September 11, 2008
Tempest in the Beijing Lawyers Association
Lawyers associations in China, including the Beijing Lawyers Association (the subject of this post), are typical Leninist "mass organizations": vehicles more for top-down control than for bottom-up articulation and representation of interests. In this way, they resemble labor unions, the Women's Federation at various levels, official churches, etc. Recently some lawyers in Beijing had the temerity to call for direct election of leaders of the Beijing Lawyers Association as well as other reforms that would have the effect, they say, of taking power from the small group of rich lawyers currently in control. (The text of their open letter and a list of signatories can be found here;
translations welcome English translation here.)
The BLA leadership has not taken this challenge lying down. It has issued a pretty nasty response (English | Chinese) full of the kind of politically threatening language you rarely see any more: it speaks of "linking up" (a pejorative word evocative of Red Guards running rampant), working "under the signboard" or "raising the banner" of democracy, "stirring up rumors" and "rabble-rousing" (my personal favorite, which I haven't seen for years: 蛊惑人心), "inciting" lawyers "who don't understand the true situation", etc. The response warns darkly that using text messages and email to engage in this kind of activity is illegal, although considering that the writers are presumably lawyers the legal analysis seems pretty thin. Lawyers are urged to maintain a correct political orientation and to resist the blandishments of this "minority".
The lawyers who issued the statement are not, however, backing down, and have issued a firm response of their own (English | Chinese). It will be interesting (to say the least) to see how this turns out. The very vehemence of the BLA's initial response suggests to me that their position may be a little vulnerable.
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