Mo Zhixu on the “Great Subversion Case”

Writer-activist last contributed to the website of the Hong Kong paper Oriental Daily News on July 9, the anniversary of the “709” crackdown on lawyers and civil society activists. Weeks later, after lawyer Wang Yu gave a confession-style interview on Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television, the Oriental Daily published an “exclusive” interview with Wang in which she denounced “Western values and notions of democracy” and refused to accept an award from the International Association of Lawyers. As a result, Mo Zhixu has decided to stop writing for the Oriental Daily. He announced this on Twitter on the day lawyer Zhou Shifeng was given seven years in prison, the third sentencing of a “709 friend” in Tianjin last week:

Over the past few years, Dongwang [on.cc, the Oriental Daily website] has given me total freedom, allowing me to still say something in this time. But during the Tianjin trials, Dongwang unexpectedly interviewed . Their article supports the party-state, acting as a tool. At the same time, Dongwang columnists were asked to keep quiet about it. To continue contributing under these conditions would be to counter my 709 friends, just like the party-state. There is no moral way to persuade myself otherwise.

Thank you, Dongwang, for giving me this platform. Thank you to my editors and colleagues for your generous support. Thank you, Brother Willow! Farewell, Dongwang! Here is the link to my column on the one-year anniversary of the 709 subversion case, published just three weeks ago.

CDT has translated Mo Zhixu’s final column for the Oriental Daily in full below.

The First Anniversary of the 709 Subversion Case

July 9 marks one year since the “709” crackdown on rights defense lawyers. On July 9, 2015, Bao Longjun and his son (Mengmeng) were the first to be taken away at Beijing Capital International Airport. Then his wife, lawyer Wang Yu, was taken away from their home. Over the next few days, Beijing Fengrui Law Firm Director and numerous other Fengrui lawyers and employees were detained. and his assistant (internet name Koala) and more were taken from the Beijing Gaowen Law Firm. Then there was Xie Yang, Sui Muqing, Chen Taihe, and other lawyers from all over. Over 100 other mainland lawyers, grassroots activists, petitioners, and relatives of lawyers and rights activists were subpoenaed, interrogated, or had their personal freedom temporarily restricted. People in over 23 provinces were affected. This event, which has been been called the “709” rights defense lawyer crackdown, or the “709” lawyer raid, garnered wide attention internationally and within China.

It’s no mystery why this drew such widespread attention. In the international arena, lawyers are an accepted part of the justice system, and rights movements are relatively depoliticized. Because of the hard work they do demanding people’s rights, they are integral to discourse on civil society. Rights defense lawyers are understood and accepted by Western politicians, media, and people. Because of this, rights defense lawyers have become the preferred window through which many foreign governments and international organizations follow China’s human rights situation and promote the advancement of civil society and human rights there. Conversely, the status of rights defense lawyers is a natural barometer for foreign governments and international organizations to know about human rights in China, and they therefore pay close attention to them.

Within China, the rights defense movement has been around for ages, and is recognized on a rather deep level by society. With the advent of the social media age, rights defense lawyers have become more interconnected, and their cases have had a more convenient and effective platform through which to broadcast information. Because of this, the influence of rights defense lawyers on society has been growing. Cases of rights defense lawyers being detained, such as the previous detentions of lawyers and , stirred strong concern among the public. Large-scale incidents like “709” will of course easily become the focus of attention–resulting in names like the “709” rights lawyer crackdown, or the “709” lawyer raid.

But rights defense lawyers weren’t the only ones in harm’s way during this crackdown. Aside from lawyers’ assistants and law firm employees, some grassroots activists were also arrested, including , Gou Hongguo (Ge Ping), Liu Yongping (Lao Mu) and Lin Bin (Monk Wang Yun). Others, like Wu Gan (Super Vulgar Butcher), Zhai Yanmin, and Liu Xing, were previously detained. Currently, the detained lawyers’ assistants and law firm employees have essentially all been freed. But the grassroots activists are in the same boat as the rights defense lawyers–charged with “subverting state power” or “inciting subversion of state power.”

Grassroots activists make up a large proportion of the current number of detainees, and both detained rights defense lawyers and grassroots activists are being charged with the same crimes. This shows that what the authorities really care about–what they really want to curb and combat–are the things the lawyers and activists share in common. If we were to understand “709” as merely a crackdown on rights defense lawyers, or an effort to contain and attack rights defense lawyers and rule of law, it would probably not be a comprehensive picture.

At one point, China’s rights defense movement was more inclined to “deal with political issues legally and with legal issues technically.” Action was more often taken by legal means, and cautiously. Actual mobilization and bearing witness were approached even more cautiously. But with the advent of social media, this has gradually changed. Many rights defense lawyers have begun to express themselves using the language of protest. Contentious language has become commonplace. For example, lawyer , who was also detained in this wave, had protested in the city of Jingzhang. Because of this, he was placed under administrative detention, and he caused a wave of people to go to the scene of protest. Rights defense lawyers and activists intersect more and more. In some cases, lawyers and activists have cooperated closely with one another. Activists are involved in everything from broadcasting information online and participating in legal seminars to participating in protests.

Social media also promotes communication between different civil society groups and motivates them to act. Starting from the 2011 movement to visit Chen Guangcheng in Dongshigu and with the persistent promotion of people like Wu Gan, grassroots activists formed a model of direct resistance that draws from and gives back to the public, that is online and offline, that crosses regional boundaries. And so, in the era of social media, in the grassroots space, the paths of lawyers and activists have crossed more and and more.

Is it that elements of the grassroots protest movement were incorporated into the already years-old rights defense movement? Or that elements of rights defense were incorporated into activism as its protest model matured? It’s hard to say. Either way, from an outsider’s point of view, these two parallel currents have now combined, producing greater results. In my observation, since 2014, this confluence has itself produced a snowball effect. In Jiansanjiang, Heilongjiang, four lawyers were beaten while under administrative detention, drawing a large number of activists to travel there. The case of the the Ten Gentlemen of Zhengzhou resulted in the large-scale Zhengzhou Sankan protest. These incidents not only reflect the direct protest model, but also project distinct legal aspirations–and lawyers actively participated. The trends resulting from the joining of these two previously separate currents have become the mainstream protest model.

Grassroots activists are more confrontational than rights defense lawyers. In principle, they also more directly represent political opposition. It is impossible for the authorities to take lightly the this confluence of movements, amplified by the online broadcasting of information. As early as the Zhengzhou Sankan protest, the authorities detained over ten people. This trend was even more obvious during the Qing’an incident. All kinds of grassroots movements were becoming more active. Ultimately, because of the explosive nature of Qing’an, Wu Gan was arrested at the scene of protest. Then “709” happened. It’s really not hard to understand. In fact, many people had anticipated the crackdown.

From this analysis, you can see that what the authorities really care about is not only rights defense lawyers, but also grassroots activists. They do not merely seek to control and combat the protection of human rights through rule of law. Rather, they are concerned with more politically sensitive social mobilization. Throughout these incidents, the grassroots activists and rights defense lawyers involved have been treated the same–they all play a leading role. In this sense, to call it the “709” Rights Defense Lawyer Crackdown is essentially to gloss over the grassroots activists. Some commentators have pointed out that the “709” incident should be considered the primary case under a mode of national security. As for me, I think it really should be called the “709” Great Subversion Case.

Through their struggle, grassroots activists have risen to the forefront, emerging as actors with considerable social credibility and organizational and broadcasting power. Wu Gan, for example, was for a long time engaged in sharing discourse online and collecting money, promoting all kinds of protests directly. Monk Wang Yun (Lin Bin), detained during Zhengzhou Sankan, held the bank card connected to online collections. He was also close to the Fujian petitioner circle and different citizen circles. As for veteran activist Hu Shigen, these past few years he has been quietly facilitating connections among civil society groups. From churches to the New Citizens Movement, from petitioners to lawyers, these were all his targets for interaction and contact. You could say that precisely because of their long-time efforts to sustain grassroots protest, these people have become enemies of the state.

All of these grassroots activists possess a distinct consciousness of resistance and and thoroughly oppositional stances. For them, “subversion of state power” or “inciting subversion of state power” are hard-won crowns–an alternative recognition of their longtime effort. The amount of attention they were able to generate over the past year will prove much less than the amount of attention paid to rights defense lawyers. But in the suppression of social mobilization amidst this Great Subversion Case, it is they who have the greater consciousness and initiative. The road to rights has always been paved by struggle. As we mark the one year anniversary of the Great Subversion Case, let us remember them and thank them for their hard work. Let us make it so that this is not completely robbed of its glory. [Chinese]

China Change has translated several pieces by Mo Zhixu from the past four years. CDT has also archived a few of of his earlier essays.

“On the First Anniversary of the 709 Subversion Case” was translated by Little Bluegill.