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Punishing youthful enthusiasm

Correction: In 2003, HRIC erroneously reported that Jin Haike, Xu Wei, Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai were charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” The actual charge was “subversion of state power.” The correction has been made in this press release.

Jin Haike, Xu Wei, Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai on trial


On September 28, 2001, Xu Wei, Yang Zili, Jin Haike and Zhang Honghai were tried by the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court on charges of “subversion of state power.” The four founded a study group, the New Youth Society, with the aim of exchanging ideas on how to change Chinese society.

Jin Haike, 25, completed a degree in geophysics at Chinese Geological University in 1998. He later found work at the Geological Survey Institute. Xu Wei, 27, worked as a reporter and editor for the Consumer Daily newspaper. In 1999, he graduated from Beijing Normal University with a doctorate in philosophy. Both Jin and Xu were stripped of their CCP membership after their detention. Yang Zili, 29, graduated from Beijing University with a master’s in mechanics. He later found work at China Software Company, before leaving to establish his own Web site, Home of Yang’s Ideas. Zhang Honghai, 27, is a graduate of the Beijing Broadcasting Institute. He became a freelance writer after graduation.

During their years at university, all four men demonstrated intense interest in the political future of the PRC. The New Youth Society paid particular attention to the village elections, and on a number of different occasions, members of the group visited various rural townships to observe the more democratic voting procedures being used to elect village committees in some areas. The group also organized free training for teachers in schools set up to cater for the children of migrants in Beijing, and made teaching materials available for their use. The Society also organized investigative tours in rural areas for groups of fellow students, and published articles about their conclusions on the Internet.

The main focus of the prosecution’s case against the four was some of the group’s writings. As seen in the indictment, a translation of which is presented below, and the case presented in court, as reported by family members, the Beijing Procuratorate cited two in particular: “Be a new citizen, reform China” and “What’s to be done.” The authorities argued these mapped out a blueprint for overthrowing the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the socialist system and the “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

On March 13, 2001, Xu, Yang, Jin and Zhang were detained, either at their homes or at work, on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” Yang’s wife, Lu Kunye, was also detained after leaving home for work, and held for three days. On April 20, the four men were formally arrested by the Beijing State Security Bureau.

As is common in political cases, the authorities failed to fulfill their obligation to notify detainees’ families within 24 hours, or to inform them of the arrests. Three days after his formal arrest, Yang’s parents were finally notified of the charges against him. After Jin’s work unit told him his son was missing, Jin’s father was trying to ascertain his whereabouts until April 25, when he saw Jin’s name on a list of recent arrests by State Security. This list was also the way the families of Xu and Zhang discovered their status. All defendants’ families received the indictment on September 19, less than 10 days before the trial.

Although the trial was supposed to be public, initially the court only granted three individuals access. Family members arrived early to obtain audit permits, but were told that no more were being handed out. The defendants’ lawyers intervened and insisted that the families have access, and they were finally allowed into the courtroom. The proceedings took place in an extremely cramped room, with only 10 seats for observers. Besides three family members, only two other individuals were granted access, and the rest of the seats were occupied by officials.

Three of the men were represented by lawyers, Zhang had no legal representation. Xu’s lawyer, Zhu Jiuhu, and Yang’s lawyer, Xu Wanlin, argued that none of the actions of the defendants constituted subversion of state power, since they were not tangible actions taken to subvert state power, but only the expression of ideas. Xu Wanlin argued that the four never formulated a joint viewpoint or program, or planned unified actions to subvert the power of the Chinese state. Subversion was not the objective of the New Youth Society as an organization, the defendants said. As Xu Wei put it, “The New Youth Society is a study group, an organization with the purpose of facilitating the exchange of ideas. We had many members who were also CCP members. Would Party members seek to overthrow and subvert their own power?”

Jin’s lawyer Liu Dongbin challenged the validity of some of the testimony for the prosecution, arguing that since the witnesses in question had originally been involved in the same case, their evidennce was tainted.

In response to this point, one of the judges yelled, “The testimony presented here in this courtroom is the court’s business, not yours.”

The prosecution stated that the defendants had held secret meetings to promote the aims of their organization at Beijing University and People’s University on a number of occasions. All defendants denied this, saying that their meetings were convened in public places. For example, when meetings were held at People’s University, they were in the cafeteria.

The defendants rejected the prosecution’s claim that they sought to reform China’s political system and promote what they called the “liberalization” of Chinese society. Yang said, “The task of ‘liberalizing society’ in no way implies an intention to subvert state power. When we speak of freedom and liberalization, we believe such changes come about through a process of reform. Can’t the last 20 years of reform and opening up be considered a way of liberalizing China through a reform policy?” At this point, a prosecution witness interrupted Yang, asserting that the New Youth Society’s concept of liberalization refers to a US-style separation of powers. Yang continued, “I personally respect the US system in which the three powers are separated. I also feel that the United States embraces a more idealistic form of society, but this is only my theoretical opinion. This does not mean that the intention of our organization was to change Chinese society to fit that model.”

All four also rejected the government’s assertion that they had set up branches across the country, through publishing articles on the Internet, establishing Web sites and distributing other forms of information.They said the branches had only been in the planning stages, and they had never been actually established. The organization’s Web site, mentioned in the prosecution’s case, had never been set up. Zhang Honghai said, “Nothing in the prosecution case shows that the four of us planned to subvert state power. We didn’t even have the 300 yuan we needed to start up the Web site. How can this constitute subverting state power?”

The prosecution asserted that the articles the group put on the Internet, including “Be a new citizen, reform China” and “What’s to be done,” accused China of “practicing a fake form of democracy,” demanded “an end to the outdated system” and declared their intention to establish “a new China.” The defendants complained that their words were being taken out of context, as is common in such political trials. “You cannot selectively read only certain parts of written materials. If you want to analyze every sentence and every word, then there is nothing we can say,” said Jin Haike.

After a four-hour hearing, the court recessed without announcing a verdict.

Compiled by Cai Jiquan and translated by Joseph Chaney.