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Rights Defense and "Non-Violent Non-Cooperation"

April 1, 2009

Zan Aizong

Zan Aizong interviews lawyer Tang Jingling regarding his involvement in the rights defense movement and non-violent methods of resistance.

On His Involvement in the Citizens' Rights Defense Movement

Zan Aizong: You were involved in the rights defense work for Taishi Village, Guangzhou,1 and you have worked for years in Guangzhou, the true hotbed of “reform and opening up.” You’ve acquired a profound knowledge of a series of significant and momentous human rights movements through personal experience. Can you please review for us the gains and losses that have been made in the citizens’ rights defense movement, how you became part of it, and how you see it developing in the future? Rights defense in fact concerns competing interests—an impossible task—like asking the tiger, or in this case the government, for its skin. You have to have the wit and courage to pull the Emperor from his horse—and a willingness to part with the flesh on your bones to do it. May I ask, where does your confidence come from?

Tang Jingling: From 2003 to 2005, a great many rights defense activists and rights defense lawyers emerged on the mainland, initiating highly effective work in areas such as private property rights (the Shaanbei Oilfield2 and diverse cases regarding eviction from land and other real properties), religious freedom (cases involving Falun Gong and other religions), freedom of speech (speech as well as publication), freedom of movement (household registration and the temporary residence permit system; equal rights for migrant workers), workers’ rights, rights to association and assembly and the right of community self-government and elections (the rise and development of NGOs, independent candidates, self-government for neighborhoods and villages, etc.), abuse of power and dereliction of duty (urban management, family planning, public health, environmental and animal protection, miscarriages of justice, petitions). Though rights defense actions were met with serious oppression and opposition from a small number of officials of a rigidly despotic bent who hold great power, over time the areas and social levels involving rights defense further expanded and deepened. Moreover, in the area of community building, significant gains were realized. These are reflected at the institutional level in the repeal of a number of unjust laws, regulations, and institutions such as forcible custody and repatriation. Abuses of power in some other areas have been curbed. At the individual level, there has been a deeper awakening of civic consciousness. Today there is a broad acceptance of the concept of the rule of law among ordinary workers, farmers, and city dwellers, creating a basic awareness for the coming establishment of genuine rule of law.

A mechanistic theory of rights defense arose as the citizens’ rights defense movement continued to develop. Proponents of this view attempted to deny or evade the political nature of rights defense actions, emphasizing existing procedures and institutional regulations exclusively, or confining themselves to legal procedures. I console myself with the fact that, relying on my own limited knowledge and experience, I have never fallen into that kind of error. I believe that the spirit of the law far surpasses existing laws and that God’s justice far surpasses human justice. Of course, the goal and methods of rights defense must have recourse to actual laws, but I do not believe that rights have no mooring apart from these laws. Rights are the grace of God and the basis of human dignity. Furthermore, rights defense has grown into a movement because the foundation for rule of law has not yet been established in reality.

Rights defense in fact concerns competing interests—an impossible task—like asking the tiger, or in this case the government, for its skin. You have to have the wit and courage to pull the Emperor from his horse—and a willingness to part with the flesh on your bones to do it. May I ask, where does your confidence come from?
—Zan Aizong

There are those who mention that the U.S. had the “wisdom to legalize political issues,” but such a view obviously does not take into account the fact that the U.S. and China are rooted in fundamentally different political systems. A stable constitutional system of government is the essential condition for putting the “wisdom to legalize political issues” into practice. This “wisdom” is not the prerequisite for establishing a constitutional government; only once constitutional government has been achieved is it possible to speak of the “wisdom to legalize political issues.” In fact, not every nation with constitutional government has had the fortune to gain the “wisdom to legalize political issues.” The historical evolution of any nation’s constitutional government makes this course very clear. Prior to establishing a politics of constitutional government, transforming the legal profession into an art is mainly an extravagant hope. Does this mean the lawyers and citizens who are engaged in rights defense are engaged in an enterprise that is bound to fail? Exactly the opposite. This is a glorious enterprise, for they are engaged in genuinely erecting the cornerstone of freedom and human rights.

As the mechanistic theory of rights defense gradually lost ground, the violent theory of rights defense came clamorously to the fore. This view gained ground following the March 14, 2008 incident in Tibet, the Weng’an incident,3 the Yang Jia incident,4 and the Longnan incident.5 It advocates tactics of retribution or even violent attacks against unjust governments, interest groups and individuals. At present, rights defense actions are in the process of being gradually transformed from individual cases to amass rights defense movement. Confronted with people who do not hesitate to employ every sort of violent and oppressive tactic against rights defenders, whether individual citizens or groups, this view suits the mood of anger, even hatred, of a considerable portion of the masses. But I would contend that an immoderate theory like this is bound to be harmful. The overthrow of the Chinese Republic [in 1949 by the Communists] should be a warning to us. A very simple question: what has such an agitator ever done? And how much can he do? People who espouse this view frequently quote American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s famous theory of people’s revolution.6 But this great soldier of democracy was speaking to a people who, across the board, were just as well armed as the government. To ignore this precondition is like galloping headlong into disaster without regard for who may be hurt. And even if this condition is met, we should think a moment: will the much-touted results be genuinely effective in bringing about a society in which individual human rights are guaranteed? I do not believe that widespread and violent trampling of human rights will lead to a better society. We need not seek proof in ancient history. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution launched by Mr. Mao should shed some light on this principle. The human rights movement is not about the knife and the fish changing places; the reality is that often when the wild storms have passed, the opponents are still in the same place and nothing has changed. Why, during the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, did Americans, who have the legal right to bear arms, persist in non-violent resistance? This is not only due to considerations of political realities and wisdom, it was intrinsic to the goal of the civil rights movement. Non-violent or peaceful resistance was the road to freedom, the way people can be broadly mobilized for broad participation, the way to establish an unshakeable foundation of freedom.

Because a non-violent movement is easily conducted and can be launched and developed by people on their own initiative, without some sort of powerful “leader” to direct and control it, it is therefore unlike violent actions that pander to the sense of individual achievement some people require. However, another sort of misunderstanding that must be dispelled is that non-violent action is undisciplined free action. Quite the opposite, non-violent action requires stricter discipline and more detailed rules of behavior than violent action does. But the observance of discipline in this case is a conscious action by the participants. On the one hand, this removes the leader’s control; on the other hand, it is a profound training ground for self-rule. Because mass non-violent action does not stem from an equal degree and breadth of spiritual renewal among its participants, discipline and rules are crucial to its success or failure. Otherwise, some actions done under this glorious banner would inevitably devolve into violent opportunism or repeatedly fall into feeble and powerless cynicism (those who espouse a “soy sauce”7 philosophy claim to be non-violent, which is laughable, as non-violence would espouse legitimate armed self-defense, but under no circumstances does it have anything in common with cynicism).

The human rights movement is not about the knife and the fish changing places; the reality is that often when the wild storms have passed, the opponents are still in the same place and nothing has changed.
—Tang Jingling

For myself, joining the citizens’ rights defense movement was part of a very natural progression. I was born in the early 1970s, grew up during the early years of the “reform and opening up” policy, and was educated in the 1980s. I always hungered to live in a free and dignified nation and I was willing to dedicate myself to it. It was this aspiration that finally changed me from a chemical engineer into a professional lawyer. As I understand it, the law is a profession that directly serves the public, and in many cases, a lawyer’s work is to devote himself to making rights a reality. At present, though my license has not been reinstated,8 I continue to work in the area of citizens’ rights defense. Like so many citizens and lawyers involved in rights defense, I have paid a personal price. Everyone who prepares to work in community building needs to understand a simple truth: glorious endeavors are not a walk in the park. How blessed we are if we are able to be clear about where our own faith comes from. Everyone may have their own experience and destination on this arduous road. My own experience: my faith is a blessing from God.

On Freedom

Zan: The principles of freedom you outline are “Citizens’ non-cooperation in China,” and “Make a habit of freedom.” And I know about your other principles; for example: “There’s a bright starry sky above, the moral imperative in my heart, and freedom is above all else.” Recently you’ve been involved in spreading the gospel of freedom—may I ask what exactly you do in this regard? China has had five thousand years of authoritarian history; from this perspective freedom is a long, long road to follow. Perhaps it would not be possible to achieve a freedom such as that of Taiwan within ten years. What ideas do you have on this? A proposed plan of action?

Tang: In starting the action to “Take Back the Vote,” (赎回选票行动)9 I began to directly introduce the concept of non-violent non-cooperation into public action. It is well known that the idea of non-violent action has gradually gained in influence over the last hundred years. It has increasingly become an overwhelming indicator in all sorts of actions for community building throughout the world. In the process of publicizing “Take Back the Vote” and other acts of citizen non-cooperation, I also made it a point to gather, organize, and disseminate data on other such actions in China. Non-violent non-cooperation is a path to freedom that is easy to follow. Negative non-cooperation (lacking a non-violent spiritual core; primarily acts of non-cooperation aimed at preserving private interests) are quite widespread in China.One day when there is an awakening of citizen consciousness, negative non-cooperation will turn into active non-violent non-cooperation, and the pace of community building in China will accelerate tremendously.

In spreading the idea and action of non-violent non-cooperation, I have formed a set of principles for action to clarify the process for those who are willing to go this route. I have collected everything on methods of non-violent non-cooperation and guiding principles under a general title: the gospel of freedom. On this road, freedom is unshakeable.

Everyone who prepares to work in community building needs to understand a simple truth: glorious endeavors are not a walk in the park.
—Tang Jingling

“Make a habit of freedom” (让自由成为习惯): this expression summarizes methods of action in the face of Chinese political reality. China is a country with a long authoritarian history, lacking in basic freedoms, and many people mistakenly believe that this constitutes a substantive obstacle to promoting non-violent action in China. This view does not take into account a basic fact: that any power, including the most authoritarian, has boundaries. Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws provided a clear exposition of this issue. The only fortress the non-violent movement faces is that of one’s own mind. When our minds surrender to the truth, that is when and where non-violent action may arise. The great sacrifice made by Lin Zhao10 has given us a clear demonstration of this. The slogan “Make a habit of freedom” can also be expressed this way: only when we live in freedom, can we have freedom in our lives. This is the fast lane to a free society from an authoritarian one. We must begin to live in freedom in a place where the whip of authoritarian power cannot reach, and then we must extend the perimeters of this place. This is the pattern that seems to shape a habit of freedom. The victory of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo) movement of Argentina11 is an excellent example for us. They simply held tenaciously to a simple principle: every Thursday they gathered in the Plaza to continue the struggle. They simply believed silently in their hearts that if they did not persist, they would lose the future forever. (I invite readers to seek out the data on this movement for themselves.)

The line between ideas and actions that comes out of the discussion of freedom in society is ever-shifting, but there is a clear boundary between the presence and absence of freedom. China, then. How long it might take China to achieve the level of freedom of Taiwan or the U.S. today is not the issue that concerns me. What concerns me is how we may establish the position of freedom in our lives in society as rapidly as possible.

As for specific means of action, with my individual and limited intelligence, I cannot provide a complete summary or point the way. I have indeed started some non-violent non-cooperation movements, and I have collected, organized and publicized [some data] on people’s self-initiated non-violent non-cooperation movements. This is my method of action. I see myself as a missionary of the gospel of freedom. In fact, many of the non-violent non-cooperation methods of action that have been applied in community-building actions in India, South Africa, the U.S., and other countries are eminently applicable to China today, even if not in exactly the same way. These methods of action can be gleaned through reading and consulting the data on these tremendous historical incidents.

Two Principles of Freedom

Citizens’ Non-Cooperation in China

Make a Habit of Freedom

Tang Jingling

From my limited vantage point, I have tried below to provide an overall picture through a preliminary summary of the non-cooperation actions that have had an impact in China today, that can be easily developed or have already been developed on a fairly large scale. In fact, people in China today are all, to some extent, engaged in some form of non-cooperation. The difference lies in whether the individual has a clear understanding in his or her own heart of the distinction between negative individual non-cooperation and non-violent non-cooperation.

Non-violent non-cooperation is the quickest means [to achieve justice]. Gandhi said this and I say it. Non-cooperation has unlimited possibilities; it is not some sort of once and for all action. In the degree of difficulty and risk, the choices are many and various. With a spiritual core of non-violence, one can develop all kinds of non-cooperative actions. For non-violence is nothing other than a kind of faith, a total approach to thought and life, [and includes the following examples]:

  1. House churches and various groups of free believers that do not cooperate with thought control nor with those who revere authoritarian rule;
  2. Netizens posting freely on the Internet, rejecting lies and uniform news, speaking frankly, and publishing and distributing freely, are non-cooperation with media control;
  3. Refusing to buy a house or flat and refusal of forcible eviction are non-cooperation with high housing prices that rob the urban middle class, and refusing to buy and trade stocks is non-cooperation with the stock market gambling that plunders investors;
  4. Continuing to petition, petitioning the people, the orderly “strolls” organized by ordinary people, wearing a freedom T-shirt or logos saying freedom and democracy, or commemorating human rights incidents, are non-cooperation with the denial of basic human rights;
  5. Farmers’ distribution of land among themselves is non-cooperation with bureaucratic control of land (here we are substantively in the realm of civil disobedience—in North and Northeast China many farmers have publicly declared they were distributing land among themselves and have received prison sentences as a result);
  6. Refusing temporary residence permits, registering households freely,12 supporting equal educational resources for migrant workers’ schools, and demanding equal pay for equal work, equal social security, and equal enrollment opportunities for equal scores are noncooperation with the household registration and isolation system;
  7. Refusing honorary or emeritus positions when a professor, functionary, official, delegate or committee member of a People’s Political Consultative Conference resigns, withdrawing from political bodies and social groups that are simply window-dressing, withdrawing from the Party (publicly and under one’s own name), and judicial staff refusing involvement in unjust judicial prosecutions and refusing to be humiliated by signing unjust legal documents—are all non-cooperation with the political system;
  8. Soldiers and police refusing to use armed force to put down peaceful resistance on the part of the masses is non-cooperation with killers;
  9. Work stoppages aimed at seeking wage growth rather than subsistence wages are non-cooperation with an economic structure that robs the broad masses of the working class of future growth; teachers going on strike in order to get the pay they are promised legally is non-cooperation with political deceit; taxi drivers going “out of service” because they refuse to give part of their earnings to taxi companies and demand to run their own businesses is non-cooperation with the practice of being squeezed by the privileged; auxiliary police and other non-public government employees demanding equal pay for equal work is non-cooperation with discrimination on the basis of status;
  10. Citizens voting to recall officials or National People’s Congress delegates is non-cooperation with political figures who are not in step with public opinion;
  11. Children refusing to receive education that enslaves them, and establishing private schools and autonomy in universities are non-cooperation with brain-washing (non-government non-profit schools at many levels mostly fall into this category);
  12. Taking back the vote, introducing voting by non-government citizens or surveys of public opinion, and implementing direct elections in Hong Kong and Macao in 2012 are forms of non-cooperation with unjust elections;
  13. The “June Fourth Day of Quiet Remembrance”13 [with] public commemoration and services of remembrance for murdered freedom activists are acts of non-cooperation with the murderous power which coerces forgetting and covers up their crimes.

Of course, many other small-scale plans will be devised by the people’s wisdom. All along, the acts of non-cooperation I have started have been [based on] persistence in doing a small thing. I have even deliberately limited such actions to the so-called “little things.” I am convinced that whatever I have done can be done by any Chinese, for when starting actions like these, I have experienced the same multitude of difficulties and obstacles as those encountered by my suffering compatriots. These experiences allow me to see whether my compatriots really want freedom. My view is: if they desire freedom, they can be free. As increasing numbers of people become involved, non-cooperation will become a mighty current of freedom, breaking through the barrier of despotism.

On Rights

Zan: “Take Back the Vote” is highly significant for the future of China. What is the current status of this action? What are your expectations and specific goals? How will you carry on, and how will you sustain the action for the long haul?

Tang: As a rights defense action, “Take Back the Vote” had achieved its goals by its target date of January 31, 2008. But as a non-violent non-cooperation action, “Take Back the Vote” is far from over. In a country of 900 million voters, for a wide variety of reasons, only 383 voters issued statements taking back their votes. This shows that my task is far from over. I am convinced that a genuine non-violent movement has never intentionally pursued numerical results; a numerical increase is inevitable, but it is not something that is directly pursued. The action to reclaim the vote is a genuine demand that voters vote honestly and with integrity. In this sense, there is no essential difference in whether one person or a billion people issue declarations. If our will for freedom is calm and steady, even one person will do. With this kind of will there is no room for coercion, selling out, or black-box voting tactics. These are my expectations and goals for the “Take Back the Vote” action.

Perhaps some people can find some other meaning in it, based on some original political vision of their own. There would be nothing strange or unexpected in that. For example, a citizen may not be strongly motivated by either faith or conscience, but if he or she strictly follows directions, the action will not suffer and it may be strengthened.

One side of [the process] is to discover the problems that face us, the inadequacies of our present reality, even mistakes in our direction; and to clarify our ideals. The other side is opening up the way that leads from political and social reality to our ideal of freedom. People who keep exploring, who strive without tiring, will not be disappointed.

I believe that the “Take Back the Vote” action and corresponding actions will truly bring forth a new epoch of political rights on Chinese soil through the use of the vote. So I will continue to promote this action and other methods and principles of non-cooperation.And I will do everything I can to join hands with others who want to follow this road and continue my work.

On Being Persecuted as a Lawyer and Legal Consultant

Zan: In 1998 you began working as a lawyer with a deep understanding of the fact that involvement in freedom and human dignity issues would be a hard road. You have said that only when people care for and respect the vulnerable will our society change for the better. Would you please tell us about being suppressed and persecuted, and how you have maintained your direction and continued to make great strides? Can you also tell us about the principles you work by, how you have dealt with the way specific authorities infringed lawyers’ rights, including lawyers’ civil rights? How did you draw from this the problems of the Chinese judicial system, and see how to protect and support lawyers, how to ensure that more lawyers would have the courage to defend human rights? Can you please lay out for us the path of non-violence and non-cooperation for Chinese rights defense lawyers?

Tang: It must have been when I handled the case of the Dongguan (Guangdong) workers in 2004.14 Some local police, probably secret police, came to see me. This incident led to my not being able to fulfill my duties as the lawyer in charge of the Dongguan branch office of my law firm, and in the end I had to return to Guangzhou to register. In late 2005, as the Taishi Village recall incident was coming to an end, the contracted lawyer Guo Yan and I both lost our licenses to practice law because the branch law office was being harassed and because agreements made with us were terminated early. During the 2006 lawyer registration inspection, the law firm that had newly hired me came under repeated pressure from some officials at the judicial administration authority and withdrew my annual inspection application; it was the same situation when I went to the office. A number of my friends tried very hard to get my license reinstated, including Ye Du and Liu Xiaobo, a man I have never met but greatly admire, as well as some friends in legal circles. One I especially want to mention is Professor Guo Yan who has been tireless in her efforts. Her actions and those of Professor Ai Xiaoming and many other friends are a testament to friendship in adversity.

A lot of the cost was borne by those unsung and true heroes. I would be insulting them if I were to brag about my “special treatment.”

I have been working part-time for over three years now. Thanks be to God, I have been able to witness my own convictions and faith. Here I must thank my wife. Though she is not highly educated, in recent years I have mainly relied on her meager pay to support our small family and she has not complained. She has no complicated theory of freedom; she relies on simple common sense for her conviction that people should lead lives of dignity. As for taking care of my parents, I feel profound guilt. With blood and tears they raised me to graduate from a famous university, the only university graduate among my siblings. They might not have been fully prepared to dedicate this son to work for freedom and dignity, but as a boy I saw the suffering of my father’s generation and my direction was clear. My hope was that the mothers of China would never again have to struggle to free their children from slavery as my parents did. I console myself with the fact that my family feels some sense of pride because of my struggle on behalf of people like them at the bottom rung of society who suffer oppression.

In 2006, I was invited by an American human rights organization for a visit and academic exchange.As I was going through emigration, my passport was confiscated. I brought a lawsuit over this, but at the friend’s home in Shantou where my residency is registered, the head of the family was repeatedly summoned by the police and threatened with further punishments. My friend implored me to withdraw my suit and I did, but the Guangzhou authorities compensated me for the cost of my ticket and other direct expenses. In 2007, for the same reasons, I missed out on an invitation from the French Bar Association.

I began the “Take Back the Vote” action, the “June Fourth Day of Quiet Remembrance,” and the Chinese Citizens Non-cooperation Movement just when Lawyer Gao [Zhisheng] and other rights defenders were arrested and the rights defense movement was at a low ebb. I and the other citizens who were striving to promote non-cooperation actions were all summoned [by the police] and subjected to all sorts of harassment: our personal effects were inventoried and confiscated, and we were placed in illegal detention. My treatment was fairly light compared to others; it was nothing really. I am quite clear about the fact that here I enjoyed a different sort of treatment, “special privileges.” A lot of the cost was borne by those unsung and true heroes. I would be insulting them if I were to brag about it.

On April 29, 2008, there was a commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the death of Lin Zhao. I had not publicized my attendance, but to my surprise some government people noticed and became anxious. It was another matter, however, that I found incomprehensible and really hard to take. At the time of the Sichuan earthquake, I had made contact with a local volunteer organization and was preparing to spend two months there as a volunteer teacher. I had made my plans known to the local police in Guangdong, and the message conveyed to me by the police officer I was in contact with did not seem to oppose my going to the disaster area. Then, the night before I was to embark on my trip, the police came to see me again, asking for explanations and expressing opposition to my going, and so my trip to the disaster area ended before it began. In order to deprive us of the opportunity to serve the people, they would deny us even things like this. Just amazing.

Professional lawyers . . . are able to calculate the risks of their own actions relatively easily; therefore, many lawyers, when they get involved in rights defense, already have a fairly clear awareness of the risks involved.

In recent years more and more lawyers have begun to get involved in citizens’ rights defense, bringing new hope to China’s freedom and human rights work. Many lawyers have suffered severe suppression, including being denied legal defense, losing their licenses, raids, and even being sentenced on fabricated charges—all sorts of things. The way to deal with and respond to these attacks is, in my opinion, to embrace suffering before it is thrust upon us. In 2008, this has been exemplified in the March 14, 2008 Tibet incident and the Sanlumilk powder incident, and continues to the present in the Beijing Lawyers Association direct elections incident. Professional lawyers as a rule have a relatively thorough understanding of the true borderline between political reality and the law. They are able to calculate the risks of their own actions relatively easily; therefore, many lawyers, when they get involved in rights defense, already have a fairly clear awareness of the risks involved. Mutual help among rights defense lawyers along with the support and backing given rights defense lawyers by the rights defense masses and people from all walks of life are of the utmost importance as an impetus for more lawyers to have the courage to defend human rights. There is a very good trend at the moment—many lawyers are working hard to enlarge the space for professional lawyers and to enhance the level of protection for lawyers. Here we must commend those activists promoting direct elections for the lawyers association, for this action will be important for the protection of lawyers.

It would be difficult for a lawyer who truly takes it as his duty to defend human rights not to be a supporter of non-violent action. His profession and his goal inherently set his course; I don’t need to add much about this. Something I think worth mentioning is that every lawyer who takes this road should frequently examine his own faith and return to the source of his strength, and he will surely be successful.

On Respected Lawyers within the Chinese Rights Defense Lawyers Community

Zan: Would you talk about the Chinese legal community, those Chinese lawyers you would recommend and comment on?

Tang: I’m new to the legal community. Long before I entered the profession, I had heard of Zhang Sizhi, Mo Shaoping, and other human rights lawyers. And I was lucky enough to be on the same defense team with Gao Zhisheng and Guo Yan. I had also heard the heroic tale of Li Subin and Li Wusi15 indignantly battling the provincial justice department, as well as of the legendary Chongqing lawyer Zhou Litai, defender of workers rights. Closer to home, I had experienced the historic victory of the three Ph.D.s who challenged custody and repatriation.16 Today Teng Biao and Xu Zhiyong continue to mount classic non-violent attacks on the vestiges and variants of this system. Mr.Yao Lifa, through his own nomination and election process and his training in election law, was the first to gain political power through the vote.17 In 2006, TIME recognized the work of Chinese rights defense lawyers by including Chen Guangcheng among the “Top 100 People Who Shape Our World” in the category of “Heroes and Pioneers.”18 Fourteen lawyers and legal personages received international recognition for their outstanding work. In 2008, Li Heping, Li Fangping, Zhang Xingshui, Li Jinsong, Pu Zhiqiang, Zhang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, and Liu Xiaoyuan, along with a large group of other lawyers, gained widespread recognition for their solid work, either by receiving international human rights awards or by enlarging the international space for the rights defensemovement through people’s diplomacy. In Shanghai, a place famous for its ability to control, lawyer Zheng Enchong and the real hosts of the development banquet from which they themselves have been barred have waged a difficult struggle. Lawyers Zhang Jiankang and Zhang Yuanxin are constant voices for human rights in western China. These persons and others who do not have law licenses, but are also engaged in legal work or research and teaching, such as He Weifang, Fan Yafeng, Wang Yi, Li Boguang, Feng Zhenghu, and others, all strive constantly [for these causes] in their own work.

On many important social issues, there will be lawyers who step forward and work tirelessly to prepare new members for the contingent of rights defense lawyers. A list of just those lawyers I know of would be far too long, but its very length would be a comfort. For me, the incidents that must be mentioned are the March 14, 2008 Tibet incident, the trial of Yang Jia, the Sanlu tainted milk powder incident, the Beijing Lawyers Association direct elections . . . I lack the memory to mention the names of all those brave souls, or indeed the contributions of each person involved in these cases, but history will not forget them.

Zan: Thank you for the interview, Brother Tang. Thank you for your support; I wish you well!

Translated by J. Latourelle


1. In 2005, the residents of Taishi Village, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, petitioned to recall their village committee director, accused of illegally selling village land, and suffered retaliatory attacks by the authorities. See Hu Ping, “Taishi Village: A Sign of the Times,” China Rights Forum, 2005, no. 4, ^

2. A case involving government seizure of private oil fields in Shaanxi Province in 2005. See “Shanbei minying youtian zhu zaidu shang shu: Gao Zhisheng tan Zhongguo minqi gao fengxian” [陕北民营油田主再度上书:高智晟谈中国民企高风险],, January 9, 2005,
. ^

3. The incident concerned an alleged police cover-up and failure to properly investigate the rape and murder of a fifteen year old girl in Weng’an County, Guizhou Province in June of 2008. The allegations sparked massive riots involving thousands of people protesting outside police headquarters. See Chris Buckley, “Girl’s Death Sparks Rioting in China,” Reuters, June 28, 2008, ^

4. In July 2008, Yang Jia, 28, killed six people in the Zhabei police station in Shanghai because, he claimed, he never got an apology from the police who beat him brutally in October 2007 during his detention on suspicion of stealing a bicycle that he had in fact rented. Yang Jia was charged with murder and executed in November of that same year. In death he was seen by many as a martyr of the Chinese petitioners, and as a symbol of failed justice. See Eva Pils, “Yang Jia and China’s Unpopular Criminal Justice System.” ^

5. Riots over demolition and relocation in a Gansu village. In November of 2008 thousands of people protested in Wudu, in Gansu Province, as part of the “Longnan Mass Incident.” The riots were in response to a planned scheme to relocate the local government headquarters to a neighboring county, which would have required relocation of residents in the area. See Ian Ransom, “China Seeks to Curb Unrest after New Riots,” Reuters, November 19, 2008, ^

6. “The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” Thomas Jefferson to William S. Smith, Paris, November 13, 1787, ^

7. A phrase now used widely among Mainland netizens to mean “it's none of my business.” ^

8. See HRIC, “Chinese Authorities Abuse Licensing System to Harass Rights Defenders,” June 2, 2008, ^

9. “Take Back the Vote” was a nationwide campaign initiated in August 2006 by sixteen Chinese citizens, including Tang Jingling. The campaign urged people to boycott the fixed elections of the deputies to local people’s congresses in 2006-2007 in an effort to raise awareness of voters’ rights and to promote the fairness of election campaigns. The campaign was subsequently extended until January 31, 2008. Tang and others who joined the campaign were interrogated and harassed. For more information (in Chinese), see Teng Biao [滕彪], “Cong ‘liang hui’ kan shuhui xuanpiao yundong” [从“两会”看赎回选票运动], April 19, 2007,  ^

10. Lin Zhao was a poet who attended Peking University in the 1950s. Imprisoned during the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), she refused to write a political confession, was sentenced to prison, and was executed in 1968 at the age of 30. In prison she wrote using her own blood as ink. ^

11. An association of Argentine mothers of “disappeared” children from the Dirty War (1976-1983). ^

12. The household registration system (or the hukou system) divides individuals and families into urban and rural categories, thereby tying them to specific places of residency. It is extremely difficult to change one’s household. The system thus restricts the free movement of people and prevents migrants from having equal access to housing, healthcare, and work benefits. For more information on migrant workers and the household registration system, see Human Rights in China, Implementation of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in the People's Republic of China (2005),; HRIC, Institutionalized Exclusion: The Tenuous Legal Status of Internal Migrants in China's Major Cities (2002),; HRIC, Shutting Out the Poorest: Discrimination Against the Most Disadvantaged Migrant Children in City Schools (2002), ^

13. “Jing Si Jie” [静思节] or the “Festival of Quiet Remembrance” was initiated by Tang Jingling on April 26, 2008, to commemorate the government crackdown on the democracy movement on June 4, 1989. Tang urged people, on every April 26, to stay home, abstain from attending festivities, and wear distinct emblems of grief if they must go out, until the time that April 26 becomes a national day of commemoration. See Tang Jingling [唐荆陵], “6_4 Jing Si Jie di yaoqing he jie” [6_4静思节的邀请和解], Free China Forum [自由中国论坛], May 5, 2008, ^

14. In April 2004, thousands of workers from shoe factories owned by Taiwan's Stella International Limited staged wage-cut protests. The workers involved in the protest were tried on criminal charges of “intentional destruction of property.” Lawyers Gao Zhisheng and Tang Jingling, along with four other lawyers, all from Beijing's Shengzhi Law Firm, defended the five workers from Xing Ang factory. Together with another five accused from Xing Xiong factory, all of the workers who were previously sentenced to up to three-and-half years' imprisonment were released on December 31, 2004. For more information, see China Labour Bulletin, “Mainland News Weekly Analyzes Reasons for Worker Unrest at Stella Shoe Factories,” December 14, 2004,; Intermediate Appellate People's Court of Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, Criminal Judgment, No. 608 (2004), December 23, 2004, translation by China Labor Watch available at ^

15. In 2002, Li Subin and Li Wusi jointly sued a local bureau of justice in Henan Province for overcharging lawyers’ registration fees and won. Subsequently, the bureau of justice refused to renew Li Subin’s license. Li Subin then went to Beijing to work as an administrator at the Yitong law firm, which is well-known for handling controversial cases. In March 2009, the Haidian District Bureau of Justice in Beijing ordered Yitong to shut down for six months, charging that the firm had violated the law by allowing lawyers without licenses to work at the firm. See Human Rights in China, “Beijing Law Firm Yitong Is Shut Down for Six Months; Staff Lawyers Ordered to Turn in Licenses,” March 18, 2009,; HRIC, “Beijing Law Firm Faces Six-Month Shutdown for Attorney’s Support of Direct Bar Election,” February 19, 2009, ^

16.“Custody and Repatriation” was an administrative measure introduced in 1982 that allowed local security bureaus to detain anyone without a valid residence permit (hukou). In 2003, Sun Zhigang, a 27-year-old college graduate who had moved from rural Hubei to Guangzhou, was beaten to death by public officials holding him in administrative detention. The case attracted national outrage, and three legal scholars, Teng Biao, Xu Zhiyong, and Yu Jiang, submitted a petition to have the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress review the legality of the administrative measures under the Chinese Constitution. In a mixed result, the measures were unilaterally abolished by Premier Wen Jiabao, instead of undergoing a formal legal process which would have a set a precedent for future constitutional review. See Keith J. Hand, “Using Law for a Righteous Purpose: The Sun Zhigang Incident and Evolving Forms of Citizen Action in the People’s Republic of China,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 45 (2006), 114-195. ^

17. Yao Lifa, born in 1958, from Qianjiang City, Hubei, was one of the first people, perhaps the first person, in China elected through self-nomination to a municipal-level people’s congress. ^

18. Hannah Beech, “Chen Guangcheng – A Blind Man with Legal Vision,” TIME, April 30, 2006,,9171,1186887,00.html. ^