Liu Bai: The Trial of Zhao Dong-min and China’s Political Reform

[This article was published by Revolutionary Frontlines and details the struggles of contemporary Maoist activists in China. - RI Ed.]

[Update: On October 20 Zhao was sentenced to three years in jail for “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”]

The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party has been challenged from both the Right and the Left. These challenges have become more open and vocal. The Right has been pushing for political reform that will change China’s Constitution to allow a multi-party Western style democracy. This is the movement behind the 08 Charter. Liu Xiao Bo, who was recently given the Nobel Peace Prize, is one of the leaders of this movement.

The Left has rallied to support Mao Zedong Thought. The growing number of memorials held in September in many parts of the country on the 34th anniversary of Mao’s death demonstrated their strength. In these memorials the masses and their leaders demanded that Yuan Teng-fei be stripped of his Party membership. Yuan has been openly denouncing the Chinese Communist Party, socialism, and viciously attaching Chairman Mao. The Communist Party is trying to find a way out through some kind of political reform. The arrest and recent trial of Zhao Dong-min has led to support from the Left and has further intensified the crisis faced by the Communist Party.

Mourners follow the coffin of Deng Yongxia, wife of detained labor activist Zhao Dongmin. Deng Yongxia died of the auto-immune disorder lupus on Aug. 31, never having been allowed to visit Zhao in the detention center.

Zhao Dong-min is a Communist Party member and has a law degree from a corresponding school (of the Party School) in Shaanxi. Before his arrest in August 2009 he worked for many years providing legal services to many workers to resolve issues such as unpaid pensions and loss of other benefits. He did this as a volunteer without any compensation. Zhao also served as the temporary coordinator of the Mao Zedong Thought Study Group in Xian, Shaanxi until his arrest.

Zhao’s work was to protect workers’ fundamental rights according to China’s Constitution, the Party Charter and the union’s laws and regulations. He investigated cases where enterprises were sold illegally and deprived workers of benefits due to them. Zhao Dong-min believes that the unions in factories should play a more active role in protecting workers’ rights and should make sure that management does not take advantage of the workers illegally.

On June 15 and then on June 25 of 2009 Zhao took some workers to visit the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions and submitted an open letter drafted by Zhao on behalf of more than 160 workers from more than 10 enterprises. The open letter – from Shaanxi retired and laid-off workers– to the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions reported on the sale of three State owned restaurants. The Shaanxi Tourist Group Corporation sold assets totaling 680 million RMB of these restaurants cheaply. According to Zhao it violated the interests of the State as well as workers who worked in these restaurants. When Zhao and the workers brought the open letter to the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions and asked for support they were at first well received by the Federation.

Then on August 19, 2009 Zhao Dong-min was illegally and secretly arrested by the local authority in Shaanxi and has been detained until now. On September 25, 2010 the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions sued Zhao Dong-min for “disturbing the public order.” On the opening day of the trial several people from Henan and other provinces held a demonstration outside of the courthouse. They were quickly taken away. There were more than 120 police cars and 1000 policemen stationed outside of the courthouse. Zhao’s father and older brother were among the few people that were allowed into the courthouse.

Zhao’s father wrote a long letter afterwards saying  that during the trial the Federation grossly distorted the facts. Zhao’s father is 76 years old and has been a Communist Party member for nearly 60 years. In his letter Zhao’s father also told the sad story of his son’s family since the arrest. Zhao Dong-min’s wife fell ill from worrying about him and later died. The Shaanxi authority repeatedly refused requests from the family for Zhao’s temporary release to see his dying wife. Zhao Dong-min’s two sons are now without parents. The older son has suffered chronic headaches and the younger son is only three years old.

While waiting for the outcome of the trial to be announced on October 25th many articles appeared online supporting Zhao. The authors of these articles asked many legitimate questions. They said that Zhao Dong-min was doing the work that should have been done by the unions. Instead of showing its gratitude to Zhao, the union took him to court. Such injustice has angered many people, especially the workers.

Some people in the legal profession have also spoken openly against the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions and the local authority in Xian, Shaanxi. A support group was first formed in Beijing including several old Party members and the heads of two well-known Leftist websites (the Utopia Website and the Worker’s Study Website[1]).

Then a group named Yu-Tai initiated mass support for Zhao.  Within a short time support groups from different parts of the country were formed and sent in support letters. Many of these letters were signed by the workers, the unemployed as well as people in other occupations.

By October 10 support letters have come from groups in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Shandong, Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi, Ningxia, Hebei, Shaanxi, cities of Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanchang, Shenzhen, Jilin, Harbin, Luoyang, Changzhou and others.

The letters listed their demands. The demands stated in the letter from the Hunan support group are quite representative. They are as follows:

  1. We ask that comrade Zhao Dong-min be released immediately and the financial loss he has suffered be compensated.
  2. We ask the local authority in Shaanxi to apologize to Zhao Dong-min and to the people of our nation as a whole. The local authority needs to admit the mistakes it made and guarantee that no such unreasonable incident will ever occur again.
  3. We ask the central government to launch an investigation into the departments and those in charge in the Shaanxi provincial government and to identify and discharge those officials that were responsible.
  4. We ask the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions will use this opportunity to start its reform. It could serve as an experiment for the national “political reform.” The reform could help unions reach a breakthrough ending its financial dependence on government. When unions receive their financial support from the workers’ dues, then they will be clear who they should be serving.
  5. In the spirit of “free association” guaranteed by the Constitution, workers should have the right to organize their own unions and elect their own union representatives.

Among the demands (requests) of different groups, the demand for the Party to take away Yuan Teng-fei’s membership was also included.

On October 12th Bai Young wrote an article entitled, “Zhao Dong-min’s Incident and the Unity of the Masses.” In this article Bai Young quoted a well-know author, Tien Zhong-guo, and said that the arrest and trial of Zhao Dong-min reflected the current struggle between the two classes, between the two lines, and between the two roads. Bai Young then said that Zhao Dong-min’s case is the focal point in the struggle between those who believe in revisionism and capitalism and those who believe in Marxism and socialism. It is an important political struggle that clearly divides people along the two lines.

Bai Young also quoted Zhao Dong-min and said the Zhao wants to be the match that will light the dry wood to burn the dark, corrupted, selfish, and greedy capitalist reformers of the past 30 some years. These reformers have led China to extreme political corruption, gross social injustice, and the collapse of our beliefs. Some of those in control of the political power have become reactionaries in opposition to the broad masses of the Chinese people. Bai Young quoted the title of Mao’s article  “A Single Spark Can Cause a Prairie Fire,” and said that Zhao has served the people and is now willing to become the spark to light the dry wood that will burn darkness and corruption. He said that the responses all over the country in support of Zhao show that the Chinese people who have suffered so much in the past 30 years after the revisionists restored capitalism have awakened and have begun to revolt. From now on the reactionaries will have no peace! Bai Young said that all the people who support Zhao have done so according to China’s Constitution, and Party members who support Zhao are obeying the Communist Party Charter and upholding the flag of Mao Zedong.

The Chinese Communist Party, therefore, must reconcile the contradiction it faces. On the one hand, the Constitution continues to claim that China is a socialist country, and the Party Charter continues to claim that the Party upholds the principles of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong Thought. However, these claims do not reflect reality. The Right sees that the capitalist economic reform is now complete and there needs to be a corresponding capitalist political structure. They are calling for a political reform that will eliminate Marxism and socialism from the Constitution and make the political structure more in line with China’s reality. Such a reform will free them from the remaining political restrictions.

On the other hand the Left wants the Party to get rid off those in the Party who support capitalist reform. The Left, of course, knows that would be practically everybody in power. However, the case of Zhao Dong-min is forcing the authorities to either support a real communist who serves the interests of the workers or support those who arrested Zhao and put him on trial. In the letters sent from different organized groups we can see that this is a head-on confrontation. Many people have said that this is a test to see who are the real communists and who are the fake communists.

Then another article entitled “The Political Reform of the Capitalist Reformers, even if it Succeeds, is a Dead End Street” by Lao Feng appeared. According to Lao Feng the political reform of the capitalists is near complete. He wants people to pay attention to the reform and the direction in which it is headed. He says that the reformers propose changes in the Constitution to enlarge the power of the People’s Congress. Some people regard this change as positive, but Lao Feng says that the People’s Congress has already been fundamentally changed. Delegates to the People’s Congress now are all elites, business owners, and bureaucrats. He asks, “How can any of them represent the interests of ordinary people?” Therefore, what is the use of enlarging the number of delegates to the People’s Congress?

On a positive note Lao Feng says that the political reform advocated by the Right will eventually fail. The reason is that the capitalist economic reform has already failed, but the Right is blaming the failure on the outdated political system. If the Right succeeds in their political reform, the capitalist system will continue to falter and by then they will have nothing else to blame.

The Left in China is using the Constitution, the Party Charter and the rules and regulations of the union to challenge the authority of the Party. They want to protect Zhao Dong-min, a real communist who serves the people and use it as a test case to show the difference between real communists and fake communists. The dichotomy between the Constitution, the Party Charter and the union’s laws and regulations and China’s reality will provide a lot of room for the Left to carry on legal struggles.

Online readers have left many comments and they are most interesting. Some of them are really long. Here are a few short examples.

  • Unions are the running dogs of the government and the traitors of workers.
  • Zhao Dong-min is a people’s lawyer.
  • Firmly support Zhao Dong-min. We want justice for Zhao Dong-min. Firmly defeat modern revisionism. Firmly defeat the capitalists in power.
  • When the bourgeoisie have their democracy and freedom, the workers and the peasants lose our democracy and freedom. This is the truth.
  • The economic base determines the superstructure. The new bourgeoisie have established their economic power and they must demand a corresponding political power. A new struggle has begun.
  • The delegates to the People’s Congress from our village are all business owners. I have heard that if you have money, you can buy a delegate seat.
  • The reform is hanging a sheep head but selling dog meat. After the political reform there is no need to hang a sheep head anymore. We are told to be harmonious and not to struggle.  The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. The oppressed people must unite and fight back.
  • We have reached a point that we can endure no more.
  • I support the movement of protecting our Constitution. All people who oppose the oppression of the bourgeoisie should come and join the movement. For all China’s proletariat and those truly believe in Mao Zedong Thought it is time to stand up and urgently demand Yuan Teng-fei’s Party membership be taken away and Zhao Dong-min’s rights be protected.

Among the reader’s comments there was a report of an extreme case of abuse of power by a contracting company in Sichuan that caused the death of a migrant worker and another worker to be wounded. This is a government construction project contracted to a private company to rebuild houses damaged during the earthquake. This happened in Chengdu around 6:00 in the afternoon of October 11. A group of workers came to the site of the construction project to ask the contracting company to pay the wages due to them. As a rule this kind of construction project withholds 80% of workers’ wages until the project is completed. However, the workers usually receive some cash to cover their living expenses. This company promised workers a weekly cash payment of 200 RMB, but they only paid the workers 100 RMB in ten or 15 days. The workers who were at the construction site asked that their living expenses be paid but the management sent out 4-5 goons and started to stab workers with their knives. A worker named Lei was stabbed many times, and when he arrived in the hospital he was declared dead. Another worker was wounded and is currently out of danger.

Workers went to the hospital to retrieve Lei’s body and then brought his body to where he was stabbed and held a memorial. Lei’s sister was also there. Workers circled around Lei’s body to prevent it from being taken away. Then at 3:00 in the morning 100 policemen came in their protective gear, grabbed Lei’s body and drove away. The workers and Lei’s sister tried to block the police but were overwhelmed by the their large numbers. The next morning a large number of workers and some city residents gathered at the intersections of some key roads and blocked  traffic until noon.

Cases of grossly injustice like this one occur every day at many locations in China. Indeed people are standing up and the reactionaries will have no peace!


[1] This website was closed down by the government in the summer for its role in supporting the Honda strike workers.

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