NEW YORK—Tucked away in a typical brick building, a small office marked only with a cobalt blue banner and a small yellow sign on the exterior, has been unusually busy.
About a month or two ago, a flood of requests started pouring in to the nonprofit Global Tuidang Center, a volunteer-run organization headquartered in Flushing, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens, New York, which coordinates efforts for Chinese who wish to renounce their ties with the ruling regime in China. The center has more than 100 branches globally.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, people have kept coming for the certificates,” Yi Rong, the center’s director, said in a recent interview.
Literally meaning “Quitting the Party,” Tuidang is a grassroots movement that has steadily gained appeal among the global overseas Chinese community since 2004, fueled by the publication of the Chinese-language Epoch Times’ editorial series, “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.”
In recent months, as the United States hardened its China policy—due to disputes over Beijing’s handling of the pandemic, human rights abuses, and trade practices—the movement has picked up steam.
From July to September, the number of people who renounced their ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its affiliate organizations was over 4 million. Since 2004, a total of more than 365 million have done so, according to the Tuidang Center’s records.
China currently has more than 91.9 million active Party members, but that number does not include the Young Pioneers—an organization for which membership is compulsory for virtually all primary school students—and the Youth League, an organization for middle and high school students.
From mainland China, requests have notably shot up compared to past years. Many have inquired about obtaining digital certificates, which the organization began offering in August after an influx of requests, said Tom Tang, a volunteer at the New York center.
What prompted these Chinese citizens’ decisions varies. Some fear that their Party membership may pose a potential hurdle on their path to immigration, as U.S. laws prohibit members of communist parties from obtaining an immigrant visa. The Tuidang Center’s certificates are recognized by U.S. immigration officers, Yi said.
Yi recalled one person who recently flew from mainland China to New York specifically for the certificate.
“I just want to pick up the certificate before getting back [to China],” Yi recalled him saying.
The recent uptick has corresponded with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issuing an alert reiterating its policy of barring Communist Party members.
Several days after the alert, on Oct. 9, a woman surnamed Xie visited the Tuidang Center requesting a certificate for her husband, who is currently awaiting an immigration visa interview at the U.S. consulate in Guangdong Province in China’s southeast.
Her husband had worked in a state-run firm in China. Like his coworkers, he joined the CCP for the career benefits, she told The Epoch Times. Concerned about the growing U.S.–China rift, her daughter, a U.S. citizen, had suggested he make a formal Party withdrawal.
For others, the gesture is a symbolic stance to distance themselves from the regime’s wrongdoings.
Wang Han, a graduate student in data analytics at the University of Southern California, wrote a statement in May to withdraw from the Young Pioneers, the Chinese communist organization for primary school students, which he had joined as a child.
Wang, originally from Hangzhou city, has read about China’s contemporary history and found that the “Party doctrine could not explain away” its attempted whitewashing of wrongdoing.
While he “never had a favorable impression of the CCP,” the massive Hong Kong protests last year and the regime’s outbreak response were the final straw, he said. When he came across Chinese commentators sharing their views about the Tuidang movement on YouTube, he decided that it was “time to draw the line,” the 23-year-old said in a phone interview.
Among his circle of Chinese friends in school, many hold negative views of the regime—though few want to risk the repercussions of sharing their thoughts openly, he said. A good majority, himself included, don’t want to go back to their home country.
If China’s affluent must choose between the free world and the authoritarian Chinese regime, “the choice would be obvious,” he said.
Yang Li, a San Francisco volunteer who helps man the Tuidang hotline, pays close attention to the emotion in the callers’ voices, such as anger or confusion. Those in the latter category often come with specific questions about the Party that could stretch the conversation to over 40 minutes, she said.
High officials have called too: In late May, as Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature convened its annual plenary sessions, a delegate called and asked to withdraw from the Party, saying that he has “seen enough of the regime’s evil deeds.” Choking back tears, he shared about the time he led a team of medics to assist Wuhan during the COVID-19 outbreak’s early stages, and the deaths he saw there. He said he met with whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang there, who was punished for sharing the news about the virus. Li told Yang he “regretted being a Party member.”
Some high-profile officials have recently withdrawn publicly from the CCP, including Li Chuanliang, a former deputy mayor of Jixi city in northeastern Heilongjiang Province who recently defected to the United States.
One person from Guangdong called in October with a list of 53 people who wanted to quit the CCP’s affiliated organizations. About one or two months ago, another from Zhejiang Province supplied names of over 30 acquaintances who wished to quit. She said she was compelled to tell them about the Tuidang movement upon reading a booklet about the regime’s persecution of the spiritual group Falun Gong.
The hotline has also recently seen a spike in spam calls from paid Chinese trolls, known as the 50-cent army. These calls often contain a lot of background noise, and the callers hurl insults nonstop, Yang said. “They keep dialing to keep the phone lines busy, so that those who really want to register Party withdrawals can’t reach us.”
One time, a Chinese police officer phoned in and threatened to track Yang down and arrest her. “I’m in the United States. How would you arrest me?” Yang responded. The officer quickly stopped talking.
Yang, who has had many similar encounters throughout her years of manning the hotline, blamed such attitudes on the CCP’s ideological brainwashing. When another officer from Dongguan city, Guangdong, gave similar threats, she replied by refuting CCP talking points one by one. The officer became quiet and said he would “think it over carefully.”
A little while later, he called back. “I know what to do now,” he told Yang.