The Significance of Xu Zhiyong’s Case

After talking about the significance about Xu Zhiyong’s work in the series The Significance of Xu Zhiyong, we need to go further to understand what the cracking down and detaining of Zhiyong means to the Chinese society.

It is a Clear NO

Despite of the high visibility and all activities under the current legal framework of Zhiyong, the organization (or the company) was shut down, and Zhiyong was detained by the police. It is a clear no to people who want to improve the society in a “under the Sun” type of activity, and may force such organizations to go underground. Underground organizations can easily result in violence. That is even more harmful.

Zhiyong’s work has a solid ground of performing everything publicly, and makes everything visible to the society. It is not a underground organization. They actually didn’t take any political sensitive cases. Most of the cases they took were purely civil cases, like to assist parents in the poison milk incident to get more compensation, and to assist Deng Yujiao who were nearly raped by local government officials and defended herself and killed the guy, and then accused for murder. All these cases are not politically sensitive. It is just as many of the lawyers did – to provide legal assistance to people. (Well. I am also convinced that lawyers are not working for justice – just to provide legal assistance)

P.S. I edited the content of the article after it is published.

NGO as a Company in China

I know many NGO organization, and I am personally involved in some. It is hard to get registered with the Internal Affairs Bureau. I tried to setup Coffee Bean Club to help students to get access to successful people, but it was not possible to register, so my choice, and many other NGO’s choice was to stay unregistered.

Unregistered Organizations

To have many organizations unregistered is not a good thing for all the parties. For the founders of the organization, since it is not legally recognized, it is very vulnerable, not just to the government inspection, but to all type of criminals. For example, they have to use personal account to keep organization money ($#%#!), and they cannot legally hire people, and they cannot do anything outside the power of several individuals. For volunteer organizations, it may be OK, but there is no growth. For the government, it is not good since they cannot provide services, and cannot take their duty to make sure everything is fine. For others the organization is interacting with, it is the same to deal with a gangster organization – no legal protection.

The line between good people doing good stuff (unregistered NGO) and bad people doing bad things (like criminal groups) is blurred.

Registered Organization

Since the road for unregistered organization is hard, many people just register as a company – a for profit company. This is actually the only workaround I can think of. In practices, I know many of my friends doing good things using a company. There is a small issue of registering as a company – every dollar coming into the company is subject to 5% of tax, and subject to income tax. Well. It does not bother most of people since this is the only choice. They pay tax!

NGO as a Company

Gongmeng’s situation is like many NGOs in China, although more NGO is not registered at all.

In the Gongmeng’s case, the tax authority accuses Gongmeng for tax evasion for a donation not confirmed by Yale University. This is the typical risk NGO as a company faces. In theory, most of the organizations involved in Sichuan earthquake the last year are vulnerable to this claim. If the any of the government officials want, they can legally investigate and punish the organizations involved in the Sichuan help. As far as I know, most of the organizations just transfer the money directly to the people who needed help. If they got 100 RMB, they gave out 100 RMB. “Hey guys! You didn’t pay the tax!” I don’t know a policy to give tax free status to NGO so far (correct me if I am wrong).

Zhiyong and People’s Congress

Zhiyong as a Representitive of People’s Congress

One symbolic case is, Zhiyong run for a seat in People’s Congress in Beijing. I opened my eyes so widely when I heard about it. “How can it be possible?” I asked.

Zhiyong is a practical idealist. He is so “naive” to believe that it MAY work. He then run for it (not many people even think about it), and since he is the first independant person to run for it, and did some work to help people to know who he is, not surprisingly, many people choose him, because he is the only person they know. His initial idea is to become a representitive of the People’s Congress of Haidian District of Beijing, and then run for Beijing and finally be able to run for the National People’s Congress, but his attempt just stopped in the Haidian district level, since the Beijing’s People’s Congress Representitives are elected by the representitives like Zhiyong at district level. It means, they need many people like Zhiyong to make it really work, but now, there are just one person who are really elected in that district. It is impossible for other “appointed” representitive to elect him or any other people elected representitive.

Regardless of the result, I think he is doing the right thing to push the limit by the first step. If it is proven to be a feasible way, that is the most stable and harmless way to change this society.

Framework that Does not Work

The people’s congress representitive mechanism is a good system by design, but in reality, that does not work as it is designed. Instead of designing another working system by theory, but does not work in reality, it is more practical to work on improving the current system. No matter how hard it is, it is still a feasible approach since the same problem will bother all societies.

Another lawyer YLFer was involved in creating the Constitution and foundamental laws of Cambodia. After years of hard work, the system itself was pretty much in shape – in theory, it should work perfectly. But when I asked him about whether he is confident about democracy in Cambodia, he said no. That is the difference between a reasonable law (documents) and the reality.

To design a better system is 1 billion times easier than implementing a working system.

In that sense, I am feel Zhiyong is on the right path.

My Practice

Unlike Zhiyong, my profession is not a lawyer, and to do my best as an entreprenure is the best thing I can do for my users, and for my employees, for my investors, and my family and this country. However, I did push hard to at certain stuff.

The thing I devote most is the residential area democratic practice. No matter how big the change of national wide system is, all the house owners of a residential area need to find a workable way (The Chinese way) to collectively make decisions on the collective property. That is the lacking part. Without a working system, procedures, and even meeting orders at residential area level, I cannot imagine at higher level it can work. That is consistent with what Zhiyong is doing.

Under the Legal Framework

This is part of a series article named The Significance of Xu Zhiyong

What Zhiyong Accomplished

I am not a dedicated investagive journalist (and I don’t have the skills), so I won’t bother to list the accomplishment of Zhi Yong and his Open Constitution Initiative. Let me just provide several links to public media so you can read and get some idea.

It is really rare that People’s Daily website published a sympathic article (quoting Global Times): Baby milk powder victims lose legal proxy

New York Times report on the issue

Arrest in China Rattles Backers of Legal Rights

Most of the work are related to the civil right of the disadvantaged groups in China.

The Nature of Xu Zhiyong’s Work

The principle under which Zhiyong and Gongmeng (The Open Consitution Initiative) operate is, to follow the current legal framework. This is very different approach from others, and the approach I believe is the most practical one.

In the current China, there are tension from many corners of this society. It is hard to generalize and over-simplify it to be the rich vs the poor, the employers vs employees, or the city vs villages. The real situation is much more complicated than that.

There are many people complaining (including myself sometimes), and some people want to do dramatic changes to the system inside or outside the system. What Xu Zhiyong did was very different from other approach. He insist that many problems can be solved at the CURRENT legal framework.

People’s Congress

One symbolic example is, Zhiyong run for a seat in People’s Congress in Beijing. I opened my eyes so widely when I heard about it. “How can it be possible?” I asked.

Read more at a seperate entry here: Zhiyong and People’s Congress

NGO as a Company

Another thing that Zhiyong did was to register his organization as a for-profit limited company. Well. This is the only practical way to hand it.

Read more about this at a seperate entry here: NGO as a Company in China.

The Significance of Xu Zhiyong

I am starting to write a series article around the case of Xu Zhiyong. As my typical reaction to many event, I don’t want to jump to something that just happened without gathering enough information. Basically, facts are the hardest part in China, and after gathering enough facts, I still need to sometime to think about it, before I form something. Now, several weeks past after Zhiyong was brought away by the policeman, I want to start to write something. The series of article is called the “Significance of Xu Zhiyong”. This is the first article.

My Friend Zhiyong

I met Zhiyong for the first time during the 2007 YLF Nanjing trip, although I have known him by name for quite some time. As most people know him, I was so impressed and inspired by his belief that China can be better. When most of the people stopped thinking about the future of China (as forbidden by the government), he still dreams about the future. We spent wonderful three days in Nanjing, and the longest talk happened in the bar near the Nanjing University. When most of the YLFer went to dance, Zhiyong, Nick Yu, and I sat around the table to discuss legal/moral/democratic processes of China for the whole night. I will talk about it later, but the short version is, I found I am inspired to run for a seat at Shanghai People’s Congress the next round, because in December 2003, running as an independent candidate, he won the only openly contested election for a seat in the Beijing People’s Congress. He said the law gives everyone the right to run for it, and why give it up?

My Favorite Photo of Zhiyong

Among many photo I took during that trip, below is the best I choose for Zhiyong. I even don’t remember whether I have sent it to Zhiyong afterwards.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang, December 1, 2007 at Nanjing Zhongshan Memorial

Right behind his shoulder is “civil right”! He was so born in the county named “Minquan”, which means “Civil right” in Chinese, in Henan. That is what he fights for in the last few years.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang at Nanjing Guest House

In the next few articles, I want to comment more about why the way Zhiyong did and the case of Zhiyong were so significant to the modern China.