Author Zhang Lijia was one of the first who helped to write stories about the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng for Western media. Like the story in 2002 for Newsweek, reposted on her weblog. “We have to fight for our rights ourselves.”
Newsweek in 2002:
Chen is also blind. His first experience with the law came in 1996, when he went to the shangfang office in Beijing to complain that his family was being compelled to pay tax for him, even though his disability exempted him. To his surprise, his parents later received a tax refund. More recently, after returning from Nanjing, he organized farmers from his hometown and 78 surrounding villages to press for the closure of a paper mill that had been polluting a nearby stream since 1988. The black, noxious, untreated wastewater destroyed corn and melon crops, killed fish and turtles, even triggered skin and digestive ailments, say local officials. Chen and village leaders complained to higher-ups and wrote petitions about the toxic stream–and when all else failed, they contacted Western diplomats and journalists. Ultimately the British Embassy agreed to help bankroll a 180-meter-deep motor-pumped well, with irrigation and potable-water pipelines, to bring clean water into the area.
Local authorities are still skittish about activists’ having contacts with foreigners: Chen was interrogated after receiving a letter from the embassy. And Beijing is unlikely ever to sanction the creation of independent farmers’ unions that would allow peasants to agitate for justice collectively; one of the regime’s greatest fears is a unified revolt in the countryside. Even the barefoot lawyers admit that as long as the process remains informal and unorganized, it will be impossible to address the corruption that is at the root of most farmers’ complaints. Major corruption cases are still handled internally by the party, and fewer than 4 percent of those investigated ever receive any sort of criminal punishment.
Still, each success breeds more. In Shandong’s Yinan county another blind peasant, 61-year-old Liu Naitang, tried to win tax-exempt status for himself in 1997. When the local party secretary learned of his petition, he began denouncing Liu over the village loudspeaker: “Liu Naitang, you stingy blind man,” he railed for nearly a month. “You disabled people make no contribution to society, so why should we do you any favors?” Stung, Liu approachedChen‘s family, who gave him a copy of the Disabled People’s Protection Law of the PRC. He asked a teacher in his village to record the relevant sections on an audiocassette. “I played it on my tiny cassette player many, many times, and I can now recite some parts by heart,” he says. Armed with this ammunition, he not only won tax-exempt status but sued successfully for a refund of taxes he had already paid. Since then Liu has become a crusader for the rights of the handicapped in Shandong, helping them apply for exemptions, collect evidence for their cases and contact lawyers as far away as Beijing. “We have to fight for our rights ourselves,” he says.
Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.
More on Zhang Lijia and China’s moral crisis at Storify.
- The secret messages of ‘a dog’s life’ – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- My rediscovered love for poetry – Zhang Lijia (chinaherald.net)
- China has most female billionaires, but it’s not enough – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- Why Wu Ying shouldn’t die – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- Prostitution in China – Zhang Lijia (chinaherald.net)
- Democracy does suit the Chinese – Zhang Lijia (chinaherald.net)