The article first appeared in Life and Death in China (a multi-volume anthology of 50+ witness accounts of Chinese government persecution and 30+ essays by experts in human rights in China). When I wrote it, Xu Zhiyong was under house arrest; when it was published, he had already moved to the Beijing Third Detention Center. I dedicate this little essay to Xu Zhiyong and all those reactionaries whose homes have become prisons or who have made prisons their homes. – Teng Biao
When Xu Zhiyong and I received the “Ten People in Rule of Law in 2003” award at CCTV, the host Sa Beining (撒贝宁) asked us, “What is the power of the rule of law?” I said, “it is when everyone will stand up fighting for the rule of law.” At the time, neither Xu Zhiyong nor myself, nor the two sponsors of the event -- CCTV and the State Office for Disseminating the Law -- would have thought that, in a few years, the two of us would become “rights activists,” “dissidents,” “elements of the New Five Black Types,” or in short, “the enemies of the state.”
Meanwhile though, this outcome is so natural and inevitable.
The back story for the award went like this: Following the Sun Zhigang Incident (孙志刚事件) in 2003, Xu Zhiyong, Yu Jiang and I, known as the “three PhDs,” made a public appeal to revoke the custody and deportation policy and, more than that, to conduct a constitutional review of the policy. It was a carefully-considered “open conspiracy” on our part, and we were prepared for the potential risk in making such calls. To our wildest surprise, instead of being punished, we were commended by the government. Honestly I’m little embarrassed now that there was once a time when I was not shamed of being praised by this government.
With a PhD degree from Peking University, a bar certificate, a headful of ideas about freedom, democracy and constitutionalism that are deemed “reactionary” by the party doctrines, a pen that can argue and incite, and an inflated sense of self due to hype from domestic and overseas media outlets, I became active and quickly known in China’s human rights movement, thanks to the bountiful injustices found everywhere in the country. I was involved in legal aid; I represented clients in human rights cases; I founded Gong Meng (公盟) with two others and China Against the Death Penalty (北京兴善研究所), two reactionary NGOs ; I accepted interviews by reactionary media outlets; I indulged in the reactionary “foreign Weibo” (better known as Twitter), I wrote reactionary articles and received reactionary payments for them; I either initiated, or participated in, reactionary citizen signature campaigns; I took part in street demonstrations and mass look-on protests (围观); I gate-crashed black jails and brainwashing classes sponsored covertly by local governments; I promoted the New Citizens’ Movement and hopped everywhere for dinner gatherings. Step by step, I abandoned the party and its universal truth and walked onto an anti-revolutionary path.
Not only did I walk on the wrong path, I went further and further. When the Sun Zhigang incident occurred, I spoke out for all the migrant residents and homeless people in China; when Peking University’s “yi ta hu tu” bbs (一塌糊涂) was shut down, I protested on behalf of that reactionary online platform; In the Cai Zhuohua case (蔡卓华), I lent support to the underground Christian churches that were also one of the Five Black Types; I was involved in forced demolition cases defending owners of “nail households;” I went to Shanxi to defend the rights of enslaved brickyard workers; I made appeals on behalf of victims of melamine-tainted milk formula; during the Wenchuan earthquake, I condemned the tofu-dredge projects; in the Wang Bo (王博) case and a few other Falungong cases, I defended freedom of religion for those whose beliefs were branded as an “evil cult;” after the March 14, 2008 unrest in Tibet, I organized lawyers to provide legal assistance to arrested Tibetans; following the July 5th incident, I flew to Urumqi, Xinjiang, to try to overturn the case against Uighur journalist Gheyret Niyaz (2010); in the Xia Junfeng case (夏俊峰案), I was a defense lawyer for the street vendor in Shenyang (2010); in the persecution of Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), I fought hard against forced abortionists, law abusers, illegal detainers, and users of unlawful violence; in the case of Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Liu Wei (刘巍), I helped these two rights lawyers to challenge the Bureau of Justice; and I was in the Gao Zhisheng case and Hu Jia case, in actions opposing the singing-red-and-striking-down-black campaign in Chongqing, the equal education rights movement, the campaign for asset disclosure by officials, direct elections in lawyers’ associations, Charter 08…….
In one incident after another, I have never chosen the right stand. This cannot be explained away by rashness or accidental missteps; instead, it’s clear that this is a person who has completely lost his class stand, who hates the socialist slavery with Chinese characteristics, who has been completely brain washed by the capitalist hypocritical notions of political democracy and human rights, and who has no gratitude toward the party-state’s generosity of educating him and not having murdered him. In short, he turns against the cook after being fed full.
To be perfectly honest, I have done all these to make my life a little better, starting from the Sun Zhigang case, to all my expressions and actions thereafter. As for terms such as reactivating the constitution, defending rights through legal means, non-violence, and the New Citizens’ Movement, all of them were mere disguises. In time, I learned that there were a few blockheads in this world who felt awful when they saw others being bullied; when they felt awful, they were unwilling to keep it to themselves. So they shouted it out and wrote it up. Since they had no lethal weapons, they summoned the spiritual weapons in their hearts, legal tools in their heads, and took advantages of media outlets and the Internet that “had no clue about the truth.” They hurled themselves forward, huffing and shouting, determined to fight to the end without fear of getting their heads cracked or shedding their blood, whether the other parties were corrupt officials, ruthless power players, or naked officials (officials who have sent their family overseas); thugs, legal illiterates or illiterates; principals, bureau chiefs, or provincial heads; the tall-big-and-perfect, the great-glorious-and-total, or the universal truth. Among this small group of people were lawyers, scholars, journalists, artists, petitioners, farmers, netizens, and humble and anonymous members of society. They didn’t make a lot of money but they risked a lot; they derived pleasure from their hardship. They were vastly outnumbered, but every now and then they scored accidental victories here and there. Sometimes they lost the battle but gained in morale, emerging victorious from defeat. As a result, more discontented or naïve people joined the ranks of the Five Black Types and became bad elements. For a while, this contingency force was pretty geared up. Government petitioning, online mobilizing, street demonstrating, court challenging, they battled and lost and battled more and lost more. Short of an insurgency, they had done it all.
Now, this was getting out of hand, and had to be dealt with.
First, they came to me speaking softly: “Look, you have knowledge, fame and opportunities. Why mix with those people? You will enjoy many benefits if you side with the party.” I didn’t listen. I continued.
Then came the warnings: “It’s very dangerous if you continue. Take our advice, you’ll have a full belly. There will be consequences for giving trouble to the government. Don’t you see? Professional promotions, research funding, awards, you get none.” I didn’t listen. I continued.