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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“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