Category Archives: activism

“Diaoyu in Our Heart”

Freelance writer Helen Gao has a good piece in The Atlantic about some of the intricacies of the Diaoyu Islands arrests last week, and how Chinese people see their nation and themselves:

A web user named oncebookstore posted a question on Weibo, China’s twitter-style social network: “If your child were born on the Diaoyu Islands, what nationality would you pick for him/her: Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or the mainland?” (The islands, also known as the Senkakus in Japan, are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan.) It went viral on Sunday, retweeted over 20,000 times in nine hours before censors took it down around midnight. The surprising results would seem to contradict the popular anti-Japanese protests, undercut the government’s efforts to stoke patriotism, and may well baffle outside observers: Chinese respondents overwhelmingly picked places other than mainland China. Around 40 percent answered Taiwan, followed by Hong Kong with about 25 percent, followed by Japan. Mainland China was the least popular option. A formal poll, set up on Weibo after the original post was pulled, returned similar results, with Japan at 20 percent and the mainland at 15.

Though contradictory at first glance, the sentiment at the anti-Japanese protests and that revealed by the Weibo quiz are perhaps not as inconsistent as they might appear, and could highlight the dual nature of the nationalistic feelings deeply rooted in Chinese society today. The same Chinese nationalism that drives citizens to stand up for their native land when outside forces challenge it could also sharpen their pain when they observe the depressingly wide gap between China as it is and China as they wish it could be.

“Political slogans aside, as a citizen of the globe, I would rather have the next generation growing up in an place like Taiwan or Japan,” said zuzhanggaocangwentai. “I don’t want them to have to take poisonous baby formula, sit in brainwashing classes, and love the party that hurts its people.”

Weibozhuanping also saw potential social advantage abroad: “If we speak about society instead of politics, Japan has the most fair and humane society. Workers and farmers won’t have as hard a time there as they do in China.”

“I vote for Taiwan,” said yingdedaobie, “because that’s where you get to vote.”

In fact, web users’ responses seemed to be driven more by a deep discontent with the current China than by a veneration for these more developed economies: a large number of participants put their answers as bluntly as “Anywhere but the mainland.”

The owner of an independent bookstore in a southern Chinese province, he told me that his initial hope in asking the uncomfortable question was to make the public aware that “there are more pressing issues than the Diaoyu Islands.”

“I hope Chinese people can show as much solidarity as they did in protecting the Diaoyu Islands every time someone is illegally evicted from his house by officials; I hope they can shout like they did to save the pro-China Diaoyu activists every time a Chinese dissident is arrested,” he posted on his blog immediately after putting up the quiz.

“Farmlands, houses, and families, they should be the Diaoyu Islands in our heart.”

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Filed under activism, Japan, nationalism, Taiwan

“Chinese activists arrested by Japan after landing on disputed island”

Apparently the ‘invoke nationalism by whining about the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands’ card is having some unintended consequences these days:

Shortly after the activists’ arrest, China vowed to lodge a formal complaint with Japan.

The activists, more than a dozen in all, had set out from Hong Kong for the islands — called Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by Japan. They carried with them five Chinese flags, reportedly intending to evade Japanese authorities patrolling the islands and to use the flags to claim the territory for China.

Many Chinese activists have embarked on similar forays in recent years, and several have been turned away by Japanese authorities.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Japan to refrain from doing anything that would endanger Chinese citizens or their property.

I would assume they are mainland Chinese who just left from Hong Kong, because I’m sure Hong Kongers don’t get as crazy about these islands than people who live in the middle of the swirling propaganda vortex Beijing has created in mainland China.

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Filed under activism, Japan

“Taking It to the Street in China”

This NYT piece was the best one I saw about the Qidong protests, which rocked a town near Shanghai last week:

On Saturday, thousands of angry residents of Qidong, a seaport town near Shanghai, decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. They took to the streets to protest the government’s plan to dump wastewater from a paper mill into their harbor, as my colleague Jane Perlez reported. They ransacked municipal offices, overturned cars and fought with the police. Striking photos of the unrest are here.

City officials quickly announced the waste-discharge plan would be canceled. Score one, maybe, for people power.

Although there are tens of thousands of civic protests every year in China, most are small-scale, ineffectual and officially smothered. But high profile demonstrations over environmental issues are occurring with more regularity, size, violence and political oomph — in Dalian (a petrochemical plant), in Zuotan (land grabs) and earlier this month in Shifang (a heavy-metals smelter). Deadly floods and a feeble government response in Beijing last week also led to a huge outcry online.

Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that all over China now “citizens are making their voices heard on the Internet and their actions felt on the streets.”

In a piece on the council’s Asia Unbound blog, she said that Li Yuanchao, one of China’s most powerful leaders and a presumptive candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo, recently lectured Communist Party officials that they should “understand and comply with the will of the people.”

His message is one that has been often delivered by party bosses, “apparently to little effect,” Ms. Economy said.

As one microblogger said of the bloody Shifang protests this month: “The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.” As we reported on Rendezvous at the time, the police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely punished.”

A university student from Beijing, Yueran Zhang, says in a thoughtful essay published Sunday on Tea Leaf Nation that public skepticism and online rumor-swapping have become the new normal in China whenever government officials are confronted with crises.

Government response to a recent deadly shopping mall fire, for example, “exacerbated netizen rumors and doubts,” Mr. Zhang says. Government officers shunted journalists away from hospital interviews with the injured, and lawyers needed official permission before giving interviews.

“Those measures led to the inevitable online speculation,” Mr. Zhang says, “that government was concealing a terrible truth.”

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Filed under activism, censorship, environment, protests

“China’s Young and Restless Could Test Legal System”

Stanley Lubman looks at what we learned from Shifang in this WSJ piece:

The Shifang protests are notable because of their size, their success in derailing a major project for environmental reasons and also because they reportedly involved the participation of a significant number of students. The protests may augur both a growing public anger over environmental degradation and a rise of political activism among China’s younger generation – trends that could lead in turn to an increase in legal challenges to the arbitrary behavior of local governments.

Writing in the Journal of Contemporary China, Benjamin van Rooij offers a good summary of the numerous obstacles to effective enforcement of environmental standards in China. Among them: A lack of information about procedures and costs associated with environmental litigation; the unwillingness of courts to accept cases in deference to the wishes of local governments; unresponsiveness from administrative institutions such as petitions offices and environmental protection bureaus; and the willingness of police to use force in repressing demonstrations.

Despite, or perhaps because of, difficulties in litigation, citizen outcries against projects deemed hostile to the environment appear to be on the rise. The newly visible participation of members of China’s young generation in the Shifang events may signal the rise of a new politically savvy generation. As recent story by Financial Times notes, the Shifang protest “has revealed a potentially important shift in the country’s politics: youth were at the forefront of the three-day demonstration, exposing a new vein of activism in a generation seen by many as apathetic.”

Contrary to popular perception inside China, the Financial Times argues that members the so-called post-‘90 generation are more politically active than their predecessors. They tend to be highly educated, and they also face less social mobility than in the two preceding generations. They also have grown up with more access to information, which has heightened their political awareness.

But as prominent Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun noted in a recent interview with business magazine Caixin, protests alone will not lead to long-term resolution of the country’s environmental problems. What’s needed, he says, is “ to liberalize environmental litigation and allow activists to speak in public. Right now, this channel is essentially shut off….the solutions to environmental problems must be legalized.”

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Filed under activism, environment, pollution, protests

“Chen Guangcheng went to U.S. Embassy for protection, friends say”

There are a few more details about Chen’s escape now, although his exact location now is still unknown. The US embassy seems like a good bet though, based on what his friends and allies are saying:

The activists interviewed — some of whom were involved in helping Chen evade authorities for a week here in Beijing — said they believed Chen did not intend to seek political asylum but was sheltering in a U.S. diplomatic compound for protection and wanted to remain in China to continue his campaign for democratic rights and the rule of law.

“He believes that China is in a period of intensive changes now and it’s not far away from the final fundamental change,” said Hu Jia, a Beijing activist who said he met with Chen on Wednesday. “He told me he didn’t want to ask for political asylum in the U.S. Instead, he wants to ‘stay in this land and continue to fight.’ ”

Hu said he and Chen met in the same room in Beijing where Chen recorded a video, broadcast on YouTube, in which he calls on Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to protect his family and investigate corruption in Linyi City, in Shandong province, where Chen’s home village of Dongshigu is located. Hu described going to meet Chen at a safehouse, wearing a raincoat for concealment, and said he did not take a cellphone, to avoid being tracked.

He said that after their hour-plus-long meeting, where they first hugged and then held hands the entire time, Chen moved to a new secret location.

“We discussed where was a safe place for him in Beijing,” Hu said. “But we couldn’t figure out any absolutely safe place in Beijing except the U.S. Embassy.”

The Beijing activists were also concerned about the fate of their Nanjing-based colleague He Peirong, also known as Pearl, who had driven Chen to Beijing and dropped him off but was arrested after returning to Nanjing. The activists said that He’s only role was to bring Chen to the capital and that they deliberately left her in the dark about the plan to get him into the hands of U.S. diplomats so that she would not be implicated.

Chen’s brother and nephew were also detained, and there were growing fears for the safety of Chen’s wife, mother and daughter, left behind in the village.

Also Saturday, new details emerged from activists about Chen’s spectacular escape. His plan was two months in the making, and late on April 21, a moonless night, he waited until the normal time for the changing of the guards who were keeping him under house arrest.

Chen had to climb over a high wall, but he hurt his leg badly when he jumped down on the far side, the activists said. After a long pause, he limped away in the darkness — not an impediment for Chen, who has been blind since childhood — past eight lines of plainclothes thugs blocking access to his farmhouse. He told friends he walked alone, and fell more than a hundred times, before he finally managed to contact He Peirong for a ride to Beijing.

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Filed under activism, Chen Guangcheng, enforced disappearance

“Activists: Blind Chinese activist, under house arrest for 18 months, slips away, in hiding”

I’ve felt bad about not posting anything regarding Chen Guangcheng recently, but that’s simply because there wasn’t any news… until tonight, when the man reportedly escaped from house arrest. Stunning and welcome news (via WaPo):

A blind legal activist who is a key figure in China’s rights movement escaped the house arrest he has lived under for a year and a half, fleeing to an unknown location and angering his captors, fellow rights campaigners said Friday.

Chen Guangcheng slipped out of his usually well-guarded house in Dongshigu town on Sunday, said the campaigners, who are based in China and overseas. He Peirong, a leading campaigner for Chen’s freedom, said she picked him up and drove him to “a relatively safe place” she would not further describe.

“His mental state is pretty good. He’s alive, but whether he’s safe I don’t know,” He said from her home city of Nanjing. She said she left Chen a few days ago but declined to discuss further details, other than to say he is no longer in his home province of Shandong, southeast of Beijing.

She denied an online report by Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that Chen entered the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Thursday night. The paper did not name a source.

“I can tell you he’s not at the U.S. Embassy, and he’s not in Shandong. I did talk to the U.S. Embassy people, though,” He said.

Chen Guangcheng’s treatment by local authorities had seemed especially bitter and personal. He served four years in prison for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in his rural community. Since his release in September 2010, local officials kept him confined to his home, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so. They prevented outsiders from visiting him and occasionally beat him up.

If he can make it out it’ll be a slap to Beijing’s face on the scale of the Karmapa escape ten years ago. Certainly more on this as it develops.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, law

“What Happens During Residential Surveillance?”

Siweiluozi has an account from a Chinese activist who endured ‘residential surveillance,’ revealing how ugly the entire thing is:

On 4 November 2002, I was blindfolded by the Beijing Public Security Bureau’s Domestic Security Protection Unit (or guobao) and dragged into “residential surveillance in a designated abode.” The guobao stripped me of my clothes and kept me on a wooden bed (on which there was only a plastic sheet and a white cotton sheet), saying to me: “According to the relevant state regulations concerning residential surveillance, we can keep you lying on this bed for half a year and no one will know.”

The guobao entrusted me to the guard of their 27-person custodial unit, which worked in four-person teams taking shifts of two hours apiece. Four guards stood on either side of the wooden bed, each guarding my palms and the soles of my feet. The head of the guards told me that according to the relevant regulations for “residential surveillance in a designated abode,” the palms and soles of the person under residential surveillance must be kept in sight of the guards and the person under surveillance must remain lying on the bed and was not permitted to leave the bed.

Since I frequently violated the regulation about “the palms and soles of the person under residential surveillance must be kept in sight of the guards,” each day I faced verbal abuse and beatings from the guards. Each night, four guards would pull on my hands and feet, forcefully stretching my body a dozen times or so in the shape of the character 大.

Having spent a long time in a fixed position on the wooden-plank bed without being allowed to move, my shoulders, back, and hips were in contact with the plank for too long and the skin was all rubbed raw and the white sheet beneath me was covered in bloodstains. I requested to see a doctor and a change of sheets but was told to “shut up.”

The details of what exactly constitutes RS probably vary based on the identity of the ‘criminal’ and the severity of the police, but apparently all of this is a possibility. Horrifying.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, torture

“21 Hours in Beijing”

For a dose of horror check out Seeing Red in China, where contributor Ya Xue has translated the account of Chinese American activist Ge Xun’s detainment in China. Here’s the introduction- please do read the whole thing:

I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide.

My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remain together.

For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” (天安门母亲) as she has been known. She is a retired professor, and her son, a high school student, died during the June 4th crackdown in 1989. For more than two decades, she has been working hard, against harsh and persistent obstruction by the government, to preserve the memory of the event, recover more truth, and help families of other victims. Without her own son by her side, I wished to bring her perhaps a little bit of comfort and love. I called and made an appointment to visit her at 3pm the next day.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, human rights, Tiananmen, violence

“Will China Dragon Bite in 2012?”

Phelim Kine has a new piece in The Diplomat looking at how this year might play out for Chinese dissidents:

Strike hard and take prisoners. That’s the Chinese government’s message on how it will respond to perceived dissent in this Dragon year of 2012.

Just ask the writers Chen Xi, Chen Wei, and Li Tie. Chen Wei received a nine year prison term on December 23 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for online government criticism. Three days later, a Guiyang court handed down a 10-year sentence on the same charge to Chen Xi, for similar online criticism of China’s one-party rule. Then, on January 18 of this year, a Wuhan court sentenced Li Tie to a 10 year prison term for “subversion of state power” for writings that included reference to the officially taboo topic of the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

But while repression is nothing new in China, the government’s intolerance toward perceived dissent has grown since the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Its victims include imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion” over his role in drafting Charter ’08, an online petition advocating peaceful political change in China. His wife, Liu Xia, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, is believed to be under house arrest to prevent her from campaigning on her husband’s behalf. In February 2011, she said in a brief online exchange that she and her family were like “hostages” and that she felt “miserable.”

The government’s overriding obsession with maintaining its monopoly on power make it likely that these abuses will continue under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Foreign governments could help reverse this trend and give support to Chinese who want a more accountable government by more vigorously engaging the government on such violations.

In the longer term, governments truly committed to improving their approach to human rights abuses in China can’t rely on rhetoric alone. Instead, foreign governments, particularly the United States, the E.U. and the U.K., need to make progress on individual human rights cases a real benchmark for engagement with China and make clear that lack of progress will impact bilateral relations. Failure to do so will only ensure that in 2012 and beyond, yet more Chinese citizens will fall victim to their government’s dissent-stifling tactics of fear and intimidation.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, activism, enforced disappearance, human rights, Liu Xiaobo

“China Set to Punish Another Human Rights Activist”

I’m sure this will go over even better than the house arrest of a blind lawyer and his daughter:

First the police crippled Ni Yulan’s legs. Then the authorities took away her license to practice law. Later, while she was serving time in jail, demolition crews tore down the courtyard house that had been in her family for two generations.

Freed from prison in 2010 but unable to walk, she ended up living in a Beijing park with her husband for nearly two months, until unflattering publicity led local officials to move them into a cheap hotel.

Their predicament will most likely take a turn for the worse in the coming weeks, when a court in the capital’s Xicheng district is expected to sentence the couple on charges that include “picking quarrels” and disturbing public order. “I’m afraid the sentence this time will be especially heavy,” their lawyer, Cheng Hai, said after their hearing on Thursday.

The case of Ms. Ni and Mr. Dong highlights the ways officials can leverage the legal system against those they deem to be nuisances. Ms. Ni, 51, who received a law degree from China University of Political Science and Law, drew the attention of the authorities in 2002, when she used her expertise to help neighbors in Xicheng fighting eviction, part of the government’s sweeping effort to remake the capital ahead of the Olympics.

Detained after she tried to photograph demolition crews, she said she was kicked and pummeled over the course of 15 hours, leaving her incontinent and unable to walk. She was released after 75 days but continued her legal work while also seeking redress for the beating. Over the next few years, she was arrested twice more and convicted of “obstructing public business.”

During her three years in prison, she said, she endured frequent indignities: An officer once urinated on her face, she said, and prison officials often took away her crutches, forcing her to crawl from her cell to the prison workshop. One of her tasks included cleaning toilets.

Her daughter, too, said she was subjected to government surveillance. “The police followed me to school and watched me all day so I would experience the fear,” said the daughter, Dong Xuan, now 27.

During their trial last week, Ms. Ni, thin and weak, was propped up on a makeshift bed, an oxygen mask tethered to her face. Outside, a heavy police presence prevented family members, supporters and foreign diplomats from entering the courtroom. Their lawyer, Mr. Cheng, claims the proceedings were illegal because 9 of his 10 witnesses were barred from testifying.

Reached by phone, a spokesman for the Xicheng District People’s Court declined to answer questions about the case.

Cases like this are part of what convinces me that the Communist Party isn’t anywhere near as strong as it looks, in the long term. Does a secure Party need to go to such lengths to attack a women whose crime is lawyering and who needs an oxygen mask to survive?

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Filed under activism, courts, law, violence

“China: Only Talking About a Revolution”

Global Voices Online has a great summary of all the noise generated by Han Han’s three essays, which were posted a few days ago and have been garnering a wide spectrum of reactions since then. As writer John Kennedy summarizes:

Race car driver, author and one of China’s most popular bloggers, Han Han dropped a bomb this weekend with three new blog posts, respectively discussing the possibilities for revolution, democracy and freedom in China.

Unlike Chen Wei, who was just sentenced to nine years in prison for writing four essays, Han and his views on the reform vs. revolution debate and Chinese citizens’ ability to survive institutions such as freedom or democracy have, at least for the moment, brought discussion of a more open future China from the academic and ‘dissident’ spheres to the top of mainstream blog portals and all throughout microblog sites.

Between the three essays, Han frankly addresses questions that Chinese public intellectuals are often criticized for shying away from, but is himself now being accused of misrepresenting the many people in China who do advocate serious political change.

He then goes on to post a number of good comments on the pieces. Well worth a read.

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Filed under activism, internet

On Shaun Rein: A Shameful Journalist

Christian Bale’s attempted visit to Chen Guangcheng has been bouncing around, with reactions generally varying from “that was awesome, good job Bale” to “that was awesome, although CNN really should have kept a bit more distance from the story.” Personally I take the first one, although I can understand why some people think that it might be somewhat off, journalistically speaking.

Now, enter Forbes writer Shaun Rein, famous on the Chinese blogosphere for his repeated attempts to carry water for the Communist Party:

Bale and CNN’s publicity stunt indicts an entire political system without delving deeper into the reality of Chen’s detention and the interplay between the central and local governments. I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

His entire article is filled with pathetic attempts to sell his upcoming book and his marketing company, but these two paragraphs really are the highlights. In case you didn’t notice- Shaun Rein, China journalist, has no idea about Chen’s detention. Take a moment and think about that. One of the biggest stories in China today, which has been going on for months, and which has attracted international attention to the point where non-China centric Hollywood stars like Christian Bale are going out on a limb to get involved… Rein has ‘no idea.’ Is Chen being wronged? I don’t know, maybe there’s a really good justification for taking a blind lawyer you don’t like and his family and keeping them under illegal house arrest for months. I just can’t make a call on that, because I’m an absolute moron.

Realistically Rein probably isn’t stupid, just propagandized and willfully ignorant and surrounded by incentives to not notice things like this. Unfortunately for him Peking Duck and ChinaGeeks have both picked his statements apart mercilessly:

And then he puts up another of his signature straw men: “They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case….” Did Bale call Hu Jintao evil? Did he call anyone evil? Did he call for the overthrow of an evil Chinese government? Did we watch the same video? Shaun, as usual, is simply making things up so he can get on his moral high horse. This is straight out of the Anti-CNN playbook.

So there we have it; calling China to the carpet for its shit threatens fragile global relationships so we should shut the fuck up and keep things status quo so marketing companies can keep making money. Sorry, but I’ll take CNN’s journalism over this any time.

And from ChinaGeeks, guest-written by Tom from SeeingRedinChina:

When I pressed Shaun on his ignorance pertaining to Chen’s detention, he said again that he would not comment on something he had no knowledge of. The documentation of Chen’s abuse has been widely reported for nearly three months. To have “no idea” about it seems like he is feigning ignorance, otherwise he must have only been reading People’s Daily (even Global Times reported on Chen). It’s fine that he isn’t convinced that Bale calling the system disgusting is helpful, but how can he complain that CNN didn’t delve deeper into the reality when he himself has no idea about it?

Both rebuttals are worth a read. I’d hope that getting panned like this would encourage Rein to think a little bit harder before writing this kind of slop again, but he’s gotten called on it in the past and never stopped.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, media

“Scholar Warns Against Expanded State Power”

Caixin has a report about some lawyers who sound like they’re asking for an all-expenses paid trip to a black prison soon:

Speaking at a ceremony November 20 commemorating the life of legal scholar Cai Dingjian, China University of Political Science and Law Professor Jiang Ping said the expansion of both government and Communist Party authority is a dangerous sign of an inflexible, oppressive society.

Though Jiang did not clarify which developments pointed to expanded state power, he said Taiwan’s major political reforms in 1986 are a noteworthy example for how China should carry out reforms, while creating checks on the government. That year, Taiwan shifted its single-party system to a multi-party democracy, while also removing state controls over the press.

He also viewed the prioritization of “Stability Overrides Everything Else”—a Deng Xiaoping quote oft-repeated by officials in recent years to describe China’s economic and political direction—as going hand-in-hand with expanded state power. As long as political power is of the utmost importance to the Communist Party, he said, it will never implement real reform.

Another sociologist at the gathering, Tsinghua University Professor Li Dun, said reform in China has reached a standstill. It is a sign that the central government has too much power, he said, when there are all sorts of people who want to revert back to socialism, or to the Cultural Revolution times, and or who advocate militarism for the sake of unification.

“Today’s serious imbalance in power has resulted in a lack of common understanding between different parts of Chinese society,” the scholar said. “This is intertwined with the party’s control. China must establish a societal system based on human rights, democracy and equality.”

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Filed under activism, civil society, Communist Party, political reform

“Ai Weiwei Supporters Protest with Mass Nudity”

This whole Ai Weiwei thing is just getting weirder and weirder:

In a rare form of protest in China, supporters of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, under investigation on pornograhy charges, are posting nude photos of themselves.

They are using a Web site that proclaims: “Ai Weiwei Fans’ Nudity. Listen, Chinese Government: Nudity is not Pornography”.

Beijing police questioned Ai’s videographer on Thursday, for allegedly spreading pornography online by taking nude photographs of Ai and four women. One of the pictures, “One Tiger Eight Breasts”, shows Ai posing nude on a wooden chair, flanked by four naked women who are giggling and smiling. The room is bare, the Chinese-style chairs are hard and the overall impression is sparse.

“This is not pornography. If they see nudity as pornography, then China is still in the Qing Dynasty,” which was overthrown 100 years ago, Ai wrote on Twitter

Ahahaha, I don’t even know…

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Filed under activism, art, protests

“Why China Is Unhappy”

Building on that last post, the WSJ writes about growing criticism of the government here:

On the Chinese equivalents of Twitter, criticism of the government is exploding, despite fierce censorship. A recent poll by Tsinghua University and the magazine Xiaokang found that 40% of Chinese are unhappy with their lives, while another survey by the magazine Outlook and Peoples University found 70% of farmers dissatisfied, mainly because of land seizures. Some 60% of the rich are emigrating or considering doing so, according to a survey by the Hurun Report and the Bank of China. Even the People’s Daily warned last week that there is a “crisis of confidence” in government.

The crisis is real, but the Communist Party mouthpiece didn’t quite get it right. Chinese lost faith in local-level officials a long time ago, but until recently they continued to believe in their national leaders. They also largely accepted the post-1989 social contract in which the Party provided rising living standards in return for not questioning its monopoly on power.

This is changing as a result of two trends. The first is a growing awareness among the bottom strata of society that it is policy made at higher levels, not merely the incompetence or corruption of local officials, that is responsible for their woes. The second is the interest of the wealthy and the intellectuals in reform after two decades of being bought off by the Communist Party.

Beijing intellectuals are making pilgrimages to the remote Shandong town of Linyi where blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is under house arrest. Since the tax authorities last week presented the dissident artist Ai Weiwei with a $2.4 million bill for fines and back taxes, a movement has sprung up to donate money, both electronically and in paper airplanes delivered to his house, to keep him out of prison. Anger over the government’s concealment of air pollution levels, even as the leaders in Beijing install air purifiers to protect their own health, has spawned another ad hoc campaign.

What seems to be turning the tide toward political activism is a realization that unless one is a member of the Party elite, upward mobility is limited and hard-won advancement can be taken away without due process. Since universities expanded enrollments in the early 2000s, many families have borrowed heavily to pay tuition for their children. But graduates without political connections have trouble getting on the career ladder, ending up joining the “ant tribe,” slang for educated young people living in slums. Meanwhile, the children of elites can street-race their Ferraris without fear of arrest.

The government response to all this unhappiness has been to increase the resources and power of the domestic security apparatus. This year the budget for security surpassed that of the military for the first time, and disappearances of dissidents have become commonplace. Instead of cowing the population, this is only creating more instances of official abuse that are publicized on the Internet, leading to greater anger and defiance.

Alarm bells should be ringing. The virtuous cycle of social stability and material progress that has persisted for two decades is going into reverse. This need not lead to disaster, as long as the Communist Party recognizes its mistakes and responds to the public desire for the rule of law and curbs on the power of the state. Otherwise there is more unhappiness ahead.

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve said it before, but the system barely seems to work now, and has no strategy for what to do in the future. As Susan Shirk said, China today is a ‘fragile superpower.’

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Filed under activism, class conflict, Communist Party, corruption, local governments

“Mao namesake believes China will be set free”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interview with Mao Yushi, whose irrepressible optimism about the future of China makes a nice break from all the doom and gloom elsewhere:

You might think that after enduring a mass hate campaign, including threats of blackmail and brutality, it would be time for an 82-year-old intellectual to consider taking a backward step.

But that would underestimate the fortitude of Mao Yushi, an important mentor for several leading liberal economists, as well as the conviction he shares with thousands of other active Chinese liberals that history is on his side.

Mr Mao lamented China’s backsliding on economic reforms and its recent surge of political repression.

He dismissed the country’s incoming leaders as being beholden to the current ones and for being focused only on protecting the Communist Party regime.

And he said officials and wealth have fused together into formidable vested interests that resist reform.

But he is nevertheless convinced that the country is on the brink of democratic change. ”I don’t know how it will happen but I feel confident,” he said. ”We will witness reform in the next five to 10 years.”

Mao Yushi’s recent cycle of trouble started in April when he wrote an essay about another Mao, the former god-like chairman, titled ”Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form”.

The Chairman’s ”thirst for power dominated his life, and to this end he went entirely mad”, he wrote.

Mr Mao’s own family had suffered greatly under Chairman Mao and he was appalled that such realities were being submerged by a tide of neo-Maoist nostalgia and leftist activism. Mr Mao posted his essay on his Sina blog and censors immediately took it down. He reposted it, they deleted it, but others reposted it on thousands of sites, including the progressive media platform Caixin Online.

And yet in contrast with some other nations, Mr Mao said China ”is not likely to see civil war”.

”Whether things improve when China’s dynasty changes depends on the maturity of the people,” he said. ”Thanks to the internet, the level of people’s awareness and knowledge has improved a lot.”

Last week, Mr Mao appeared on a panel at the Central University of Finance and Economics, in what was his first public appearance since being blackballed earlier in the year.

”During the break lots of students surrounded me and showed their support for me,” he said. ”They shouted ‘down with Mao Zedong’.”

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“Ai Weiwei’s Paper Planes”

Evan Osnos has a blog post up about Ai Weiwei and the latest phase of his battle with Beijing. Served with a trumped-up tax bill by a government seeking to retroactively justify disappearing him, Ai’s fans are now the ones escalating the fight:

The long-running tussle between China’s most famous artist and his state entered a curious new stage recently, when the government served him a $2.4-million bill for tax evasion, to be paid in full within fifteen days. Every day that he is late adds $31,640.

Supporters began to send donations by PayPal; they wrapped cash around fruit and delivered it to his doorstep; they folded hundred-yuan notes into paper planes and sent them sailing over the wall into his Beijing compound. On Tuesday, the reporter Melissa Chan tweeted, “Man, wife, and baby just showed up in Mercedes outside Ai Weiwei’s studio/home looking to contribute.” The list of donors is a manifesto of its own; it includes people like Zhao Lianhai, who became a food-safety activist after his baby fell ill in 2008 from infant formula that had been tainted with melamine to appear to have more protein.

By Tuesday’s end, according to his assistant’s public accounting, his supporters had donated 6,082,451 yuan—more than 958,229 dollars, putting him nearly halfway to covering his bill. (The prospect of him being charged with illegal fundraising is especially intriguing, as one commentator to the Global Times article points out: “How is asking someone to lend you money ‘illegal fundraising’? This happens every second of every day in China.”)

It should be pointed out that he hasn’t actually asked anyone to lend him money- the donations began spontaneously. He probably doesn’t even need the money, given his reach and history of having sold art pieces abroad. What’s interesting is that this affair is giving ordinary Chinese a chance to make a statement, and many seem to be doing so. The Communist Party would have been far better off if it had just ignored him all those months ago.

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“China is ripe for its own Occupy protests”

CS Monitor has an article about OWS and China- I find their hypothesizing about what would happen if OWS protests appeared in China to be pretty silly, but their timeline of Beijing’s reaction to OWS is interesting:

In the early days of the OWS movement, when protests were confined to US cities, a China Daily OpEd (Sept. 30) harshly attacked the American media for journalistic hypocrisy, for not giving coverage to protests in their own country even as they had relished covering protests in the Arab world just a few months earlier. A couple weeks later, state-run Xinhua News was harsher still, arguing that the protests in New York’s Zuccotti Park “laid bare malpractices of the US government and ailments of its political and economic systems.”

But as the Occupy movement spread globally, the Chinese response shifted. Assault on the silence of the American press gave way to anxiety about the possible effects Chinese media coverage might have on their Chinese audience.

On Oct. 17, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, after remarking that the issues raised by OWS may be “worth pondering,” cautioned the Chinese media, saying that their “reflections should be conducive to maintaining the sound and steady development of the world economy.” On the same day, editors of the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times called for people to “calmly observe the protest movement and the global situation, and not be confused by extreme points of view.”

A few days later, on Oct. 19 and 20, Beijing authorities – setting aside any ambivalence they might have had about the Occupy movement – issued an order to the Chinese media to cease all reporting and commenting on the OWS movement.

What happened? Perhaps Beijing had examined the numbers in the intervening three days, and been reminded that as high as the income gap in the United States is, China’s income and wealth inequality is right up there as well, even higher according to some estimates. Or perhaps recognition had set in that China’s elite 1 percent just might – like America’s 1 percent elite – be open to charges of greed and corruption.

Given, too, that 36 percent of the Chinese people (that’s 481 million people) live on $2 a day or less, the Beijing leadership might have become worried that the Chinese would not remain as “calm” in the face of news about the US protests as the Global Times might wish.

Cyberspace censorship quickly followed after the media gag order. Searches for “Occupy Wall Street” and, more pointedly, for “Occupy Beijing,” “Occupy Shanghai,” “Occupy Guangzhou,” “Occupy Zhongnanhai,” and “Occupy Lhasa,” among a growing list of banned terms, now yield blank screens on microblogging sites like Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter).

Am I the only one highly amused by their shift from (rightly) calling out American hypocrisy, to then cowering in silence and blocking search terms when they realized that China has more than a few people who might be interested in protesting?

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“China’s independents find it hard to get on ballot”

The wave of independent candidates has been pretty completely crushed by now- the Communist Party has done whatever it needed to destroy their campaigns. Via LA Times:

At least on paper, the Chinese Constitution permits any adult citizen without a criminal record to run for the office of people’s representative. In practice, however, those without the blessing of the Communist Party say they are thwarted at every pass: harassed, detained, followed and threatened. If that fails, they say, they’re simply kicked off the ballots.

Although a few independent candidates have won, they tend to refrain from criticizing the government openly and avoid campaigning, especially on the Internet. Activists, however, draw immediate scrutiny from a government that tends to not brook dissent.

“The independent candidates could destroy the current system by soliciting votes on the Internet,” the party-run Global Times newspaper warned in May as the campaign season was opening. “Instead of pushing forward political development, the deviation is likely to create political risks in society.”

The positions of people’s representatives are not terribly elite: 4,349 seats for district or county level representatives are up for grabs in Beijing alone, and nearly 2 million nationwide in elections staggered over the course of the year. None of them are picked for the National People’s Congress, the country’s rubber-stamp legislature. For the most part, the job involves mundane matters such as recycling and pooper-scooper rules for pets.

Guo Huojia, a 60-year-old farmer from Foshan, in Guangdong province, is one of the few independents to win an election. Campaigning against land confiscations and home demolitions, he received a stunning 7,000 out of 9,000 votes in his district in a Sept. 28 vote.

He was arrested the following day. He remains under house arrest.

A Shanghai writer dropped his plans to run after being hit by a tax audit. A real estate mogul who wanted to run for mayor of Zhengzhou says he was so harassed by tax authorities that he went into hiding and left politics behind.

“What they hate about independent candidates is that they reveal the true nature of the system,” said Xue Mengchun, a businessman who has been advising Han Ying on her campaign. “It is all about ‘face.’ The Chinese government is trying to show the world they have democracy.”

There is almost no coverage of the elections in the Chinese media, and you would hardly know they are going on except for red propaganda banners strung around town reading, “People choose the people’s delegates. The people’s delegates work for the people.”

The reality is that candidates mostly have been either Communist Party members or people handpicked by the party. Li Sihua, a former schoolteacher from Jiangxi province, said that when he went to sign up as a candidate in May, officials of the local election committee refused to give him the form.

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“Activists Denounce Film Deal in China”

It looks like the scandal surrounding Relativity Media filming a movie in Linyi is starting to get some mainstream attention- the NYT has a piece here:

The Hollywood producers of a slapstick comedy that began shooting last week in a city in China’s eastern Shandong Province describe their feature about a young man facing a birthday, “21 and Over,” as an “epic misadventure of debauchery and mayhem.”

As it happens, scores of Chinese human rights activists who in recent weeks have been descending on the very same city, Linyi, describe a different kind of misadventure and mayhem in their thwarted efforts to visit Chen Guangcheng, an embattled lawyer who is under house arrest there.

With few exceptions, outsiders who have made the trip to Linyi have been violently assaulted, robbed, detained and then sent on their way by the guards who keep Mr. Chen, who is blind, and his wife imprisoned in their farmhouse. Those same guards, at the behest of local Communist Party officials, have occasionally beaten the couple, most recently in July as one of their children looked on, according to a report released last week by the group China Aid.

In a statement, Relativity Media said it was proud of its partnership but insisted it was unaware of Mr. Chen’s situation or the case that originally landed him in trouble — a class-action lawsuit against officials accused of forcing thousands of Linyi women to have abortions and sterilizations.

“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment,” the company said in a statement on Sunday.

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said he did not fault the company for its decision to shoot in Linyi although he said executives might have done well to Google the place and its political leadership before so avidly promoting the partnership. “They have to be aware of their relationship with notorious abusers,” he said. “They failed to do their due diligence.”

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