HONG KONG—The arrest of a prominent blogger and former university professor on state subversion charges has sparked a wider investigation into an opposition party he claimed had 10 million members among the country's most disgruntled citizens.
The first signs of the authorities' concerns surfaced Tuesday in the southwestern province of Yunnan, just days after Nanjing police formally arrested blogger Guo Quan for "subversion of state power."
Two police officers visited the Kunming home of retired university lecturer and civil rights activist Wei Wenying, questioning her for three hours about her relationship with the former Nanjing University professor.
From the point of view of the Party, he was really getting ahead of himself. He acted as if there really is as much freedom of speech as there is claimed to be."
Retired member of the Chinese military
They also asked about the opposition New People's Party, which Guo founded Dec. 17 to represent anyone petitioning the government and the ruling Communist Party for social justice in land disputes, forced evictions, and allegations of official wrongdoing.
"They wanted me to tell them about the nature of my relationship with Guo Quan, how I contacted him, did my home have a computer, did I know how to get online," Wei said in an interview.
"I haven't got a computer and I don't know how to get online. I haven't had any contact with Guo Quan, and he hasn't contacted me. I never supplied him with any documents and I've only spoken a few words to him," she said.
"They put these same questions to me over and over again in different ways, 100 times. They asked me if I knew Guo Quan had set up the New People's Party. I said, 'the what party?' I said, 'is that the same party as the party of Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan?'"
The officers returned Tuesday at 9 a.m. and took Wei to the police station, questioning her for 10-1/2 hours, finally releasing her at 7:30 p.m. They asked the same questions, Wei said. She refused to sign a record of the interview with her fingerprint.
"The whole thing sent my blood pressure sky-high, and I had an irregular heart-rate with chest pains. I couldn't sleep that night, or eat anything," she said.
Sources said police had interrogated a number of people simultaneously in the wake of Guo's arrest. Police told some people that Wei's name had come up during Guo's interrogation, but Wei said someone could have faked their alleged correspondence.
Guo was fired from Nanjing Normal University on Dec. 6 last year for allegedly violating its constitution and rules on the conduct of faculty.
On Dec. 14, he was expelled from the Communist-approved token opposition group Democratic Parties and Factions, and on Dec. 17 he announced the founding of the New People's Party, with himself as chairman.
The main focus of the party was petitioners, and Guo claimed a membership of 10 million dispossessed ordinary people, including petitioners and former military personnel.
At the time, he wrote that the party's platform was to represent ordinary people and to stand for a multi-party political system, including social welfare benefits and private property rights protection.
Afterwards, Guo updated his "Cutting Edge of Democracy" Web site almost daily, with a total of 347 articles posted by the time it was closed by the authorities.
One academic said the estimated membership of the New People's Party was hard to verify.
"There is little information about the party other than what came from Guo Quan himself, so perhaps that figure might not have much substance. I think that it is unlikely in the current political climate in China. I think it's a party that exists theoretically, as opposed to an organization which really exists."
Civil rights activist Huang Xiaomin said Guo was trying to pull together and unite retired military personnel and elitist intellectuals from within the system. "That was the backbone of the organization," he said.
"But I have no idea how they went about organizing any activities. I never asked. I think it'll be hard to find another person like him with such strong political convictions, such a strong political identity."
A retired member of China's military said: "From the point of view of the Party, he was really getting ahead of himself. He acted as if there really is as much freedom of speech as there is claimed to be."
The last known attempt by Chinese political activists to set up an opposition party ended in December 1998 with the sentencing of China Democracy Party (CDP) founders to lengthy jail terms.
Zhejiang dissident Wang Youcai, Wuhan-based Qin Yongmin, and Beijing-based Xu Wenli were sentenced respectively to 11, 12, and 13 years in prison on charges of “instigation to subvert state power."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.