In Today’s China, Anyone Could Be the Next Victim: An Interview with Chinese Lawyer Yu Wensheng

By Zheng Yan
Zheng Yan
Zheng Yan
April 5, 2017 Updated: June 4, 2018

Yu Wensheng, one of the few active human rights lawyers in China not to have been swept up in the spate of arrests in July 2015, recently gave an interview to the Chinese edition of Epoch Times. Following is the second part. Part one was published last month.


Epoch Times (ET): Where do you typically get your daily news from? Do you watch television?

Yu Wensheng (YWS): I get most of my daily news from the internet. I first look at Chinese news sources to obtain some information. Non-political news is still somewhat accurate. Otherwise, I need to circumvent the internet firewall for more information. I also formulate an understanding of what’s happening elsewhere through social media such as WeChat or other foreign chat applications.

I do not watch much TV. In my opinion, Chinese television is either entertainment programs or brainwashing programs.

Take anti-Japanese sentiment programs as an example. It was clearly the Kuomintang [Chinese Nationalist government, now on Taiwan] rather than the Chinese Communist Party who resisted the Japanese, yet the Party says they opposed the Japanese themselves. That is clearly fake, so why watch it? Some things are not true to historical facts. Many brainwashing programs have obliterated historical truth. It is complete deception.

ET: Wasn’t the education you received as a child part of communist propaganda?

YWS: Yes. The education we received was indoctrination and the history we learned was fake. When I was young, I was truly determined to dedicate my life to this country and to the Party, fight against their enemies, liberate Taiwan, and liberate America because Americans were in the abyss of suffering.

Only when I was 11 or 12 years old did I feel that I had been deceived. I lived in a rather upper class household. My father was in the travel agency and could read newspapers from Hong Kong and Taiwan. He was busy during the day, so he brought them home to read. He did not let any of us read it, but when he went to sleep, I would get up and start read those newspapers. I got exposed to foreign democratic ideas. I slowly began questioning the education I was receiving. This resulted in me not focusing on my studies in middle school and high school. I knew that everything that was taught in school was nonsense.

When we were young, the Chinese authorities told us to wear red scarves and give everything for the Party. At that time I did not consider: Why did we have to give them anything? Why should we sacrifice for them? What is the reason? If you believe in me, then you must die for me; if you do not believe in me, then I will kill you. Isn’t this creating a sort of terror? This is the behavior of a totalitarian regime.

The authorities controlled the media and did not allow others to run newspapers or TV shows. No one else had the right to speak up. The authorities say whatever they wanted to say. If they said one mu of land [about a sixth of an acre] produced thousands of pounds of grain, then one mu produced thousands of pounds. It’s all lies and forgery. The official media cannot be trusted. Furthermore CCTV has become the authorities’ political tool. If they told you to lie, you had to lie as if it were the truth. They often broadcasted on TV people confessing at public trials and media trials, before the real trial. This violates basic laws of due process.

My own media sources were a little better. You could speak freely, but now even that is not allowed. Many people have been arrested for publishing their opinions, and their words were deleted. My publication was deleted. Only I can see it. The Chinese constitution provides freedom of speech, but we do not even have the freedom to say what we want, so why call it freedom of speech?

ET: How do you think the status quo of China can be changed?

YWS: First of all the people need to wake up. Chinese people today are numb. They only care about protecting themselves. They do not care about others and only consider themselves. They do not consider that Nie Shubin, Jia Jinglong, and Lei Yang [individuals who died at the hands of the authorities for standing up for their rights] were people by our sides. One day we could become the next Nie Shubin, Lei Yang, or Jia Jinglong. At that time, who will help you? If no one speaks up, how can one person face a powerful regime? That is impossible. Only if everyone truly awakens can there be a change in the social system.

There are not many people who have awakened. I would consider myself awakened. Despite not having rushed to the forefront, I was still arrested. The authorities motivated me to rush to the forefront of human rights lawyers, to become a human rights defender.

People must care about politics. Most Chinese people do not care about politics. Many people who are overseas are actually on the periphery. Chinese people in American society have no status. Why? They only care about making money. They do not care about others. If they do not involve themselves in politics, then politics will not care about or consider them, so they will not have any status. Only if everyone cares about politics, cares about others, and protects their own rights can they change society and their own statuses.

People must also learn to think. Why should they give their lives to the Communist Party? Why should they love the Party? Why should they love and thank the government? The government and Party should be thanking the people! The Party did not raise us, give us food to eat, or give us clothes to wear. We gave them food to eat and clothes to wear. If we did not plant crops and manufacture various products, what would they eat and drink? They would have nothing. In the current situation, for every ten pounds of food we produce, they take nine pounds and give us one. Then they say they fed us. How does that make sense?

ET: Can you discuss your relationship with the July 9 incident?

YWS: You mean the July 9 lawyer hunt. I was also caught. On the night of August 6, police broke into my house and arrested me. I was abused within the first 24 hours of being arrested. They limited me from using the restroom, which was very inhumane. I was handcuffed from the back for the first 10 hours. Being handcuffed from the front for the next 14 hours was similar to torture.

Not long after my release, I found out that the two defenders of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was caught in the July 9 Incident, were pressured into declining the case. I searched for Wang’s wife Li Wenzu and told her that I was willing to be his agent. I thus became Wang Quanzhang’s defense lawyer.

I went to Tianjin a dozen times. During the investigation stage I asked to meet Wang. They refused to let us meet using the excuse that it would be endangering national security. However, the police did accept my status as a defense lawyer.

On Aug. 7, 2016, the case was transferred to the Procuratorate, which no longer recognized me as being Wang’s defense lawyer. They forcefully dismissed me with the excuse that Wang Quanzhang had issued statement that he no longer needed a lawyer. According to the law, there must be a written notice in order for the defense lawyer to be forcefully dismissed. We did not see any written notice forcefully dismissing me or lawyer Cheng Hai. The so-called oral statement had no legal effect.

The July 9 Incident could be called a small-scale cultural revolution. In a few days, they began suppressing lawyers and human rights defenders. This kind of thing only ever occurs in fascist countries, yet it happened in China in the 21st century.

Through the efforts of lawyers and their families, the July 9 Incident received international attention. I greatly admire those who “reinforce the fallen” in this line of work. As Wang Quanzhang’s proxy, I made an effort. I need to continue making an effort for Wang to come home earlier. His wife, Li Wenzu, is a strong woman and has received approval from various people in all walks of life around the world. I support and respect everything she does. I am also very happy for Wang Quanzhang for having such a good wife.

ET: Did you look for lawyer Wang Yu?

YWS: In October 2014, I was arrested for supporting the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement. Wang Yu and her husband Bao Hongjun were my defense. They did a lot for me. Without their effort, I might have been sued just like the others. There were 33 people arrested at the time. I was the only person who was released after three months.

The authorities say Wang Yu has now been released, but no one has seen her. I think she may have lost her freedom and may be under house arrest. My wife and I decided that we must go see her and find out what her situation is. We went to her old home in Inner Mongolia but did not find her, which confirms that Wang Yu’s freedom has not been truly restored.

ET: Are you currently being monitored?

YWS: When I was released, the authorities strictly monitored me. There were eyeballs all around. Sometimes I was followed. Now I am used to it and am no longer afraid of being followed or monitored.

I sent this over WeChat: “Two people die within seven steps.” What is there to be afraid of? This is really what I think. Maybe I’m a bit too brave or preoccupied with death for my own good. At least it expresses my mental state: I am fearless and not afraid. However, I really must consider others’ safety. I do not care as much about my own safety.

I once went somewhere to eat with some friends when a police called one of my friends to ask where he was eating and whether he was with sensitive people. The police then told my friend to leave. My friend looked up and saw a camera, so they could clearly see I was eating here. That’s when I realized how many cameras could be mobilized by the authorities. As long as the authorities want to use them, they can, and it’s hard to prevent. There is nowhere safe in China.

ET: How do you protect your wife and children in your current state?

YWS: Before the July 9 Incident, many friends told my wife and children to travel abroad because many lawyers’ family members were often affected. However, my wife did not want to leave me. If I could not escape, she would not accept separation. She wanted to be with me, so she never left.

I did not want to leave either. Staying in China I could still do some things and contribute to the cause of human rights. I would try my best to avoid risks and reduce the danger and worrying brought upon them. My wife and I used special phones so that she could always find me and I could inform her in a timely manner.

However, in today’s China, no one can guarantee true safety. In the face of the authorities, I could not protect my wife and children with my own power. No one can protect anyone else. Thinking back to the so-called “famine” of the 1960s, tens of millions of people starved to death. Who could protect whom? One could not save oneself, let alone one’s family members. Anyone could die of hunger.

Last time, the police broke our house’s lock to arrest me without reason right before my wife and children. Their thinking was if you don’t listen to them, then they will arrest you. They have guns, and in order to maintain their rule, they can kill anyone. They may even take away our lives one day. In the past few decades, there have been too many innocents killed. They are too many to count. It is a number in the tens of millions. They do not care if there are a few more. In their eyes, people’s lives do not matter. Only power matters.

Under the Communist Party’s rule in China, many people who call for democracy would be killed. There are too many: Zhang Zhixin, Lin Zhao, etc. all gave their lives this way. When they first came to power, they killed millions of “counter-revolutionists.” The so-called “famine” starved more than 40 million people to death. The Cultural Revolution killed another few million. After governing for over sixty years, how many unnatural deaths have there been? There is no way to acquire accurate figures.

Due to internal and external efforts, today’s society seems to have improved compared to the past society. However, ever since the 18th Party Congress in 2012, the rule of law in China has deteriorated more and more severely. The authorities can arrest anyone at any time.

Still, the authorities proclaim that there is democracy, freedom, and the rule of law. They wear a democracy as a coat and are afraid to take it off. If that is so, then we should demand it to be fundamentally democratic and protect us with those laws, and we should do things to awaken more people. If everyone awakens, then democracy will naturally appear. Of course, those who walk at the front may pay various costs, up to and including their lives.

As far as I know, all lawyers in the July 9 Incident suffered various kinds of torture in secret, which is the authority’s conventional means for dealing with political prisoners. In order for the authorities to maintain their rule, once you are caught, they force you to yield. Not following their demands will lead to brutal torture. Not yielding will result in a situation where life is worse than death.

If they arrest me again one day, I will calmly face it. If I give up my life, I hope that the international community and citizen defenders will take good care of my wife and children.

Leo Timm contributed to this article.


Zheng Yan