China: authorities detain activist Xu Zhiyong

Chinese activist and lawyer Xu Zhiyong was arrested by authorities July 17 on suspicion of having "gathered crowds to disrupt public order." Xu, a law lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and founder of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng), was placed under house arrest on April 12. Xu's arrest came after President Xi Jinping pledged to increase efforts to combat government corruption. Xu was previously detained by Chinese police in 2009 on charges of tax evasion. Coinciding with Xu's arrest, earlier this week Wang Wenzhi, a reporter for the official Xinhua News Agency, accused China Resources (Holdings) chairman Song Lin of corruption. The article was later removed.

From Jurist, July 18. Used with permission.

  1. Xu Zhiyong and China’s new agrarian question

    Xu Zhiyong has aggressively defended peasants being usurped of their lands by corrupt bureaucrats, a source of growing unrest in China. We've been wondering how he views that question—whether in terms of evolving towards protection of "property rights," or preserving a gain of the Chinese Revolution. The Seeing Red in China blog  presents a May 2012 manifesto by Xu, entitled "New Citizens' Movement." It states:

    After 1949, China’s totalitarian regime launched a flurry of movements—land reform, the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, the socialist transformation, the anti-rightist movement, and everything from the Great Leap Forward through the Cultural Revolution. These regressive movements against the tides of history were destined to have tragic endings. In the 1980s, the Communist Party of China initiated the "five stresses, four beauties, and three loves" campaign, but a social reform movement initiated by a dictator, tainted by self-interest, cannot bring real change in society.

    We certainly agree on the bogus nature of Deng Xiaoping's reforms. But was the Revolution's land reform really "regressive"? The forced collectivization of the Great Leap Forward was certainly disastrous. But the land reform had been underway for a more than a generation before that, in the areas under Communist control well before 1949—and often at the impetus of self-organized peasant communities that pushed the Communist cadres to a more radical position. In addittion to the widely recognized reason the Great Leap Forward was disastrous (the devastating famine of 1959), a second reason only became evident nearly two generations later: it consolidated control of lands in a bureaucracy that could become corrupted, abusing its power to wrest the land away from the peasantry. In other words, ultimately reversing the land reform. No?

    Xu, if you are reading this, we would really like to know your thoughts…

  2. China: development versus food self-sufficiency

    A disconcerting Feb. 16 Guardian story, Jonathan Kaiman reports from the town of Nanzhuang, south of Beijing, where hundreds of farms will be destroyed to make way for the world’s largest airport. With agricultural land giving way to development projects all over the country, it is unclear where China will find the capacity to grow enough food to feed its expanding population. China must feed a fifth of the world's population with about 7% of its arable land, according to the UN's food and agriculture organisation, and nearly half of that land has been "degraded" by decades of unchecked development. "It's a zero-sum game," said Chan Shifflett, a China expert at the Wilson Center. "You have less and less resources, but more and more people who need them."

    On Feb. 2, China released its first policy document of the year—the No 1 central document, an annual guideline on rural reform, calling for more industrialized farms, and assuring that farmers are prosperous enough that they won't abandon their fields.

    Last year's policy document occassioned some diametrically opposed coverage. China Daily headlined April 21, "China to 'maintain self-sufficiency in food production'," stating: "The report, China Agricultural Outlook 2014-23, released by the Agricultural Information Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, predicts that China's annual output of three main crops—wheat, rice and corn—will hit 578 million metric tons in 2023, still keeping a high self-sufficiency rate." But Financial Times on Feb. 11 of last year gave it an opposite headline: "China scythes grain self-sufficiency policy." It states: "The guidelines call for grain production to 'stabilise' at roughly 550m tonnes by 2020, below the 2013 harvest of 602m tonnes." And of course China's population will have grown considerably by 2020 (barring some unthinkable disaster). So does this add up to continued self-sufficiency or not?

    And in addition to the loss of farmland, there is the related question of ecological decline. Bitter droughts in China have recently raised fears of "peak wheat"…

  3. Red-baiting China’s capitalist rulers

    Further evidence of how out of wack the whole debate on China is—even within China. A Feb. 18 piece on Foreign Policy profiles Ren Zhiqiang, a Beijing real estate mogul who has become a mega-star on Sina Weibo and leading critic of the regime. We are told that Ren has blasted "what he perceived as Beijing’s preferential treatment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) over private companies." The obvious point is not made that the mere fact that this is a matter for debate indicates that China is not socialist. And if those SOEs behave like for-profit enterprises, merely enriching public-sector bureaucrats rather than private-sector tycoons, that is only a distinction between state capitalism and private capitalism. "Socialism" still has nothing to do with it. But of course Ren plays the commie card. He sees Xi Jinping's talk of "opposing Western values" as a sign that the "winds of the Cultural Revolution are once again blowing."

    Oh shut up, Ren. The Cultural Revolution was launched to overturn the "capitalist roaders" within the Chinese Communist Party—the very people who took over after Mao's death, and made Xi Jinping's rule possible. Xi is overseeing a revival of Confucianism, bastion of traditional conservatism that was anathema in the Cultural Revolution. (A recent piece on HuffPo even called the official restoration of Confucius a "Cultural Counter-Revolution.") Qing Dynasty icons like the Summer Palace (famously looted and burned by French and British troops in the climax of the Opium Wars), which were demonized as relics of the decadent past in the Cultural Revolution, are now being revived under Xi as symbols of national pride. (See this Feb. 2 BBC News report.) Xi's dissing of "Western values" is nationalism, and a means of deflecting criticism over human rights. It is in obvious ways diametrically opposed to the ultra-leftism of the Cultural Revolution.

    China historian Rebecca E. Karl, responding on China File to the question "Is Mao Still Dead?," writes: "The current nationalist reduction of Mao into a totem of a Chinese dream of national supremacy does as much violence to his systemic socialist project as he intended to do during the Cultural Revolution to the Party-centered hyper-bureaucracy that aspired to a monopoly on truth and social domination… It has nothing to do with Mao. He is quite dead."

    The irony is that just as Mao is useful to China's capitalist rulers as a symbol of nationalism, so he is useful to the neoliberal opposition like Ren (who seek greater freedom of capital from the party bureaucracy) as a means of red-baiting those capitalist rulers.

    So out of wack.