Kerry Brown: China’s Shadow Sector: Power in Pieces

Kerry Brown is an associate fellow on the Asia programme, Chatham House. He is the author of Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century (2007), The Rise of the Dragon: Inward and Outward Investment in China in the Reform Period 1978-2007 (2008) and Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China (2009). He writes on the

I spent the month of August 2009 travelling around China and looking at the state of (in the sense of “village elections”), the rule of law, and civil society. It was a sobering experience full of disturbing revelations.

There was an auspicious moment on the very day of my arrival, when – who heads Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative), a small legal-aid NGO – was detained for “non-payment of taxes” (the grey zone in which independent NGOs exist in China means that this charge is often a convenient pretext for official persecution). was released on 23 August, but may still face prosecution. The pattern of harassment is consistent: on 12 August a court case involving the environmental activist in the southwestern city of Chengdu was conducted so badly that his lawyer burst into tears.

– the designer of Beijing’s Olympic stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”) and one of China’s most prominent intellectuals – had travelled to Chengdu hoping to testify on Tan Zuoren’s behalf, but to no avail. There was a chilling sequel: Ai was rewarded for his efforts by having his hotel door hammered on in the middle of the night, then – when he opened it to see what was going on – being punched senseless.



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