China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Sophia Woodman, Human Rights in China
Chair and Discussant: Xiaorong Li, University of Maryland
Since the mid-1970s, Chinas rulers have mostly ceased to employ political campaigns to assert authority and implement policies. By contrast, during this period instances of autonomous resistance and social movements have emerged one after another, ranging in scope from the individual and purely local to events with a major social and political impact, such as the 1989 demonstrations. And while there has been no sign of a revival of the 1989-style urban intellectual-led movement since that time, new protest forms have continued to evolve.
Four studies of popular and individual protests among "water refugees," prisoners, youth "sent-down" to the countryside and gay activists will be presented in this multidisciplinary panel. The papers will explore the strategies used to seek redress for violations of rights, to articulate grievances, or to express interests, often in the absence of proper channels for doing so. Protecting human rights is rarely an explicit aim of such protestsindeed, its controversial nature assures that the term is consciously avoidedbut their character is a significant indicator of rights awareness and claims. Gradual increases in personal and economic freedoms have certainly expanded space for protests, while the official response they provoke demonstrates the scope and nature of continuing restrictions, which remain broad and arbitrary despite the Chinese governments growing sensitivity to the international impact of human rights violations.
The panel, which is part of a larger project on the subject, will seek to draw some preliminary conclusions from the case studies about the evolution of rights consciousness and practice in contemporary China.
Xiaoxia Gong, University of California, Los Angeles
State-sponsored mass movements under Mao Zedong in the Peoples Republic of China have long been recognized as instruments the authorities employed for repression and political persecution. However, in the mid-1970s towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, a different kind of mass movement emerged, namely, popular protests challenging the authorities. Many such protests were driven by collective resentment against government policies regarding particular social groups.
One such large-scale protest involving individual and collective actions was the campaign of the "sent-down youth" to regain their right of urban residency. From 1968 to 1976, approximately 17 million urban junior high and high school graduates were permanently relocated to the rural areas by the state to ease the pressure of urban unemployment. In particular, many young people from the largest cities were sent to work in farms in the border regions run by the military. The mass protests which burst forth in the late 1970s were concentrated in these regions. Besides demanding to return to their cities of origin, the protesters also denounced widespread abuses of power among their military supervisors and the extremely harsh living conditions. The central government sent out investigation teams, and eventually issued new policies allowing many of the sent-down youth to restore their urban residence. This paper will give a detailed historical account of this campaign, including an analysis of the political ideas and the organizational strategy employed by the protesters.
Yanhai Wan, Coordinator of AIZHI Action Project (Beijing)/Visiting Scholar, Center for Feminist Research, University of Southern California
This paper will analyze the factors promoting gay awareness and gay rights movements in todays China, using sources of information including literature, interviews, observation and the authors personal experience.
Gay issues have recently become visible in China and some open discussion of them is now possible. This paper will present the background to this coming out process and its relationship to the AIDS/HIV epidemic of the 1990s, including the progress in eliminating the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, a process comparable to efforts in the USA in the 1970s.
The main focus of the paper is an examination of gay awareness and volunteerism in the struggle for more "space" and for equal rights. Gay activists have advanced their cause through seeking life space and through professional activism, such as psychological counseling and safer sex education. Information on such issues as how gay activists and gay communities deal with the pressure of the authoritarian government, how they establish their identity, how they communicate with their families and the public, how they respond to democratic movements and how they work with other groups will illuminate the key problems of gay liberation in China. The impact of personality and interpersonal relationships on the character of the movements will also be discussed.
Jun Jing, City College of New York
Over 10 million people in China have been forcibly relocated from their native places to clear space for the building of dams and reservoirs, thus becoming "water refugees." Most of these water refugees are rural residents.
Compensation schemes have generally been inadequate, and people have often been relocated to inhospitable terrain. The widespread attempts by relocated communities to seek proper compensation from state agencies through protest movements are little known outside China. The description of this kind of collective action presented in this paper relies on internal official documents on the subject and on two independently-documented cases of local protest movements. I focus on the role played by conceptions of rights and justice in the efforts of water refugees to hold the state accountable for their community suffering and to seek redress.
In this paper, the term "community suffering" refers to the suffering of individuals as earthbound groups when they are deprived of the basic means of subsistence, especially land, as a result of state-planned waterworks. The paper examines the water refugees creation of a morally-grounded argumentnamely that they have had to sacrifice too much for national development but have gained too little in return. Organizational matters are of course important for understanding these protest movements, but the moral arguments of the water refugees are perhaps more crucial in their struggle against an authoritarian regime, particularly since it came into power at the head of a peasant army and has taken upon itself the obligation to protect the peasants basic livelihood.
James D. Seymour, Columbia University
Chinese prisoners have devised a rich variety of ways to protest and change their situations. An examination of prisoners appeals and protests against convictions, sentences and ill-treatment reveal patterns of strategies.
Methods have included "silent protests" such as petty sabotage: the authorities cannot easily determine which individuals are responsible, and yet they are made aware of prisoner dissatisfaction. Agricultural work, for example is difficult to monitor; pulling good seedlings instead of weeds may have the dual effect of protesting and reducing the work load at harvest time. In other cases, the protester can (and expects to) be readily identified. Such protests may range from sanctioned appeals, to escaping. Hunger strikes are not too common and largely limited to political prisoners. Self-mutilation is much more frequent, having the advantage of reducing the prisoners value as a worker. Protests may be carefully calculated, rational acts, or they may be irrational and even spontaneous. In the latter cases, they are often directed against fellow prisoners rather than directly at the establishment.
In the past, appealing ones case through the courts, or by means of letters to the authorities, was often interpreted as evidence of lack of contrition, but it appears that the authorities no longer take such a negative view. This paper will use a variety of materials, including testimonies from former prisoners and official documents, to elucidate prisoners evolving conceptions of law and rights.