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Guo Feixiong Update: Hunger Strike Enters 52nd Day; Lawyers Allowed Visit

China Change, June 30, 2016



A Recap of Guo Feixiong’s Arrest, Sentencing, and Treatment in Prison

Guo Feixiong was arrested on August 13, 2013, for his role in the Southern Weekly protest at the beginning of that year, and his campaign to demand that China ratify the The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China signed in 1998 but has never ratified. He was tried in November 2014, but it wasn’t until a year later that a sentence was announced. To deliver a harsher sentence, the court, in an unprecedented and preposterous move, added a second charge at the last minute of the trial, and Guo was sentenced to 6 years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “provoking disturbances.”  During the 51 months in Tianhe Detention Center in Guangzhou, he was never allowed yard time. China Change called the inhumane treatment a deliberate effort to harm Guo Feixiong and kill him slowly.”

Early this year he was sent to the remote Yangchun Prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. For months he had blood in his stool, and his mouth bled. He was hardly able to stand after leaving his cell to meet his visiting sister. Both Guo Feixiong and the sister, who is herself a doctor, asked that Guo be given a medical checkup and treatment. A prison official known as Secretary Liu (刘干事) told the sister: “We’ll call an ambulance if he faints.”  

With no choice, in April Guo Feixiong’s sister publicized details of Guo Feixiong’s health condition and his treatment in prison. The activist community reacted strongly with a signature campaign calling for his release, and several hundreds have since taken part in a hunger strike relay.

Under pressure, the prison gave Guo Feixiong a physical checkup. At the same time, it used the occasion to dehumanize him. On May 9, he was forced to take a rectal exam, with a high-ranking official from the Guangdong Prison Administration Bureau videotaping the process and threatening to post it online. They shaved his head and required him to “squat like a bug in the presence of prison guards.”

On the same day (May 9), Guo Feixiong began a hunger strike to protest that treatment. Among his demands are the abolition of use of electric batons against prisoners, and the ratification of the ICCPR. In his meeting with his sister on June 13, he asked her to write to Li Jingyan (李景言), the chief of the Guangdong Prison Administration Bureau, requesting a prison transfer.

The Lawyers’ Latest Visit

On the afternoon of June 20, Guo Feixiong’s lawyers for imprisoned, Zhang Lei and Li Jinxing, traveled to the Yangchun Prison and met with him for 45 minutes. The parties were separated by glass, and a total of eight police stood close by. Guo has become extremely emaciated and weak, the lawyers said, compared to the last time they saw him on May 6. The lawyer conveyed the exhortations of Guo’s wife and family to cease his hunger strike.

His older sister Yang Maoping, as well as his wife Zhang Qing, had previously urged Guo to stop his hunger struck in letters that were submitted to the prison and given to Guo.

He thanked everyone’s good intentions and concern, but said that the prison has not ceased humiliating him and refused to meet his demands, and that he’ll continue the hunger strike. He said that he’s carrying out the hunger strike with utter seriousness, that it was a decision he thought through very carefully, and that it was a form of protest and resistance in the furtherance of his ideals. He said that even if he dies, it would be in the process of demanding that the ratification of the ICCPR — it would be a worthy death.

Lawyer Zhang Lei told Radio Free Asia that he’s highly anxious about Guo’s state and that a compromise to the satisfaction of all parties can be reached as soon as possible.

On Guo’s Letter of Appeal

Guo and his lawyers also spoke about his Letter of Appeal, a 29,000-word document that he prepared in response to his sentencing in December 2015. In it, he wrote that the court’s decision was “political persecution by the anti-democratic forces of darkness in China.” The authorities considered this to be an attack on the judicial system, so they wanted to delete that phrase, and also refused to allow Guo to sign it, which would have made it official. Zhang Lei said that he had deleted this particular sentence from the appeal, but the prison still wouldn’t allow it to be submitted. This, he added, didn’t come from the prison. Even the prison didn’t know where it came from, he said.

Guo Feixiong told the lawyers that his appeal “cannot be changed — not a single character of it.” The result was a deadlock.

Zhang Lei said that appeals are a matter for the personal determination of the appellant, and that no one else has the authority to intervene — including the prison, which has no right to censor parts of it.

The two lawyers don’t know the next time they’ll be able to see Guo.


Based on a RFA report of June 27, 2016.




Guo Feixiong’s Wife Urges Him to Stop Hunger Striking; Sister Refused Visitation to Deliver Letter

China Change, June 15, 2016



Zhang Qing’s letter to Guo Feixiong


On June 14, Beijing time, Gei Feixiong’s older sister Yang Maoping (杨茂平) went to the Yangchun Prison. Later, she wrote the following message: “Friends: my WeChat friends groups have been shut down, and my Sina Weibo account has also been blocked. My younger brother Guo Feixiong (Yang Maodong) has been on a hunger strike in the Yangchun Prison for over 30 days. Yesterday I went to the prison to deliver a letter by his wife, Zhang Qing (张青), urging him to stop fasting, and was prepared to tell him the same thing myself. But prison authorities didn’t let me see him. At about 5pm Beijing time, the office director of the prison came out and said: ‘If you think that you absolutely must see Yang Maodong, and that there’s some benefit to it, then we’ll go back and think the matter over. Go back to your hotel now and we’ll look into it tomorrow.’ I said: ‘OK, I believe you. I’ll be back tomorrow.’ So after sitting eight hours outside the prison, I went back to the hotel.”

According to the latest from an activist who follows the matter closely, the sister has still not been allowed to see Guo Feixiong.

Wife Zhang Qing’s letter to Guo Feixiong:

Hello, Yang Maodong, 

Writing you is like talking face to face again!

I have been mostly informed of the situation you’re in. I completely understand why you’re choosing a hunger strike to protest the extreme abuse you’re being subject to — but I’m also extremely worried about your health, and for the safety of your life. Myself and our children have been to New York and Washington, DC, trying to get help for you, and we’ve been meeting with different people.

A lot of our friends, young and old, asked me to tell you that they care a lot about you. Everyone is concerned about your health, and they too understand why you’re using a hunger strike to protest. They think that your demands are reasonable, because all the persecution you’ve suffered was because of this political system, which dishes out the worst abuse to political offenders. The authorities can easily improve the treatment of political prisoners if they wish to, and the demand you made is very basic.

If the authorities decide to treat you better, to meet the most basic and the most necessary conditions in custody, then I request that you consider the overall circumstances and cease this hunger strike. Later, we can discuss the situation based on the specifics of how you are treated.

Earlier on I mentioned to you that Cici [the couple’s daughter Sarah Yang] had composed a piano piece, “The Cosmos,” soon after you were locked up in August 2013. It was for you, and she explained that, in Chinese translation, she meant “The Starry Sky.” She said that “the cosmos” is just a general concept, but that “starry sky” is how our eyes encounter the cosmos and its grandeur. In September last year, a music publisher in Europe heard this tune, and he thought it was excellent. He contacted us through friends, and asked us to license it to him, so he could adapt it for lyrics. They’ve already arranged it as a song and sent us a sample in early May. It’s brilliant. They’re still tinkering with it to make it better.

Everything you’ve been doing is all part of a sincere hope that China will progress, to become a society with equal human rights, basic freedoms, and respect for life. These ideals, and striving to realize them, will always be the right thing to do.  

I love you, and our children love you, and we respect you deeply. Please stop your hunger strike!


Zhang Qing

June 9, 2016


郭飞雄_sister outside prison

Guo Feixiong’s sister outside the Yangchun Prison.

To contact Yangchun Prison:  

Prison chief Wu Zhanhua (吴湛华) — (+86 662 7806008)

Political commissar Liu Yang (刘扬) —  (+86 662 7806017)


To contact wife Zhang Qing or sister Yang Maoping: Ask @yaxuecao on Twitter.


China Change readers: Please call those phone numbers and demand that the prison improve conditions for Guo Feixiong. Even calls in English will help — it shows the officials that the world is watching them, and that they can’t act with impunity.






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.




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.



Activist Guo Feixiong Held 743 Days Without Yard Time

China Change, published: August 21, 2015

We believe that this is a deliberate effort to harm Guo Feixiong and kill him slowly.


(Subtitles provided by @WLYeung and @awfan )


Chinese democracy activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, also known by his original name, Yang Maodong 杨茂东) has now been held in Guangzhou’s Tianhe Detention Center for 743 days since his detention on August 8, 2013, without once being let out for fresh air. Having protested multiple times without result, Guo’s lawyers now report that during their most recent meeting Guo’s memory, speech, and thinking all showed signs of damage.

These actions by the Chinese authorities have already led to widespread anger and concern among Chinese human rights activists. We believe that this is a deliberate effort to harm Guo Feixiong and kill him slowly. We ask that international organizations and foreign governments pay close attention to Guo Feixiong’s situation and carry out effective interventions to halt these heinous acts by the Chinese authorities.

After Guo Feixiong was secretly detained in Guangzhou on August 8, 2013, police waited many days before finally confirming his whereabouts. On June 19, 2014, the authorities charged Guo with two counts of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public space.” First, they allege that Guo Feixiong gave speeches outside the offices of Southern Weekly in January 2013 and later published several commentaries on what’s known as the Southern Weekly New Year’s Editorial incident on overseas media sites. Second, they allege that Guo and friends appeared in the streets holding signs demanding that officials disclose their assets and that the National People’s Congress ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and, further, that they took photographs that were uploaded to the Internet.

As the hearing in Guo Feixiong’s trial was adjourned on November 28, 2014, the presiding judge announced that the verdict would be announced at a later date. But Guo remains in custody to this day while he continues to await the verdict’s announcement.

According to his lawyer, Guo Feixiong is being held in a cell with 30 other detainees, leaving each person only one square meter of space. Still awaiting a verdict, Guo has now been illegally detained for more than two years under these conditions and has never been allowed yard time.

Guo Feixiong in Beijing, summer of 2013. Photo provided by Guozhen Xiao.

Guo Feixiong in Beijing, summer of 2012. Photo provided by Guozhen Xiao.

The authorities have committed numerous violations in the course of handling Guo Feixiong’s case. Article 25 of the State Council’s Detention Center Regulations clearly states that detainees “should be given one to two hours of outside activity time each day.” And Article 27 of the Ministry of Public Security’s Measures for Implementing the Detention Center Regulations states that “detention cells should provide each person living therein with a minimum of two square meters.”

The abuse of Guo Feixiong has been continuous and deliberate. In a formal complaint filed this past June, Guo wrote: “Bailiffs from the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou escorted me between the Tianhe District Detention Center and the court to attend a pre-trial hearing on August 1 and trial hearings on September 12 and November 28, 2014. On those three occasions, the bailiffs abused me by covering my head with a black hood, handcuffing my wrists behind my back, and placing my feet in shackles. They intentionally over-tightened the handcuffs and shackles to put pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in my hands and feet, causing evident swelling and abrasions. In particular, they tightened the shackles such that it caused partial paralysis in my left ankle that has not yet fully recovered. On the way to trial, I was hooded, cuffed, and shackled, with the authorities intentionally tightening the metal cuffs and shackles so that the metal bands dug into the flesh on my hands and feet.”

China is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on November 3, 1988. However, the Chinese government has shown complete disregard for its international commitments, trying to fool the international community while it willfully violates its obligations.

As far as Guo Feixiong’s so-called criminality is concerned, his behavior does not constitute any criminal offense under China’s Criminal Law. In his defense arguments to the court, Guo Feixiong’s lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星) said: “Set aside for a moment the phony and contradictory nature of the witness statements put forward by the prosecution. Even if the all of the evidence presented to the court by the prosecution were genuine and true, Yang Maodong and [co-defendant] Sun Desheng would still be guilty of no criminal offense whatsoever.”

Guo’s other defense attorney, Zhang Lei (张磊), has said: “I believe that Guo Feixiong has been framed and thrown in jail for exercising the democratic rights and civil and political rights belonging to Chinese people. I feel that all Chinese people ought to enjoy these civil and political rights.”

On the contrary, the Chinese authorities’ violations do not stop with the detention center regulations mentioned above. According to China’s Criminal Procedure Law and international legal standards, the authorities committed criminal acts in their enforced disappearance of Guo Feixiong (detaining him on August 8, 2013, but not notifying his family of the detention until August 17), torture, delayed verdict, and illegal detention.

There have been other serious violations of procedural law connected to the prosecution of Guo Feixiong, according to an account by his lawyers. The authorities deprived Guo of his right to meet with defense counsel during the investigation phase. At trial, numerous defense witnesses were forcibly taken away and therefore prevented from appearing in court. Lawyers were not permitted to copy audiovisual materials submitted as evidence. During the trial, the defendant and his lawyers were deprived of their right to speak.

Guo Feixiong was born in Gucheng County, Hubei (湖北谷城), in 1966. In 1988, he graduated from Shanghai’s East China Normal University and went on to become a successful bookseller. In 2005, he became a consultant for the Beijing Zhisheng Law Firm (北京智晟律师事务所) and began taking part in rights defense activity in Guangdong Province, where he played a key role in the widely covered Taishi Village Recall Case. Since April 2005, he has been placed under criminal detention four times for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” The third time, he was eventually convicted of “illegal business activity” and sentenced to five years in prison. This is now Guo Feixiong’s fourth arrest.

In an appeal sent to then-UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, on June 4, 2007, Guo Feixiong’s wife Zhang Qing (张青) described the torture her husband received after he was arrested in September 2006: “Police from the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau’s Pretrial Investigation Unit shackled Guo Feixiong’s hands and feet to a bed for many weeks. Interrogators deprived him of sleep for several days in order to force him to confess out of exhaustion. In protest, he carried out a 25-day hunger strike. When Guo Feixiong was transferred to a detention center in Shenyang, interrogators handcuffed his wrists behind his back, suspended him, and had him sit on a ‘tiger bench.’ They also hit him in the genitals with electric prods.”

The Chinese authorities’ indefinite detention of Guo Feixiong and their torture and inhumane treatment toward him causes us to fear that Guo’s health and perhaps even his life may be in danger. The tragedy of human rights defender Cao Shunli, who died in custody of mistreatment and deprivation of medical care, demands that we remain alert and take steps to prevent another tragedy. We also have the responsibility to confront China on its abuses, and urge it to adhere to its laws and its international commitments.

When Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was detained in August 2006, Guo Feixiong issued a plea to the world: “I call on those inside and outside China to devote themselves with unyielding determination to the campaign to rescue Gao Zhisheng. We are not just trying to rescue an individual, but rather the spirit of the Chinese people and Chinese nation. We are giving aid to the entire campaign for democracy and rights in China. This campaign is not just about individuals, but rather has an overall significance.”

Today, we once again appeal to the world: Save Guo Feixiong and free him!


Researched and written by Guozhen Xiao, translated by China Change.



Prominent Rights Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained, China Change, August 17, 2013

Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng Indictment, China Change, July 7, 2014

The Sovereignty of the People: My Conviction and My Dream, Guo Feixiong’s Court Statement, China Change, November 28, 2014.

Lawyers Describe Trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, China Change, November 28, 2014.

Meet Guo Feixiong, by Xiao Guozhen, China Change, July 23, 2014.

Guo Feixiong, a Civil Rights Hero, by Xiao Shu, China Change, January 8, 2015.


中文版 《郭飞雄坐牢743天没有放风》



The Sovereignty of the People: My Conviction and My Dream

The Court Statement by Guo Feixiong

Translated by Louisa Chiang and Perry Link, published: November 28, 2014

According to the defense lawyers, the trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng was forced by the court to conclude at Beijing time 2:50 am, November 29, in Tianhe Court, Guangzhou. Despite repeated interruptions by the head judge and denial of his right to make a closing statement, Guo Feixiong defended himself forcefully and eloquently. China Change is pleased to present his court statement in full in English. – The Editor 


Guo Feixiong meeting with lawyer earlier this year in Guangzhou Tianhe Detention Center.

Guo Feixiong meeting with lawyer earlier this year in Guangzhou Tianhe Detention Center.

1984, Orwell’s masterpiece about totalitarianism that could have been a blow-by-blow script for the People’s Republic of China, also happens to be the year that launched my personal journey as part of China’s movement for freedom and democracy.

That year, on a blustery, chilly night, in a café on the campus of East China Normal University (華東師範大學) in Shanghai, I had the good fortune to hear an old man speak. The lines of his face were as rugged as if hewn by a blade, and his short, thin frame was almost entirely muffled in a gray trench coat. In sharp Mandarin with a southern Chinese accent, he was criticizing Deng Xiaoping, then the top leader in China, for being a dinosaur, for stifling thought, and for suppressing the creative freedom of writers at the slightest provocation.  I had arrived in Shanghai from a remote part of Hubei Province less than three months before. This venerable old man was Wang Ruowang (王若望), and this was the first time I ever saw anyone lambaste the supreme leader by name in public.  The impact on me runs so deep I cannot describe it.

Shanghai in that era was experiencing an “Indian Summer” of unprecedented freedom for the expression of liberal ideas. Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), an enlightened politician, had reversed a political pendulum that had swung to the extreme left and had declared at the Fourth Congress of the All-China Writers’ Association that the Communist Party would no longer interfere with creative freedom.  Liberal-minded professors, intellectuals and writers were full of impassioned thoughts and words on politics and philosophy.  In seminars, academic conferences, salons and cafés, they called for free thought and political  reform.  It was as if an invisible hand was guiding them to vie with one another to show who could bring more novelty and depth to the introduction of modern culture and thought and who dared most to give voice to the need to oppose dictatorship and fight for democracy. Wang Ruowang was one of the boldest of the free-thinking writers.

To be honest, these sowers of freedom, and their peers all around China, may not have been as expert in their academic disciplines as they ought to have been. Yet the way they wrote and acted was reminiscent of the dauntless and passionate thought of the French Enlightenment.  Theirs was the idealism, innocence and simplicity that characterizes the original human spirit and that set the tone for the democrats who followed them. I personally owe my awakening to this Indian Summer in China.  I gained much from the bold, open and diverse views that were expressed.  As a student of philosophy, I drew from the theoretical riches of the Chinese and Western classics; my character and political tendencies are entirely a product of the free spirit of the 1980s.

I heard Mr. Wang’s speech at a time when I was wending my way through a variety of political discussions and seminars.  From the sidelines, I watched a soccer-fan riot, strikes at dining halls, and other outbreaks of the restless young. Those were years when people found the confines of their post-totalitarian life increasingly unbearable.  An impulse for direct action grew among the students and finally exploded in the student protests of December, 1986.  Shanghai was at the center of those protests.

Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄 ) on the Great Wall, Badaling, Beijing, in August 2012.

Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄 ) on the Great Wall, Badaling, Beijing, in August 2012.

The demonstrations of December 22, 1986, marked the first time I joined an independently organized and high-risk democracy movement.  I clearly recall the nerve-wracking moment when a few of us, banner in hand, suddenly faced several thousand young workers who rushed forward, with thumping strides, to join us. Such a public assembly would have been high treason in earlier times.

I was already teaching at a college in Wuhan (武漢) when immense waves of protest in spring, 1989 inundated China.  I acted out of my sense of duty as an intellectual that year, just as I had in 1986.  In the years that followed, I returned several times to Wuhan and would linger at sites where I had spoken in public.  Sometimes particularly dangerous moments came back to me.  I recalled a time when, rallying to a student’s sudden yell of “Charge!” (a vestige of the military propaganda films we had grown up with), hundreds or even thousands broke into a run. In an incredible, surreal moment, the bridge over the Yangtze River began to sway under our feet and twist like a snake.  Deep inside I understood that my life was inexorably tied to the era of Tiananmen.

The massacre of students and other young people in Beijing who were protesting peacefully on the Boulevard of Everlasting Peace (長安街) on June 4, 1989, was one of the most grotesque events in human history. It cleaved Chinese society irreconcilably from its government.  At that moment I decided never to compromise with the autocrats who had slaughtered innocent citizens and to throw myself into the work of bringing freedom and democracy to China to the full extent of my abilities and of the will of heaven.

Censorship and draconian social control prevented people from learning until much later how, from that darkest moment onward, many intrepid souls, each on his own island, began as if by agreement to explore and build an opposition movement.  Within the next decade or so, my generation of activists tried a number of peaceful tactics of resistance, like the mythical Chinese emperor who tasted every herb for the first time and unlocked the secret of medicine.  In the late 1990s, liberalism as a system of political thought seeped deeper into China, and after that the thinking of democrats reached maturity.

As the millennium dawned, the Internet, out of the blue, came in to connect the long-isolated activists to one another.  From 2003 to 2005, constitutionalist liberals founded the “rights defense” movement, which provided for China’s political opposition a highly original, homegrown and ineradicable path on which to grow and expand.

On January 28, 2005, Fan Yafeng (範亞峰) and I joined several others in attending the farewell ceremony in honor of the former Secretary General of the Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), who had been ousted and held under house arrest until his death because of his support for the 1989 protesters.  Hugging a large photo of Mr. Zhao to my chest, I left the ceremony with a heavy heart.  A throng of policemen was on the other side of the street.  I turned back toward the funeral home and asked Fan how many people he thought had been there.  After a pause, he answered that it looked like at least two or three thousand.

Fan and I had been meeting with others on how to promote effective connections within civil society.  We noticed one major difference from the 1980s: the commemorations of the reformist politician Hu Yaobang in 1989 had been open and legal, but in order to attend Mr. Zhao’s funeral, people had to register using their government-issued IDs as police looked on.  The uncertainty of such exposure, like the sword of Damocles, kept many people away.  Still, several thousand people braved the odds to attend.  To us, this proved that moral courage was returning everywhere, and we had new hope for the future of the democracy movement. Responding to this subtle political signal, we decided to take a series of steps to try to push the movement to a new stage.

Within half a year, an unprecedented number of groups were formed for political and legal action. This development showed the spiritual ties between the Tiananmen protests and the new rights-defense movement.  Activists drew their strength from their shared tie with the towering figure, Hu Yaobang, who died with his character unsullied by betrayal.

We worked together within the law (which the government was obliged to pretend, at least, to recognize) to defend political and human rights and raise democratic awareness.  Everything we did was completely open.  We kept no secrets. We supported landmark cases, including Cai Zhuohua’s (蔡卓華) imprisonment for printing Bibles and the collective efforts of Taishi Village (太石) residents to impeach corrupt officials.  The impact of these cases was magnified by the Internet, where they won broad sympathy and support from society at large.  As participation grew, hunger strikes emerged.  With the help of courageous human rights lawyers, citizens at the grassroots fought back, drawing attention to wrongs they had suffered and using political means that not long before had been unthinkable.  The tide of this movement brought the political opposition back from the margins, making it once again central to the spiritual life of civil society.  Terrified, the post-totalitarian machine sprang into action, and crackdown followed.

As a founder of this movement as well as one of its foot soldiers, I came into the line of fire several times.  From April, 2005, until now, I have been criminally detained four times and jailed three times, for a total of five years.  I was taken to six detention centers, evenly split among the provincial, municipal and district levels.  The police have interrogated me more than two hundred times, which is probably some sort of record.  Sometimes they had other prisoners carry me, more than once a day, and faint from hunger striking, on a stretcher to a room where they tied me to an iron chair.  My five hunger strikes lasted 3, 59, 24, 75, and 25 days respectively, for a total of 186 days.

My extreme fasting struck a chord within the liberal camp and set a sort of example for the relay hunger strikes in 2006.  One friend, though, a secular humanist, told me that he did not understand what I was doing.  “We who believe in liberal democracy call for humanism and rational self-interest,” he said, “but you are always starving and putting yourself through the wringer.  This seems shaky on humanitarian grounds and in any case cannot accomplish much.”

I did not want to resort to high-sounding principles so never formally responded to his criticism. Over time, I stopped keeping diaries of my strikes, writing memoirs, or publicly encouraging others to fast.  But when occasions arose, I still did strikes on my own.

Why?  Why fast and insist on fasting?  My answer has always been the same: a hunger strike is not only a strong voice of protest against political persecution in a totalitarian system, but also address of the highest ideals that reside within myself – the ideals that I am serious about what I am doing and am loyal to the cause of freedom and democracy.  Fasting keeps my mind free from the danger of taint.

The prototype for hunger strikes is the self-mortification of monks, who challenge the physical limits of the human body in order to pursue ideals.  Like theirs, my fasting is safe and under control.  Its process is dignified.  After my first hunger strike, I was struck by how dazzling white the walls around me were, which I had until then looked at but never saw.  It was then that I understood the inner purity of true believers.  Suddenly I, who had been enmeshed in the pettiness of daily life, had the chance to cast it off and seek that purity. The clarity that protracted physical deprivation brought to me gradually helped to purge me and to help me reach an inner purity.

The system of free democracy that we aspire to transcends our personal destinies of success and failure.  This is the sacred nature of this earth, which transcends the earth and rules it at the same time.  The price that I pay to immerse my life in this movement is worth it.  Perhaps not always, of course – and yet each fasting brings an experience of sustained euphoria, when I feel how truly fortunate I am to be sharing or projecting the spirit within me.  Its bright image provides ultimate and pure joy.  In our transient and prosaic life, what can eternity mean?  Eternity is just such moments.

I never urged other people to join any of my longer hunger strikes.  The rule for the 2006 relay hunger strike was that each person fasts no longer than 48 hours.  This was not because I believe fasting to be against human nature.  It is not.  It is a powerful means of peaceful resistance, a show of inner strength for democrats, and a testimony to responsible suffering.  It contains an idealism that is inherent in humanity and natural law and that is implicit in individual freedom, autonomy and the sovereignty of the people.

Our generation faces ubiquitous political terror imposed by a regime that has a rare record of brutality.  This is why we need to draw upon the ideals that lie within each of us in forceful and disciplined ways.  This is rational self-interest.  Democracy is not opposed to passions, self-interest, and materialism; it is about accommodating such things and setting rules for them.  The democracy movement is there to awaken our awareness and agency as free human beings and citizens.  My hunger strikes are my homework as a prisoner.  They purify and motivate me.  I cherish this personal experience and its political ideals.

When faced with interminable interrogation by police and secret police, I provide almost no information.  Because I keep silence and refuse to cooperate, my interrogators have used excessive force on me and have resorted to many forms of torture.  They have tasered my head, hands, shins, thighs and private parts in sequence, yelling things like “You were offered parole and you said no!  You prefer jail and making the Communist Party look bad!  We’ll see who is the real SOB here – you or the Party!”  Their torture aims at coercing a confession in court, where they want me to admit that I am wrong to oppose the Party and that I will give up the fight for democracy of my own free will in exchange for parole and for getting my university job back.  Their broader intent is to undermine the image of the rights defense movement and to demoralize civil society by getting a few “standard bearers,” as they put it, to accept parole.  Later generations might find it hard to imagine that in 2007 an honest commitment to promote democracy by going to jail was such an arduous thing to attempt.

For thirteen days and nights, they put me through marathon interrogations and denied me sleep.  For forty-two days, I was reviled, beaten, and shackled, with the shackles nailed to a bed.   My hair was plucked out.  Once my torturer applied a high-wattage taser to my groin.  To defend my dignity as a man, I had to confess to the utterly groundless accusation of an “illegal business operation.”  I barely escaped the fate of my cellmate, whose penis was zapped to a blackened smear.  The next morning, in fury and pain, I threw myself headlong toward the window and then the wall.  Death was to be my protest.  I survived, fortunately, but after Chinese New Year, the taser shocks resumed.

Through all of this, including the torture, I held to two principles; don’t abandon ideals and don’t betray anyone.  Eventually, my interrogators were impressed and relented somewhat.  Put to draconian tests, treatment hardly in keeping with peacetime, I stuck with precepts I had learned in childhood.  I can smile and tell others and myself that my behavior under duress was consistent with being a human being.  I have not wronged others.  That is enough.  I have lived.

It has been said that it is easier to go to your death in a surge of courage than to submit to a sacrifice that is slow and drawn out.  In fact, sacrifice is not the hardest thing there is. After your eyes close and your body is destroyed, your spirit can endure forever.  The endless physical and mental agony imposed by unbridled violence, which leaves you drained of life and denies you the relief of death, may be harder to guard against than the choice of self-sacrifice.

I do not use my personal choices as benchmarks in the judgment of others. People who compromise temporarily under pressure and return to the path of righteousness later have my wholehearted respect.  Even those who break down and capitulate should not be judged harshly.  The horrors of my experience have made me more tolerant and understanding of the hard choices that everyone confronts.  Only when we offer our understanding and support can victims recover their mental health and dignity.  We should save our condemnation for the perpetrators, the people who deny their opponents dignified prison time and dignified death, who trample such dignity underfoot.   We should never use philosophical contortions to rationalize the bestiality of totalitarian rule.

In 2007, the security apparatus gave up on interrogating me and sentenced me to five years in prison.  I had thwarted their aim.  However weak my pushback, it stuck in their craw.  Meanwhile, for democrats generally, it was a flourishing time.  Hu Jia was struggling against the tide, Gao Zhisheng’s human rights work was showing tremendous courage, and Zhang Zuhua and Liu Xiaobo were mobilizing intellectuals to give voice to constitutional reform.  Both Hu and Liu received prestigious prizes from the international community.  Since then, China’s multipolar opposition movement has come back stronger after each crackdown, and this fact is deeply unsettling to the rulers.  I would like to think that the resultant “butterfly effect” contains a few flappings of my own wings.

Today, with the exception of Wang Gongquan (王功權) – an activist in the New Citizens movement (新公民運動) who is known as “the conscience of the business world” – and the Three Heroes of Chibi – Huang Wenxun (黃文勳), Yuan Xiaohua (袁小華) and Yuan Fengchu (袁奉初), who have to date been detained for fifteen months without due process or indictment – the honor of imprisonment is no longer so hard to attain.  Dozens of democrats have won it in smooth processes that include few surprises.

The mental and physical tortures that are used to extort confessions, grotesque and fantastic in their variety, are on the wane.  Even though the practice persists, the brutal powers that we contend with must feel a bit of shame over their vicious acts.  Our dream, passed from generation to generation among activists, to see “the prisons overloaded with conscientious objectors,” is nearing realization.  Our faith is that totalitarianism, which negates so completely the humanity in its minions, will one day be driven from the earth.

During my challenge to the government and the tumult of my arrest and imprisonment, my wife and children have suffered the most.  On the morning of March 10, 2006, when Taishi village residents were running for People’s Congress, my wife was stopped by secret police on her way out to buy groceries.  When I went out to reason with the agents, they beat me up and left me with a bloody face. When I took my ten-year-old daughter and five-year-old son to buy books, several secret agents took turns taking photos and videos of them on the bus.  They did this obtrusively, making an intimidating show for other passengers to observe.

My daughter, older than her brother, came to know fear.  One day, when the four of us went out for our regular morning exercise in a small nearby park, six or seven agents followed on our heels, speaking loudly in Cantonese. My daughter kept turning her head to watch them, her little face terrified.  She whispered to me, “Daddy, this is all your fault!  Your fault!”

I felt too pained to say anything.  Over the last eight years, this scene has played over and over again in my mind.

In the spring of 2007, Guangdong security agents who were interrogating me threatened that, if I continued to refuse to confess and accept parole, my son would not be allowed to go to elementary school and my daughter would be assigned to a middle school far away. When she goes to high school, they continued, the computer will assign her to a rural school from which she will not be admitted to university.  I had no reason to doubt them.  I knew the rules they operate under and knew their track record.

On February 8, 2006, I went on a hunger strike outside the gates of the State Council building.  I did this to protest the threats to my children’s safety, to protest a police shooting of several innocent farmers who had been protecting their land from illegal seizure, and to protest curbs on press freedom in the case of Freezing Point magazine.  I was detained, and then, from prison, could no longer do public protests.

On November 14, 2007, the Tianhe District Court (天河區法院) announced my five-year prison sentence. As I was being taken away, I turned and asked my wife, who had been allowed to attend, “Is our son in school?”  She said no, they won’t let him go.  At the Guangzhou municipal detention center, I tossed and turned that night, barely able to sleep at all.  A few days later, a cellmate who had been sentenced for white-collar crime suddenly asked me, “Dude, how come that whole patch of your head turned white?”  I did not quite believe him.  There was no mirror in the cell, so I could only ask other cellmates to take a look, and I believed the story only after everyone said the same thing.  Then, for the first time, I knew the ancient tale of Wu Zixu (伍子胥) – whose hair turned white overnight in flight, after his entire family was executed by the king – might not be imaginary.

The man who had discovered my white hair appeared to be in his fifties.  I told him about the fate of my son. At first, he merely shook his head: there should be no way something like this can happen in this day and age.  I explained what happened in detail.  He had a good opinion of me and came to believe what I was saying.  This white-collar criminal, who during his childhood had been ruthlessly persecuted because he came from a landowner family that had been labeled as “class enemies,” suddenly fell to his knees and covered his face, sobbing without a sound.  I did not cry when they turned my son out of school, but this man did.  Although I did not cry, my heart bled.  In the year that followed, a voice inside kept reminding me, “Things cannot go on like this; I can’t sit by and watch the future of my children be destroyed; I must act.”

This was why, in 2008, I suggested to my wife, through the visitor’s window in Meizhou Prison (梅州監獄), that the three of them should find a way to leave China.  It was a choice that a parent in my shoes had to make, hoping that his children could go to a free country where their right to education would not be blocked.  With the help of several people, including the fearless Ms. Wang, my family made its way to Thailand.  But there, their visa applications ran into unexpected difficulties; several Chinese who behaved suspiciously moved into their hotel; and they almost got run over by a mysteriously-driven car.

At this pivotal juncture, it was the esteemed Reverend Bob Fu (傅希秋), along with a wonderfully kind Christian woman from England, who took tremendous personal risk to bring my family to the United States. The United States government and people took them in and helped them.  Schooling will never be a problem again.  I am most grateful to all the people who helped us, and I thank the humanitarianism of the American government and the Christian Church.  I shall remember their great deeds until the day I die. Through their help, I began to feel, in the most direct and deep way, how universal, selfless and noble human love is, and how generous democratic culture is.  For me it was a kind of baptism.

After my release on September 13, 2011, I was finally able to communicate with my family through the Internet.  My daughter sent me a comic strip she drew of her escape and her stay abroad.  It shows how helpless and lost she felt, how hard it was to adapt to a different country, and how much she misses her childhood friends back home.  As I read it, my tears flowed, on and off by turns, for three days.

I am a man, and I had never shed a tear over anything in jail, including my children.  Yet when my daughter asked me, “Cried after you read it, didn’t you?,” I said I did.  I cried a lot.

My daughter was no longer the baby who had once wanted me to hold and carry her.  She was grown, indeed had grown tall.  She was now proud and rebellious, and wanted to make her own decisions on everything; I felt she was drifting away from me. She began to harbor a resentment about all the love and obligation that I owed her as her father from my eighteen years of democracy work.  She referred to this work every so often in a sarcastic way and rarely called me “Dad.”  I feel pangs of pain inside but I didn’t know what I can do.  I am flooded by guilt when I think about my family.

After release I was rearrested.  Just a few months ago, on July 4, 2014, during visiting hours at the Tianhe Detention Center, my lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (張雪忠) told me that my daughter had drawn my portrait.  He said it looks a lot like me.  In the picture, I am surrounded by mountains, and the caption, a Chinese proverb, reads: “Someone lofty to look up to.”  This portrait was on display in a noteworthy building, as part of a campaign to rescue me.  While I know I am far from deserving such a description, I do read a deeper meaning in what he told me. The revelation leaves me bright-eyed, as if I can see through the thick brick walls and sail through the open sky between us: My dearest child, I have once again won your love, and you have acknowledged it.

When I left prison in 2011, seeing how robust and widespread the struggle for freedom was, I felt unspeakably excited.  My choice—there was no other—was to be part of this ferment.  I worked alongside my peers; we took concerted action and nothing turned us back.

Guo Feixiong spoke in front the Southern Weekend headquarters in January 2013.

Guo Feixiong spoke in front the Southern Weekend headquarters in January 2013.

We experimented with the opportunity to support the anti-censorship efforts at the reformist newspaper, Southern Weekend (《南方週末》), and, proceeding with caution and peaceful discipline, to break through the limits on freedom of assembly.  We also organized a signature campaign to demand that the National People’s Congress ratify the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  We coordinated small-scale street protests in eight cities in support of ICCPR and the government’s anti-corruption policy.  Both actions were part of our strategy to promote the drafting of sound laws and the abolition of harmful ones.  This activity was a significant step forward in pressing against government red lines and in addressing universal values in civic action—not just protesting individual grievances.  We made waves, and many others followed.

It is no surprise that the government construed these two political experiments as my crime of “disturbing the public order.”  An ancient proverb laughs at the folly of  “bargaining with a tiger for its skin,” but that is precisely the task we have to undertake.  We need to force a totalitarian government to shed its tiger’s skin, resume its humanity, and return to us the rights that belong to us.

The sentencing that I will now be facing will be consistent with the government’s entrenched habits of persecution.  I am very honored to have landed in jail for my work.  I hope that more citizens will come forward to join the fight for freedom when they see the dozens of us who are in jail.  For me personally, another stint in prison may help to cleanse and mend me in small ways.  Regardless of how long my sentence is this time, the first thing I will do when they let me out will be to go out and support constitutional democracy through direct action.

For those of us who are committed to this cause, action is imperative.  Only through action can we prove to history that we did not surrender our dignity to dictators.  It is unacceptable that they should slaughter the innocent and enslave others. The chief and greatest punishment for totalitarianism is a thorough rejection of its rejection of justice and humanity.  We believe that future generations will always make the same choices on the same principles.  Outnumbered as we are, and Sisyphus though we may be (or the hero Kuafu who died chasing the sun), the prevailing meaning of our opposition movement persists in our refusal to give up or give in.

Another reason why action is imperative is that we need to show to others real-life examples of resistance that can encourage them to act on their own.  During a transition we will need to prevent plutocratic groups from continuing the enslavement of the Chinese people by monopolizing political power for themselves.  As civilization evolves, the culture of dictatorship and violence sometimes absorbs new resources and takes on new forms.  Even after the dissolution of dictatorship, China could still face a tug-of-war between constitutional democracy with checks and balances on the one hand and Singapore or Russian-style “birdcage rule” on the other.

If Chinese democrats wish to avoid the strong-man or bird-cage scenario, whose legacy will be continued stagnation and unrest, we must be committed to working together and have the wisdom to build an independent and strong civil society that can balance the political power of the state.  The end goal is a tripartite system where power is evenly distributed and transferred through institutionalized elections.  Such a system best serves the sovereignty and the fundamental interests of the Chinese people.  Chinese civil society has reached the view that an opposition party is essential for bringing such a result about.  Such an opposition party must act decisively, transparently and without guile, seeking round-table consensus, whether through a revision of the laws and institutions or by winning the sympathy and direct participation of the people.  And its members must be prepared to bear the costs that might be inflicted upon them.

As an aging veteran whose life has been given to democracy, when I look back over the last thirty years, I truly feel that our exploration and toil have not been in vain. Our path is becoming ever clearer, and the horizons of our souls ever broader.  To have had the opportunity to rush forward on the front line of the movement for freedom, tortuous as it has been; to have gone against the tide and borne the cost of doing so; and to have glimpsed the beauty inherent in my personal tragedy and in the sacred purity that is part of paying the price – these have been the immense good fortune of an ordinary man, whose feet are planted on the ground and over whose head the heavens arch, as conceived by our ancestors long ago and writ large in the Chinese character for “human.”


Yang Maodong (aka Guo Feixiong)

November 2014



Lawyers Describe Trial of Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, November 28, 2014.

Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng Indictment

Meet Guo Feixiong, a profile by human rights lawyer Xiao Guozhen

Guo Feixiong: Willing to Be Cannon Fodder, Will Be a Monument, a profile by Xiao Shu


Meet Guo Feixiong

By Xiao Guozhen, published: July 23, 2014

This is China Change’s second profile of Guo Feixiong. Read the one by Xiao Shu. 


On August 8, 2013, Guangzhou-based rights activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, a.k.a. Yang Maodong) disappeared. Ten days later following a sustained uproar on social media, his sister finally confirmed his criminal detention upon receiving a notice of such from the Chinese police for allegedly “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Assembling a crowd? Disrupting order? Where? People familiar with Guo Feixiong wondered, including myself. His lawyer at that time, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), explained: the allegation has to do with  street demonstrations in support of the Southern Weekend at the beginning of the year. Before him, in Beijing, starting that spring, the New Citizens Movement participants, including Dr. Xu Zhiyong and lawyer Ding Jiaxi, had been arrested and similarly charged for unfurling banners and giving speeches on street calling for government officials to disclose their assets and for China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The arrest of Guo Feixiong was part of the ongoing nation-wide crackdown on politically active citizens who had sought to exercise their rights.

Guo Feixiong was indicted on June 19, 2014, on the same charges for his role in the Southern Weekend protests and other street demonstrations, and his trial is expected soon. If the trials of Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Liu Ping, and many more over the last a few months are any indication, Guo Feixiong will be found “guilty” and given a harsh sentence, I fear.

A Pioneer of China’s Rights Movement

It would be his 2nd prison term. In the summer of 2005 during the Taishi villagers’ struggle to impeach their village officials for corruption, Guo Feixiong provided villagers with legal assistance and initiatied a media campaign, working

"All we want is to replace the village officials." Taishi village in Fanyu, Guangdong (广东番禺)in September 2005, a scene that would become all too familiar across China in the coming years.

“All we want is to replace the village officials.” Taishi village in Fanyu, Guangdong (广东番禺太石村)in September 2005, a scene that would become all too familiar across China in the coming years. Click to enlarge.

with an assortment of lawyers, journalists, and scholars in one of the earliest incidents that ushered in the rights movement in China. At the time he had already participated and worked with rights lawyers in a number of cases defending rights and freedoms, such as the cases of Cai Zhuohua “illegally” printing Bibles and the Shaanxi private oil rigs. As a philosophy student at East China Normal University in Shanghai, he was an active leader in student democracy movement in 1986 and again in 1989. In September 2005, he was criminally detained by Guangzhou Fanyu Public Security Bureau, and in December was released after the prosecutors dropped the case. He was one of the 14 Persons of the Year of Yazhou Weekly (HK), along with Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Li Heping (李和平) and six others. In September 2006, Guo Feixiong was arrested for rallying support for lawyer Gao Zhisheng who had been arrested a month earlier for his defense of Falungong practitioners and his condemnation of atrocities against them.


Tiger Bench.

The horrendous tortures of Gao Zhisheng have been well documented. Guo Feixiong was tortured nearly as badly. When he was convicted of “the crime of illegally operating a business,” in a trial that had no physical evidence but statements obtained through coercion, was sentenced to five years in prison on November 12, 2007. He described these tortures in his self-defense to the court: In Guangzhou First Detention Center, he was interrogated for 13 consecutive days and nights and prevented from sleeping; he was put in shackles for over 100 days, and for 42 days, he was tied to a wooden bed with hands and feet cuffed to it so that he could not bend his body. In the secret detention facility in Shenyang, he was beaten savagely by the police covering his head with a black hood; he was put in the infamous “tiger bench” (老虎凳) for 4 hours; his manhood was shocked by police using high-voltage electric baton, and, unable to endure it, he attempted to end his life by thrusting toward a glassed window; he was put in the same cell with inmates on death-row and, when an murderer threatened to pluck his eyeballs out, he broke a window and defended himself with broken glass.

“Free” for Twenty-Three Months

Upon release from prison in September, 2011, Guo Feixiong told Deutsche Welle in an interview, “What I have experienced in the hands of police was far worse than what [overseas Chinese] media had reported. But for the time being, I do not want to expose  anything or anyone. I want to promote something rare in the Chinese society, a concept of tolerance. [We] do not oppose individuals, [we] do not create hostility; instead, [we] advocate democracy and rule of law in China by way of a happy ending.”

Free of bitterness (I don’t know how he did it), he began picking up where he had left and catching up, while living alone in Guangzhou. His wife and daughter left China during his imprisonment to seek asylum in the U. S.

The first time I worked with Feixiong was on the Li Wangyang case. Li Wangyang was a labor activist in Shaoyang, Hunan province (湖南邵阳), during the 1989 democracy movement across pretty China. Li Wangyang had served two prison terms and one labor-camp sentence totaling twenty-one years on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement, and subversion. He lost both his sight and hearing and almost all of his teeth as a result of torture endured in prison.  On June 6, 2012, one year after his latest release from prison and four days after a Hong Kong media outlet broadcast an interview of him in commemoration of the Tiananmen Movement anniversary, he was found “hanged” in a hospital ward in his hometown. Li Wangyang’s death outraged the activist circle and touched off a massive protest in Hong Kong.

Feixiong and I worked on a statement calling for rights lawyers and legal scholars to form a legal support team and to demand an investigation and justice.

Working with Feixiong was like on a secret mission. We couldn’t talk on the phone because – he told me through more secure (or so we thought) communication — “there is high-tech surveillance equipment outside my apartment building and they watch everything I do and stalk me wherever I go.”

For drafting the statement with Feixiong and campaigning to collect signatures, I was summoned and questioned in police custody for 8 hours. Afterwards, Feixiong encouraged me to write an account of the experience. “It will generate publicity for the team of signers, but also a frontal declaration of our belief and determination. It will shake our persecutors on the inside.”

From left to right: Guo Feixiong, Yang Zili, Xiao Guozhen, and Xu Zhiyong in the summer of 2012 in a dinner gathering in Beijing.

From left to right: Guo Feixiong, Yang Zili, the author, and Xu Zhiyong in the summer of 2012 in a dinner gathering in Beijing.

At the end of July, 2012, Feixiong visited Beijing and we met almost every day at different gatherings. He met with friends old and new, veteran dissidents and young bloods, rights lawyers and activists, scholars and artists. He talked about cooperation and networking. He had his eyes on building a connected citizen block across professions and geographic barriers. I think that was the drive behind his Beijing trip.

Not surprisingly, everywhere we were, whether outside the home of Mr. Hu Shigen (胡石根), with whom Feixiong stayed, or inside a restaurant, or leaving 798 art district, there were security police around or trailing behind us. One time, with Hu Jia behind the wheel, we shook off the vehicle following us at an intersection, unloaded Feixiong who quickly hid behind a billboard at a bus station, and continued driving to lead the security police away. You only see scenes like this in a movie, but this was on the streets in Beijing.

Finally they kidnapped Feixiong to stop him. Midday On August 2nd, Zhao Changqing, who is serving a two years and six months prison term for being a key figure in the New Citizens Movement, told me that Feixiong had been taken away by the police and could not be reached by phone. The next morning I finally got hold of Feixiong. He was in police custody for 13 hours through three transfers: from the neighborhood police station near Mr. Hu’s home to Beijing security police to Guangzhou security police and  finally to his neighborhood police station.

Later that day, having managed to slip past surveillance he boarded a train to Beijing as though in a contest of will with the security police. Back in Beijing, he visited the Great Wall in Badaling (八达岭长城) and, a month later, he sent friends a photo of him on the Great Wall taken by a tourist. “I want to send you the most recent photo of me in case I am detained again,” he wrote.

Guo Feixiong on the Great Wall, Badaling, Beijing, in August 2012.

Guo Feixiong on the Great Wall, Badaling, Beijing, in August 2012.

Throughout the summer and into the fall and winter, he was repeatedly summoned for interrogation, but he kept it to himself. “During the five years in prison, I had been through countless torture sessions and beatings. It’s tiring to expose the kind of summons, stalking, and mental harassment I go through now.” But in December, he decided to publicize them. “The security police violate the rights of democracy activists and rights defenders by routinely employing house arrest, summons and forced travel and other egregious means. Few fight back directly, but I reject it categorically, so they are very incensed and take it out on me – they made this clear to me,” he wrote in an email. “If we don’t expose such insidiousness, we could be encouraging them while inadvertently preventing people new to the freedom movement from learning about and receiving training on the struggle.”

Rallying Support for Colleagues

Feixiong’s first prison term was, in part, due to his frantic actions to rescue his close friend, lawyer Gao Zhisheng more than ten years ago. “I propose that all forces, internationally and domestically, be mobilized for a strong and resolute campaign to rescue Gao Zhisheng,” he wrote in August, 2006. “We are not just rescuing one individual but the conscience of the country. The rescue helps the overall democracy movement and rights movement in China.” “The dictators believe they can control and strangle us. It’s time for us to tell them, with our actions, that, no, they can’t!” (link in Chinese)

In July, 2009, while a prisoner in Meizhou, Guangdong, Feixiong exposed a homicide between inmates to the prison management and tried to protect the life of another prisoner. He managed to send the news out to rights lawyer Liu Shihui and spread it. For this Feixiong was beaten dozens of times by thugs doing the authorities’ bidding. The prisoner he protected, risking his own life, escaped execution and was eventually released. Liu Shihui marveled, “Guo Feixiong’s bravery is extraordinary….while a prisoner himself, he identified the murderer in front of the lawyers.”

When the nation-wide crackdown on the New Citizens Movement and other activities started in the spring of 2013, he was concerned and anxious. In emails to me, he urged support in various fashions for Li Huaping (李化平) in Hefei, Liu Ping (刘萍) in Xinyu, the first four NCM activists in Beijing, and the dozen or so activists in Guangdong. After Ding Jiaxi and Zhao Changqing were arrested in April, Feixiong penned an article (link in Chinese) singing the praise of the two “democracy heroes in Beijing.”

Feixiong’s efforts do not stop at organizing protests and defense teams and drafting statements. With any given case he was involved, his eyes were set on systematic change. Following the Li Wangyang tragedy, us and other colleagues studied the Coroner’s Report and the Coroner’s Court system in Hong Kong. “We want to launch a social movement to try to introduce the coroner’s court into mainland China.” Cao Shunli’s death in March this year would have further advanced Feixiong’s effort should he be “free.”

All of our efforts, of course, point to the ultimate question: It is difficult and futile to plan a good tree in poisoned soil, and in China, what needs to be changed is the soil itself.

Guo Feixiong spoke in front the Southern Weekend headquarters in January 2013.

Guo Feixiong spoke in front the Southern Weekend headquarters in January 2013.

In January, 2013, during the Southern Weekend incident, Feixiong gave speeches on street  arguing, straight to the point: “China’s media censorship is the most reactionary thought policing system that should have long been abolished. We are here today to support the Southern Weekend, not just because they were suppressed; we are here to fight for a universal right, and that universal right is the freedom of speech.”

While battles still have to be fought one at a time, Feixiong initiated the campaign to demand the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the Chinese National People’s Congress. China signed the ICCPR in 1998 as it bid for WTO entry but has never ratified it.

Feixiong didn’t seem to have foreseen his own arrest in August, 2013. Or maybe he did, taking it as a close possibility on any given day. His two crimes, according the indictment whose crudeness and ludicrousness the Chinese authorities are not shy from showing to the rest of the civilized world, had to do with protests during the Southern Weekend incident, the street demonstration for the ratification of ICCPR, and asset disclosure by officials.

Theorist and Strategist

Everyone knows Guo Feixiong is fierce and indomitable. When he was detained in 2005 in connection to his work in providing legal training to Taishi villagers, he staged a hunger strike for 59 days in protest. In Meizhou prison where he started to serve the five-year sentence in 2007, he was on a hunger strike for 75 days demanding political reform from the Chinese government. He again was on a hunger strike for 25 days protesting his illegal detention which he believed was for no other reason but to prevent him from continuing his activism as well as being a sustained reprisal for his role in China’s rights movement.

Everyone knows he has been a doer, and has made profound contributions to the development of civil society in China over the last decade or so.

But fewer people know that he is also a theorist who wrote more than 40 articles between spells of prison terms, reflecting on topics ranging from the complexity of Deng Xiaoping’s character to the causes of the collapse of the USSR, from the positive impact of the rights movement on all levels of society to the concept of “popular sovereignty.”

He placed major rights defense events into larger perspectives. In an essay titled The Taishi Incident and China’s Rights Movement – Speech at Harvard University Fairbank Center for East Asia Research on June 20, 2006, he analyzed the social causes of the event and the key players in addition to the villagers themselves. He wrote, exuding optimism for the future of the rights movement, “together, the development of civil society and an independent judiciary are the two primary goals of liberal and democratic advocates.”

In his long article Reflections on the Three-day Political Gatherings in Front of the Southern Weekend Offices, published in January, 2013, his thoughts centered on two things: citizens and action. “A citizen,” he wrote, “is by definition a man who possesses political rights and exercises his political rights. Real citizens are active citizens.” “To push forward the constitutional democracy process and to build civil society, we must start from direct actions, from exercising citizens’ political rights.”

Apart from the usual “suspects” such as rights lawyers, veteran activists, liberal thinkers and online opinion leaders, he saw grassroots young activists, not college students, as in 1989, as the main players in future democracy movements, especially when they joined with the urban middle class. Meanwhile he made positive calls to the authorities in Guangdong and beyond: “civil society’s democracy experiments need assistance from both the authorities and the civil society itself. The authorities need not to support them; it shall be enough if they do not oppose them, sabotage them and illegally suppress them.”

Fexiong’s arrest and indictment must be a cruel awakening. He will be tried soon, and in all likelihood, he will be “convicted” and locked up in jail again as they did to the New Citizens Movement activists in Beijing and the Xinyu Three and more in Hefei, Chibi, Zhengzhou and those elsewhere waiting to be tried.

Gao Zhisheng around 2005.

Gao Zhisheng around 2005. Click to enlarge.

For much of the past eight years his friend Gao Zhisheng has lost his freedom and suffered unspeakable torture and spent the last two years and eight months in the remote Shaya prison in Xiangjiang. His friend Gao Zhisheng due to be released on August 7, but Feixiong is again in jail facing trial. Such is China’s political reality, and the history of China’s rights movement in a nut shell. It is true that people’s awareness of, and demand for, rights have grown tremendously over the last decade, but precisely because of it, the economically strengthened dictatorship in China is suppressing such demand with unprecedented resources and harshness. The two forces are tearing China apart. They can put Guo Feixiongs and Xu Zhiyongs in jail, but they will not stop this ever expanding divide.

News brought back from lawyers’ meetings with Feixiong is worrisome. He is suffering from joint pains and general weakness. His sister, a MD, said a hunger strike caused his health to deteriorate rapidly and the prison diet and living conditions don’t help. I would add that, from case after case we know that the Chinese authorities have destroyed the physical and mental health of many politically prisoners. Last July, days before being secretly detained, he asked me to “please help call for attention” to his case should he be in trouble again. My heart was broken. I have told his stories to everyone and anyone I can, and I have prayed for him. Here I am, writing what I know of him in the hope that more people will get to know Guo Feixiong, and more people will speak out and do what they can to demand his freedom.

Too often we tend to recognize and admire the heroes when they are gone, but we must realize that sometimes they live right in our midst. I think Feixiong is such a person and we must cherish him here and now.


Lawyer Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍)

Lawyer Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍)

Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), born in 1972, is a Beijing-based lawyer from Hunan. She is a graduate of the University of International Business and Economics School of Law in Beijing. Because of her rights defense-related work, she has been subjected to police surveillance, threats, and unlawful restriction of personal freedom. She is currently a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.



Prominent Rights Activist Guo Feixiong Criminally Detained

Denied Meetings, Lawyers Fear for Advocate Guo Feixiong

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

Journalists at the Southern Media Group Speak out, Again, discrediting charges against Guo Feixiong and other activists

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


(Translated by China Change from a version rewritten for this site)

Chinese original Part 1 Part2