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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