The Blog

China's CDP, Fighting for Democracy

11:10 AM, Jun 30, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Last week Chinese authorities released Zha Jianguo, vice chairman of the Beijing-Tianjin branch of the outlawed China Democracy Party (CDP). Zha had served out a nine-year prison sentence for "subverting state power." Last week also marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of Zha's party.

During a period of political thaw known as the "new Beijing Spring," the CDP attempted to officially register with the Chinese government. In March 1998, China announced its intention to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving hope to the country's political activists. Grossly overestimating the government's tolerance for dissent, on June 25, 1998--as then-president Clinton began his nine-day state visit to China--CDP members in the eastern province of Zhejiang signed and posted on the Internet a declaration announcing the establishment of the party's local preparatory committee. It stated:

All political power can come only from the public and can only be [used] in the service of the public; a government can only come into being according to the wishes of the public and [can only] act according to the wishes of the public; a government is the servant of the public and not the one which controls it.

The crackdown on the CDP began shortly after Clinton's visit ended. Undeterred, CDP members, including Zha Jianguo, continued their efforts to form what would have been the first opposition party in China since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. By December 1998, when three key figures of the movement--Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai, and Qin Yongmin--were tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, CDP branches or preparatory committees had been set up in more than 20 provinces throughout the country.

The arrest and jailing of CDP supporters continued well into 2000. More than 30 current or former CDP members remain in prison or in reeducation-through-labor camps, their names fading from the pages of international media as more attention-grabbing headlines dominate the landscape. Zha Jianguo, for instance, had disappeared from the list of Chinese political prisoners published annually by human rights groups. As Zha's sister lamented in a moving tribute to him published in The New Yorker last year, "the world has moved on."

But Zha Jianguo had long ago recognized that his conduct was placing him at great personal risk. In an interview with foreign media six months before his arrest in July 1999, Zha had this to say:

Democracy is a process, and in that process a small number of people will be sacrificed. We want to use our sacrifice to arouse the people, and we believe that sacrifice is worthwhile.