Being an opposition candidate in a one-party state was never going to be easy, but Feng Qiusheng took more of a risk than most when he decided to run for the People’s Congress in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
This was not just because his previous attempt to defend human rights resulted in a four-month prison term. Nor was it because he was campaigning against a communist political machine that has held power almost unchallenged for 57 years.
The real risk was in where he chose to make his stand: the flashpoint village of Taishi, where China’s nascent rural democracy movement has run up against some of the worst violence and official intimidation seen since the central government promised greater electoral accountability at the grass-roots level in 1988.
It could hardly be further from the centre of power in Beijing, but Feng is treated like a threat to the state. He is followed by police, his phone is tapped and he is frequently called in for questioning by the authorities.
His supporters suffer similar treatment. For more than six months, Taishi has been gripped by fear.