China keeps up the pressure on Maoists, leftists, as Jasic labor activist released

Wu Lijie, also known as Wu Yishan, returns to Henan hometown after three-year jail term.
By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman
China keeps up the pressure on Maoists, leftists, as Jasic labor activist released A group of Jasic Technology workers pose in Mao-era Red Army uniforms to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in a photo taken in July 2021.
Shenzhen Jasic Technology Website

Three years after dozens of Maoist leftists were detained in connection with a labor rights movement at the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen, a top Maoist editor remains in police detention, while one activist has been released after serving a three-year prison term, RFA has learned.

Chai Xiaoming, a former editor at the Maoist website Red Reference, has been in detention since his initial detention on March 21, 2019 by state security police in Nanjing, initially under "residential surveillance at a designated location."

Meanwhile, several people connected to the Maoist faction in the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) told RFA that Wu Lijie, the editor of the Maoist Red Flag Network who is also known as Wu Yishan, was recently released from prison after being sentenced amid a 2018 crackdown on a Maoist-led labor movement at the Jasic Technology factory in the southern city of Shenzhen.

Wu was released on Oct. 22 after serving a three-year sentence and is now back in his hometown in Xinye county in the central province of Henan, a Maoist who gave only the surname Zhang said.

"Wu Yishan got out after three years just recently," Zhang said, using Wu's alternate name. "Another guy, Chai Xiaoming, is still being held in Nanjing Detention Center; he's been there for two years and seven months."

"There was a trial back in August 2020, more than a year ago, but there has been no sentence passed," he said.

Wu was detained after paying a visiting to the young people spearheading the bid to set up an independent trade union at Jasic Technology and the campaigners in Jasic Workers' Solidarity Group (JWSG), many of whom had traveled to Shenzhen to support them.

Little has been heard from others among a group of more than 30 former workers at the Jasic Technology factory in neighboring Guangdong province and the JWSG campaigners.

At least 44 labor activists, students, and recent graduates of China's top universities have been "disappeared" or criminally detained since the nationwide crackdown on the Jasic labor movement, which started in July 2018 and continued with further waves of arrests and detentions in August, September, November, and January.

Among the "disappeared" were Sun Yat-sen University graduate and Jasic movement spokeswoman Shen Mengyu and Peking University #MeToo campaigner Yue Xin.

Former Red Reference editor Shang Kai -- who was supporting the Jasic campaign -- was released on "bail" under conditions preventing him from appearing in public, RFA has learned.

An officer who answered the phone at the Shenzhen municipal police department, which led the operation targeting the activists, declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.

"I don't know anything about this; you need to write to us, and I will find out," the official said.

Call to farmers, workers

According to a Maoist who gave only the surname Chen, Wu Lijie was targeted because the website had posted an article calling on farmers and workers to put their Marxism into practice and rise up against oppression.

"The Red Flag Network did that in 2012, because they are at the bottom of the social hierarchy themselves, so they see a lot of injustice, more than most," Chen told RFA on Wednesday. "They support farmers and workers to stand up for their rights."

"They use a server based in Hong Kong, but they still get blocked every couple of days [by government censors]," he said. "By the end of the Jasic campaign, [Wu Lijie] had expressed solidarity with the [movement] and also donated money to them."

"That was why they had to take him down."

Chen said most of the university graduates who had supported the campaign were dealt with fairly leniently, being subjected to "stability maintenance" measures that typically include release on "bail," police restrictions on contact with fellow activists and the media, and surveillance.

The activists who were prosecuted and jailed were mostly workers who had played a role in defending labor rights, he said. He said Wu Lijie, as a former migrant worker, fell into that category.

"He was arrested because of [Jasic], but they actually sentenced him for the crime of 'illegal business operations'," Chen told RFA.

Chai's detention came after a March 20 article on the website suggesting that China could take "a different path to modernization."

Chai, 43, is a prominent writer on the left of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s political spectrum, and a former lecturer on Marxism at Peking University, which reports directly to the highest levels of the Chinese leadership.

'Stability maintenance'

Wu's release comes after authorities in the eastern province of Shandong detained Maoist activists ahead of the CCP centenary celebrations on July 1, 2021, Taiwanese media reported.

Police in Shandong's Jining city ran a nationwide operation targeting leftwingers in a bid to "maintain stability" ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary, Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) quoted sources as saying at the time.

Among them was Maoist dissident Ma Houzhi, 77, who was released from a 10-year jail term in 2019. A retired Qufu Normal University professor, Ma was jailed for setting up a Chinese Maoist Communist Party, defying a ban on the registration of new political parties under the CCP.

Other prominent leftists including Liu Qingfeng, Fu Mingxiang, Hu Jiahong, Nie Jubao, and Wu Ronghua were also detained. Most of them are under 30, CNA said.

The most recent detentions came after the CCP canceled a conference of prominent Maoist ideologists slated for May 16, the anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), suggesting that CCP leader Xi Jinping is unwilling to allow the faction to increase its power base in a possible challenge to his "core" leadership.

China's Maoist left straddles the established party and unofficial activism alike, and, as such, isn't an entirely controllable quantity.

While many commentators have noted an apparent shift towards political practices and ideological tropes that echo the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) under late supreme leader Mao Zedong in recent years, it appears that Xi is unwilling to allow actual Maoists free rein under his rule.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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