Wang Gongquan: a businessman, half literati and a citizen

Beijing prosecutors approved the arrest of venture capitalist Wang Gongquan on Sunday, October 20, 2013.  Wang was detained in mid-September on suspicion of “gathering wang gongquancrowds to disturb public order.”  Wang Gonquan, in his own words, is “a businessman, half literati and a citizen”.  Being a successful entrepreneur, Wang is also a prominent member of the “New Citizens Movement,” calling for greater protection of the right to free speech and other individual rights enshrined in China’s Constitution.

When Wang was detained in mid-September, a signature campaign has been launched by his friends urging for his release. In the campaign letter, it says

Wang Gongquan is a supporter of the new citizen movement. His mere intention is to advocate in a peaceful and lawful manner for citizens’ rights as written in the Constitution . By defending citizens’ rights, civil society will develop and eventually help China’s peaceful transformation. The objective is to build a humane society with freedom and justice, love and grace.

His actions are based on his beliefs. He is a Buddhist, a humanist and pacifist. He is gentle, kind, compassionate and responsible. He is friendly to this world and everyone in it. (translation made by Oiwan Lam)

Wang once said

我不希望我的孩子将来和我一样为难,要么同流合污,要么做事艰难,这样心里很苦。我也不愿意看到我那么多朋友本来都很善良,只能同流合污,以至于失去内心的美好,不能获得救赎,自己都觉得圣洁不起来。我也不想看到那些官员本来也很优秀,却只能被迫说自己都不信的话。

I do not want my children to be in the same dilemma as I am, either to go along with evils, or to have difficult times, it is painful. I also do not want to see my friends, born kind people, have to comply with the evil and lose their beautiful mind, which will not be redeemed, thus making them ashamed. I also do not want to see the officials, once good people, are forced to speak words that they themselves do not believe.

The following is my partial translation of a report about Wang Gongquan published in one of the most popular Chinese magazines.

Businessman Citizen Wang Gongquan  

Caixin-Xinshiji (New Century), 2011 Issue 5, 31 January 2011, by Zhou Kaili

Talk business in business, demand rights in citizenship. The founder of CDH Investments Wang Gongquan possess them in harmony while distinguish them clearly.  

In the business circle where interest prevails over all, Wang Gongquan is undoubtedly a tough and persistent existence.

January 1, 2011, about 10pm, in front of a three-story building in a remote place in Fengtai District in Beijing, Wang Gongquan was among other unknown petitioners. The building was a “black-jail” where dozens of petitioners were locked in.

Nobody recognized this 50 years old successful businessman. He was together with other petitioners holding their petition materials, knocking the metal gate of the “black jail”, shouting, “open the door, release them!”.  There was no window in the ground floor of the building, the windows on the second floor were all wired. In the building, a few screams of women and the reprimanding of security guards were heard.

In the past 2010, along with the exposure of a security company named “Anyuanding” participating in intercepting petitioners, more and more petitioners choose to defend their rights actively to fight against the “maintaining stability” machinery such as “black jails”.

However, Wang Gongquan’s visit to the ”black jail” at night is still a surprising story in the business circle. For years, when he was mentioned, he is mostly together with other successful entrepreneurs such as Feng Lun, Pan Shiyi, Yi Xiaodi, Liu Jun, and Wang Qifu as the “Six gentlemen of Wantong”. He is also known as a business angel. In 2005, Wang founded CDH Investments; a series of enterprises that he invested successfully went public in domestic or international market.

The outside world only knows that Wang Gongquan is a successful businessman. Instead, he likes to emphasize his identity as a “citizen”. His motto on his personal website is “with the effort of a citizen, to push forward and witness the progress of Chinese society.”

To be a citizen

Wang Gongquan refers his actions to be small peddles that aim to make clear sounds among the disorderly noise. In his blog and also microblog, he introduces himself as “one businessman, half literati” (here the reporter did not write citizen); however many notice that no matter in real life or on the Internet, the most he likes to mention, is not capital investment, not poetry, but “civil society”.

On January 2, 2011, in the 2010 annual conference of a civil organization “civil action and social progress”, Wang Gongquan gave the award of “citizen responsibility” to all who participated in the “Shanghai Flower Memorial”.  On November 15, 2010, a teachers’ building on Jiaozhou Street Jingan District in Shanghai  was on fire resulting in 58 casualties. In the following dozens days, Shanghai residents took flowers to the spot to remember the dead.

Wang said in his speech “We can not give up”, Shanghai flower memorial is a typical civil society action, the action is peaceful, “there is no leader, no hero, it is voluntary, and composed of responsible ordinary citizens”. He almost cried several times and his speech was interrupted several times by applause.

This kind of action fit the citizen spirit emphasized by Wang Gongquan. Before 2005, besides business and poems composition, Wang Gongquan only read current hot topics out of habit and commented occasionally.

In 2005, Wang Gongquan became a researcher of “Open Constitution Initiative”. Every Sunday afternoon, he went to the weekly meeting of the organization. During the weekend, he also went to other intellectual gatherings and cultural salons. “We are not animals, we do not live for the sake of living,  we need some dignity and the right to participate”, said Wang.

On December 25, 2010, Qian Yunhui, the ex- village committee director of Zhaiqiao Village, Leqing City, Zhejiang Province, was dead in a strange traffic accident; this was later developed into a major public event. On the following day, Wang Gongquan initiated on his microblog that a citizen investigation team should be established and suggested that some influential intellectuals to “monitor the investigation, deal with the truth, to supervise and push the government to solve related issues of Zhaiqiao Village”.

Soon there were more than 140 feedback from netizens. Many said that while there was little trust upon the government, “citizen surrounding and watching” helped to “recover the trust between the citizens and the government”. Several citizen investigative teams got involved and played influential roles in the Qian Yunhui incident.

Before that time, with regard to violent actions in forced-demolishing, Wang Gongquan, together with others, organized  “demolishing onsite citizen watching team”, and used “non-violent” actions to record the process of demolishing with cameras and video equipment.  The members of the “citizen surrounding and watching” team include migrant workers, teachers, lawyers, journalists and scholars etc. “The involvement of external power can help to avoid onsite conflict and lessen the worsening of the event”, said Wang Gongquan.

According to Wang, it is not enough to arouse citizen consciousness by only ”proposing, suggesting, and appealing” , there must be capacity, strategy and courage to influence other people. Netizens commented, in this country where struggling for material interests reaches its peak, Wang Gongquan still insisted to “be a citizen”.

Since the end of 2008, in many occasions, Wang pointed out that it is important to solve the problem of equal right to education for children whose household registration are not in  Beijing. For many years, many students living in Beijing but whose family registration in other places encountered  unjust treatment regarding higher school fees, scholarship etc. Before the university entrance exam, they had to go back to their registered place to participate in the exam. Wang criticized this irrational system and said besides employment and health care, education equality is a serious problem caused by the household registration system.

Some trivial stories touched him. One excellent non-Beijing local girl student, just because she did not have Beijing household registration, never was awarded the Three Best Student. Each time, her class teacher persuaded the crying girl to give the award to others, “if you give it to others, those Beijing local students, they may get awarded grade when they take high-school exams.”

Since the end of 2009, Wang, together with other public intellectuals, organized seminars with non local students, their parents, and experts in Beijing. In a recent investigative report, Wang Gongquan and his friends introduced the education situation and existing problems with regard to non Beijing local students, and provided possible solutions.

It is perhaps one of the most significant projects Wang participated in the past years. In March 2010, more than 5000 parents signed a joint petitioning letter and submitted it to Beijing city government, demanding the right to equal education for students whose household registrations were not in Beijing. By the end of 2010, Beijing abolished one limit for non Beijing local students to have computer assigned positions when they take exams to enter middle schools. “This means that our citizen action achieved something”, said Wang.

People often see Wang being busy and alone. As a businessman, he is sometimes even neglecting his profession to participate in citizen actions. For many people, Wang “owns everything already”, “to fight for other people’s right, he will not gain anything”. Under many occasions, he even encountered troubles.

In 2009, Wang used his own money to support the publication of Citizen Society Critic, the theme of the first issue of the journal is “ refugees, vagrants and social unrest”.  Government officials went to Wang Gongquan and asked him to withdraw all the publications. “You can not stop my books, this is my freedom of publication!” the gentle Wang Gongquan pounded his desk.

However, all the books were forced to be bought back. Some persuaded Wang Gongquan, “Do you still want your life? To do these kind of things!” Moreover, Tax Bureaus often visit his company to check his accounts and accounting records.

Feeling the difficulty in stepping forward, Wang said, ”to speak up” is also ”an existence”. On January 15, 2011, he wrote in his Sina microblog, “in today’s China, it is important to make people form the habit of speaking the truth and speaking what they really think. Ideologically, most live in fears. Realistically, China is progressing and the government is more tolerating. To dispel the fear is a necessity.”

The translation is the first part of the report. For the full report in Chinese, please read here.

UPDATES ON DEC 5, 2013: based on twitter

周锋锁 Fengsuo Zhou ‏@ZhouFengSuo
This is inhuman. Venture capitalist/activist 王功权 was interrogated 92 times during last 3 months in prison, said his lawyer 陈有西 (Chen Youxi)。 #humanrights

Paul Mooney 慕亦仁 ‏@pjmooney
南华早报:从3个信源处了解到,已被羁押近3个月的王功权接受了警方对其涉嫌“扰乱公共秩序罪”的指控。在一份录像资料里,王表示他将和许志永断绝关系并划清界限。王已“自愿”解除了对辩护律师陈有西的委托。知情人表示,视频中的王神情憔悴。该视频或将在央视播放。
South China Morning Post: from three sources, under detention for almost three months, WANG Gongquan accepted the police charge “disrupting public order”. In a video, WANG said that he would stop cooperating with XU Zhiyong. WANG also “voluntarily” removed lawyer CHEN Youxi as his defense lawyer. Some said, WANG looked languished in the video and the video would be shown on CCTV.

郭大虾 ‏@daxa
陈有西:到11月29日,王巳被提讯92次。律师会见6次。公安机关通知王妻3日到局,告“王功权自愿解除对原律师的辩护委托”,有签字。我们无法核实解除是否王本人意愿。去电预约会见以便当面确认。看守所不允许并告无解除函。我们充分理解王功权,并期望他的案件能得到客观公正理性的处理。
CHEN Youxi: Until November 29, WANG was interrogated 92 times. He met his lawyer six times. The police asked his wife on December 3, told her that “WANG Gongquan voluntarily removed his entrusted defense lawyer”, and said there is signed document. We can not know if this is really out of his will. We called for meeting WANG to confirm with him. But the detention house did not give the permission and said there was no release letter. We understand WANG Gongquan’s situation and hope his case will be dealt in a just and rational way.

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2 Responses to Wang Gongquan: a businessman, half literati and a citizen

  1. Wang Gongquan was released on bail on 22 Jnauary 2014, the government side claimed that Wang confessed. According to Wang’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang, there are two reasons that Wang was released on bail. First, he is different than Xu Zhiyong, he did not participate directly in the five times of public gatherings stated in the indictment. Second, many business entrepreneurs have been continiously calling for the release of Wang Gongquan and no repression on business people. The government have to take this into consideration. If the government imposes a crime upon Wang Gongquan, it will make more business people think that China is not a safe place and more will consider immigration. This is not good for China’s economy.
    张庆方律师谈王功权取保:一个就是,王功权和许志永还不一样,起诉书指控的这5次在不同的场所发生的所谓的公共场所的聚众行为,确实是都和许志永或多或少是有关系的。但是王功权基本上和这个没什么关系,他从来没有直接地参与过。另一个原因就是,据我了解,企业界很多企业家们也在不停呼吁释放王功权,不要迫害企业家,当局也必须考虑企业家的态度,因为一但给王功权强行定罪,就有可能让更多的企业家们认为在中国不安全,就会推动现在的移民潮,这会对中国的经济不利,这也是政府必须得考虑的因素。

  2. On 21 January, 2015, Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court issued a criminal decision, agreeing Beijing People’s Procuratorate No.1 Branch withdrew its criminal charge to Wang Gong Quan.

    2015年1月21日,北京市第一中级人民法院对该案作出刑事裁定,因北京市人民检察院第一分院申请撤回对王功权的起诉,法院认为撤诉理由成立,裁定准许北京市人民检察院第一分院撤回起诉.

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