China’s ‘Jasmine’ activists

Scores of government critics, lawyers, activists, bloggers, artists and “netizens” have been arrested since February, amid government fears of a “Jasmine Revolution” inspired by events in the Middle East and North Africa. Amnesty International profiles some of the new generation of Chinese activists caught in the sweep.

Liang Haiyi aka Tiny: Early victim of the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown Status: In detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power”In her own words: “When the country cannot protect a beggar, it cannot protect the emperor!

© Lian Haiyi

Liang Haiyi was reportedly taken away by police on 19 February in the northern Chinese city of Harbin for sharing videos and information about the ”Jasmine Revolution” on the internet. Her lawyer confirmed she was detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power”. 

Chinese “netizens” have since dubbed her the “Southern Woman Martyr”, as supposedly the first activist to be arrested as part of the government’s crackdown on dissent inspired by regime change in the Middle East and North Africa. Liang Haiyi is not a seasoned dissident but an active “netizen” – tweeting and microblogging snippets of information about Chinese politics on Twitter and domestic microblog QQ under the screen name Miaoxiao, meaning ‘Tiny’.  According to the Apple Daily, she demonstrated political and social awareness early on, joining the communist youth cadres, leading a university student union in her native province of Guangdong and receiving local awards for her community contributions.By 2011 she was a wife and mother in the northern city of Harbin where, inspired by regime change in Tunisia, she reposted information from dissident websites hosted outside China – particularly – about plans for “Jasmine Revolution” protests in Chinese cities.The exiled leader of the 1989 Tiananmen student protests Wang Dan has paid tribute to Liang Haiyi on his Facebook page, saying “she has had more courage than we had”, and that political repression is worse now in China than in his day.  Liang Haiyi’s Twitter page has now been deactivated but her QQ page still bears links to articles and videos about the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and about controversial topics in Chinese society, along with her own comments and views. In her own words: “Sagittarian woman, simple, straightforward and trusting; outspoken and easily offends people. She is in great need of your respect, understanding and encouragement; support her idealistic values and struggle against a cynical society.”Liang Haiyi’s blog has not been updated since the last message posted at 00:51 on 19 February 2011, sharing a video which can no longer be viewed and posted the sentence: “How far away are Nazis from us? Would dictatorship reappear in Germany? Secondary school teachers did a little test and got an alarming answer that history can be repeated so easily, and therefore pay a painful price.”

Lian Haiyi’s QQ page

Ran Yunfei: Sichuan activist and prominent bloggerStatus: Formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power”In his own words:“The more times your blog account is lost, the greater your effort to spread the truth.”

© Shizhao

Ran Yunfei is a literary critic, academic and political commentator from Chengdu in southwest China, and is from the Tu ethnic minority.The social media revolution turned him into a free speech activist on the internet. A prolific blogger, he was faced with repeated suspensions of his accounts on different blogging and microblogging platforms due to Chinese web censors. Ran Yunfei gained notoriety for his internet “guerrilla” tactics – appearing and disappearing on as many online account names as possible to keep the censors confused.His influential online essay “Domestic microblogs live to die in battle” is an authoritative analysis and history of the growth of Chinese microblogs in competition with Twitter, as well as a tactical plan for how together they can be used to demolish the “tower of lies”.  In his own words:  [translation via]

From “Domestic microblogs exist to die in battle”:“In my opinion, Twitter is a place for the broadcasting and storage of truth, and domestic microblogs are there to spread that truth, and to die in battle. The more times your blog account is lost, the greater your effort to spread the truth. […]“From “How I spent 2010”, posted on his blog shortly before he was detained. “My first love in life is definitely not criticising the government. In a free country I’d spend my life doing research in a library – but I was born in a place where you cannot peacefully live like this. There’s no solution. If I didn’t voice my criticisms of our disastrous social reality, my soul would be uneasy. I wouldn’t sleep well. I’d suffer from a guilty conscience.”

Ran Yunfei’s blog  Twitter account, @ranyunfeiDomestic microblogs live to die in battle” (English translation on chinageeks)”How I spent 2010″ (Chinese original) “How I spent 2010” (CDT English translation)

Wang Lihong: Tiananmen-generation activist turned “netizen”Status: Formally arrested for “gathering people to block traffic”. In her own words: “If I remain silent in the face of suffering and evil, then the next evil that should be struck down is myself.”

© Ji Ruan

Like many Chinese people of her generation, Wang Lihong experienced a political awakening in Beijing during the 1989 student democracy protests.  The crackdown on dissent that followed led her to resign her government job as a young doctor and to become a social activist.  Now 55, she has recently worked on relief projects for the homeless living on the streets near Tiananmen Square with lawyers and rights activists like the prominent blogger “Laohumiao”, and on cases like that of petitioner Yao Jing who was hospitalized after being beaten by government officials. She is an active Twitter user and “netizen” who has taken part in flashmob protests, such as outside the April 2010 trial of three Fujian “netizens” who had distributed information about the apparent gang rape and murder of a young woman by men with police links. In late 2010, as a punishment for her celebration of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, when she tried to meet a group of friends at a restaurant in Beijing, she was placed under administrative detention for eight days and then held under house arrest for more than three months.  During this time she was told to write a ‘certificate of guarantee’ of her behaviour, in order to secure her freedom. She declined. She was detained in late March this year. In her own words:

Extract from an open letter she wrote:“From a legal perspective, to make a person write a ‘guarantee’ that they will not do “illegal things” in order to have freedom of movement, is against the law, is a mockery of the law.    I am a Chinese citizen. I have the right to live in and to move around on the land of my own country.      I am a conscientious person, I can not guarantee to remain silent when faced with suffering …I can not pretend not to see such tragic events.    If I remain silent in the face of suffering and evil, then the next evil that should be struck down is myself.    As law enforcement officers, your actions limiting my freedom are illegal and have serious impact on my life.  I hope that the relevant departments and law enforcement personnel will correct your violations as soon as possible, and restore my freedom.”

Full text of Wang Lihong’s letter in Chinese Twitter account, @wlh8964