More on rights lawyer Wang Yu’s “confession and release” and China’s revival of “brainwashing” practice

There is no doubt whatever that Wang Yu will not be free to resume her practice of human rights law or her previous professional or even personal friendships. Her hope must be to obtain her husband’s release from jail, to be able to see her son and to procure for him the right to study abroad, as was originally planned. The elements of the deal struck will gradually emerge.

To say that her statement was “probably” the product of coercion is silly since she has been held in an immensely coercive environment for over a year. These “confessions” are reminiscent of the “brainwashing” era of the 1950s for which the new China became infamous. Brainwashing was based on long-run confinement in a coercive environment combined with heavy doses of thought reform and the realization that release depended on adopting, at least temporarily, the “new truth”.

The regime obviously altered Wang Yu’s restrictions (it did not “let her go”) because of the enormous international pressures brought to bear. The American Bar Association’s annual meeting at which the award is to be granted is about to be held. Her alleged repudiation of the award, which was a brilliant decision by the ABA to recover its loss of prestige from earlier inadequate criticism of the PRC, is the PRC’s attempt to discourage all foreign legal organizations from further attacks on the PRC’s human rights violations.

Of course, some lawyers and their legal assistants have been released during the past year while other lawyers are still detained and awaiting criminal conviction and prison punishment as well as the loss of their right to practice law, unless they too succumb to the brainwashing and other coercion to which they are being subjected. Even legal assistants such as Zhao Wei have not been spared the “confession and release” farce.

My video talks on “The Governance of China”

Here are my video talks for the New York Review of Books conference in Hong Kong on “The Governance of China,” which just took place over the weekend. Congrats to the organizer for a successful conference. 

1. Some Legal Vignettes about China (12 minutes):

How China’s ideology has affected its legal development and the current challenges facing the legal profession

2. Legal and Constitutional Reform (24 minutes):

How the Chinese Communist Party maintains unfettered power and how law reformers hope to restrain it


Chinese Communist Party’s Persecution of Churches: China Change’s Interviews with “Pastor L”

By Jerome A. Cohen

Photo from  ChinaChange : "Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. TIME Magazine has a video report  here "

Photo from ChinaChange: "Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. TIME Magazine has a video report here"

China Change has just released a remarkable interview with “Pastor L.” The interview not only updates us about the plight of Christianity in an important area of China but also offers a persuasive analysis of what underlies the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of religions generally. Indeed, it demonstrates the similarities between the CCP’s persecution of religions and its systematic attacks on all freedoms of expression, media, teaching, research and publication, and the legal profession to which victims of suppression vainly turn for protection against an arbitrary and repressive state. This interview deserves widespread dissemination. One need not be a religious person – and I am not – to appreciate its significance.

The interview does prompt a few immediate thoughts. It consistently refers to “Christianity” without distinguishing among the varieties of organized believers who have earned that designation. Readers who are interested in how many of the affected church groups are “Protestants” of one kind or other and how many are “Catholic” can find more information in the first interview China Change released here.

The interview’s account of how local business people, a formidably successful group, have helped to spread the faith during their business trips throughout China evokes thoughts of Max Weber and the connections between capitalism and religions.

It also offers the pathetic story of how Beijing lawyer Zhang Kai, one of several counsel seeking to defend the churches but secretly detained like many of his clients, has been coerced, like them, to issue a jailhouse statement claiming that he no longer wants the help of defense lawyers. This is a vivid illustration of the “rule of law” in practice, as distinguished from the speeches of Xi Jinping, the preaching of the Party plenums and the reformist norms of the National People’s Congress and the Supreme People’s Court. Church believers could render further service by doing empirical studies of the many cases involving interaction of the legal system with their daily lives.

I look forward to further reports from the estimable “Pastor L” and China Change. 

Who gets punished?: Sons and daughters of rights lawyers - Collective punishment in China

by Jerome Cohen

Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Wang Yu, a leading rights lawyer detained in July during a large-scale crackdown on lawyers, must be under greater pressures than ever. Not only is she detained, but also her teenage son Bao Zhuoxuan has been prevented from leaving China to study abroad. When the boy tried to escape China days ago, he was caught in Myanmar and brought back to the country. Chinese media now claim that this is “a plot by external forces, who forcibly drew a minor into the vortex of politics and used the case to vilify China's rule of law.” Wang Yu, detained for more than three months now, appeared on state TV to condemn the supposed smuggling of her son (See Verna Yu’s report here). Meanwhile a son of another prominent rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, has also been denied permission to leave China to pursue an overseas education.

There is no doubt that in fact, not in formal law, the Chinese Government has been resorting to collective punishment of the family members of those it regards as political offenders. Indeed, the People’s Republic has been doing this for a long time in order to punish people it deems to be dissidents and to force them to “confess” to alleged crimes they have not committed.

Such formal collective punishment was abolished over a century ago in China as part of reformers’ efforts to bring Qing dynasty justice up to the standards of the Western imperial powers and end the incubus of “extraterritorial” foreign jurisdiction. Yet it persisted in practice under China’s post-imperial, pre-Communist regimes. Chiang Kai-shek’s government continued to secretly mete out collective family punishment on Taiwan. Many still recall how Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) police even killed the children and mother of a distinguished Taiwan independence advocate while he was in prison.

Is collective punishment happening more often in the PRC today than in the past? It’s impossible for outside observers to know. Surely the Internet and social media keep us better informed than in the past.

The authorities evidently think it is an effective tool, since it can transform even the most courageous dissident into the Communist Party’s compliant victim.

This vicious practice may soon backfire, however, since knowledge of its use is increasingly widespread and leaves in tatters any further attempt by the Xi Jinping regime to resort to “soft power”. I am glad Xi’s daughter had the opportunity for a Harvard education. It is a disgrace that he so often denies this opportunity to the children of so many worthy citizens.