Category Archives: Jasmine Revolution

“Ai Weiwei at home, in absentia”

Evan Osnos has been speaking with Ai Weiwei, whose fight with the government has been relatively quiet over the last few weeks:

The branches are bare outside Ai Weiwei’s house this time of year, which leaves the police cameras bulging from the lampposts like overripe coconuts. Sometimes, the temptation is overwhelming. Ai Weiwei ended up at the police station a couple of weeks ago, accused of lobbing stones and “attacking a security camera.” (When word got out, one of his fans circulated his concern online: “Was the camera badly injured? Did it need a checkup? Perhaps, a CT scan?”)

It has become Ai’s new routine. “The police come every week or I have to go to the station—for education,” he told me one recent morning, at the giant dining-room table, winter sun pouring in from the south.

“I have to stay in Beijing until June 22nd,” he said. “Every time I go out I have to pronounce to them where I have to go and who I have to meet. I basically obey their orders because it doesn’t mean anything. I also want to tell them I’m not afraid. I’m not secretive. They can follow me or whatever. But to leave China? I think that’s a political decision they have to make. Of course, I have rights and am entitled to travel. But let’s see how they will play that. I’m not eager to leave or not to leave.”

“Internally, since they don’t have a way to discuss issues or communicate, it’s really a deadlock for them, and that keeps creating pressure. They had beaten him— [Chinese writer] Yu Jie— terribly, because he is related to Christianity, and that is what they hate the most or are scared of the most. They are scared of any form of unity. They wouldn’t be scared of me if I don’t get on Twitter, because on Twitter I can form a community. But, as individuals, they don’t care about you. So they crash down on people quite terribly, and subject people to abuse. I don’t think Yu Jie could stay any longer. In that kind of situation, you just have to say, ‘This is not possible,’” Ai said.

But, I asked, is the tax bureau his real counterpart in this, or does his case have its origins somewhere else in the government?

“This is something I’m always wondering. Because now people are putting out a lot of information, saying, oh, some official’s staff is saying that if they knew it was going to happen, they wouldn’t have allowed it, that it was a mistake. But I don’t really believe it. It’s some kind of political struggle. But who is using what? You will never know. It’s a struggle between them. It’s a secret.” He has his theories—mostly, that the arrest was not an impulsive decision, but one that took preparation and approval from high up.

“The first person who came to question me said he doesn’t know me, he’s just been assigned the job, and he had to go on the Internet to find out who I am. And I could tell from his questions, he had zero knowledge about me. But then another person arrived, and he said, ‘We prepared for a year. We checked your background for a long time, and we had a very difficult decision whether to arrest you or not. But we decided we had to.’” Ai tended to believe him. “But that person? I never saw him again. I always asked to see him again, but nobody ever seemed to have an answer.”

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Filed under art, Jasmine Revolution

“Han Han’s U-Turn?”

The latest to chime in on Han Han’s three essays is NYT blogger Eric Abrahamsen, who looks at the suzhi argument and writes that:

In this he’s exactly right: China’s deepest problems are cultural and social in nature, problems best addressed by reform, not revolution. It’s not that the Chinese are “not ready,” it’s that this will be a slow process.

“When the drivers in China turn their high-beams down as they pass each other on the road, they will be ready for revolution,” writes Han Han. “Of course, by then, revolution won’t be necessary.” Instead, he argues, the process will be a gradual one, in which the cultural values conducive to democracy evolve along with democracy itself. “Democracy is a long process of negotiation.”

Anyone who’s sat in on a Chinese primary school class, or a management meeting in a Chinese company, or witnessed authority being wielded at nearly any level of Chinese society, knows how long this process may be. An unhealthy deference to power is taught from an early age, as is a deep reluctance to pass on responsibility downward. The “not ready” argument is employed constantly within Chinese society, from parents who won’t let their children run in the park, to judges who aren’t allowed to make independent rulings. Many Beijing driving schools don’t include on-road training, because it would be “dangerous”— never mind what happens after the license is issued.

Sure, reform would be better than revolution- but both Abrahamsen and Han Han seem to ignore the Communist Party’s consistent sidelining of political reform. If reform is better, but it’s off the table, why are we talking about reform?

I still dislike the insinuation that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy, too. The argument that Chinese people leave their high-beams on while driving seems fairly irrelevant- people all over the world do stupid things to each other. If China’s greatest problems really are cultural and social, is the CCP doing anything to address these problems?

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Filed under democracy, interview, Jasmine Revolution

“China’s Unstoppable Billion”

Gordon Chang made the extremely bold prediction that China would collapse this year a few weeks ago, and seems to have been taking some flak since then. He’s made this call before and been proven wrong by the ongoing survival of the CCP, and his new piece in The Diplomat reads like an attempt to justify his predictions in the face of this criticism. His argument:

Despite how the nation’s young feel, most foreign analysts – and all of Beijing’s apologists – tell us the Chinese people don’t care about personal liberty, that they are content to reap economic gains while letting the Communist Party keep its monopoly on political power. Yet due to the repressive nature of the political system, we don’t know if China’s citizens are telling us what they really think. The best we can do is catch a glimpse of them as they make their dash into the future. Chinese society is changing faster than any other on earth at the moment, and the ongoing transformation is shaking the country, even the seemingly invincible one-party state.

Especially the one-party state. “China’s leaders may run what looks like a closed political system, and their decisions seem autocratic,” noted Clinton-era official Robert Suettinger in Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations. “But they are struggling to keep up with a society that is changing in a direction and at a speed they cannot fully control.”

Now, in a modernizing era, the Chinese people are putting themselves back together and creating an integrated society. As a result, the people are once again having national conversations, and this permits trends to sweep the nation. The Chinese are creating change by nothing more complicated than talking to one another. And this talk has implications because now, as social scientist Yu Jianrong says, “Everyone has a microphone.”

Mao also protected his new republic from the outside, with high and strong walls. As these walls come down, all the forces that apply around the world – political, economic, and social – are changing China as well. And as these forces continue to reshape the nation, the People’s Republic is taking on the look, and even some of the feel, of the modern world.

China’s leaders recognize, at least rhetorically, this irreconcilable dilemma. As Wen says, “our people cannot be suppressed.” Yet he is nonetheless trying to repress them by maintaining a political system that no longer serves an increasingly progressive society.

Perhaps the best evidence of this struggle between the Party and the people is evident every hour of every day on the web. Even though the Chinese state maintains the world’s most sophisticated set of internet controls, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall, it is engaged in a never-ending struggle it can’t win, even when it gets its way in the short term. “One site has been shut down thirty times,” noted Liu Xiaobo before he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. “But after a month or two they open up again. You can’t shut them down completely.” Beijing officials can boast they have deleted 350 million articles from the web, but their claim indirectly confirms Liu’s point: the number of censored items is so high because netizens keep posting new pages, many of them more subversive than the ones taken down by the authorities.

Cyber China, the most vibrant part of the most exciting nation on the planet, reflects the growing interest of Chinese citizens in their society. It’s on the net that officials criticize government corruption and businessmen post tracts on democracy. Political dissent is sizzling, online, and available, at least most of the time. Chinese censors are being overwhelmed, by bad news, by the growing number of media outlets, by the new forms of social networking, by the sheer mass of users. Even when the authorities want to silence bold “netizens,” they often are intimidated by the weight of opinion in China’s boisterous online community.

And even when Beijing censors haven’t been able to completely erase history, Party spinmeisters have propagated their version of it. “The only thing I can remember about June 4 is watching television and hearing that riot police had died,” said Lu Jing, who was six at the time of the massacre, according to AFP. “I don’t believe any students died. China in this respect is democratic as China wouldn’t hurt its own people.” Ignorance of 1989 is contributing to the perception of a benign government among the younger – and most volatile – elements of the population.

Beijing now has a dilemma. Its leaders want to appear benevolent, but to do so they have had to whitewash Tiananmen. Yet whitewashing Tiananmen is far more dangerous to the regime than reveling in its brutality. The Chinese don’t take to the streets when they are angry, notes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They do so when they think they can get away with it. “China has always operated to some degree on fear, and that fear is now eroding,” he wrote in 2003. Continual erosion means that Deng’s essential lesson of Tiananmen – that the Communist Party will resort to deadly violence on a mass scale to preserve its power – has been largely lost.

The biggest mistake China watchers make is that they think Beijing’s elite will be willing and able to once again employ brute force against massed protestors. In the newest version of New China, the options for the Communist Party are narrowing. Already, the leadership has its hands full trying to avoid a reexamination of the slaughter, and although no senior official is in favor of reconsidering the Party’s verdict on Tiananmen, no one wants to share former Premier Li Peng’s stain by being associated with another murderous crackdown. In short, it’s unlikely that Beijing’s current leaders would want to change long-held tactics and begin to rely mainly on fear.

Veteran China watcher Willy Lam, for one, says it’s extremely unlikely that the current Fourth Generation leadership would ever order another Tiananmen. For one thing, no one in today’s leadership has the personal authority to do so. For another, even if someone in the Fourth Generation gave such an order, it’s highly unlikely that the People’s Liberation Army would obey, says Lam. Even with his military record, it took Deng a long time to find a unit that would actually fight unarmed citizens in 1989. Nobody in the current civilian leadership has the same stature as Deng, and such an order might split the military and cause a revolt in the officer ranks. Finally, even if the top brass followed an order to shoot, it’s unlikely that ordinary soldiers would kill ordinary citizens on behalf of a regime that has lost the love and loyalty of its people.

There’s a lot more; certainly worth a read. I mostly agree with his reasoning about the various impetuses for change, but he definitely downplays the forces fighting on behalf of the status quo. His conclusions about the Communist Party being unable to use force to preserve their rule… that I certainly disagree with. They’d prefer not to, but when absolutely pushed? The idea that they wouldn’t be able to frame the necessity of violence against protesters the same way they routinely frame interactions with minorities- as a necessary way to stop forces seeking to destroy China- seems naive to me. They stress loyalty to the Party and the puppet government above all else, and China doesn’t seem so far gone yet as to override decades of propagandizing on that front.

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Filed under Communist Party, Jasmine Revolution, Tiananmen

“China rushes to jail activists before political handover”

Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph:

Li Tie, a 52-year-old essayist from Wuhan was given ten years for subverting state power. Two other men, Chen Wei, 42, and Chen Xi, 45, were handed jail terms of a similar length either side of Christmas.

All three had previous convictions, accounting in part for the severity of the sentences. A fourth man, a poet named Zhu Yufu, was charged with subversion on Monday.

Mr Liu said the Arab Spring continues to unnerve Beijing and that the current repression “is more to do with international affairs than problems inside China”. He added: “Local governments have been told by Beijing they can lock up anyone who seems like a troublemaker. Then they go back two or three years and trawl the records for anything that might implicate them.”

He added that the government was more worried about petitioners, people bringing specific grievances to Beijing, than about dissidents this year.

Meanwhile, Yu Jie, an activist whose family was allowed to leave China earlier this month, gave a graphic description of the house arrests and torture he had suffered after his friend, Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Mr Yu said he had been grabbed by state security officers the day before the Nobel ceremony in 2010, hooded and beaten. “They stripped off all my clothes and pushed me naked to the ground and kicked me maniacally. They had a camera and were taking pictures as I was being beaten, saying with glee they would post the naked photos online,” he said.

Mr Yu said one of his attackers had told him: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour and no one on earth would know.”

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Filed under Jasmine Revolution, prison

“Ai Weiwei turns tables on China’s Communist regime”

The latest from the Ai Weiwei tax bill fiasco comes from AFP writer Pascale Trouillaud, who collected reactions to Ai scoring yet another victory over the government:

Zhang Yaojie, a researcher at the China Academy of Art who is close to the dissident movement, said the government was “losing face” over the issue and “must regret its decision” to fine Ai.

Authorities have apparently censored the Internet for information on the issue and a search for the term “Ai Weiwei” in China is blocked. But the Communist regime now finds itself in an awkward situation, analysts say.

“They (authorities) were hoping to reduce him to silence but on the contrary, they showed that there is support for Ai Weiwei,” said Jean-Philippe Beja, a sinologist at the Paris-based research centre CERI SciencesPo.

“Ai Weiwei… has managed to transform this fine into an expression of defiance and into support for his cause.”

Renaud de Spens, a Beijing-based Internet expert, said the outcome was a “huge kick in the teeth” for the government. “The regime tried to scare him, but it was not a good strategy,” he told AFP.

One netizen named Shuxuediyijian joked online that the government had “failed”, adding, “it didn’t anticipate that Ai would receive donations and tell the whole world about it. How embarrassing!”

Even the state-run Global Times recently admitted “some donors say they see the donation as an act of voting” in a country with no real elections.

The wave of donations also shows that “there is a part of the population that supports critical stances and is not scared,” Beja said, pointing to many donors who left their names with the money.

Ai — who has been banned from leaving Beijing since his release — denies the government’s charge that he evaded taxes for years, insisting it is a politically motivated attempt to silence his vocal rights activism.

He is known for tallying the number of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake — a hugely sensitive topic as many died in schools that were shoddily built and collapsed onto them, which many blamed on corruption.

Losing face really is the right way to put it. The massive, powerful government focusing so much strength and harassment on minor irritant/artist Ai Weiwei and yet continually coming out the loser is pretty much the definition of losing face.

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Filed under art, Jasmine Revolution

“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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Filed under activism, Communist Party, democracy, Jasmine Revolution, Mao

“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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Filed under activism, art, censorship, China, Jasmine Revolution

“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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Filed under activism, censorship, internet, Jasmine Revolution

“Walking Out on China”

Chinese wrtier Liao Yiwu made news a few months ago by going into exile in Germany during the tail end of the Jasmine Crackdown here in China. In the New York Times he relates the story of his escape- the entire thing is worth a read, but here are some bits:

Until earlier this year, I had resisted the urge to escape. Instead, I chose to stay in China, continuing to document the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society. Then, democratic protests swept across the Arab world, and posts began appearing on the Internet calling for similar street protests in China.

An old-fashioned writer, I seldom surf the Web, and the Arab Spring simply passed me by. Staying on the sidelines did not spare me police harassment, though. When public security officers learned that my books would be published in Germany, Taiwan and the United States, they began phoning and visiting me frequently.

In March, my police handlers stationed themselves outside my apartment to monitor my daily activities. “Publishing in the West is a violation of Chinese law,” they told me. “The prison memoir tarnishes the reputation of China’s prison system and ‘God Is Red’ distorts the party’s policy on religion and promotes underground churches.” If I refused to cancel my contract with Western publishers, they said, I’d face legal consequences.

Then an invitation from Salman Rushdie arrived, asking me to attend the PEN World Voices Festival in New York. I immediately contacted the local authorities to apply for permission to leave China, and booked my plane ticket. However, the day before my scheduled departure, a police officer called me to “have tea,” informing me that my request had been denied. If I insisted on going to the airport, the officer told me, they would make me disappear, just like Ai Weiwei.

I kept my plan to myself. I didn’t follow my usual routine of asking my police handlers for permission. Instead, I packed some clothes, my Chinese flute, a Tibetan singing bowl and two of my prized books, “The Records of the Grand Historian” and the “I Ching.” Then I left home while the police were not watching, and traveled to Yunnan. Even though it was sweltering there, I felt like a rat in winter, lying still to save my energy. I spent most of my time with street people. I knew that if I dug around, I could eventually find an exit.

WITH my passport and valid visas from Germany, the United States and Vietnam, I began to move. I shut off my cellphone after making brief contacts with my friends in the West, who had collaborated on the plan.

At 10 a.m. on July 2, I walked 100 yards to the border post, fully prepared for the worst, but a miracle occurred. The officer checked my papers, stared at me momentarily and then stamped my passport. Without stopping, I traveled to Hanoi and boarded a flight to Poland and then to Germany.

After I settled in, I called my family and girlfriend, who were questioned by the authorities. News about my escape spread fast. A painter friend told me that he had gone to visit Ai Weiwei, who is still closely watched. When my friend mentioned that I had mysteriously landed in Germany, Old Ai’s eyes widened. He howled with disbelief, “Really? Really? Really?”

China’s loss, Germany’s gain.

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“Lawyer reveals detention ordeal”

Jiang Yutang, one of many who were disappeared last spring by the government, is out and writing about what happened to him in the South China Morning Post:

Jiang – recognised as an outstanding democracy activist by a US-based rights group at the weekend – said he was in deep mental stress because of the physical and verbal abuse he was subjected to and was also fearful of what the authorities could do if he broke the pledges that secured his release, which included an agreement not to give media interviews.

Jiang, 40, came to the attention of authorities after representing activists and other sensitive clients like Aids patients and Falun Gong practitioners. He said he was taken away on February 19 and severely beaten for two nights. He was then made to sit motionless for up to 15 hours a day in a room where the curtains were always closed and interrogated repeatedly by national security officers. He said he could never say “I don’t know” or make “mistakes”, or threats and humiliation would follow.

He said his interrogators told him: “Here we can do things in accordance to law. We can also not do things in accordance to law, because we are allowed to not do things in accordance to law.”

The second night he was kicked and punched, he appealed to his interrogator: “I am a human being, you are a human being. Why are you doing something so inhumane?”

Enraged, the man knocked Jiang to the floor and screamed: “You are not a human being!”

Yet Jiang considers himself lucky compared to others, with reports by human rights organisations cataloguing a range of abuse. Lawyer Tang Jitian was subjected to blasts of cold air in detention and was diagnosed with tuberculosis after his release. Guangzhou lawyer Tang Jingling was fed medicine that resulted in temporary memory loss. Artist Ai Weiwei was kept in a room with the light on for 24 hours a day, his sister Gao Ge told The Washington Post. Two guards watched him every moment, even when he was showering or sleeping.

On the other hand, China’s White Paper on Human Rights says that it’s doing a great job, so…

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Filed under enforced disappearance, Jasmine Revolution, torture

“Chinese internet activist Wang Lihong goes on trial”

Apparently fellow activists are kicking up a fuss:

Protesters gathered outside a Beijing court on Friday as a Chinese internet activist went on trial in a case the demonstrators see as a warning shot to other rights campaigners.

Wang Lihong faces up to five years in prison for “creating a disturbance”. She was detained in March amid a sweeping crackdown on the rights movement, apparently triggered by government fears of protests inspired by the Arab spring.

The leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was himself held for 81 days, tweeted this week: “If you don’t speak for Wang Lihong, and don’t speak for Ran Yunfei [a detained blogger released the next day], you are not only a person who will not stand up for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect.”

Qi said Wang became involved in activism three years ago after reading about Yang Jia, who was executed for killing six Shanghai police officers in retaliation for alleged police brutality.

She also highlighted the case of Deng Yujiao, a waitress who stabbed to death an official who had demanded sex.

Wang also celebrated when the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel peace prize last year, telling the Associated Press: “I think the most important thing is that every person learns how to be their own citizen, and not become someone else’s subordinate.”

No date has been set for Wang’s next court appearance. Guilty verdicts are a near certainty in such cases, although occasionally courts have quietly released defendants on bail.

Outside the court, security officials tried to drag away Zhao Lianhai, who was jailed for campaigning over a tainted milk scandal after his baby became ill, but stopped when others intervened.

“After I was put in jail, sister Wang cared about me and went to visit my wife and children … without her, I wouldn’t have freedom today,” Zhao said. “Maybe we can’t change anything by coming here, but we want to express our beliefs.”

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Filed under civil society, courts, Jasmine Revolution

“Liu Shihui Reveals Details of 108-Day Detention”

Via Siweiluozi, an account from one of the human rights lawyers disappeared during the Spring Crackdown:

I was interrogated day and night for five days straight without sleep. Only after I finally collapsed on the bed and a doctor checked my blood pressure did they finally allow me to sleep. At that point I could barely take off my pants, as my injured left leg had swollen to double its original size.

The five days without sleep, the incessant air-con, the abusive threats — all of these tortures are nothing compared to having my wife and home taken from me.

I realize that I face some danger from revealing the truth [about my ordeal] and that being kept under tight control. But if one is forced even to be suffer the insult of having one’s newlywed wife stolen from him, it can only lead to more like Yang Jia! I don’t want to become a Yang Jia, so I’m speaking out. If the security police get upset about this, I’d ask them to think it over — what would you be thinking if it happened to you?

After 10 p.m. on 11 June, the security police suddenly announced I’d be on a flight early the next morning. They also gave me back my computer. Up to that point I repeatedly emphasized to them that any personal or professional data unrelated to the case must be returned to me, and the security police officer in charge agreed. But after I got to Inner Mongolia and turned on my computer, I found that it was empty and my HP hard disk had been switched out.

There were 50-60 GB of personal and professional data, the product of more than 10 years of my legal career and personal life. Others might not see this as being worth much, but it’s priceless to me, at least! Now it’s all gone, leaving not even a trace!

When I discovered my data was missing, I tried calling the number that I’d been given by the security police, but the phone was always switched off. I also tried calling a number they had left with my father, but the phone refused to pick up so I sent text messages. I never imagined I’d receive eight different junk messages in response, each of them costing me one yuan for a total of eight yuan.

Think about it: who in China has the ability to transfer personal text messages to those junk-message sites without any consequences? The answer is clear.

Some Twitter followers say that I’m revealing everything. On the contrary — I’ve only begun to scratch the surface! I’ll stop here for now.

This is where it comes back to these tactics being a sign of weakness, not strength. Has Beijing made itself any more secure by harassing this guy? No, they’ve made him furious and given yet another public example of how they treat their citizens. They do this not because they can, but because they think they have to- and in doing so, make their own position less secure in the long run.

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Filed under enforced disappearance, human rights, Jasmine Revolution, law, torture

“China will implode if it doesn’t change its authoritarian ways”

Some perspective on the train crash from Will Hutton at The Guardian, followed by a bold claim:

The official directive from the propaganda bureau was that journalists should not “investigate the causes of the accident” or “question” the official account – that it was caused by lightning. Wreckage was buried to avoid any inspection; compensation claims were initially refused. After all, the party’s legitimacy depends on its capacity to deliver growth, jobs and modernity and the high-speed train network is one of the linchpins on which its claims depend. It was crucial that the crash did not challenge any of this carefully constructed story.

The directive was ignored. For what Qiu Qiming said on CCTV has been said with more fury on the country’s blogs, social networking sites and its two major Twitter-like microblogs, the “weibos”. The tweets began from the crashed train itself, complaining about the chaos, and then spread. “Interest groups and local authorities have placed their desires above society,” tweeted Zhao Chu. “If this continues, there is only one result – rampant terror and blood on the streets.”

Another tweeted: “The whole railway ministry should be closed down. It is a nest of corruption.” In a blog, Zou Yonhua wrote: “How could anyone who is mentally normal believe that China’s rubbish scientific development and research on high-speed rail is Number One in the world? No ordinary people believe that. It is a pity that the party itself swallows the line.”

This is just a tiny sample of the avalanche of such comment – 26 million posts and rising fast – since last Saturday’s disaster. It is jaw-dropping stuff. Although generally the writers are careful to stop short of criticising the party outright – everyone knows about the imprisonments of the Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo and the human rights activist Ai Weiwei – anyone who goes this far is taking enormous risks with their career and their freedom. But when the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, declares that China can no longer generate “blood-smeared” GDP, a rubicon has been crossed.

China, as I once was memorably told by a group of lawyers in Beijing, is a volcano waiting to explode. It is difficult for those not familiar with the country to comprehend the scale of corruption, the waste of capital, the sheer inefficiency, the ubiquity of the party and the obeisance to hierarchy that is today’s China. The mass of Chinese are proud and pleased with what has been achieved since Deng Xiaoping began the era of the “socialist market economy”. But there is a widespread and growing recognition that the authoritarian model has to change, a fact that every disaster dramatises.

China, we are endlessly told by its apologists, is different. The values of the European Enlightenment – tolerance, the health of dissent, the rule of law, freedom of expression, pluralism – are not needed here. Wenzhou is one more bitter reminder; human pain and human instincts for accountability are universal. Moreover, they are the essential underpinnings of the good economy and society. There will be a Chinese Spring. And sooner than anyone expects.

Whoa, curveball at the last second there! I don’t know: some people expect a revolution momentarily, is it sooner than they expect? Something bad happens in China and all the sudden we have predictions that the government will be replaced by next Monday. Like I said, a bold claim.

Everyone who reads this site knows that I think change is inevitable here. But we have to recognize that as much impetus as there is for change, there’s also a counterbalancing effort by the government to bottle it up. The stakes will grow higher and eventually there will be another confrontation, but to say that it’ll end up being a ‘Chinese Spring’ and that it’ll happen sooner than anyone expects… we don’t know what will set it off, which brush fire will end up consuming the forest. It could be tomorrow, or it could be years away. Unless Hutton has a crystal ball, he might want to tone those expectations down a bit.

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“Meet China’s Other Dissidents”

Dan Edwards has a piece here about Wang Lihong, one of the many dissidents who have not been lucky enough to resurface yet:

Although the high profile Chinese artist Ai Weiwei finally resurfaced after more than 11 weeks in detention on 21 June, many lesser known figures are still languishing in Chinese jails following a round up of activists earlier this year. Wang Lihong is a case in point — and an example of how injustice begets injustice in China’s dysfunctional legal system.

Wang Lihong has a long history of activism, including work on behalf of petitioners who have suffered violence at the hands of the authorities and campaigns for Chinese lawyers targeted because of their advocacy work. Like Ai Weiwei, Wang was rounded up in the weeks following anonymous online posts calling for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China earlier this year. She has now been in detention for 17 weeks. On 21 March she was charged with “inciting social unrest,” but on 22 April this charge was reduced to “disturbing public transportation in a crowd.”

The new charges are believed to relate to Wang’s participation in a protest on 16 April 2010, outside a courthouse in the city of Fuzhou in the southern province of Fujian.

On that day a trio of activists, who have come to be known as the “Fujian Three,” were given jail terms ranging from one to two years for their involvement in publicising the case of Yan Xiaoling, a 25-year-old woman who died in suspicious circumstances in early 2009. Yan’s mother strongly suspects her daughter was gang-raped and murdered by a group of men closely linked to local security officials.

When Yan’s mother approached activists about her daughter’s death and the alleged cover up, several placed posts online recounting the mother’s version of events and calling for an investigation into the case. Some of these posts have been translated here. Rather than investigate Yan Xiaoling’s death, however, local police arrested the bloggers, and later charged three with slander. Wang Lihong’s involvement in a protest on the day of their sentencing appears to be the pretext for her current detention.

This chain of events illustrates the style of repression carried out by China’s security forces, designed to instill fear and prevent anyone speaking out on issues relating to abuses of power. Even the friend in China who drew my attention to Wang Lihong’s detention stated that she constantly expects “a knock on the door” thanks to her writings about Wang’s case. It’s an insidious cycle that not only allows corruption and abuses of power to go unchecked — it also fosters widespread distrust of the police and courts, and a smoldering resentment that is increasingly provoking catastrophic outbursts of violence.

These incidents have sprung from a diverse range of grievances, and the Xinjiang attack has occurred against a complex historical backdrop. The common thread running through all this violence, however, is the sense that ordinary Chinese citizens have no legal recourse for injustices perpetrated by local governments or security personnel. The state’s direct control of the legal system and censorship of the media means people like Wang Lihong and the Fujian Three are the only figures many feel they can turn to when they are abused by police and ignored by China’s judiciary.

Meanwhile the state expends vast amounts of time and resources persecuting the likes of Wang Lihong — who does not advocate violence and campaigns for a greater rule of law — while allowing corruption and blatant abuses of power to go unchecked. Treating these activists as the cause of social unrest only perpetuates a cycle of frustration that all too often is leading to disastrous consequences for all involved. The fact that public sympathy often lies with the perpetrators of attacks on government offices and police stations indicates how chronic the crisis of confidence in China’s rule of law is becoming.

One of my first posts on this site was about how worrying the leadership in Beijing should find this trend- that when people go to extremes, like bombing government buildings, their countrymen seem to embrace them for it.

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“War on Weibo??”

Froogville goes into more detail about Weibo, and how the government ended up stuck with this potential adversary:

As I mentioned a couple of days ago (flippantly, in passing – but that doesn’t make it not true), I really think the Chinese government needs to stamp all over the micro-blogging fad as soon as possible. I speak from their point of view here, not my own.

They have, very wisely, suppressed Facebook and Twitter for the past couple of years. (I facetiously argued in that earlier post that this might be misguided, because these services actually had little potential to foment revolutionary idealism, but, on the contrary, provided an addictive distraction that might serve to defuse rising social discontent. Events in North Africa earlier this year might be said to have proved me wrong on that. And anyway, there are plenty of mass media ‘opiates’ with which the CCP can stupefy its population. Foreign social networking sites are of little interest to anyone here, but the government would mess with World of Warcraft at its peril.)

However, by some strange (ahem, probably ‘commercially motivated’ – did anyone say bribe? OK, now I did) oversight, they have allowed a Chinese micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo, to become enormously popular.

Enormously. It was only launched just over two years ago, and only seems to have really been gaining major traction during the last year. But it now has over 60,000 registered users, and between 100 million and 150 million regular readers, and is starting to eclipse rival domestic services, with a survey earlier this year showing it had more than 50% of active users and more than 86% of browsing time in the micro-blogging market. Very nearly all urban middle-class Chinese now have at least occasional access to the Internet; and perhaps 35-40% of them are fairly regular users. Sina Weibo is well on its way to achieving 100% penetration of that powerful demographic wedge.

The thing is, since the rash of Jasmine Revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East at the start of this year, the CCP is crapping its pants at the now dramatically confirmed potential of these social networking tools to coordinate mass protests. And it would really, really, really like to squelch poor old Sina Weibo. Sometimes, filtering isn’t enough. With that many people taking part in the conversation, you can’t expect to effectively moderate the conversation – you’ve just got to put a STOP to it.

But it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Sina Weibo has just got way too big, too successful, too famous, too popular. They’ve got their own airplane, for heaven’s sake. And they’re getting ready to fight for the pride of the nation against the most powerful brands in the worldwide Internet. You can’t shut down an operation like that.

So, Communist overlords, you must think again. You have to find a way of killing – or emasculating – Sina Weibo, before it does the same to you. But you have to do it by such gradual increments that nobody notices enough to make a big fuss about it (think Gramsci’s Frog). I’d have a look at that ‘real name registration’ idea again – not for wi-fi Internet surfers, but for Sina Weibo account-holders.

It’s a strange fact that the thing which keeps the ultra-powerful leaders of the Communist Party awake at night, shivering in uncontrollable horror, is the prospect of Chinese people communicating with each other. Weibo does its job too well- we’ll see what happens to it.

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“Beijing Bars Writers From a Literary Celebration, Continuing a Crackdown”

If anyone thought the release of Ai Weiwei was the start of something good, this news might be disappointing:

For Chinese authors who join the international writers’ organization PEN, membership would appear to have very few privileges. Many of its members are subjected to frequent harassment; four of them are currently in prison, including one of its founders, Liu Xiaobo, the essayist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate serving 11 years for subversion. All told, the group counts 40 journalists, novelists and historians imprisoned because of their writings.

On Saturday, the authorities once again demonstrated their displeasure with the organization by barring three writers from joining Independent Chinese PEN Center’s 10th anniversary celebration in Hong Kong. Those prevented from attending were Zhuang Daohe, a Hangzhou lawyer and essayist; Jiao Guobiao, a Beijing journalism professor who lost his job after writing a critique of the Communist Party; and Cui Weiping, a poet and film scholar who was to receive an award on Saturday.

Mr. Jiao, like the others, had bought a plane ticket but was prevented from leaving his apartment by a contingent of security agents. “I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this,” Mr. Jiao said in an interview via Skype on Saturday. “It’s getting worse and worse.”

Except for Mr. Liu, the jailed Nobel laureate, most Chinese writers who cross the authorities suffer in relative anonymity. Their works are banned, employment opportunities dry up and their daily movements are constrained by security officials who prevent them from leading normal lives.

Mr. Jiao offered a precise tally of the restrictions on his movements. Last year, he said, he was confined to his home for 249 days. On other days, he was required to receive permission to meet with friends. “On the days I could go out, I had the feeling I was being followed,” he said.

Since 2008, after the police forced the cancellation of yet another seminar in Beijing, the Independent Chinese PEN Center moved its annual events to Hong Kong. Asked about the logic behind the increased government restrictions, the group’s president, Tienchi Liao, said she thought Beijing was simply trying to show writers it still held all the cards. “They decide when people can write, when they can publish and when they can join literary activities,” said Ms. Liao, who lives in Germany. “For us, this is really, really sad.”

It might be time to get used to the idea that this isn’t a temporary surge in repression, but rather an attempt to set this as the new normal. If the internal control departments can handle this, why would they stop after the leadership transition? There’s always some sensitive date coming up, some great excuse to make people disappear. Unless some of the new members of the Standing Committee feel strongly about it, the relevant organs would presumably be happy to keep this up.

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“Is China Next?”

Francis Fukuyama: apparently he’s still alive? I thought he would have died of shame after his neocon foreign policy vision collapsed, taking a few countries with it. Regardless, he’s written up a thorough article here about whether the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions could spread to China, and parts of it are worth a read:

But do these remarkable developments tell us anything about the possibility for future instability in China?

It is certainly true that the dry tinder of social discontent is just as present in China as in the Middle East. The incident that triggered the Tunisian uprising was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, who had his vegetable cart repeatedly confiscated by the authorities and who was slapped and insulted by the police when he went to complain. This issue dogs all regimes that have neither the rule of law nor public accountability: The authorities routinely fail to respect the dignity of ordinary citizens and run roughshod over their rights. There is no culture in which this sort of behavior is not strongly resented.

This is a huge problem throughout China. A recent report from Jiao Tong University found that there were 72 “major” incidents of social unrest in China in 2010, up 20% over the previous year. Most outside observers would argue that this understates the real number of cases by perhaps a couple of orders of magnitude. Such incidents are hard to count because they often occur in rural areas where reporting is strictly controlled by the Chinese authorities.

The fact is that authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East. Though not formally accountable to its people through elections, the Chinese government keeps careful track of popular discontents and often responds through appeasement rather than repression. Beijing is forthright, for example, in acknowledging the country’s growing income disparities and for the past few years has sought to mitigate the problem by shifting new investments to the poor interior of the country. When flagrant cases of corruption or abuse appear, like melamine-tainted baby formula or the shoddy school construction revealed by the Sichuan earthquake, the government holds local officials brutally accountable-sometimes by executing them.

The Chinese government is also more clever and ruthless in its approach to repression. Sensing a clear threat, the authorities never let Western social media spread in the first place. Facebook and Twitter are banned, and content on websites and on China-based social media is screened by an army of censors. It is possible, of course, for word of government misdeeds to get out in the time between its first posting by a micro-blogger and its removal by a censor, but this cat-and-mouse game makes it hard for a unified social space to emerge.

The bottom line is that China will not catch the Middle Eastern contagion anytime soon. But it could easily face problems down the road. China has not experienced a major recession or economic setback since it set out on its course of economic reform in 1978. If the country’s current property bubble bursts and tens of millions of people are thrown out of work, the government’s legitimacy, which rests on its management of the economy, would be seriously undermined.

The truth is that, much as we might theorize about the causes of social revolution, human societies are far too complex, and change too rapidly, for any simple theory to provide a reliable guide. Any number of observers dismissed the power of the “Arab street” to bring about political change, based on their deep knowledge of the Middle East, and they were right every year-up until 2011.

The hardest thing for any political observer to predict is the moral element. All social revolutions are driven by intense anger over injured dignity, an anger that is sometimes crystallized by a single incident or image that mobilizes previously disorganized individuals and binds them into a community. We can quote statistics on education or job growth, or dig into our knowledge of a society’s history and culture, and yet completely miss the way that social consciousness is swiftly evolving through a myriad of text messages, shared videos or simple conversations.

The central moral imponderable with regard to China is the middle class, which up to now has seemed content to trade political freedom for rising incomes and stability. But at some point this trade-off is likely to fail; the regime will find itself unable to deliver the goods, or the insult to the dignity of the Chinese people will become too great to tolerate. We shouldn’t pretend that we can predict when this tipping point will occur, but its eventual arrival, as Samuel Huntington might have suggested, is bound up with the very logic of modernization itself.

I’d mostly agree with that. The key is admitting that although the timespan is a mystery right now, the way things play out is pretty much inevitable if Beijing won’t change course.

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“Liao Yiwu Unbound”

Liao Yiwu, a Chinese writer who has frequently butted heads with Beijing, recently turned up in Germany. Odd, for someone the state presumably wants kept under lock and key, right? I’ve been wondering if he obtained refugee status or if he somehow obtained legal permission to leave the country; looks like it’s the second. The New Yorker has a piece about him here.

Liao Yiwu, the writer, has left China, his homeland. He arrived this morning in Berlin, via Warsaw and Hanoi. This is good news and bad news at once. It is good, because Liao is now safe and feels liberated: “My goal was personal freedom and freedom to write,” he told me over the phone from Berlin, with his German translator, Yeemei Guo, as our interpreter. And it is bad news that he felt pushed by the constant threat of prison at home to choose between silence and exile.

Liao, who is best known in America for his book, “The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up,” is not only a true artist, but also a true patriot: while his work gets under the Communist Party’s skin—and has repeatedly landed him in prison—it is driven by a defiant love and celebration of China and its people.

Liao was first imprisoned after witnessing the crushing of the Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, and writing a powerful poem about it, called “Massacre.” On the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, he wrote a piece, which I published at the time in The Paris Review, called “Nineteen Days,” recalling how he’d spent every June 4th since. Today Liao told me that when his police minders visited him in March, they threatened him with his harshest sentence yet: “The police told me that if I publish more of my work abroad, it won’t be easy—if you do it again, you will be disappeared for quite a while, you’ll get put away for as long as Liu Xiaobo.”

The German edition of Liao’s memoir—“The Witness of the 4th of June”—runs to five hundred pages, and was supposed to appear in April. But after the Chinese police threatened him, it was postponed until June, and then postponed again, and the Taiwanese edition (the first Chinese edition), was also postponed.

Liao said he didn’t know if the Chinese authorities had realized yet that he’d left. “It has been a very difficult trip for me to get out of the country, but I would like to keep the details to myself until next year,” he said. “In 2012, the leadership will change in Beijing, and I’m looking forward to a new government with the hope that I may then go back to China.” He added, somewhat cryptically, “It was like magic that I was able to get out, and such wonderful magic that I even got an exit stamp in my passport.”

So he is not a refugee. “Never,” he said. In fact, he told me, “I’m excited about political developments in China, and looking forward to a Jasmine Revolution. I am quite sure that Hu Jintao may be a refugee some day, but not Liao Yiwu.”

Hu in exile, and the current masses of exiles back in China? Now there’s optimism!

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, China, exile, Jasmine Revolution

“China’s Jasmine Crackdown and the Legal System”

After revolutions started to tear decades-old dictatorships out of place in the Middle East, people in Beijing got nervous.  Their response was to start disappearing lawyers, activists, and dissidents at a rate which shocks even the most cynical China watcher.  Donald C. Clarke, a professor specializing in Chinese law at George Washington University, writes this essay on the crackdown, concluding that:

In China, the difference between detention according to law and detention not according to law is one of policy and convenience. If activists are ‘disappeared’, it is not because some fragile and immature rule of law has broken down in the face of overwhelming political pressures. It is because the authorities have decided that the message sent by disappearing someone is preferable to the message sent by detaining them in accordance with legal procedures, or because the detention was considered too urgent to allow time for proper procedures.

The Jasmine Crackdown less reveals than reconfirms that China’s legal system is intended to serve the purposes of the state. It can do so in ways that are more or less effective, and that produce more or less justice for individuals as a byproduct. It can develop, change and be judged by various yardsticks to be better or worse. But there was never any genuine governmental commitment to the rule of law from which the government later backtracked. China’s legal system is not developing toward a system that will restrain political power when it counts.

Exactly right.

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