An act of Chinese repression

  • Speaking out: Xu Zhangrun

    Speaking out: Xu Zhangrun


The Monday arrest of Chinese law professor Xu Zhangrun vividly demonstrated the intolerant and autocratic rule of President Xi Jinping that Xu so persuasively denounced in essays in recent years.

One of China’s most inspired voices for freedom has become a casualty of the repression he eloquently chronicled.He was prepared. He said in February: “I can all too easily predict that I will be subjected to new punishments; indeed, this may well even be the last thing I write.”

As it turned out, it was not the last thing he wrote before arrest. That would be a remarkable essay he composed “in a mood that alternated between moral outrage, all-consuming anxiety and profound sorrow” and which appeared on May 21, just before China’s parliament convened in Beijing.

The essay expanded on his February article criticising Xi and “the cabal that surrounds him” for deceptions in handling the virus.

He said officials “stood by blithely as the crucial window of opportunity that was available to deal with the outbreak snapped shut in their faces”.

In the May essay, he punched gaping holes in the leadership’s claim that the handling of the virus had been exemplary. “Reveal the truth,” he demanded, including honest statistics and a timeline of decisions in the early stages.

He asked: “Why was there an official cover-up of the situation at the time? This negligence left the people of China entirely unaware, unguarded and unprepared for the unfolding crisis, one that led to immense suffering and a tragic loss of life.”

Xu demanded that “people involved in all of this must be held to account”, no matter their rank, and face legal penalties. He insisted on the release of citizen journalists as well as others who have been arrested and “an end to the persecution of university professors who dare to speak out”.

He suggested “free speech should be extolled and celebrated” with a holiday honouring Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who was punished for attempting to warn colleagues of the danger of the virus and who later died of it.

Xu further said China should “immediately ban the abhorrent practice of internet policing” and end the “constant abuse and invasion” of citizens’ online privacy. And, he insisted, “the authorities must cease and desist from the intimidation of teachers, medical personnel and writers accused of ‘thought crimes’”.

Xu, a law professor at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, who was previously demoted for speaking out, had been placed under house arrest early this year.

His writings threatened the closed system of a party state with an unflinching grip on power.

He could have skirted trouble, but he chose instead to stand up courageously for principles of openness, democracy and accountability.

After he did so, the machinery of repression lurched into gear and demonstrated in plain sight that everything the professor wrote — that Xi leads a dictatorship — is quite true.

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Published Jul 8, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 8, 2020 at 8:51 am)

An act of Chinese repression

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