The death of labour activist Li Wangyang (李旺阳) under police custody has triggered huge protests in Hong Kong and outraged human rights advocates worldwide. The Hunan authorities in China, in order to quell public anger, have made vague promises to re-open investigation into the cause of death. Many people are questioning the Hunan authorities’ motives, and they have every reason to be skeptical. Family and friends of Li Wangyang have remained under police detention. Among those taken away by State Security was dissident Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志). He was given a 10-day detention initially, on a charge of “disrupting social order”, after Zhu had reportedly refused to sign a guarantee promising not to question the circumstances around Li’s death. The police did not release Zhu Chengzhi when the initial administrative detention period had lapsed. Instead, police informed Zhu’s wife that he had been transferred to a police detention centre awaiting further investigation. Police also told Zhu’s wife that he could face charges for disclosing the news of Li Wangyang’s death to foreign media.
Since the news of Zhu Chengzhi’s further detention was released on Twitter, many fellow human rights activists in China and abroad have come forward to advocate for Zhu’s release. Among them is Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼), one of the three Fujianese netizens jailed for spreading information about an alleged gang rape and murder of a young woman in 2008. Below is my English translation of Fan Yanqiong’s recent article on Zhu Chengzhi.
Zhu Chengzhi as the Conscience of Society
I have been cut off the Internet since I was placed under house detention several weeks ago. News of Zhu Chengzhi’s detention has, nevertheless, reached me through the grapevine. Mr Zhu is over 60 years of age. Accusation against him has been upgraded, from “public disorder” to “criminal misdemeanour”, simply because he has refused to give a written promise that he will cease advocating an investigation into the death of Li Wangyang.
I am not at all surprised by the news for two reasons. First of all, Zhu Chengzhi is a man of kindness and integrity; he is not the type who will go against his conscience, nor will he easily give up his social responsibility. Secondly, it is not beyond comprehension for a government that has committed crimes against its people to resort to desperate (if not foolish) measures in order to cover up its wrongdoings.
I learnt from my email communications with Mr Zhu that he was originally a well off mine owner. His multi-million dollar assets had unfortunately become a predatory target. He lost everything overnight when a court order had ruled in favour of the greedy government officials.
Again, I am not surprised. I have, on many occasions, covered similar news stories before. So far none of these cases have been resolved. Rampant abuse of power is particularly common in regions rich in mineral resources. Many mine owners have fallen victims in the hands of greedy and powerful local government officials. They end up joining the queue of petitioners. Once I was almost killed in Guizhou for exposing a similarly incident. The memory of that frightening ordeal still haunts me today.
However, not all mine owners who tread the petitioners’ path manage to transform themselves into a democracy fighter with a firm conviction. In fact Zhu Chengzhi is so far the one and only such petitioner I have ever met. For that, Mr Zhu deserves my deep respect.
I first met Zhu Chengzhi on 26 August 2010, the second day after I was released from prison. He travelled all the way from Yunnan. Many netizens and petitioners had come to see me. But none of them had travelled such a long distance to get here. Nor did they stay for as long as Mr Zhu did.
At that time, I thought Zhu Chengzhi would just make a brief appearance, like most people would have done. To my surprise, he turned up again the next day. He sat down with me to carefully review, scene by scene, how “concern groups” from different parts of the country had come forward to show their support outside of the courthouse where I and two Fujianese netizens were tried for defamation in relation to the death of Yan Xiaoling.
That was a much-needed boost of morale for me. A reminder of the love and care I had received proved to be the best medicine to help me overcome depression, so that I could focus on improving my health. Zhu Chengzhi did not live in fantasyland for sure. He did not hesitate to admit that our support base of netizens from Fujian was a mere drop in the ocean when compared to an enormous population of 1.6 billion Chinese people nation-wide. Because of that, he reckoned there would still be a way to go before China could catch up with other civilized countries, and that democracy fighters would have to face a long battle ahead of them.
Mr Zhu finally departed on day three. Before he bid farewell, he said to me, “I am glad to see that you can eat without throwing up today. I can leave now resting assured that you are going to be fine.” [Note: While in prison, I had developed a food disorder that caused me to vomit every time I ate.]
I was deeply moved by Mr Zhu’s caring gesture. Even more commendable was that after his return to Yunnan, he rang to check on me daily, until my condition finally improved after I had received medical treatment in Hangzhou.
Zhu Chengzhi is not only a man of integrity who perseveres with acts of kindness; he has also demonstrated on many occasions that he has a deep sense of social responsibility.
It was around 5:00PM, the next day after the “Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) concern group” had staged a mass gathering outside the courthouse where Ms Wang was put on trial for “creating a disturbance”. I fell ill and was in bed at home. Zhu Chengzhi rang from Beijing to let me know that everyone had retreated from the courthouse safely. He was on the way to catch a train home. But there was one thing he worried about: three Fujianese netizens, who were supposed to join the mass gathering, had not been seen since their arrival in Beijing. They were Lin Lanying (林兰英), Wu Huaying (吴华英) and A-Fu (阿福). Mr Zhu made me promised to look into this matter and informed him as soon as I heard from those missing people.
Once again he was the last person to retreat from a protest!
Once again he persevered with his activism to the very end!
I also learnt from the Internet earlier how Zhu Chengzhi had made a public statement to the effect that he had committed “the same crime” as Wang Lihong. It was his intention to share the load with Wang Lihong, with a hope that he would be able to rescue her from imprisonment. These, undoubtedly, are the traits of a truly noble person who has exhibited moral clarity and courage.
After the phone call, I was overwhelmed by a strong sense of respect towards this wonderful person. I thought at that time I should write an article about Zhu Chengzhi to show my admiration, but did not get around doing so until today. For this, I feel a strong remorse within.
As a man of compassion, vision and wisdom, Zhu Chengcheng is well aware of problems facing China today. He therefore plays an active role to ensure the nation is making progress in redressing those problems. Mr Zhu very seldom talks about his own grievances in my presence. He has never requested me to write any articles to expose how authorities have violated his rights. Instead, he focuses on what is lacking in China today and makes noises about them accordingly.
Zhu Chengzhi called me one day about two months ago. He said to me on the phone, “We need more people like Lin Zhao (林昭) today.” Ever since Mr Zhu has learnt about the story of Lin Zhao, he has insisted on publicly and openly mourning Li Zhao every year at the anniversary of her execution. It is his hope that the memorial services will motivate more people to show their concerns, to reflect upon history and to act together in order to change the rotten political system. It is most regrettable that this year State Security has moved in to stop him from attending. It is even more regrettable that today he is locked up because he firmly and unequivocally defends his basic human rights to integrity and morality.
I have no doubt that Zhu Chengzhi personifies the conscience of our society today.
Therefore, I believe no one with a conscience today should remain silent about the persecution befallen on Zhu Chengzhi.
Silence is not gold!
To remain silent is to be a willful accomplice to the perpetrator.
On this topic, an English poet John Donne (1572-1631) has once made this famous remark: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Indeed, Zhu Chengzhi is suffering for us today! He suffers for us as a nation! What is happening to him today may well be what is going to happen to us tomorrow. I am therefore calling upon rights activists and petitioners from all over the country to travel there to stage a mass gathering. Let us take action to propel our nation forward! Let us help advance social reforms! Remember, we are not doing it just for Zhu Chengzhi, we are doing it for ourselves, and for the future of our nation!
May social conscience prevail!
May Zhu Chengzhi be reunited with his family soon!!
May Prime Minister Wen Jiaobao (温家宝) make great, great, great strides forward with his political reforms!!!
20 June 2012