The Libel Trial for The Chinese Peasant Study
For the entire context about the book titled The Chinese Peasant Study, see this post (including background, interviews, and partial translations). The present post is a collection of news reports about the libel suit filed by one character (former Linquan County party secretary Zhang Xide) against the authors of the book. The reports are in chronological order, with the latest one at the bottom.
For a proper appreciation of the details of this trial, you can read a translation of the relevant section of the book in this post (Section 4, Chapters 13 to 17). This is a rather long story and the names can be rather confusing because the principal characters are members of the same extended family named Wang. But you can breeze through it and you will catch the truly melodramatic moments, as when the peasants finally got an effective response after 74 of them traveled from their remote village in Anhui province to Beijing and knelt down in front of the national flag in Tienanmen Square to plead for justice.
In reading the translated chapter, you may want to read it once quickly and the go back to look for the occurrence of the bolded name Zhang Xide. After all, this was the basis of the libel trial (e.g. Was he short, fat and foul-mouthed according to the book? Or was he tall and well-educated according to himself?)
There are some mysteries here. The Long Road To Petition began with the peasant petitioner Wang Chunbin. At the trial, Wang became a witness for the plaintiff Zhang Xide. Wang admitted to having organized petition trips, but said he was "mistaken" and "deceived by others." What happened here? After the peasants won, Wang Chunbin became the village branch party secretary and is now the himself the subject of peasant petition. Does power corrupt? There is no explanation here. We may have to wait until the second book by the authors, who have promised that this trial will be the main subject.
(New York Times) Exposé of Peasants' Plight Is Suppressed by China. By Joseph Kahn. July 9, 2004.
In their muckraking best seller about abuses against Chinese peasants, the husband-and-wife authors, Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, told the stories of farmers who fought the system and lost.
The book, "An Investigation of China's Peasantry," describes how one farmer's long struggle against illegal taxes ended only when the police beat him to death with a mulberry club. It profiles a village activist who was jailed on a charge of instigating riots after he accused a local Communist Party boss of corruption.
Now, Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu say, it is their turn to be silenced.
Though their tautly written defense of China's 750 million peasants has become a sensation, their names have stopped appearing in the news media. Their publisher was ordered to cease printing at the peak of the book's popularity this spring, leaving the market to pirates who subsequently churned out millions of copies in violation of the copyright.
A ranking official sued sued the authors, accusing them of libel, in his home county court. In a country that does not protect a right to criticize those holding power, it is a case they say they are sure to lose.
Top Beijing leaders acknowledge that China's surging urban economy has done relatively little to benefit the two-thirds of the population living in rural areas. They have put forward new programs to reduce the widening gap between urban and rural living standards.
But the effort to quiet Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu makes it clear that officials will not tolerate writers who portray China's vast peasantry as an underclass or who assign blame for peasants' enduring poverty.
"We spoke up for powerless people, but we ourselves are powerless before these officials," Mr. Chen said in an interview near his home in Anhui Province. "The authorities will not allow peasants to have a voice."
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has ordered the government to address, in the latest slogan, "three peasant problems": farmers, villages and agriculture. But he and other officials rarely emphasize what many rural experts consider the biggest peasant problems: corruption and abuse of power.
"An Investigation of China's Peasantry" deals with little else. It praises the spirit of central government efforts to reduce the rural tax burden and raise farm incomes. But it shows how such policies are sooner or later undone by local party bosses determined to line their own pockets.
It also details how local officials deceive China's top leaders, including Jiang Zemin, the retired party chief who still leads the military, and Zhu Rongji, the retired prime minister. Even Mr. Wen, whom the authors credit with understanding rural problems better than other leaders, is portrayed as being unable to penetrate the local officials' Potemkin displays of fealty.
Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu shocked many urban readers with their tales of rural backwardness. But they appear to have misjudged how much shock the one-party system would accept.
"We had hoped that there would be some support for our work among central government officials," Mr. Chen said. "But it is really sensitive when you write that the general secretary of the Communist Party does not know what's happening in the country."
Mr. Chen, 61, and Ms. Wu, 41, were both born to peasant families. But they escaped the countryside at an early age and, like many professional writers in China, treated the hinterland as an abstraction. An earlier essay by Ms. Wu, titled "Cherishing a Faraway Place," recalled her rural upbringing and struck a bucolic tone about the simple, honest values of the peasantry.
She said her attitude changed in 2000. That year, when she gave birth to her son, she read that a peasant mother in rural Anhui had bled to death after delivering a child. A hospital had demanded a $360 cash advance to treat her, a sum far beyond her family's means.
Mr. Chen had written environmental tracts and novels about social upheaval. He and Ms. Wu agreed to work together to understand why rural policies had failed. Their book, which includes four extended tales of abuse, differed from other studies because it identified cases of malfeasance and named the political figures involved instead of blaming bad policies or generic corruption.
The book describes one farmer, named Ding Zuoming, and his decade-long campaign to enforce central government directives limiting taxes and fees. Although the Beijing authorities reviewed and approved his complaints, the local police found an excuse to arrest him, the book says. They beat him to death in custody.
The authors tell the story of Zhang Keli, described as an idealistic public official devoted to fighting poverty. Over time, he found that fellow village chiefs had found ways to enrich themselves and their relatives, even while they won promotions.
"He felt like he would be an idiot not to take his share," Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu wrote.
The book became an unexpected best seller earlier this year. Whether that was because it named names in exposés about the underside of China's boom or because its publication coincided with an effort by Mr. Wen to promote new rural policies is unclear.
Chen Xiwen, the deputy director of the Central Finance and Economics Leading Group, a high-level government policy-making committee, and the man considered China's foremost rural policy expert, said in a recent interview that he had bought two copies, one for the office and the other to keep at home.
"My impression is that the book shows how illegal fees and tax policies can lead to some terrible incidents, like injuries and even death," Mr. Chen said. "The main incidents to my knowledge are basically factual, and the central government has already done some reports on these matters."
Mr. Chen added a caveat, "If it were really as bad as they say, then every peasant would be protesting constantly."
Propaganda authorities evidently felt the book went too far. Even as a media frenzy built in March, the government-owned publisher got a verbal order to cease printing. Media coverage ended instantly. The authors estimate that the book has sold as many as 7 million copies, but they earned royalties on only the 200,000 legal copies sold before the ban.
More disconcerting to the authors, a disgruntled local official named in the book, Zhang Xide, filed a libel suit against them seeking $24,000 in damages. As Chinese officials rarely file court actions without the approval of superiors, Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu say they effectively face prosecution by Anhui Province.
They petitioned the court, in Mr. Zhang's home district, Fuyang County, where his son is a judge, to move the trial to a neutral location. The court rejected the request. Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu say peasants and local officials who cooperated with their book have declined to testify, perhaps because pressure has been put on them to stay silent.
"It is pure political revenge," Mr. Chen said. "The procedures are not legal. They are completely unfair."
He and Ms. Wu said they had been harassed occasionally by security agents and felt worried enough to send their son, now 4, to live with relatives.
The good news, they say, is that they now have a reputation as peasant champions and have collected enough material for three more books on rural woes, though they may have trouble finding a publisher.
They have also begun a new book on their uphill legal battle. The title: "Fighting for Peasants in Court."
(SCMP) Legal battle dogs banned book's authors. By Josephine Ma. July 17, 2004.
A sensational book on the plight of Anhui farmers written by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao sold 150,000 copies and topped the best-seller list on the mainland before being banned in March. It created such an uproar that at least 7 million more pirated copies have been sold.
So it was with mixed feelings that the husband-and-wife team visited Changsha recently and found copies of An Investigative Report of Chinese Farmers being widely sold for 22 yuan.
Published in January, it exposes corrupt officials' extortion, persecution and murder of farmers. It shocked the nation, sparking sympathy for rural residents.
It evidently created too much of a stir and the government tried to dampen its impact. First media and internet sites were banned from reporting on it or reprinting any of it. Even criticising it was prohibited.
The book was banned in March but that did nothing to stop people reading it and it became a best-seller among pirated books.
The couple were never given official notification of the ban and were not even told when their publisher stopped printing the book at the peak of its legal sales.
They said they had no hard feelings about the ban, despite the inconvenience and lost royalties.
"It is already an honour to be able to publish the book. We have prepared for the worst," said Wu.
Chen said: "Our goal was to disclose people's situation - [it] has been reached. We never expected the book to have such influence."
The impact is being felt in other ways. The couple are still locked in a bitter dispute with some of the officials depicted in the book.
Zhang Xide, deputy chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Fuyang city , is suing them for describing him as an unpopular official who purged farmer petitioners when he was party boss of Linquan county in the 1990s.
The couple applied to have the trial held outside Fuyang because of Mr Zhang's position there and because his son is a judge in the Fuyang People's Intermediate Court.
However, the high court in Anhui province ruled last month that the trial should be held in Fuyang.
The couple's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said courts should not accept lawsuits against writers publicising criticisms of officials. "Otherwise, [Chief Executive] Tung Chee-hwa should have filed libel lawsuits a long time ago," he said.
Mr Zhang said the city leaders "gave me a lot of support and said they knew I was not the kind of person [described in the book]". He added that he had no power to influence the outcome of the court hearing. "It may be possible for me to talk to city leaders. But for the court, they have their own procedures and how can I influence them?"
However, the authors and their lawyer doubt the impartiality of the court. They were shocked when they saw government department leaders testifying about their own performance in a hearing to exchange evidence.
"They had police testifying that the police did not beat up petitioners [as described in the book] and a detention centre chief testifying [that his staff] did not torture detainees. They have all these government officials testifying they did not violate the orders from the central government. Can a thief testify he did not steal?" Mr Pu said.
The defence witnesses are farmers, many of them victims mentioned in the book.
"A witness [named] Wang Hongchao ... talked about how he still had scars around his wrists after [his hands] were handcuffed to his back for two months," Chen said. "Tears rolled down his cheek when he talked about this, and then the lawyer from the other side said Wang could not testify about what happened to him. They treated him like a criminal."
Mr Chen said he felt the trial had turned into a battle between the writers and farmers against those holding power in the city. He may be right.
Mr Zhang said: "If I win, the city public security bureau will immediately file a lawsuit [against the writers] and many others involved in the book will do the same thing. I will certainly win. It is impossible for me to lose."
A trial date has not been set.
(SCMP via Asia Pacific Media Network) Authors of farm exposé in the dock. By Josephine Ma. August 25, 2004.
A court in Anhui has begun hearing a libel case against the authors of a best-selling book which exposed the plight of peasants in China. The claim has been brought by a former county Communist Party secretary who accuses them of making false accusations.
The widely watched trial opened yesterday in the Fuyang Intermediate People's Court. Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao are being sued by Zhang Xide , formerly party secretary of Linquan county and now vice-chairman of the Fuyang People's Political Consultative Conference. Mr Zhang claims descriptions of him in the book were false and have damaged his reputation. He is demanding 200,000 yuan in compensation from the authors.
The book, An Investigative Report of Chinese Farmers, carries vivid descriptions of the suffering of Anhui farmers in the 1990s and sold more than 150,000 copies within weeks of its publication in March.
It was later banned but remains on sale in many bookstores, and counterfeit copies continue to circulate.
In addition to the ban, the mainland media was warned not to report on the book. As a result, the media have not reported on the lawsuit.
In one chapter of the book, Chen and Wu tell how farmers in Wangying village, Linquan county, were persecuted by officials when they petitioned the central government about the exorbitant fees they were being made to pay. The chapter recounted the torture of farmers' leaders, a crackdown the authors wrote had been ordered by Mr Zhang.
In court yesterday, the plaintiff denied he had imposed exorbitant fees on farmers or persecuted the petitioners. He also said the authors had hurt him by describing him as a "short and stout fellow who uses foul language".
He presented documents from the Fuyang government which he said would show he had not mistreated the farmers nor persecuted them.
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, for Chen and Wu, said the documents did not prove anything. "These documents presented by the plaintiff cannot count as evidence," Mr Pu told the court.
"In Fuyang, [we just had a scandal] of fake milk powder. [This fake milk powder] came with government documents [when it was sold by the producers], but the documents were not in line with the facts," he said.
Substandard milk powder recently caused the deaths of at least 12 babies in Fuyang and malnutrition in scores of others.
Under cross-examination by Mr Pu, the plaintiff read out the written testimony of six witnesses - three police officers and three government officials who had worked with Mr Zhang - in an effort to prove he did not order any torture of the farmers.
But Mr Pu said it was pointless asking a police chief or a detention centre chief to prove they had not tortured prisoners or used force during the crackdown.
Yesterday's trial attracted more than 100 farmers, who travelled several hours from Linquan county on tractors and other farm vehicles to support the two authors.
According to witnesses, only about a dozen farmers were able to attend the hearing, with most seats in the public gallery taken up by cadres and government officials sent by the local authorities.
Asked why they wanted to attend the hearing, a farmer waiting outside the court house said: "They are suing [the people] who speak for us." Another farmer said: "These are our defence lawyers, they are fighting for us."
The court hearing will continue today. Many of the farmers who have come to support the authors said they would be willing to testify in court even at the risk of facing official vengeance.
(Secret China News) 500 peasants showed up in support for Chinese Peasant Study trial. August 25, 2004.
[translation] The libel trial for the Chinese Peasant Study began its first day at the Intermediate People's Court in Fuyang City, Anhui Province. More than 500 peasants showed up especially outside the courthouse to express their support of the defendants. There were many foreign and Chinese reporters at the scene as well, but only a small number of Chinese reporters were permitted to enter the courtroom. The plaintiff Zhang Xide, who is the deputy chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Fuyang City, entered the courthouse from a sidedoor in the company of many bodyguards in balck.
According to Ming Pao, the Fuyang City Intermediate Court opened its session at 830pm and closed at 630pm, with a one-hour lunch break for a 9-hour work day. The trial attracted many overseas reporters, including those at the Washington Post and the New YOrk Times, but only several reporters from Chinese media were admitted and the rest were barred for various reasons.
What caused the authorities to be nervous about was that more than 500 local peasants showed up early in the morning and asked to attend the proceedings. They were turned down with the exception of about a dozen peasnat representatives. The several hundred peasants gathered outside the courthouse for the rest of the day and were emotional and agitating. They demanded to speak the plaintiff who was the former Fuyang Committee Chairman and the current deputy chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. When the defendants Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao entered the courthouse, the peasants cheered them on. Even after the court session ended at 630pm, the peasants lingered around and refused to disperse.
According to reports, the plaintiff Zhang Xide was accompanied by men in black everywhere he goes, including going into the bathroom during the day.
According to information from the Chinese court, in January 2004, the plaintiff Zhang Xi filed a complaint at the Fuyang City Intermediate People's Court about Chapter 3 in the book The Chinese Peasants Study. Zhang claimed that the description about what happened to the petitioners from the peasant village of Wangying Village in Baimiao Town while Zhang was the Fuyang Committee Chairman was inaccurate and severely damaged his reputation and honor.
Today, at 840am, the court officially opened to hear this case. The plaintiffs, the two defendants and their representatives were present. The plaintiff asked the court to impose a penalty of 200,000 yuan plus a public apology on the two defendants and the People's Literature Publishing House for causing mental anguish.
In defense of Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao and their representatives, it was asserted that the plaintiff was the Fuyang Committee Chairman and therefore he was a public figure. In characterizing the image of the plaintiff, it was directed not at interpreting his personal live or traits, but to assess his performance on his work post. If the book reflected the opinions and criticisms from the masses, this would not represent an intrusion on the plaintiff's reputation.
The representative of the People's Literature Publishing House claimed that its subsidiary "Harvest" magazine published the works of the two authors, but it does not mean that the views of the authors represent those of the publisher. At the same time, the publication by these two authors are not illegal acts and the publication of the book by the People's Literature Publishing House is a professional activity within its business activities and therefore cannot be construed as an infringement upon the rights of the plaintiff. Therefore, the People's Literature Publishing House asked the court to reject the defendant's claims.
According to information, the court spent the day listening to testimony on behalf of the plaintiff. Several dozens of documents were presented by the plaintiff as evidence. The witnesses included many county officials during Zhang Xide's tenure as Fuyang County Committee Chariman, including the office maanger, the public security bureau chief, as well as other village officials who have been dismissed for improper acts towards the villagers. The witnesses testified that Zhang Xide was a "good chairman."
(SCMP via Asia Pacific Media Network) Authors want truth aired in libel case. By Josephine Ma. August 26, 2004.
The two authors of a best-selling book on China's peasants who are being sued for libel in Anhui province say they are prepared for the worst, but see their ordeal as an opportunity to spread the truth.
"China is a society moving towards the rule of law," author Chen Guidi said. "But the fact is that it is still ruled by people.
"We want to use this opportunity to tell people the truth [behind the case]," he said. "If we can lay bare the facts before the public and the judges, and awaken the plaintiff and his witnesses [about what they have done], then we have achieved our goal."
Chen, his wife, Wu Chuntao , and the publisher of their book - An Investigative Report of Chinese Farmers - are being sued by former Linquan county Communist Party secretary Zhang Xide , who accuses them of making false accusations against him in the book.
The book, which hit the streets in March, was an instant bestseller and sold more than 150,000 copies in about one month before it was banned.
Chen, speaking on the second day of the hearing yesterday, admitted that his chances of winning were slim. He said their lawyers had asked Anhui Higher People's Court to move the hearing outside Fuyang - Mr Zhang's power base - but their request was denied.
He said the trio would appeal if they were found guilty. "If we lose an appeal - which we understand is possible - then we will know how far we can go under the current system," he said.
"As a writer, my work speaks for me," he said. "If we can sell 150,000 copies - not counting the 7 million counterfeit copies which we believed have been sold in the past months - people will know that we are not making up stories."
Wu's lawyer, Wu Ge , said he hoped the case would become a landmark for libel lawsuits in China. "Many mainland media outlets have lost libel lawsuits filed by public figures and they dare not write about public figures any more.
"Our Constitution stipulates the freedom of writing and reporting, but there is no law to support it," he said.
Yesterday's hearing focused on the book's descriptions of Mr Zhang from 1994 to 1996 when he was party secretary. The arguments centered around whether he and the county government imposed illegal fees on farmers for allegedly violating official family planning policies.
Sources said the hearing turned emotional when a witnesses called by Mr Zhang was challenged by the defence over how he had handled a crackdown on farmers in 1994.
Li Pinzheng , previously in charge of law and order in Linquan county, answered questions selectively and claimed he was deaf and in poor health, every time defence lawyers asked him difficult questions.
Mr Zhang did not comment yesterday as he quickly left the court through a rear entrance.
(SCMP) Police abused us for years, say residents. By Josephine Ma. August 28, 2004.
The Fuyang courtroom was a scene of sorrow and tears yesterday as villagers told of the abuse they claimed to have suffered over the years at the hands of police.
Wang Hongchao, a farmer from Wangying village, said he had once been handcuffed behind his back for a month after he petitioned to the central government about the plight of villagers.
He said the handcuffs were so deeply sunk into his flesh that they literally disappeared. Blood and flesh splashed everywhere when police tried to remove them a month later, he said.
The audience sat in spellbound silence as the evidence was given and many elderly farmers, mostly in their 50s and 60s, broke down in tears.
The order of the court was disrupted briefly when villagers waved their identity cards to beg the court to admit Zhang Xiuying as a witness. Zhang had forgotten what her name was on her identity card and identified herself as Zhang Cuiying, the name she used after she was married.
Ms Zhang was allowed to give evidence and told the court about how her husband, who was in his 60s, was so scared that he fainted when three policemen tried to grab him in a military crackdown in Wangying village in 1994.
She shocked the court when she knelt before the judge and wailed as she described the pain of losing her husband, who died after he was rushed to hospital.
Then Han Meirong, 63, said her husband died after he was jailed because the police wrongly identified him as a petitioner who had written a letter of complaint to the government about the military crackdown.
But the atmosphere took a sudden turn when plaintiff Zhang Xide testified. In sharp contrast, Mr Zhang argued that the book had done great damage.
"The book has helped [Taiwanese president] Chen Shui-bian to get re-elected," he said. "Chen could [refer to it and] say, see, China is so chaotic. If only its 900 million farmers could follow what the book says and petition, the country and the party could easily be destroyed."
(SCMP) Libel case a test of rights, say lawyers. By Josephine Ma. August 28, 2004.
A four-day hearing of a libel lawsuit against the authors of a best-selling book on the plight of peasants has turned into a battle for farmers' rights and the freedom to criticise the work of officials, one of the defendants' lawyers said.
The hearing, extended several times, ended at 9pm yesterday. The court in Fuyang, Anhui province, reserved judgment.
Zhang Xide , vice-chairman of the People's Political Consultative Committee, is suing the writers of An investigative Report of Chinese Peasants, Chen Guidi and his wife Wu Chuntao, and the book's publisher, for defamation. More than 150,000 copies of the book have been sold since its release in January, and a further 7 million counterfeit copies are also believed to have been sold. The authorities imposed a ban on the book's sale, and on media reports about it, in March.
The book covers a period when Mr Zhang was Communist Party secretary in Linquan county, Anhui. It says he ignored the complaints of farmers, imposed extortionate fees on them in the name of birth control, and ordered a military crackdown in Wangying village in 1994. It says he was so unpopular he was seized and beaten by villagers when he left the county in 1996.
To prove his reputation as a "good county party boss", he submitted 30 government documents and minutes of eight government meetings to the court. He also had written or oral testimony in his support from 27 witnesses, all but five government officials like him.
In their closing remarks, lawyers representing Chen and Wu said the trial was not a simple defamation case but a litmus test of farmers' rights and an occasion to promote the freedom to criticise officials' performance.
Defence lawyer Pu Zhiqiang accused officials of using the court to suppress criticism of them. "In the four days of the trial, we saw the entire leadership of Linquan county under Mr Zhang," he said. "It is a battle between a party of people with vested interests and the farmers.
"If these officials in Linquan are so arrogant in the court, what would they be like when they face the farmers?" he said, referring to many occasions when officials refused to answer lawyers' questions.
All the witnesses for the defendants were farmers, many of them victims of incidents mentioned in the book. Among them was a cripple, Zhang Xiaoyang, whose goat was taken away because his neighbour had more children then allowed by the government, the book says. He was later ordered to undergo three years' re-education through labour for slapping Mr Zhang during the farmers' attack on him in 1996.
Another defence lawyer, Lei Yanping, said criticisms of officials should not be considered slander.
"If you cannot bear your name being mentioned in criticisms, then you'd better go home and be an ordinary citizen," she said.
Asked by Mr Pu if he was apologetic after hearing what the farmers endured when he was Linquan party boss, Mr Zhang said: "No." He also criticised the book as provoking farmers to oppose officials.
(ChinaNewsNet) August 30, 2004.
[translation] The four-day hearing of about the libel trial on the Chinese Peasant Study ended on the evening of August 27.
The defense presented a large number of facts to rebut the plaintiff. They pointed out that former Anhui Linquan County Communist Party Secretary Zhang Xide oppressed the peasants at Baimiao Village causing scars that have not healed yet. The peasant witness who appeared in court to testify was in tears, and knelt down to shock the court. This caused the court to become a complaint venue for the peasants and turning the plaintiff into the defendant. But the official who oversaw these peasants was indifferent, and refused to express regret for his actions.
According to Hong Kong's Ming Pao, the hearing for this case began on August 24th and ended after 9pm on August 27th, for fully four days. During the first two days, the plaintiff presented evidence. On the third day, the defendants presented evidence. On the fourth day, both sides presented their arguments. Judgment on the case will be presented in September. The chief judge in this case is Fuyang County Intermediate People's Court deputy chief judge Qian Huiquan.
According to court insider information, even though this case involves political factors, the outcome is not optimistic for the defendants. But the presiding judge showed a great deal of flexibility, and permitted the defendants a great deal of freedom in presenting the defense.
According to information, the defendants' lawyers Pu Ziqiang and Lei Yenhuo were outstanding in their arguments. Not only did they refused the plaintiff's accusations, but they offered more evidence beyond that documented in the Chinese Peasant Study to show that the plaintiff was guilty of collecting illegal taxes and abusing his authority. The judge did not forbid the lawyers' statements, so that the court became a venue for accusing local officials of abuse, and turning the uneasy plaintiff into defendant.
The defendants had several witnesses testifying in court, including a crippled peasant in this 50's who said that the family planning project caused him to have his assets confiscated; when he complained to Zhang Zide, he was arrested and imprisoned for three years, ruining his family. Another witness of the defense cried out in court that he "wished to rush over and bite Zhang Xide." These stalwart peasants got down on their knees and kowtowed towards the jduges and the defense lawyers, causing shock amongst those in the courtroom.
The defense lawyer asked Zhang Xide: "As the former Communist Party secretary in the county, are you willing to apologize to the peasants for leading the oppression back then?" Zhang Xide's response was "No." Defense lawyer Pu Ziqiang said afterwards that he was appalled at how cold and indifferent these base-level officials were towards the sufferings of the peasant. He said: "We can't hope to win this case, but we have to thank the three judges because they gave us ample opportunities to present our defense. The meaning exceeds the case itself."
(Yazhou Zhoukan) September 19, 2004.
[translation] The Anhui writers Chen Guidi and Chuntao spent many years to write The Chinese Peasant Study in order to expose many stories of the peasants being oppressed by low-level cadres and having to take risks to petition. The book became immensely popular, but it was banned in March this year. In the book, the chapter titled "The Long Road To Petition" mentioned Anhui Province Fuyang City Linquan County party chairman Zhang Xide, who believed that the book libeled and insulted him. Therefore, Zhang has sued Chen Guidi for libel and demanded an apology and punitive damages. The hearing was held at the Fuyang City Intermediate People's Court between August 24th and August 27th this year. This case of an official suing a writer would ordinarily not attract much attention. But the witnesses for the defense were all peasant victims, whereas the witnesses for the plaintiff were all his colleagues and subordinates, and this story has become the focus of much attention.
When the court trial commenced, there were some challenges over the witnesses and the evidence. On August 26th, inside the Intermediate People's Court in Anhui Province Fuyang City, a witness for the plaintiff was a male peasant who had taken part in many petition trips. He was being cross-examined by the defense lawyer.
"Have you been sterilized?" asked Pu Ziqiang, the lawyer for Chen Guidi. This question caused a stir inside the courtroom. The witness was shocked. The lawyer asked again: "Have you used any family planning procedure?" The witness was still silent. The lawyer asked a third time: "According to the policy of Linquan County in 1994, all married couples under the age of 45 years old with two or more children must be sterilized, and the female must be sterilized even if the male is already sterilized. You are fifty years old now. Ten years ago, you were forty years old. You had three children by then. Have you used any family planning procedure?" The witness continued to keep silent.
The judge permitted the court recorder to indicate that the witness declined to respond to the question. The lawyer asked next: "Do you believe that the plaintiff Zhang Xide was a good party chairman?" The witness was still silent. The lawyer repeated the question again. Then the defendant Chen Guidi told his lawyer: "Don't ask again." What appears to be an unrelated issue of how the family planning procedure was implemented actually turned out to be a key focus of this court hearing.
At the end of last year, The People's Literature Publishing House published Chen Guidi and Chuntao's The Chinese Peasant Study in the sixth issue of This Generation magazine. The third chapter titled "The Long Road To Petition" described the situation of the peasants in Wangying Village, Baimiao town, Linquan County, Fuyang City between 1992 and 1995 with respect to the problems of peasant tax burden, family planning and oppression during the course of petitioning. When the book came out, it coincided with Document No. 1 from the Central Government on the Three Peasant Problem (namely, the peasant village, the peasant industry and the peasant people). The Chinese Peasant Study then became this year's best-selling book among Chinese communities around the world.
The former Linquan County party chairman and current Fuyang People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Zhang Xide was the principal character in the story. Zhang has told the media that the story mentioned him time and again, slandering and insulting him. Therefore, he has filed a libel suit in the Intermediate People's Court in Fuyang City to ask the defendants Chen Guidi and Chuntao as well as the People's Literature Publishing House for damages of 200,000 yuan and a public apology.
"Chen Guidi and Chuntao ... used the people's petition efforts as the background but they were actually only interested in looking for fame and fortune for themselves. They constructed their own hypothetical scenario and they used the most disgusting technique and the most shameless lies to make up this absurd story. They wanted to hurt me because I have crossed them before, even though I am a diligent, uncorrupted and caring official who has done so much actual good work for the people of Linquan ..." This was the description given by Zhang Xide in a document presented to the court and then distributed to the spectators on the first day of the court hearing.
What Zhang Xide really could not tolerate was the introduction in the story: "He was short and he likes to wave his hands when he speaks; his reports were probably written by his secretaries. They were grammatically correct, but as soon as he departed from the script, he lost any sense of cultured temperament and he sounded just like an uncouth lout." According to Zhang Xide, he is 1.65 meters tall, he graduated from the Beijing Agricultural University and his strength is in his writing.
Since The Chinese Peasant Study was prevented from being further distributed in March of this year, the plaintiff Zhang Xide has presented another document titled "My feud with Chen Guidi" to the court and the public. The concluding paragraph said: "As soon as The Chinese Peasant Study appears, it will be strangled to death and throw into a pile of dog shit, forever despised by humankind."
Chen Guidi claims that he and his wife spent several years on investigating the people and events described in the book, and so he has a great deal of solid evidence. But the lawyers for Chen Guidi are not optimistic about the outcome of this trial. Zhang Xide is the vice-chairman of the Fuyang People's Political Consultative Conference and his son is a judge at the Fuyang City Intermediate People's Court. The defendants are skeptical about whether the Intermediate Court can conduct a fair trial. The defendants had requested a different jurisdiction, but this was turned down by both the Fuyang Intermediate Court as well as the Anhui Province Supreme Court. On the morning of August 24, after several months of exchange of evidence between the two parties, the trial finally commenced at the Intermediate Court.
The hearing was focused on the burden on the peasants ten years ago at Linquan County Baimiao Town, the manner in which the family planning policy was implemented and the 4/2 incident. According to The Long Road To Petition, the burden on the Baimiao Town peasants far exceed the 5% of last year's net income as stipulated by the government. Using 1995 as an example, "the amount was as much as 15.2% of the peasants' net income during the previous year year, more than three times the standard."
As for the implementation of the family planning policy, the book says: "On September 1st, 1994, the county sent people out to Wangying Village 'to conduct a surprise inspection on family planning practice ... they make up reasons for requisitioning and penalizing things that don't even belong under family planning. If there was any resistance, they would herd away the pigs, drag away the cows, take away the stored food, grab the furniture, and they even kicked down doors to beat and arrest people."
According to the evidence presented by the defendant's lawyer, the Linquan County party committee was not only rude and rough in its family planning work, but they even fined married women who have not had children yet and unmarried men, and there was even the incredible report that they even sterilized widowers. These abnormal circumstances lasted from 1992 until 1994. For this reason, the Wangying Village residents kept petitioning and they were suppressed as a result. The April 2 incident was the strongest reaction by the petitioners.
According to the description in The Long Road To Petition, on the night of April 2, 1994, five police and security members came in plainclothes to Wangying Village and sneaked into the village to arrest petitioners. When they were discovered by the villagers, they could not give a coherent explanation. This caused the villagers to be suspicious and treated them like thieves. After these policemen escaped, the villages turned in the handgun and fourteen bullets that they left behind to the militia director of the town.
Although the policemen returned to their station that night and the guns were returned, the party committee headed by Zhang Xide used the excuse that they need to "rescue the police cadres and to retrieve the guns" to unleash a bloody oppression. The book reports: "At 10am on April 3, 1995, more than 100 public security officers and military policemen came in eight police vehicles ... machine guns were mounted on the vehicles ... as soon as the public security officers and military policemen entered the village, they hit everyone that they came across. They did not even spare an elementary school child fro outside whom was visiting a relative. There were sounds of beating everywhere, things being broken, adults pleading for mercy, children crying, chickens fluttering, dogs jumping and pigs climbing the wall."
In the autumn of 1995, the Wangying Village residents went to petition in Beijing for the fifth time. On October 29th, 74 Wangying Village residents went to Tienanmen Square and knelt down around the national flag as a plea to the central government. This is the single most melodramatic episode in The Chinese Peasant Study.
During the hearing, a peasant sitting next to this reporter said that he was one of those peasants who had been to Beijing, knelt before the national flag and then locked up in prison. He said that if The Chinese Peasant Study was inaccurate in any way, it would because it "understated" the atrocities committed by the government at that time.
Most of the evidence presented by the plaintiff consisted of documents issued by the Linquan County Party Committee as well as notices and meeting notes. The purpose was to demonstrate that Zhang Xide did not ignore or increase the burden on the peasants while he was the Party Secretary and that he did not violate or impose by force the family planning policy. The defendants claimed that these documents cannot prove that what the plaintiff wanted them to show, because one can only say that the Linquan County Committee distributed these document but this did not prove that the spirit of these documents were seriously implemented.
Most of the witnesses of the plaintiff Zhang Xide were his former subordinates. Many of the names of these people appeared in The Long Road To Petition. They told the court that Zhang Xide never uses curse words and that he was the best party secretary in Linquan County in the 1990's. But these cadres were just reciting from prepared scripts. When the judge prevented them from doing so again, their speech was more hesitant. Occasionally, the plaintiff would whisper to remind the witnesses, but the defendants would then raise objections.
During the hearing on the afternoon of August 25th, a witness for the plaintiff was cross-examined for almost 2 hours. During the time, Zhang Xide suddenly got up without permission and, to the astonishment of the court, walked over slowly to his former subordinate and offered him a cup of tea.
The plaintiff had a small number of witnesses who were peasants in the petition drives, including the one who was asked about whether he was sterilized. The first person who appeared in The Long March To Petition was the peasant petitioner Wang Chunbin. During his testimony on behalf of Zhang Xide, he admitted that he had organized petitioning trips more than 10 years ago, but he said that he "made a mistake" and that he was "deceived by others." Wang also accused The Chinese Peasant Study of being inaccurate in many places, and that his reputation was sullied. Ten years later now, Wang Chunbin has become a village-level cadre, and has in fact become the object of petitions by the residents of Wangying Village.
The witnesses for defendant Chen Guidi were all peasants. Some had worked with Wang Chunbin to organize petitions many times before. The first witness for the defense was Ren Chuanchun who claimed that the plaintiff had offered him 5,000 yuan to testify but he declined. When Ren Chuanchun finished his testimony, he rolled up his trouser legs to show the evidence that the police had bloodily suppressed the petitioning.
The most astonishing scene occurred on the final afternoon of the hearing. The defendant presented the final witness Zhang Xiuying, who is a Wangying Village peasant. Her husband did not participate in any petitions, but he was literally scared to death when the military police charged into the village on April 3, 1994. After she finished her testimony, the court officer was ready to escort her outside. Suddenly, she knelt down in front of the judges and repeated: "May the honorable judges render justice to my family!" The scene became very chaotic, and another peasant woman in the spectator gallery also knelt down and asked for justice. The court officers removed the two women from the courtroom, and the crowd did not clam down until after quite some time. At the defendants' table, the two writers and their lawyers were all teary-eyed.
The evidence presented by the two sides about what transpired ten years ago were as different as heaven and earth. From the plaintiffs' side, and particularly among those officials who directed the police to enter Wangying Village after the 4/2 incident, there were no "see a person, hit that person"-type of bloody suppression. But in the memory of the a peasant witness for the defendant, "the Public Security Bureau entered the village that day like as if they were Japanese ghouls." The plaintiff's lawyer objected to that characterization: "To describe the people's public security and military police as Japanese ghouls is slander, and therefore has no credibility."
Towards the end of the hearing, the defendant's lawyer Pu Ziqiang asked the plaintiff Zhang Xide: "Up until today, I am still willing to hypothesize that you may not be aware about how difficult life was for the peasants in Linquan and how brutal the officials underneath you were. But after four days of testimony, we all understand clearly now. I ask you if you have any regrets and remorse for what you did when you were the party secretary at Linquan County?" Zhang Xide replied very firmly: "No."
Lawyer Pu said: "In that case, we can acknowledge that in the ending of The Long Road To Petition, the description about Party Secretary Zhang Xide feeling ashamed was inaccurate. The authors believed that you still had a little bit of conscience left, but you have just told us that the authors' speculation was wrong. Therefore, the characterization of the authors about you on this aspect was inaccurate."
On the day of the beginning of the hearing, several hundred peasants gathered outside the courthouse. They came mainly from Linquan county and most of them had read the Long Road To Petition chapter and believed that it was accurate. The peasants wanted to attend the proceedings, but very few got their wishes. The Intermediate Court issued attendance passes in order to control the spectator crowd size. About one third of the spectators were peasants, even though there were still many empty seats. The defendants' lawyer asked the court to permit more peasants to be allowed in, and this request was not granted until the afternoon of the final day. Most of the peasants never got in and had to wait outside in the blazing sun.
Whenever the old events of ten years ago were mentioned, the peasants paid very close attention. Some of the peasants ignored the court rules of behavior and jumped up to say: "He's lying!" During these four days, whereas it was usually the reporters who are hounding people, it was their turn to be hounded by the peasants who wanted to let them know about various injustices. The court officers seemed to be accustomed to this type of scene, and did not interfere.
During the noontime rest break on the first day, a dramatic scene occurred in front of the courthouse. Zhang Xide's car was surrounded by peasants outside the courthouse and it could neither move forwards nor backwards. It took the defendants' lawyers as well as volunteer law students from Beijing to persuade the peasants to disperse. Thereafter, at every court break, there were a bunch of young men wearing blue t-shirts in front of the courthouse. This reporter asked them who they were, and were told that they were military policemen.
At 9:05pm on the night of August 27th, the four-day hearing finally ended. The chief judge said that the verdict will be rendered at a future date. The court police told this reporter that this hearing has set the record of the longest hearing for a civil case at the Fuyang Intermediate Court. After the hearing was over, Zhang Xide who thought that he had a sure winner, was much more low-keyed. He did not make a prediction, and he turned down requests for media interviews.
The Chen Guidi side is still not optimistic about the verdict, but they said that they intend to appeal if they lose. But they believe that the meaning of this case has far surpassed the case itself. Lawyer Pu Ziqiang told the reporters: "This is a libel case about someone's reputation and rights. It should be based upon evaluating whether the events presented in the book are accurate and whether insulting language was used. This is not about finding out the truth of the family planning raid and the 4/2 incident. But since the other side has presented a vast amount of evidence concerning the burden on the peasants and the 4/2 problem, we grabbed this opportunity to express ourselves."
Chen Guidi told the reporters that he is writing a second report based upon the theme of peasant villages and that he is using this trial as the background.
(Yazhou Zhoukan) The Trial Of The Century For Peasant Rights. September 19, 2004.
The lawyer representing Chen Guidi and Chuntao, the authors of The Chinese Peasants Study, is Pu Ziqiang who is a partner in a Beijing-based legal office. For many years, Pu has represented various media entities which were sued. He believes that the case of Zhang Xide versus The Chinese Peasants Study is a typical case about the oversight by public opinion in China, and points out the backwardness of the related legal provisions. The following are the key points taken from an interview with Lawyer Pu Ziqiang.
Q: In the structure of the present legal system in China, what is a libel case?
A: There are four conditions to establish whether libel has occurred: 1, something must have been done to damage the reputation; 2, the deed must be illegal; 3, the deed and the damage must have a causal relationship; 4, the deed is objectively wrong.
There are many reasons why media are sued for libel. These cases are often complex, and they are often influenced by local prejudices. This is even worse than local protectionism. During the trial process of The Chinese Peasant Study, we had requested for a change in venue, but it was rejected.
Q: Compared to an ordinary libel case, what is so special about a libel case that involves public opinion?
When news media and literature get swept up in libel cases, they are usually due to criticisms of public figures. Criticism is not equivalent to libel. Both media and literature have the right to be critical, and this is guaranteed under the constitution. From a legal point of view, when a case of libel against public figures is judged, it is necessary to objectively determine if there was any malice. When there is no malice, then it is not considered a violation of the rights even if the reputation of the public figure is damaged. This is the principle under which the case of The New York Times vs. Sullivan was decided in the 1960's.
As a county party secretary, Zhang Xide is such a public figure. Under our national legal system, the reputation and rights of a public official are equivalent to those of an ordinary citizen. In truth, this ignores the fact that the public official is in a much more powerful position and this superficial equivalence conceals the underlying inequality, and it is therefore strangling oversight by public opinion.
Q: Was it reasonable for Zhang Xide to use documentary evidence? As the county party secretary, what is Zhang Xide's personal responsibility?
A: I did not think that it was reasonable to use documentary evidence. The documents can only be used as to support and delineate. One can only say that the Linquan County party committee had issued this document, but it does not prove that the thoughts behind this document were actually implemented. The ensuing documents actually proved that the preceding document was not implemented.
Q: What is the contemporary meaning of this case?
A: The current problem is that the central government and the Ministry of State have many people-friendly policies that were not implemented. The central government says that the central government policies are good, but the lower-levels of the government refuse to execute. The people-friendly policies are pushed downwards via paperwork. The Baimiao Town party committee had issued any number of documents to indicate their resolve to implement the central government's policies. But when it comes down to the village level, the cadres at the base of the government can no longer push documents to show that they have implemented those policies. Instead, they needed to complete the obligations for allocating and collecting taxes. This is where the point of conflict is. This is not the personal problem with Zhang Xide, but it is a problem with the design of our system.
We have previously asked to add another point of focus: for a county party secretary who possesses public power, should he have the right to sue as an individual about the libel of his behavior during his official term? Throughout the court hearing, Zhang Xide propounded his personal rights as an individual. But when he spoke of public administrative actions, he spoke as a party secretary. The case typified this conflict in a very explicit fashion. This case can really be treated as the trial of the century, because it is forcing the legal system to come up with a definitive statement: does the news media have the right to criticize the misdeeds of government organizations and officials?
(New York Times) China Crushes Peasant Protest, Turning 3 Friends Into Enemies. By Joseph Kahn. October 13, 2004.
A decade ago, three friends shook hands, downed a bottle of rice wine and vowed to fight to the end against Communist Party officials who imposed illegal taxes and fees on them and their families.
Wang Junbin, an army veteran, was their strategist. Wang Hongchao, eager and voluble, rallied fellow villagers. Wang Xiangdong fearlessly confronted party bosses. The three peasants, who share the same surname but were bound only by their mission, endured a violent police crackdown, got tax refunds, and even won the right to govern their own village in the arid plains of northwestern Anhui Province.
Yet power, vanity and the guile of the Communist Party tore them apart. The authorities persuaded Wang Hongchao to testify against Wang Xiangdong in court, creating lasting animosity. Neither can abide Wang Junbin. He was lured away to become a party official and is today as much a target of protest as the bosses they once battled together.
Since China's peasantry began falling far behind the urban elite in the go-go 1990's, the countryside has been a font of unrest. It is the rare village, among the 700,000 across China, where residents are not protesting something - corruption, high taxes or fees, confiscated land, punitive birth-control policies.
Like thousands of peasant activists, the three Mr. Wangs raised funds, petitioned township, county, provincial and national officials, and got some redress.
But they were also typical in their failure to bring lasting change. They were susceptible to the carrots and sticks the Communist Party uses to keep order in the hinterland and to ensure that heroism is no more than a chapter in a tale of submission. China has not yet figured out how to make its capitalist-style economic growth egalitarian. It has become one of the developing world's most unequal societies.
Hu Jintao, China's president, party chief and military leader, has said he intends to make the economy work for those left behind. The government has promised to limit the financial burden imposed on peasants.
But leaders before him have said similar things, and Beijing's priorities have remained consistent.
The government uses China's 800 million farmers to provide grain, labor and capital for urban development. State banks take deposits in rural areas but make loans almost exclusively to richer ones. The authorities pour resources into prestigious urban projects, like the $1.24 billion Shanghai spent to build a state-of-the-art Formula One racetrack and play host to the European event through 2010.
Villages rarely get such help. All farm families, regardless of income, pay land and agriculture taxes as well as fees for social services, often exceeding what wealthier urban residents pay.
Partly as a result, the authoritarian government has learned to live with seething social discontent. It has become practiced at defusing confrontations that threaten one-party rule.
The village of Wangying shows how the party operates: the three Mr. Wangs led a sustained protest that was forcibly put down in April 1994. The ringleaders were then intimidated or tamed, and ultimately turned against one another.
The differences between the three former allies are so acute today that when a local party boss brought a libel suit against the authors of a best-selling book that featured the village, his star witness for the boss was Wang Junbin. Wang Xiangdong and Wang Hongchao defended the writers.
"There's no hope for our organization," said Wang Hongchao, who stopped fighting for village rights and now collects scrap metal in the city of Hangzhou.
"It used to be that no matter where you were, you came back to help the village," he said. "Now it's every man for himself."
Throughout Chinese history, peasants have been heavily taxed and lightly represented. Mao Zedong rode to power on the shoulders of a peasant army 55 years ago and promised a revolution. He eliminated the feudal landholding system. But he also embraced the Soviet model of rapid industrialization, keeping grain prices low and devoting capital to building factories.
When Deng Xiaoping undertook economic reforms 25 years ago, he began by dismantling collective farms and giving peasants the right to sell produce at market prices. Soybeans, spring onions, cabbage and corn, the staples of this village's patchwork of tiny plots, saw big price increases, and residents prospered.
The 1990's undermined those gains. Taxes soared even as the state ended most Maoist-style education and health benefits. Cities now impose a graduated income tax on well-off residents. But rural governments, made to finance themselves without state support, place a heavier burden on much poorer peasants. Here in Wangying, villagers say, a tax on cash crops was applied to everyone, even those who grew only grain. Fees were assessed to pay official salaries, fix roads, hold banquets, even cremate the dead. In the early 90's, Wang Hongchao refused to pay fees assessed for school renovations. "They never touched the school," he said. "They just wanted money." The authorities confiscated his television in retaliation.
Wang Xiangdong's wife gave birth to a second child, a girl, violating population control rules. Officials demanded a $75 fine, equivalent to several month's income.
Wang Junbin, unlike the others, declined to discuss his past activism in detail. But longtime colleagues described him as having been outraged to discover that local leaders forced villagers to cover bad loans they had made.
The three men are neighbors. They grew up playing in the dusty, sunburned fields. They griped about their rising burden over shots of fiery rice wine.
Wang Junbin spurred them to action. Having returned from the army, where he joined the Communist Party, he secured a salaried job in the township land bureau. There he uncovered documents that showed that the village's service fees exceeded the permitted maximum level - 5 percent of average per capita income - by a factor of three. They had a smoking gun.
They began petitioning local officials in early 1994 without much success. After a few months, they mobilized 300 neighbors to call on Zhang Xide, the Communist Party chief of Linquan County, which oversees the village. After a long sit-in, Mr. Zhang received them. He scribbled a note asking lower-level cadres to help the villagers. But he never enforced the order.
The three men had more success when they took their case to Beijing. An official in the Agriculture Ministry took sympathy and told Anhui provincial officials to investigate.
In China's hierarchical system, that prompted action. A provincial inquiry supported their accusations. The village officials had overcharged peasants by at least $6,000. They returned $600 immediately and promised more.
Or so they said. Mr. Zhang, apparently angered that the three had gone over his head, retaliated. Wang Junbin lost his job at the land bureau. Wang Xiangdong and Wang Hongchao were summoned to township offices. They were met there by thugs who beat them with fists and sticks, then dumped them on the side of a road.
"I knew from that day that wolves eat sheep," said Wang Xiangdong. "We had to stick together or they would cut us apart."
Late on the night of April 2, 1994, villagers appointed to watch for intruders sounded the alarm. Outsiders were discovered searching for the three Mr. Wangs. Neighbors surrounded men who turned out to be plainclothes policemen. Their guns and ammunition were taken away.
Although locals say they quickly released the policemen and returned the guns, the authorities had a pretense for tougher action. Under orders from Mr. Zhang, who supervised from a command center, more than 100 police officers wearing riot gear and carrying automatic weapons descended on the village the next morning.
Court accounts of what came to be called the "4-3 incident," after the date it occurred, say male villagers were arrested and beaten. Some were doused with boiling water. Others were forced to kneel and were whipped. Homes were ransacked.
The three Mr. Wangs fled to nearby Henan Province, where the police did not immediately follow. They huddled in a friend's home. Wang Junbin told Wang Xiangdong and Wang Hongchao to rush to Beijing, hoping that the authorities who helped them before would rescue them. It was their last team meeting.
Wang Hongchao and Wang Xiangdong made it to Beijing. But they were now wanted for instigating riots and were arrested when they tried to meet a Beijing official.
Both men described the conditions in custody as unbearable. They were shackled day and night. Interrogators pressed lighted cigarettes against their skin. The two were told to confess and provide evidence on others or face long jail terms.
Wang Xiangdong has a close-cropped helmet of hair and a wrestler's glare. He is known for his stubbornness and sharp tongue. He never cooperated with the police. Wang Hongchao is rail thin, quick to smile and eager to please. He relented, signing a statement that identified Wang Xiangdong as the mastermind of their uprising.
"They made up evidence and forced me to put my thumbprint on it," Wang Hongchao recalled. "I thought it would not be accepted in court."
Wang Junbin, meanwhile, spent months on the lam, primarily in a courtyard home a few miles from Wangying. He was stripped of his Communist Party membership. The authorities plastered the area with wanted posters that accused him of extorting money from peasants and interfering with officials carrying out their public duties. Two villagers who took care of him said he hid in a closet when the police patrolled the area.
He secretly coordinated petition efforts in exile, once leading a group of 60 villagers to Beijing to protest the crackdown. But in early 1995, even as Wang Xiangdong was serving his sentence, a senior local cadre arranged private meetings with Wang Junbin and several others still active in the movement, villagers said.
The official said the authorities would grant amnesty to those who stopped protesting. "They said they would clear the record and rewrite history," said one villager who got the offer.
One day in early 1995, Wang Junbin told protesters to return $50 he had provided for a mission to Beijing. "He told me that petitioning higher authorities was no use anymore," one said.
Though Wang Junbin dropped out, protests did not stop. Continuing appeals about the use of force in the 4-3 crackdown prompted the authorities to review the case. Zhang Xide, the county party chief, was transferred, his record blemished by violence. His successors tried more nuanced tactics to end the unrest.
The Communist Party readmitted Wang Junbin and gave him back his old job in the land bureau. Wang Xiangdong was released early, having served less than half his term.
But ties between the three friends frayed. Wang Junbin avoided the others. Trouble also brewed between Wang Xiangdong and Wang Hongchao. Wang Xiangdong, having served hard time and defied the police, was hailed locally as a hero. Wang Hongchao, labeled a coward by some, felt that his sacrifices were not fully credited.
"Unlike some people," Wang Hongchao said, referring to Wang Xiangdong, "I did not advertise what I did. Some villagers did not appreciate my role."
Tensions burst into the open in early 1996 when the government, partly to placate Wangying, allowed villagers to choose their next chief in elections. Village-level elections had been phased in nationwide beginning in the early 1980's, but were being tried in Wangying for the first time.
Though no open campaigning was allowed, Wang Xiangdong and Wang Hongchao competed for the job along with two other candidates. Wang Xiangdong won easily. Wang Hongchao placed fourth of four.
It was a moment to savor for Wang Xiangdong, just a few months out of jail. He vowed to run a clean administration. He said there would be no more banquets at public expense. He did the job without pay.
"I wanted my administration to be for the people instead of for the leaders," he said.
Prospects initially seemed bright. Wang Xiangdong negotiated an aid package from the county in return for ending protests. It was something rare in China: state investment in a village. The modest commitment, totaling $150,000, was for a road, a bridge and several greenhouses.
It turned out to be an empty promise. The bureaucracy moved slowly. Once stability was restored, the incentive to deliver aid diminished.
Wang Xiangdong led a tax strike to put pressure on the authorities. "Why should we hand over more money when they weren't paying us what they owed us?" he said.
But the strike made him a renewed target. And he faced challenges at home from two protest veterans: Wang Junbin and Wang Hongchao.
Wang Junbin, back at the land bureau, produced documents that appeared to raise questions about how the $150,000 package had been handled. He petitioned the authorities to intervene. Wang Hongchao peppered Wang Xiangdong with questions and criticisms in village meetings. After one such session, the two broke into a fistfight, witnesses said.
Wang Hongchao said he had worried that his onetime partner in fighting the abusive authorities had himself become corrupt. But he acknowledged that Wang Xiangdong's rise left him feeling envious.
"He became an official, and I was left with nothing," he said.
Corruption allegations prompted the county to send an inspection team. Wang Xiangdong was not accused of wrongdoing. But the controversy dogged him. When he won re-election in 1999, party officials warned him that the village would suffer if he took office. Wang Xiangdong said he realized that he could accomplish nothing and stepped aside.
The village was not allowed to hold another election. Officials wanted a reliable Communist Party official to oversee its affairs. They appointed Wang Junbin.
Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, husband and wife authors based in Anhui Province, wrote a chapter about Wangying's 1994 uprising in their best-selling exposé of rural problems in China, titled "An Investigation of China's Peasants." Though the book was banned by the propaganda authorities after it was published this year, the authors estimate that seven million pirated versions have been sold. The three Mr. Wangs were celebrated as a new breed of peasant activist.
Yet the subsequent rivalry between them muddled the message. Zhang Xide, the county party chief, sued Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu for libel. In August, a court in Mr. Zhang's home district of Fuyang, Anhui, heard the case, which is still under review. Wang Xiangdong and Wang Junbin were headline witnesses - for opposing sides.
In testimony spiced with rural epithets, Wang Xiangdong listed his grievances against Mr. Zhang: illegal taxes and fees, violent suppression of peaceful dissent. "He promises one thing and does another.'' he said. "He uses stealthy means to savagely oppress the common people."
Wang Junbin spoke hesitantly, as if recalling a prepared text. He said Mr. Zhang had given peasant petitioners "warm greetings and a sweet attitude." The 4-3 crackdown, he said, was justified because "troublemakers behaved illegally."
Their split plagues the village today.
Fall brings the big harvest. Six-foot stalks of soybeans are piled in lean-tos and tepees along a rutted dirt road. But with the fields stripped, the village has resumed its slumber.
It has no shops or factories, not even a brick kiln like those common in rural China. Most working-age men have sought temporary jobs in cities. Those left behind survive mainly on remittances.
Villagers express scorn for their party chief, Wang Junbin, perhaps especially because he once promised something new.
"He has to hide in his home," says Wu Fengmei, a village housewife. "No one heeds him here." Wang Zhenhua, a retired village official, called him a traitor. "In the old days, he would have been buried alive."
Villagers say the tax and fee abuses of the early 1990's have been overtaken by a new list of woes.
Welfare funds intended for the poorest villagers were never distributed, several people charged. Farmers were supposed to get compensation after a drought in 2002, but the money never arrived.
Wang Junbin seized several acres of prime village farmland, had a cavernous ditch dug and sold the soil to out-of-town brick makers, several people who protested the action said. He did not share the proceeds. The ditch is now a fishpond that Mr. Wang appointed an associate to run, villagers say.
Wang Junbin denied that he had pocketed funds intended for villagers or expropriated land for his own use. The village is more prosperous and better run than ever before, he said.
"These stories come from a few individuals who are making up accusations to hurt me," said. "Their goal is simply to stir up discontent and drive me out of power so they can rise up."
His old comrades are among the critics. After they joined forces against Wang Xiangdong, Wang Hongchao expected Wang Junbin to ask him to join his administration. The two discussed matters over rice wine one evening, but did not come to terms. Wang Hongchao, distressed, left for distant Hangzhou.
"He whitewashes the past, like it never existed," Wang Hongchao said.
Wang Xiangdong stayed on. He runs a scrap yard, full of rusty tractor and motorcycle carcasses, in an abandoned gas station. But his real occupation is protesting.
Recently he paraded around the village with a bullhorn, urging people to review evidence that Wang Junbin had lied about drought relief funds.
Wang Junbin had the police arrest him and detain him for 15 days. The charge: "Interfering with officials carrying out their public duties."
(Telegraph) China’s peasant revolt revealed in banned book. By Richard Spencer. October 23, 2004.
As book titles go, it is not the most arresting, but China’s Peasants: A Survey proved so controversial that it was banned by the Communist authorities just a month after publication.
It is in such demand that bootleg copies are on sale everywhere. Written by a husband and wife, Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, it chronicles official abuse, corruption and violence in their home province, Anhui, and has cast a harsh light on rural life in China at a time when the world is absorbed by the spectacular expansion of its cities.
The Communist Party has acknowledged that the sort of small, local protest among the 900 million-strong peasantry against brutal, corrupt officials highlighted in the book has become the biggest threat to its hold on power.
One such demonstration greeted the decision by a local official featured in Survey to sue the couple for libel over accounts of how his sidekicks persecuted villagers.
When Zhang Xide arrived at court in Fuyang, renowned as one of the most corrupt cities in China, peasants of Anhui turned out in force and some tried to drag him out of his car and beat him up. The authors had reported how three men on a village audit committee were once set upon by officials implicated in corruption and stabbed to death.
On that occasion, the government jailed the culprits but Mr Zhang was promoted and gained sufficient confidence to sue for defamation. No one can prove what Mr Zhang, a sub-district leader, personally gained from office, but the peasants say he drove a Mercedes.
He refused to be interviewed, but his lawyer said he had no idea what his officials were doing, and stopped them when he learned.
In a hideout near Fuyang some of his alleged victims described how Mr Zhang turned them from compliant peasants to protesters. They discovered their taxes were double what the law allowed, and went to Beijing to complain. When they returned, what they call “Zhang’s repression” began.
They woke to find a troop of People’s Armed Police marching in “like the Japanese army”. The first 12 people they found were locked in cells where, they say, they were shackled and beaten.
“They stamped on my fingers until my nails fell out,” said Wang Yongming, the village chief.
“They beat me to confess I attacked a policeman,” said Wang Hongyan. “I refused. So they poured boiling water over my head.”
Ren Chuanchun was chief of another village, and complained about the particularly pernicious implementation of China’s one-child policy.
Officials would demand illegal “repeat fines”, amounting to double the local annual income. Those who could not pay had animals and land confiscated.
The new central party leadership has shown more concern about poverty, abolishing rural taxes and raising grain prices.
But it may be too late. A party magazine recently admitted that in 2003 three million peasants were involved in protests, many of which involved violent confrontations with police. But, says Mr Chen, the peasants are still voiceless. Those who go to Beijing to complain are arrested and sent home.
Mr Wang says he is not a revolutionary. “I love my country and I believe in the party.”
The government eventually vindicated his protest, ordering a refund of the extra taxes, but he and Mr Chen have little faith in the result of the libel case. Mr Zhang’s son is a judge at the court.
(The Guardian) The banned book that sold 8m. By Jonathan Watts. November 12, 2004.
There cannot be many authors who are willing to sign pirated copies of their books, but Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao have little choice.
The husband and wife team have written one of this year's bestsellers - a searing exposé of the plight of China's 800 million peasants - but it touched such a sensitive political nerve that the official version has been banned. Now, the only way you can get hold of the work is to buy one of the 30 pirate versions.
By one estimate, these pirate publishers have sold 8m copies of A Survey of Chinese Peasants, which is very good for Chen and Wu's egos, but not much use for their bank balance.
The book, which details the second-class status of farmers in modern China, has struck a chord this year amid growing concerns about the widening gap between wealthy cities on the eastern seaboard and impoverished villages in the western interior.
Chen and Wu describe in their book how rural residents have their land seized by developers, suffer from scandalously unfair taxes and have little or no recourse to justice when they are victimised by powerful local officials. It is an indictment of one of China's biggest social problems; so, naturally, it was banned a few months after publication.
"The authorities are frightened because my book showed how things really work and because I spoke out for farmers who don't have a voice," says Chen.
He can still recall how his status in society slumped within a single day - February 25. "In the weeks before that we did more than 100 [media] interviews then, suddenly, the phone went silent. Nobody told us why at the time, but later some friends in the media revealed that they had been told that our book was subject to three Nos: no publicity, no serialisation and no criticism."
That did not stop a libel suit against the authors by one of the local officials they have accused of abusing his power. The verdict was expected at the end of last month, but it was postponed after Chen and Wu travelled to Berlin to collect this year's Lettres Ulysses Award, one of the world's most prestigious journalistic accolades.
Chen says that, even without the prize, he and his wife would have been determined to fight on. "We have been offered an out-of-court settlement, but what would the farmers think of us if we accepted?"
More than 500 peasants have protested outside the courtroom during previous hearings. The author says he believes their claims will eventually be vindicated. "We can understand if the mainstream media is unable to support us, but we still have some faith in the Chinese legal system. If the law can't support writers like us, then we would feel so hopeless about the future of China. Our book is testing how open the country has become."
Attorney Pu Zhiqiang sat with the two authors on trial, listening intently and taking notes, his broad shoulders hunched over a small table. Facing him on the other side of the courtroom, Zhang Xide, a short, slightly pudgy Communist Party boss, leaned back and smiled as the first witness took the stand.
Zhang had sued the authors for defamation, accusing them of libeling him in a best-selling book on rural China that portrayed him as a local tyrant. In a country where the courts are controlled by the party, he held the upper hand.
But then Pu, 39, a tall, brawny man with a crew cut, began grilling the witness, an official who had worked for Zhang, and accused him of extracting illegal taxes from peasants, embezzling public funds and killing a man while driving drunk.
"How did you get away with it?" he asked, prompting laughter from the gallery. The witness protested angrily, then refused to answer questions. But Pu pressed on: "You obey the leadership of Secretary Zhang, so aren't your problems Secretary Zhang's problems? Shouldn't he be responsible for you?"
By the time he finished his cross-examination, the mood in the courtroom had begun to change. When the trial ended three days later, the authors remained at the defendants' table, but it seemed as if Zhang -- and the Communist Party itself -- were the ones on trial.
What happened in the Fuyang case highlights a momentous struggle underway in China between a ruling party that sees the law as an instrument of control and a society that increasingly believes it should be used for something else: a check on the power of government officials and a guardian of individual rights. How this conflict unfolds could transform the country's authoritarian political system.
More than a quarter-century after launching economic reforms while continuing to restrict political freedom, the Chinese Communist Party remains in firm control of the courts. Most judges are party members, appointed by party leaders and required to carry out party orders. But the government's claims of support for legal reform and human rights, and an influx of information about Western legal concepts, have fueled public demands for a more independent judiciary.
China's citizens are asserting their rights and going to court in record numbers. About 4.4 million civil cases were filed in the last year, more than double the total a decade ago. Behind this surge in legal activity is a belief that everyone, even party officials, can be held accountable under the law, a belief promoted by a new generation of lawyers, judges and legal scholars trained after the death of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.
The party appears torn by this rising legal consciousness. It recognizes the value of an impartial judicial system to resolve disputes in a country with growing social tensions and an emerging capitalist economy, and it sees the potential of citizen lawsuits to curb corruption and improve governance. But it is also afraid that rule of law and independent courts might threaten its monopoly on power.
A rare chance to sit in a Chinese courtroom unnoticed by the authorities and observe a four-day civil trial in August offered a glimpse into a society's struggle to establish rule of law, and the stark dilemma that presents to the party.
Pu's aggressive defense tactics left the court with a difficult choice. It could ignore the evidence he presented in open court about Zhang's transgressions and rule against the authors, risking a backlash that could further erode the party's legitimacy. Or it could reject Zhang's lawsuit and send a powerful message to the public about the law as a weapon against the party.
Four months after the close of the trial, the court has yet to issue a verdict.
Growing up in rural eastern China, and studying history and classical Chinese literature in university, Pu Zhiqiang had always planned to be a teacher. But he joined the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square while in graduate school, and in the crackdown that followed, the party barred him from academia.
He drifted for years, working as a secretary, a salesman, even at an agricultural market. But in 1993, a friend suggested he try a career in law. He studied on his own and passed the bar in 1995.
Mao all but dismantled China's legal system during the Cultural Revolution, but after his death in 1976, the party reopened its courts and adopted new laws to promote economic reforms. Demand for legal services grew rapidly, and hundreds of law schools and the first private law firms opened. By the mid-1990s, lawyers were shedding their traditional role in China as civil servants loyal to the state and beginning to see themselves as independent advocates devoted to their clients.
Pu, a gregarious man who speaks in both street profanities and classical Chinese, prospered by helping companies declare bankruptcy and settle business disputes. He also learned how corrupt China's legal system could be. "It was much worse than I imagined," he said.
And yet Pu believed that a good lawyer who took the right cases could change China. In 2003, he agreed to defend a literary critic who had been sued for defamation by one of China's most famous authors. He built his case on one of the principles he had fought for in Tiananmen: free speech.
While preparing for trial, Pu read about New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark Supreme Court decision on freedom of the press, and used it in his closing argument. The judge handed him a victory.
Over the next year, Pu took on four more defamation cases, defending two magazines, a newspaper and a scholar against lawsuits filed by companies and business tycoons. In a nation where censorship is standard and criticizing the party can lead to prison, he had become China's version of a First Amendment lawyer.
In February, Pu heard about a defamation suit in Fuyang, an urban backwater in the eastern province of Anhui, about 575 miles south of Beijing. A local party official had sued the husband-and-wife authors of "An Investigation of China's Peasantry," a literary exploration of poverty and the abuse of power in rural China.
"I read the book carefully, and it made me furious," Pu recalled. The stories reminded him of his own experiences in the countryside; only a decade earlier, officials enforcing the government's one-child policy had forced his sister-in-law to abort a pregnancy in the ninth month.
The authors already had an attorney, but Pu contacted them and offered his services for free. He proposed turning the case into China's version of New York Times v. Sullivan and argued that society would be better served if the courts protected the public's right to criticize party officials.
Pu said he didn't expect to win. Local party officials control local courts. In Fuyang, Zhang held a top post, and his son was a judge. But if the case attracted enough attention, a sympathetic official elsewhere might stand up for the authors on appeal, or the leadership might decide that letting Zhang win would hurt the party's image too much.
The authors, Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, added Pu to their defense team soon after the party banned their book. "We knew we needed a cannon," Wu said.
The trial opened Aug. 24 in a wood-paneled room on the first floor of the Fuyang courthouse. The authors and a team of four lawyers sat on the right, Zhang and his attorneys on the left. Three judges in black robes presided from a bench under the red-and-gold emblem of the People's Republic of China.
About 100 people sat in the gallery, and more than a dozen police officers stood guard. A handful of Chinese reporters were present, though they knew their stories would be censored. Hundreds of peasants from Linquan County, where Zhang had served as party chief, were waiting outside. There were plenty of empty seats inside, but the court let only 25 peasants in.
Zhang's lead attorney spoke first, accusing the authors of fabricating material in the book's third chapter, which described events in Linquan between 1992 and 1995.
The attorney's objections included the book's description of Zhang as an official who spoke like "an uncouth lout" and was "short of stature," and its claim that he ignored Beijing's orders to reduce taxes and violently punished villagers who protested.
"As a senior party member and a qualified cadre who has made no mistakes . . . Zhang Xide is using the weapon of the law to demand justice," the attorney said. He said Zhang wanted an apology and damages of 200,000 yuan, or about $24,000.
The defense responded forcefully. "If a party secretary can't take criticism without considering it defamation, I suggest he quit and go home," declared Lei Yanping, the authors' local attorney.
Pu, in a gray shirt and silver tie, spoke next, arguing that his clients' portrayal of Zhang was based on interviews as well as party reports they had obtained. He also noted that their book was a work of "reportage literature," a popular Chinese genre in which writers sometimes embellish facts for literary effect.
But when Pu urged the court to consider whether criticism of an official's performance in office should be considered defamation, the judges refused. "We're not going to include it as a disputed issue in this case," said Qian Weiguang, the chief judge. Pu slapped his forehead in frustration.
He stepped up his attack the next day, when Zhang's attorneys called their first witness. Pu accused the man, a party official who had worked for Zhang, of embezzlement, collecting excess taxes and killing a man while driving drunk.
"The witness is not a criminal!" one of Zhang's attorneys objected.
"Yes, yes," Pu replied, raising his voice. "But I just want to know, how could someone who had clearly committed a crime not only escape any punishment but then receive a promotion? If Secretary Zhang can interfere with the law -- "
The judge cut him off.
Zhang's attorneys called 13 other witnesses, almost all of them party officials, men with power who were clearly unaccustomed to being challenged. Often, they bristled and refused to answer when pressed by the defense. Sometimes, the chief judge would order them to answer, and they ignored him, too.
The highest-ranking official, a gray-haired county leader named Li Pinzheng, demanded the defense attorneys' names. He also answered his cell phone while on the stand. Later, when an attorney told him to pay attention, he blew up: "You're telling me to pay attention! You're the one who needs to watch out!"
As the defense pressed the witnesses, some revealed damaging details. The book had said officials punished peasants for violating the one-child policy by demolishing their homes and seizing their livestock. But one official who took the stand admitted that the county also had forced couples to be sterilized, requiring it of women even if their husbands had already undergone surgery.
When Zhang's last witness, a peasant named Dai Junming, took the stand, Pu asked him how many children he had. Three, the man replied. Then Pu asked: "Have you been sterilized?"
The courtroom hushed. The witness stared blankly at the lawyer. Pu repeated the question. Again, the man said nothing.
Zhang's attorneys objected, but the judge surprised them, siding with Pu and addressing the witness himself: "Please answer the question. Have you been sterilized?" There was another awkward silence.
Finally, Pu moved on, and asked the witness a different question: "Do you think Zhang Xide was a good party secretary in Linquan County?"
He didn't answer that one either.
On the third day of the trial, Pu began calling witnesses, all of them peasants from Linquan. His cross-examinations had put Zhang on the defensive, but now he seemed like a prosecutor building a case against him. The libel charges were all but forgotten.
One after another, the peasants recalled the events described in the book in damning detail: their suffering at the hands of party officials who demanded illegal taxes; the tough one-child policy campaigns with slogans declaring that it would be better to end seven pregnancies than to allow an extra child to be born; and the appeals for help that took them all the way to Beijing, where 74 of them knelt in protest in Tiananmen Square in 1995.
The most vivid testimony concerned a raid on their village by military police on April 3, 1994. Residents said Zhang ordered the police to punish them for protesting his policies. The officers beat anyone they found and dragged away a dozen people, including some who had nothing to do with the protests, the witnesses said.
"It was worse than when the Japanese ghouls invaded," testified Wang Yongliang, an elderly, white-haired peasant, who said many villagers were so terrified they fled to a neighboring province.
Others, including Wang Xiangdong, 42, a rugged-faced peasant leader, said they were arrested and tortured. "Every officer hit me, and they kept asking, 'Are you tired of living yet?' " he testified.
The last witness was a frail, 69-year-old woman in a flower-print blouse, Zhang Xiuying. Sobbing, she recalled how her husband shouted when police seized him, then suddenly collapsed. The officers left him on the ground, and the villagers were too afraid of the police to help him. He died the next day.
After she finished testifying, the woman suddenly knelt in the well of the courtroom and cried out, "May the honorable judges render justice to my family!" The chief judge shouted for order. But the gallery erupted, and another woman knelt and pleaded for justice, too.
Pu jumped to his feet, wiping away tears, as security officers led the women from the room.
Zhang Xide sat quietly at the plaintiff's table through much of the trial, sipping tea from a steel thermos. He let his attorneys do most of the talking. But as the trial began spinning out of his control, he smiled less and spoke up more.
"That's a lie!" he blurted out occasionally, drawing rebukes from the chief judge and laughter from the gallery. But for the most part, Zhang stayed cool and casually dismissed the peasants' complaints.
He said party leaders had long ago concluded that the police raid was justified and handled correctly. "Just a few trifles," he said of the corruption allegations. Defending his enforcement of the one-child policy, he said, "Only 20 or so families had their houses torn down."
He also defended his use of county funds to buy a Mercedes-Benz. "I didn't buy it for myself, but for anyone who needed the car for work," he said. Pressed by the lawyers, he added: "This has nothing to do with this case. I have my human rights."
From beginning to end, Zhang maintained that the book was trouble for the party.
"This book doesn't encourage people to obey the law or work hard, but glorifies crime and violations of discipline," he said. "It incites the peasants to protest in large groups, launch surprise attacks on police, steal guns, insult county party secretaries and so on. . . . If 900,000 peasants are guided like this, what kind of result will there be for China?"
He sneered when the defense noted that the book had been critically acclaimed, and he reminded the judges that it had been banned. "Why haven't domestic newspapers and media said anything about it since March?" The book, he said, "was strangled" by the party.
When it came time for Pu to question Zhang, he asked only one question.
"I've been willing to believe you originally didn't know the facts," he said slowly. "But today, facing the suffering of these people, including suffering at the hands of your subordinates, do you have any regrets or remorse or a feeling you let these peasants down?"
Zhang replied: "No."
In his closing statement, Pu argued that the authors had a right to criticize Zhang's performance in public office. The law should protect people's rights, he said, not serve as a tool of revenge for officials. But then he broadened his rhetoric, suggesting the trial had shown that not only Zhang but others in the party could be held accountable under the law, no matter how old their crimes.
"This case has given us a chance to reexamine what happened during the reign of party secretary Zhang 10 years ago," he said. "We hope this case will make it clear to hundreds of thousands of officials that they should not abuse their power and oppress the people. . . . All of it will be redressed with time."
Pu ended with a subtle plea to the judges to defy their party superiors.
"Obviously, there is room for you to be creative," he said. "If you are appropriately creative, your efforts and morals will lead society toward the further development of civilization and democracy. Your names will go down in history. . . . Your judgment will show whether the judiciary in China can shoulder its responsibility to promote the development of society."
But the lawyers said the judges have told them they cannot decide the case, which suggests that higher-level party officials are involved. The party's deliberations have been complicated because accounts of the trial have been published on the Internet and in Hong Kong. In a sign of the party's indecision, several officials have contacted the authors and their attorneys and urged them to settle the case.
So far, the authors have refused. "Settling isn't an option," Chen said recently. "We've come this far. We want a verdict."
A court in the eastern province of Anhui has acted illegally in a libel trial involving two authors who wrote an in-depth expose of official abuse and corruption in the Chinese countryside, lawyers for the couple have charged.
In an official letter to the Fuyang city Intermediate People's Court, a lawyer for husband-and-wife authors Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao said the court had exceeded the time limit of six months for a decision in the August libel case brought by a local official.
"This case has already exceeded the time limit set down in article 35 of the China's Civil Procedural Law. During this time we have not received a single document from the court explaining why this is so," said the letter, which was entitled "Application For a Speedy Decision" and signed by defendant Chen and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
"Justice that arrives late is no justice," it said, adding that illegal extensions of court deliberations was a cancer spreading through China's judicial system. "It is difficult to contest that the practise of handing down late decisions is rife at every level of court from the Supreme Court down," it said.
Chen and Wu's award-winning book, The Situation of China's Peasants rocked China's urban middle classes and leadership elite when it appeared in 2003, with its heartrending accounts of the abuse and hardships suffered by Anhui farmers.
The book--which has sold millions of copies--sparked intense debate throughout Internet chatrooms and bulletin boards. Some analysts say it prompted Beijing to restart its former practise of issuing a rural policy white paper annually in early 2004.
The book reports official abuses of rural communities—particularly in their home province of Anhui—in unprecedented and devastating detail, and sparked a libel lawsuit by one of the officials named in it, former Linquan County Party Secretary Zhang Xide.
The U.S.$24,000 libel case was held in Zhang's home political territory of Linquan county and Fuyang city, which rights groups said undermined the fairness of proceedings. Zhang's son is a judge in Fuyang.
Pu's letter accused the court openly of being compromised by political influence.
"On Oct. 27, I learned that cultural liaison officials from the Hefei municipal government had expressed to Chen and Wu their wish that the case should be settled out of court. At the same time, another of the couple's legal representatives, Lei Yanping was called in 'for a chat' by the justice department of the Hefei municipal government, and told that they too believed an out-of-court settlement would be best," the letter said.
"In the few days that followed, a number of officials, even some from the Anhui provincial level of the Communist Party propaganda department expressed the same views to Chen and Wu," it said, adding that the couple had been threatened with 30 or more similar lawsuits if they continued with the case in court and lost.
Pu said domestic Chinese media had maintained a deafening silence on the affair.
"As professional lawyers, we regard such manifold expressions of "concern" from so many quarters in the public domain as evidence that this Court has been subject to influence that is outside the law."
"We express grave concerns about the ability of this Court to maintain judicial impartiality and independence in its decision making," the letter said.
China's constitution enshrines freedom of the press and prohibits libel against individuals. But the concept of allegations made against officials in the public interest has made little headway, and is unlikely to be included in a new Media Law currently being drafted, experts say.
(Peacehall) Statement on developments in the Chinese Peasants Study libel case. By Pu Zhiqiang. March 27, 2005.
[translation] Ever since Chen Guidi and his wife got involved in the lawsuit, they have received attention and support from many people. Certain departments banned the work, and then banned media coverage about the case. Objectively, they have created a market for pirated editions, as well as assisted Zhang Xide. Since there is a great deal of concern about this case, the author of this note, who is the legal representative for the defendants, will make a brief update. However, since contact was not made with the Chens, there will be my personal reflections.
On December 28, 2004, I submitted a written application to point out that the Fuyang Middle Court has exceeded the legal time limit for a verdict, and I asked Chief Judge Qian Huiguang to make a time and independent legal verdict. Just like the previous application for investigating the false testimonies, I have not received any reply. But I believe that behind the serenity, there are various factors in operation. This not-so-simple case will be a test case for the independence of the judicial system in China.
There are many street rumors because the mainstream media are not functioning. Prior to the two Congresses this year, there began rumors that the defendants have lost their case. Supposedly, someone read the verdict document that the Fuyang Middle Court sent to the High Court for advice, which said that the three defendants violated the rights of the plaintiff, and the writers and the publishing company will be liable for 70,000 RMB and 30,000 RMB respectively. Under normal circumstances, some rumors represent hope and expectations while other rumors reflect worry and anger. I believe that the rumors about the defendants losing the case belongs to the second category because this case was clearly contrary to popular opinion.
I conclude that the rumors did not arise from nowhere, but there are also some doubts. It is not common for the Middle Court to show a higher court a final verdict document. It is more common to use a document to summarize the opinion or leanings of the judges in conjunction with a request for the higher court to decide. However, this case is highly important because the legal system must not only address the rights and wrongs between the two parties, but it involves the rights of citizens to criticize the officials and the system as well as the rights of officials to sue citizens for libel. I believe that even if I consider the possibility of the initial decision being overruled, this case has progressed down a path that nobody can influence. I believe that if the Anhui Provincial High Court has no power to decide on its own, then the case will be referred to the Supreme Court of the country. Therefore, the outcome of this case will represent the position of the Supreme Court.
According to the document titled "Supervising and Directing Verdicts" published by the Supreme Court, in the event of a difficult or influential case, it is common for the different court levels to seek advice and communicate with each other, with the decision being based upon the advice from the higher level court. In practice, this means that the principals have lost their right of appeal. Due to the current unevenness of judicial decisions rendered by the local courts as well as their susceptibility to being influenced by powerful local elements, many of the bold decisions have in fact been made in accordance with the opinions of the higher courts. These principles will affect the interpretation of the law.
"Look within yourself and you will understand others." I believe that the various judges know all about the rights and wrongs of the case and how to issue the verdict. But we feel that in spite of the interference by the local government of Fuyang, the court has demonstrated a certain tolerance and kindness as the case progressed. But the problem is that the direction of the verdict has moved beyond their positions. I think that although the current law requires that the People's Court render a verdict in an independent manner, the decisive factors in this case will be the political chess game and not the will of the judges, and this will be tough on them as well.
Look at the political situation in China: the issue of human rights has become to take shape and the harmonious society is being nurtured but the building is still leaking and the roof may yet collapse on the inhabitants; while Mao Yushi dreams of making the peasants self-reliant, the university BBS's are rather lonely; Guo Guoding's law practice license has been suspended; Jiao Guobiao lost his job at Beijing University; rural schools are being destroyed often and widely; criticisms are being suppressed. Although the bitter rain has not fallen yet, the cold wind is already here and the people can do nothing but watch. New attractive policies are announced, but their fallacies become immediately obvious. I believe that the sooner the verdict is issued, the more likely the defendants will lose; but the longer the verdict is withheld, the chances of a victory are improved.
As a professional lawyer, I must say that everything is unknown until the verdict has actually been issued. Besides, this is one phase of the trial and the Chen couple and I have done everything that we could. The rest is up to the fates, for we have done our best. Although we have never harbored any illusions about winning the case, we are grateful that fate should provide a common opportunity during the past year to express our rising emotions and to compose our ode in defense of freedom of speech. For us, the specific outcome is no longer important. We will be glad to win or to lose.
If we should lose, we will appeal as permitted by the law. Therefore, this matter has not ended and we will see what happens.
Thank you, everyone.
(March 27, 2005) Chinese Law Center, Yale University Law School
(New Century Net)
The Statement About Rejecting A Settlement And Demanding Fair Justice
To :The Anhui Province Fuyang City Intermediate People's Court
The Honorable Chief Judge Qian Huiguang
The libel case filed by Zhang Xide against Chen Guidi and others was filed one year and seven months ago, and was sent for trial one year and one month ago. The court trial proceedings ended almost one year ago, but the verdict is nowhere in sight. We have already offered our written opinion that Zhang Xide and his shameless witnesses should be held responsible for making false testimony, and we have also asked for judiciary independence, fairness and timeliness in rendering a verdict. Although we have not received any formal response, we have not changed our overall goal of using this case to expand the space for free speech. Still, we are full of doubts given the changing attitudes of the court during the court proceedings.
First, certain procedural errors by the court restricted or deprived the defendants of their right to object and challenging, thus affecting the course of legal justice. Without reaching any determination, the court issued a "notice" to ask the People's Publishing House to discontinue the distribution of "Contemporary" magazine which contains The Chinese Peasants Study, and also forbade the publishing house to produce the work in any other form "in order to not to create new disputes." In our opinion, freedom of press and freedom of speech are constitutional rights of the people. The normal distribution of creative works not only represents the interests of the publishing outfit, but they also represent the principal venue of reailzing the intellectual property rights of the authors. The Fuyang City Intermediate Court illegally prohibited the distribution of the books and violated the legal rights of the publisher, the authors and the readers. This is an abuse of judicial power.
Next, the so-called "exchange of information" held befor the court panel trampled upon the rights of the defendants. At the time when the application was made with respect to the jurisdiction of the trial, all time limits for offering evidence should have been postponed. After the issue of jurisdiction was decided, the defendants applied for an extension in the presentation of evidence according to the evidentiary rules. Although the Fuyang Intermediate Court, whose jurisdiction was not determined at the time, had granted Zhang Xide an extension until February 23 and also voluntarily offered the defendants who had yet to make the application with the same terms, this only showed that the court was not even-handed and that it had misinterpreted the law. When the final trial date was set, the court panel immediately set June 25 as the date for the exchange of information and rejected the defendants' request for an extension. Since the court refused to accept any more new evidence from the defendants, they were unable to enter their evidence.
Therefore, we believe that that so-called "exchange of information" before the court panel was just an occasion for us to listen to the one-sided presentation by Zhang Xide because our rights to offer evidence had been illegally deprived. We find this treatment unacceptable.
Thirdly, the court proceedings violated the principles of public trials. During the "exchange of information" phase, the court panel refused to let the public and the media come on the grounds that this was not a formal trial and therefore did not have to be open to outsiders. In fact, the court even changed the venue at the last minute and deployed judicial police to enforce the no-outsider rule. During the public trial phase, the court also demanded that outside reporters must be approved first by the Supreme Court, and the court also restricted the number of peasants who can enter the courtroom. As everyone knows, an open legal system is a prerequisite for justice. In civil cases, it is stipulated that the trials should be open to the public. There are some exceptions as when the cases involve commercial secrets or private matters. We believe that the court had the obligation to conduct the trial properly, during the exchange of information as well as the conditions under which the trial was held, and the court had no right to decide who can attend or report the trial.
The procedural errors before the trial began show the arrogant and unreasonable treatment of the defendants by the Fuyang Intermediate Court. We are grateful for the tolerance and humanity of the court panel as the trial unfolded. But we will most likely use those procedural errors as the basis for an apeal should that be necessary and ask for the verdict to be reversed.
After four long days in the court, the rights and wrongs of this case were obvious. We beleive that the judges knew whether Zhang Xide's charges versus the writers and the publisher were true, and so do all the people who were concerned about the fates of the defendants.
At the court, both Zhang Xide and Chen Guidi said that they would not agree to any settlement. We remember that Zhang Xide declared that he is "resolute in not agreeing to a court settlement." Chen Guidi's response was that he has "never considered settling with Zhang Xide." The chief judge had also stated that he will not mediate anymore and that the court will issue the verdict after the court panel makes the decision.
The position of the two sides are clear. The keys to this legal dispute are whether the literary work of the authors and its publication by the publisher had damaged the reputation of a former country government chairman, as well as whether Zhang Xide actually had some rights as a county government official. Until it is decided whether the deeds constituted the violation of rights, all others issues are unimportant and irrelevant. The solution of this problem lies in the legal verdict.
The plaintiff had not formally offered us any request to settle. After the court proceedings ended, Zhang Xide told the outsider world many times that apart from the name "Zhang Xide", everything else about him was libelous and scandalous. Therefore, he was convinced that he would win.
But since October last yar, the various literary associations and judicial administration departments which were not connected to the case have been directed by the party propaganda deparment and the political law consultative committee to approach Chen Guidi for a settlement. The law requires that a settlement can only be reached with the agreement of the principals in according to the law, but the authors have refused to settle because it would make all their previous work pointless.
But the excessive activism and enthusiasm of the court panel for a settlement has confounded us. According to regulations in civil cases, the court should render a verdict expeditiously when settlement is impossible. Regardless of what the other parties think, the stance by the two authors to reject settlement should have told the court panel that the possibility of settlement is preclused. In the case, a timely verdict is the obligation of the court as well as being consistent with the need to 'conserve judicial resources.'
At the end of March this year, Wu Chuntao and lawyer Lei were invited to court and listened to the chief judge on the court panel relay the desire by Zhang Xide to settle. At the time, the court stated that it would be up to the principals to decide freely and the court was absolutely not insisting that the writer must settle. Based upon the fact that Zhang Xide had made numerous "righteous" statements to the public, Wu Chuntao refused to settle but asked for a timely verdict.
On May 26, members of the court panel came to Beijing and met with the publishing house's leaders and their lawyer Lu Zhimin. During the meeting, they falsely claimed that Zhang Xide and Chen Guidi have agreed to settle, and are presently going over the details. The court panel then recommended that the publishing house offer a small compensation together with a public apology from the authors to put an end to this case.
On June 17, members of the court panel went to Hefei to meet lawyer Lei again and asked her to persuade the authors to settle. They claimed that the publishing house and Zhang Xide have agreed to settle. Although we rejected the offer again, we cannot wonder just why the members of the court panel were traveling long-distance north and south. Why? Has the 'fine' tradition of the Ma Xiwu judicial mode been resurrected in the 21st century?
We can understand that your power to judge may have been subjected to outside interference, and the long delay in issuing the verdict is the result of that interference. This lawyer is empowered by his client to say that we will not accept any settlement proposed by the court, and we ask you to issue the verdict for the case.
The treatment of The Chinese Peasant Study is comparable to the way how Chinese peasants are being treated. Ever since the book appeared, although it became well-known, it had a less-than-wonderful fate due to the many unimaginable horrors that it revealed. In March last year, the book was banned but not a single department or individual has ever explained to the authors just why the book was "unsuitable for the public."
The authors' sole consolation was that the book had not became what Zhang Xide said: "It will not get past the eyes of the Party and the people; as soon as it showed up, it was strangled and tossed into a pile of dogshit, where it remains the shame of humankind." Although the publisher and the authors suffered tremendous losses in intellectual property rights, millions of pirated copies were sold, so that the work of our authors did not go to waste. The lawsuit filed by Zhang Xide gave us the opportunity to test the judicial capability of the Chinese legal system. There is no reason why the Fuyang Court, upon which the expectations of the world hung, should be so hesitant and concerned and leave behind a footnote of shame for the feeble judicial system.
This literary work was received very differenly by the people and the officials, and that happens to reflect the social reality. The Chinese Peasant Study caused many people to lose "peace of mind forever" because it pierced the cowardly indifference of the world. By comparison, the varous public servants who are busy building the harmonious society continued to display their typical indifference. I noticed that the new Anhui provincial party chairman Guo Jinlong appeared on Phoenix TV recently and complained that The Chinese Peasant Study was not a good book because it blacked the name of the people of Anhui. In Chairman Guo's opionion, the authors put forward a list of historical cases that have already been solved and therefore this is not objectively correct. He acknowledged that there are problems with the base-level party workers in peasant villages, because their major duties are to "collect food," "collect money" and "enforce population policies by forced sterilization and abortions." But the collection of food and money was on behalf of the nation, and the forced sterilization and abortions were for implementing population policies. Therefore, the authors should not have brought them up and then blacken the names of the people of Anhui. Chairman Guo has clearly not figured out whether it is the evil deeds of people like Zhang Xide or the writings of the authors which blacken the names of the people of Anhui! Besides, the woes and throes described in the book continue for the many peasants living under Chairman Guo's Anhui today.
We cannot be certain whether the viewpoints of the Anhui Party and government leaders as represented by Guo Jinlong have influenced the attitudes of the court panel at Fuyang Intermediate Court. But it is hard to think that the words of the top officials would be ignored by their subordinates! We are deeply grateful that the special rules of the judicial system and the conscience of the judges have jointly caused the embarrassing situation of no verdict for this case so far. This is because you refuse to cooperate with the system when you have no reason to rule against the writers. In that sense, you have done what you could.
When the government is completely unmonitored, it will be the ruin of China. When there is no freedom of speech and criticism, it would be fantasy to talk about building a harmonious society. The verdict for this case will offer the opportunity to answer the question about whether citizens have the right to criticise the Party and the public poilcies of the government, and about whether government officials as public figures can be criticized for their professional conduct. If the case of New York Times vs. Sullivan established the grounds for libeling public figures and thus created the public space for social commentary, the case of Zhang Xide vs. Chen Guidi will also set up the foundation for the development of Chinese society. Everything depends on the judicial power in your hands. In short, we and all the principals have the opportunity to create history.
Dear respected Chief Judge: it is the decision of you and your colleagues to write a new glorious page in history or continue the statement of confusion. The actions of you and the members of the court panel during the trial have shown that you are among the best and brightest Chinese judges. You can choose the glory of defending freedom, ro you can choose the shame of oppression. Countless number of writers, reports and citizens are watching you, and waiting for your verdict.
We believe that no matter what the outcome of this case it, the names of those who appear in the verdict sheet will be remembered fever: you can decide wheher you want to the warrior and sage who defends freedom, or the accomplice who oppresses freedom of speech.
Defendant: Chen Guidi
Legal Representative: Pu Zhiqiang
July 11, 2005
(New Century Net) We are waiting for the verdict -- another letter to the Fuyang Intermediate People's Court concerning the libel case against Chen Guidi and others
To :The Anhui Province Fuyang City Intermediate People's Court
Chief Judge Qian Huiguang
The libel case filed by Zhang Xide against Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao is almost two years old, and it has been more than 14 months since the court retired on August 27, 2004. The verdict that everyone is waiting for is nowhere to be seen. During this period, I was authorized to write your court and yourself several time. Last July 10, I published a declaration to express our position in rejecting a settlement. We believe that the time was due for the court to render its verdict. But your court's recent unusual re-opening of settlement discussion has caused us to worry.
I recently learned that three months after our declaration, Deputy Director Jiang from your court recently went to Hofei to speak to lawyer Lei Yanping to "seriously" ask our side to accept Zhang Xide's request for a settlement, including not having to pay him any compensation or expressing any "regret." Lei rejected the offer once again upon instructions.
On November 3, when lawyer Chen Zhimin representing the People's Literature Publishing House was "ordered" to appear in Fuyang, you and your court again requested the publisher to compensate Zhang Xide "one way or the other" to defray his costs of having to go to Beijing to "negotiate" and give him an "excuse" to back off in order to close the case. When this request was rejected, you asked the publisher to consider issuing a statement that The Chinese Peasants Survey was no longer being printed.
Based upon our observation that the plaintiff had no remorse after having told the world about this resolution, and based upon our understanding of the personalities of Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, we believe that this attempt to reach a settlement did not come from the plaintiff. Rather, it was the Fuyang Intermediate Court attempting to "find peace" among all sides. But why are you doing that?
Perhaps you believe that the authority of the court has always been successfully used to accomplish things. Perhaps this case can be settled under your direction even without the "assistance" of the authors. But do you think that this awkward method to "toying with the law" can succeed? Without doubt, you are under the control of an invisible hand. Who is that black hand that has taken away your backbone?
Chen Guidi cannot accept the court's "settlement" request because he won't be able to face the warm and friendly looks of the people. They cannot forget the burden on the numerous families and their tragedies in Linquan county more than ten years ago, thanks to Zhang Xide, Li Pingzhen, Shan Buxuan, Han Yongzhong, Ma Jun and other oppressive officials. I cannot agree with a settlement because the two widows of the April 2nd incident knelt down in front of me at the court, and I will also not be able to face the longing looks of the several hundred people under the blazing sun outside the courthouse. We have been subjected to too much expectations and torment. I believe that the situation inside and outside the court was moving; even though the stone-hearted Zhang Xide and Li Pingzhen have managed to ignore the sufferings of the people, you could not be unmoved! I had personally felt the shock that was in your hearts. So why are you trying to sluggish manipulate an "extra-legal soft landing" afterwards, leading to the stalemate today?
As a seeming case of libel, the court proceedings appeared to be drawn out. In your own words, this seemed to be a "waste of judicial resources." But you should not forget that nothing ever happens without a reason. I believe that for this case, there was a benefit for being pointless and an advantage for being tedious, because this was how the common people can express their hatred of oppressive officials!
I am glad that without the complaint by Zhang Xide and the acceptance of the case by the Fuyang Intermediate Court, the people would not have the change to see the truth revealed and their revenge fulfilled. Without the huge amounts of original documents and false testimonies, the world cannot know the incompetence and evil of Zhang Xide; without the personal appearances of Li Pingzheng, Han Yongzhong, Gao Jie, Wang Jun and others, you would not know how abusive and shameless officials can be. Without the machinations at the Fuyang Intermediate Court, who could have known that the "righteous" judicial organization can be so shameful and disgusting! There is no easy way out of this situation now.
Under the control of various party and government officials, public trust is at risk. The Fuyang officialdom had nurtured Wang Zhaoyao, Wang Huaizhong, Xiao Zuoxin, Ma Jun and other corrupt officials and is a microcosm of the corruption in Chinese politics. Zhang Xide was obviously not the most corrupt party secretary of Linquan and your Fuyang Intermediate was never a piece of pure turf.
As intellectuals at a time when society is transforming itself, we observe what was happening time and time again. If we cannot believe in the people and we cannot believe in the Party, then we can only believe and depend on the judicial system in a broad sense, even if we sometimes doubt and worry about specific details. The various attempts to seek personal gains and your already expressed good intentions showed that our doubts and concerns were not baseless. We dare not relax, but we are still confident that this case will be fairly judged in the end.
Concerning the implications of fairly judging this case, we have said enough and there is no point to say it again. I believe that as far as the Chinese judicial system is concerned, whether it is based upon sentiments or laws, it is trivially facile to turn back Zhang Xide's complaint. That will also create a piece of history. For the Fuyang Intermediate Court, you can wipe away the rumors in the streets and tell the world that at this particular court, there was Judge Xue Yifa who extorted Zhang Zimin, but also the infinitely merciful judges Qiang Huiguang and Liu Jianjun! I believe that in the professional career of a judge, there are so very few opportunities for those cases that can change history. The opportunity is now in your hands, so why are you waiting to render a verdict?
We are patient and courageous to wait for what may even be an absurd outcome. Other than delaying, there is no more surprise left. You can pronounce Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao to be the losers in this case. But this will only prove that the Fuyang Intermediate Court is so-so. It will only encourage us continue our endeavor for we will only accept that the opportunity to change history has been "sent" by you to the ends of your colleagues at the Upper-level Court. We will not abandon our efforts, for we have been chosen for this endeavor. I believe that we were not the only chosen ones, for you too were chosen and you are even more crucial because you are the judges.
What is for certain is that no matter what the outcome is, the verdict sheet will have your signatures. The glory or the shame will be borne by the Chinese judicial system even long after all the various political, judicial and propaganda department officials who have tried to steer the case have passed away. After the court recessed, I and my clients have refused all attempts at settlement in order to force the court to rule. We repeat: we will sit back and watch you and the Fuyang Intermediate Court try out all these machinations and we will not give up using public opinion to advance this case no matter how long and difficult the journey will be. This is our unyielding position.
We sincerely call to you: no matter how much pressure are upon your shoulders, please bear it for us. Give up all attempts to mediate the case and render the verdict in accordance with the laws and your personal conscience. When the time comes, I believe that you will find yourselves amidst innumerable flowers and endless applause, and your experience in this case will be incorporated in history, just like the US Supreme Court Justice Brennan.
If is not difficult to perform a good deed.
Defendant: Chen Guidi
Legal Representative: Pu Zhiqiang
November 14, 2005.
(SCMP) Exposé publisher pressed on lawsuit. Josephine Ma. May 6, 2006.
The government is stepping up pressure on the publisher of a banned book exposing the dark side of rural life in China to settle a libel lawsuit with a former official named in the publication.
Chen Guidi , who wrote the award-winning An Investigation of Chinese Peasants with his wife Wu Chuntao , said he was told by sources the People's Supreme Court had approached the People's Publishing Group to pay former Linquan county party boss Zhang Xide to drop the lawsuit. "I called a vice-president of the publishing house after I heard the news. He told me they were unwilling to pay but they could do nothing but pay if there was administrative intervention [from the government]," Chen said.
The book detailed years of mistreatment and extortion of farmers in Fuyang , Anhui province, and became an instant sensation, selling 150,000 copies before it was banned in March 2004.
Mr Zhang sued the authors and publishers over a section which, he said, falsely claimed he had imposed exorbitant levies on farmers and violated birth control rules. When reached yesterday, Mr Zhang said he was not asked to withdraw the case, but admitted the Fuyang court was working to settle the case without passing a verdict.
Legal sources said the party's propaganda department and the General Administration of Press and Publication had also pressured the publisher to settle the case out of court because authorities wanted to avoid a court verdict. "If they [court] ruled in favour of the authors, it would encourage people to criticise the government and the Communist Party is not prepared for that yet. But, if they ruled in favour of Zhang Xide, it would seriously undermine the credibility of China's judicial system," one of the defence lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang , said.
"Since we have rejected proposals to settle the case out of court, maybe they think asking Zhang to withdraw the case is the only way out," Mr Pu said.
Chen said so far he had not heard of the publisher making any agreement but one of his lawyers had rejected a proposal last year by Anhui court officials to settle the case amicably. The Fuyang Intermediate People's Court has dragged its feet about ruling on the high-profile case since a four-day hearing in August, 2004.
Observers said the best-seller had upset top government leaders including former president Jiang Zemin and former premier Zhu Rongji with its relentless criticism of both leaders' agricultural policies.
The widely followed trial two years ago turned into an emotional battle between farmers and local officials - with tearful farmers recounting their plight on one side and angry local officials defending themselves on the other.
Chen said he was furious about the administrative intervention. "The government should not intervene and this case is a litmus test of rule by law in China. We might submit the case to the National People's Congress," he said. Chen said paying the plaintiff would only give people the impression that the content in the book was incorrect.
Farmer Wang Xiangdong, who testified in the trial about the plight of farmers, said farmers would not accept such an arrangement. "It is so unfair to farmers," Mr Wang said.
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