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Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options

Zhang Xuezhong, translated by Andrea Worden, January 7, 2019

Last week, Dr. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), a law professor at East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, posted an article on WeChat titled “Bid Farewell to Reform and Opening Up –– On China’s Perilous Situation and Its Future Options” (《告别改革开放 –– 论当今中国的危局和前路》). The following is an excerpt from the article in which he dismisses the notion that Deng Xiaoping’s time was a better time, a time, many believe, the current leader Xi Jinping has digressed from and should return to. We should point out that, in 2013, Dr. Zhang was stripped of his teaching position at the university by the university’s communist party committee for his writings on constitutionalism, and he now works in an administrative office on campus. He also has been a practicing lawyer and has represented prominent human rights activists, Liu Ping and Guo Feixiong, among others. But in the last two or three years, the university has blocked his practice. In other words, the university has reduced the law professor and human rights lawyer to an office clerk. He should be grateful that he hasn’t been sent to Jiabiangou (夹边沟) to die, if you call that progress.  –– The Editors

The Place of Reform and Opening Up in the Course of Long-Term National Transition

From the Westernization Movement to the Reform Movement of 1898, and then to the Revolution of 1911, the idea of a republic–– antithetical to a monarchy––became the consensus of the Chinese elite. Since the Revolution of 1911 through the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and afterwards, although the values ​​of freedom and democracy had not been well implemented, they were modern political principles and ideals such that no political force dared publicly deny, destroy or discard them. In September 1949, the new People’s Political Consultative Conference formulated the interim Common Program (共同纲领), which would both continue the legacy of the Revolution of 1911 and establish a new democratic system.

However, the concept of communist dictatorship that the CCP adhered to then and now, in principle, stands in fundamental contrast to the constitutional government of a liberal democracy. This means that the continuation of the CCP’s rule must be predicated on the elimination of the concepts of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Beginning in 1953, a series of political campaigns, such as the socialist transformation movement (社会主义改造) and the “washing” of intellectuals (i.e., thought reform) meant the gradual destruction of the new democratic system. The 1954 Constitution, based on the Common Program, was in force for three years and then abandoned.

This meant that the new democratic system was replaced by the Soviet-style system, and that the political legacy of the Revolution of 1911 was basically eradicated. During the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign, following the persecution of Zhang Bojun (章伯钧), Luo Longji (罗隆基), Chuan Anping (储安平) and others, liberal, democratic organized forces with clear political demands vanished completely from the mainland. Since then, although the ideals of freedom and democracy have hung on by a thread, they have survived and been passed on only in the form of personal thought.

Reform and opening up, which was launched after the end of the Cultural Revolution, is undoubtedly a denial of Maoism. It brought opportunities and space for a ravaged Chinese society to recover and recuperate. Compared with Maoism, reform and opening up is substantial progress, and objectively speaking, it brought about the emergence of civil society relative to governmental power.

However, reform and opening up as a political guideline and policy of the Chinese Communist regime, contrary to what Professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润) said, has never been about the transition to a better form of government (优良政体). In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Reform and opening up, as a policy measure in response to actual circumstances, is aimed precisely at consolidating and continuing the CCP’s one-party dictatorial rule. Initially, reform and opening up relaxed restrictions on society, and the loosening of political oppression made people hope for a more civilized, democratic, and liberal political system. This is the social backdrop of the 1989 student movement. However, the suppression of the student movement by the CCP regime, headed by Deng, undoubtedly indicated to the world that reform and opening up never included in its agenda the gradual establishment of a liberal democracy.

Interestingly, pundits who are today still loudly extolling Deng Xiaoping are deliberately ignoring the most important political decision Deng made during his life–– that is, his decision to use military force to suppress the student movement. This suppression not only ended a patriotic student movement that focused on the pursuit of freedom and democracy, but also ruined the opportunity for a peaceful political transition in China.

In fact, judging from both official public pronouncements and the internal discussions of policy makers, in the past few decades, no CCP figure who has held real power has ever thought about establishing a good, modern political system in China. For CCP leaders, the supreme concern has always been keeping the CCP in power, meaning they must spare no cost to tenaciously defend a backward, premodern system of government. All policies carried out in the name of so-called “reform and opening up” must be based on the premise of defending, and even strengthening, the existing structure of power interests.

I have never denied that compared with the Mao Zedong era, the policies during the reform and opening up period–– and the results of those policies–– are certainly much better [in terms of economic growth and improvement in people’s livelihoods]. But I don’t agree that scholars and pundits should act like the official mouthpieces who invariably look at the path of reform and opening up over the past several decades from a vulgar, utilitarian perspective.

What Criteria Should Be Used to Judge 40 Years of Reform and Opening up?

We must use the discourse of rights and rules before we can fairly judge the gains and losses of reform and opening up.

Once we adopt the discourse of rights and rules, not only can we conduct a fair and convincing evaluation of the past reform and opening up, but we can also more clearly understand the current situation in China. We can even conceive of a clearer future for this country, one that is more reasonable and reliable. 

For example, we often see people, who, due to a crass utilitarian mentality, are deeply grateful to Deng Xiaoping for reinstating the college entrance examination (gaokao). However, if we use the discourse of rights, we can see that the resumption of the college entrance examination is both an improvement over the situation during the Cultural Revolution, and at the same time we can understand that it is a fundamental human right of modern society for people to be able to receive higher education when appropriate conditions are met. During the whole period of reform and opening up, not only has the allocation of resources for public institutions of higher learning been unequal and unfair, but also the government’s restrictions on private schools artificially deprives generations upon generations of opportunities for higher education, not to mention the long-term implementation of political brainwashing in the national education.

To take another example, during the period of reform and opening up, there was a limited right to have and protect private property, and the private economy. This is certainly an improvement compared with the preceding period. However, if we realize that personal property rights and business rights are basic human rights to begin with, we can see that during the period of reform and opening up, people’s property rights and business rights have not been adequately respected and protected by the government, and the violation of these rights by public authorities is extremely common and widespread.

As another example, compared with the absolutely unrestrained and comprehensive violation of human rights during the Cultural Revolution, the period of reform and opening up is, of course, much better. But at the same time we can also see that in the latter period, many freedoms, including the people’s right of freedom of speech, publishing, assembly and association, as well as the right to petition and the right to freedom of movement, have been strictly suppressed; and people have always been deprived of the right of political participation, and political persecution has been a common occurrence.

I think these few examples are sufficient to illustrate my point. In fact, once we begin to use the discourse of rights and rules, we not only can transcend the different subjective feelings held by different groups of people, but also objectively and fairly evaluate the reform and opening up policy. Moreover, we can clearly see how decades of reform and opening up have created the various crises and problems in China today.

In a nutshell, the root cause of these crises and problems is the dictatorial system in which a few people monopolize unconstrained power. In the process of reform and opening up over the past few decades, the problem of unfettered government power and unprotected individual rights not only has not been solved, but has also at times deteriorated. The policy priorities of different political leaders may have differed during this period, but they are completely consistent in terms of defending dictatorial power and suppressing individual liberties.

Arbitrary power can be wielded capriciously. When a few people monopolize unconstrained power, the power-holders can relax their control of society at a certain moment due to certain realistic needs, and they can also at a different moment, in response to different practical needs, strengthen their oppression of society. The reform and opening up path of the past few decades has always been based on a political system in which government power is not constrained and individual rights are not guaranteed.

Once we have seen this clearly, it is easy to understand that although there have been different policy priorities during different stages of these decades, the logic of political power behind them has been consistent. In the first stage of reform and opening up, the private economy was tolerated and encouraged to a greater extent, both to remedy the crisis of the national economic collapse caused by the Cultural Revolution, and because the size of the government at that time was still relatively small and the government’s absorption of social and economic resources was at a relatively low proportional level.

But unconstrained power must inevitably be rent seeking, and it is certain to be corrupt. The phenomenon of rent seeking by those in power has accompanied the entire course of reform and opening up, beginning with the dual pricing system (价格双轨制) in the early stage of the reform period. Once government power could be used for rent seeking and profiteering, not only did the power holders’ appetite become bigger and bigger, but it also led to more and more people using various kinds of paths to enter the government, and subsequently, the scale of the government swelled continuously and expanded without limit. Once such a trend reaches a certain critical point, the speed of social production and national economic growth will not be able to keep up with the increasing scale of government exploitation and consumption of social resources. By this time, all sectors of society, including private entrepreneurs, would find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation, with the exception of those who can use their power to extract wealth. We can even say that the various policies of squeezing and tightening in the later stages of the reform are a completely natural and logical result of the reform and opening up.

Leave Behind Reform and Opening up and Move Towards the Creation of a Modern Government

Under the reform and opening up policy, the government has never considered establishing rules for a constitutional government that would guarantee the basic rights of citizens. On the contrary, the suppression of individual liberty and the trampling of civil rights went hand in hand with economic growth. This model of economic growth inevitably led to problems such as a large gap between the rich and the poor, serious environmental damage, and the collapse of social governance. It can be said that the current government financial crisis and various social crises are the inevitable consequences of decades of reform and opening up. Those who have used 2012 as the dividing line and have portrayed the thirty-plus years before 2012 as a beautiful time, it is is incumbent upon them to search their hearts and ask themselves: Of all the social crises people have faced since 2012, which one of these did not already exist before 2012? Which one is not the result of decades of reform and opening up?

If we expand our horizons a bit more broadly, it is easy to understand that China’s political moves in recent years to intensify the repression of civil society and reject Western influences are themselves the logical result of the reform an opening up. The West is the region in the world that first completed modernization, and the core of modernization is political modernization; that is, the democratic politics of national self-governance under the precondition of respecting and guaranteeing individual freedom. The so-called modern polity is exactly the polity of this liberal democracy.

The Sino-Western collision during the Qing Dynasty made the imperial court aware of its own fragility, and the “Westernization movement,” which aimed at self-strengthening by learning from the West, became an important policy measure. But for decision makers in power, this modernization-oriented learning process had to be severed from political modernization. That is to say, the purpose of limited study of the West was not to change the autocratic regime of the minority ruling the majority, but to preserve and consolidate this premodern regime. However, the Westernization of such facets as technology, management, education, and culture gradually created a partially modernized society, which, in turn, led to conflict between the society making big strides towards modernization and the unchanging, obstinate, premodern government.

However, their more likely choice was to forcefully interrupt the process of societal modernization in order to eliminate the threat to the authoritarian regime posed by society’s pursuit of modernization. It is not surprising that after many years of the Westernization Movement, the extremely xenophobic Boxer Movement followed closely behind.

To a certain degree, the post-Cultural Revolution reform and opening up can be regarded as a Westernization Movement under new conditions. The key point is for China to learn from the West––to introduce Western investment, technology, management and products–– but at the same time, resolutely exclude political modernization. This is precisely the reason why Deng Xiaoping’s “four modernizations” slogan at that time did not include political modernization. While adhering to reform and opening up, the government at the same time insisted that the polity uphold the four basic principles that enshrine the leadership of the Communist Party. This is similar in terms of outcome to the formulation “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application,” in the late Qing dynasty.

However, with the castration of political modernization from the development agenda, sooner or later there will be a conflict between a society with limited modernization and an authoritarian regime that rejects modernization. At that point, the rulers must make a fundamental decision: either initiate the process of political modernization or discontinue the process of societal modernization.

People lament that China at present is a country that lacks consensus and is highly torn. In fact, the rips that have emerged in various aspects of this country all stem from a fundamental tear: a tear between a society that is looking forward to comprehensive modernization and a premodern government that adheres to the structure of existing power interests. It can be said that China today is a country that is pulling itself apart in opposite directions.

However, this state of pulling itself apart in opposite directions cannot be sustained over the long term. Eventually, either the whole society will succumb to the backward regime and regress to the previous state of closure, depression and poverty; or the backward regime will conform to the demands of the comprehensive modernization of society and transform into a modern political system that is compatible with modern society. In a sense, our country has reached a critical moment: Is it moving forward or backward?

What the Chinese need most is not to look backwards, not to recall with nostalgia the so-called reform and opening up, but to move forward, to decisively bid farewell to reform and opening up, and to work hard to innovate the current premodern polity.


A Great Shift Unseen Over the Last Forty Years, Xiang Songzuo, December 28, 2018.

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Law Professor Suspended from Teaching for Pro-Constitutionalism Expressions

By   Publishied: August 25, 2013

Dr. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠)

Dr. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠)

Last week, associate professor Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) of East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai was notified that he was stripped of his qualifications to teach at the university. According to Dr. Zhang, the university’s Human Resources office told him that the decision was made “collectively by the university’s communist party committee.” Dr. Zhang promptly challenged the legality of such a decision since he is not a party member.

In a latest statement issued via his WeChat account (@张雪忠) on Sunday, Dr. Zhang Xuezhong related the sequence of his recent interactions with school authorities that shed light on the event:

“On June 4, 2013, I published an article entitled The Origin and the Perils of the Anti-constitutionalism Campaign in 2013¹(《2013反宪政逆流的根源及危险》). On June 13, four representatives of the university met with me. They were two leaders of the Law School and two leaders of the Human Resources Office. [Through them] the university made it clear to me that the article was in violation of the Constitution of People’s Republic of China, and at the same time, it also violated the teachers’ ethical code as stipulated in the Teachers Law of the People’s Republic of China (《中华人民共和国教师法》), Higher Education Law of the People’s Republic of China (《中华人民共和国高等教育法》), Professional and Ethical Code of Teachers at Higher Education Institutions (《高等学校教师职业道德规范》), and in Opinions with Regard to Strengthening and Improving the Thought and Political Work on Young Teachers at Higher Education Institutions (《关于加强和改进高校青年教师思想政治工作的若干意见》). They said the university would make its decisions according to my responses. The university also presented me with printouts of these laws and regulations, including the Constitution, highlighting the provisions that I was accused of breaching. (My own sense is that the article “got into trouble” because of its candid criticism of some of Xi Jinping’s statements.) At the moment, I told them that writing and publishing the article was completely proper behavior for a citizen exercising his freedom of expression; that if a faculty member of a higher education institution must give up his legitimate freedom of expression to be ethical, it would be a misfortune and shame for the country. I also said I would express to the university, in writing, my views of the decision. A faculty member of the university had the opinion that I was a teacher of civil law and I shouldn’t be writing articles about constitutionalism. I rejoined that, in the classroom and over the course of advising graduate students, I of course should be focusing on civil law, but outside my job, it is my freedom to discuss constitutionalism as a citizen, and the university has no right to interfere. (At the time I really wanted to say, “Marx studied law and philosophy but talked about politics and economics all the time, but you still worship him the way you do your ancestors,” but out of respect for this colleague, I held it back.) During the entire conversation, there was no mention of my book The New Common Sense (《新常识》²). The book has been disseminated online since February, and the university has never asked me to talk about it. After the conversation that day, I posted on Weibo: “Did Zhang Xuezhong Violate the Constitution?” with a photo of the highlighted copy of the Constitution the school representatives had given me. Among others, Professor Tong Zhiwei (童之伟) reposted it with a humorous comment: “Teacher Zhang will not find the answer if he doesn’t study my article in response to Teacher He Weifang (贺卫方)³ (Now that the suspension has provoked wide public attention, the university is denigrating me for “fabricating facts”). At the end of June, 2013, I wrote a letter to the leaders of the university defending my article The Origin and the Perils of the Anti-constitutionalism Campaign in 2013, sending the letter to the head of the HR office. In July, the university’s CCP party committee made the decision to suspend me from teaching. At 10am, August 17, the university representatives met with me in a café near my home and notified me of the decision, but they claimed they hadn’t received my defense letter. Leaving a fax number, they asked me to fax the letter to the Administration Office again. The conversation ended around 11 am. I faxed the letter (I have kept a photocopy of it) right away as soon as I got home, and received confirmation from the school. What’s weird now is that, when the university warned me about the suspension and asked my opinion of it, it was all about the article The Origin and the Perils of the Anti-constitutionalism Campaign in 2013 (as I said before, I wrote a defense for it) without ever mentioning The New Common Sense at all.  But now the university announced that it had suspended me from teaching because of the book and the bad influence it had had on the students of the university. By using such a tactical feint to fool me, isn’t the university concerned that the public might condemn it for trumping up arbitrary charges against me?”

Last September, Dr. Zhang was temporarily suspended from teaching his undergraduate courses for his support of Hong Kong students and parents fighting the implementation of the so-called “national education” course in Hong Kong schools. Subsequently, Dr. Zhang issued a statement withdrawing his CCP membership, saying that “due to differences in principles between myself and the Chinese Communist Party over the treatment of Marxism and the political future of China, I would be conflicted between my loyalty to the country and my loyalty to the Party if I continue to stay in the organization.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Zhang was among the first college professors to reveal “Seven No Mentions” (“七不讲”), instructions banning the teaching of universal values, press freedom, civil society, civil rights, CCP’s historical mistakes, oligarchical capitalism, and judiciary independence on college campuses.

Dr. Zhang is also a practicing lawyer, currently representing Liu Ping (刘萍) of Xinyu, Jiangsu, and Li Huaping (李化平), of Shanghai, two citizens arrested in April and in August respectively for their participation in the New Citizens’ Movement.

Of the recent crackdown on social media expressions, Dr. Zhang said that true freedom lovers should not be terrified by it; instead, they should inspire more oppressed people to discover their strength and dignity by exemplifying courage.

¹ will provide a translation of Dr. Zhang Xuezhong’s article.

²     The complete title of Dr. Zhang’s book is The New Common Sense—The Nature and Consequences of One-Party Rule.

³     Professor Tong Zhiwei is a constitutional scholar and teaches in the same university as Dr. Zhang.  He Weifang is a renowned legal scholar at Peking University.

Dr. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) has been an associate professor of law at East China University of Politics and Law until his recent suspension from teaching. He is also a renowned human rights lawyer.


WeChat account of Dr. Zhang Xuezhong

Assessing the State of Nerves of the CCP

昆明anti-PX protest

Anti-PX protest in Kunming, Yunnan province, on Saturday, May 4th.

This past week was, by any measure, an interesting week in China.

Last Saturday, May 4th, Chengdu residents planned, after days of online mobilization, to have a “stroll” in a downtown area protesting an oil refinery and petrochemical plant known as the PX project to be built in Pengzhou, about 30 kilometers away from the city. People worried about pollution and also the possibility of an earthquake disaster since the project is located on the same earthquake-active strip as Beichuan, the epicenter of the devastating 2008 earthquake. The protest didn’t materialize because China’s stability maintenance machine went to work in full gear. It was a rare, all-out display, and NPR’s Louisa Lim has a good report on how:

“At the appointed hour and location for would-be protesters — a covered bridge at the city center — at least five different kinds of security forces were on patrol. Police patrolled in pairs, with plainclothes police out in force and a fire engine handily parked down the street. At a nearby teahouse, several dozen anti-riot police dozed in their full gear, plastic handcuffs dangling from their vests, ready to spring into action should the need arise. Trucks of paramilitary police circled the town, while police patrolled university campuses.

The main square — overseen by a huge statue of Chairman Mao — was closed to visitors, with police officers stationed every 20 feet around its periphery. Though China now spends more on domestic security than on its military, such a citywide show of force is unprecedented.

The tentacles of the stability-maintenance machine go deep, and all of them swung into action in Chengdu. A woman who’d forwarded a message about the protest on social media was forced to apologize on television earlier in the week. At least 10 dissidents were put under house arrest or forced to ‘go on holiday,’ according to a local human rights website. Meanwhile, employees at state-run work units were warned that they’d be sacked if they protested.

Then there was an enormous leafleting campaign. Households received letters from the government calling for ‘everyone to stand firm and not believe rumors, and not participate [in protests] in order to prevent people with other motives from seizing this opportunity to create turmoil.’ The letters had the unintended effect of bringing the Pengzhou plant to the attention of those who hadn’t already heard about it, creating an even greater groundswell of suppressed discontent.”

Then on Wednesday, May 8th, hundreds of migrant workers—mostly garment vendors from Anhui province—gathered outside Jingwen Building (京温大厦) in the south part of Beijing demanding justice for a girl who died on May 3. The girl, also a migrant worker from Anhui, had allegedly been raped by security guards of the building, thrown off the building from the 6th floor, and died. The police insisted that she committed suicide, but the protesters weren’t convinced. Request by family to disclose the building’s security video recording was rejected. All sorts of rumors swirled online about who the boss of this building is, and about guards fleeing the scene.

All the opacity and commotion is amazing, given that this is such a simple case without any political complication. More amazing was the show of force at the scene. Some posted photos of a large number of police cars and different kinds of police forces, and others reported traffic lockdown in much of the city’s south side and sightings of helicopters (more photos of force deployment here).

The day after, on May 9, NPR’s Louisa Lim “counted 20 buses each carrying 50 policemen in case of trouble, not counting police on streets” around the Jingwen Building.

One netizen observed that “as far as I know, today’s protest at the south 3rd ring road in Beijing is the largest, and the police deployment the heaviest, since 1989,” while others commented that if the government had to use such force to deal with a protest of this size and this nature, “going forward, how are they going to play their game?”

All I can say is that, in today’s China, it will take only 1/20 of the size of the Tian’anmen Square protest twenty-four years ago for tanks and machine guns to roll into Beijing, and that is, without one minute of delay.

Also on Wednesday, three of the four activists (one on bail for poor health), who had been detained for displaying banners in the Xidan commercial district in Beijing on March 31 demanding asset disclosure by officials, were charged with “illegal assembly” and formally arrested. A trial is expected, and the three could face up to five years in prison. There are at least another twelve in Beijing, Jiangxi and Guangdong, who have been detained for similar reasons.

On Thursday, Xinhua News Agency reported that the State Internet Information Office canceled one Weibo account (@萧山君子) and suspended another (@何兵) for “deliberately spreading rumors.” Scores Weibo accounts are deleted every days, but these two are so-called “Big Vs,” Weibo accounts with a large number of followers.

I’m not sure who @萧山君子is except that he or she has over 110,000 followers. He Bing (何兵) is a professor of law at China University of Political Science and Law, and his Weibo account has more than 460,000 followers. The rumor in question is that a university graduate stabbed to death an official in charge of communications regulation in Guizhou province over a website shutdown.

Just days ago on May 2, the State Internet Information Office announced plans to crack down on internet “rumormongering,”  singling out “Big V” accounts for their power to relay messages and posts.

Many see the shutdown of the two accounts as the beginning of a systematic effort to take out and deter online criticism. Meanwhile, one must remember that these are accounts maintained by people who are tolerated enough by the government to maintain an account at all. Some of the best known dissidents and activists have not been able to set up, or maintain, accounts without being shut down promptly and repeatedly, each time losing all of their previous posts and followers. In other words, China is taking internet cleansing one step further now to curb criticism and to stunt its power to edify and mobilize.

On Friday, May 10th, law professor Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) of East China University of Political Science and Law revealed on his Weibo account (@新常识2016) that a directive from the central government is being circulated in his university to prohibit faculties from speaking to students about seven topics, or the “seven don’t talks” (七不讲), and they are: universal values, press freedom, civil society, civil rights, the Party’s past mistakes, the-powerful-and-the-privileged class, and judiciary independence.

Professors Zhang was promptly attacked for spreading “false rumors” (note how it is an all-purpose accusation) but his post was confirmed by Wang Jiangsong (王江松), a very well-known scholar and a professor at China Institute of Industrial Relations. Earlier on May 8, another scholar Yao Jianfu (姚监复) told Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, that a CCP central committee document about the “seven don’t talks” was being leaked.

Professor Zhang Xuezhong’s Weibo account has since been deleted.

China watchers may still remember the “Five Nos” enunciated by the then chairman of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), that is: no multi-party election, no diversified guiding principles, no separation of powers, no federal system, and no privatization.

Altogether, this week’s events paint a rather telltale picture about the state of China’s rulers, their sense of crisis, and their assessment of China’s political situation. As for the Chinese Dream, I heard that kindergarteners and primary school kids are being taught of it as well.

Sunday, May 12, will be the fifth anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, another “sensitive”day, because all the questions about those tofu-dreg school buildings that buried over 5,000 children have not been answered. Then it will be June 4th, the 24th anniversary of Tian’anmen Square massacre, the most sensitive day of all. Fast approaching is the time when, in China, each day will be a touchy, nerve-racking day, and every black dot the shadow of an enemy.

More Citizens Detained in China for Demanding Public Disclosure of Officials’ Personal Wealth

Four activists in Xidan, Beijing, on March 31.

Four activists in Xidan, Beijing, on March 31.

Following earlier detentions in Guangdong and Beijing, on April 27, another ten activists in Xinyu, Jiangxi (江西新余) were taken into police custody for demanding that government officials disclose their assets. Since then, seven of them have been released but Liu Ping (刘萍), Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) and Li Sihua (李思华) are still been held.

According to Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Pingfang, those who were released gave accounts of being slapped in the face, wearing shackles, and being locked in iron cages. They said that the police interrogation focused on their participation in advocating asset disclosure by officials.

For days, Liu Ping’s daughter, a college student, has been visiting the Public Security authorities for the detention notice that, by law, the family is supposed to receive but has never been provided.

From a Weibo post on May 7th by Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), Liu Ping’s lawyer who teaches law at East China University of Political Science and Law, we learned that Liu Ping has been criminally detained for allegedly “subverting state power.” Mr. Zhang visited the detention center in Xinyu on Tuesday morning, submitted Power of Attorney letter and a request for meeting his client, but his request was declined without an explanation.

He told the local public security authorities that “Liu Ping is merely an ordinary laid-off worker. If she were charged with subversion just because she stated some plain truths out of a sense of justice, it would cause a public outcry, not to mention that it will cast a shadow on the new administration for which people have some expectations.”

Liu Ping

Liu Ping

In 2011, Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua campaigned in the election of people’s representatives in Xinyu as independent candidates. They were met with all manners of harassment and suppression, including forced disappearance, beatings and other forms of torture, passport confiscation, home searches, and seizure of personal objects.

The recent detentions in Xinyu are part of a wave of arrests across China over recent months. They are aimed at stamping out more visible citizen activism that has been on the rise. On March 31, four Beijing residents unfurled banners demanding that officials publish their assets as the Party has been promising for 30 years. They were taken away by police on the spot and subsequent detained for “illegal assembly.” A video posted on You Tube shows the protest scene in Xidan, a downtown commercial district only a couple of miles from the Tian’anmen Square , and the man who is giving a speech about the need to push for asset disclosure is Yuan Dong (袁冬), a stock brokerage manager and a regular participant in citizen dinner gatherings.

From April 15 to 17, four more Beijing residents, who held the similar demonstrations in other locations in Beijing, were detained on the same charges of “illegal assembly”. Around the same time, it was confirmed that another two were detained for the same reason. That brings the total number of detentions to ten for anti-corruption activism (one of them on bail due to poor health).

The Beijing Ten are: Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Sun Hanhui (孙含会), Wang Yonghong (王永红), Ma Xinli (马新立), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), Yuan Dong (袁冬), Hou Xin (侯欣), Li Wei (李蔚), Qi Yueying (齐月英). Brief bios of eight of them can be found here (link in Chinese).

On April 26, a group of lawyers representing some of the detainees issued a statement entitled “No Crime Was Committed to Peacefully Call for Public Disclosure of Officials’ Assets” to appeal for withdrawing the case against the ten citizens.

A decision on whether the first four, detained on March 31, will be formally arrested is due on Wednesday, May 8. If tried, they could face up to five years in prison.

Also in April in Guangdong, several netizens were given 10-20 days of detention for holding signs, or unfurling banners, in public, that promote democracy and human rights, or condemn the dictatorship of the communist party.

One of the activists, Liu Yuandong (刘远东), was formally arrested on April 3, as his wife was notified, but an activist in Guangdong told SRIC that the family has yet to receive the notice of arrest despite repeated requests for it. It is unknown then with what Liu Yuandong has been charged, but relatives and friends said the authorities had been investigating his finance and tax records, likely to trumpet money-related charges against the businessman-turned-dissident.

Readers might wonder why the Chinese government is targeting citizens engaged in anti-corruption activism. Hasn’t Xi Jinping himself been vowing to crackdown on rampant graft inside the party? Dissident intellectuals pointed out that the regime is not afraid of what you say, no matter how strong; however, it is fearful of any form of organization and collective activities, and it has been cracking down harshly on these street demonstrations and also regular dinner gatherings of like-minded citizens known as “same-city dining and getting drunk” (tong cheng fan zui, 同城饭醉).

In Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, there have been reports of security police preventing such parties from occurring by temporarily detaining participants in the police stations, keeping them from leaving home, or making threats. In some cases, security police sat next to the parties watching them.

A recent study of censorship in China, conducted by a team of Harvard scholars, reached similar conclusion: “Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future—and, as such, seems to clearly expose the government’s intent,” the article says.

Related reading:

Appeal to Immediately Free Seven Citizens Criminally Detained for Calling for Asset Disclosure