A Chinese court is expected to rule tomorrow on the appeal by lawyer Xu Zhiyong against his four-year jail sentence for “assembling a crowd to disturb public order.” The charges against Xu arise from his founding role in the New Citizens Movement, a broad grassroots campaign for civil rights through civil action on a range of issues, from equality of education to government transparency.
Xu Zhiyong was criminally detained in Beijing on July 16, 2013, several months after he was placed under informal house arrest.
In a 2012 article laying out the foundations of a new movement of Chinese citizens, Xu wrote that China was in urgent need of a “political movement in which this ancient nation bids utter farewell to authoritarianism and completes the civilized transformation to constitutional governance.”
Despite attempts by the authorities to reign in the New Citizens Movement by arresting Xu Zhiyong and other core members, activities of the loosely organized movement have continued in cities across China.
The New Citizens Movement has also now launched an official website covering all aspects of the movement and civil society in China.
The following is our full translation of the preface written by Xiao Shu, a former journalist and a core member of the movement, on the occasion of the website’s launch.
Standing Firm and Working Tirelessly
– A Preface for the Launch of the New Citizens Movement Website
The website of the New Citizens Movement is now online.
Offline, meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, our colleagues — Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Zhang Baocheng and Li Yuzheng — continue to suffer [at the hands of authorities in Beijing]. Illegal trial proceedings against them move ahead.
Elsewhere in the country, in Hubei, Jiangxi and other places, illegal trials commence and illegal verdicts are announced against other members of the New Citizens Movement. The systematic persecution of the New Citizens Movement and its members is now reaching its culmination.
The authorities, however, have failed to achieve their desired outcome: the collapse of the New Citizens Movement. This is a movement that cannot be stopped.
Six weeks ago, the Ministry of Education ruled at last that students from any of the country’s thirty provinces are now permitted to take the college entrance exam outside their native place of registry [a crucial decision for the children of migrant workers]. Clearly, the push by the New Citizens Movement for greater equality in education has achieved one stage of victory.
When the Decision of the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the CCP was released four months ago, it included language pledging to “actively carry out trials for systems of transparency for the newly appointed leaders and cadres on relevant matters.” These “relevant matters” must include disclosure of the assets [of government officials]. And ultimately, the authorities will have to respond to the call by the New Citizens Movement for disclosure of the assets of government officials.
The dinner gatherings of members of the New Citizens Movement in various cities have continued unabated, even in the face of tremendous pressure — and even in jittery Beijing.
As ever, it is within the capacity of the authorities to persecute any citizen who speaks up about problems in our society. But now, unlike the past, the authorities cannot possibly turn their backs on the problems themselves. They cannot dismiss the demands of the public.
Social progress entails a definite price. To pay that price, we are prepared to sacrifice ourselves. To pay that price, we are prepared to hazard imprisonment — in order to turn the public’s attention to public affairs, in order to create the pressure necessary to force concessions on the part of the authorities, in order to compel changes to unjust and unfair policies, in order to bring change to the system.
This road of peaceful resistance, of peaceful change, of the New Citizens Movement, has already been opened for us by Xu Zhiyong.
We are not about empty slogans. We are not about abstract grand narratives, or insincere talk of opposition. We are about returning to society and putting down roots, about joining with the lives of ordinary people and leading thousands and tens of thousands to take up and protect the rights that have always been theirs — to become citizens in the fullest sense.
This sort of concrete resistance, grounded in the very substance of life, cannot be defeated. Society provides it with a solid foundation, and life imbues it with tremendous force. False charges, persecution and forced suppression will not avail [against this resistance], but in fact will only steel our resolve.
Just as we understand that all acts of conscience throughout human history have met with adversity, and that suffering is something all acts of conscience must face, we understand that the New Citizens Movement cannot escape adversity. For us, suffering for conscience is a matter of honor.
When we suffer by taking the rights and responsibility of the citizen seriously, by taking freedom, justice and love as our practice, this serves only to iterate the absurdity of the system, and underscore the imperative of change.
Repression will not end the New Citizens Movement, and in fact Xu Zhiyong and the others have drawn new strength from their hardship on behalf of the whole movement. From the courtroom and from their prison cells, they have never ceased their struggle — and they have never rested in their advocacy of the principle of the New Citizen.
The illegal trials against members of the New Citizens Movement resemble the show trials held in Taiwan after the Formosa incident of 1979. They serve only to consummate the New Citizens Movement and to announce it to the world. For the New Citizens Movement, this is an historic moment.
International support for the New Citizens Movement has never ceased, and this too forms an integral part of the movement. International opinion has rushed to the support of the movement, and in places like Munich and Portugal people have even gathered to show their support through “wine and dine” sessions in which they raise their glasses and express solidarity with the New Citizens Movement, calling for peace and justice worldwide. [Translator's Note: In combination, the Chinese words "food" and "drunkenness", here rendered "wine and dine," are homonyms of the phrase "commit a crime," a reference to the wrongful trial and persecution of rights defenders. This practice originated in China in 2011.]
All of these supporters know that the spirit and values of the New Citizens Movement — freedom, justice, love and conviction — are core values not meant to destroy, but rather to build, through the routine practice of rights, an order in which love replaces hate and courage replaces anger. They believe this spirit of the New Citizen should be shared far and wide.
The New Citizens Movement represents the rise of civil society in China. It has earned the respect of the world, and it has earned dignity for the Chinese people.
Civil movements in the broader sense — social movements of citizens pursuing their civil and constitutional rights — have continued unabated in China too. In south China, labor movements have advanced through organised rights defence actions. Networks of human rights lawyers have strengthened despite constant pressure. And grassroots NGOs on issues like public welfare, environmental protection and communal self-reliance have found space to grow like never before.
Freedom is our goal, justice is our spirit, and love is our foundation. Through the citizens movement we will galvanise society, rebuild our values, remake our social core. The new society that emerges will lead China’s transition to constitutionalism. This is the prevailing tide of our time, and any attempt to hold it back is destined to fail, like beating back water with a sword.
Attacks on the New Citizens Movement continue. Our brothers and sisters continue to suffer. Though we may not be free of sorrow, we refuse to despair. The work of conscience cannot be beaten down. The New Citizens Movement will not be toppled. And so we remain confident. The strength in our hearts will not be bested.
Xu Zhiyong and the others have already sacrificed their freedom in order to open a road for the New Citizens Movement. This is the road to a free China. It is the road to a better China. We have only to take to this road, to join forces with the New Citizens Movement. We are duty bound to forge ahead.
These are the aims and mission of the New Citizens Movement website. We cannot say for sure what impact our actions will ultimately have — each of us has limitations. But we will stand firm, and we will work tirelessly for our goals.
April 11, 2014
The New Citizens Website