong was a teacher at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications when he was elected. But these elections were nothing like the 1980s, where all the talk was about national politics, and ideals; in the latter case, the election was limited to how they’ll discharge their duty as people’s representatives. For all that, independent candidature in and of itself represents a strong orientation toward democratic principles and values, so these elections are still enormously meaningful. Furthermore, grassroots elections are the only way that Chinese citizens can actually cast votes.

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Xu Zhiyong standing in front of his campaign poster in 2011. He’s serving a four-year sentence for activities of the New Citizen Movement.

Yaxue Cao: Xu Zhiyong was elected a People’s representative in both 2003 and 2006, but by 2011 (at that point elections had been changed to once every five years), the authorities resorted to all sorts of measures to prevent him from being re-elected. A few years ago you wrote an article about grassroots elections, noting that after three decades, the bureaucratic level of the posts haven’t risen — it remains at county- and district-level People’s Congresses, and village elections. Another observation you made is that the quality of them has dropped, which has manifested in the general lack of interest in the elections by voters, given that they’ve often simply become a show manipulated by officials, who receive bribes and crush independent competitors. So, given that the authorities have absolutely no intention to roll out genuine elections, why don’t they just abolish them and appoint the representatives or village officials directly themselves? Isn’t that the outcome anyway? Why go to the trouble of staging them?

Hu Ping: After June 4, the Party began to regard liberalization and democratization as the number one enemy, and there was basically no one at the top echelon of the Party who had any sympathy or support for democracy. The suppression never let up, and China’s entire political ecology underwent a fundamental change. But the authorities don’t really have any need to promulgate a law abolishing the grassroots election system altogether, because it’s too insignificant. With continuous repression in the 20 some years following the June 4 massacre, cynicism is rampant in Chinese society, and the majority of Chinese people feel no attachment or sympathy with the past movement of liberalization and democracy, and they don’t get involved. So, the fact that there are so many people now stepping forward as candidates is just amazing. The risks they’re taking are so much greater than those we took back then, so it’s worthy of our wholehearted support and close attention. Every single person who runs as an independent candidate, without exception, becomes a target for the authorities to attack. The corollary to this is that it proves that independent candidature is itself a challenge, regardless of what your policies or politics are.

Yaxue Cao: I remember during the Wukan incident [in 2011] a group of public intellectuals traveled there to offer their support, and to get involved and be election observers. A few days ago I was chatting with He Depu (何德普) about this, and he said that this year public intellectuals didn’t have the slightest enthusiasm in the elections. Might this reflect the current political atmosphere in China?

Hu Ping: Since taking power, Xi Jinping has taken systematic steps to shut down the space for expression for Chinese liberal-leaning intellectuals, which had been constrained to begin with. Even the Gongshi (Consensus) website and the Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine have been shut down and are no longer tolerated — and you can well imagine the terrorizing effect this has. I believe that the international community, including the United States and other Western countries, is seeing more and more clearly that the Chinese regime has had no intention of carrying out political and democratic reforms. On the contrary, as the Chinese economy grows bigger and bigger, the regime has become more confident and armed with more resources. These are obvious developments, and even some of the China apologists in the West are seeing that things are not panning out as they expected.

Yaxue Cao: U.S. policy toward China has for decades been built on the assumption that, once China develops and the middle class grows strong, democracy will naturally come. Many have been dazzled by changes in China. China watchers are awed, some even succumbed to admiring the efficiency of authoritarian rule. But at the same time, elections in China have made no progress whatsoever, in terms of both level and quality. Stacking these two pictures of China together, you can’t support the assumption that the course of economic development will nurture the course of democratization.

Hu Ping: It was predicated on a mistaken theory to begin with — and yet just what lies at the heart of the Communist Party, and just how the regime has made it through all these years, I believe Western observers still don’t have a clear understanding of. Not only are they unclear, but probably a lot of Chinese aren’t clear, because the twists and transformations of the Party have no precedent that we can reference. Actually, the principle is quite simple: After the extreme centralism of the Mao era resulted in widespread political terror and total economic collapse, after Mao died Chinese society from top to bottom, inside and outside the Party, experienced a strong impetus toward political and economic reform, and the 1980s was a reflection of this. The Soviet Union and Eastern European countries also went through their own democratic transition via this route. But in China the June 4 massacre reversed the trend and history — and also changed the history of the world. You cannot have any hope that a regime built on such a massacre is going to engage in any liberalization and democracy. And so not only the Chinese people, but the entire world is faced with a stubborn and powerful dictatorship. I think people haven’t realizes the seriousness of this problem and haven’t devoted enough attention and understanding to it.

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Last week, policemen blocking an independent candidate from leaving her home in Beijing.

Yaxue Cao: In early October, professor Arthur Waldron at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a speech in New York that we published on the China Change website. He said that his greatest concern was that Western countries didn’t see autocracy as a feature of communism, but as a feature of China.

Hu Ping: What’s needed right now is to have a complete narrative of China’s political course over the past three decades, letting people know that China has undergone a very special process that has led to today’s China. As you examine this process, you will see that the Chinese are not any different from foreigners. So when assessing China don’t just extrapolate from economic determinism to a claim of Chinese exceptionalism. The damage this does is divert attention from how to counter the challenges and deal with the threat posed by a communist dictatorship, to instead being about how to accommodate and accept them. This is dangerous. You should be changing it, not accepting it. When the bar is continually lowered to: “We are fine with it as long as we avoid war,” isn’t that aiding them?

Yaxue Cao: Once the free world begins to make concessions on universal values, the world order will change.

Hu Ping: It’s already changing. If accommodation becomes the new engagement policy, the West will inflict disasters on itself. China is not North Korea. North Korea has no ability to corrupt other countries, but China will corrupt the whole world.

Yaxue Cao: In looking back on the 1980 elections in Peking University, you refuted the idea that “democratization depends on a market economy and a strong middle class.” You pointed out that, in 1980, the Cultural Revolution had just ended, and few people knew what democracy or freedom actually looked like. You wrote: “We discovered, spontaneously and indigenously, the idea of constitutional democracy and its operation.”

Hu Ping: The New York Times interviewed me recently, and I also talked about this. Chinese propaganda wants you to believe that the concept of freedom and democracy is a Western one, but where did the Westerners get it? It was a response to lasting religious wars, persecution, and terror. People were persecuted for different beliefs, for different interpretations and views, and this led to demand for tolerance, for freedom of belief, and freedom of expression. Following the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese wanted tolerance, and it was spontaneous.

When Eastern Europe democratized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it had no middle class, no market economy. Mongolia had no market economy when it democratized. Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋), while in office, proposed that China needs a law to protect dissent. He had had no western education, where did he get that idea? Because he was persecuted for his speech, and he came to the realization that a line should be drawn between the rights of the people and the power of the government, and that certain freedoms must be granted and protected. The popular demand for freedom was the real cause of the 1989 Tiananmen protests. But the June 4 massacre changed not only the course of China, but also the course of the world.

Yaxue Cao: Yes. The world has yet to confront this reality. Thank you.

 

Hu Ping (胡平) lives in New York and edits Beijing Spring (《北京之春》), “a monthly Chinese-language magazine dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice in China.”

Yaxue Cao (曹雅学) edits the China Change website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao

 

 

Record Number of Beijing Residents Declare Their Independent Candidacy for Local People’s Congress Seats

China Change, October 22, 2016

“Participation is the simplest, most direct, most realistic, and most effective political action.” — Yao Lifa, 2016

“Actually, the result is not what is most important. What’s most important is to take part. I hope that my participation will tell everyone: Believe in our laws, believe in the progress of this era. Please believe that we have a genuine right to vote.” — Xu Zhiyong, 2003

 

Update on November 17: 5-minute BBC video tells everything you need to know about Chinese elections.

 

This year, 2016, is an election year in China: every five years, Chinese citizens elect their people’s representatives (PR), and the vote is on November 15. In Beijing, over 70 people have declared that they are taking part in the elections as “independents,” candidates not recommended by the Party or Party-controlled organizations. On October 14, 18 Beijing residents issued a statement: 

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….As long-time and grassroots residents, we know very well how difficult it is to communicate with our government, the People’s Congress, the courts, and the Procuratorate. We do whatever we can to locate and talk to our People’s Representatives, but to no avail. … As the district- and county-level election for People’s Congress is getting underway, we have a strong desire to be People’s Representatives! We will make sure that everyone — neighbors, the old and the young — can talk to us anytime. We are willing to speak for you and serve you. Please cast your votes for us, giving us the opportunity to sincerely represent your interests and fulfill our duty.     

On October 17, another 32 Beijing residents announced their candidacy for PR, and made a similar promise: They will make sure every voter knows who they are and how to reach them with their problems, and as their representatives, they will monitor the government and its functions. As of last Thursday, the number has grown to 54.

In Shanghai, the renowned rights defender Feng Zhenghu posted an open letter to the voters of his constituency on October 5, announcing his candidacy for PR. He promises to “defend the Constitution, defend the implementation of law in the constituency, and defend the civil rights of constituents.” He said he is “participating in the political process for the sake of the people,” and he asked the residents not to give up their right to vote.

China Change spoke to Mr. He Depu (何德普), one of the 70 or so independent candidates in Beijing, on Friday. He said, any citizen has the right to vote and the right to be elected, and he or she only needs the recommendation of ten voters to register as a candidate. But in reality, there are many hurdles for candidates not recommended by the Communist Party, or by an organization (which is still controlled by the Party), to be selected as an official candidate. In addition, he said, the government has internal instructions to limit and exclude ordinary citizens from taking part.

Mr. He said that the first time he took part in the People’s Representative elections was in the fall of 1980, when he was a young worker in a factory in Beijing. “According to my experience in competing for the District PR in 1980,” he wrote in an article a few years ago, “the candidates recommended by ordinary citizens had the same chance as the candidates recommended by the political parties and organizations in the first round of selection. But the problem is, when it gets to the process of choosing the official candidates from the initial pool of candidates, which lasted only about 10 days, the current law and rules are stacked heavily against the independent candidates.”  

Indeed, the Chinese government makes its attitude towards citizens trying to compete for PR seats very clear by harassing them and sometimes throwing them in jail. Last week, police in Beijing prevented independent candidate Ye Jinghuan (野靖环)* from being interviewed by Japanese journalists. In Jiangxi province, independent candidate Yang Wei (杨微) was taken away by security guards when he went to the local People’s Congress to get a candidate recommendation form, and later given a 10-day administrative detention. In Hunan, dissident Guan Guilin (管桂林) has been detained for “disrupting an election” after he attempted to register as an independent candidate in his township in September.  

This June in Yongjing county, Gans Province (甘肃永靖), the human rights defender Qu Mingxue (瞿明学) and a number of others were detained for over a month after they recommended a number of independent candidates. On October 16, the netease blog “China Election Observation” (中国选举观察) by Yao Lifa (姚立法), an expert on elections in China and former People’s Representative in Qianjiang, Hubei Province (湖北潜江), was erased. It has been a platform that Yao has been using to publicize and promote grassroots elections in China for years. His recent “Open Letter to Voters Nationwide,” in which he explained the 19 rights citizens have with regard to elections, and outlined details of election procedures, was also purged from domestic websites.

In 2011, the year the last PR elections were held, the 13 independent candidates were all harassed, surveilled, summoned to speak with police, and even abducted following the announcement of their candidacy. They held a few campaign events in the beginning that were tightly controlled by police, but all the rest were disrupted by the authorities or unable to be held because the candidates had been detained in some manner. Of the 13, only Han Ying (韩颖), an NGO worker in Haidian District, was able to enter the primary election (the process between being nominated and becoming a formal candidate). Han Ying told the media that she had “been coercively told to drop out of the race,” and that her phone had been stolen, she’d been “illegally searched, illegally detained, subjected to forced interrogations through the night,” and had her freedom so restricted that she “simply couldn’t do anything.” In the fall of 2014, Han Ying was detained for several months for openly supporting the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong.

In 2011 another independent candidate from Haidian District, the leader of the New Citizens Movement, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), sought to extend his term as a People’s Representative. Students who supported him sent text messages telling him that they were pressured by the university authorities to instead support the university president. Xu Zhiyong implored his supporters to, on the day of the election, directly write his name on the ballot in the “other candidate” column. Xu was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2013 for his support for educational equality and calling for officials to make public their personal assets.

Liu Ping (刘萍) from Jiangxi Province was detained and tortured for declaring her independent candidacy; in 2014 she was sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment for her involvement in the New Citizens Movement.

Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University, has participated in People’s Representative elections three times as an independent candidate. He recently spoke to Radio Free Asia: “Why do the authorities so fear independent candidates? One reason is because the regime is a one-party dictatorship, and people standing up to participate in elections is seen as a challenge. The other is that those who act as independent candidates will definitely represent views that aren’t in line with the Communist Party’s. They might criticize the authorities, or go around speaking to crowds, place posters, and represent their political views — and this isn’t allowed.”

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On Wednesday October 19, about 30 independent candidates from Beijing gathered in the garden outside the Beijing Municipal Government headquarters, spreading awareness about election law and procedure, and discussing their election tactics. He Depu, who will be taken away from Beijing by police to “travel” until October 28, told China Change that those participating in elections this year are people with a strong sense of civic responsibility. They’re enthusiastic about serving voters, and they dare to face off against the government’s pressure.

Mr. He added: “We don’t know who our People’s Representatives are, and we don’t know what they’re doing. So our undertaking is very basic: if we’re elected, we’ll let all voters know who we are, and we’ll truly represent their interests.”

Starting October 24, candidates from the group of 18 will be campaigning in front of their neighborhood committees. Many of them have been visited by police.

*Ye Jinghuan is the author of a memoir titled “A Worthwhile Trip—A Documentation of Beijing Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center.” China Change has a translation of Teng Biao’s preface to it – “To Remember Is to Resist.”


Related:

Beijie Village: a Land Grab Case, a Village Election, and a Microcosm of China, December 16, 2014

Renowned Activist Guo Feixiong’s Health Deteriorates, Sister Calls for Emergency Medical Parole

Translated from report by CHRD, published: March 8, 2016 and updated on March 9 

 

 (China Change exclusive: Guo Feixiong attending a citizen meeting in Beijing on July 28, 2012, with Dr. Xu Zhiyong, who has been serving a four-year sentence since July 2013 for leading the New Citizens Movement, in the audience. Video recorded by Xiao Guozhen, subtitle by @WLYeung  and @awfan.)

 

On Friday March 4 we received news that Guo Feixiong, the renowned human rights leader who was wrongfully sentenced to six years last November, had on February 22 been sent to the remote the Yangchun Prison in Guangdong (广东阳春监狱) to serve his sentence. On February 29 his older sister, Yang Maoping (杨茂平), went to see him in prison, and found that his physical condition had deteriorated substantially. He looked emaciated and had lost nearly half of his weight.

Yang Maoping said: “I saw Maodong [Guo Feixiong’s legal name] on the afternoon of February 29, bringing a letter from his daughter Xixi, and news of his son Jinbao having recently won an award. Because we only had half an hour, we were very rushed. He said that he’d arrived at the jail on February 21. If they didn’t let him read books he would go on a hunger strike. He said his case is an injustice, and if he wasn’t granted access to a lawyer he would also protest.”

Guo Feixiong told his sister that “there are over a dozen people in the cell, there are no surveillance cameras, and it’s extremely noisy. The people cooking food in the morning shuffle back and forth outside the cell, and I can only sleep three hours a night.”

She added that he looked much worse than he did during a previous period of captivity, in the Tianhe Detention Center. “His face was pallid, he body thin, and his eyelids drooping. He said that there is something seriously wrong with his health, and that on February 22 he was unable to get up after sitting down, on three occasions.”

His sister pleaded that he cease the hunger strike for the sake of his health. “I thought he looked about three-fifths of his regular weight, and I’m not exaggerating. When I arrived this time he was already sitting. Earlier, in the courtroom, when I saw him walking it didn’t look normal. So I suspect that he’s suffered a spinal injury. As we spoke, a commissar in the political division of the prison was there, watching us the whole time.”

“Yang Maodong’s protesting by hunger strike is really dangerous,” she said. “The person from the political division of the jail said that he has to do labor during his sentence. I responded: ‘Yang Maodong’s health is already ruined. He can’t work. If you don’t believe it, go and perform an MRI on his back. I can pay for it.’”

The other concern is that there’s no surveillance camera in his cell. Guo Feixiong was beaten in Meizhou Prison in Guangdong when serving a five-year sentence from 2006-2011, and the continued absence of any monitoring means he could again be subject to violence, perpetrated by other prisoners, at the order of guards. “I might lose my life here,” he told his sister, “I won’t be a suicide.”

Guo Feixiong has been imprisoned and tortured by the authorities on numerous occasions. On August 8, 2013 he was locked in the Tianhe detention center in Guangzhou and not allowed a day of fresh air for over two and a half years. Many of his supporters were infuriated by this treatment, but multiple attempts by lawyers to lodge complaints about this abuse were rejected. Lawyers believe that this is the most severe, vile, and blatant attack on human rights during a time of peace. Article 25 of China’s own “Regulations on Detention Centers” clearly stipulated: “Criminals should be given between 1-2 hours of activity time outdoors per day.”

In December 2007, when Guo Feixiong was sent to the Meizhou Prison, he was also subject to cruel torture. When the prison guards forced him to crouch on the ground with his hands behind his head, and he refused, they called another detainee over and directed him to beat Guo. This inmate kicked Guo down a flight of stairs, then kept beating him as Guo rolled around on the ground trying to dodge the blows. This continued until the rest of the roughly 200 other detainees began making a hissing sound in disapproval, upon which time one of the jail administrators appeared and told the assailant to cease, lest Guo be killed.

Guo Feixiong_Zhang Lei

Statement by Zhang Lei, Guo Feixiong’s defense counsel

Zhang Lei, Guo Feixiong’s defense lawyer, said in a statement to the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group on March 9: “After Yang Maoping (Guo Feixiong’s older sister) saw Guo in prison, she explained to me his situation. Guo told her that there’s no surveillance camera in his cell, so he is extremely anxious about his personal safety and feels highly insecure. Prisons in China are an extremely complex place, in a way that’s difficult for outsiders to imagine. Normally there is always a camera set up in every cell, monitoring it 24 hours a day. Then, if anything happens, the recording can be checked. If every other cell is being monitored, and his isn’t, then he’s worried that he’s exposed to assault and attack, and that if anything were to happen, there would be no way to know. Firstly, the jailers wouldn’t know, and secondly, in his words ‘if I died, no one would even know how it happened.'”

The human rights community is concerned with Guo Feixiong’s condition, and will continue following the news and make his case known to the outside world.

 

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Related:

Chinese Rights Advocate Known as Guo Feixiong Convicted of Unexpected New Charge, November 27, 2015.  

Prominent Dissident Makes a Criminal Complaint Against Three Judges in Guangdong, January 8, 2016.

Activist Guo Feixiong Held 743 Days Without Yard Time, August 21, 2015.

To Obama: Why China Does Not Have a Nelson Mandela, September 23, 2015.