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Yu Jianrong on “Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability”

by Yu Jianrong | 3 April 2010 | 2 Comments | Last modified: 3 Apr 3:41 pm

[Translated by China Digital Times. CSG would like to thank CDT for giving us permission to reprint the speech on our website. Original source: NewSMTH.Net CDT translated version begins here: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/03/yu-jianrong-maintaining-a-baseline-of-social-stability-part-i/.]

Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), chairman of the Social Issues Research Center of the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences, delivered the speech before the Beijing Lawyers Association on December 26, 2009 at the Beijing Ministry of Finance, Assembly Hall.

Host: Hello, everybody. In recent years because society’s resources have been allocated in an irrational manner, because of inequities in income distribution, because of the wide gap and the polarization between rich and poor, and because of a flood of corruption, etc., contradictions within society have been aggravated, conflicts have intensified, and an anti-government, anti-rich mindset has become a serious problem. Mass incidents are sparked now and then by invasions of citizens’ basic rights, such as environmental pollution, land confiscation, building demolition, business restructuring, illegal administrative acts, and unfair judicial decisions. Unfortunate incidents occurring on a large scale are happening more and more often, such as the Weng’an incident1 and the Gansu Longnan incident.2 These incidents have affected national security and social stability. Lawyers have also undertaken representation for many legal issues related to mass incidents. So currently, what are the characteristics of mass incidents in our nation? How should lawyers handle these mass incident cases? What issues does one have to pay attention to in the process of handling these mass incident cases? How does one protect oneself and avoid legal danger? Today we are very honored to invite Professor Yu Jianrong to give a speech entitled “Social Conflict and the Constructive Role of Lawyers.” Everyone, please welcome Professor Yu!

Professor Yu holds a Ph.D. in law. He is currently chairman of the Social Issues Research Center of the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences and is also simply a professor. Professor Yu’s main works include Politics at the Lower Levels, The Situation of China’s Working Class, Organized Peasant Resistance in Contemporary China and Criticism of China’s Reeducation Through Labor System. For many years, Professor Yu has devoted himself to researching social problems and has a very deep knowledge. Today he will center his remarks on the characteristics of, and countermeasures towards, our nation’s mass incidents and will share with everyone his findings and opinions. I believe that Professor Yu’s speech will certainly be very enlightening to everybody, will evoke deep thought, and will benefit everyone by providing a fresh perspective. Let’s welcome Professor Yu’s lesson with warm applause!

Yu Jianrong: Good morning everyone! I’ve actually been a lawyer since 1987 and have practiced for eight years. Now I am working at the Rural Development Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences so I do not practice law any more. The topic that I am speaking about today is “Defending a Baseline of Social Stability.” Actually, I originally wanted to title my lecture “Let the Constitution Become the Baseline for Social Stability.” Why did I want to speak on this topic? It is because I wanted to give a simple response to the following questions: what has actually occurred in China’s society, what is yet to occur, and what is it that we can do.

China’s society has entered a period of frequent contradictions and conflicts. Where is China headed? This is a very controversial question. For a long time there was one most basic view about China’s society, which is that China’s society would experience great social upheaval. At the beginning of this year [2009], everyone was discussing this view more than usual. They, including Mr. Wufan and also some of the British and foreign mainstream media, thought that during and after the year 2009, there would be social upheaval. At the beginning of the year I published an article in Caijing in which I gave my view that while China’s society would experience many problems, as a whole it would be stable and there would not be social upheaval in 2009. This is to say that while there exists a possibility of social upheaval, because of the rigid and stable structure of Chinese society, social upheaval is still some ways away from actually occurring.

However, I recently visited a retired group of Chinese ministry level cadres. Among them was a person who was formerly a core member of a core advisory ministry to the central government. He had this to say: “You think that China’s society will not experience upheaval. I think that it will definitely experience upheaval, and that the time is not too far distant.” I also visited some important leading cadres who are still in office; they also had the same conclusion—upheaval in China’s society is unavoidable. Will this really be the case? Personally, I feel more and more unsure. So when Wei Dazhong, Esq. and Wei Rujiu, Esq. invited me to come here and exchange ideas with everybody, to tell the truth, I felt a little unsure about whether I was up to the task. I have discussed this problem domestically and abroad for one year. I have discussed this problem before party and government institutions in places throughout the nation and before the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. I have never felt so much as I do today that I was not up to the task. Why is this? It is because after I visited these people, their judgment has influenced my opinion. I have been wondering why they think that China will definitely experience upheaval. What should be done about it? Two days ago a group of lawyers came to my house and we discussed this problem: supposing that some of the most prominent elite all think that China will experience upheaval, then what should we, in the legal profession, do about it? Our conclusion at that time was that the Constitution should be the baseline for maintaining social stability in China. Therefore, at the last minute today I changed my topic to “Defending a Baseline of Social Stability” so that I could discuss with everybody what problems have occurred in China, why one should search for a baseline of social stability, and what exactly this baseline should be.

As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the year, central government leaders also thought that 2009 would be a tough year. Although today is the 26th [of December] and in four days this year will be over, more and more signs indicate that that the current situation is more and more tense, and more and more serious. The most obvious and direct manifestation of this social situation is the number of mass incidents. In actual fact, from 1993 to 2006 the number of mass incidents increased from 8,709 to 90,000. The number of mass incidents in the years 2007, 2008 and the current year all exceeded 90,000.

What is key is the increase in especially large mass incidents. This increase is truly shaking the view the rulers have of the nation. On the surface, we have great buildings being constructed, great highways being opened up, and everyone has this feeling of orioles singing and swallows darting [a feeling of great prosperity]; however, in actuality, these things [large mass incidents] are shaking the view the rulers have about the future of China.

I first want to discuss with everybody what it is that has happened in China. These last few years I have made a simple categorization of China’s mass incidents. They can be roughly sorted into three main categories: defending rights, venting, and rabble-rousing. Furthermore, the “defending rights” category can be subdivided into three parts; rural farmers’3 rights defense, laborers’ rights defense, and urban residents’ rights defense.

I am first going to lay special emphasis on analyzing what has happened among laborers, rural farmers and urban dwellers in relation to rights defense activities and will provide a simple overview of the characteristics of each subcategory.

I previously wrote a book entitled Organized Peasant Resistance in Contemporary China which discusses the problems currently faced by China’s rural farmers. For this book, I investigated rural farmers in Hunan and wrote about rural China before 2004. I wanted to answer the question: What had occurred in rural China before 2004? The conclusion I came up with was that before 2004, rural China was mainly characterized by fights over taxes. (PowerPoint slide) This is a picture of me taken in 2002 while conducting investigation in rural Hunan. At the time [the government] was saying that it would resolutely strike at those lawbreakers who “refused to pay grain,” those who fought against taxes and those who refused to make “reasonable payments to the state.” Everyone knows that “refusal to pay grain” refers to not paying the agricultural tax in grain. “Fighting against taxes” refers to not paying the national tax or the local tax. “Refusal to make reasonable payments to the state” refers to the refusal to pay variously named non-tax fees. The latter two we refer to in short as the problem of taxes and fees.

(PowerPoint slide) This is a video I took in 2002 in rural Jiangxi. This is the government announcing “One cannot refuse to pay the National Agricultural Tax.” (PowerPoint slide) on December 22, 2002, when I was conducting investigation in rural Hunan, I took a photograph of this picture. What does it say? This group of rural farmers is organizing a farmers’ association. When Mao Zedong organized the first farmers’ association he did so not far from here. This area produced a great man named Xia Minghan. He said, death doesn’t matter; as long as the cause is just, you can kill me, Xia Minghan, and there will be others to take my place. All the rural farmers in this area say the same thing: death doesn’t matter; as long as the cause is just, you can kill me, so and so, and there will be others to take my place. When I was there I asked them, Why do you want to organize a farmers’ association? They told me that organizing a farmers’ association was so that they could fight to the end against local corrupt and greedy officials. At the time I was completely shocked. Upon returning I wrote a report to the central government. The title of the report was “Rural Farmers Have Organized Resistance and the Resulting Political Danger.” I suggested, “Of all things, what one should worry about are civil liberties; of all things, what one should fear is civil angst.” When all these rural farmers feel such angst because of local corrupt and greedy officials, you have to consider where the risk to your political power lies.

After [my] report came out, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported [my findings] in the form of an urgent report to the central government. Later, the central government took an extremely important action; on March 5, 2004, Wen Jiabao announced before the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress that the agricultural tax would be abolished. When this was announced all the representatives of the National People’s Congress stood up and applauded him.

The abolition of agricultural taxes and fees in fact had a lot to do with the rural farmers in Hunan at that time. (PowerPoint slide) This person is named Peng Rongjun; he is the leader of the farmers’ association organized at that time. On December 6th, 2008, he was listed as one of ten “peasant heroes” in the thirty years of reform and opening up. Today I want to say something, which is that changes in China’s political landscape do not necessarily happen because the central government’s political views have changed. Political changes don’t necessarily happen because the leaders love and cherish the people; rather, they primarily happen because of social pressure. At the time, the central government considered that under this kind of social pressure, and considering the difference between the revenue gained from exacting the agricultural tax versus its cost, that it was better to give up the agricultural tax. The central government made this decision only after taking into account political and economic considerations. At the time the agricultural tax was abolished, many people thought that China’s rural problems were solved. Let me tell you that they were not resolved and that the situation immediately changed. (PowerPoint slide) These are statistics from the central government’s “Focus Issue Call Center.” Every day there are many people who call the “Focus Issue Call Center” to complain. They have people hired especially to record these complaints. I have an agreement with [the call center] in which they allow me to enter what’s called their top-secret system. Upon entering the system I know how many people today are accusing whom, what kinds of lawsuits are being initiated, what problems are occurring etc. Every month I provide [the call center] with two reports telling it what China’s focus problems have been recently. According to my observations of the “Focus Issue Call Center” telephone data, since June 2004, land conflicts have become the focal problem of rural China.

Let’s first analyze the characteristics of rural land conflicts. On September 2, 2004, I published an investigative report in the Southern Weekend in which I stated that land problems had already become China’s focal problem.

First, the parties to the conflict [rural farmers and the government] have undergone changes [since the time when conflicts were primarily about taxes and fees]. (PowerPoint slide) This is a post-Cultural Revolution incident of a provincial party committee secretary being surrounded and trapped by a group of people. The Sichuan Province Party Committee Secretary at the time wanted to go and see and what it was that was going on. He didn’t think that the rural farmers would recognize him. In order to save himself he had to deploy the armed police. If you take a look at this picture, what kind of people of do you notice here? Old people, old women. When I investigated Chinese rural farmers’ fight against taxes, I discovered a woman. Her father had been beaten to death and she was the only child in her family; therefore, she fought against taxes. Moreover, with land conflicts involving rural farmers, you discover that on the frontline there are a great number of women and older women. What is the reason for this? There are two. When I visit [elderly women] they tell me: first, since we are elderly we want to leave a piece of land for generations of children and grandchildren. Second, local officials don’t dare take any measures against us old folks. That is why I once wrote an article saying that these women are a form of soft power. You can’t just say that these are a bunch of old people; the local governments are definitely afraid of them. Local governments are not afraid of young people standing there; it doesn’t matter if you drag them around a little bit, but these old people, if you start to drag them around then they might end up in the hospital.

Second, the object to which complaints are directed at has also changed. During the period in which rural farmers fought against taxes, they mostly directed their complaints at county and village governments. However, in the case of land conflicts involving rural farmers, complaints are directed at the city and provincial governments, and even all the way up to the central government.

Next, areas [of conflict] have also changed. Areas in which rural farmers fought against taxes were primarily in Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, and Sichuan, areas where the economy was relatively backward. In contrast, land conflicts involving rural farmers have primarily been in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Hebei, areas in which the economy is more developed. Places where rural farmers fought against taxes were primarily villages in remote areas. In contrast, land conflicts involving rural farmers occur on the outskirts of cities.

Finally, the method [of protest] has also changed. When rural farmers fought against taxes their most important method [of protest] was that you couldn’t find them, you simply couldn’t see them. In contrast, with land conflicts involving rural farmers, they will proactively walk right up in front of you.

When rural farmers fought against taxes, the central government had an express policy forbidding the use of the police to collect the taxes and fees. With land conflicts involving rural farmers, although the central government does not have an express policy saying that police force can be used, local governments, often in the name of so-called “key social projects,” etc., will deploy large amounts of police force including the deployment of special forces and armed police. Therefore, between rural farmers’ refusal to pay taxes and rural farmers’ opposition to land expropriation, the possibility for violence is very different. In addition, the possibility for external forces becoming involved [in the conflict] is also very different.

When rural farmers fought against taxes and fees, it was very rare that external forces would become involved. However, with land conflicts involving rural farmers there is a huge of amount of involvement from external forces. These forces primarily include two groups: lawyers and the mafia. I have analyzed two reasons why a large number of lawyers become involved. First, in recent years citizens’ education has improved, rights awareness has increased, and there has been a vast growth in the number of public-minded intellectuals and public interest lawyers. They have become involved in land conflicts that concern rural farmers. Second, when rural farmers fought against taxes and fees, if you went and represented them in their lawsuit you wouldn’t have much income. However, in land conflicts that involve rural farmers, you may gain a huge economic benefit [from your representation]. I don’t think that [becoming involved because of] economic benefit is wrong, but the reality is that the reason many lawyers become involved in land conflicts involving rural farmers is because these rural land cases have the possibility of producing relatively large lawyers’ fees.

Another aspect is that the involvement of the mafia in land conflicts affecting rural farmers is also quite serious. Today in China, eighty or ninety percent of land cases have the mafia in the background. Currently there is nothing the mafia doesn’t dare to do, even the actual gunning down of rural farmers. The most serious cases are like the June 2005 Dingzhou incident. The Dingzhou City Party Committee Secretary, who has been sentenced to prison, sent the mafia to snatch up rural famers’ land. I visited him and said: It’s not easy to become a municipal Communist Party committee secretary; [to gain this position] you may have needed to invite guests [to lavish banquets], present gifts, use the back door; I don’t know how many things you must have done to become a municipal Party committee secretary—and yet how could you [waste all this effort] by sending the mafia to snatch rural farmers’ land? This is how this municipal Party committee secretary answered me: He said, I’ve been wronged. I didn’t organize the mafia, and I didn’t want the mafia to go [take the land]. It was just that this company said to me, “You in the government can’t resolve this problem; is it okay if we try something?” At the time, all I said in response was “go ahead.” How could I have imagined that that he would actually go and use the mafia to hit these rural farmers. This municipal Party committee secretary just said this one sentence, “go ahead.” I discovered that this sentence should not have been spoken, once spoken the resulting mess was huge.

In March 2008, the Australian ambassador to China, Mr. Geoff Raby, put in a request with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the China Academy of Social Sciences to meet with me. At the Academy of Social Sciences we were extremely nervous because in most cases a nation’s ambassador would not visit people [within the Academy]. The Academy had a dry run, holding a meeting like the meeting today with you lawyers. They organized a group of people to guess what it was that he might ask and how I should respond. When he actually came, he did not ask any of the questions that we had thought of. He asked three questions. One was: “In your country in 2007, rural farmers in three places announced that they held their land privately.4 Supposing that there comes a day when all of China’s rural farmers announce that they own their land privately, what would happen?” When I heard this I was at a bit of a loss because this question hadn’t come up in our dry run. (Laughter) I responded by saying that according to our research, more than ninety percent of rural farmers did not yet have this concept [of private land ownership]. I didn’t tell him an inside detail which was that one of the incidents [in which rural farmers announced private land ownership] was organized by a non-lawyer legal worker. A lot of people know this person; actually when he organized this incident he sent me the materials to take a look at. But no matter [that most farmers don’t have a concept of private land ownership], rural farmers in three places vowed [that they owned their land privately]. This shows that one day other rural farmers might also take this step.

What are the most recent developments in rural [land] conflicts? One is the increase in the theft of subterranean resources. Everyone might know that on December 12, 2009 four rural farmers were again killed—killed with live ammunition—all so that their underground resources could plundered. The second [development] is the increase in the number of conflicts involving rights to forestland. We predict that these will continue to increase in the next five years. What’s the reason for this? It is because reforms in forestland rights have required a recalibration of interests. The third is the increase in rural environmental problems. Furthermore, [these problems] are moving from the East to the Midwest, and are shifting from factory pollution to pollution such as environmental pollution caused by mining and environmental destruction brought on by hydroelectric projects.

I have just spoken about problems involving rural farmers. Now I will speak about problems involving workers. I have written a book about this issue entitled The Situation of China’s Working Class. I wrote about coal miners in Anyuan [in Jiangxi Province] where Mao Zedong organized proletariat movements at the time. The place where the Communist Party really organized proletariat movements was the Anyuan coal mines. It was there that the first Communist Party Workers Organization was formed and where the first Communist Party Workers Branch was established. The Chinese Communist Youth League and the Young Pioneers all have close connections to Anyuan. All the key leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have all been to Anyuan. I researched there for four years and wrote a book about what the Anyuan workers were up to. My research discovered that problems involving workers are more complicated than problems involving rural farmers. Because their problems are more diverse, such as the restructuring of government work units, late payment of wages, etc., they are not like the case of rural farmers in which over 60% of problems involve land conflicts.

Workers’ methods of resistance include petitioning higher levels of government, sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, and blocking traffic. Two extremely important recent methods of resistance include “taking a walk” and “going sightseeing.” (PowerPoint slide) Take a look, these are workers from Baoding “taking a walk” to Beijing on April 3, 2009. It is 137 kilometers from Baoding to Beijing. When I learned the news [of the workers’ “walk”] and rushed over, they were almost at the Xushui County toll station.5 At the time Beijing was very tense; Shijiazhuang was very tense; Baoding was very tense. A lot of people and workers were sent to negotiate; they said “You can’t go to Beijing like this.” The workers answered by saying, “Is there a problem with us going to Beijing to go sightseeing? There’s nothing wrong with it. What law says we can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing?” Those [sent to] persuade them said, “you can’t all of you go to Beijing to go sightseeing.” The workers immediately responded, “And what law exactly says that this many people can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing? [Those sent to persuade them against going insisted,] “In any event, you can’t all walk to Beijing to go sightseeing like this.” The workers said, “We don’t have any money, why can’t we walk to Beijing?” The situation was extremely tense. Finally, Baoding City [government] had no choice but to state right there to the workers, “We’ll resolve all your problems.” The workers said, “We don’t have any problems. Our only problem is a sightseeing problem. Look for yourselves, we haven’t brought materials to petition the government, we’re not shouting slogans, we don’t have any problems, we’re not petitioning the government, we’re not lodging complaints. We are going sightseeing.” In the end, their actions at the scene caused their company’s chairman of the board to be taken away [by the police]. Only then did they return.

Everyone might think that the earliest instance of [workers] “taking a walk” was in Xiamen [in Fujian Province]. Actually the earliest instance involved Anyuan coal miners. This is why I became interested in the Anyuan coal miners. These old workers [in Anyuan] requested a pay raise. No one paid attention to them. The courts would not accept their case. They wrote a report to the Public Security Bureau saying that they wanted to stage a demonstration. The Public Security Bureau did not pay attention to them. Finally this group of people went to Beijing to petition the government. Because the size of the group exceeded five, a group of people were taken away [by the police]. Finally there was nothing else they could do so they planned that on a certain day 20,000 workers would all walk at the same time to Pingxiang City which encompasses Anyuan. Pingxiang is a prefecture level city; what’s up with 20,000 “taking a walk” along the roads? We’ve recently been researching this type of behavior, which is very difficult to classify as being legal or illegal.

What is more serious is the trend of increasing violence in workers’ conflicts. On July 24, 2009 Tonghua Iron and Steel had a strike [during which] the general manager was killed. Afterwards, [workers] in old state-owned enterprises in many places came up with slogans. One of them was “When the Tonghua Big Boss is doing [bad] things, what should one do about it?”6 This scared a lot of bosses at state-owned factories that were being restructured so much that they didn’t show up for work. Why? They were afraid of being killed. After this incident, I wrote three articles. In the first article, I discussed the topic, “Creating a Harmonious Relationship Between Labor and Management Requires Institution Building.” In September the All China Federation of Trade Unions held an important training session in Shanghai at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong. They called all the nation’s provincial and city level Federation of Trade Union chairs and research center directors to Pudong to attend the training. When I gave my presentation, people from the labor unions all raised this question: “Why don’t any of the workers listen to what we say now?” I said: “Why should they listen to what you say? You don’t represent their interests; how can you expect them to listen to you? It’s not until now when there’s some disturbance that you wonder why workers don’t listen to what you say.” Our findings are that violent worker protests flare up periodically. Problems that seem to have already been resolved appear all over again. There were disturbances years ago in the Anyuan coal mines; then they stopped; now they have started up again. Anyuan workers are now once again “taking walks,” once again “going sightseeing;” all these activities are starting all over again. The old historical problems are repeating themselves.

Taxi strikes are also quite serious. The most classic example is the strike that occurred in November 2008 in Chongqing. The Chongqing City Party Committee Secretary7 did two things at the time [in response to the strike]. First, he met this group of people. Second, he said, “Go and spend your members’ money to establish your trade union.” After making this statement, the whole nation voiced support. But there were still two questions. First, what should be done in other places throughout the country? What should the nation’s stance be on this issue? On November 10, 2008 Sanya [in Hainan Province] also had a taxi strike. The local municipal Party Committee Secretary named Jiang Zelin graduated with a Ph.D. from where I work at the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences. He was very nervous and wasn’t sure whether he should see [these disgruntled taxi drivers]. But he didn’t have any other choice and had to see them. The Chongqing City Party Committee Secretary was a member of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party, [Jiang Zelin] had a lower position as a member of the Hainan Provincial [Party] Committee. If [a member of Politburo] deigned to meet [disgruntled taxi drivers] how could [Jiang Zelin] not meet with them? In the end Jiang Zelin was compelled to meet with these people and had to make some kind of statement. But could a trade union that truly represented China’s taxi cab drivers actually be established? At that time, a few people and I held a meeting at Peking University School of Law. I stated that according to my understanding of the Chinese Communist Party, according to my analysis of the governing philosophy of those in China who currently hold high positions, that [this kind of trade union that represents workers’ interests] could not be established. This is what [the government] fears the most.

The second question was, whether after [the creation of the trade union] the Chongqing taxi industry could develop in a healthy manner. Now the situation has changed. All the [trade union] leaders are not to be seen. Furthermore, the crimes that got mafia boss Li Qiang twenty years in prison, involved organizing the November 3rd Chongqing Taxi Strike.

Since 2008, teacher strikes have become quite serious. Teachers are smart; no teacher ever says that they are going on strike; they simply say that they are “stopping classes.” Why do [teacher strikes] occur? The main reason is that there are laws that require that teachers’ salaries cannot be lower than the salary of public servants in the same area who hold comparable positions. [The government] has not been able to meet this requirement. The newest development is cases sparked by unfair performance-based compensation.

I have made a simple conclusion about workers’ problems. Workers’ key problem in the restructuring of state owned work units will be conflicts between workers and management.

As for problems concerning city residents, I have not conducted specialized research. I have a Ph.D. colleague who is now a teacher at a Party school. Her Ph.D. dissertation was written specifically about city residents’ rights defense. This year I attended the dissertation defense of four Ph.D. candidates at Renmin University who majored in international politics. Three of the Ph.D candidates all wrote about city residents’ rights defense. Now there are more and more scholars who are starting to care about city residents’ rights defense. According to their research, building demolitions are a key issue. The most serious conflict caused by building demolitions occurred in Longnan, Gansu Province. November 17th last year [2008], the municipal Party committee building was smashed in. We predict that mass incidents sparked by city residents’ rights defense activities will increase. Everyone should pay close attention to this. The most recent case was a relatively large mass incident near Kunming’s Luosi Bay that was sparked by demolitions. Not long ago I went to Kunming especially so that I could understand what happened near Luosi Bay.

I have just spoken about situations where workers, rural farmers, and city residents are involved in rights defense. Now, I will make some simple generalizations about the characteristics of their activities. First, I believe that city residents’ rights defense activities are all about financial interest. Whether you are talking about workers, rural farmers, or city residents, the most notable characteristic of rights defense activities is that they are battles over financial interests, and are not battles over power. Said more simply, it’s all about the money and not about life or death. They just want money. They don’t want your political power, nor do they want your position as an official. This all-about-the-money approach is not about starting a revolution; it’s about getting money. No one is going out in the streets saying that the Communist Party must hand over its political power or that local officials must hand over their political power. No one is proposing that people should revolt and seize power like during the Cultural Revolution. Even if the government is destroyed, it would be about financial interests and [people] would not want [the government’s] power. No one is proposing to destroy the government and build a new government. A struggle over financial interests is the main characteristic of the rights defense activities of workers, rural farmers and city residents.

I’ll tell a story. In 2007, a huge problem occurred in China’s Guangdong province. A group of farmers in Shanwei organized a search and confiscation team. To whose home did they go to search and confiscate? They went to the homes of village and township cadres. They said, “You’ve sold our land, so we’re coming to search your home and confiscate your property.” This scared a lot of township and village cadres so much that they ran away. On May 7th of the year, I accompanied a national leader to Guangdong to conduct an investigation. On May 8th Zhang Dejiang, Secretary of the Guangdong Party Committee at the time, and member of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party, gave a report to the national leader. He said that in Guangdong Province these last few years there had been many problems; however, the provincial Party Committee after investigation and research came to the conclusion that these were all “contradictions among the people.” What are “contradictions among the people?” These are problems that can all be solved by using renminbi—the people’s currency. (Laughter) This is funny, but I think he was right. That night I met with editorialists from Southern Weekend and Southern Daily. I said that in my view, Zhang Dejiang, this kind of high ranking leader within the Communist Party, is familiar with the problems China currently faces. The biggest problem is a struggle over financial interests. The fact that struggles are about financial interests and are not about power is a key reason why, in our judgment, China is currently experiencing so many mass incidents. This is the first characteristic.

The second characteristic [of rights defense activities] is that “rule awareness” is greater than “rights awareness” (PowerPoint slide) This is what this person said. Her name is Elizabeth Perry. She is a world famous political scientist. In 2007, she published an important article entitled, “The Rights Awareness of Chinese People.” She said that since 1989, Westerners all thought that China would collapse. However it has almost been twenty years and the Chinese Communist Party has still not collapsed. When Westerners see Chinese people take to the streets they are ecstatic, they say once again that the Communist Party is going to collapse. But after a few days [the Chinese people] go back. Why? She says that “we Western scholars have all misjudged the situation and there is a key reason why; we don’t understand what ordinary Chinese people are thinking. Actually, ordinary Chinese people take to the streets for different reasons than us Westerners. When Westerners take to the streets they are talking about rights; however when Chinese people take to the streets they are talking about rules.”

This sentence is hard to understand so let me give an example and you’ll understand. Why do Chinese people take to the streets? Ordinary Chinese people will say, “You promised to give me ten Yuan, why are you now only giving me five Yuan? You’re not honoring your word. Your law says that rural people should be having elections and that land takings should only occur if the villagers approve. So why aren’t there elections? Why are you selling our land without gaining our approval? You local governments are not doing things according to the nation’s laws.” In summary the issue is about the [government] not honoring its word. So what do Westerners say when they take to the streets? They say, “Why are you only giving us ten Yuan? According to human rights, according to natural rights, you should be giving us one hundred Yuan. Your rules [providing ten Yuan] are wrong.

The vast amount of ordinary Chinese people’s behavior, I classify as legal resistance. They’ll use your own laws to resist you, and won’t say the law itself is wrong. It’s very rare that an ordinary person will say that the law is wrong. The only people that say this is are us [lawyers]. If you go to the “petitioning village” in Beijing, you will discover petitioners often copy large numbers of documents. These documents most often say that local government rules contravene central government rules. No one dares challenge the central government’s rules. Elizabeth Perry thinks that this is the key to why China has not collapsed. She says that supposing there comes a day when the Chinese masses universally think that the rules are wrong, then [the government’s] political power will be in serious danger. Therefore, Elizabeth Perry says that the Communist Party should count its blessings. [China’s] people are so reasonable! [China’s] people are just saying you haven’t followed the rules; if you follow the rules, then we’ll support you. In July 2008 Elizabeth Perry invited me to Harvard University. We had discussions that lasted for one week. We wrote an article, if you’re interested you can take a look. It’s called, “China’s Political Tradition and Development—Yu Jianrong in Dialogue With Elizabeth Perry,” published in Nanfeng Chuang. Yesterday’s Southern Weekend published another exchange between myself and Elizabeth Perry. The title is called “The Vitality and Predicaments of Chinese Politics.” It discusses: where does the vitality of the Chinese Communist Party lie? How much longer can it live?

The third characteristic [of rights defense activities] is that they are more about reactions [to events] and less about moving [a cause] forward. What does this mean? It means that for problems involving ordinary Chinese people; if [the government] doesn’t mess with them, then they usually won’t dare to mess with [the government]. For example, regarding demolition, people will say: “Why are you tearing down my house; how can you tear down my house and not pay compensation?” Supposing someone clearly knew that a house demolition would have benefits, they definitely wouldn’t dare go and find [the government] and say “Why don’t you tear down my house?” This is an illustration of the principle: if [the government] doesn’t mess with them, then they won’t mess with [the government].

The third characteristic [of rights defense activities] is that there is a blurry line between the legality of the goal and the illegality of the actions [taken to achieve the goal]. The legality of a great number of rights defense activities of the Chinese people is somewhat unclear. This is a characteristic of more than 80% of China’s current mass incidents related to rights defense activities.

So what was the problem that occurred on June 17, 2009 in Hubei Province, Shishou City? The elite armed guards were beaten by the people until they dropped their helmets and armor and fled pell-mell. What is it that happened? Was what occurred the same as the rights defense activities that I have just spoken about? It was not the same. I call this type of event “a social venting incident.” My giving it this name got me into a great deal of trouble, I was almost placed under shuanggui [Party house arrest].” (Laughter) On October 30, 2007, I gave a speech in America at University of California, Berkeley. I said that China has recently experienced a new kind of mass incident that differed from rights defense activities. That speech was the first time I gave these incidents the name “social venting incidents.” The first characteristic of these incidents is that the participants do not have a material request [to the government]; they are mainly venting to society their feelings of resentment and anger. What are they upset about? They are upset at government powers and at rich people. The second characteristic of these events is that the participants are not organized; the incidents happen quickly and then disperse quickly.

On November 8th right when I got back to Beijing, the problems began. When I turned on my cell phone I saw a text message from the Secretary of the [Rural Development] Institute’s Party Committee telling me to contact him immediately upon returning. So I called him and said, “Secretary, I’m back, what’s the matter?” He said, “Are you back?” I said that I had just gotten off the plane and hadn’t yet gone through customs. He said, “Come back immediately to the work unit [the Rural Development Institute].” I said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “It’s very serious.” I asked, “Is it okay if I come tomorrow?” He answered, “No, you must come today, you must rush over first thing.” Our work unit does not require you to be at the office; if you’re not there no one will mind. It’s usually rare for me in the course of a year to show up more than a few times. They often joke and say that I visit the Academy of Social Sciences only if it’s convenient, just if it’s on the way to somewhere else that I’m going. (Laughter) But when [the Party Secretary] said this I had no choice. When I heard this, I felt that there must be something very serious afoot. They pay my salary so I had no choice but to take my backpack and go. Right when I got to my work unit and saw our [Party] secretary, I said, “Secretary, what’s the matter?” Our [Party] secretary took out a sheet of paper and showed it to me. It was a report written to the central government leaders by a department, a department that specializes in tattling to the central government. The title was, “Speech Given in America by Professor Yu Jianrong of the Academy of Social Sciences.” The first sentence was that Yu Jianrong stated that China has experienced some sort of “venting incidents” which refer primarily to dissatisfaction towards government powers and the wealthy. [These incidents] are anti-government and anti-rich. [The whole document] was about 300 characters long. There was a memo written on the side by a leader who had recently risen to the central government from the local government level. His memo was very good, very tactful. He recommended that the Academy of Social Sciences have a talk with comrade Yu Jianrong and that famous scholars should pay attention to the influence [their comments might have]. Then he signed his name. This document was a huge pain.

It was a big deal that this report came to our work unit. The work unit’s senior leaders were not there, and the [Institute’s Party] secretary was very upset. He wrote a memo on the side: “The Rural Development Institute must have a serious talk with Yu Jianrong.” (Laughter) “We are a socialist nation, our people support their government; what could they possibly have to vent about?!” “Since the people have nothing to vent about, how could there be a ‘venting incident?’ You’re talking nonsense. Our leaders have told you not to spout rubbish, and here you go everywhere spouting rubbish. (Laughter) Look, isn’t this a mess?” I said, “What’s the mess?” They replied, “How is this not a mess? The central government leader’s memo says that we must have a talk with you; therefore, we must have a talk with you. Furthermore, our talk will be recorded and sent back to the central government; these are the rules. What are we supposed to do if you don’t have this talk with us?” So I asked our leaders, I said, “Have you seen a draft of my speech?” He said that he had not and added, “You are going all over the place giving speeches and have never shown the leaders any of your speech drafts.” (Laughter). I said, “Have you heard a recording of my speech?” He said that he had not: “You were in America speaking, where am I supposed to go to hear your speech?” So, I said, “Then I’m not having this talk with you.” He asked, “Why?” I said, “Your founding father, Mao Zedong once said, if you haven’t performed an investigation, you have no right to speak. I spoke in the United States for three hours; how can you require me to have a talk with you on the basis of some three hundred characters. I’m not talking with you unless you perform an investigation. No investigation, no talk.” I lay down on the sofa there to fall asleep; I said I had jetlag. The [Party] secretary of ours spoke to me in a gentle voice; “If you don’t have a talk with me then I’ll have a huge mess on my hands.”

Finally, the [Rural Development] Institute’s Party Committee held a meeting. After the meeting the [Party] secretary conveyed to me their decision, “The Party Committee has discussed that it is somewhat reasonable for you to not have a talk with us now, and we, who are engaged in social science research, must be reasonable. How about this, the Party Committee has decided that you can return home today; however, this week you are not to leave Beijing and must return here upon being called.” I said, “Isn’t this the same as placing me under shuanggui [Party house arrest]?’” (Laughter) I waited for five days. The [Party] secretary called me on the phone. Because he knew that I loved to run all over the place—wherever there is problem I always want to go there to have a look—therefore he knew that I was pretty sad being confined in Beijing and not permitted to leave. I said, “Secretary, what’s new? Can we have our talk?” He said, “We’re not having a talk.” I said, “Why are we not having the talk?” He replied, “We downloaded a recording of your talk from Berkeley’s website and had someone who could understand Hunanese transcribe it. (Laughter)8 The Party Committee has all looked over it. We feel that you are not at fault. You are a good comrade who is concerned about the country and concerned about its people. (Laughter, applause) After hearing this, if you are interested, you can take a look at my speech given at Berkeley. The Southern Weekend and a lot of papers affiliated with the Southern Daily newspaper conglomerate all covered the speech.

Now, “social venting incidents” is a concept that everyone regularly uses. Xinhua News Agency, The People’s Daily, all use this term. Especially after last year’s “Weng’an Incident” and this year’s “Shishou Incident.” A lot of people joke and say, “Yu Jianrong, you have you have such a gift of prophecy, you invented a new term, a new concept, you’re amazing.” Actually, I don’t have the gift of prophecy; China had already experienced these kinds of problems but nobody had taken notice.

The earliest I became aware of this problem was after an incident occurred on October 18, 2004 in Chongqing. A porter surnamed Yu while shifting his bamboo shoulder pole from one should to another, bumped a woman surnamed Zheng. This woman yelled at the guy surnamed Yu saying, “Are you blind? Can you not even carry a bamboo pole?” This porter named Yu had been at his occupation for many years and thought he would dispel the situation by making light of it. He said, “How can you say I’m blind? My eyes are in the front of my head; you were behind me. So sure, while the eyes in the back of my head might be blind, the eyes in the front of my head are perfectly fine.” Saying this created a big mess; the Zheng woman’s husband came over. Her husband slapped the guy named Yu and said, “You bumped someone and you still refuse to admit you were wrong, you even dare to talk back.” The guy named Yu put his load down, picked up his bamboo pole and said, “How dare you hit people? If I bumped you, caused you injury, sent you to the hospital, poked a hole in your clothes, etc., then I would be happy to pay for your losses; but how dare you hit me?” Then they got into an argument. After the argument started, people began to gather around from all corners. The people were saying, “That’s right, how dare you hit him? You city people are so awful, how dare you hit people!”

Then, this husband said something he’ll regret his whole life. He said, “I am one of the nation’s civil servants, so what if I hit the guy?” (Laughter) There were more and more people then. What was this public servant going to do now? A lot of people had gathered around; the people on the outside couldn’t see what was going on in the inside. When asked what was going on, people said, “It’s terrible, one of the nation’s civil servants has beaten to death one of us Bangbang” (which means “porter” in the local Chongqing dialect). (Laughter) They even said that he was beaten to death for no reason at all: “How can that be okay?” So people came from all corners and surrounded them. The incident moved to the police station; the people surrounded the police station. They demanded that the police station hand over the dead body, and that they hand over the murderer. The police station said, “No one has died.” The people said, “How can you say that no one has died; everyone is saying that someone died.” In the end, they smashed up the police station. After smashing up the police station, they said, “The police station belongs to the government, so let’s simply go and smash up the government [building].” And so they went and smashed up the government [building].

After this incident occurred, Beijing was very shaken. I brought a group of people to do an investigation. At the time we wondered whether in the case of these more than ten thousand people that smashed in the [government building]; whether it was like what I was originally talking about earlier—was there some kind of mafia involvement? But according to our investigation, there was no such involvement, it was extreme happenstance.

The occurrence of this event started with this one small incident. It occurred suddenly; after the smashing was done, everyone left and had a few drinks. (Laughter) At the time, we were also wondering whether [the disruption] had any organizers. Our findings discovered that there was no organization; not only was there no organization, there was also no mafia involvement, nothing—it was just extreme happenstance. The key problem was that this group of people [involved in the disturbance] had no relationship with the precipitating event. At the time some people were taken [by the police]. We went and asked them, “Do you know the porter surnamed Yu?” They said, “We don’t know him.” We asked, “Do you know the woman surnamed Zheng? “We don’t know her.” We asked, “So then why did you smash in the government [building]? They responded, “We were seeking revenge for our dead porter, we were seeking justice for him.” We again asked, “How were expecting to get justice?” They answered, “A government official beat to death one of our people and didn’t even think anything of it. If we didn’t seek justice for these ordinary people, who would?!”

Not long afterwards, a new incident occurred on June 26, 2005 in Chizhou, Anhui Province. There was a boss driving in a car with a Jiangsu license plate.9  At an intersection, the car hit a kid. The name of this kid was Liu Liang. The boss’s car stopped; his driver was very upset. But they discovered that Liu Liang stood up. Everyone knows how drivers feel in this kind of situation; first they are very upset, then, once they see that the someone gets up, then they start in with the yelling and shouting. He yelled at this kid saying, “Is this how you cross a road? If I hadn’t just now slammed on the brakes you’d be dead by now.” Liu Liang was a high school student and was large in stature, but he was so scared he started crying saying, “You just ran into me and now this is how you’re treating me?” He then pounced at the car. Two people [who were originally in the car] began tearing him away from the car. Liu Liang pulled at the car’s taillight panel, possibly even pulling it off. Several people who were in the car surrounded him and blocked him off from the car. At this time two people who drove three-wheeled pedicabs came over surrounding them saying, “You ran into someone and not only do you not send them to the hospital to get medical care, what do you do about it, you go and beat them up! The driver said, “It’s not that I didn’t hit someone, it’s just that he’s fine now.” This common person [the pedicab driver] said, “And how do you know that he is fine? Without sending him to the hospital, without taking pictures, how can you know that he’s all right? What if he looks fine now and after a little bit he isn’t fine, then what can be done about it?!” At this time a passenger in the car had this to say, “We didn’t kill the kid, and even if we had, here in your province of Anhui, we would only have to pay 300,000 RMB, what’s so terrible about that?” What a mess this created. There were more and more people; those on the outside asked those on the inside what had happened. [Those on the inside answered], “It’s terrible, a boss from Jiangsu driving his car ran over, and killed one of our kids, he even stamped his foot twice on the kid’s dead body. (Laughter) He even said, “What are Anhui people worth anyways, if you kill one they only cost 300,000 RMB.” This news spread rapidly throughout all of Chizhou. The people were saying, “Anhui people do have value, Hu Jintao is even from Anhui.” (Laughter) “So what should we do about it? Smash up their car, loot everything from a supermarket connected with [the Jiangsu boss], go to the police station and smash up the police station.”

Based upon my investigation of these two cases, I felt some confusion at the time. I wondered whether China’s society had undergone some kind of change. [Some people] when they hear that you are a government official or a civil servant, or when they hear that you are wealthy, are filled with anger towards you. The participants [in the disturbance] had absolutely nothing to do with the [precipitating] event. They knew nothing of Liu Liang and knew nothing about the person driving the car. They knew even less about the person who ran the supermarket. All they knew was that a rich person had run over and killed one of our people, and had insulted us poor folk. After the investigation, I started to think that this type of incident had a very basic distinction from rights defense activities. I wondered if a new term could be used to define this type of incident. After thinking back and forth I thought of the words hate, and indignation. Therefore, I called these types of incidents “venting incidents.”

The third characteristic of venting incidents is that there is no source of authoritative information. Ever since the internet and text messages, modern China no longer has a source of authoritative information. (PowerPoint Slide) This is Ruian City in Zhejiang Province in August 2006. Ruian is a city under the administration of Wenzhou, not large, but very prosperous. This person jumped off a building. Who is she? She was a college student studying English. She married the son of the boss of a mold making factory. Cinderella married the knight in shining armor; she should have lived happily ever after, but instead she jumped off a building. Right after she jumped off a building, her husband reported it to the police. The Public Security Bureau took a look and said that it was just a suicide. However, her family did not agree and the students of [a family member] especially did not agree. The students posted this picture to the web. On the web they asked a simple question to the people of the nation, to the people of Zhejiang, to the people of Wenzhou, and to the people of Ruian. They asked, “Would this beautiful woman kill herself?” (Laughter) The whole country’s netizens responded immediately, “No.” (Laughter) “Why would she kill herself, look at how pretty she is, so full of sunlight. Her eyes are looking forward as if towards a beautiful life. Why would she kill herself!” So a lot of people on the internet were analyzing this, “She must have been killed by him. But then how was she killed? This is how she must have been killed; he killed her then threw her down [off the building] like this.” The students once they saw this reasoning—that the whole nation’s people all said it was not suicide—thought, “What should we do about it? We have to seek justice for this teacher.” How did they seek justice? (PowerPoint Slide) You can see they took to the streets and smashed up [the husband’s] family factory and attacked the government.

That is why I said modern technology has already changed China’s political situation. It’s really quite simple. You’re wearing a really nice watch. Everyone’s cell phones nowadays can take pictures, so they take a picture of you and post it on the web saying that you are one of the nation’s civil servants and are named Leader XXX. They ask, how then can this person, on the basis of their salary, afford to wear a several hundred thousand RMB watch? They start to search online and are able to search out your ancestors going back eighteen generations. They find out what your wife is doing, what your son is doing; finally they come up with this conclusion—you are a corrupt official. This conclusion creates a huge mess. Originally when there was no internet, if one were to report an official as being corrupt on the basis of his wristwatch, the municipal Party committee secretary would take one look [at the complaint] and probably say that it was sheer nonsense. Now, if people are able to form the view on the internet that you are a corrupt official, then you have serious problems. Don’t think that if your municipal Party committee secretary doesn’t investigate you that the people will let you off. No way. The people will start to say, this person is a corrupt official; why doesn’t the municipal Party committee secretary investigate him. Then they start searching on the internet for this municipal Party committee secretary; what is this Party secretary up to? They search once, they search twice, then they discover that these two guys [the Party secretary and the official with the nice watch] originally worked together. The municipal Party committee secretary sees what is going on [and says], “Don’t search about me, search about him; investigate him.” (Laughter) So then the municipal Party committee secretary will immediately decide to hold an investigation so that the people will stop investigating him. Once investigated, sure enough—[the official with the wristwatch] is a corrupt official. Nowadays they don’t even hold an investigation. (Laughter, applause)

After the introduction of the internet, if you want to hurt someone, it is very easy. When we have our meeting you buy a pack of really nice cigarettes to give to him. The cigarettes cost 200 RMB a pack. When he enters the conference room and sits down over there, you hand him the pack of cigarettes, then have a picture taken. You then post this picture to the web. [Netizens exclaim], “How can he, one of the nation’s civil servants, afford to smoke these expensive cigarettes?” Upon investigation, the same story occurs and again, the conclusion: the person is a corrupt official. Not long ago, the head of a procuratorate was driving a nice car; he had troubles when [a picture of this was posted to] the net and [netizens] investigated, the conclusion: he had the taint of a corrupt official. So with the internet, “minor details” can be turned into public events.

There are times when we truly need to use the power of the internet to turn instances of corruption into public events, and then to turn those public events into legal events. I often think that modern society’s technology has already changed much of the political ecology. Today we have with us a rural farmer named Zhang Juzheng who is petitioning the government. Once when I was at the University of Political Science and Law giving a talk he brought a bag with him and took out something that looked like a voice recording pen. I asked him what it was. I had thought that it was a voice recording pen, which is really common. But it wasn’t. It also had a pinhole video camera! When I looked at it, I was very surprised so I asked, “So what are you, some kind of special agent?” (Laughter) He said, “I’m no special agent; I bought it. I went to Zhongguancun10 and bought it for a little over 200 RMB. I didn’t believe him, but he told me that he really had bought it. I gave him some money and asked him to buy me one. Two days later he sent me one and told me they had them as small as buttons. How much did they cost? A little over 200 RMB. At the time I was really surprised, so I went to Zhongguancun and it turns out he was right. They had this kind of product everywhere, in the form of watches, buttons, everything. So now when I talk with people I first check to see if they’re carrying a pen, (laughter) and do those buttons they’re wearing look quite right? Why do I do this? I have no choice. Originally this was all high tech; only the most advanced special agents had these kinds of things. Now ordinary people all have these kinds of things. You don’t know when they’ll be used [on you].

I once spoke about how since the introduction of the copy machine, the relationship between rural farmers and the government has changed. You might know that rural farmers who find you to [help them] initiate a lawsuit bring lots of copies of central government documents with them in their pockets. You should not underestimate copy machines. Without them, the relationship between rural farmers and the government would not be the same. I’ve run into this kind of thing. When I was in Hunan doing research, these rural farmers walked into the government [building]. They slapped these documents down on the table and said, “You’re opposing the central government. We are just trying to execute the central government’s policies.” The government there was really surprised saying, “Since when have we opposed the central government?” The rural farmers said, “Take a look, this central government document says that you cannot collect taxes on a per capita basis. So why are you collecting taxes on a per capita basis?” The government official takes a look and sees that it really says this and gets really nervous. What a mess. [He asks], “When did you get this document? Why have I not yet seen it.” He probably [didn’t see it because he] was out playing mahjong, (laughter) and these ordinary people who are suing, they have been dwelling on this issue day after day. A lot of times these ordinary people have copied more documents than us lawyers. If there were no copy machine, would rural farmers dare say this? They wouldn’t. If you were to place a [hand-copied] document on whatever leader’s desk, that leader would slap the table [and say], “You’re forging central government documents!” [Because] no matter how well you copied the document, you will always copy at least one character wrong.

When I was in Hunan I met this rural farmer. In my book I wrote that he was a rural farmer publicity expert. What kind of a rural farmer was he? Before I met him, I had imagined that he would have great speaking abilities and have a commanding appearance. After meeting him I discovered he could not have been a more plainspoken farmer. What was it that he did? At the time the [agricultural] taxes and fees were being collected he was working in Guangdong and was not in his hometown. The local government came and carried his coffin off.11 After returning and hearing that his coffin had been carried off he stopped working altogether. He bought a loudspeaker and a tape recorder. He had someone read central government documents about easing the burdens of rural farmers and recorded these. From then on, every day he would shoulder his load over to the entrance of the government building and play his tape. Wherever [the government] went to collect taxes, there he would also be with his loudspeaker playing recordings of the central government about easing the burdens of rural farmers. He really got those local officials to hate him, but there was nothing they could do to him; he was simply publicizing the central government’s policies! (Laughter)

When I asked this rural farmer, “Why did you use a tape recorder to record [these documents]?” He said, “First of all, I’m old and have difficulty seeing. I don’t speak smoothly. Every time I read it’s a big pain. The second reason is key, after I had this teacher do the recording, I told the local government, “I have lots and lots of tape recordings of these documents and have placed them in lots of different places. You shouldn’t think about doing anything to me because I have not said a single sentence incorrectly. Everything comes from this central government policy or from that central government document.” [He told me], “Even if someday they arrest me and put me in prison I wouldn’t be afraid; I have evidence that I was not speaking recklessly. I never spoke a single sentence; it was the central government that was doing the speaking.” (Laughter) Don’t underestimate these things. When I wrote the book I had a lot of conversations with him. I became acquainted on a deep level with rural farmers’ wisdom and rural farmers’ bravery in using the nation’s laws to counter illegal government [acts]. Supposing there were no copy machines would he dare say this? If there were no recording devices, if there were no audio tapes, would he dare publicize [the central government’s policies]? He would not. That is because the local governments could completely say that he was forging central government documents, that he was engaging in reactionary propaganda. So some of us lawyers in this regard are still not at the level of this rural farmer. I have continually recommended that everyone should use modern technology more. This is not necessarily so that you can use it as evidence; it’s so that at least you can protect yourselves. What I say on any day I have audio and video recorded.

The fourth characteristic [of venting incidents] is that there is no “baseline of rules.” Earlier, when I talked about rights defense activities I repeatedly mentioned that [the activists] were all about the rules. In contrast, venting incidents have no “baseline of rules.” Beating, smashing, looting, burning, these kinds of actions often occur and necessarily will occur [in this type of event]. If it did not occur then it would not be a venting incident. This year [2009] has also seen several large venting incidents. There was the Hainan East Side Incident, the Sichuan Nanchong Incident, etc., etc.

I have spoken about rights defense activities and venting incidents. Now I will speak about rabble-rousing. What is the difference between rabble-rousing and venting incidents? Everyone take a look at this. (PowerPoint slide) This is a rabble-rousing incident in Hunan in September, 2008. You can see they smashed the sign of the people’s government. This kind of incident occurs frequently; the key is to look over here. This is a supermarket. The people looted this supermarket. [I] later discovered that this supermarket had absolutely nothing to do with the [precipitating] event. This is the key difference between rights defense activities, venting incidents and rabble-rousing. Rabble-rousers will attack people who are unrelated [to the precipitating event]. Rights defense activities are primarily directed towards those who inflicted the harm and towards the government. Venting incidents are primarily directed towards the government and those who inflicted the harm. However, rabble-rousing activities are directed towards unrelated people. Look again; doesn’t this look like carnival? People looting supermarkets, looting stores, people giddy with joy. In October 2008 during the National Day holiday, the stores there were all basically closed and didn’t dare open. Finally they had to actually deploy field army troops to go in there before order was restored. I call this kind of action rabble-rousing. There is possibly one type of rabble-rousing activity that is sparked by ideology. The March 2008 problems in Lhasa, I also classify as rabble-rousing. The key question is whether [the incident] is directed towards unrelated people. The problems that occurred this year in Xinjiang, some people say were terrorist activities. I don’t think they were; I think they were rabble-rousing.

This is my simple generalization about mass incidents currently. The main characteristic of rights defense activities is that there is a relatively clear material request. Venting incidents do not have a clear material request, they are mainly [people] venting their feelings of resentment and anger. The key difference between rabble-rousing and venting is that rabble-rousing is directed towards unrelated people, innocent bystanders. Once you discover that the incident is directed towards innocent bystanders then you can classify the problem as rabble-rousing.

In rural areas, if people did not pay taxes, local government officials would sometimes go to the person’s house and take away possessions (including coffins). These would then be then be sold to pay the tax debt.

Based upon my work dividing mass incidents into categories and describing their characteristics, I have come to the following conclusion. Currently, Chinese society as a whole is stable. This can be seen by the fact that China’s politics and rulers are united and that there have not yet been actions directed towards opposing the central government. We political scientists researching politics first [look at] the ability of the central government powers to control local governments. Someone came up with the conclusion that currently China’s central government is weak, and this and that about China. Let me tell you another way to analyze the situation. As of now, there has not been a single local leader who has dared step forward and oppose the central government. If you look at all of China’s local leaders, all the central government has to do is hold one meeting. Then, even if [the local leader] could not be more opposed [to the decision made at the meeting], even if they could not be more upset [at the decision], they will still make a statement that they resolutely support the central government’s decision, that they are firmly united behind such and such a person. They don’t dare not make this statement. If they don’t make the statement then they lose their position. This is a necessity of our political community; now nobody dares to openly say that the central government is wrong.

Furthermore, social controls are still effective. Don’t look at the fact that a lot of problems are happening today; the Communist Party still has the ability to keep society under control. [Consider] for example the cases of SARS and swine flu. [Also consider] the case where [the country] wants to hold a National Day celebration. We in Beijing understand this problem the most. [The government] can deploy all [its] powers to “defend public order.” With one word, those old ladies wearing red armbands are out there standing in the intersection [blocking streets off for events], [yelling], “Who do you think you are!” and then it all begins. You can’t say, what if all the people say they’re not going to take it. [There may] truly be that day, but now [the government] still has this ability [to organize society even when it causes annoyances]. We all know that during the National Day holiday, whoever dared walk forward one step would be immediately hauled off by those old men and old ladies. The Communist Party is still able to fight the people’s war. Therefore, I came up with this first conclusion. For now, Chinese society should still be stable.

However, my second conclusion is that this type of stability is rigid. “Rigid stability” is a term I invented this year, borrowing from natural sciences and especially from engineering. I feel that it has three characteristics. First, true social stability is about long-term social stability; it’s about the long-term stability of the nation’s laws. However, our [stability] is not like this. All of our stability is centered around a single goal: maintaining a monopoly on political power. In other words, the ultimate goal of all the Communist Party’s goals is how it can hold a monopoly on political power. This is what is called “Adhering to the Leadership of the Party.” It is the “Four Adheres,”12 nothing else is essential; what is essential is that one adhere to the leadership of the Party. Everything else can be changed; only this cannot be changed. Why? The key characteristic currently of our regime is its monopoly on power. Its monopoly on power and sealing off of its power, its refusal to allow others to gain access, its refusal to allow people to engage in any actions that challenge the government’s monopoly on power—this makes up the baseline of the Communist Party. This baseline shows why our stability is different than the stability of Western nations. Social stability in the West is about how to protect the long-term stability of the constitution, how to protect the long-term stability of the laws. The government can be changed, this person or that person can act as president, but you cannot change the nation’s basic system of constitutional governance. Here [in China], the situation is that no one cares what you do to the basic system as long as you do not change the power of our Communist Party. Therefore, the first characteristic of “rigid stability” is that there is this monopoly on power.

The second characteristic [of “rigid stability”] is that things that would ordinarily be considered regular social activities can all be seen as “elements of instability.” For example, demonstrations, labor strikes, transportation strikes—these activities are all being seen as “unstable.” Now, even petitioning higher levels of government has been turned into an “element of instability.” A lot of local government documents all say that currently “elements of instability” primarily include the petitioning of higher levels of government. Those who petition higher levels of government are [a source of] instability, whatever method they use to petition is [a source of] instability. Actually, petitioning higher levels of government is your constitutional right; it is a right provided for by the Regulation on Complaint Letters and Visits. Why has it also been labeled as unstable? It is because [local governments] think that any assault on local power is a type of instability. It is not that just an assault on central government power [is considered a source of instability], it is that an assault on any power is [considered a source of] instability. So this is an extremely important problem.

Third, to control society [and achieve] “rigid stability” does not primarily rely on the judiciary and primarily relies on the following: state violence, ideology, and controls on societal organizations. Therefore this type of stability is rigid. Supposing you were to measure indicators of social stability, China’s social stability would far and away be greater than the social stability of Western countries. Why? Because our stability is extremely rigid. However, “rigid stability” brings with it an enormous danger. Currently, [funds spent on maintaining] stability have become one the nation’s extremely significant expenditures; [maintaining stability] has become an enormous burden. For so-called stability, local officials are all running up to Beijing to catch people, running up to Beijing to set up offices. This type of stability has thrown the entire nation into disarray. Therefore when the issue of social stability is brought up we run into the biggest problem; once the local government says that something implicates “stability,” then forget whatever views you may have held. Social stability has now become the highest goal of the nation’s politics. All reforms, everything, is being overwhelmed and restricted by [this goal]. Therefore, in order to “avoid distress” we sacrifice reforms. Therefore, we sacrifice peoples’ rights endowed by law, because those rights offend so-called stability. And what is the only goal of this stability? It is not only those present here today that see what this [goal] is, the reality is that a lot of people see what [this goal] is. Why has a sort of pessimistic feeling become so common now? Does everybody all feel like this kind of stability can last? Let me tell you that it cannot. This kind of stability will certainly bring about massive social catastrophe.

So then what should be done about it? Secretary-general Hu Jintao during the 17th National People’s Congress considered many, many measures. The Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Security, the Headquarters of the People’s Armed Police, the courts, and the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, all considered many measures. The core approach of these measures is to control in society all so-called actions challenging government power. Are these measures sufficient? I’ve mulled this over [and think that they] will not be sufficient. So what’s to be done? What is it that is needed before there will be stability?

Recently I’ve been telling a story a lot, a story from when I was visiting with people in Taiwan. In 2004, Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council invited me to visit and give a lecture at Taiwan’s Chengchi University. They provided me fifteen days of room, board and entertainment. At that time I proposed to them, “How about this, after I give my lecture, you give me a map and a driver. Wherever I say to go, you have me driven there according to the map.” They said, “What do you want to do?” I said that I wanted to take a look and see what Taiwan’s ordinary people were doing and thinking. They said, “No problem, you can freely take a look at Taiwan, you can freely ask what ordinary people are thinking.” But I said there’s one more thing. “You have to send someone along to pay the tab because [this trip] has to include meals and lodging.” (Laughter) “No problem, we’ll send someone to pick up the bill.”

After I gave my lecture, they drove a car; wherever I said to go they would take me there. I asked ordinary Taiwanese people the same question: if a local official without your approval demolished your house, what would you do about it? 99% of Taiwanese people answered, “Impossible, how would he dare demolish my house? Impossible!” I said, “But supposing that it was demolished what would you do?” Ordinary Taiwanese people would say, “I would go to court and sue him. The judge would severely punish this government official who tore down my house without gaining my approval. If I agreed to it he would have to pay me 100,000; if I didn’t agree to it he might have to pay 1,000,000.”

I then asked: what if the judge did not accept your case or did not judge your case according to law? Ordinary Taiwanese people would again answer, “Impossible, how would he dare not accept my case? (Laughter) Because my problem is really simple; I have a certificate of ownership; he doesn’t have a contract [granting him the right] to demolish my house. He is wrong; he must make compensation. Impossible.”

I said, “But supposing that this problem occurred, what would you do?” Ordinary Taiwanese people would tell me, “I would find my legislator and tell him. My legislator would come and investigate. After his investigation he would hold a news conference. At the conference he would say that this local official’s and this judge’s days were over. [They] couldn’t [keep on] working.

I then asked, what if this legislator doesn’t care about your problem? What if he doesn’t come and perform an investigation? When I got to this question Taiwanese people all started to get annoyed at me saying, “You mainlander, how can you ask so many hypotheticals? How can any of these hypotheticals actually happen? (Laughter, applause). This is not something that I want to make the legislator do, this is something that the legislator himself wants to do. The legislator dreams and hopes every day that this kind of thing will happen (Laughter, applause). How could he not come? Impossible!”

I said, “It’s possible.” They answered, “No that would be impossible.” Ordinary Taiwanese people have this telephone card with the contact information of their legislator. So [they say], “try it out, give him a call.” I said, “That’s impossible [that he would come].” They answered, “It’s possible.” [If one were to] call on the phone, and [if] that legislator were nearby, he would be extremely excited about receiving the call and rush right over. (Laughter) He would ask, “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” He would be so excited! Because all the legislature has to do is investigate this matter and he would be promoted to a county-level legislator. He might even be promoted to the National Legislative Yuan. He might even be the next “A-Bian”!13 (Laughter) But me, I was still not satisfied. So I continued asking, I said, “Supposing that he just doesn’t come, what then? People told me, “It’s quite simple. If he doesn’t come then the next time he is running for reelection, when he comes by my house asking for my vote, when he’s there asking for my vote, I’ll splash him with filthy water. Then do you think this legislator will still be able to be a legislator? No! Therefore, this is a very simple matter.”

I got this [same] conclusion traveling from Taipei to Tainan. Today I told the story of when I was in Taiwan. Actually, I’ve asked this question to people in many countries, including: Japan, Germany, France, and America. I’ve been to many countries and asked many of their people. Basically, their answers are all about the same. The basic logic and conclusion are all the same. Why did I speak about Taiwan? Because we share a common culture with Taiwan. People often say that Western institutions are not suited to us in China. No matter, don’t you also say that Taiwan is a part of China? Since Taiwan is also China, why was that group of people able to answer “impossible” [to the questions of whether the government could demolish their house without their approval, whether a judge would not accept their case, and whether a legislator would refuse to make an investigation]? We should not [just] look at China Central Television saying today that the Taiwanese are fighting, or saying tomorrow that Taiwan is cursing Ma Yingjiu. It doesn’t matter. Taiwan’s society, on the ground level, is extremely harmonious and stable.

I went to the Taichung area and stayed at a rural farmer’s house, an old farmer who grew flowers. He was really excited at the time because he had never met anyone from the mainland. He said, “Today I’ll treat you to dinner. How about we don’t eat at home; let’s go into town and eat at a restaurant.” I said, “Sounds great; of course I’m happy to eat at a restaurant as long as I don’t have to pick up the tab.” He said, “How could I let you pay; of course I wouldn’t let you pay.” He drove with me in his car. The car had flowers in the back and places to sit in the front. So we started driving and had driven about 200 meters when I said, “Stop, there’s a problem.” He said, “What problem?” I said that when we left, “I was the last to leave and forgot to shut the door. The main entrance door and the side door both aren’t shut.” He said, “What’s the problem with not shutting the door?” I replied, “Aren’t there things in the home?” He said, “Don’t worry about it; our house has installed an electronic video camera. If someone comes in I just have to consult the video camera and I’ll know what he took. Then after I come back he’ll return it to me and it’ll be all right.” I was thinking to myself, “Where I’m from, by the time you got back, even your electronic video camera would be gone.” (Laughter, applause)

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this question: Taiwan has the same kind of culture as we do; why do they have so many “impossibles”? I’ve mulled this over and wondered what is it about a society that makes it harmonious? First, [the society’s] property rights are clearly defined. If this thing is mine, then it is mine. If it’s not mine then it’s yours. Does China have clearly defined property rights? No. Today let’s ask; suppose a local official demolishes your house; what are you going to do about it? China’s ordinary people certainly wouldn’t think to say that it would be impossible for this to happen. You go out to buy some steamed buns, you come back and your house is gone. Hasn’t this all happened before? Which rural farmer would say, “This is my land, [the government official] wouldn’t dare sell my land?” Who is going to say this? No one is going to say this. If only [the government official] can think of a way, your plot of land is gone, and you’re not going to beat him if you sue. If they want to demolish your house and you don’t agree, then they’ll think of a way. They’ll say your house was constructed in an illegal manner. We don’t have clearly defined property rights. It is very difficult to say that this property right belongs to me.

Not long ago something really interesting happened. In Guangxi, the director of an Office of Letters and Visits [in charge of handling petitions to higher levels of government] himself became a petitioner to a higher level of government. His home had been demolished. Who here with us today is willing to stand up and say that his or her rights have been completely protected? No one. That is because we don’t have these clearly defined rights. That is because someone can think up some way to turn your legally protected rights into rights with no legal protection.

Actually there’s nothing terrible about disputes. All modern societies have lots of disputes. However the [key] to whether a society is or is not harmonious is whether there is an authoritative judicial system. It doesn’t matter if you are in the West or in Taiwan; what do they do if there is a dispute? They will tell you that they will go to court and bring a lawsuit. Do our people say this? They don’t say this. If you were to tell them to go to court and bring a lawsuit, ordinary people would say every time, “How would the judge believe me? (Laughter) There’s no way he would believe me!” (Applause) If you were to ask, “Would a lawyer believe you?” they would said, “Lawyers also wouldn’t believe me.” (Laughter) That is because we haven’t been able to make the law our baseline. We don’t have this kind of a system! So ordinary people think, “I don’t care what your courts decide, I’m petitioning the government!”

When they petition higher levels of government, [does the government] believe them? Again, no. There is an American named Julie Harms.14 She is a foreigner who came to Beijing to petition the government concerning her Chinese husband. She came by my house to visit me and ask for my advice. I asked her a question, “What would you do in America?” She said, I would definitely go to the court and bring a lawsuit.” So I asked, “Then why here in China are you petitioning the government?” She said, “Because Chinese courts don’t listen; they don’t listen to what the central government has to say. So, I’m going directly to the central government, hoping that the central government will make [the courts] listen.” I asked, “Was bringing a lawsuit effective?” She said, “No. Before I brought the lawsuit they still hadn’t taken him. Right when I brought the lawsuit they took him away. That’s because once the lawsuit was brought the local government said that this problem had become a mess and they needed to [make their handling of the case look] legitimate and [make it look] like a case borne out by ironclad evidence. So they convicted him.” That’s why I say we do not have an authoritative judicial system.

What’s more, do we have a truly representative system [of government]? Again, no. Of the lawyers sitting here today, are there [even] a few of us who have actually gone and voted to choose our [representatives in the] National People’s Congress? None. We don’t know who our representatives are either. Even if we did know, it wouldn’t do any good. People say, “You’re not the representative I elected; I only know “Three Representatives,”15 but these “Three Representatives” are nowhere to be found! (Laughter, applause) Why? Because our representative system of government is not whole.

Finally, do we have an open media? No. Don’t think that the internet of today [was meant to] provide us with a space. The reason we have the internet is because they didn’t have a choice. If they did, they would hope that we couldn’t even have the internet. Now isn’t it the case in Xinjiang that you can’t get on the internet? A member of your same legal profession is a very well known person named He Weifang who is a good friend of mine. He is currently in Shihezi [in Xinjiang Autonomous Region]. He told me that the hardest thing is that he can’t keep in touch with us. He can’t get text messages, he can’t get on the web. What’s he to do? I said, “Who told you to get yourself sent to Shihezi.”16

We often say that things are so much more open now. But this is for technical reasons. It is not because of the government itself; it is not because the government’s philosophy on ruling has changed. Faced with this situation, some local governments say, “Go ahead and criticize us.” Some officials say, “Go ahead and criticize me.” But do you really dare criticize them? You can mention some small things that are not particularly aggravating and they might even give lip-service and say they’ll do something about it. But if you really criticize them, then you immediately find yourself laid off from your job and under arrest in a different province! So, as I’ve pondered this over, [I’ve come to the conclusion that] a harmonious society must have clearly defined property rights, an authoritative judicial system, a truly representative system [of government], and it must have an open media.

Because it is very hard for us to do these things today, I especially feel that law is important. (PowerPoint slide) This is a picture taken when I was giving a lecture in Suzhou on [December] 18th. A banner appeared in the street which read, “Down With Lawless Governments.” Why? [Because of] demolitions. This [term] lawless government is quite interesting—a government without laws. Ordinary people now don’t say “corrupt government”; they say that it is a “lawless government.” In my mind, law still might be the baseline of our society. So I have often asked: can our judiciary become the baseline of our society? I think our judiciary should become our baseline, but we have not been able to accomplish this!

Our judiciary currently has many problems. One core problem is that the regionalization of the judiciary is becoming increasingly pronounced. The control of the judiciary by interest groups is becoming increasingly evident. “A political party simultaneously in charge of the judiciary”: this is the view of your Wei Rujia, Esq.. “The [Party] Secretary controls the hats people wear [i.e., what positions people hold], the mayor controls the cash flow, and the Communist Party Political and Legislative Affairs Committee controls the cases.” These are the words of an extremely famous member of your profession and were spoken during a presentation given to central government leaders. Not long after his presentation, China University of Political Science and Law invited me to give a lecture to the students there and talk about land issues. After my lecture I was about to leave when a student proposed an idea, “Professor Yu, can you provide any suggestions for us University of Political Science and Law students?” I said, I’m not famous and I’m not one of the nation’s leaders, what kind of hope or suggestions can I provide?” The student said, “Just offer whatever suggestions you might have.” I said, “Since you want me to offer [suggestions], let me tell you what I think. I feel that here in China, a country that does not have religious beliefs, a country whose government has lost a portion of its legal mandate, a country in which [the] political party’s ideology is already in the process of disintegration, in this country, we in the legal profession must defend the laws, this baseline of society. We must defend the baseline of society, defend the future of society, defend the future of our people, defend the future of our children, our grandchildren and our descendants. (Applause)

After I said this, I grabbed my bag and was about to go when that person—he is currently an important leader at China University of Political Science and Law—got really excited. He grabbed the microphone and said this. He said, “Just now, Professor Yu said that we University of Political Science and Law students should defend the baseline. That’s right but, but can we actually succeed? I don’t think we can!” (Laughter) He said:

Two days ago, our university wanted to hold a school celebration. The Deputy Chief Justice of the Hunan Provincial High People’s Court came to our school. He said, “Professor so and so, the situation now is this way: the [Party] secretary controls which hat people wear. Who is going to be the court’s chief justice? Who is going to be the head of the procuratorate? This all depends on the Party committee [led by the Secretary].” [He also said,] “The mayor controls the money. If your expenditure is in the city; for example if you want to construct a building and the mayor doesn’t agree to it, then there’s no way you can get the money.” [He also said that] the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee controls the cases. So there’s nothing we can do. We have the good intentions but lack the means!

After he spoke, I was thinking, “Forget it,” and grabbed my bag to go. That University of Political Science and Law student stood up again and said, “Professor Yu, can you comment on what the directors just said?” I said I could not comment. When someone invites you to give a lecture and even gives you money, how are you supposed to comment? (Laughter)

The student insisted that I comment so I said, “If you really want me to comment, then I’ll give you my comments.” I said, “I wouldn’t have thought that someone who is called a famous legal scholar would be so unqualified to stand before and speak to students at the University of Political Science and Law. What is he talking about, saying ‘the [Party] Secretary controls the hats people wear, the mayor controls the cash flow, and the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee controls the cases.’ If [it seems] that nothing can be done, then all of us in the legal profession should dare to take off our black gauze caps in resistance17—then we’d be doing something about it.” What a mess [this created]. After I said this I just grabbed my bag and ran because I felt a bit awkward. The second day a post appeared on the internet saying that Yu Jianrong had an angry rant against so and so and that I gave him a thorough tongue lashing. After that, for several years this person ignored me. We usually had meetings together during which he would pretend he didn’t know me. But now our relationship is better. Not long ago there was a case involving land and he invited me to a meeting [to discuss the case.] He said, “Yu Jianrong, tell me what you really feel; was what I said at the time incorrect? You’re a bad influence, you want my students to all take off their black gauze caps, what am I supposed to do when they’re all laid off?”

I replied, “What you said wasn’t incorrect. In China the reality truly is that the [Party] secretaries, the mayors, and the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee are controlling things. But how could you say this in front of the students and cause them to lose their faith! China needs a big group of people who have faith in the law and who defend the law. Our country having a future depends entirely on us holding true to our faith in the law! (Enthusiastic applause) As a teacher, how can you say that kind of thing to your students?” (Enthusiastic applause)

If China is to reform how is to go about doing it? How should China’s political power be reformed? Recently I’ve proposed an idea that big changes are not going to happen. Let’s first not touch the central government, let’s not touch Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Communist Party of China, let’s not touch the Supreme People’s Court. Can we start from the ground level? Because ground level courts and intermediate courts are primarily what directly affect the peoples’ interests, is it okay if we start there? Let’s not call it “judicial independence;” how about we call it “judicial checks and balances?” Let’s not say that its checks and balances are directed towards the Communist Party. If I say that I’m going to check and balance you, then you in the Communist Party will be unhappy for sure. How about we say that the checks and balances are directed towards local governments? We support our leaders in the Communist Party, but we use a vertical judiciary to rein in local governments. That is because the local [level] is what directly affects the people’s interests.

That is why I have recently held several forums at which I especially invited many people from the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China to discuss whether we could do [reforms] in this way, but no one paid attention to me. I wrote reports and sent them up [to the government], but no paid attention to me [or] said that this was still not okay. However, I think that China’s problems have truly gotten to this point. That’s why I have repeatedly asked, with China now facing so many problems, what is to be done? I’ve pondered this [and think that the answer] is to rely on the law. Let’s strip ourselves of all ideologies. Let’s not go back again to the era of Mao Zedong, and let’s also not say this and that about the era of Deng Xiaoping. Let’s just defend our constitution. There’s no longer [anything else] in Chinese society left to defend. We’ve retreated further and further in defeat. Will we be able to defend our ultimate baseline? Will Chinese society experience upheaval? How serious will be the problems the future brings? That all depends on whether we are able to defend our ultimate baseline.

There was once someone who asked me, burning with anxiety, “According to the look of China’s current situation, is institutional reform even a possibility? Is there still hope of China developing in a positive direction?” My response was that there was hope. This hope comes from the rational choice [that must be made] in the face of social pressure!

When conflicts intensify, social pressure will become greater and greater. When everyone feels that there is no way out, all kinds of social forces will start searching for a baseline. If they were not to do this, there would be extreme social upheaval that would utterly destroy social order. In light of this situation, there are two most basic choices. The first is that anxiety about these [potential] catastrophic consequences will spur all interested groups into working towards a rational compromise; they will use reason to search for a baseline that everyone can agree upon. The second is that maybe because this compromise does not occur, [China] will experience fundamental, revolutionary upheaval. From the look of the current situation, the vast majority of Chinese people hope that social conflicts can be reined in, which is to say that the majority of people hope that China does not experience large-scale social upheaval. The question is how all levels of Chinese society, especially levels that have clashes of interests and clashes of political power, will make the necessary compromises to benefit society’s structural stability. This to a large extent is determined by whether members of society, especially parties to conflicts, can seek out a baseline that is acceptable to everyone.

So, what currently is Chinese society’s baseline of stability? In my view, the whole society must reach a consensus on how to facilitate the actual implementation of the constitution. Society must form a consensus on how to make the constitution the cornerstone of China’s social stability.

Wei Rujiu: Dear colleagues, I am Wei Rujiu from the Constitution Committee of the Beijing Lawyers Association. I express my deep respect to all of you for coming here to listen to this lecture during this bitterly cold weekend! I respect you because attending this type of lecture will not bring any direct benefits to your legal work. If a lawyer participates in the representation of a sensitive case or a case involving mass incidents, then that lawyer may be in for some bad luck. For example, because I previously handled one of these cases I was fired from a prominent law firm. Afterwards, this law firm put forth a rule: whoever again handles these type of cases will be relieved of their employment. I took a picture of this written rule so that in the future I can place it in “The Lawyers Museum of China.” So, I express my understanding for those lawyers who didn’t come to hear this lecture! And it’s because of this that I express my sincere respect to everyone here who cares about our establishment of a system of constitutional governance and who cares about the protection of basic human rights!

If we don’t squarely face the true reality of society, if we don’t defend a baseline of constitutional governance, if we don’t defend a baseline of the rule of law, then we’ll simply be called “money-grubbers,” “posers,” or “litigious scoundrels,” as many in the legal profession have been called for years! We don’t know where the future of our profession lies, but we do know where our hope lies. So I hope everyone cares about building a system of constitutional governance and about the protection of basic human rights, and that people also care about the work of our Constitution Committee. [I hope] many [of you] come and participate in the work of building a system of constitutional governance and protecting human rights!

Now we will have some question and answer time with Professor Yu. Everyone can freely ask any question. First though, let me offer three criticisms of Professor Yu’s lecture. I feel that Professor Yu has made three “serious errors.”

1. Professor Yu has committed a legal error. Professor Yu said that he was almost put under shuanggui [Party house arrest] for one week. This is incorrect. Shuanggui is a method of Party discipline imposed by the Chinese Communist Party according to the Party Constitution, whereby a Party member’s personal freedom is restricted. Our country’s laws clearly state that restricting someone’s personal freedom can only be done on the basis of a “basic law” that has been passed by the National People’s Congress. However, the Party Constitution rides above the law and stipulates that the Party can restrict Party member’s personal freedom. We know that Professor Yu is not a Party member, so even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be eligible to be placed under shuanggui. How could he be placed under shuanggui? This is a legal error.

2. The second error is an error in his point of view. Professor Yu said that we must defend the authoritativeness of the constitution, that we must realize the judicial implementation of the constitution. This is incorrect. The Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court has openly said, “the Constitution is supreme,” “the Party’s interests are supreme,” and “the people’s interests are supreme.” However, the Supreme People’s Court issued an internal notice concerning the question of “judicial implementation of the Constitution.” This notice forbids judges from using the Constitution when they handle cases. It stipulates that judges are not allowed to participate in symposia concerning the “judicial implementation of the constitution.” It also stipulates that judges are not allowed to publish articles concerning the “judicial implementation of the constitution.” “Judicial implementation of the constitution” has become just a slogan. [Therefore] what’s called “the Constitution is supreme” [really should be] called, “the memorial is supreme.”

3. The third error is a political error. Where exactly the error lies I can’t think of right now.

Our Constitution Committee is firmly united around the Party Central Committee. We conscientiously study Minister of Justice Wu Aiying’s guidance that “Lawyers Must Concern Themselves With Politics.” We conscientiously study the speech given by the director of the Chongqing Municipal Judicial Bureau, that lawyers must be mindful of the big picture. This Bureau’s former director was worthless.18 I don’t know whether the current Judicial Bureau director is or is not a good person.

If anyone has any questions they’d like to ask Professor Yu, please feel free to ask. Thank you.

Yu Jianrong: Rujiu said I just committed a legal error, but in this he is mistaken. Because the Party’s rules are not the law, I have not committed a legal error. It is Wei Rujiu, Esq. that has just committed a legal error by taking something that is not a legal concept and turning it into a legal concept.

Yu Jianrong: (Looking at a note) This lawyer’s first question is about the problem of transferring one’s hukou [registered place of residence]. He says that the Constitution provides that citizens can [transfer their hukou] but asks why is this not allowed in practice. [This] non-local lawyer has always been unable to transfer his hukou to Beijing. [This person’s] children grew up in Beijing but have to return to Hunan to take the college entrance exam.19 What can be done? For this question, first of all I want to say that in this regard, lawyers and rural farmers are about the same, they get treated the same. Don’t think that lawyers enjoy more rights than migrant workers, and of course, lawyers should not have greater rights than migrant workers. Recently we have been researching how to reform the hukou system. Right now the hukou system itself doesn’t have much significance. The key is what to do about all the things now connected to the hukou system. For example, this person just brought up the issue of the college entrance exam. I think that this is both a legal question and a non-legal question. The conclusion we came up with is that there is an institutional problem. You have to look at [what has happened] since the process of setting up the hukou system. Then you have to gradually peel off those things that have become attached to the hukou system.

The second thing he says is that he has not participated in any elections and asks how I view this. I have the same view as you on this issue. I have also not participated in any elections. I feel that since there is no real system of elections, there is no need for us to play this game with them. Why is this? That’s because within my heart I still have a little bit of faith left, just a little bit. I’m always hoping that I can hang onto this faith. I’m not willing to tarnish [it] by playing along.

Concerning the Li Zhuang case,20 I once wrote an article entitled, “Demonizing the Legal Profession is Not the Proper Attitude.” The article criticized The China Youth Daily. Where was their mistake? I thought that no matter what kind of person Li Zhuang is, you as a newspaper should not carelessly extend this to all us lawyers and say we’re the same way. [The article] said that lawyers only won 5% of their cases [against the government] and that a 5% win ratio was terrible. [I feel that] even if they only won 1% of their cases then that would represent a great victory for China’s lawyers. Defending the dignity of the law, defending the rights of our clients—these are the greatest victories.

There are some in the legal profession who want to enter politics. Let me tell you that this is certainly the way things will be in the future. That is because if you take a look at the process of development in all advanced countries, they all start with an “era of heroes” that ushers in a so-called “era of construction.” Finally they all enter an “era of law.” This is the era of those in the legal profession. Law is what finally must become the ultimate baseline of a nation’s government. Today, why have lawyers not entered politics? It may be because a lot of people don’t want to enter politics or it may be because they won’t let you enter. But I believe that in the future the people who truly control this country will certainly be from among the legal profession and a lot of those people may have previously been lawyers. There is no doubt about this; this is a global trend.

Yu Jianrong: (Looking at a note) This lawyer wants me to talk about the characteristics of rabble-rousing incidents. What is the biggest characteristic of rabble-rousing incidents? It is that they are directed towards innocent bystanders. Venting incidents are violations of legal baselines. [People in venting incidents] violate the law; they’ll set fires and smash up your public security bureau. But venting incidents do have a baseline—the baseline of social morality cannot be violated. If you’re not related to the conflict then they are not going to direct their acts at you. In contrast, rabble-rousing incidents violate the baseline of social morality. It doesn’t matter who you are, they are still going to rob you and beat you. Therefore this is the distinction with venting incidents.

There’s also another question. “What is meant by the term ‘politics?’” At the time the Minister of Justice said that lawyers must concern themselves with politics, I wrote an article that was published in the newspaper. The article was entitled, “The Minister of Justice Does Not Know What Politics Is.” So what is meant by the term “politics?” I think that lawyers’ most important “politics” is protecting the dignity of the law and doing what the law tells you to do. What does the law tell you to do? To protect the legal interests of your clients. This is the “politics” bestowed us by law. This is our only politics. Lawyers don’t need to “be mindful of the big picture,” our job is to protect the legal interests of our clients. Doing this means protecting this nation’s baseline, society’s baseline. On this point, if we lawyers, if we who study the law, people with masters and doctorate degrees in law, if none of us know [what these] words [mean], then I think this is dangerous.

Yu Jianrong: (Looking at a note) Someone asked if I can talk a little about the issue of Falun Gong.21 I have not investigated Falun Gong so I’m not well situated to give an opinion. I’m not afraid of having political problems, it’s just that I never talk about things that I haven’t investigated.

However, I have recently investigated house churches. Last year we wrote three reports about this issue. I recommend that you pay attention to this issue. According to my investigation, currently in the whole country, if you just look at Christianity, there are approximately 70 million followers. Moreover, two thirds of these belong to house churches. Currently the government’s position towards house churches is to turn a blind eye and pretend it doesn’t see them. This problem is pretty serious. Last year we gave a speech at Peking University. We called for open acknowledgment of house churches. It is first necessary to strip away the sensitivity [surrounding the topic] and to discuss [the issue]. Pretending like we can’t see them is not acceptable. I basically feel that house churches themselves do not pose much of a problem to social stability. I mainly worry about the attitude of the Communist Party towards them.

However, there is a problem concerning house churches themselves that I do worry about. What is it? It is house church training schools. In the future if you happen to be interested in handling this kind of case, let me remind everyone to be especially careful. When I was researching in Wenzhou, Xiao Shu and others at the Southern Weekend got the news [that I was there] and they all rushed over. That evening I took them to see one of the more shocking things they had seen in their lives. Through a lot of personal relationships we entered an ordinary residential building. There we saw almost twenty students from all over the country undergoing a closed-off house church training. Why does this worry me? Because we don’t know what is being taught, we don’t know what they are learning. We also don’t know what they think about things. So I really worry about this problem. Wei Rujiu previously handled a case. He sent me the materials to look at. The conclusion I came up with was that forcing them to be secret aided the spread of evil cults. There’s nothing frightening about them as long as they are made open. So recently I have repeatedly called for allowing house churches to exist in the open. What I oppose is forcing them to be secret. The more secret they’re made to be, the more trouble they are likely to cause. Therefore what I’m most worried about is not the meetings of house churches; I’m worried about underground schools. I suggest that lawyers here pay a lot of attention to things concerning house churches. For legal problems that will arise in the process of these house churches’ development, we should not say that we will defend [them] or take [their] case. At the very least we should do some research. I predict that in this future this might become a huge problem. Thank you.

Question: I have a question. What role do you think lawyers can play in these mass incidents? Besides doing defense work, [what role have] you considered [lawyers might have in] designing institutions and procedures?

Yu Jianrong: I think that lawyers can possibly play two roles. First, before the thing has developed into a mass incident, if [someone involved] is able to find you, you should give them some better suggestions that involve using legal means. If lawyers are really able to get involved then the result might be better. The second role is the role played after [the mass incident] has occurred. However, the role lawyers can play in mass incidents is actually quite constrained. According to my understanding, in many of China’s large mass incidents, especially rights defense activities, [the people involved] had already consulted with lawyers before the incident occurred. But even when they consult with the lawyer, there’s nothing the lawyer can do. If the [courts] aren’t willing to hear the case, what can the lawyer do about it? Furthermore, the government doesn’t support [lawyers playing a role in mass incidents]. You all might know after the Yunnan Menglian Incident22 occurred, [the government] said that lawyers instigated the incident by inciting rubber farmers, and that lawyers had been a bad influence. I feel that the government’s attitude here is improper. In addition, some lawyers don’t want to become involved because their potential clients are unable to pay litigations costs and lawyers fees. A lot of things do not seem noteworthy until they erupt.

Actually, currently society’s view of lawyers is divided. Recently since the Li Zhuang incident occurred, I wrote an article about how the legal profession has been demonized. A lot of people commented and said, “Who has demonized lawyers? It is you lawyers who have demonized yourselves.” Therefore I still think that lawyers should still involve themselves more in rights defense cases concerning underprivileged groups of people, especially cases involving land. However, in order to protect ourselves, I still suggest that we as a lawyers association make some kind of standard for handling mass incident cases. For example it would say, if a certain case came up, what we should do. Then we would have a standard for ourselves. Perhaps this is one method of protecting ourselves.

Question: What if this standard requires that lawyers not accept interviews with foreign journalists, that [law] partners avoid [these cases], and that [the lawyer] must submit files to the Ministry of Justice and to the local Judicial Bureau? What then?

Yu Jianrong: What’s the problem with that? I think that it is proper to not accept interviews with foreign journalists. I agree. Why do we need to create problems for ourselves! I have never accepted interviews with foreign journalists. Whenever there is a foreign journalist who calls me on the phone, I always say that I don’t have time. If foreign journalists call my work unit saying that they want to interview Yu Jianrong, our leaders definitely tell them that they can’t find me. For foreigners to find me they must gain permission from the Academy [of Social Sciences]. Furthermore, they also need a formal document telling me [that they have been granted permission]. Otherwise, I won’t meet with them. It’s their loss, not mine. (Laughter) Therefore I actually suggest that we do not become entangled with this problem; we don’t need to. Today in China whether you are a lawyer, a member of society, or a so-called public interest intellectual, you must still have a baseline of self-protection.

But what things in the law aid in protecting lawyers? We must list these out clearly. I still suggest that everyone make a standard. That way when or if there is a rights defense or venting incident, there is a standard for how lawyers are to participate and there is no fear of complications. Sometimes we need to compromise. In China, one needs be wise in the ways of survival. A big problem is that we need to find a baseline for our standards of behavior. This baseline [should be] that we do and defend the dignity of our laws, that we defend the legal rights of our clients. This is very important.

Question: Professor Yu, let me ask you a question. Based on China’s current situation, is there any possibility of institutional reform? You just mentioned that organizations such as the Communist Party Political and Legislative Affairs Committee are not willing to give up their power; it’s even less likely that there will be judicial independence. There’s also the problem of a new transition for the whole system. Where do you think China’s future way out of this is? Is there any hope of this change taking place?

Yu Jianrong: I think that there still is hope. This hope lies in there being social pressure. From the look of things now, it’s difficult to say whether this generation of leaders think this way. But when this social pressure becomes greater and greater and when everyone feels that there is no way out, perhaps then we will search for a consensus and a baseline. Two years ago I already said that the Constitution should become our baseline of social stability. At that time everyone may have laughed at me. Today let me tell you, no one laughs at me. That’s because we do not have a baseline. We are going backwards; we’ve been going backwards all along. We have nothing. This people has nothing. Today, if the party in power wants to stay in power, if those in power still want to harbor a sense of responsibility towards this people, then they must find a baseline that all kinds of powers in society can accept. This baseline isn’t some kind of “politics,” it’s not some kind of “Three Represents;” I believe that it is the Constitution. Relatively speaking, China’s Constitution has a lot of rules now; it would be hard for us to choose wrong.

So this is what my view is. Will China experience great social upheaval? I think that if we don’t search for this baseline then it will. But will this upheaval thoroughly upset social order? No. After it occurs, everyone will probably return to a baseline. That is because [a government] whose political powers have been taken by violence will certainly use violence to restore [those powers]. But will this people again walk the road that was taken sixty years ago? This is something that the vast majority of people are not willing to see. Therefore, if there is social upheaval, it may actually spur everyone into acknowledging that the only road to take is to rationally go about searching for a baseline that everyone can accept, and then to go about protecting this baseline. Otherwise, social upheaval might bring huge catastrophe. Right now everyone is compromising, constantly compromising, both sides are compromising, both sides are debating. As pressure becomes greater the government will start compromising. I think that this is what is meant by searching for a baseline. After searching here and there and finding nothing else, the only thing to be found is the Constitution. “Being mindful of the big picture,” “concerning ourselves with politics,” these are all empty phrases. In contrast, this Constitution is the constitution approved by our Communist Party; this is the Constitution established by the National People’s Congress. I think that this is our baseline. Of course there are a lot of things in the Constitution that we might not be satisfied with, but I think that this can be changed. This is basically what my perception is.

Yu Jianrong: (Looking at a note) This lawyer asks this questions: can traditional culture have an effect on China? Yesterday afternoon a man named Chen Ming who is extremely famous for protecting traditional culture came to my house. I think that society needs certain aspects of traditional Chinese culture, but at present it is very difficult to rely on traditional culture to protect social stability. Traditional culture is not able to act as a standard baseline for China’s social stability. These few years that I have investigated issues related to Christianity I have thought that finding a consensus for China that is based on culture is quite difficult. The reason is perhaps [best understood] by those who study law. A lot of people [who study] law concern themselves with rules. However, in traditional Chinese culture a lot of rules are unclear. Someone has recently proposed that we return to the principles of Confucius and Mencius. Can the principles of Confucius and Mencius save China? They cannot. In my view, the only thing that can save China is the Constitution. All of us must adhere to this Constitution, turn principles of the Constitution into a standard baseline for society. This perhaps is what is very important. Therefore, this is the view that I hold.

Host: We’re about out of time. Today Professor Yu gave us a wonderful lecture and [provided us with] some solutions. He spoke about the big picture and enlightened all of us. We all need to ponder [his words] and ponder [them] deeply. Let’s give a round of enthusiastic applause to thank Professor Yu for his lecture.

(Protracted and enthusiastic applause)

Also note that an article by Yu Jianrong discussing these matters was also recently published in the China Daily (Great wall vital for people’s rights).

  1. “The Weng’an Incident was a riot on June 28, 2008 involving tens of thousands of residents in Weng’an County, Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, in Guizhou province of Southwest China. Rioters smashed government buildings and torched several police cars to protest against an alleged police cover-up of a girl’s death.” (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Weng’an_riot)
  2. The Longnan Incident refers to riots in Gansu province that started on November 17, 2008 when around thirty people whose houses had been demolished petitioned the government. The riots involved thousands of people and caused the injuries of over seventy police officers and three journalists. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Longnan_riot, and http://www.hudong.com/wiki/%E7%94%98%E8%82%83%E9%99%87%E5%8D%97%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6 (Chinese))
  3. The original word, 农民 (nongmin) in Chinese, is also commonly translated as “peasants.”
  4. “All of China’s rural land is owned by the state. Farmers have usually been allowed to lease plots for 30 years at a stretch, after which they can renew the lease. But ownership — and the right to sell — has remained in the hands of village-level leaders and party secretaries.” (Taken from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/13/AR2008011302383.html. The article provides interesting background about the rural land privatization movement.)
  5. According to Google Maps, this toll station is 32 kilometers from Baoding and 126 kilometers from Beijing.
  6. Hinting that murder is a solution to taking care of “big bosses” who are doing unfair things.
  7. Bo Xilai.
  8. The joke here is that Professor Yu gave the talk in Mandarin, and his regional Hunan accent is so thick when he speaks Mandarin, it is as though he is speaking in the regional Hunan dialect.
  9. This detail is significant because Jiangsu is one of the wealthiest provinces in China and Anhui one of the poorest.
  10. Zhongguancun is a high-tech area in Haidain District, Beijing.
  11. It is common in rural China for people to purchase coffins before they die. This is for a number of reasons. First, the quality of the coffin as the long-term resting place for the body is held to be extremely important. Also, some think that an expensive coffin will help one be reincarnated as a wealthy person. Second, coffins are expensive and can cost much more than a person’s yearly salary. Therefore to ensure a proper burial, Chinese people in rural areas often buy coffins long before they die.
  12. The “Four Adheres” are adherence to Marxism and Leninism, socialism, leadership of the Communist Party, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  13. A-Bian is the nickname for Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian.
  14. For more on Julie Harms, see “American Woman Hunts Elusive Chinese Justice” at http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/julie-harms/.
  15. The “Three Represents” (which is the same in Chinese as “Three Representatives”) is a socio-political ideology developed by Jiang Zemin. The “three represents” are: 1) The Party must always represent the requirements of the development of China’s advanced productive forces. 2) The Party must always represent the orientation of the development of China’s advanced culture. 3) The Party must always represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Represents.
  16. For the reasons He Weifang was sent to Shihezi see “Leading Dissident ‘Exiled’ to Chinese Northwest” at http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/he-weifang/.
  17. To take off one’s black gauze cap (乌纱帽) is a reference to what would occur anciently when a government official refused to follow an order out of principle. Removing one’s black gauze cap was a way of symbolically stepping down from one’s post so that they would not have to follow an order that contradicted one’s principles.
  18. This is most likely a reference to Wen Qiang who was detained and investigated during the “ Chongqing Gang Trials.”
  19. The reason this is such an important issue is that students who take the entrance exam in Beijing are given preferential treatment by Beijing universities.
  20. Li Zhuang was a lawyer who was convicted for allegedly coaching his client, mobster Gong Gangmo, to lie. See: http://www.smh.com.au/world/children-of-the-revolution-20100212-nxjh.html, and http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/li-zhuang/.
  21. To avoid becoming ensnared in Chinese internet filters, the transcription of the talk writes, “Fa L Gong, (法L功)” instead of “Falun Gong, (法轮功).”
  22. “The Menglian county incident began with farmers trying to defend their rights and later developed into a violent confrontation between police and 500 rubber farmers. . . . The trouble began when the farmers complained that their land rights were being abused by the local rubber company. Though they appealed both to the company and to the government to fix the problem, they received no result. So the farmers rose up to defend their rights, and the local government used police to suppress them.” Taken from Caijing http://english.caijing.com.cn/2009-07-07/110194431.html.
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2 comments on “Yu Jianrong on “Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability”

  1. J. Lowrie on said:

    The bourgeois socialist wishes to reform capitalism not because it produces a proletariat but because it produces a revolutionary proletariat!

  2. Pingback: Cortocircuiti, tra lavoro e capitale « Disorientamenti

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