Friday, July 19, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
The following is a very slightly modified version of my contribution to the ChinaFile conversation on this subject:
When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the New York Times web site to confirm my intuition. Although my hopes were briefly raised by a pop-up ad that optimistically proclaimed, “We know where Xu Zhiyong is” and offered me his address, telephone number, and credit history, the stories in the results list were depressingly as expected: “A leading human rights advocate is detained in Beijing” (July 13, 2013); Xu Zhiyong “in the company of security agents and unable to talk” (Feb. 20, 2011); “Just before dawn on Wednesday, the founder of Gongmeng, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into police custody, and he has not been heard from since” (July 31, 2009). Two other detentions, on June 7, 2012 and in June 2011, didn’t show up. There may be more I’ve missed. In any case, this is clearly a man who knows his way around the back seat of a Black Maria.
Today’s topic is what, if anything, this detention means for the broader question of political reform in China. Let’s be clear: Xu Zhiyong is an extremist in his moderation. As Jeffrey Prescott, then at Yale’s China Law Center, said in 2009, “He is someone of rare idealism, judgment, commitment to law, selfless dedication, and fundamental decency. So that makes his detention very hard to understand.” Unfortunately, it is hard to understand only if we think that those responsible for detaining him share his values. Xu Zhiyong does not throw bombs. Unlike, say, Wei Jingsheng, he does not say insulting things that hurt the tender feelings of the leaders. He is the soul of reason and respectful discourse with all, including his police tormentors. Yet even this man is apparently intolerable.
Xu’s offense this time seems to have been his advocacy of asset disclosure by officials. (The charge, “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” is the same laughably implausible one brought against Chen Guangcheng – both were under informal house arrest and constantly guarded at the time of their alleged offense.) The move against him is of a piece with recent detentions and harassment of citizen anti-corruption campaigners.
For some reason new leaders in socialist dictatorships are always thought to be reformers – even KGB boss Yuri Andropov upon his ascension to the Soviet leadership was hoped to be a closet liberal because he liked jazz and spoke English. The same expectations, with about the same justification, have greeted Xi Jinping. So far, he has not had time to do much. What he has done – for example, the anti-corruption campaign – he may well be quite sincere about; I see no reason to write it off as a show designed just to keep the masses distracted while the looting continues. But what he has not done is to show any sign of plans to make the Party accountable to the people. This does not mean that he and other leaders don’t want real reform in certain areas, or that they can’t accomplish it. But it does mean that reform will not involve outside accountability. We’ll handle it ourselves, thank you very much. Sorry, citizens: it’s really none of your business.
UPDATE: Now his lawyer has been detained as well - same absurd charge. Guys, can't you show a little creativity?
The Li Tianyi rape case has been in the news lately. Li is the son of a famous singer with the rank of general in the People's Liberation Army, and I think it's fair to say he is not the kind of nice boy you'd want your daughter to be dating. Back in September 2011 he was sentenced to a year in detention (at age 15) for having assaulted a couple in a fit of road rage:
The teenage boy, who is too young to drive legally, was behind the wheel of a BMW car with no licence plates when he found a middle-aged couple in another vehicle blocking his way in Beijing.
Li Tianyi and a second teenager, who was driving an Audi, leapt from their vehicles and, it is reported, assaulted the couple while shouting at shocked bystanders: "Don't you dare call police".
Half a year after getting out, he was allegedly involved in a gang rape at a Beijing hotel; formal charges were brought earlier this month.
Apparently things have not been going well with the defense; two attorneys have resigned. His new attorneys have taken their case to the media, arguing that the complainant was a bar hostess. Apparently they plan to plead not guilty, presumably on the grounds that she consented, or perhaps that in the case of bar hostesses the law should presume consent. Obviously I have no inside information on what actually happened on the night in question, but the general tenor of netizen opinion is that this is a typical case of a spoiled rich kid who thinks he can get away with anything. He's become the Joffrey Baratheon of Chinese pop culture.
Into this mess stepped Yi Yanyou (易延友), a professor at Tsinghua Law School and the head of its Evidence Law Center. Yi declared on his microblog that "raping a bar hostess is less harmful than raping a woman of good family" (强奸陪酒女也比强奸良家妇女危害性要小). This led to an outpouring of harsh criticism among netizens. Ignoring the first rule of holes - when you're in one, stop digging - Prof. Yi then clarified his remarks by revising the above sentence to read, "It does more harm to rape a woman of good family than to rape a bargirl, a dancing girl, an escort or a prostitute" (强奸良家妇女比强奸陪酒女、陪舞女、三陪女、妓女危害性要大). Somehow the critics were not mollified. By last Wednesday Prof. Yi had had enough - he deleted his post and apologized.
Prof. Yi's remarks don't come out of nowhere - he is in fact channelling a distinction well known in traditional Chinese law (it is codified in the Qing Code) between woman of good family (良家妇女) and licentious women (犯奸妇女). If, for example, a man saw a women engaging in illicit sexual intercourse with another and then raped her afterward, then because she was a licentious woman it could not be called rape but should instead be classified as illicit intercourse by trickery ("又如见妇人与人通奸，见者因而用强奸之，已系犯奸之妇，难以强论，依刁奸律"). (I'm relying for my translation on the Grand Ricci dictionary, which translates 刁奸 as "seduire une femme par la ruse"; that may not be correct as a translation of the legal term.) For more on this, see Vivien Ng, "Ideology and Sexuality: Rape Laws in Qing China," Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 46, no. 1 (Feb. 1987), pp. 57-70. Although the distinction finds no formal expression in modern Chinese law (not to my knowledge, anyway), here we see it alive and well in legal culture, so to speak, and expressed in exactly the same words as it was centuries ago.