Strictly speaking, in the 30 years of reform what I did was call for private rights. I chose civil law and private rights because those areas were weak in China, or rather in a China with such strong public powers, private rights were always in a weak position. Private rights include the rights of private enterprise, of private property, and perhaps even broader personal rights.
Today, I will just mention three issues, but these are not the same three you all just suggested. The first private right I will mention is the Shanxi coal mine problem [private coal miners were encouraged to invest then their mines were taken by the state at low or no compensation]. The Shanxi coal miners demonstrate a violation of the rights of private property and private enterprise, a brazen violation of constitutional guarantees.
The second is the Li Zhuang case [the defense lawyer convicted of inciting false testimony in the Chongqing mafia crackdown]. When Wu Xiaoji brought over Li’s defense lawyer to talk to me, we chatted for a long time about what happened in court that day and the entire procedural history of the case. After hearing about it, I was furious. No matter what you think about it, from the most basic level, procedural justice was violated. The evidence was not brought out and many of the witnesses did not appear in court. From the perspective of evidence, that case had serious problems.
The third is the Liu Xiaobo case. When I heard about the Liu Xiaobo verdict, I felt it was a crime of speech — a very dangerous thing. China has a long tradition of criminalizing speech, and if we let that tradition continue today, and if those with a sense of justice can’t express their views, then our problems are just too serious. Or perhaps, for those of us engaged in the rule of law, if even we take a hands-off approach — if there is not a single voice of justice among us — then I think that is really dangerous.
So, looking at China’s current situation, I think we are in a period where the rule of law is in retreat. Or perhaps, building the rule of law, judicial reform, and political reform are all moving backwards. This is my first thought.
My second thought: In the last two books I published, I used the term “cry out” in the title. The first book was called “What I can do is cry out.” I recently published a book that I edited by hand, putting together some of my prior work in a careful compilation that I called “Private Rights Cry Out.” This latest is part of a series of 100 works of top people in the humanities; in that series I am the only one from the legal field. Why did I choose the word “cry out,” and why in the last two years? Of course, I have been enlightened by Lu Xun’s example, but it is not only that. I think that choosing “cry out” is important because the situation has become more oppressive. That is to say the environment outside has become more and more difficult. In those circumstances, one must “cry out.” No matter what words you choose, when the circumstances are urgent, you must call out with your voice.