The Big Chill; Yang Hengjun Says He Will Return to China

On his blog, Evan Osnos writes about the nebulous nature of the current crackdown on free expression in China:

In some cases, the constraints are difficult to define; Philip Gourevitch wrote on Wednesday about the writer Liao Yiwu, who was barred this week from leaving China, though, as is often the case, he has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing. But one thing about the ongoing rash of arrests is startling, and it has potential impact on China beyond what the current crop of leadership might anticipate: authorities appear poised to hand down surpassingly strict sentences, which virtually guarantees that names which have been heretofore unknown to the world will soon become cause célèbre.

Last week, a court gave a ten-year sentence to the democracy activist Liu Xianbin for “inciting subversion of state power”—the same charges that were brought against the Nobel Peace Price winner Liu Xiaobo. That same charge has now been brought against three others: Chen Wei, a forty-two-year-old rights activist in Sichuan; Ding Mao, a forty-five-year-old dissident; and Ran Yunfei, perhaps the best known of the three, a writer with forty-four thousand Twitter followers.

A surge of arrests like this is one of the reasons that China is such a difficult place to describe politically these days. As I’ve mentioned recently, it has sanctified “stability” to such a degree that any dissent is considered unlawful, which may prove to be the very undoing of real stability; it has tacked away from the rule of law by promoting mediation instead of the use of the courts; and it has threatened foreign reporters with a ferocity not seen in years.

And, yet, on a fundamental level, it appears politically stable in a way that many Arab countries were not.

Meanwhile, blogger Yang Hengjun, whose mysterious disappearance this week generated international concern, says he will return to China in the future from his new home in Australia. The Age reports:

In what he said would be his only face-to-face interview about this week’s experiences, Dr Yang said the huge support he has received from Australia and the wider world has taught him lessons about citizenship and democracy.

”My wife and sons have devoted themselves to Australia but so much of me is invested here – my work is here, I’m working for democracy in China – and yet Australia still stood so strongly behind me,” he said.

[…] Dr Yang said he was receiving more than 5000 emails and text messages a day from his readers inside China, including from families who said they would not sleep until he was OK.

But the Chinese media silence was instructive. ”Lots of Chinese journalists who are my great friends asked after me and did everything they could for me, but I could not help thinking that not one of them had asked any questions as journalists,” he said.

”When everyone thought I had been kidnapped, they all assumed it was by the government – doesn’t that tell you something? – and the Chinese media knew they should not even ask.”

Read more about the crackdown via CDT.