In 1925, the 26-year-old poet and political dissident Wen Yiduo (闻一多) wrote in his poem titled “Dead Water”:
Here is a ditch of doomed, dead water
No spring breeze can stir up even half a ripple
In 1946, Wen was assassinated on the streets of Kunming by military security officers of the Kuomintang that ruled China at the time.
When Western powers showed up at the gates of China — first with trading ships, then with vessels of war — the vast empire was finally awakened from its millennia-long slumber and forced to confront the world. The wise and prescient were compelled to walk the path of modernity; generation after generation endeavored to find newer and better ways of building China into a powerful, wealthy country. However, bringing reform to a country that has had thousands of years of continuous imperial government has been a task fraught with huge challenges. Though many were filled with desire for change and worked tirelessly to beat a path, their efforts have been, time and again, thwarted by those in power. The failed experience of China’s reform project over the last century tells us that it’s not “backwardness” itself which leads to being bullied; rather, it’s the stubborn attachment to backward ways, the refusal to adopt advanced methods of governance, and the rejection of universal values that are the true cause of our suffering.
Wen Yiduo’s poem was an anguished cry amid the desperate and hopeless situation that a weakened China faced in the mid-1920s. Throughout the course of a century since then, this desperation stalked the Chinese people like a shadow.
In January 2021, human rights lawyers Lu Siwei (卢思位) and Ren Quanniu (任全牛) were disbarred by the Departments of Justice in Sichuan and Henan respectively. Early the next month, lawyer Xi Xiangdong (袭祥栋) was disbarred by the Shandong provincial Department of Justice. In October, the Beijing municipal Justice Bureau unlawfully revoked the license of Lin Qilei (蔺其磊); prior to that the Beijing Ruikai Law Firm that he directed was shut down on January 4.
On February 14, Zhang Pancheng (张盼成) — a youth from rural Gansu Province and a former security guard at Peking University — was arrested again shortly after release from prison, and has reportedly been handed a three-year prison sentence. It’s unclear what crime he was charged with.
On May 18, economics professor Yang Zhaozheng (杨绍政), who was “expelled” from Guizhou University, was secretly detained, arrested, and placed in residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL) on the charge of subversion of state power. On May 28, Guangdong dissident Wang Aizhong (王爱忠) was arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事罪).