“Wang Gongquan is the Bottom Line For Us All“
September 20, 2013
By Xiao Shu (笑蜀)
September 13, 2013. On this day, the well-known rights-defending journalist Chen Baocheng (陈宝成) was formally arrested by police in the city of Pingdu. Later in the day, superstar Wang Fei (王菲) announced that she was divorcing Li Yapeng (李亚鹏). But for those Chinese who care about the development of civil society [in China], the biggest shock came as the axe fell for one of China’s leading businessmen and venture capitalists, Wang Gongquan (王功权). On Sina Weibo, a platform mollified for many days by a storm of ostensible anti-rumor campaigning, there was suddenly a tide of discussion. This day was dubbed “Black Friday” by web users.
Wang Gongquan was taken away by the police at around 11 a.m. on “Black Friday.” At first he was issued with a subpoena, but that night at 8:17 p.m., before the end of the 12 or 24-hour period legally [given for compliance], Wang Gongquan’s family members received a notice of criminal detention (刑拘通知书) from the police. This time, many old friends [of Wang Gongquan] who supposed he would quickly regain his freedom could not help but feel bitterly disappointed.
Of course, as an old friend of Wang Gongquan’s, I’m very clear about this outcome. When our mutual friend, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a chief proponent of the New Citizens Movement (新公民运动), was arrested on July 17, I was on a trip to Beijing. In the days after that, Wang and I saw each other every day. We talked about our strategy, we made tactical evaluations, up to the day that I was forcibly detained by state security police and taken away from Beijing. At that time, both of us of course prepared ourselves for the worst. As allies of Xu Zhiyong and his leading supporters, we knew we faced the greatest danger of our lives. At one point we talked about the possibility of being subpoenaed, and Wang Gongquan said firmly to me:
“I have a clear conscience. I won’t let them play this game of catch and release. I won’t submit to that kind of humiliation. If they want to subpoena me, I will refuse to answer any questions whatsoever. They can lean hard on me, but I’ll refused to go. They’ll have to arrest me and be done with it.”
The authorities also understood this kind of resolve. If he wasn’t as firm as this, if he showed an ounce of compromise, if he spoke so much as a soft word, the authorities would seize on it like a nugget of gold, and there would be a way to step down — Wang Gongquan wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in today. The authorities knew the cost of going after Wang Gongquan. But Wang Gongquan would not give the authorities any leeway. He would make no concessions. None at all!
Wang Gongquan, man of iron. Wang Gongquan, who cannot be shaken. A man consistent in his actions.
Wang Gongquan’s old friends all know two stories from his experience doing business.
In his Wintop days, Wintop planned a merger with a certain company in the northeast. The two companies were ready to go, they had basically completed negotiations, and Wintop had already worked out a strategic plan. Once the merger was completed, profits wouldn’t be a problem — investment risk was Wang Gongquan’s avocation. But the merger was held up by the local commission for economic restructuring (体改委). A certain top official in the commission wanted Wintop to fork out a toll before things could get moving again.
Wang Gongquan refused point blank. His colleagues couldn’t understand it. There was a heated and hurtful argument. But Wang Gongquan would not back down — even though this was a very common unspoken rule in China’s business world. The problem was that the company couldn’t suffer losses as a result. So what could they do?
Ultimately, everyone opposed had to keep quiet, and they couldn’t help but feel admiration — because Wang Gongquan remedied the situation by gouging flesh from his own body: whatever the company’s related losses, they would be taken from his own personal earnings from the company.
There is a similar story, but with very different methods.
Wang Gongquan is well known as the founder of CDH Investments. CDH manages entirely foreign funds, and aside from Wang Gongquan, all of the top managers [of CDH] have immigrated. Wang Gongquan’s refusal to immigrate means the company cannot be treated as a foreign enterprise, and loses out in terms of tax savings. No colleague of Wang Gongquan’s ever complained about this, but it made him uneasy. Later, he was willing to sell off all of his shares in CDH and take on all of the resulting personal losses, but he never budged on the immigration issue — he was determined to spend his whole life as a Chinese citizen. Because he loves this country. And at his daughter’s wedding on September 8, he said to them when extending his wishes: guard your conscience, love your country.
He loves his country deeply, fiercely, bitterly. It’s because he loves his country that he hates the ills of his country so passionately, that he refuses to bow his head, no matter what the cost to himself.
The Merciful Wang Gongquan
Because of this love, a soft heart, and an inborn goodness and sympathy, present a sharp contrast to Wang Gongquan’s iron resolve.
There is an amazing tale everyone has heard, about how at 10 p.m. on the night of January 1, 2011, at a black jail in Beijing’s Fengtai District, a group of petitioners pounded on the iron gates of the prison, shouting, “Open the gate, let us out!” None of those petitioners realised that multi-millionaire Wang Gongquan was among them, shouting along with them.
Another commonly-told tale is about a speech, “We Will Not Give Up”, delivered by Wang Gongquan at the annual meeting of the Open Constitution Initiative in 2010. The organiser, Xu Zhiyong, could not be present because he had been detained by police. The venue had also been changed because of police pressure, and undercover police were everywhere. Wang Gongquan stood up at the critical moment and made an impassioned address. This is how he spoke his own thoughts: he himself belonged to the vested interests, he said — but he could not give up his conscience for the sake of those interests.
Should we remain silent just because we stand to gain? Can we simply remain indifferent to all of the problems in our society because we stand to gain? If there are things that go beyond what we are willing to accept, can we just stand by and pretend we didn’t see? Or, coerced and intimidated, should we cut a deal and join the conspiracy? The choice is difficult, but these are things we cannot accept.
I have personally experienced his courage and persistence. Back in 2009, the Beijing police manufactured a case against the Open Constitution Initiative, detaining Xu Zhiyong and other members of OCI for tax evasion, their goal being to crush the entire network. At the time I was still working at Southern Weekly as an opinion writer. When I heard the news, I immediately bought a plane ticket and flew to Beijing to see Wang Gongquan. We agreed on a full plan to assist [Xu Zhiyong and the others]. It was late at night when we finished talking things through. We knew we couldn’t use a driver if we wanted to maintain the secrecy of our plan. So Wang Gongquan’s wife served as our driver, taking us all around the city to visit friend after friend, putting everyone on task. As Southern Weekly was in-system (体制内) — [meaning a Party-backed newspaper] — I could not draw trouble to the publication. I could only strategize behind the scenes. The actions on the front lines were eventually all taken by Wang Gongquan and the scholar Xiao Han (萧瀚), all while under the scrutiny of the intelligence apparatus, but the eventual result was earning freedom for Xu Zhiyong.
His courage and his persistence all arise from his sense of love. He loves his country. He loves his fellow countrymen. . .
“The Crime of Citizenship” (“公民罪”)
I met Wang Gongquan back in 2008. I regret that we met so late. First, because we both deeply love our country. Second, because we both have deep convictions about [the development of] civil society and peaceful transition (和平转型). He contributed many valuable suggestions for my lengthy essay on promoting organised rights defense. And it was because of his open praise of the article that it was banned from all web portals in China on September 11 last year, and both of our Weibo accounts were cancelled. After that, every account we attempted to open was cancelled. But Wang Gongquan, persistent as always, was not about to stop because of this. He was subsequently involved in numerous campaigns, including those for equal education and the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
But the courageous, thorough and resolute Wang Gongquan is also moderate and rational. Just as he is willing to set money aside, he disdains internal strife and the craven scramble for power. . . His highest ideal is to be an adequate citizen, not to achieve power, to be a proponent of peaceful transition, not an agent of regime change (做取代者). And so he has never seen himself as a champion. Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined himself becoming a hero. He has always upheld what he sees as his responsibility to his country and people in a humble and understated manner . . .
But he is too naive. He despises wickedness, but maintains a deep faith in people, never seeing any particular person as an enemy. He treats all with a sense of humanity and peace. He never realized that others might view him as a formidable enemy, simply because he persisted in his faith in civil society and peaceful transition. The net began to fall at the start of the year, a political craze determined to hunt down the Open Constitution Initiative and capture the entire citizens movement. And eventually he too was sacrificed. On the morning of September 13 at 10 a.m., more than 20 Beijing police poured into his residence near the Haidian Theater. Everything came to an abrupt end. Before, he and I stood together with thousands of others speaking out for Xu Zhiyong and for all those suffering for the citizens movement. Now, it falls to me, and to all of us, to continue the campaign.
It is a great sorrow, a truly a great sorrow for our country — that the belief in the concept of the citizen, that upholding the idea of peaceful transition has become a major crime. And it is no wonder that the authorities have sought no other rationalisation, because in fact they will find no excuse with which to blame Wang Gongquan. They have already cast a net over Wang Gongquan for years, and they have found no handle to grasp. So in the end they directly apply this notorious charge of “disturbing the public order” (扰乱公共场所秩序).
In fact, Wang Gongquan, who believes wholeheartedly in peace, has never in any way disturbed the public order. His true crime is most accurately “the crime of the citizenship,” the crime of striving to be a competent citizen, the crime of striving for the civil rights guaranteed by the constitution.
This means that the criminal detention of Wang Gongquan is an important signal of the current political situation in China. In November last year, I gave a talk at Northwest University of Political and Law titled, “Civil Society is the Bottom Line, and the Bottom Line is Our Lifeline” (公民社会是底线，底线就是生命线). The situation now is obvious. Civil society is under attack, not just through media attacks against constitutionalism, but also through the blatant use of tyrannical methods, of violence without the restraint of the law.
Perhaps civil society already belongs to [what the Party has traditionally called, usually referencing foreign elements threatening the regime] “the hostile forces” (敌对势力). The pursuit of civil rights is seen as an affront to public power, and promoting peaceful transition is seen as a threat to the power elites (权贵集团). Both must be fiercely attacked. [Officials] must “show their swords,” allowing no space whatsoever.
But if calls for constitutionalism and civil society are smothered, won’t this in effect mean an open system of fascism? Is there still any chance that the Chinese nation will progress toward a modern civilization? Will the Chinese people forever be mired in barbarism? Is this not an insult to every single Chinese person?
In this sense, Wang Gongquan’s fate is far beyond a matter of personal fate. It concerns the fate of all Chinese people. Showing care for Wang Gongquan means showing care for ourselves. This is the bottom line we all share in common. There is no place left to retreat to!