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The Real China and the Rule of Law

[Editor:The following is a speech that Yongfeng Peng gave on October 1, 2015, at a presentation titled, “The Future of Human Rights in China.” Peng is a lawyer who practiced in China before coming to the United States. He currently works for the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington, D.C.]

You probably have read from newspapers that China has been moving towards the rule-of-law. Trust me, it is not true at all.

In fact, China is not even moving towards rule-by-law.

The first thing I want to tell you is that China has been ruled by lies.

Many would argue with me: there have been many new laws made in China. That is true, and a lot of people will continue to be attracted by China’s new laws. For instance, a few months ago, a draft cyber-security law showed up online and many Westerners started to analyze: what will happen in China? What will Chinese authorities’ next step be?

Here I want to tell you, that is precisely what the Chinese government wants the Western countries to focus on, to see how China is making new laws, and to believe China is making progress towards the rule-of-law.

I used to believe that too. My personal experience, however, showed me a completely different reality.

My very first client (as an attorney in China) was an English teacher from South Africa. A broker company arranged for her to come to China to teach in a middle school in Hubei Province. She was shocked to find that the package was totally different from the contract she had signed. She wanted to back out, but she was stiffly refused. I thought this was a simple contract dispute. How naïve I was!

To make a long story short, the owner of the broker company was an official in the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Foreign Experts, an agency overseeing education exchange programs. Imagine an official in the U.S. Department of Transportation owning a car dealership, and you will understand the situation. The company receives fees from schools in China seeking foreign teachers and foreign teachers seeking jobs in China. By misrepresenting the schools to the teachers and vise versa, the company can earn more commissions. You see how problems can easily arise? Yet, who would dare to go after the company whose owner could take away licenses from those schools as well as those foreign teachers?

What could I do? None of my lawyer skills could help. So I told my client not to say a word, and just keep crying in the principle’s office. Eventually the principal asked my client to pay a small fine and released her. You may all think this was unfair to my client, but I tell you she was lucky.

My next case was even more shocking. I have heard about the police, the procurators, the judges, and lawyers banding and trading together to frame and trap their clients, but I never thought I would run into such a situation.

I was representing a client who believed that three suspects murdered his son. With little investigation and before the murder weapon was found, the police, the procurators, and the judges convicted one suspect to the death penalty but gave the other two very light sentences. My client’s family believed that it was the result of massive bribery. They appealed against the sentencing and insisted on finding out the truth.

One day, the judge called me to his office, and the president of the criminal court was also there. They asked me to persuade my client to withdraw his appeal and accept the court’s decision. If my client agreed, not only would he receive extra compensation for his son’s death, but also the court would steer more cases to me.

At that point, I had to believe that there had indeed been massive bribery to fix the outcome of the case. How else could the court give my client extra compensation?

I was also shocked by how blatant the court was in seeking my cooperation.

I was shocked, however, because I was naïve. Later I would learn that the conspiracy of police, procurators, judges, and lawyers is the norm rather than the exception. Those lawyers who have a close relationship with the police, procurators and judges, could get many more cases than those who did not. Their connections could win better settlements for their clients and earn themselves higher legal fees. But are they lawyers or prostitutes?

So I considered non-litigation practice, like legal consultant, corporation, and commercial services. However I found out that even in non-litigation legal work, those lawyers with special connections to the court prevail.

I began to seriously doubt myself for being a lawyer, “Am I practicing law?” It felt like I was practicing anything but law.

All these changed when one day I met a gentleman who told me about lawyer Gao Zhisheng and other human rights lawyers in China, their work, and the danger they faced. He gave me some software that enabled me to break through the Chinese Communist Party’s Internet blockade. He also asked me: “Will you defend Falun Gong practitioners like Gao Zhisheng does?”

The software he gave me opened up a new world for me. The information I was able to access outside the CCP’s control was so refreshing that I often felt like crying. I felt my teachers, classmates, friends, and even my family members had all deceived me. They all told me lies. But I realized that they too have all been lied to. The whole nation has been forced to accept the CCP’s lies year after year, and no one knew the whole picture.

When I read the stories about Gao Zhisheng and his defense of Falun Gong practitioners, I couldn’t help crying. I cried for Falun Gong practitioners’ courage in insisting on their belief in Truth-Benevolence-Forbearance and I cried for Gao Zhisheng’s courage to defend Falun Gong.

I told myself I had no choice but to defend Falun Gong practitioners!

Defending Falun Gong practitioners made me feel like I was genuinely practicing law, for the law is supposed to protect the good people.

Defending Falun Gong practitioners made me understand the true meaning of being unselfish. Despite my best effort, I was not able to win a single Falun Gong case. No human rights lawyer has ever won a single Falun Gong case, yet Falun Gong practitioners have spent 200 million Yuan on hiring lawyers. I have asked my Falun Gong practitioner clients whether they felt they have been throwing their money away and their answer surprised me.

While they have been persecuted, they believed that it is those who persecuted Falun Gong who are in real danger. The hatred that the CCP’s lies have fanned up against Falun Gong made the persecutors lose their goodness. Therefore they face the real risk of losing gods’ protection. To stop the persecution is to save the persecutors from sinking further away from gods’ salvation.

Defending Falun Gong practitioners made me see clearly the future for China. The persecution of Falun Gong in China has gone on for more than 16 years, and millions of people have died as a result. If this brutal persecution has not succeeded in breaking the spirit of Falun Gong, then the future of China can only be bright! Vicious persecution has not succeeded in breaking the spirit of Falun Gong practitioners, so what can the future for China only be?

I am not alone in my confidence in the future of China that Falun Gong’s resistance to the CCP’s persecution has inspired. Many of the close to 300 human rights defenders who have been persecuted have defended Falun Gong practitioners. Many of them actually became human rights lawyers because they defended Falun Gong practitioners.

It is impossible to share all my views on the reality and future of China in 10 minutes, but I hope I have given you a glimpse of the real China. What I say today is very different from what you read from the newspapers. For example, most of you probably have not heard about Falun Gong.

I know you are all interested in helping the Chinese people, or you would not be here. I would like to tell you: to really help Chinese people, first you need to know the reality of China.

Thank you.