Translation: Harassment of Workers’ Rights Group

Translation: Harassment of Workers’ Rights Group

As part of a crackdown on student and labor activism, dozens of students and graduates of elite Chinese universities have since August “been disappeared,” some “kidnapped” from public university campuses. Many of those detained in August and November roundups were Marxist activists–like Yue Xin and Sun Min, both Peking University (PKU) graduates–who had been actively supporting workers to establish an independent trade union in Shenzhen. In addition to several pieces by or about Yue and Sun, CDT has previously translated PKU student Feng Junjie’s account of being beaten by thugs on campus during a November 9 episode, and also a classmate’s recounting of the earlier disappearance of PKU medical student Jia Shijie and the university’s efforts to deflect student inquiry into their classmate’s whereabouts. Students at Renmin University have also been punished by university administration for their support of the workers rights movement, leading Cornell University to cancel two exchange programs with the Chinese institution out of concern.

CDT has now translated an account of the harassment and surveillance of members of Renmin University’s Xinguang Association, a student public interest group devoted to workers rights.

Monitor, Isolate, Slander… I want to relate to you the bitter experience of Renmin University’s Xinguang Association.  

December. Winter has arrived, and the semester is about to come to an unexpected end.

This winter is making the students of Xinguang Common People’s Development Association even colder than usual. Because we do service activities for workers, and because we care about the legitimate rights and interests of workers, we have, for the past two months, experienced anguish that normal students couldn’t bear.   

“Don’t give tickets for future performances to Xinguang members!” Teacher Li Peng, secretary of the Youth League Committee, said at a meeting of the school art troupe. Later I recalled this sentence over and over, finding it difficult to imagine Teacher Li’s appearance as s(he) uttered it. Originally, I thought it was just the teacher’s unintentional mistake, and didn’t worry about it. But I didn’t expect that our hopes for a more beautiful world were too high.       

“Pay close attention to his whereabouts. Report every move to me.”

I don’t know what sort of tone to use for telling this story: “Xiang Junwei and a middle-aged undesirable in his early thirties were seen walking together. Check it out.” That was the order one day, given to the roommate of a long-time member of Xinguang, student Xiang Junwei. The order came suddenly from Li Peijie, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee. Li showed a photo to the roommate. It was Junwei and another man walking side by side on campus, the view from behind. This photo had been taken by Li Jing, Deputy Secretary of the Communist Youth League Committee. The feeling seemed to be that “vigilance” was called for, that it was “vital” for this roommate to check things out, and determine whether or not they were dealing with an “unstable element that could disturb society.” Junwei’s roommate discovered, bitterly, that the man in the photo, the so-called “undesirable,” was none other than himself.     

This montage-style, fantastical plot has played out blatantly on campus. Behind the scenes, Xinguang members have been suffering the “glorious” treatment of surveillance for a long time. Xinguang students have discovered many eyes on their every move. Their teachers can find out where on campus they are at any time. One leader said: Behind the back of every Xinguang student there is a “task force” composed of teachers and students. Their main mission is surveillance. Lots of manpower is spent monitoring, surveilling our locations, our activities. People are even directly sent out to track us.  This explains how teachers can suddenly appear in a classroom at midday, and wake up napping students for an arranged talk. It also explains why, whenever a Xinguang student exits a school gate, even just to go shopping, teachers can immediately find out, and make inquiries by phone. If the student has been out a bit long, the teacher will immediately phone the head of the student’s family. “Your child is not on campus. I’m worried he might be doing something illegal.” The parent or guardian feels her blood go cold and her hair stand on end, and itches to go to Beijing to slap her child and drag him back to school. One mother, upon receiving a teacher’s call, got so worked up she said she would call the police and have them grab her child. How can we go on like this? Who’ll have nervous breakdowns first, us or our parents? This type of thing shouldn’t be within a teacher’s scope.   

Possibly because the university’s surveillance cameras don’t have high enough definition or enough power, they are insufficient to satisfy the leaders’ need for real-time information on students’ movements. Therefore, student cadres and leaders have taken up the task themselves: during the Hundred Regiments Offensive time of year, at the school activity office where Xinguang had a booth, people stood motionless watching the situation, taking up space in front of the booth. There were five or more student cadres and leaders keeping close watch, as if committed to standing guard to their deaths.   

Other events like the Workers’ Film Festival, the Xin Experience, the Literary Arts Team… are also followed constantly by students or teacher specialists. “Pay attention. See if Xinguang people do anything illegal.” Moreover, Xinguang students’ roommates have been mobilized on a large scale. They monitor the Xinguang students and report every day. A certain roommate of a Xinguang student reported being contacted by a teacher and Party Committee Deputy Secretary countless times, and it was still the beginning of the semester. All because she was the Xinguang student’s roommate. Such frequent harassment is obviously disturbing for roommates. On the one hand they feel what they’re doing is wrong. On the other, they’re acting under coercion, and can’t escape scrutiny or the daily reports they have to make. They feel they’re betraying a friendship. How can someone feel good in that situation?

“Chen Kexin has the power of undesirables behind her. Stay away from her. Don’t participate in any activity where she is present.”

A teacher thus “admonished” a new Xinguang member. That “power of undesirables” had no basis in fact and there was no evidence for it. With teacher “encouragement,” students are already blacklisting us on WeChat, distantly isolating us.

So far, this hasn’t ended. There’s just a Xinguang article published in-group. The Chairman and Secretary of the Party Leadership Promotion Association of the School of Economics, along with Student Union students, have in succession kicked Xinguang students out of school WeChat and QQ groups. Xiang Junwei, after seeking students to recruit, was again kicked out. Even students who helped with recruitment were kicked out. A youth association leading cadre said to longtime Xinguang members, “As long as you remain in Xinguang, you won’t be dealing with the youth association.” So, we have slowly come to understand that we can’t make friends at this school. We can’t chat with others. This is a cold, friendless winter. We can only hug ourselves, lest we “cause trouble” for others.  

One day about two months ago, long-time Xinguang member Chen Kexin arranged to meet a newly recruited junior member for a meal. They had a cheerful meal and got to know each other a bit. That afternoon, the new member was summoned by the school to an arranged talk. The junior member was interrogated: had the lunch with Chen Kexin occurred? Why do you want to join Xinguang? A student from another school said they wanted to come to Renmin University to communicate with Kexin. The student’s school’s Party Committee immediately received a phone call from Renmin University.  

WeChat conversation

The Renmin University side has already found out I want to interview you. They contacted my PhD advisor. [12:03 PM]

Well, okay. [laughing emoji] [1:45 PM]

Really, it’s quite terrifying. Renmin University contacted our Party Committee and said I went and interviewed you several days ago. [1:48 PM]

You guys, your WeChat is definitely being monitored. [4:37 PM]

I only mentioned this matter to you guys on WeChat. On the evening of day before yesterday, our Party Secretary received Renmin University’s call. [4:38 PM]

A former Renmin University work and study mate of Kexin’s landed in a logistics dispute. Kexin actively helped, feeling he could do a little something during the litigation. He cared about this man’s life situation. The result was that one evening, when the man wanted to come to the university for a stroll, he never got past the gate. All the guards on duty at the gate drove him away with violent force, and even informed the police! The worker couldn’t for the life of him understand. He’d worked and served Renmin University for many years. Why had he been treated like this? The answer soon became obvious: The next day, someone came to investigate him. The first sentence was: How do you know Chen Kexin? Once a worker for Renmin University, but after contact with Kexin, another name added to Renmin University’s blacklist. Eradicated!  

This was not the only case. Xinguang member and student Yang Shuhan had an appointment for a chat with a sanitation auntie and a new Xinguang member. They were concerned about the auntie’s life, and what her recent difficulties might be. At the end of the chat, the auntie cordially invited them to her hometown to have a look, when they had time. She lived in a two-room home, tilled her own land, and ate well but cheaply. Shuhan said she was very moved, and of course it was one of those rare moments of warm feeling. The next day, the new Xinguang member was summoned by the school to an arranged talk. The auntie was threatened. If she “spoke carelessly” again, she would be fired. We never saw that new member again, and the auntie has misgivings about talking with us. Warm feelings, annihilated by cold callousness. Overall, the leadership feels we disseminate a bad atmosphere. They want to isolate us. The arranged talks and threats are all in consideration of “clean air.” “I have nothing to do with Xinguang.” Seeing such ice-cold wording in a student’s WeChat message, I inhale cold air. Here, even breathing is wrong.      

WeChat conversation

[November 30 18:59]

I have nothing to do with Xin Guang

[November 30 19:24]


[Information sent, but other party refused to accept.]  

“You see Xinguang as higher than the CCP. You only listen to Xinguang’s words, and don’t listen to the CCP’s words!”

One day in a classroom, a Xinguang student, while earnestly attending a lecture, happened to turn her head. She saw the Dean and Party Committee Secretary sitting in the back row, watching her, all smiles. She felt this was strange. Unexpectedly, when she was about to leave class, the Dean and Secretary blocked her way at the entrance: “Let’s have a chat!” At that time, Xinguang students were enduring widespread “door blockage”-style arranged talks. One weekend, she was even awakened by a phone call from a Youth League teacher. The teacher was waiting for her on the lower floor of the dorm.  

Countless arranged talks occupy more and more of Xinguang members’ time. A typical chat lasts one or two hours. Sometimes, a Party secretary or student will say, “You won’t be able to go until 11:30.” Such coerced interactions do not leave students feeling suddenly enlightened, the problem solved and smoothed over. Instead, all the harassment becomes a puzzling mess like a tangled ball of yarn. “You see Xinguang as higher than the CCP. You only listen to Xinguang’s words, and don’t listen to the CCP’s words!” One time, after blocking a doorway, the Dean leveled such an accusation at a Xinguang student. Feeling wronged, the student disputed this, asking what proof there was, and why the Dean would say such things. The teacher said a word of justification, in passing, said he was possibly a bit biased, but later used such odious words again, going to other students and labeling each and every one of them, not considering their growing resentment and faltering hope.  

Xinguang is possibly involved in illegal, discipline-breaching affairs. So, with the best of intentions, we want to remind first year students to stay away from us. One of us alone caused my university to sever relations with Cornell, forfeiting the chance for other students to go abroad with the exchange program. It’s so bad that our “winter clothes donation” activities, which have been conducted by all kinds of public interest organizations for many years, have been painted as exploitative of families, and possible vectors for disease. “Students who have contributed clothes turn around and demand money from their families for new clothes,” a teacher said. “Students don’t earn their own money. This exploitation of parents is not exactly covert, is it?” This is the sort of laughable, absurd “new image” in teachers’ mouths during arranged talks.     

We can also understand how all kinds of distorted, biased, and even malicious rumors about students are springing up everywhere. We will not tolerate this tarnishing of Xinguang’s clean face. We write articles and use H5 page, hoping to give everyone a clear picture of Xinguang. This results is Xinguang articles always getting quickly deleted. An H5 that only featured an introduction for a Xinguang event, and messages from members, was blocked for alleged violations. We wrote articles to protest this deletion. Nevertheless, the article was not approved after a thorough investigation, and the material behind the public account vanished, as if by magic. It’s not only us. Any article, without exception, supporting Xinguang, or supporting workers, is deleted, and the associated public account permanently banned. It’s the fate of having your voice obliterated. Based on facts, we want fair rights for Xinguang, and we’re not getting that.      

WeChat notification screenshot

Notification concerning the handling of a public account violation. November 22

Notification concerning the handling of a public account violation. November 22

Hello. After review, we have discovered that this public account was in violation of relevant laws and policies and of the “WeChat Public Platform Service Standard”. The violating content “404 – A voice they don’t want to hear” has been deleted. Please abide by our standards. Allow us to run a healthy, green public environment. If you have any objections, you can launch an appeal.

Notification concerning the handling of a public account violation. November 22

Notification concerning the handling of a public account violation. November 22

Monitor, isolate, slander, and seal off: these, and all kinds of similar covert tricks, are Renmin University officials’ means to control students. Renmin University staff members, or any university staff members, if you are experiencing such a lonely and wretched plight, how can you not be resentful and angry? How can you not cry out?  

Recently there was news from Peking University. Undergraduate Jia Shijie was suspended for closely following and transmitting several items about workers’ rights defense news, was suspended. For being in charge of a workers and farmers association, Beijing University of Science and Technology student Zhang Dewang endured a rapid-fire question style arranged talk. If you show solicitude for workers or farmers, if you speak out for the lowest rung, if you cry out, you can lose your student status and be suspended. Or you might simply vanish. So, we don’t just dread “suspension.” We dread “vanishing”! We record our experiences, and we issue our rallying cry: teachers, please stop monitoring, isolating, slandering, and blockading us. Stop using such methods to target an association that loves Renmin University ardently, that has a duty to society, that earnestly cares about workers. Stop using such methods to target an association comprised of nothing more than normal people, Renmin University students with personal liberty, dignity, privacy, and all other fair civil rights!  

If you are concerned and wish to help Xinguang, and stop the school’s monitoring, isolating, slandering, and sealing-off of Xinguang students, please contact Xinguang member and Class of ’16 philosophy student Yang Shuhan (phone: 19987114509, WeChat: xxzhkyly376). Darkness won’t retreat on its own. Only if there is light shining into a dark room, will the darkness be dispersed!

Scan QR code to add Yang Shuhan’s student WeChat, and follow Xinguang’s bitter experiences!

Given the harsh treatment (post deletions, account banning) by the WeChat platform, everyone please follow Xinguang’s new platform, the Xinguang WordPress website:


Translation by Alicia.


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