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Malcolm Moore
Foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. Based in Beijing since 2012
Foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. Based in Beijing since 2012


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Yesterday, China jailed its third activist in just over three weeks, and all of them got very hefty sentences.

On top of that, a fourth man, Zhu Yufu, was charged with inciting subversion and Hu Jia, an environmental, AIDS and democracy activist, was questioned for a full day at his local police station. We have had other reports from activists in our circle of contacts who have also recently been detained.

So we were curious to know whether the flurry of activity from China’s state security apparatus was the start of a new campaign, an intensification of an existing campaign, or merely business as usual.

We spoke to several activists and lawyers, but not all their responses could fit into the eventual article. So here are some of the more interesting statements in full:

Pu Zhiqiang, executive partner Beijing Huayi Law Firm.

Currently, life has been getting a bit better. The security officers only monitor my calls. I am not under house arrest and I have not been followed. Both the activists and the security officers have calmed down ahead of Chinese New Year.

This year is the power succession, so the authorities are mainly focused on preventing unrest and on any internal power struggles. Unless we see any major social incident, like the credit crisis in Wenzhou or the high speed train crash, the year should be peaceful.

We hope that after Xi Jinping comes into power, the situation will improve. Although his main job will be maintaining stability, we do not know what tack he will take. But we hope it will not be like the last two years when Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao used more hardcore tactics.

My worry is that there is very little time for us left now to change China for the better. Everyone now, even businessmen and government officials, feels uncomfortable. They all worry that injustice could strike them at any time, sooner or later, because society is not just.

But aside from major incidents, we should have a relatively safe year. Except of course that the powers that maintain stability always require new enemies in order to keep growing their budgets.

Chang Kun, AIDS activist. Based in Zhengzhou, Henan

The National protection people are in constant contact - that’s their job. They didn’t say explicitly this year is more sensitive, but they did imply that we should not try to go to Beijing in March for the Two Meetings and they did imply the power succession would have an impact.

On the AIDS front I think we will have more space this year. On Dec 1 2011, Wen Jiabao spoke to an AIDs petitioner for the first time and the government promised to look through the current laws and regulations. That was a really good sign.

We are actually quite optimistic that we can make headway and that there will be better treatment this year. Li Keqiang, the new premier, is from Henan, it was during his time here that the blood crisis emerged. So he also showed his concerns. We see an opportunity for the new government to make changes.

The national protection people don’t interfere with our work, they merely suggest that we change the time and place of our meetings sometimes. But there has been no major crackdown for the past year or so.

Liu Xiaoyuan, Ai Weiwei’s lawyer

My personal lawyer’s license was renewed this year, happily, because the government official in charge happened to be on holiday at the time and the lower officials did not know who I was so they just renewed it.

But my law firm’s license failed to pass the annual check. My partner is pretty angry. So without the license we cannot issue any invoices, so I have not been able to charge for any cases in the last seven months. If by the end of this year, my law firm cannot pass its annual check, my partner will pull out. I think I am the target, mostly because of Ai Weiwei.

I have been warned not to say anything about his case in public any more and not to go to any court trials or hearings. I am also not allowed to represent Wang Lihong.

The current crackdown is not unusual. There have been so many cases. Usually they arrest and detain and then wait for the right time to issue a sentence. The situation has been more serious since the Jasmine protests last February, but then the international attention that the Ai Weiwei case brought helped to calm things down again.

All of the issues, although they are not directly related, stem from the Jasmine incidents. Local governments have been told by central governments they can lock up anyone who seems like they might be a troublemaker or who does not listen to the government.

Then usually, when they arrest someone, they go back two or three years and trawl for anything that might implicate them.

The new crackdown is more to do with international affairs than internal Chinese problems. It will also be more serious this year with the political succession.

For the intellectuals and human rights defenders, there are likely to be more warnings, and a few being made into examples.

In general, especially the second half, I don’t think there will be more crackdowns on dissidents. They will try to finish this in the first half of this year. They won’t have any trials until the succession is over. But there will be a strict crackdown on internet censorship.

As for Yu Jie, they let him out because they do not care anymore. They are more interested in maintaining stability and less interested in ideology. And they need all the resources they can get to maintain stability. They may have thought that since Yu Jie was going to write these things anyway, they could save money by letting him go abroad. Because if he was here, they would definitely need to crack down on him.

Hu Jia

There is progress! Previously, I used to be detained by plain clothed policemen with no official documents. This time there were uniforms, badges, a summons, a confiscation warrant. At least they are following the book now.

One of my friends was told when he was invited for a cup of tea with the national protection people that this year, starting in February and all the way to November, every day is a sensitive day because of the power succession and the fact that the top leaders are making their decision on the future direction of China.

They are panicking and will strike like a thunderbolt to snuff out any problems. They are in control of all levels of society and on full alert for any mass incidents.

As for the sentences at Christmas, they issued them because it was a Western holiday and the media would not pay as much attention.

Beijing has already begun to tense for this year’s political events, there are more security and some dissidents have been forbidden to leave the city. Hopefully it will ease a bit over Chinese New Year, since we are all with our families at this time.

But in March there will be the usual house arrests and the authorities are still nervous about the Arab Spring. I heard they had banned the sale of jasmine in some markets, and anyone who asked for a large quantity would be interrogated.

Yu Jie has always wanted to leave, but was stopped until now. His daughter was born in the United States and Yu was worried about her growing up and wanted a more secure environment for her. He might not come back. He was assaulted quite badly during the Jasmine incidents and he does have fears, which is totally understandable.

I choose to stay. Like Aung San Suu Kyi said, our very presence is the best protest. It is a difficult time, but it is also the best time. After all these years, I am positive that in ten years we will see some more light.
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Xi Jinping's former professor gets muzzled.
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My piece from 2010 about why Apple cannot control the situation at its Chinese suppliers (in connection with post below).
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A few thoughts about the “mass suicide” protest at Foxconn’s factory in Wuhan.

First, a lot of journalists have followed Want China Times’ lead and written that 300 workers were protesting, and that they worked on a Microsoft XBox 360 production line.

We checked both of those things yesterday and couldn’t confirm either. Foxconn said 150 workers had striked. Which matches up with the photographs taken on the roof of the factory - there clearly aren’t 300 people there.

As for the Microsoft line - the worker we managed to get hold of said the new production line that had triggered the protest was making computer cases for Acer. Not Microsoft. But Microsoft were jumpy enough about it all to issue a boilerplate statement saying they were investigating the matter.

The worker we spoke to was fairly sheepish about the whole affair. The protest began on January 2 when 500-600 workers were moved to a new production line, without prior training. They had a tough first day. So tough, in fact, that they quit at lunch time and refused to return to work.

Given how much hardship Chinese migrant workers can take, I can only imagine how difficult the conditions must have been.

After meeting with the management, Foxconn offered a month’s pay to anyone who wanted to quit. It seems to me that ahead of Chinese New Year, with everyone looking for any opportunity to go home early with a bit of cash in their pocket, that was a mistake.

With huge numbers of the workers taking Foxconn up on the offer, it was quickly withdrawn. That’s when the workers decided to take to the roof.

The workers know that Foxconn is nervous about roofs and suicides, after what happened in 2010, and this seems to me to have been a pretty calculated ploy. Call me a cynic, but I doubt any of them was planning to throw themselves off.

And indeed none of them did. Foxconn agreed in the end to pay off 45 of them and the rest went home early for Chinese New Year. The worker we spoke to said he had a job back on the old production line waiting for him after the holiday.

So, what conclusions can we draw? Mainly that migrant workers are ever more aware of their rights, and are less and less afraid to hold their employers to ransom if they do not get what they see as reasonable treatment.

The second conclusion is that even though this was not a story about Apple, Foxconn and Apple have become closely linked in the minds of readers. Several commenters at the bottom of my report on the protest called for Apple to stop using Foxconn (I’ve explained previously why this is a very unlikely outcome).

Foxconn itself was quick to put out a statement to the media. That is a change of tack for a company whose press office typically never picks up the phone.

And finally, there are still plenty of people who point out that (a) the suicide rate at Foxconn is below the national average in China and (b) Foxconn is a much better employer than many of its rivals.

On the argument about the suicide rate - I have argued before that this is irrelevant. China’s national statistics on suicide are inflated by the number of people, sadly still mostly women, who kill themselves in the countryside. If you look at the suicide rate among young workers then the picture is very different.

In addition, what happened at Foxconn in 2010, with scores of young people throwing themselves off roofs, mostly in the same campus, was clearly a cluster. And while to some extent it was caused by the feelings of alienation and depression suffered by the workers, it was also caused by Foxconn’s own handling of the incident. As I have written before, Foxconn incentivised its workers to commit suicide by offering huge compensation payments to their families. Those offers were quickly rescinded when it became clear they had provoked workers to weigh up the value of their lives.

On point (b) I have plenty of sympathy. Foxconn is a better employer than many many other manufacturers, which is why so many people still queue outside its factories to work there. How you feel about Foxconn ultimately depends which camp you fall into regarding cheap foreign labour.

One camp believes that outsourcing labour to developing countries gives those countries the cash and opportunities to develop, so that poor conditions for workers are, in the end, justified by development for the next generation. This is certainly true, and, let’s face it, no one is forcing migrants to take production line jobs. They do so because that is the best opportunity they have.

The other camp believes that since we, in the West, have strict rules about labour, it is unethical to shift production to countries where those rules do not exist or are unenforced. We should all be prepared to pay a bit more for our goods in order to make sure people do not suffer in order to produce them.

Of course, the two camps are not mutually exclusive. I subscribe to both.
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The first rule of journalism is never to leave a running story.

Especially when you are the only journalist in town.

So why did I pull out of Wukan, slipping back past the police cordon last night down a slip road?

The story in the village is far from over, although I believe the situation is unlikely to change in the next few days, as the two sides tentatively negotiate their way towards a resolution.

The siege continues and on Dec 16 the village will mark the seventh day since Xue Jinbo, one of its representatives, died in police custody, an important public day of mourning.

The reason we had to pull out is because we felt we were putting ourselves and the villagers in danger by staying.

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian once told me, in my first few months in China, that the problem with being a journalist here is that you are surrounded by a ring of fire - you stay safe, but everyone else gets burned.

Each day we stayed in Wukan we burned the people around us, and left them open to retribution from the local government when the situation is resolved (and one way or another it will be resolved - this is not the beginning of some wider revolt).

The villagers in Wukan told us that they accepted that by allowing us to stay in the town, and speaking to us, they had made a devil's pact.

"If we speak to you, the government side can criminalise us by accusing us of cooperating with foreign forces," one villager said.

(Wukan has already been accused in the past of accepting finance from abroad, the suggestion being that foreigners are working to disrupt the local government. This sort of murky accusation is treated very seriously by the Chinese authorities.)

"But we need to speak to you to help get our story out, because the local media cannot cover this," the villager added.

Now that their story is out, however, we all had to consider whether the risks to the villagers of us remaining in the village outweighed the benefits. If the central government blames the local government for allowing a media storm to blow up, local officials are likely to hunt for scapegoats in the village and punish them severely.

And with the two sides now in delicate negotiations, we also did not want our presence to be a stumbling block on the road to a calm resolution.

Last night, after careful discussion with the villagers and my editors, we felt it was wiser to withdraw to a location nearby, from where we will keep an eye on things.

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Some notes from Wukan, but read this dispatch I filed yesterday first:


We got lucky getting into Wukan. The first stroke of luck was renting a car in Shenzhen with blacked-out windows so no one could see me inside. The second stroke of luck was that, as we approached the police roadblock some three miles outside the village, we fell in behind a car with government plates.

The police, their machine guns hanging at their waists, waved us through. Our photographer, travelling a few hours behind us in a taxi, was not so lucky. He was stopped and escorted the three hours back to Shenzhen.

After we passed through the police roadblock we came to a second barrier, of trees piled across the road. Around a dozen young men were mulling around, and we were not sure, from a distance, whether they might be plain clothes policemen. We parked about a hundred feet from them, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car to have a chat.

As we got closer though, it was clear they were villagers. They told us they had erected their own barrier in case the government tried to sneak into the village at night. Three of them heaved aside some trees at the side and let us through.

In any other country it would be hard to describe Wukan (pop 20,000) as a village. It is a sprawling, built-up mass of three storey houses, with schools and government buildings lining the main street.

Inside there are now no police, or government officials. It is the first time I've been anywhere without police in the almost four years I've been in China and it didn't just feel liberating to me - the villagers are exuberant. There's a constant buzz of excitement in the air, as young men run around, using walkie talkies to organise the resistance. Unlike many villages in the countryside, Wukan is also full of children, who seem to be enjoying the upheaval and sudden distraction of their parents.

Of course, it cannot last. When I asked how long they expected to hold out for, and what would happen next, eyes dropped to the ground and the standard Chinese response of "it's not clear", came back.

But the government will not find it easy to reestablish control. For the past two days, huge crowds have gather outside the village hall, chanting together for hours, willing themselves into ever greater displays of collective emotion.

To my eyes a lot of the wailing and sobbing seemed theatric, but I guess it must be a filial and social obligation for the mourners to display as much emotion as they can summon. And there is no doubt it has a strong unifying effect on the villagers, who feel that they are all in their predicament together.

It is worth noting that the Shanwei area, where Wukan lies, has some form when it comes to rebellion. Very poor, and on the coast, smugglers have operated in Shanwei since Chinese history began. The area is notorious for being controlled by triads and for its high rate of heroin addiction.

On the motorway, taxis are sometimes hijacked by motorcycle gangs, my driver said, who is from the neighbouring town of Haifeng. And in the days before Deng Xiaoping ordered a clean-up, it was said that the smugglers of Shanwei had a better collection of guns than the army, weapons they have used in the past to attack the police.

But I've seen little sinister in Wukan since I got here yesterday afternoon. While the resistance is organised, there is no sign of any criminal element. Children swarm through the town during the day, and families retreat to their courtyard homes at night.

Now it is just a question of waiting to see what happens next.
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A lot of sources seem to be reporting that the Beijing tax authorities will not accept the money Ai Weiwei has raised from his supporters, or from mortgaging his mother's house.

That doesn't sound like what's going on, from the conversation we just had with him. The deadline for paying the tax bill is Weds, I think, and Ai wants to put the money into a third party account at the bank, to show he is able to pay the bill, and then challenge the bill in court.

However, according to Ai, the tax bureau told him "no one has ever done this before" and suggested that while it was legally possible, they didn't know what procedure to follow. They suggested to him that he puts the money in their bank account, and then pursues his court case. Unsurprisingly, Ai was not hugely happy about that idea.

"Our lawyers are in negotiations with them now about what to do," he said. "We will just have to see how the next couple of days pans out. They are the boss, so things always have to be done their way. They don't want to accept the method of putting the money in the bank to show we are capable of paying it".

He also told us the tax bill is levelled at Fake, his company, rather than at him personally.
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Zhang Weiming, the 65-year-old grandmother in the story beneath got 3 1/2 years in prison today. I've transcribed our interviews with two other Xinjiang zhiqing and pasted here because their stories are so interesting.

Guan Haidong, 63

“I went to Xinjiang in 1965 and worked for the Xinjiang Construction Platoon, second division.

“I was a fresh graduate in aviation from Nanchang university. My job was to be a pilot. The government said I could work in the Civil aviation bureau in Xinjiang but when we arrived, we discovered it was a total lie.

“At the time Shanghai was like anywhere else - poverty stricken and we had little to eat in the wake of the Great Famine.

“The government told us we could grow grapes and melons and we could eat eggs and noodles everyday, and have hot water and electricity. Since we could barely get by at that time, it sounded ideal. After all, four people in my family of six were unemployed.

“The first year in Xinjiang we were paid 3 kuai a month. Then 5, then 8. By the fourth year it was 24 kuai. In the 1990s, my last paychecks rose to 33.92 kuai.

“As Shanghainese, we were not the same as the locals and it was hard. We grew sweetcorn, rice and wheat but the work was hard and I chafed against it. Because I caused a fuss, I was thrown into prison during the Cultural Revolution.

“In the 32 years I spent in Xinjiang, I used to come home to Shanghai every three to four years. And in 1979, when my case was readdressed after the Cultural Revolution I got married to a woman in Xinjiang who came from Sichuan. I had a son and a daughter.

“I moved back to Shanghai in 1999, but my family had to stay in Xinjiang because they did not have a Shanghai hukou. I managed to get this fixed and they came in 2006. We live in a one-room apartment in Baotou road measuring 20sq metres. I bought it in 1997 for 35,000 yuan.

“Part of the problem is that while I live in Shanghai, my pension is administered by my old work unit in Xinjiang. So I only get 1,400 a month, and others get even less. I think it should be at least 1,800.

“You cannot live in Shanghai on 1,400 a month. My wife takes in some laundry and earns 800 a month, and my children both work, but children these days spend more money than they earn.

“What I want is for the government to control the housing price. But they never reply to us. They just define us as trouble-making petitioners.”

Lu Liying, 65

“I went to Xinjiang in 1963 together with my elder sister. They told us we could come back in three years and that we were going there to do some silkworm farming.

“But actually we grew rice and wheat. We did not volunteer to go, we had to go. In big families, at least half the children had to go to the countryside. We left one sister at home. She was working at a mechanical engineering factory and they would have forced her out if we had not gone.

“My older sister died in Xinjiang in 1982. When we left Shanghai it was really poor, and basically there was no way to earn extra money.

“You wouldn’t starve to death, but every household was barely scraping by. We went to Aksu and we grew cotton, rice and wheat. We had never done any farm work before, so it was very difficult at the start. I was only 16 years old, so it was hard for me to leave Shanghai as well.

“If I started to try to describe it, I could not finish the story in two days. It was a life you could never imagine. At dinner, we were eight people in a circle, squatting over the food on the ground. At bedtime we dug holes and lay a thin layer of straw.

“It was okay for us, but the boys never had enough food to eat. We even thought about hanging a rope from the ceiling and hanging ourselves. It was really desolate and it was hard labour and we had no money to get back. If we did well, we were given a cup or some soap as a reward.

“In the first three years, we earned 3 kuai, then 5 and then 8. Then in the fourth year I got 31.08 and that lasted for a long time. Eventually when I left XJ in 1992, I was on 150 yuan.

“My father died in 1962 and my mother in 1968. At the time, I wanted to come back for my mother’s funeral but my unit prevented me from going. My elder sister was allowed to go.

“In 1970, I did a trip back to SH on my own expenses. The free trips were only to visit families and since both my parents died I no longer had that privilege. Every time our eldest sister saw us, she burst into tears because we were so thin and yellow. We didn’t have good food. Just some mashed corn. I have two children, a boy and a girl in their 20s. The boy is at a shipping factory. I met my husband in Xinjiang and he is from Shandong.

“I now get 1,600 in pension. My husband gets a Shanghai pension. We rent a house in Hudong New Village. It has one bedroom, 20sqm and the monthly rent is 1200. It’s the cheapest we can find. Out of the original 100,000 Xinjiang Zhiqing, there are only 20,000 left. The rest have died. I’ve been petitioning for over nine years now, and mostly all that I want is better medical insurance.”
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