China: When the Law Meets the Party


Like an army defeated but undestroyed, China’s decades-long human rights movement keeps reassembling its lines after each disastrous loss, miraculously fielding new forces in the battle against an illiberal state. Each time, foot soldiers and generals are lost, but new troops and leaders emerge to take up the fight, Ian Johnson writes* for The New York Review of Books:

This might sound like high romance, but it isn’t far from the truth. In the 1970s the banner was carried by the Democracy Wall pamphleteers, in the 1980s by the Tiananmen protesters, in the 1990s by the China Democracy Party, and through the 2000s by the liberal intellectuals who helped write Charter 08, the bold document calling for an end to one-party rule. Often unaware of one another’s existence because of the Communist Party’s domination of education and the media, these various activists still rise up, inspired by the values of equal rights and justice.

The weiquan (legal rights) movement has arguably had the most concrete effect on Chinese governance over the past fifteen years, adds Johnson, the author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. Weiquan activists seek not the overthrow of the system but its reform, which they hope can be achieved by taking seriously China’s growing body of laws. Equally striking, they are lawyers, a profession the government has consciously revived and expanded along with the rest of the legal system with the aim of modernizing the Chinese state. RTWT

Journalism, Censorship, and the 19th Party Congress

At Deutsche Welle, Sabine Peschel talks to Audrey Jiajia Li, a former TV journalist who has turned to social media and foreign media outlets as the media climate within China grows ever frostier. Li discusses self-censorship and social media blocks, her hopes for journalism in China, unpromising recent developments, Liu Xiaobo, and Yang Shuping, the overseas student whose “unpatriotic” speech about China sparked a fierce backlash in May. HT: China Digital Times

*In a review of:

Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work by Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday, Cambridge University Press, 200 pp., $99.99; $28.99 (paper)

China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance by Eva Pils, Routledge, 312 pp., $163.00

To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey, by Xu Zhiyong, translated from the Chinese by Joshua Rosenzweig and Yaxue Cao, with an introduction by Andrew Nathan [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], Lynne Rienner, 297 pp., $68.50

Unwavering Convictions: Gao Zhisheng’s Ten-Year Torture and Faith in China’s Future, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher, Carolina Academic, 200 pp., $30.00 (paper)

Activist Lawyers in Post-Tiananmen China, by Rachel E. Stern, Law & Social Inquiry, Winter 2017.

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