A Call For Democracy in China

Many of you know that Wang Keqin is one of my favorite people to translate. I’ve never met the man, but I have immense respect for his journalistic skills, his courage, and his integrity.

Usually, his blog posts are tough for me to translate. He tends to update infrequently, but when he does, long, incredibly in-depth posts are generally the result. Today’s post is very different, and coming as it does on the eve an important anniversary, it may bear special importance.

Calling all Petitioners and Rights-Protectors to Run for the People’s Congress

[Note: the original post was written entirely in a large font, and accompanied by the image at the top of this page].

Article 34 of the Constitution states; ‘Citizens of the People’s Republic of China who are 18 years of age, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, profession, class, religion, education level, financial status, or time of residence all have the right to vote and the right to be elected.’ Petitioners and rights-defenders nationwide, learn from Liu Ping ((A petitioner who is running for office and making waves by promoting her candidacy through Sina Weibo)). Instead of petitioning and suffering, it’s better to participate in politics, and protect the rights and interests of the masses and of yourself.


It’s really a very interesting post, as Wang rarely comes out and so openly advocates something like this; generally he prefers to let the stories he’s uncovered do the talking. In any event, for those curious about the Liu Ping case he’s referring to, China Elections and Governance has more on it.

0 thoughts on “A Call For Democracy in China”

  1. Do you really have no idea about the context in which this was written? Dozens of people from across China—and generally unknown to one another—have, over the past few weeks, declared their intention to run as independent candidates in local People’s Congress elections later this year. Wang by far is not the first to point out that the vast majority of adult PRC citizens are eligible to run in local level legislature elections.

    Also, ‘June 4’ at this point is about sustaining the memory of those who were killed in 1989 as well as to challenge the official CCP historical narrative of the significance of the student movement that year. It has less to do with upholding the list of demands students put forth that summer, which time has shown us had little orientation toward doing what Li Chengpeng and others are now striving to do.


  2. A Dangwai movement for the mainland will only succeed if the CCP shows at least as much forbearance as the KMT showed in the 70’s and 80’s. At least judging by their pronouncements to date, Xijin Ping and Li Keqiang are, however, nowhere near as enlightened as Jiang Jingguo was. Nor does the kind of opportunity offered by the clearing of the decks performed by Jiang when he got rid of the KMT hardliners ‘elected’ to represent mainland provinces exist in modern-day China.

    This could get messy.

    Of course, Article 34 contains its own ready-made solution to an attempt to get independents into power:

    “Article 34.

    All citizens of the People’s Republic of China who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of nationality, race, sex, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status, or length of residence, except persons deprived of political rights according to law.”

    (my emphasis)


  3. @ John Kennedy: Yes, I am aware of that. You may have noticed that I mentioned Liu Ping (the highest profile case) twice and linked to several articles about it. I never suggested that Wang is the first to point this out — that would be stupid. What I said was that it’s interesting that Wang specifically DID point it out because this isn’t generally the sort of thing he posts, and that he chose to do it specifically on June 3rd.

    Reading! It’s fun, and it helps us understand what people are saying so that we don’t make obnoxiously pedantic comments full of erroneous assumptions!


  4. @FOARP: Oh indeed. And if Liu Ping’s case is anything to go by, the government is good and ready to put that clause to good use. I get the impression that Wang’s actual idea is to use this as a different form of protest, rather than an actual dangwai movement.

    It could work, too. Even if none of these people get elected, the fact that they’re doing it will raise attention about their cases, and regardless of the specifics of their cases, everyone knows that everyone has the right to run, so when people see that petitioners aren’t being allowed to run, it may be a more effective way to spur change than petitioning, which is less visible to people who aren’t involved, and the details make it more complicated.

    But if everyone knows that anyone can run for election, and every petitioner does, and they all start getting detained and harassed and their votes miraculously disappear, that’s going to get a LOT more attention than they can get sitting in black jails in Beijing (or wherever)


  5. Expect Wang Keqing to either become the next Liu Xiabo or Ai Weiwei as well as being the target of the weekly PSB happy man hunt sessions.


  6. Sorry, it seems you’ve completely missed the background leading up to Wang’s post. Over the past two months, several dozen people from across China and a variety of professions have declared themselves candidates in upcoming local people’s congress elections. This is where Wang is coming from. You say that you are aware of what’s been going on, but you don’t mention it and you don’t link to any information on the movement, on China Elections or elsewhere. Please don’t be snide; instead of doing some thorough reading yourself on the independent candidate movement, it looks like you’ve just take one very brief post from Wang and run with it in an unlikely direction. Liu Ping’s is clearly not the highest profile case in all this, in fact she might just be the only petitioner right now to have jumped on the local people’s congress election bandwagon.

    I’d like to think that participating in elections would help petitioners bring attention or justice to their situations, but their immediate channels for seeking justice are still either courts or the petitioning system. Also, running in these elections primarily to serve a personal agenda runs the risk of backfiring, either by provoking further animosity from the local forces they sought to escape (for example: http://blog.renren.com/blog/bp/QmYrIWdZxx) and with whom, locally, there is little chance of finding independent space for arbitration, tying themselves up in the day-to-day bureaucracy of being a legislator, or making it even tougher for other independent candidates to win support for their intention to be serious participants in the legislative process. Say a petitioner does manage to leverage the spotlight or their newly-elected position to win themselves a favorable settlement, then what? I think that, strategically, there’s a stronger case to be made in keeping pressure on courts, both locally and as part of the national movement for an independent judicial system.


  7. Are there any info on the candidates’ background, and their idea of what they would do once they do get their jobs as politicians?

    Simply going up against the Communist Party is a mere slogan to get people to listen to you, but in addition to charisma you will need to have good ideas on how to improve the local government if you were to get people to take you over the existing government.


  8. @Lolz – YEAH! Why haven’t these guys given interviews to the newspapers, appeared on chat-shows, released manifestos,or done anything to let the world know what they REALLY stand for? Could it be because of their HIDDEN AGENDAS? Are they simply afraid of the TRUTH? I mean, at least Liu Xiaobo and his crew went and released Charter 08.


  9. “YEAH! Why haven’t these guys given interviews to the newspapers, appeared on chat-shows, released manifestos,or done anything to let the world know what they REALLY stand for? Could it be because of their HIDDEN AGENDAS? Are they simply afraid of the TRUTH? I mean, at least Liu Xiaobo and his crew went and released Charter 08.”

    FORAP, it’s coming apparent that whenever you engage in failed attempts at sarcasm, you are only doing so to cover up the fact that you have no answer to the real question which I’ve posed.

    Let me rephrase my question: how and why would Chinese support these guys if there is so little to know about them at the first place? You can blame on censorship all you want, but that is not going to answer the question.


  10. “Let me rephrase my question: how and why would Chinese support these guys if there is so little to know about them at the first place? You can blame on censorship all you want, but that is not going to answer the question.”

    As I thought I was making fairly obvious with my previous comment, in my opinion CCP policies prevent independents from producing any kind of detailed manifesto or conducting any kind of meaningful PR, at least where their policies are significantly at variance with those of the CCP. This is acheived not simply by censorship, but by the intimidation and arrest of all those who do propose policies significantly at variance with those of the CCP. Charter 08 was a manifesto, the fate of those who supported Charter 08, most prominently Liu Xiaobo, shows what happens when people produce such documents.

    As such, there are no publicly available documents as to what they support, at least in as much as their policies and opinions differ significantly to those of the CCP. Therefore, the main reasons people would have for voting for them are related to what people already know without having to be told.

    Hence, as Custer has already pointed out, if there is some local problem which the government, either local or national, has not addressed and will not address, then independent candidates can be elected by the people in the area affected as a form of protest. As Custer also pointed out, this may be a far more effective form of protest than any other, including petitioning to the government, as has been steadily made clear to us by the fate of those who have attempted to petition the government.

    Therefore, baring any local, word-of-mouth knowledge of the person concerned, the only reason to vote for these people is precisely because they are not CCP members and oppose CCP policy. It is desirable for the people in an area with significant grievances against the government to elect such individuals as a form of protest.

    To ask that they produce manifestos and give interviews, to give others the chance to examine their views in detail, is to ask for them to run the risk of being arrested. Of course this is not a desirable situation – but it is not caused by a lack of openness on the part of the independents, but by CCP policy.


  11. A fun idea while it lasted:

    02:33 09Jun11 -China warns “independents” challenging Party-run legislatures
    By Chris Buckley and Michael Martina
    BEIJING, June 9 (Reuters) – China told citizens on Thursday not to run for local legislatures as independents, tightening reins on activists who have sought to challenge the ruling Communist Party’s grip on grassroots government.
    The warning from an unnamed official of the Party-controlled National People’s Congress (NPC) came in response to a small but spreading online campaign by dozens who hope to fight for seats on local legislatures with no endorsement from the Party.
    It was another sign that Party leaders want tight political controls as they ready for a succession next year from President Hu Jintao to his presumed heir, Vice President Xi Jinping.
    “There are no so-called ‘independent candidates’, and there is no legal basis for ‘independent candidates’,” said the NPC official quoted in the People’s Daily, the Party’s main newspaper.
    China’s constitution in principle allows all adults to run for the largely powerless local People’s Congresses, except those who have been formally stripped of political rights.
    But in practice, the one-Party government tilts the vote heavily in favour of its own candidates, mostly officials and Party members.
    Independent-minded citizens who hope to win a place on these congresses face heavy procedural barriers, though in past years a few have succeeded in winning election and then using their posts to challenge government officials.
    Now Beijing has warned would-be grassroots politicians that they cannot campaign online and on the streets as “independent candidates”.
    “There are independent candidates using microblogs to seek election by calling for citizens to write their names onto the ballot paper, challenging the official barriers,” said Liu Shengmin, a resident of Shanghai who has fought two local elections and said he was thinking of doing so again.
    “Even if I don’t succeed, I want to show that seeking office is a citizen’s basic right and duty,” Liu said by telephone. “The law doesn’t expressly ban people calling themselves independent candidates, so this rule has no legal basis.”
    China’s leaders have been shaken by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world, which they fear could inspire challenges to their grip on power.
    Beijing has this year tightened censorship and detained dissidents, human rights lawyers and activists in a bid to deter any signs of unrest.
    Hu retires from office from late next year, and the Party is also wary of any threats to the leadership transition.
    Elections for the local-level legislatures come once every five years, and China says more than 900 million citizens will vote for candidates in ballots this year and next.
    “By saying that the independent candidates can’t call themselves that, the official seems to be threatening their campaign activities,” said Yao Lifa, who successfully ran as an independent candidate for a local congress in Hubei province in central China in the late 1990s.
    Yao failed in his bid for a second term as a congress delegate in Qianjiang, his home city, something he and his supporters blamed on official obstruction.
    Yao said he knew of about 90 independent candidates across the country for the next round of elections.
    “There are sure to be more than that. They face many difficulties,” he said. “There’s been no relaxation (of the political atmosphere) but more people feel they should have the right to take part in elections, real elections.”


  12. @ John: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am aware of that movement, but this post is mostly about how that particular post was unique because Wang rarely makes posts like that on his site. It doesn’t have background information about the movement because that isn’t what the post is about.

    And what “direction” am I “running in” with this post? I wrote about four sentences on it, all of which can be summed up thusly: Because of its timing and content, this post is interesting. I would love to know what part of that sentiment you disagree with so strongly.

    Also, good to know you’re the arbiter of what is and isn’t high profile in China — I guess Wang Keqin should have gotten in touch with you to ask who the best example would be before he wrote his post. But since it was Wang’s choice of example, I don’t see why you feel the need to lecture me about how her case isn’t high profile.

    I’d also love to know who you think is the highest profile case, since everyone else seems to think she’s pretty high profile. Sure, Li is better known in China than she is, but her case is high profile enough to be noteworthy according to China Media Project, the Council on Foreign Relations, the NYTimes, etc…no offense, but I’m going to take their word (and my own experience) over yours here.


  13. Wang Keqin’s post is reasonable and deserves to be spread widely on the internet. Dangwài participation in PRC politics and elections is long overdue. Predictable opposition by various CCP authoritarians with a vested interest in total CCP control of the government should not stop anyone.


  14. “Therefore, baring any local, word-of-mouth knowledge of the person concerned, the only reason to vote for these people is precisely because they are not CCP members and oppose CCP policy. It is desirable for the people in an area with significant grievances against the government to elect such individuals as a form of protest. ”

    This doesn’t make much sense. The reason why people want change is to live better. It’s up to the person attempting to make the change to project his/her leadership skills which will enable meaningful change. Simply bashing CCP doesn’t demonstrate any type of leadership skills whatsoever. Pointing out the wrongs of CCP and the best course of correction would.

    The people who are challenging the CCP here obviously have already angered CCP and are likely to understand the repercussions. If they are true leaders they should have some ideas as to what they want to do IF they were in power. While CCP controlled media doesn’t allow others to understand the candidates, this website and other non-government affiliated media certainly can shed light on these non-CCP candidates. Yet all I see here are more attempts at making the candidates completely two dimensional characters.


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