Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jailhouse statement of Xu Zhiyong

A day or two ago, former Singapore Prime Minister and glorified mayor Lee Kuan Yew made the amazing statement that Xi Jinping could be compared to Nelson Mandela. Personally, I'm afraid that the qualities needed to become capo di tutti capi in the Chinese Communist Party are not quite the same qualities needed to be a Mandela. I thought of that statement today when I came across this video of a jailhouse statement from Xu Zhiyong, the recently detained rights activist. This is a man who does seem to have those qualities.

Perhaps one day we will find that he has feet of clay. Well, so did Mandela and Martin Luther King. Xu is a pretty remarkable guy and his continued detention should not be forgotten. Of course he is not the first and won't be the last, and he is far from the worst treated. (Ni Yulan and Chen Guangcheng, for example, as well as their families, have all suffered atrociously.) But we can't always pick our symbols with perfect logical consistency. For some reason, Xu's detention seems to shout particularly loudly: What kind of government cannot tolerate even a person like this?

Here's the video; the text of his statement in Chinese and English (my translation) is below it.

倡导大家做公民,堂堂正正做公民,践行宪法规定的公民权利,履行公民责任;推动教育平权,随迁子女就地高考;呼吁官员财产公示。在这荒诞的时代,这就是我的三大罪状。 社会进步总得有人付出代价,我愿意为自由、公义、爱的信仰承担一切代价。无论这个社会怎么样,溃败,荒诞,这个国家需要一群勇敢的公民站出来,坚守信仰,把权利,责任,和梦想当真。 我很骄傲在自己的姓名面前署上“公民”两个字,希望大家也这样,在自己的名字前署上“公民”两个字。只要我们大家团结起来,共同努力,把公民的权利当真,把公民的身份当真,共同推动国家的民主,法治,公平,正义。我们一定能够建设一个自由、公义、爱的美好中国。

I encouraged everyone to be a citizen, to proudly and forthrightly be a citizen, to practice their rights as citizens set forth in the constitution and to undertake their responsibilities as citizens; I promoted equal rights in education and allowing children to take the university examination where they have followed their parents to live; I called for officials to disclose their assets. In these absurd times, those are my three crimes. Social progress always requires some people to pay a price. I am willing to pay any price for my belief in freedom, justice, and love. No matter how collapsed or absurd this society is, this country needs a group of brave citizens who will stand forth and hold fast to their beliefs, and will make a reality of their rights, responsibilities, and dreams. I’m proud to put the word ‘citizen’ before my name, and I hope everyone will likewise put the word ‘citizen’ before their name. As long as we unite and work together to make citizens’ rights a reality, and together promote democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice in our country, surely we can build a beautiful China of freedom, justice, and love.

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Interestingly, the only people now-a-days that really pay any attention to the statements of the good Mr. Lee are people outside of Singapore.

Posted by: Mike Dowdle | Aug 8, 2013 5:03:23 AM

Prof. Clark, why is our government so intolerant of Edward Snowden, when the cause he champions is righteous? According to President Obama, Snowden took the wrong path in breaking America's law.

Could Xu have championed his cause without breaking China's law?

Posted by: ChasL | Aug 10, 2013 12:37:11 AM

To answer ChasL, let me suggest a framework for thinking about these issues:

1. Forgetting about what the law might say for a moment, do we agree with what the person has done?
2. Does the law actually prohibit what the person has actually done? (In the Xu Zhiyong case, this is not at all clear - did he really assemble a crowd to disrupt social order?)
3. If the law really prohibits what the person did, is it a good law? Do we agree that that activity *ought* to be prohibited and punished?
4. If not, is violating the law justifiable, or is there some reason the person should be expected to obey the law even if it is (in that person's view, or in our own view) unjust? (Here, we might want to ask how the prohibition became law, whether the system that produced it has legitimacy, etc.) We can imagine different answers for different types of laws.

Posted by: Donald Clarke | Aug 14, 2013 1:19:27 AM

Or which country? No offense Prof. Clark, seems to me what you are suggesting is exceptionalism.

Posted by: ChasL | Aug 14, 2013 10:04:30 AM

Far from exceptionalism, this is universalism.

"Lex iniusta non est lex". Like Kantian beauty, justice is universally recognised. A universally unjust law need not be obeyed.

Posted by: Ronan | Aug 15, 2013 3:03:30 AM

Sorry, ChasL, I don't understand your comment or the question "Or which country?" I'm not suggesting particular answers to these questions; I'm offering a framework for thinking about the issues that I think separates out certain questions that should be distinct but often get confused with each other. Hopefully this could help people zero in on where they actually disagree and thus avoid wasting time.

Posted by: Donald Clarke | Aug 15, 2013 9:22:37 PM

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