For months, netizens, journalists and ‘adventure tourists’ have been trying to visit blind lawyer and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who has been detained at his home at Linyi, Shandong province since late 2010. Not a single one of them have succeeded in breaking the defense held up by local officials, police and thugs, who are not shy to use brutal violence.
But Beijing netizen and experienced ‘grass mud horse’ Xiao Cuo (twitter: @zokio) does not think this is a dead end. Quite the contrary, he encourages netizens to use their imagination and design new tactics to rally around Chen’s cause. He sees Chen’s case as an opportunity to nurture the civil society and citizenship concepts in China.
On 27 November, he blogged about (as expected, the original is being deleted) his experience of distributing and putting up notices about Chen Guangcheng’s cause around Linyi city and Chen’s village. Rather than trying to approach him, they attached notices to electric poles, village house walls and even notice boards in Linyi University. These notices have attracted attention from students and local villagers. Perhaps the thugs responsible for holding up Chen are amongst them?
Xiao Cuo dubbed his project “Operation Old Military Doctor”. Back in the 1980s, roving doctors in China often boasted themselves as experienced “military doctors” who could cure many diseases in advertisements they put up on electric poles and street walls.
He thinks that violence should be avoided, and a new mode of operation is needed. Reaching Chen should no longer be the movement’s aim. Rather, netizens should extend the battle zone to a wider area, and raise the awareness of local villagers and the very people involved in the crime. Here are Xiao Cuo’s thoughts in his own words (translated):
- From the perspective of citizenship education and strengthening of the civil society, no lesson is better than the one offered by Chen Guangcheng, which is pure, simple, low-risk and sustainable. Whether legally, rationally or emotionally speaking, our opponent is in a disadvantaged position. Rogue is all they are left with. Chen has sacrificed himself for us. We should not waste the lesson offered by him.
- Let us not focus our attention on cases like Little Yueyue which have no sustainability. What Chen Guangcheng’s enemy hope for is victory by the passage of time. If we are distracted by other buzz and let the temperature on Chen cools down, we let our enemy’s wish comes true.
- Some people portray Chen with a weak image of being insulted and hurt. This is a misinterpretation. As a blind individual, he is giving the central and local governments, which have mobilized hundreds of people and millions of dollars, sleepless nights. Can we find another blind man as brave?
- Some people think that Chen’s situation is a dead end without solution. Wrong! Whether there is a solution depends on Chen himself. Now Chen does not want to let the government off the hook, thus creating this dead end. Chen shouts: “Open fire on me!” So brave. Those who think that Chen is being harassed and persecuted are wrong.
- Unless constrained by time, or physical or financial reasons, every grass mud horse should at least go there once, even if you only pass by there on a car. This is the bottom line of being a grass mud horse, if you regard yourself as one.
- I admire those who went there and endured violence. Their heroic behaviour started this battle. But we should put an end to violence because it is not sustainable. Not every one has the courage to endure being beaten up. This will scare away new comers, and affect the morale of the participants and audience alike. Civic actions should proceed along sustainable paths, which are low-cost, low-risk and fun.
- Chen’s village is now a formidable castle. We cannot hope for breakthroughs by direct confrontation. Entering Chen’s village should no longer be our aim. We need to extend the battle field to surrounding areas, and replace fists with pens. Only by raising the awareness of local villagers can we exert moral and public pressures on the thugs.
Tactically speaking, he advises netizens to adopt a low-profile, be swift in action, dress as locals and avoid going in large groups. Having a well-planned route is also important. To sustain public attention, he suggests disclosing operational results bit by bit first, before publishing a complete record. Sharing the route taken is also a good idea, so that others can plan different ones. Of course, his idea is only one possibility among many. He challenges netizens to use their imagination and implement even more brilliant plans.
Update: Xiao Cuo was subsequently questioned by the police for his action. This is extracted from the daily briefing by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) for November 28-29:
Beijing netizen Xiao Cuo (小撮) was questioned for seven hours, from the late evening of November 28 to early the next morning, about advocacy efforts made for activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), who lives with his family under house arrest in Shandong Province. Officers from the Dongsheng Police Station interrogated Xiao after netizens, including Xiao, pasted materials about Chen around the periphery of Dongshigu Village on November 19, and just after Xiao posted information and suggestions online about a “new method” for going to see Chen. Taken away by two police officers, was told to agree to not to post further about Chen’s situation, an order he reportedly refused.