The Other China
The lawyer Chen Qiushi (陳秋實, 1985-) was one of the autonomous citizen-journalists who attempted to report on the outbreak of Covid-19 in February 2020. As Sebastian Veg noted at the time, Chen ‘already enjoyed something of a reputation as a self-proclaimed independent investigator, in particular as a result of a fledgling attempt to cover the 2019 Hong Kong protests for Mainland viewers. Chen situated himself in the new tradition of the “citizen journalists” that appeared and gained popular influence throughout the 2000s.’
Detained by the Wuhan police on 6 February 2020, Chen was released into the custody of his parents, who live in Qingdao, Shandong province, later that year. He had enjoyed online celebrity long before his failed efforts as a citizen journalist and was also known as an award-winning debater and an outspoken cultural commentator. His short videos on a range of topics attracted considerable attention both in- and outside China and, in 2022 he hesitantly revived his line career by posting relatively circumspect commentaries on Twitter and coy videos on his YouTube channel. He also pursued more gainful ventures in martial arts, stand-up comedy and business. On 11 April 2023, in a mood of outrage, Chen posted the following commentary to YouTube.
Chen Qiushi speaks from what I call The Other China. The Other China is not the China of stentorian slogans, cutting barbs, sarcastic put-downs. It is not the China of clichéd patriotism and exaggerated public performance; nor is it the China of crude stereotypes and bottomless grievance. It is a China of humanity and decency, of quiet dignity and unflappable perseverance. It is a China that finds expression in a myriad of ways in a country dominated by a political party that would bend all to its will.
My thanks to Callum Smith of China Heritage for help with transcribing Chen’s video. This translation was originally published by The China Project under the title Legalized rape and outlawed dissent — Chen Qiushi on bugs in China’s legal system, and I am grateful to Jeremy Goldkorn for granting China Heritage permission to reprint it. The typographical style of The China Project has been retained and calligraphy by Liu Chan 劉蟾 and Deng Wenyuan 鄧文原 has been added.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
20 April 2023
- Twitter — @chenqiushi404
- YouTube — @chenqiushiofficial6094
- Ha Gong, The Legalization of Rape (2 March 1984), trans. Don J. Cohn, Renditions, nos.29-30 (1988): 326-227
- Zhao Yuanyuan, China sentences six to imprisonment over plight of chained woman of Xuzhou, The China Project, 11 April 2023
Chen Qiushi in China Heritage:
- How Steel is Tempered — Chen Qiushi Returns, 6 October 2021
- Chen Qiushi’s Gift of the Gab, 28 December 2020
- The Heart of The One Grows Ever More Arrogant and Proud, 10 March 2020
On Xu Zhiyong:
- 我不相信 — ‘I Do Not Believe’ — Xu Zhiyong on being jailed, again, 10 April 2023
- Where is China’s Intelligentsia during the Covid Emergency? — re-reading Xu Zhiyong’s Letter to Xi Jinping, 22 December 2022
- Xu Zhiyong, Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go, 26 February 2020
- Xu Zhiyong, Four Years Afar, 16 September 2018
- Who Is Xu Zhiyong (1), 10 April 2014; Who Is Xu Zhiyong (2), 13 April 2014
- Evan Osnos, The Trial of the Chinese Dream, The New Yorker, 17 January 2014
- ChinaFile Xu Zhiyong Archive
Legalized Rape and Outlawed Dissent
— Chen Qiushi on bugs in China’s legal system
translated by Geremie R. Barmé
Friends, this is Qiushi. After recording today’s video, it’s quite possible that the authorities will drag me off again for a “talk, tea, and trouncing.” It’s possible that they’ll even subject me to some form of coercive punishment. Sure, we can’t all keep silent, pretend to be indifferent, and act as though the evil confronting us doesn’t exist — afraid for ourselves and fearful of what might become of us. But, I have to ask, what right do we really have to remain silent in the face of the outrageously vile and iniquitous things happening around us at the moment?
A lot’s happened lately. Take, for instance, the sentencing of Dǒng Zhìmín 董志民, the so-called husband of the “Chained Woman of Xuzhou.” He’s just been handed a nine-year jail sentence. Surely, I think to myself, any decent person with a conscience will think that given what he’s done, such punishment is far too lenient. Why was he sentenced for abusing a family member and illegal detention rather than for being tried for rape and intentionally causing bodily harm?
At the same time, there’s been another case in which Xǔ Zhìyǒng 许志永, the founder of the Citizen’s Movement, and Dīng Jiāxǐ 丁家喜 were respectively sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison.
Criminal activities call for the application of the criminal code of a country. However, first and foremost, this only applies when an actual crime has been committed that has resulted in some observable consequences. Only then should there be grounds to launch a criminal proceeding. That is equally relevant in cases in which a person’s rights have been illegally impinged upon and resulting in physical harm or material loss.
Both Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi have been sentenced for “inciting subversion of state power.” I’ve been accused of the same crime [in 2020], but was released on bail pending trial. After a year, the authorities dropped the case against me.
As for Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, how did they go about “inciting the subversion of the Chinese government”? Sure, they wrote some articles, posted some tweets, and organized a few gatherings. In the process, however, no one was hurt in any way. In fact, no one on earth lost one drop of blood due to their actions, and no one in this wide world was conned out of a single penny by what they did. Yet, regardless of the fact that no one was negatively impacted in any way by his actions, Xu Zhiyong will be spending the next 14 years in jail.
By contrast, Dong Zhimin, who held the Chained Woman as a virtual prisoner for two decades, raped her countless times, forced her to have eight children, used chains to bind her, abused her, and beat her — despite all of the suffering that he inflicted on her — he’s only going to be in jail for nine years.
What justice is there in any of these sentences?
I’d imagine that the vast majority of people watching this video have not been directly involved with either of these cases. None of us are much more than spectators. However, there are those who have been intimately involved with what happened to the Chained Woman. Who, for instance, signed off on her marriage to Dong Zhimin? And who processed their local household registration?
On top of that, there are a few other people who became embroiled with this case. For example, there was a female blogger who was so outraged by reports of the case that she traveled to Feng County to interview the family of the Chained Woman. After being picked up by the authorities, she was issued a warning and subsequently detained. To this day, there’s been no word from her. Even I became tangentially involved in the case. I shared the outrage of countless others who read reports about it in the middle of last year and I posted the following tweet:
“Isn’t there a famous Chinese singer who is a UN goodwill ambassador for women? What’s the ambassador doing about a case in which a Chinese woman’s basic rights have been violated in such an egregious manner?” [Note: Chen is referring to Péng Lìyuàn 彭丽媛, China’s First Lady and the wife of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.]
That did it! The police in Jiaonan District in Qingdao [Chen’s hometown in Shandong Province] picked me up and subjected me to a solid day of interrogation. They also confiscated two mobile phones that were in my possession. They were determined to know who had put me up to writing such a tweet? What was I aiming to do? And why had I gone out of my way to denigrate and insult our great national songstress?
After a day of questioning, they concluded that I was not in anyone’s pay nor had I been acting on anyone else’s behalf. Still, the police were mystified: What did it have to do with me? Why did I feel the necessity to speak out? I didn’t get it, either: Why were they making such a fuss about what I had written? Anyone with an ounce of decency, any normal human being, would have reacted like I did when they learned that a female compatriot was being treated like this in 21st-century China. Don’t we boast that we are “the most advanced nation” in the world, and hype ourselves as “Amazing China”? How is it that you weren’t outraged like me when you learned that someone was being abused like that?
So, back in mid-2022, I ended up suffering another setback and more hectoring lectures from the authorities. That’s why, since the summer last year, I haven’t posted many videos. Now, a year has gone by, and we haven’t seen Our Songstress in public all that often; anyway, I don’t really care about her or even want to talk about her. And, a year since that story broke, Dong Zhimin has been sentenced. Regardless, for me, I’m haunted by my question: Why was he given such a light sentence and why wasn’t he tried for rape or for causing intentional bodily harm?
As I see things, this is a result of a massive bug in the Chinese legal system. So, let me don my lawyer’s cap and offer an explanation:
China is a country with codified written laws. That means that courts adjudicate cases on the basis of the laws that are on the books. The crime related to intentionally causing someone bodily harm can variously result in a custodial sentence of over 10 years, fixed-term imprisonment, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty. The most serious cases of rape can led to the death penalty. When it comes to the heaviest punishment that can be imposed for the abuse of a family member, the civil code is very clear: At most, you can be jailed for seven years.
Okay, so the man and woman involved in the case in Feng County were married and as such Dong Zhimin cannot be charged with marital rape nor, for that matter, are his acts of domestic violence seen in the eyes of the law as constituting intentional bodily harm. At most, he was abusing a family member. Do you understand what I’m saying here? Have you cottoned on? In China, a marriage license may well end up being a license to kill.
I’m 38 years old and unmarried. Now, if I were to marry a woman in Qingdao right now, say I chose to lock her up at home, beat her every day, kick her in the head, stomp on her stomach, and abuse her nonstop for three years so that she eventually died from internal bleeding. Since I have a marriage license, my crime would merely be that of maltreating a family member. I’d only be looking at seven years in jail. Tops.
Was the marriage involving that man and woman in Feng County legal? Was it a legitimate union? In that case, the woman in question had psychiatric problems, an illness that, in legal terms, would have prevented her from entering a lawful marriage contract. Legally speaking, their marriage should have been regarded as being null and void. The situation was not all that different from a case where a person is forced at knifepoint to enter into a contract with someone else. There, too, the contract would be regarded as being null and void.
In the case of Dong Zhimin, a man who forced a mentally incapacitated person into marriage, we must ask, was it a legal union, or an illegal marriage that by all rights should not be recognized by the law? Well, let me tell you, it is regarded as a legal marriage because, according to Chinese law, there are only three instances in which a marriage is not legally recognized: in the case of bigamy; when one of the parties is underage; and if the marriage is between close blood relatives. The union of the Chained Woman and Dong Zhimin violated none of these principles and, as such, it is seen as being a valid union.
If the stalker who proposed marriage to the actress Dilraba Dilmurat in June 2020 had forced her to go to the Civil Affairs Bureau at knifepoint to obtain a marriage license, they could have ended up being legally married. Their union would have been recognized as the result of a valid marital contract. But, since she was forced to marry under duress, she could apply for an annulment.
In the case of the Chained Woman of Feng County, however, due to the state of her mental health, an annulment was never in the cards. She is not recognized as having individual legal capacity and as such never had the wherewithal to apply to a court for an annulment of the marriage. That meant that, in the eyes of the court, she remained legally married to Dong Zhimin and therefore the crime of rape did not apply to this case, nor was a charge of causing intentional bodily harm applicable. The most that Dong could be accused of was the mistreatment of a family member, a crime that carried only a seven-year custodial sentence.
This case highlights a bug in the Chinese legal system.
But such legal bugs are not intrinsically insurmountable. Laws are written by people and people are fallible. People can correct their mistakes, just as laws can be amended. So how does one go about amending a law in China? By appealing to the good offices of lawyers like me? That’s not how our system works. Lawyers are merely the front men and women in a tiered legal system made up of a legislature, the judiciary, and law enforcement. Lawyers have no role in the rewriting of laws — that falls within the purview of the legislature. In the case of China, that means the National People’s Congress [NPC] and the Standing Committee of the NPC. Who has the authority to table an amendment to legal statutes? That’s up to our representatives in the NPC.
This, then, comes down to the question of who exactly are our representatives in the National People’s Congress?
At the recent “Two Sessions” of China’s parliament held in March this year, all 2,092 members of the NPC unanimously voted in favor of Xi Jinping being elected to a third five-year term as president of China. They are our representatives!
Nevertheless, despite all of that, I still have a lingering fantasy, a residual hope that in a legislative body made up of over 2,000 representatives, there might still be one or two people who actually still have a conscience. Maybe, just maybe, one of them might even table a motion in favor of revising China’s Marriage Law and Civil Code so that the obvious bugs in the system that I’ve outlined in the above can be addressed.
What if I’m wrong?
- What if not even one of the 2,000-odd people in that body has the decency to act?
- What if none of them — men and women who enjoy lofty social standing and not insignificant legislative power, people who boast considerable personal wealth — simply have not an iota of interest in helping advance the cause of Chinese law reform?
- What if none of them have even the most minuscule concern for the well-being of the actual people of China whom they represent?
Then people of good conscience can do nothing more than hope and pray that this pack of selfish, grasping, callous, and cold-blooded “People’s Representatives,” along with their families, end up suffering the same cruel fate as that of the Chained Woman of Feng County.
For it is only when the clenched fist of raw power hits them squarely in the face, only when the dagger of the state is buried deep in the chests of their own children, will there be any hope that they might actually wake up. It’ll only be when they suffer the same fate as everyday people in China. Even then, the vast majority of people can never be woken up; the only thing that can bring them to their senses is hunger and violence.
During the winter of 2021, the city of Xi’an was put under lockdown and the supply of everyday necessities, including food, became a real problem. Many people found themselves in dire straits and were unable to feed themselves. At the time, a Shanghai friend of mine made light of the situation and mocked me: “See, that’s what you get in the backward cities of the north. In Shanghai, we’d never have to put up with anything like that. We’re a modern global city, a metropolis with a unique style and our way of doing things. Our city administrators would never let such a ridiculous situation arise here.” Then the spring of 2022 came around and tens of millions of Shanghai people got sucker-punched in the face. They went through a baptism of reality.
Now it was the turn of that Shanghai buddy of mine to say to me: “Qiushi, now I get it. No matter how expensive my car is, or how luxurious my apartment, I, too, have been reduced to begging for food in our local WeChat group just like everyone else. All of a sudden, I was nobody. That’s when I realized that being a ‘Shanghainese’ was nothing special. We, too, were being treated as subhumans.”
That’s right — only when you wake up to the fact that ours is a system that can treat you as being less than zero are you finally on the way to growing up.
Anyway, let’s hold out hope and be optimistic that within the ruling class, and that includes representatives of the National People’s Congress, there might be a few people with a sense of decency who actually want to help China advance and become a civilized modern nation. At the same time, we should also maintain a dark hope that those cold-blooded and callous members of the gentry get their comeuppance as soon as possible. May they, too, experience the pitiless punch in the face. It might not come immediately, but, rest assured, it is sure to arrive sooner or later.
- Legalized rape and outlawed dissent — Chen Qiushi on bugs in China’s legal system, The China Project, 12 April 2023