14 Chinese Activists Seek Candidacy in Beijing District Election in Bid to ‘Speak for the People’

Fourteen Chinese activists in China’s capital are presenting themselves as independent candidates in the local People’s Congress election, posing a challenge to the ruling Party that has long kept a tight grip over the twice-a-decade event. Most of them have experienced have had firsthand experience of the harshness of authoritarian control, but say they hope to channel their frustration for the greater public good. “As grassroots citizens, the 14 of us have deeply felt the challenges in communicating with the government, People’s Congress, courts, and procuratorates,” they said in a statement. “We have often looked for People’s Congress representatives through all different channels, hoping they could help us to convey our concerns to the government, but we have no hopes of meeting with them.” “We want to let all our neighbors and all our voters contact us at any time. We are willing to speak up for ordinary citizens and work for them,” the statement said. Seeking A Voice The district-level election, which is scheduled for next month, will determine the lowest level of representatives for urban districts and rural counties, the only election where citizens could cast their votes. While Chinese law allows independent candidates, trying to get their names on the ballot could prove a difficult exercise. Independent candidates in China often face harassment and detention by the police, on top of procedural roadblocks. Activist Ye Jinghuan is running for the election her third time despite receiving police threats in the past. After she announced her first candidacy in 2011, she was quickly targeted and was beaten by uniformed police. The second time, in 2016, local neighborhood committee members and plain-clothed police tried to block her from rallying support. “They surrounded our house, surrounded our courtyard so as to stop us to go to populous places to campaign for votes,” she told The Epoch Times, adding that the police also tried to prevent Western media reporters from interviewing her. Ye became a petitioner after she and her sister became victims of a futures investment scam in 1998, where hundreds lost their life savings. “We wanted to explain our situation to the People’s Congress representatives because they have some power, they can at least talk to government authorities,” she said. 我是生活在最基层的公民,深感普通百姓与政府、人大、法院、检察院等部门沟通的困难。我经常通过各种渠道寻找人大代表,希望他们能帮我向政府及有关方面反映问题。但是根本见不到人大代表。现在五年一次的区县人大代表换届选举开始了。我有一种强烈的愿望,我要当人大代表!我愿意替老百姓说话办事。 pic.twitter.com/1DhtxXBX1a — 野靖环 (@VVGHAxQdlDZnF6Y) October 15, 2021 In reality, though, they could get detained for trying to air their grievances to the delegates, according to Ye. They “are becoming farther apart from us,” she said. Li Hairong, a farmer living in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, has sought justice for the past decade after authorities forcibly tore down her house in 2011. “I really want to become a People’s Congress representative who can be found by other people,” he told The Epoch Times. Most candidates were no longer accessible as of Oct. 17. ‘These People Are the Future’ Wives of two prominent human rights lawyers previously detained during the “709 Incident,” a wave of mass arrest in 2015 targeting hundreds of the country’s defense lawyers and dissidents, also announced their bid. Li Wenzu, who only reunited with her husband Wang Quanzhang last year, was denied visitation rights during nearly four years of Wang’s detention. During her years of advocacy, authorities pressured her landlords to drive them out of apartments. Her son, now eight years old, was forced out of school four times, she said. Li Wenzu, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, is followed by reporters and friends as she walks away from a Supreme People’s Court complaints office in Beijing, China, on April 4, 2018. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters) “The People’s Congress representatives only exist on TV,” she told The Epoch Times. The absence of lawful representatives who can speak up for them during those difficult years gave rise to her strong desire to step in to fill the void, she said. Yang Sen-hong, head of human rights group Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said the 14 candidates are where China’s hope lies. “These people are the future,” he told The Epoch Times. He was confident that they would win in a normal election. But pressure from authorities has been intensifying. Candidate Guo Qizeng suspects that authorities have tapped his phone. Calls from the United States would prompt a warning or get hung up automatically, he told The Epoch Times. Liu Xiuzhen, who has already received multiple police visits, said that Beijing will likely use two reviewing processes to screen unfavorable candidates out. “They never wanted us to participate in the elections,” she told The Epoch Times. Chinese people have long sought, and failed, to secure democracy from the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. The student-led democracy movement in 1989

14 Chinese Activists Seek Candidacy in Beijing District Election in Bid to ‘Speak for the People’

Fourteen Chinese activists in China’s capital are presenting themselves as independent candidates in the local People’s Congress election, posing a challenge to the ruling Party that has long kept a tight grip over the twice-a-decade event.

Most of them have experienced have had firsthand experience of the harshness of authoritarian control, but say they hope to channel their frustration for the greater public good.

“As grassroots citizens, the 14 of us have deeply felt the challenges in communicating with the government, People’s Congress, courts, and procuratorates,” they said in a statement. “We have often looked for People’s Congress representatives through all different channels, hoping they could help us to convey our concerns to the government, but we have no hopes of meeting with them.”

“We want to let all our neighbors and all our voters contact us at any time. We are willing to speak up for ordinary citizens and work for them,” the statement said.

Seeking A Voice

The district-level election, which is scheduled for next month, will determine the lowest level of representatives for urban districts and rural counties, the only election where citizens could cast their votes.

While Chinese law allows independent candidates, trying to get their names on the ballot could prove a difficult exercise. Independent candidates in China often face harassment and detention by the police, on top of procedural roadblocks.

Activist Ye Jinghuan is running for the election her third time despite receiving police threats in the past.

After she announced her first candidacy in 2011, she was quickly targeted and was beaten by uniformed police. The second time, in 2016, local neighborhood committee members and plain-clothed police tried to block her from rallying support.

“They surrounded our house, surrounded our courtyard so as to stop us to go to populous places to campaign for votes,” she told The Epoch Times, adding that the police also tried to prevent Western media reporters from interviewing her.

Ye became a petitioner after she and her sister became victims of a futures investment scam in 1998, where hundreds lost their life savings.

“We wanted to explain our situation to the People’s Congress representatives because they have some power, they can at least talk to government authorities,” she said.

In reality, though, they could get detained for trying to air their grievances to the delegates, according to Ye.

They “are becoming farther apart from us,” she said.

Li Hairong, a farmer living in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, has sought justice for the past decade after authorities forcibly tore down her house in 2011.

“I really want to become a People’s Congress representative who can be found by other people,” he told The Epoch Times.

Most candidates were no longer accessible as of Oct. 17.

‘These People Are the Future’

Wives of two prominent human rights lawyers previously detained during the “709 Incident,” a wave of mass arrest in 2015 targeting hundreds of the country’s defense lawyers and dissidents, also announced their bid.

Li Wenzu, who only reunited with her husband Wang Quanzhang last year, was denied visitation rights during nearly four years of Wang’s detention. During her years of advocacy, authorities pressured her landlords to drive them out of apartments. Her son, now eight years old, was forced out of school four times, she said.

Li Wenzu, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, is followed by reporters and friends as she walks away from a Supreme People's Court complaints office in Beijing
Li Wenzu, wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, is followed by reporters and friends as she walks away from a Supreme People’s Court complaints office in Beijing, China, on April 4, 2018. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

“The People’s Congress representatives only exist on TV,” she told The Epoch Times. The absence of lawful representatives who can speak up for them during those difficult years gave rise to her strong desire to step in to fill the void, she said.

Yang Sen-hong, head of human rights group Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said the 14 candidates are where China’s hope lies.

“These people are the future,” he told The Epoch Times. He was confident that they would win in a normal election.

But pressure from authorities has been intensifying. Candidate Guo Qizeng suspects that authorities have tapped his phone. Calls from the United States would prompt a warning or get hung up automatically, he told The Epoch Times.

Liu Xiuzhen, who has already received multiple police visits, said that Beijing will likely use two reviewing processes to screen unfavorable candidates out.

“They never wanted us to participate in the elections,” she told The Epoch Times.

Chinese people have long sought, and failed, to secure democracy from the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party.

The student-led democracy movement in 1989 ended with tanks rolling on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, if not thousands.

Epoch Times Photo
Residents of Wukan, a fishing village in the southern province of Guangdong, rally to demand the government take action over illegal land grabs and the death in custody of a local leader on December 15, 2011. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

In September 2011, Wukan—a small fishing village in southern Guangdong Province with a population of 20,000—showed glimmers of grassroots democracy. For a short period, the villagers rebelled over officials’ corruption and land grabbing efforts and drove them out.

Thousands then elected their own representatives and set up organizations such as a provisional council and a women’s union to coordinate mediation with the Party. But authorities soon announced that their organizations were illegal and began to make arrests.

Epoch Times Photo
More than 1,000 police in antiriot gear entered Wukan village in Lufeng county, Guangdong province, before dawn on Dec. 11, 2011. Police fired more than 50 rounds of tear gas and other ammunitions. Wukan villagers have staged several large-scale, well-organized, protests during the last few months against illegal land grabs and corruption by officials. (Courtesy of Wukan villagers)

On Dec. 11, one of the five arrested representatives, Xue Jinbo, died in police custody. All of those arrested were tortured, reported The Epoch Times.

But regardless, Cheng Hai, a civil rights lawyer who had defended his peers arrested during the 709 crackdown, believes the Chinese people need to persist.

“Abandoning your ballot is the same as abandoning your rights to political decision making,” he told The Epoch Times. “It’s equivalent to acquiescence,” he said.

Li Bei and Hong Ning contributed to the article.


Eva Fu

China Reporter

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Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China, religious freedom, and human rights.

Sophia Lam

Sophia Lam

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