Xu Zhiyong gets 4 years for being a great civil servant

A week ago, Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote an excellent profile of a man who should be considered a national hero, Xu Zhiyong, who fought for greater government transparency to rein in corruption. I recommend everyone read it to see how this was no ordinary activist, but a courageous reformer whose crime was founding a grass-roots movement to promote citizens’ rights and rule of law.

[In 2009] Xu was known for his work as a legal activist, one who had made the rare choice to push for reform not from outside the system but from deep within it—he ran for, and won, a seat on a local district assembly in Beijing. In his work as a lawyer, he had been honored by the government for investigating contaminated baby formula and helping people who had been locked up by local governments in unofficial jails. In 2002, state television named him one of the “Top Ten Figures in the Rule of Law.” Xu projected a nearly evangelical sense of civic consciousness. In 2007, Susan Jakes, then a reporter for Time , wrote of him, “Xu is probably the person most committed to public service that I’ve met in China, and possibly in my whole life.” It was the kind of story that the Chinese press likes to promote now and then as evidence of the country’s capacity for pluralism within the wider confines of Party rule. “I have taken part in politics in pursuit of a better and more civilized nation,” The Economic Observer, a Beijing-based weekly, quoted him as saying.

As you probably know by now, today Xu, lauded a mere four years ago as a hero, was sentenced to four years in prison for organizing a crowd to disrupt public order. The news just broke, and I can’t find any articles in English yet, but according to several posts on Twitter, Xu said at the trial “this destroys the last remaining dignity of the Chinese legal system.” The sentence, the finale of a mock trial, will send out shock waves to all Chinese reformers. It was inevitable — you don’t get put on trial in China without being found guilty — but it is still a shock. Not a surprise, but a shock, a frightening reminder of just how, for all the new freedoms and rights and openness, there are still fat red lines that must not be crossed, like demanding a crackdown on government corruption. This is meant to cause shock waves, it’s a wake-up call to all activists: kick the hornet’s nest and we will come for you, no matter who you are.

As Osnos writes in his story, the great irony here is that Xi Jinping says one of his top priorities is rooting out government corruption and putting corrupt officials on trial. He is crusading even more zealously, however, for complete control over the flow of information in China, tightening the controls of censorship, especially on the Internet. As Osnos notes, “To tame the unruly power of the Web, the Supreme People’s Court declared that “false defamatory” comments, viewed five thousand times or forwarded five hundred times, could result in a prison sentence of up to three years.”

This story, like that of Liu Xiaobo, will create some international outrage and will reinforce stereotypes of China remaining a prickly authoritarian state that remains terrified of public scrutiny. It won’t matter a bit. This story is for China’s domestic consumption, and sends a clear and powerful message. It’s a tragedy.

______________

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.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

The jailing of Xu Zhiyong is wrong, but sadly predictable given his stirring up of public opinion. I’m sure most Chinese would like to see a bit of transparency in the financial affairs of their leaders, but don’t hold out much hope for it. I also suspect that most Chinese are probably more concerned about the everyday corruption they encounter rather than what goes on at high levels. Xi Jinping is making a lot of fuss about cracking down on the kinds of institutional corruption and kickbacks that irk the public – things such as hospital overcharging and the need for hongbao to get things done. If he can show some improvement in these areas I think the public may be more willing to tolerate their top leaders squirreling money away in tax havens.

January 26, 2014 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

“Xi Jinping says one of his top priorities is rooting out government corruption and putting corrupt officials on trial.”

I think the thing you need to keep in my mind is that when Xi Jinping says “corrupt officials” he means “Bo Xilai, his whole crew, and any other motha%$£a who dares to step to me”. This is no more a serious anti-corruption campaign than any of the others we’ve seen since 1979 (anyone remember the “Strike Hard” campaign? Say, what ever happened to that, eh?). The CCP leadership is basically best viewed as an old-fashioned guns, drugs, and thugs G-Unit, with the Xi/Li team being no different to the Barksdale/Bell one.

@Mick – Xu Zhiyong WAS going after low-level corruption – he’s the guy who blew the baby formula story – which was a massive scandal that the whole Chinese population picked up on (hence the massive pick-up in people getting theirs from Hong Kong). He wasn’t demanding that high-level officials be locked up, his minor protest was simply against local officials not letting immigrant families into local schools (again, just the kind of issue that ordinary Chinese do care about).

January 26, 2014 @ 3:52 pm | Comment

The title will have more impact if just saying “Xu jailed for simply being a responsible citizen.” which is what he is advocating.

@FOARP Xu going aft local officials is a calculated move. he certainly understands there is a boundary and doesn’t want to push it too far. Sadly though, that invisible line is set very low this time. Or, we can say, he didn’t cross the line, the line crossed him.

January 29, 2014 @ 4:28 am | Comment

Or, we can say, he didn’t cross the line, the line crossed him.

The line gets moved according to what’s most convenient to the Party. If it was fixed in position people would try to run as close to it as possible. By ensuring no one really knows where the line is, the theory is most people won’t take the chance.

FOARP is right. Xi is against “corruption” if it’s done by someone who isn’t totally loyal to him. He will look the other way for people he looks on favourably, unless they do something very public and difficult to cover up. Maybe that’s why he’s trying to grap control of information, so he can cover up for his chums.

January 29, 2014 @ 5:30 am | Comment

A Plan to Open 100 Restaurants in China with Seating-Capacity of 400,000 Each

My goal is to open 100 restaurants in China, each has seating capacity of 400,000.

This is to promote the unique Chinese “Cauldron Culture”, to promote the habit of eating in communal.

Most Chinese students and immigrants in the US have lost the tradition of communal eating. They may live together, 10 people in an apartment, but they never eat together. Instead they just bring their instant noodles, or KFC, or Hamburger into their own room and lock their rooms and eat alone. One key aspect to the renaissance of Chinese culture is the renaissance of communal eating, also known as ‘Cauldron Culture’

Cauldron culture is just eating culture. The act of eating together, in communal.

The characteristics of Cauldron culture are:

1. Use a big pot to cook, the pot contains enough portions for at least 400,000 people. That’s why an automated stir frying machine is needed. And the eaters must see this machine working, sizzling, with the smell and smoke coming out.

2. Each eater will help himself from the cauldron, so that he can feel, directly, how his own portion comes from the big cauldron.

3. All eaters must sit by a big round dining table, perhaps the restaurant will have 100 people per table. No one will be allowed eat surreptitiously in a single locked room. Ideally, it could 400,000 people sitting together, all around this big cauldron (automated stir-frying machine).

4. Every eater must be equal, and share the same food and thus enjoy culinary communism. Every person eats the same ingredients, and feel the same taste on their tongues. No one is allowed to eat only the good parts of a chicken and give the others the bad parts.

5. All the food in the restaurant must be free. Now you’ll say ‘There’s no free lunch in the world!’. But rich customers can bring their own food, poor customers can help chop the food, clean the cauldron, others can help hand out chopsicks, etc. You contribute as you are able, and take as you need.

6. Everyone is welcome in the restaurants: men, women, old, young, disabled, healthy, rich, poor, etc, If you can bring your own food to contribute to the cauldron, that’s welcome. If you can bring your labor to chop the food, clean the cauldron, etc, you are also welcome. If you have nothing to bring but just come in and eat for free, you are also welcome. No one in the world will be discriminated or excluded, with the exception of Westerns, as they are not part of this Cauldron culture.

7. All eaters must eat in harmony, and greet each other politely. No one is allowed to accuse others of ‘freeloading’. The people who brought in food or labor will not be allowed to eat more, or eat the good parts. So there’s no ‘reward’ at all for contribution. Ultimately, everyone, man, woman, young, old, disabled, rich, poor, must be satisfied. Everyone will ask each other ‘Did you eat yet? Are you satisfied?’, and everyone will answer, ‘Yes, I’m very satisfied’.

February 3, 2014 @ 2:28 am | Comment

Barksdale/Bell and you can also throw in Stansfield. These guys are only good for managing the county and township levels.

When you are talking about upper echelon provincial types and the powers-that-be in Beijing, think Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.

However you run the national accounts, the above and below ground banking economies are inextricably linked, and it is slowly approaching pay the piper time.

A situation which I applaud.

Heavens, Gordon Chang might even land a touch down in the next twenty four months.

February 3, 2014 @ 5:24 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment