Tag Archives: Human Rights

Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize: Early Reactions on Twitter

Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Sitting in a jail cell in Northern China, he has no way of knowing this, but the ceremony–which was broadcast live on the internet and wasn’t blocked in China–is over and Chinese Twitter users are in a pretty celebratory mood. Below are some translated reactions:

Fang Zhenghu:

Congratulations to Liu Xiaobo for winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize!

Michael Anti:

Today, many people’s first reaction [to the news] was to cry. RT @yimaobuba: I’m crying in an airport lounge in Sydney.

Michael Anti:

Friends in Tokyo, tonight the drinks are on me! Please call me at 08032028778, we’ll drink until I don’t care whether I’m bankrupt or not.


[quoting Sun Yat-sen:] Global trends are vast and powerful. Those who follow prosper, those who resist die off.

Zhi Yongxu:

Long Live Freedom!

Wang Zhongxia:

Norway is badass [牛逼], I’m crying in the car right now [on the way to visit Liu Xiaobo’s wife].

Shifeike [being retweeted by lots of people on Twitter and Sina Weibo]:

Are there brothers in Shanghai? Let’s have a banquet! This is the invitation, we’ll meet in the People’s Square.

Liu Xiaoyuan:

I bet some officials are regretting it now. Perhaps they’re thinking, if we hadn’t given Liu Xiaobo a harsh sentence, would the Nobel Peace Prize still have come to China?


Heading out, breaking my vow to abstain and having a drink! [Note: I am assuming this is in response to the news, but am not 100% sure]


I…am…so…thankful…to…Chinese…twitterers…let’s go out….the meal is my treat…


Update: people are setting off firecrackers [in celebration] at Peking University!


Seething with excitement, everywhere is seething with excitement. It’s just that a big group of idiots don’t know what’s happened. It really makes you fucking feel for them…


Really, I don’t dare to believe it’s true!

Ai Weiwei:

Tell your friends, family and classmates who Liu Xiaobo is and why he is loved and respected by “anti-China” forces.

Ai Weiwei:

The man without enemies has finally come across a friend, bravo! ((This is a reference to a statement Liu made in court before being sentenced to 11 years. He said that despite his treatment, he had no enemies.))

The announcement quickly became a trending topic on Twitter and Sina Weibo, although at the moment it appears to have been deleted from Sina Weibo. Most Chinese news portals have deleted their coverage of the prize this year, and text messages with the name “Liu Xiaobo” in Chinese are being blocked over China mobile phones, at least in Beijing.

Note: Keep in mind this post is not necessarily a reflection of everyone’s opinion. These tweets were chosen more or less at random. I genuinely didn’t see anyone on Twitter expressing dissatisfaction with the selection (in Chinese or English) but that may be as much of a commentary on the people I choose to follow as it is the reality of public opinion. Either way, it’s worth remembering: the average Chinese person doesn’t know that Liu Xiaobo has won, or even who he is. Will that change? Time will tell.

We’ll continue covering this as events warrant.

Zhang Wen: “China is Sick”

The following is a translation of this piece by Zhang Wen:


In recent times, catastrophes of both the natural world and the human world have been piling up. For me this is rather perplexing.

Rain water has always been plentiful in Southeast China, so this once in a lifetime drought in and of itself is a little bit unthinkable. In the face of this great drought, what’s even more bizarre is the indifference in the government and in popular opinion. Government emphasis and rescue efforts didn’t start until the middle of this month, and those outside of the southeast have expressed “none of my concern” attitude. My own media outlet didn’t begin full-length pieces on the situation until recently.

Similar to this phenomenon is the indifference to the life of the murdered children in Nanping [a city in northern Fujian province -Ed]. Judging from the current reports, the murderer Zheng Minsheng [who allegedly murdered eight school children] was a failure at life without stable work, and a failure in love as well. He therefore went out to take vengeance on the evils of society. What is impossible to understand, as well as impossible to forgive, is that he chose people weaker still than himself – elementary school victims. These innocent, immature human beings were completed unrelated and harmless to Zheng Minsheng.

There is only one thing to say: China is sick!

The rhythm of life is getting faster, stress and pressure are building up, and the future is unclear. This has caused more or less everyone in society to become infected with a psychological disorder. People are worried about themselves and their own families, all the while gradually losing compassion towards others. When you can’t even take care of yourself, how can you have excess emotional energy to attend to others?

For years, a one-sided emphasis on economic development has led millions on a single-minded quest for wealth and caused the nation the soar, but it has also buried a terrible sickness: the law of the jungle has entered into people’s hearts. The weak are food for the strong, and fairness and justice are in short supply.

Social classes are dividing and dissolving into opposition. People’s relationships are mostly based on acquiring [personal] benefits and people no longer believe in traditions of mutual help and friendship. In fact, laughing at the poor while hating the rich has become the tone of mainstream society.

The economic successes of the last 30 years are hard to deny, but that people’s moral quality has degenerated is equally hard to deny. The ideas of Confucius, Mencius and Zhuangzi have been damaged almost beyond repair. Slogans like “Putting people first” and “a harmonious society” need to become reality, but the coming is slow.

To destroy is easy, to build is difficult. China is currently in a void. Popular expectations are outpacing changes in [society’s] system, and in their confusion people have no faith to comfort them.

Those foreigners that are unfamiliar with China exclaim, “China is rising!” China’s government is immensely smug as well, ambitiously carving up the world and expanding its own influence. Disobedient foreign companies are kicked out of the country before the government can be happy.

But clear-headed Chinese can only sigh helplessly [at the current situation]: what kind of monstrosity is this [China]! That China is “rising” is a fact, but it isn’t healthy, with ailments both numerous and gravely serious. The people’s lives are currently so-so: not happy, to say nothing of dignified. (Wen Jiabao’s words are genuine and heartfelt, but an old ailment is not easy to cure).

China is sick. Where is the deft hand, where is the magic wand that can stir life in dead wood?


Amidst his admittedly cynical take on things, Zhang Wen brings up an interesting but (sometimes) overlooked point. China is developing, but towards what? The idea of a “rising China” is familiar to anyone reading this and it has even entered into popular media discourse in Western countries, but it is interesting to see how often the words “development” or “modern” (发展 and 现代) get thrown around both in the media, academia and in casual conversation without any clear concensus of what that precisely means beyond a rising per capita income. Development apparently just means “this road that we’re on.”

Even 50 years ago, Mao’s wish for China was to “surpass Britain and catch up to America.” In the context of a “rising China”, comparisons and contrasts between China and the United States are common. Calculating if, when and how China’s GDP will overtake that of the United States has almost become a parlor game among economists and commentators. But is the United States “developed” because it has a high GDP, or does it have a high GDP because it is developed? Another view might hold that the United States (and other developed countries) are developed because they have rule of law, transparent government and clean environments. Zhang Wen might argue that the populace needs a certain minimum moral fiber before a country can be considered developed. (Of course, you could also argue that the United States is not developed because it lacks these very things in the desired quantities).

What does it mean for China to “develop”? What could, or should, it mean? Is GDP or PPP the best tool for measuring China’s progress? Are alternative measures of development like the Human Development Index useful for China (or any country for that matter), or are these not “hard” enough? Supposing we had a magic wand to dispense gifts to various places in the world, what combination of traits might we bestow on China before it went from “developing” to “developed”?

Gao Zhisheng Resurfaces, Acts Strangely

Gao Zhisheng
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng suddenly called his friends and family yesterday, saying he had been released. This has come as quite a shock, given that just a few months ago he was “missing,” according to the authorities who were supposedly holding him. Many people, including us, took the odd officialspeak (that Gao “lost his way and went missing”) to mean that he had been secretly executed.

But Gao lives. According to the New York Times, he’s currently staying on Wutai Mountain, the famous Buddhist haven, though no one seems to know why.

In a brief phone interview on Sunday, Mr. Gao said that he was no longer in police custody but that he could not give any details of his predicament. “I’m fine now, but I’m not in a position to be interviewed,” he said from Wutai Mountain, the site of a well-known Buddhist monastery. “I’ve been sentenced but released.”

But from there, the story gets stranger. According to a conversation he had with Reuters, Gao has been released for six months — so he says — but no one, not even his wife, had heard from him until yesterday. Sina’s Hong Kong service and other Chinese news sites are reporting that Gao’s family and friends felt he sounded as though he was lying when he spoke to them. From Sina:

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, missing for over a year, suddenly gave family and friends phone calls yesterday. Although he said he had “already been released for half a year” and that he was at the famous Buddhist Wutai Mountain “because I want to spend some time in peace”, but his wife and the friends who talked to him all say he seemed “insincere,” and that his wording contradicted itself and [his wife and friends] suspected there was someone by his side watching him. This paper attempted to contact the number reported to be Gao’s, but the phone was turned off.

No one doubts the voice was really Gao, though; the story goes on to say that Gao’s wife “confirmed the person on the phone really was Gao Zhisheng.”

What, exactly is going on here? It seems like Gao may still be imprisoned, or at the very least, under strict surveillance. Otherwise, why would he wait six months after gaining his freedom before calling his wife? But the possibilities are nearly endless. I don’t claim to know what’s going on, but I sure wish I did, and I bet Gao’s family does, too.

Apologies to Alex Taggart for stepping on his new post, a translation of Ran Yunfei’s thoughts on domestic microblogging, which is excellent and can be found here.

“In the Name of Human Rights, Set Free All Tibetan Political Prisoners”

This is an original translation of this post from Tibetan blogger Woeser’s site. The site is currently blocked in Mainland China. Please note that I have no expertise in Tibetan, so I’ve just rendered the names in pinyin based on their Chinese characters.


Since the release of the National Human Rights Action Plan, the internal response in China has been large. It’s rare for a newspaper to dare to publish something like Nandu Daily’s [南方都市报] “In the Name of Human Rights, Make Public the Names of Those Killed in the Beichuan Earthquake” [“以人权的名义,公开汶川大地震震亡者大名单”], making reference to the clause in the plan that touches on the reestablishment of human rights in the wake of the quake, demanding the names be made public. In his article “Release Liu Xiaobo in the Name of Human Rights”, intellectual Ran Yunfei wrote: “…without action, only stopping for a second on the concept and doing nothing, well then ‘human rights’ can only remain a concept [in our minds, rather than a reality]…all those who have been locked up for something they said, all those who have been arrested and harmed even though their rights are protected under the constitution, including all those who [are arrested/beaten] while attempting to report [the crimes of officials] to higher authorities, officials should apologize to them, and set them free without condition. Like this we can put the Human Rights Plan into practice, turn it from conception into reality and, practically speaking, keep it from becoming another one of those often-heard-but-rarely-seen buzzwords on the tongues of fraudulent officials.”

So I will imitate; my main point here is to appeal: set free all those Tibetans who have been locked up for something they said, all those who have been arrested and harmed even though their rights are protected under the constitution. For example, there’s Zhuo Majia, sentenced to ten years for writing Disturbance in the Himalayas and a new book on the history of Tibetan geography in 2005, or Rongjie Azha, who was arrested on August 1, 2007 for calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, or Dangzhi Xiangqian, arrested in March 2008 for filming the documentary No Longer Afraid and showing the world the Tibetan people’s attitude towards the Beijing Olympics, or Longzhen Wangmu, sentenced to five years for sending emails about Tibet’s geographical situation in April 2008, etc. etc. And this year, once again, many Tibetan authors were jailed for writing articles promulgating the truth, they are: Gengga Cangying, Gongque Caipei, Zhuo Ri, Ci Cheng, etc. The list I’ve provided here is very short, very short indeed, but the actual list of names is very long, very long indeed.

International human rights group Reporters Without Borders said, in terms of reporters, dissidents, netizens, and activists jailed for fighting for freedom of speech, China is far, far ahead of other countries. And it seems as though from China’s large population and 56 minority groups, Tibetans seem to be far, far ahead of everyone else as well. Chinese intellectuals appeal to the authorities: “For the future of the nation, for the happiness of the people, for the image of the ruler, please quickly set free all political prisoners!” “Human Rights don’t just need to be promoted, they also need to be practiced, and be practically implemented!” “Merely saying good things is useless, human rights without action are just words on a piece of paper, a plan without action is just a piece of wastepaper!” Moreover, if they don’t respect their own National Human Rights Action Plan and arrest people who are putting the human rights plan into practice, isn’t that just deceiving oneself along with others, and going back on one’s word to feather one’s own nest?

Ronggyal Adrag
Early the year before last, Rongjie Azha was accused of “being involved in inciting [people] to overthrow the State” and sent to prison for merely attempting to speak his mind for a few minutes. Commenting on it on Radio Free Asia, I said that as far as Tibetans who are in jail because of so-called “political problems” are concerned, whether you just look at the numbers or other aspects of the problem, there has never been a half century like this one, with so many arrested, or with the arrests so widespread and endless. It’s all Tibetans that are filling the prisons being continuously built around the province. As for the tough response of unyeilding, exasperated authorities, on the surface it looks effective but it can’t last; rushing undercurrents always eventually break free and burst through the dyke. There’s concrete proof, this is not sensationalizing, last year and this year how many “Protecting Tibet” protest incidents have occurred, it proves the state of human rights in Tibet is truly grim, it certainly isn’t what officials at all levels brazenly describe as “the best time for human rights in Tibetan history.” If it were, how could it give rise to such widespread indignation and discontent? Only when there is practical improvement in the human rights situation across Tibet can a better age for human rights be realized.

2009-5-6, Beijing.

Lessons on How to Love China

Gao Zhisheng is a Chinese firebrand lawyer-turned human rights activist. He’s taken up the cross for cases ranging from underground Christian sects to democracy activists, displaced homeowners and more. Gao’s opponent in and out of court has traditionally been one face or another of the CCP, and he’s been a thorn in the Party’s side for years. Himself an ex-member of the Party and former PLA soldier, Gao says the day he tore up his Party membership card was the proudest day of his life.

A cursory look at some of Gao’s statements gives an insight into just exactly what he is all about. In an open letter to the U.S. Congress in 2007, Gao declared:

“The only law that the communist regime treat with any seriousness is ‘the constitutional law ensures the permanent reign of the Chinese Communist Party in China.’”

Gao is no stranger to run-ins with the law. He was imprisoned and tortured for several months, and was finally coerced into admitting to “inciting subversion” by appealing to top leaders on behalf of a certain banned religious organization. Now he’s facing the same plight: Gao went missing from his Shaaxi home in early February 2009 and it is assumed that he’s been taken into custody by Chinese authorities.

Now it’s not just Gao Zhisheng that’s gone, but his wife and children as well. His family had been under house arrest and Gao’s 15 year-old daughter unable to attend school, spurring them to pay human traffickers a small fortune to carry them overland to Bangkok in January of this year. From there they flew to the United States, where they are currently seeking asylum.

Gao Zhisheng is neither the first nor last lawyer of his breed in China, but he is perhaps one of the bolder and, some might say, reckless human rights activists on the mainland today. Himself a victim of torture and imprisonment in the past, Gao understood well the consequences of his actions, once stating that “you cannot be a rights lawyer in this country without becoming a rights case yourself.”

Western observers of China should always be careful not to commit the sin of allowing our own prejudices and preconceptions to color our view of events that are entirely domestically Chinese. It’s instinctual for us to paint Gao Zhisheng as a flawless knight in shining armor.

A debate could be had over whether his particular brand of rights activism is preferable to more subtle approach. Zhang Sizhi, another lawyer known for advocating the rule of law in China, has argued that “If you go too far, you will only hurt the chances of legal reform, as well as the interests of your client.” Gao clearly understood the likely consequences of his actions for him and his family: he once ominously noted that he is “not sure how much time [he has] left” to carry out his activism.

Regardless of whether Gao’s career exhibited courageous daring or dangerously unsound judgment (which are certainly not mutually exclusive qualities), Gao Zhisheng’s experience is a lesson for any patriotic Chinese with an idealistic streak: you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Progressive reform has consequences for individuals. Period.

Anyone that studies, reads, and writes about China can’t help but have an emotional reaction to Gao’s story in general and his family’s tragedy in particular. Foreign China observers, in general, are rooting for China: the rule of law and human rights are what we want to see. People that aren’t interested in those things tend to not stick around very long.

The jingoistic climate of 2008 is settling down: Carrefour protests are over and the Olympics weren’t thwarted by a certain wolf in sheep’s clothing after all. 2009 has had a few rough patches so far but it’s not unsalvageable. With any luck, people like Gao Zhisheng can teach other Chinese what it means to love China.

UPDATE: On another, related note, articles like this bug me. The heading mentions that Gao’s wife “defected” to America, which has very specific implications. Nothing in the body seems to suggest that it was anything resembling a change in political allegience, which leads me to believe that someone thought that word looked a bit more sexy so decided to throw it in without thinking about what it meant.

Let’s All Argue About Tibet

Last Thursday, the US State Department published its annual report on global human rights which, as one might expect, included a hefty 44-page section on China’s various (alleged) misdeeds. Also unsurprisingly, human rights violations in Tibet featured heavily, earning their own section and the following condemnation in summary:

The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. Official repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement increased significantly following the outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau in the spring. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage continued to be of concern.

The report is harshly critical, although it does note that many of the alleged abuses violate Chinese law and that, for the record, the United States officially considers Tibet a part of China. Needless to say, Chinese officials were less than amused, and responded with a their own report about human rights violations in the United States (something they’ve been doing in time with the US State Department’s annual report since 2001), “to help people around the world understand the real situation of human rights in the United States, and as a reminder for the United States to reflect upon it’s own issues.”

Chief among their complaints: the serious threat posed by (comparably) high levels of violent crime in America; civil rights violations including internet monitoring, illegal wiretaps, police brutality, and unacceptable prisoner’s rights protection; economic and social rights violations including the gap between the wealthy and the poor; racial discrimination (which apparently “prevails in every aspect of social life”) against African-americans, Hispanic people, immigrants, Native Americans, and the general threat of Americans’ “serious racial hostility”; a variety of violations of the rights of women and children ranging from workplace inequality to gun violence in schools; and, of course, the United States’ various transgressions in other nations, primarily Iraq.

The report cites statistics from American government reports as well as the reports of internationally recognized human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International (whose website, ironically, is blocked in China).

While there may not be much interest in watching two countries hypocritically accuse each other of being hypocritical (especially in what has come to resemble a yearly spat between a grumpy married couple), China also took further steps to support its case in Tibet this year, publishing a white paper two days ago called “Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet” that attempts to lay out the government’s official history, highlighting successes and progress in the region to counterbalance the constant negative press coming from, well, everywhere else.

Although it doesn’t explicitly say so, the paper seems to be aimed at least partially at a Western audience, in keeping some other recent government activities that indicate a new willingness to communicate with the West about Tibet, if only to get their own point across. The section on feudal Tibet is especially telling, as nearly all of its supporting evidence comes from the travel accounts of a variety of Westerners who visited the region in the early 1900s, or from Tibetan laws themselves. (For those interested in reading it, be advised it’s fairly grisly stuff, with eye-gougings and whatnot).

The section on post-1951 Tibet reads as one would expect, nevertheless, it does cite some fairly powerful statistics. For example, on education in Tibet, they report:

[In old Tibet,] the enrollment rate for school-age children was less than two percent, while the illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent. During the past 50 years, the central government has invested a huge amount of funds in education in Tibet, making Tibet the first place in China to enjoy free compulsory education in both urban and rural areas. Since 1985, the state has set up boarding primary and high schools in farming and pastoral areas, and covered all tuition as well as food and lodging expenses for students at the stage of compulsory education from Tibet’s farming and pastoral families. In 2008, all 73 counties (cities and districts) in Tibet realized six-year compulsory education and basically wiped out illiteracy; in 70 counties of which, nine-year compulsory education is being practiced, and the illiteracy rate has fallen to 2.4 percent overall. The enrollment rate for primary school-age children has reached 98.5 percent, that for junior high school 92.2 percent, and that for senior high school 51.2 percent.

The report also denies that are no ethnic, religious, or human rights issues in Tibet, and that the so-called “Tibet issue” is “the Western anti-China forces’ attempt to restrain, split, and demonize China.”

Perhaps more importantly, the conclusion notes that “history has also convincingly proved that there is no way to restore the old order, and there is no prospect for the success of any separatist attempt.” That may well be more true, and more relevant than any political arguments made by one side or the other; at any rate, the sentiment fits in pretty well with some of my own observations as posted on this blog earlier.

In an effort to further promote the image of a peaceful, developed, and unified Tibet, the government has supposedly been bribing local Tibetans to throw lavish, televisable celebrations for Losar, the traditional Tibetan New Year. Some Tibetans can be seen dancing jubliantly on CCTV; others are having none of it. The New York Times quotes one Tibetan monk: “There is no Losar […] They killed so many people last year.”

In much, much stupider Tibet related news, music fans are all agog about two Oasis shows being cancelled. Originally, word on the street was that the show was cancelled because Noel Gallagher appeared at a Free Tibet benefit concert in New York in 1997, but Reuters reported yesterday that the Chinese promoters are saying the gig was cancelled due to lack of funds (you know, there’s some kind of economic crisis going on). Net rag Pitchfork snarkily doubts that’s the real reason though:

Unsurprisingly, Reuters reports that China’s Foreign Ministry is backing the mysterious Luo…who probably wasn’t forced by the government to give an ulterior motive for the quashed gigs or anything. That would never happen.

Come on, folks. I can understand the skepticism, but since when has China ever backed down or tried to hide their Tibet position, especially in their own country? They just released a lengthy white paper detailing their successes in the region and supporting their cause, but they’re not willing to admit they canceled a rock concert because they’re afraid of…who, exactly? Angry Oasis fans? (No offense, Oasis fans, but I don’t think you scare Hu Jintao).

For those of you really into Oasis, though, Shanghaiist has been following the story closely; most recently reporting on the BBC’s repeated failure to fact check their Bjork-related information.