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China Needs a New Citizens Movement

July 23, 2012

Editor’s note: Xu first published the original Chinese article as a blog post on May 29, 2102, which was soon deleted by the Chinese authorities. On May 31, Human Rights in China published the article in HRIC’s Biweekly Chinese Journal.

This is an edited version of a translation originally posted on Seeing Red in China. The translator wishes to remain anonymous.

China needs a new citizens’ movement. This movement is a political movement in which this ancient nation bids utter farewell to authoritarianism and completes the civilized transformation to constitutional governance; it is a social movement to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor, and to construct a new order of fairness and justice; it is a cultural movement to bid farewell to the culture of autocrats and subjects and instead create a new nationalist spirit; it is the peaceful progressive movement to herald humanity’s process of civilizing.

In the 20th century, China experienced many movements: the Xinhai Revolution, the New Culture Movement, the New Life Movement, etc. In trying to bid farewell to autocracy, they changed the Chinese people’s living habits and spiritual realms. Due to internal and external problems, however, the Republican Era ended quickly. These historical progressive movements were unable to complete fundamental changes in the political system; they were but a flash in the pan. After 1949, China’s totalitarian regime launched a flurry of movements—land reform, the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, the socialist transformation, the anti-rightist movement, and everything from the Great Leap Forward through the Cultural Revolution. These regressive movements against the tides of history were destined to have tragic endings. In the 1980s, the Communist Party of China initiated the “five stresses, four beauties, and three loves” campaign,[1] but a social reform movement initiated by a dictator, tainted by self-interest, cannot bring real change in society.

Today, China still has not been able to leave behind authoritarianism, power monopolies, rampant corruption, the wealth disparity, violent housing demolitions, education imbalance, and the black hole of social security … the root of these weighty social problems is autocracy; the Chinese nation needs a great citizens’ movement that moves with the historic tide, moving from bottom to top, from political and social to cultural, from the awakening of individual citizens to the revitalization of the entire Chinese civilization.

The goal of the New Citizens Movement is a free China ruled by democracy and law, a just and happy civil society with “freedom, righteousness, love” as the new national spirit.

The core of the New Citizen’s Movement is the citizen. This is an individual concept as well as a political and social concept. The citizen is not a subjectthe citizen is an independent and free entity, and he or she obeys a rule of law that is commonly agreed upon. He or she does not have to kneel down to any given person. The citizen is not a laymanthe citizen is the master of the country. The ruler’s power must come from election by the entire citizenry, bidding farewell to the barbaric logic of  “ruling by the barrel of a gun.” Citizens are neither docile nor mob-like; they share happiness and bear of responsibilities in the order of justice; and they are upstanding, magnanimous, moderate, and rational.

The “new” in New Citizens Movement refers to new historical conditions, new forms of behavior, and a new liberal order. The counterpart of the new citizen is not the citizen, but the subject, of the past. The new historical conditions include technological advancement, market economies, ideological pluralism, and the common democratic trend in human society. The new forms of behavior are the lawful defense of citizens’ rights, citizens’ non-violent non-cooperation, and peaceful democracy movements, all under a new system of ideas and discourse. The new liberal order is the constitutional order of democracy, rule of law, republicanism. The social background of the New Citizens Movement is new, the model of behavior is new, the movement’s goal is new, and thus it is called the New Citizens Movement.

The big change in Chinese society needs direction and spirit. The New Citizens Movement advocates the New Citizen Spirit, which is the direction and spirit of great change.

The New Citizens Movement is a political campaign. China inevitably needs to complete the civilized transformation of politics, establish a free China that is completely democratic and ruled by law. The New Citizens Movement is a social campaign. The solution to a monopoly over power, rampant corruption, wealth disparity, education imbalance, and similar problems is not merely dependent on a democratic political system, but also must rely on the continual implementation of the social reform movement. The New Citizens Movement is a cultural campaign. It completely transforms tyrannical culture, which is corrupt, downfallen, wretched, and hostile; it founds a new nationalist spirit of “freedom, righteousness, and love.”

There must be an end to tyranny, but the New Citizens Movement is far from being just a democratic reformation; the New Citizens Movement’s discourse is not “overthrow,” but “establish.” It is not one social class taking the place of another social class, but letting righteousness take its place in the Chinese nation. It is not hostility and hate, but universal love. The New Citizens Movement pursues facts and justice, but from the aspiration and hard work of not giving up and settling differences. In the process of societal change, there must be new kind of spiritual coalescing of the Chinese people as a whole, from the individual citizen to the entire country.

The New Citizen’s spirit can be summarized as “free, righteous, and loving.”

Freedom implies the sovereignty of belief, thought, expression, life, the pursuit of independence, and the unrestrained, authentic selfhood. People’s freedom is the end goal of society, country, and law. Righteousness: it is the fair justice of this world; it is the ideal status of the country and the society; it is equal opportunity.

The strong will have restriction; the weak will have protection, and every person, to the best of their abilities, will build on their strengths, perform their duties, and do what they want. Righteousness implies democratic rule of law is the cornerstone of the system. It implies individual responsibility, defends and pursues rights, cares for the common good, and respects the boundaries of other people’s rights. Love is the source of humanity’s well-being; it is the highest state of the New Citizen’s mind. A people’s mind must contain love as well as erase hate and hostility entirely, founding a free and well-off civil society.

The New Citizens Movement includes the citizens’ rights movement, the citizens’ non-cooperation movement, and the democracy movement. It follows the lead of the New Citizen’s spirit in China’s magnificent movement toward peaceful transformation.

The citizens’ rights movement is the soil of the democracy movement. It includes the social movement for the defense of the rights of individual cases, rights of building demolition [property rights], rights of ex-servicemen, rights of the environment, right of the freedom of belief, and right of opposing the housing registration system, which strives for the rights and interests of the group.

The citizens’ rights movement emphasizes an individual’s or an individual group’s demand for rights. However, China’s internal power monopoly, rampant corruption, wealth gap, black hole of social security, and other serious societal problems have already reached the point of needing a political solution. The citizens’ rights movement, after developing to a certain point, will inevitably enter into a democratic political movement.

The citizens’ non-cooperation movement runs through the entire rights movement and democracy movement, including the negative resistance of authoritarianism and the positive protection of free rights. As compared to the citizens’ non-cooperation movement, the New Citizens Movement moreover emphasizes establishment. The establishment of a civil society will do away with tyranny, not only putting an end to tyranny, but also establishing the future of civilized politics and civil society.

In a broader sense, the New Citizens Movement also includes a campaign appearing in many recent democratic countries that is centered on the demands for fairness and justice. Background to the morally-upright fourth wave of democratization is new technology changing peoples’ societal structure. China’s New Citizens Movement gathers the previous democratic era’s civil rights movements and democratic revolutions as well as the social revolutions of democratic countries.

The New Citizens Movement already has a social basis. Thirty years of Reform and Opening Up has established the economic basis of private property and the market process. It has also brought with it a pluralistic society. The party in power has gone from a totalitarian regime to an authoritarian regime and then to an oligarchic regime; the forces of tyranny have already become weak, and therein the citizens’ movement already has a certain amount of leeway. The Internet, telecommunications, and other new technologies have sped up China’s enlightenment and the formation of citizens’ interpersonal networks. The trend of international democratization is transforming and restraining autocratic violence, and imbuing the political movements in newly democratic countries with the peaceful and rational spirit of world citizens.

Without the New Citizen, there can be neither a new civil society nor a constitutional China; the New Citizens Movement emphasizes the New Citizen, from the individual and the small matters on upward; it practices citizen responsibilities and does not obey the despotism of unspoken rules. It is not concurrent with privilege and corruption, believing instead in democratic rule of law, in the pursuit of freedom and fairness, civil movements, and a constitutional China.  

The New Citizens Movement includes all types of current social movements and political movements: the “Grass Mud Horse” campaign,[2] the displaced residents campaign, the campaign to oppose the household registration stratification, the campaign to remember June Fourth, the freedom of belief campaign, the blogging campaign, the environmental protection campaign, the food and health safety campaign, the campaign to elect deputies to people’s congresses, the microblog-based campaign attacking human trafficking, the campaign to oppose monopolies, the campaign to oppose corruption. These social and political movements are brought together by way of the New Citizens Movement.

The New Citizens Movement advocates the practice of the New Citizen spirit and societal responsibility in every sector: the New Citizen judge is impartial and evenhanded, loyal to the law and of good conscience. He or she does not pervert the law for the sake of dominance and selfishness. The New Citizen policeman is an impartial implementer of the law, removing the evil and content with the good, never torturing for confession, uncorrupted by dark and evil forces. The New Citizen public prosecutor is loyal to the country’s laws, does not appease corruption, does not pervert the course of justice and does not indulge in crime. The New Citizen deputy to the people’s congress has the courage to carry out the law for the benefit of the public; it is not a voting machine and rubber stamp.

The New Citizen teacher loves his or her students, never passing lies onto them. The New Citizen physician loves patients and does not accept bribes, arbitrarily prescribe medications, or discriminate against patients. The New Citizen lawyer abides by the law, lawfully defends the rights and interests of clients and does not bribe judges. The New Citizen accountant abides by accounting regulations and does not cook the books. The New Citizen editor and reporter seek the truth and do not report lies.

The New Citizen college student diligently studies, cares for the society—does not cheat on tests or plagiarize essays. The New Citizen scholar seeks truth with professionalism—does not flatter or ingratiate, or use another’s ideas as his or her own. The New Citizen artist expresses truth, goodness, and beauty and rejects unspoken rules. The New Citizen sports referee makes calls with impartial independence—does not blow the whistle unfairly. The New Citizen athlete competes fairly—does not throw competitions for profit. The New Citizen entrepreneur faces the market and runs business honestly—does not parlay favor with bigwigs. The New Citizen industrial worker guarantees the quality of products—does not use inferior materials to turn out substandard products or make fake, shoddy products. The New Citizen food manufacturer does not mix in poisonous and harmful materials. And so on.

To push forward the New Citizens Movement, the New Citizen can:

Disseminate the New Citizen Spirit: Explain the “freedom, righteousness, and love” of the New Citizen Spirit by way of online posts, street fliers, t-shirt slogans, and any other method of spreading the New Citizen Spirit. The New Citizen Spirit must appear on the Internet, flourish in the streets, and, most of all, take root in the deepest part in our hearts.

Practice New Citizen Responsibility: Promise to practice New Citizen Responsibility, stand fast to New Citizen behavioral standards, reject corruption in one’s life, reject the practice of seeking private gain at the expense of the public, be loyal to good conscience and do not actively do evil, do good service for society, and mutually supervise one another to carry out this promise. The New Citizen Spirit is the spirit of commitment, sacrificing one’s profit to be an example, to maintain good conscience and righteousness, up until righteousness exists all over the Chinese nation.

Use the “Citizen” sign or other identifying methods: Citizens design their own “Citizen” insignias, and strengthen their own Citizen status and self-affirmation by wearing the insignias in everyday life.

Participate in civic life: Hold regular mealtime talks, discuss current political situation, pay close attention to people’s livelihood, care for public service as well as public policy, help the weak, serve society, promulgate fairness and justice. Every place has a group of modern citizens. Everybody needs to group together for society to progress. Unity begins with acquaintance.

Unite to share labor and coordinate work. Repost messages, file lawsuits, photograph everyday injustices, wear t-shirts with slogans, witness everyday events [specifically referring to the phenomenon of standing in a circle around someone causing a scene to witness it], participate or openly refuse to participate in elections, transcribe [things that you see happen], hold gatherings or marches or demonstrations, do performance art, and use other methods in order to jointly promote citizens’ rights movements and citizens’ non-cooperation campaigns—such as assets reporting, openness of information, opposition to corruption, opposition to housing registration stratification, freedom of beliefs, freedom of speech, and the right of election. Practice the New Citizen Spirit in action. Citizens’ power grows in the citizens’ movement.

 

Xu Zhiyong (许志永) is a lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. He is a co-founder and former director of Gongmeng (2003-2009), a public interest organization in Beijing dedicated to advancing the rule of law and social justice and promoting civil rights defense activities. Also known as Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), it provided legal consultation and assistance to the public and came to be known as the “cradle” of China’s rights defense lawyers. The organization was shut down by the authorities in 2009.

In April 2010, Xu and others initiated the online "Citizens’ Commitment" pledge campaign highlighting the importance of the individual taking on the responsibilities of a citizen in constructing a civil society.


Translator’s notes

[1] They were five stresses: on decorum, manners, hygiene, discipline, and morals; four points of beauty: of the mind, language, behavior, and the environment; and three aspects of love: for the motherland, socialism, and the CPC.

[2] Grass Mud Horse (草泥马) is a Chinese Internet meme that has come to represent defiance against online censorship in mainland China. It stems from the use of “草泥马” (cǎo ní mǎ, literally “grass mud horse”) as a homophonic method of subverting online filtering of the phrase “肏你妈” (cào nǐ mā, literally “fuck your mother”). 

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