This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong, who is currently on the run from state security police after a crackdown on a gathering of pro-democracy and rights activists in December, has called on President Xi Jinping to step down.
Xu, who has already served jail time for his spearheading of the New Citizens’ Movement anti-corruption campaign, offered a number of pieces of “advice” to Xi in the letter, hitting out at his human rights record and his use of violence to “maintain stability.”
“Where are you taking China? Towards democracy or dictatorship? Modernization or the Cultural Revolution?” the letter said.
In the Feb. 4 letter, Xu says Xi is “mad for power,” but lacks the ability to govern China, citing the public perception of his “belt and road” infrastructure project and the economic damage done by the Sino-U.S. trade war.
“[You] are not a politician, because you don’t actually have any ideas, or a clear direction in which you want to take this country,” Xu wrote. “Under the banner of the so-called Chinese Dream and National Rejuvenation, you have distorted the market economy.”
“On the one hand you talk about modernization, but on the other, you insist that the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party must run everything,” he said.
“I am willing to play the role of the child in the Emperor’s New Clothes, and ask you not to go against the tide, but to take a rest,” Xu wrote, in a reference to Xi’s resignation.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said Xu’s understanding of the evil done by the current political system is thoroughgoing.
“Xu Zhiyong is a lawyer by training, and he a fervent supporter of … democratic and constitutional government and fully democratic elections,” he said. “These are fairly moderate universal values, and yet the Communist Party still sees him as subversive.”
Hu said he agreed with Xu’s letter, and suggested that it didn’t go far enough.
“I also wrote an open letter in 2012 … and since then we have had total Maoification,” Hu said. “The things [Xu] wrote are pretty moderate. Xi Jinping should be tried in international courts for crimes against humanity.”
Sulaiman Gu, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, said it is remarkable that Xu is still issuing advice to China’s president while being on the run from police, especially as he has already served time in jail for his outspokenness.
But Gu said the centralization of power in Xi’s hands isn’t an aberration under the current political system.
“The Xi Jinping dictatorship isn’t a betrayal of the system; it’s the product of it,” Gu said. “You shouldn’t have to flee to the furthest corners of the country … to act like a free citizen.”
Dozens of people linked in some way to the New Citizens’ Movement group have been detained and jailed in recent years.
Xu Zhiyong was handed a four-year jail term in January 2014 on public order charges after staging a street protest calling for greater transparency from the country’s richest and most powerful people.
Xu also penned a New Year’s message to China’s citizens in 2020, calling on them to think about whether they want to carry on with an authoritarian government or movement towards democratic constitutionalism, an idea that President Xi Jinping has said has no place in his vision for China.
“We are sadly seeing that the Chinese economy is deteriorating, while the stability maintenance regime is depleting national wealth accumulated over more than three decades, and stagnation and poverty are looming,” Xu wrote.
“China cannot go on like this. Think about it, people! What kind of China do we want to leave for future generations?”