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.

15 thoughts on “The Significance of Xu Zhiyong





  2. Jian Shuo,

    I’m looking forward to this series. I have been following the story of Xu Zhiyong since you posted about him in your post about your friend the astronaut. Its very disturbing because it doesn’t fit in the overall picture of China increasing in rights and freedoms for ordinary people.

  3. Dear Jian Shuo,

    Thank you for this post. I once volunteered for several months with Gongmeng, and found “Xu 老师,” as we called him, to be just as inspirational as you describe. He is one of the most rare combinations of talent, dedication, and humility I have ever met. I sincerely look forward to this series!

  4. Craving for this series. But many googled entries of Xu Zhiyong have been blocked. Wish your blog can survive.

  5. Dear Jian Shuo,

    I’m very interested in this story too and look forward to your next posts!


    Part of the definition of Society on Wikipedia: “A society allows its individual members to achieve individual needs or wishes that they could not fulfill separately by themselves.” I don’t think that any form of society will work if everybody only cares about himself!

  6. I just found below article from

    An excerpt of an open letter written by a Form 7 Hong Kong female student Cheng Wing Yan (鄭詠欣) addressed to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in support of Xu Zhiyong, the civil rights lawyer who has been arrested by the Chinese government. The letter has been published in Ming Pao Daily.

    Here is translation of the excerpt of the open letter titled “Please Convince Me from a Legal Standpoint”:-

    “Recently Xu Zhiyong and Gongmeng (公盟) under his leadership have been targeted by the government. Gongmeng is a civil organization formed by a group of lawyers and academics who are concerned with China’s development. Through academic research, the organization has offered some advice and suggestions on China’s legal system reform, thereby promoting the realization of rule of law and democracy. Another area of their work, which is well known to Chinese citizens, is to provide legal aid to the powerless grass roots like petitioners and victims of land grabs and melamine milk powder, helping them to get justice within the existing legal framework. Judging from the fact that many petitioners who had received legal aid went bravely to Gongmeng’s office to voice their support soon after the tax authorities shut it down, everybody can clearly see that Gongmeng is the people’s ally. Why is it that the government under your leadership is still insisting on doing something that goes against the will of the people?

    As far as I know, Gongmeng is a non-profit organization. They had once considered registering as a non-business civil unit, but their application was rejected and they had no alternative but to register as a limited company. In international societies, such an organization is tax-exempt, and donors can also obtain tax exemption benefits. But as Gongmeng members are law-abiding legal professionals, even though they think the system is unreasonable, they still pay their taxes as required. When the tax authorities accused them of omitting to report certain taxable items, they admitted their fault honestly. Why is it that the government under your leadership still imposing the maximum penalty, and on top of that, using a search warrant to take away all the files and data that are related to protection of civil rights? What is even more puzzling is that right before the convening of the second hearing, Mr. Xu was taken away from his home by security bureau officers and under-cover police, detained in custody and was not allowed to contact lawyers or his family. At the same time, Gongmeng was being ordered to shut down its website. This is a case of groundless seizure of citizens’ basic civil rights.

    Premier Wen, you always say things like ‘administering according to rule of law’ and ‘governing according to rule of law’. May I ask, based on which legal clause did the law enforcement agency take away Mr. Xu? I only have a cursory knowledge of Chinese Law, but I know that the Constitution is the country’s most comprehensive basic law and has the highest level of binding power. Article 35 of our country’s Constitution states that citizens of People’s Republic of China have the freedom of speech and the freedom to form associations. Article 37 states clearly that citizens of People’s Republic of China enjoy personal freedom and it prohibits illegal arrest or other means of illegally seizing or limiting citizens’ personal freedom. Based on my own interpretation of these Articles, I think Mr. Xu should be free to stay in his home or work at his office.

    In April this year, when my classmates and I were in Beijing as exchange students, we had the honor of discussing Chinese politics with Mr. Xu at his Gongmeng office. I saw that he is prepared to be selfless in doing all he can in the area of rule of law and democracy, and that he has great hope for China’s future. I was deeply moved. I can still remember during that visit I saw with my own eyes those menacing scarecrow gangsters who were trying to scare away the pitiable petitioners at the State Bureau for Letters and Visits. So, in our discussion, one of my classmates asked Mr. Xu, ‘Why does the Central Government tolerate the existence of those scarecrow gangsters?’ You know how Mr. Xu replied? He said that the number of petitioners far exceeds what the Letters and Visits Office can handle; so, in order to avoid overloading the Office, government cannot but bear with the scarecrow rogues. He reminded us several times that government is already doing its very best and that we need to be patient with it.

    This is what Mr. Xu is like. He is full of ideals but he is not presumptuous. He is visionary but he insists on taking one step at a time. He does not mind getting negligible results that come slowly and bit by bit. He firmly believes that one day China will realize rule of law, democracy and freedom.

    Premier Wen, I really don’t understand why your government can be so cruel. Why do you have to use such means to deal with a scholar who understands the hardship of the government and who wants only rational discourse? All he does is to play by the current rules of game and provide proper assistance to the weak and helpless to fight for the rights that the Constitution gives them. None of his deeds is not for the love of the country and its people. Why can’t the government spare such a person, and let him and Gongmeng handle the (tax) matter in accordance with open and fair civil proceedings?”

  7. I am looking forward to you running for a seat in Shanghai People’s Congress. When will the next election be held?

  8. Jian Shui, thanks so much for this post. I am looking for the to the follow-up.

    Adam, thanks so much sharing the letter from Cheng Wing Yan. What happened to it? Has Wen Jiabao answered? Has Cheng Wing Yan disappeared?

  9. @ “Puzzled foreigner”:

    I’m sure Cheng Wing Yan is safe & sound, in HongKong. Just many articles reporting her letter have disappeared on the web.

    I don’t think Premier Wen would reply this letter. Although most Chinese people (me included) think he is a very respectable person.

    I guess the scenario is: we are just too micro as a ordinary citizen, focusing on micro event. Standing on the beach, we see tsunami. Those who manipulate macro situation, sitting in a space station, just see a peaceful blue sea. Individuals are dispensable for them, if only the situation keeps on their track. (Could still be a correct track for the nation in the long run. I’m not sure on this. Who knows. They should be smarter than me, otherwise they wouldn’t have become “astronauts”.)

    As the popular saying goes on many Chinese BBS’s: “The authorities are playing a very very big round of mah-jong”.

  10. Dear Adam, thanks for clarifying. Your words bring a certain chill down my neck, though. A single life isn’t worth much by the logic you apply. Do Chinese people accept this?

  11. @Puzzled foreigner, and @Adam, thanks for sharing your thought here. I believe it is pretty common in China that people think like Adam. Unfortunately, that is what the propaganda is talking about, and widely accepted. That gives the authority the freedom to do whatever they want. People like Xu Zhiyong don’t believe in it, and he was put into jail. The act of detain Zhiyong was to frighten others thinking the same way, and gives people like Adam more assurance that what the thought is grounded in fact – “Look at what Zhiyong get by not following the rules.”

  12. Dear “Puzzled foreigner”,

    No one will be happy to accept that logic, from his/her personal angle of view, as it’s againt humanity.

    But we have only 2 options to explain the current situation we are facing:

    A. To believe that we small potatoes just don’t have the insight to understand the authorities’ profound decisions. (I’m referring to those at central headquarters level.)

    B. To acknowledge that those corrupt & fatuous bad eggs are really shitting on the people’s heads.

    Of course I wish the correct answer is “A”. That means we are on a rough, but at the very least, correct direction road.

    BTW, have you heard about the rumour, that in 1941, US government had already got the intelligence beforehand, that Japs would attack Pearl Harbour? And they just let it happen (but maneuvered away 2 aircraft carriers). Thus they solved the dispute within the nation, whether US should take part in the war. 2403 American lives were sacrificed. But US won’t have obtained today’s dominant position if it hadn’t joined WWII. Were those 2403 lives worthwhile for a nation’s century long prosperity? Put you back into Roosevelt’s shoes, what’s your call?

    Politics is chilling.

  13. Someday you will be put into prison, and everybody commented at your website will be investigated and persecuted if present in mainland china.

  14. Dear Jian Shuo,

    I didn’t make myself clear. I do admire Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s courage and totally agree with his work – both contents and formality. It’s absolutely a mistake to detain him.

    A simplified situation might be like this: the central party committee gave a guideline to all subordinate departments to make the society look more harmonious, which is for sure correct. Then the Public Security Bureau director thought Zhiyong’s work will make PSB looks useless and sometimes even abusing its power. So they took madcap action. I don’t think the stupid detain order was issued from the central party committee. Maybe Premier Wen is shouting at the PSB director now. But even so, they still can not release Zhiyong at once, otherwise the authority would lose face again. (They know they don’t have much left.)

    There is another saying: “Policies are not original policies once they are out of Zhong Nan Hai (central headquarters of the Party)”.

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