China’s “weiquan” movement

CDN’s Sophie Beach has written an important article on the growing assertiveness (and sucess) of Chinese lawyer demanding that individual rights be recognized and respected. This movement grew out of the the Sun Zhigang tragedy, the poster child of so much that is wrong with China’s corupt system.

Sun Zhigang, a young graphic designer from Hubei Province, was arrested on the streets of Guangzhou in March 2003 for not carrying a required registration permit. Police brought him to a “custody and repatriation” center, one of the hundreds of detention facilities run by local governments to control migrant populations. Three days later, Sun was dead.

Reporters from Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News), an aggressive daily run by groundbreaking editor Cheng Yizhong, soon discovered an official autopsy report that found Sun had been beaten to death in custody. Though well aware that a story on the autopsy would infuriate local officials, Cheng gave the go-ahead to publish it anyway. The article touched off a national scandal that led to important government reforms. But true to the nature of contemporary Chinese society—where emerging free-market forces regularly collide with authoritarian traditions—it also landed Cheng and three colleagues in prison.

The ensuing court battle became a prominent example of an emerging movement in China known as weiquan in which lawyers and legal scholars are more assertively defending the constitutional rights of individuals, including journalists, in court. The defense in the Nanfang Dushi Bao ultimately won the release of Cheng and another defendant and secured shorter prison terms for the others. But weiquan’s gains are modest thus far—and the government has shown only the most limited tolerance for its goals.

“The emergence and development of the weiquan movement reflects the awakening and ongoing maturation of Chinese civil society,” says Zhang Weiguo, a former journalist in China who now runs the New Century Net Web site, which has covered many recent weiquan cases. “Journalists and lawyers from all over the country took on the Nanfang Dushi Bao case as an example of weiquan and that had a big influence on the outcome.”

Immediately after Nanfang Dushi Bao broke the Sun story on April 25, 2003, newspapers and Web sites throughout China republished the account, chat rooms and bulletin boards exploded with outrage, and legal experts intensified calls for the abolition of the abuse-ridden “custody and repatriation” centers. In June 2003, the central government announced that all of the more than 800 centers would be closed. Six police officers and officials were jailed for their role in Sun’s death.

The positive outcome was a rare example of the Chinese media and public opinion exerting powerful influence over society. But local governments, which control all local media, including Nanfang Dushi Bao, wield considerable power in China—and, within a year, Cheng and three other top officials from the paper were behind bars.

Of course, the reporters soon found themselves behind bars on cooked-up “corruption” charges, but the weiquan movement helped generate a massive effort by journalists to see their colleagues released. And it worked.

This can only be called a bittersweet article and you should read it all. There’s a lot of hope, but also a lot of despair. Several successes, but also a huge number of groteque injustices. That the movement exists at all and has proven to be effective is a great sign of hope. That the crimes it is addressing were carried out by the government, which is continuing to imprison reporters and silence the media, drives home just how rotten the sytem is.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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The Discussion: 19 Comments

Indeed, “Weiquan” movement is an important step toward democratic China.

“They argued that since the money that Yu had disbursed was taken from the paper’s advertising avenue, it could not be counted as ‘public fund’, even those the parent company is a state-owned company”

Well, I am for Yu’s release. I think Yu’s fault is like speeding, i.e., many state-owned company managers are doing it, but Yu’s rivals picked on Yu. However, in terms of anti-corruption, the arguement by those law professionals are just simply distressing. In their view, what is counted as corruption?

I have noticed that, when western reporter report this kind of movement, it routinely falls into the frame of David against evil goliath. The chinese government is not a monolithic entity. Even CCP has many fractions.

May 28, 2005 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

Isn’t it odd, just as I print an article mentioning Sun Zhigang and the paper that reported it (of course we were writting about entierly different things and just happened to mention this guy), somebody else writes a different story about a different aspect of the case.

I guess that we must both get our ques from the same places. Spooky.

May 28, 2005 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

Steve, we’ve had that conversation before. Of course the CCP is not monolithically evil. It’s not monolithically anything. But still, I see more negatives to it than positives.

ACB, pure coincidfence. I’ve written about Sun so many times here — his story upset me more than any other.

May 28, 2005 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

I just found a lengthy and interesting article on The Peasant Study at Asia Times, published back in January (and blogged about it over on my site in case anyone would like to discuss there). Here’s a graph relevant to this discussion:

It all comes back to the same point: is the Chinese ultra-authoritarian system reformable? Dialectical contradictions abound. According to a Beijing scholar, the party recognizes that courts should be impartial and trusted by all in a country facing what some believe to be an imminent social volcano. Courts should have a major role in fighting corruption and improving governance. At the same time the party leadership fears that the primacy of the law will spell a clear and present danger to its power monopoly.

It’s a really interesting article. Here’s the link:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/GA22Ad01.html

May 29, 2005 @ 1:41 am | Comment

“CHINA”!!? BUSHITLER ONLY WANTS DEVELOPING NATIONS FOR THE OIL!!!!!!!!? (IF ONLY THERE WERE OIL IN VIETNAM!!) THIS MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER!! GLENN REYNOLDS!!!!!!!? JOHN ASHCROFT!! WITHOUT A DOUBT, I CAN’T TELL ONE NEOCONSERVATIVE, ROT-LOVING, BISEXUAL-BOMBING, BLOODTHIRSTY TOADY FOR CORPORATE AMERICA FROM THE OTHER!!!? (TOM RIDGE EITHER, UM!!!!!!) GOD BLESS AMERICA, INDEED!!!!!!!!? I REJECT SUPERSTITION AND DISHONESTY!!!!!!!! SINCE 1960, 48,529 QUEER AFRICAN-AMERICANS HAVE BEEN EXPLODED IN SAMARRA!!!!! POWER TO THE OWLS!!!!!! I TAKE IT YOU HAVEN’T READ “PEOPLE VS. KARL ROVE: A STUDY IN GREED,” BY NANCY PELOSI!!!!!! SAY NO TO HATE AND GRAFT!!!!!? WE DEMAND THE U.S. GET OUT OF HANOI!!!!!! THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS CAN IMPRISON 30,656 HOMELESS TRANSGENDERED ARTISTS IN MONTREAL, ALL IN THE NAME OF “SECURITY”? METHINKS, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO, THAT MAKES IT OKAY, THEN!! (I AM BEING SARCASTIC!!) UNLIKE YOU AND BILL O’REILLY, I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH FASCISM!!!!!!! I GET THE FEELING, THE REPOOPLICKINS STOLE THE SO-CALLED ELECTION BY GREETING THE AGNOSTIC VOTERS IN PORTUGAL, JUST LIKE KENNETH LAY HELPED OUR MURDERER-IN-CHIEF TO STEAL MEDICARE FROM THE DOWNTRODDEN FEMINISTS (WHILE THE MAFIA HAPPILY SAT ON THE SIDELINES, AS I UNDERSTAND IT)!!!!!!!! I REJECT HANDGUNS AND CAPITALISM!!!!!!!

May 29, 2005 @ 2:47 am | Comment

Ouch. Too many caps and exclamation points make eyes hurt. Going to sleep now…

May 29, 2005 @ 2:48 am | Comment

SLEEP, EH!!!? HUH!!!!!!!! THE PRESIDENT’S WAR AGAINST PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION MUST END NOW!!!! AS A DISABLED HOMOSEXUAL, LAST TIME I CHECKED I AM HUMORLESS! THE NSA CAN MOLEST 49,698 ABUSED INTERSEXED FERNS IN NEW JERSEY, ALL IN THE NAME OF “JUSTICE”? NEEDLESS TO SAY, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO, THAT MAKES IT OKAY, THEN! (AS A MATTER OF FACT, I AM BEING SARCASTIC!!!!!!! IT IS NOT OKAY, AS I’VE SAID BEFORE!!!!!!!!) AS YOU NO DOUBT KNOW, WHEN THE JESUS FREAKS SAY “ACCOUNTABILITY,” THEY REALLY MEAN “ENVY”!!!!!!!! WHEN THEY SAY “SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE,” LIKE I’VE SAID IT IS JUST A CODE WORD FOR “SUPERSTITION”!!!! REALLY, SHRUBYA CAN TALK ABOUT “PRO LIFE” ALL HE WANTS, ALL THE WHILE DISENFRANCHISING HANDICAPPED EXPLOITED PUPPIES IN CALIFORNIA, SO HIS GLEE CLUB OF BLOODTHIRSTY ZOMBIES CAN GNAW PRISTINE MIGRANT KITTENS IN LIBERIA!!!? SORRY!!!!!! WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE, IN 1999 IN LOS ANGELES, WHEN TENS OF MILLIONS OF SERBIAN DWARFS WERE MACED BY THE SECRET SERVICE!!! I’M SURE, CURIOUS GEORGE LIED ABOUT THAT TOO!!!!!!!! (OR IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE A SECRET!!!!!!!) WAAA!! WHAT ABOUT FREE DRUGS!? WHAT ABOUT OUTREACH!!!!!!!? WHAT ABOUT STEM CELL RESEARCH AND PEACE FOR THE 54,231 HOMEOPATHIC MINORITIES WHO ARE TAUNTED IN MONTREAL EVERY SINGLE DAY BY OUR SMIRKING CHIMP AND HIS FAN CLUB OF IDIOTIC DRONES!!!!!? HA!!!!!!

May 29, 2005 @ 2:50 am | Comment

Troll be gone. Good night.

May 29, 2005 @ 2:52 am | Comment

TROLL, INDEED!! AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, JEB BUSH IS NOTHING BUT A TOOL OF THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND!!!!!!!! CERTAINLY, SMIRKY ONLY WANTS NEW ENGLAND FOR THE OIL! (IF ONLY THERE WERE OIL IN PARIS!!!!!!) THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON! THE TRUTH IS AT TRANSGENDEREDDEMOCRATSFORDIALOGUE.ORG!!!!! THE EMPEROR’S WAR AGAINST REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM MUST END NOW!!!!!!!! AS A DESPOILED PAGAN, I GET THE FEELING I AM BONKERS!!!!!!!? I REJECT HANDGUNS AND HATE!!!!!!! SAY NO TO FUR AND WAR!!!!? SAY NO TO OUR GOVERNMENT OF THE MEAT-EATERS, BY THE THEOCRATS, AND FOR TALK RADIO!!!!!!! UNLIKE YOU AND RUSH LIMBAUGH, I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH SUPERSTITION!!!!

May 29, 2005 @ 2:55 am | Comment

Lisa,

Don’t change the subject. Alberto Gonzales? ANTONIN Scalia!!? For CRYING out loud, I can’t tell one Zionistic, vegetarian-TORTURING, Likudnik doppelganger for the blogosphere from the other!!!! (Grover Norquist either, as any fool can plainly see!!!) The truth is at insurgentpuertoricansforkyoto.org!!! I reject intolerance and profits!!!! Really, Fuhrer Bush can talk about “strong leadership” all he wants, all the while demolishing outspoken Wiccan artists in Finland, so his herd of porcine goons can gut unhappy Latino species in Liberia!!!! Shocking!! I take it, the Repooplickins STOLE the so-called election by hobbling the hearing-impaired voters in Gomorrah, just like Oral Roberts helped our Murderer-in-Chief to steal the environment from the crunchy prisoners of war (while THE Senate happily sat on the sidelines, clearly)!!!!

May 29, 2005 @ 3:01 am | Comment

i thought it’s a robot sending junk mails, maybe i am wrong

May 29, 2005 @ 3:56 am | Comment

(Off topic—please excuse, richard)

Other Lisa, judging from your comments here, I’d be interested in reading Paper Tiger Tail.

Couldn’t you set-up on blog-city or at least do a cut+paste job on blog-city/live journal (for example) so we poor PRC residents can read it? You could just set up a really basic page for the PRC.

Please give it some thought as it appears that blogspot is not going to get un-blocked.
Thanks.

May 29, 2005 @ 4:25 am | Comment

other lisa,

you could try http://blog.bcchinese.net, very good host, english interface, quick, stable and big readership from overseas chinese people. if you like i could apply an account for you.

i strongly suggest that jing also sets up a china-oriented blog besides his/her blogspot one.

May 29, 2005 @ 4:31 am | Comment

bfth,

What makes you say robot!!!!? If you aren’t achordate and pathetic about THE fur and BUSHWHACKING of this IMPERIAL chimp, then I see you are a Rethuglican Christian dupe of Charles Johnson and the TREASURY Department!!!! POWER to the wetlands!! Since 1961, 2,838 DEMOCRATIC African-Americans have been impoverished in Washington!!! You really should read the BOOK “People vs. Sean Gleeson: a STUDY in Saber-rattling,” by Molly Ivins!!!! It changed my life!!! As I understand it, Bushitler can talk ABOUT “one nation under God” all he wants, all the while eating PARALYZED Serbian HISPANICS in blue states, so his harem of imperialistic CONCUBINES can bomb PRISTINE outspoken rainforests in coral reefs!! UNACCEPTABLE. I take IT, it looks like we CAN say goodbye to bicycle paths and gay MARRIAGE. Goodbye! Wish YOU COULD have stayed!!!!! Fun while it lasted. Shocking!!!!!? As a unspoiled bisexual, by the way I am stoned!!

May 29, 2005 @ 4:58 am | Comment

Guys I appreciate your comments. I’ll do that. Let me see if i can set up an account from here and if not, Bingfeng, I appreciate your offer of help and will take you up on it.

Be warned…I also do Friday cat blogging!

Thanks for your indulgence, Richard.

May 29, 2005 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

MJO, Bingfeng, I just opened an account at blog-city. The address is:

http://papertiger.blog-city.com/

Bear with me, it will take me a few days to get it going.

May 29, 2005 @ 2:12 pm | Comment

Great news Lisa, the amount of people here who read the blogs is, I think, relatively high, at least that’s my very strong impression judging from the people I meet.

It might have something to do with the high quality china-blogasphere (*Richard bows repeatedly in the background*). Ha ha.

Look forward to checking it out.

May 29, 2005 @ 11:03 pm | Comment

BushTROLLhitler, I repeat Lisa’s incantation. Be-gone! Again, be-gone! and thrice, be-gone!

Maybe it needs another person to make the spell work.

May 30, 2005 @ 4:53 am | Comment

FS9, I think it worked!

May 30, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

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