China: The generation of unhappy workers, 2007

Wildcat analyse the history and current situation of urban state workers in China, the employer attacks on them and the workers' responses.

Submitted by Steven. on January 12, 2010

Situation and protests of urban workers and un­employed
During the restructuring of the 1980s and 1990s the urban proletariat of the state-owned factories - the gongren - was the focus of the restructuring and experienced massive layoffs after 1997. Before the reforms the differences between the gongren and the peasants and migrant workers were all too obvious. A part of the gongren had a number of benefits, like a guaranteed work place and bet­ter health care, and were considered a strong pil­lar of the socialist regime. But after the reforms, the urban proletariat became the losers: The restructuring of the state combines led to de-quali­fication, wage cuts, precarity and the layoffs of millions of workers. They staged a number of militant struggles, especially since 1997, consid­ered by the party leaders and the government as the biggest threat to social stability. They forced the regime to slow down the restructuring, but they were not able to stop it.

A big number of the new urban unemployed were forty years old and older, unable to step up the ladder in the new economic structures and simply ignored by the new/old class of Chinese and foreign world-market capitalist looking for young labor. 60 percent of factory workers laid-off in the 1980s and 1990s were women. After being laid-off most of them had just precarious work.

The pauperization of these urban workers was the last strike against the "unhappy generation". During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) they had no school education or spent only a few years in school, they were harassed by the Red Guards (or took part in the excesses themselves). They were sent to the countryside, where they had to live in poverty and work hard. After their return to the cities - sometimes after ten years and more - they were assigned to unskilled jobs in the com­bines since they had not learned anything before. In the 1990s they were the first to be laid-off. Now as old people they experience poverty and have to do precarious jobs.

Whereas there is a discussion inside and outside China about the migrant "peasant-workers" (min­gong) who to sell their labor power in factories, sweatshops, on construction sites, in restaurants or as domestic workers, the fate of the urban workers gets less attention. A few years ago that was different. Waves of worker unrest took place in certain areas - e.g. the "rust-belt" in the North-East - against layoffs, back wages, bad working conditions, corruption and the non-payment of compensations and social aid.

Miniature society
The majority of urban workers were employed by a danwei,1 a work unit. At the beginning of the re­forms, 42 percent of the industrial work force worked there. They produced 75 percent of the in­dustrial output. Other industrial workers were those in urban collectives, those with limited contracts in state-owned combines and those in rural industries (Lee 2003: 72).

The danwei was not only an economic, but also a political and social organization. After finishing school, the urban youth was assigned to a danwei, which secured a life-long workplace, social securi­ty and retirement (the so called "Iron Rice-Bowl"). After marriage, the danwei also organized apart­ments and dormitory accommodation for single men and women. Because of the extensive regula­tion and control of workers' lives the danwei were also called miniature society (xiao shehui).

To the outside, the danwei functioned as an execu­tive organ of the state administration. In the so­cialist planned economy the state decided central­ly about the production and the distribution of re­sources, and the danwei were not responsible for profits and losses, but just handed them over to the state which assigned necessary resources and labor power. Internally the danwei made sure that everybody worked and thereby contributed to the socialist accumulation of capital. Moreover, the danwei were units of state control over social processes. Economic decisions were politically motivated, e.g. decisions about hiring and promoting workers or the training of cadres. In co-operation with the danwei-level and regional institutions of the Communist Party, workers were trained, controlled and, if necessary, punished. For the workers, the danwei was the structure of their social protection, but also the organ of control and regulation of their whole lives.

In comparison to other parts of the proletariat, especially the agricultural workers, the workers in the collectives and the urban precarious workers, the danwei-workers did well economically. Their low wage was compensated by the social security. But the danwei-workers, owners of an urban hukou, was not a homogeneous group. Only a minority had the chance to get a full "Iron Rice-Bowl", par­ticularly those in big danwei. There was also a hier­archy of the workers inside the danwei, first of all between cadres and workers. More differences were made between permanent, temporary and contract workers, between union members and non-union members, between men and women, between older workers with seniority and younger workers. That way the number of those who could claim social benefits and a life-long job was limited, and these divisions were also the base of the wage hierarchy.

Crisis and new despotism
The crisis and following reforms since 1978 had different origins, and we can only get into it briefly. The political and social transformations of the Cultural Revolution since the mid 1960s not only led to economic chaos, but also strength­ened the workers influence on company-level de­cisions. The productivity of the danwei was low, because the workers refused to accept an intensifica­tion of work and generally harder working condi­tions. After Mao's death in 1976 "pragmatists" and "technocrats" inside the Communist Party re­placed the previous leaders, who had come to power during the Cultural Revolution, and started to "modernize" the Chinese economy. Their goal was to strengthen the position of the factory leaders and to weaken that of the workers in order to be able to increase productivity and to raise the general economic performance. They wanted to make an economic and social leap forward and at the same time ensure and protect the dominance of the Communist Party. But workers and peasants were also open for changes. They wanted to get rid of poverty, end the social standstill and improve their living conditions.2

The reforms started in the late 1970s in the coun­tryside and later moved to the cities. They were initiated by peasants, too, who started distributing land from the People's Commune to families. The CP-regime saw a chance to undermine the rigidity of the working class in the countryside and in the cities. Whereas everywhere in the countryside the private use of land by peasant families was intro­duced, in the cities different strategies were adopt­ed: development of a new private sector of special economic zones with foreign capital, restructuring and rationalizing of the old state industries, clos­ing or "privatization" of little and medium-size danwei, and preservation of big danwei in strategic sectors under state control.

The reforms were no shock-therapy and also did not follow a master plan, they were rather step-by-step and experimental measures, following the motto: "Crossing the river by feeling for stones" (mozhe shitou guo he). Economic, political and social principles were used depending on the circumstances. A "two tracks"-system was adopt­ed to keep up the old structures while simultane­ously creating new ones that would later displace the old ones. The crucial elements of the reforms were the strengthened authority of the local ad­ministration and companies, economic incentives to improve efficiency by leaving part of the profits to the companies, de-regulation of trade and strengthening of the market orientation, and above all the establishment of a new work regime, which no longer guaranteed life-long security (social contracts, Iron Rice-Bowl) and was built on contractual relationships between employees and employers, in other words: a commodification of labor power. All measures were enforced step-by-step and in different paces. Some were not started before China's entry into WTO, and some of the reforms are not finished, yet.

From the workers' standpoint, the reform of the urban industries was the establishment of a "new despotism" inside the plants (Lee 2003: 74). The strengthening of the factory directors and the un­dermining of the authority of party structures, unions and workers' councils as well as the cut-down of the social guarantees opened the door for a "hire and fire"-capitalism with a new class of managers on top, recruited from the old cadre structures of the army, party and state administra­tion.

In the mid 1980s, there were already signs that the reforms could not be pushed through easily. The process was rather stagnant, as resistance came not only from the workers but also from the danwei leaders who opposed the splitting, shrink­ing or fusion of their work units. After 1997, with the intensifying of industrial restructuring and re­dundancies, the number of conflicts increased de­spite the government propaganda machine that tried to make workers believe that the restructur­ing was in the best interest of all in the long run.

"Release" of the urban proletariat
Of course the reforms affected everyone, the urban prole­tariat inside and outside of the danwei as well as the newly independent peasants. But here we are talking about the urban proletarians who worked in danwei. Before the reforms they were consid­ered the elite of the working class and the back­bone of socialist China. For the party, they were the "soldiers" of the state. The reforms changed the perspective. The former task of the regime, to provide for the urban proletariat, later became a "burden". The restructuring led to a "systematic erosion of labor interests, as it has been accompa­nied by severe measures against workers, includ­ing collective layoffs, deprivation of benefits, ruth­less labor rights abuses and brutal working condi­tions." (Chen: 237/8). Hassard reports, that in 1997 39 percent of all urban households had a loss of income. This often meant misery, worries about health expenses, education costs and grocery bills (Hassard: 157/8). Many urban proletarians experi­enced their layoffs as a social degradation to "newborn marginals", felt "abandoned by society" and "excluded". (Solinger 2002: 304; 2004: 52, 55). Contrary to the majority of the migrant workers, the urban workers were "downwardly mobile" (Solinger 2004: 58).

Although the weakening and closure of danwei re­duced the state control over the lives of urban workers, that did not result in a bigger self-deter­mination of the people concerned. Their lives were now ruled by the necessity to find at least a small income to survive. Often they had to resort to different sources: state benefits, support of rela­tives, informal jobs (again often through family members), flexible or "hidden" employment. The only ray of hope was the apartment they got through the danwei where they could continue to live (Lee 2007: 130/1).3

The majority of laid-off workers were elderly, un-qualified and women. Most of them found jobs in informal sectors like street-selling, as messen­gers, security guards, on construction sites and so on, without work contracts, benefits and regular working hours. Often their bosses do not pay them their wages. Some of these jobs were previ­ously only done by mingong, the rural migrants coming to the cities. Often the urban workers can­not compete with the migrant workers who are younger, more mobile and used used to learn and use different skills. They also have lower repro­duction costs, because their families still live in the countryside, so they can work for lower wages. Moreover, many employers consider mi­grants as more assiduous and not spoiled. Many laid-off workers from danwei had and have a hard time finding new (dependable) sources of income.

To avoid collective resistance, the government split the laid-off workers in different groups. These were "official" categories, to which laid-off workers were assigned, one of which was the xia­gang4 (literally: laid-off from the position, released from the position). This xiagang-category had sev­eral sub-categories: the daigang (literally: to wait for a position), people who rotated between em­ployment and non-employment; the tingxin liuzhi, who kept their position but got no wage; and the liangbuzhao who left their position with neither them nor the company trying to restore it. There was also the group of xiagang who were registered at so-called reemployment centers but could not find a job: They were finally registered as shiye, "unemployed", and could get state unemployment benefits for two years.

Other groups of laid-off workers were the "inter­nal pensioners" (neitui), workers who had only five to ten years until retirement. They kept the connection to the danwei and got a part of their wage, depending on the financial situation of the danwei; workers who got compensations (mai duan gongling), the amount depending on the sector and the danwei, but had to organize their own pen­sion insurance and similar things afterwards; and a group of female workers who resorted to an ex­tended maternity break, a method often used by women in the 1980s and the 1990s. Just a few of the mentioned groups got state social benefits, others did not get anything. Only the proper xia­gang were counted in official statistics and had a (rather theoretical) entitlement to get support finding a new employment and to social benefits, but this still depended on the financial situation of the danwei. All in all, today the unemployment rate in the cities is estimated to be between ten to fifteen percent, but it is much higher in the cities of the rust-belt.

The state wanted to intercept the potential con­sequences of the layoffs, following the motto: "Make the channel before the water comes" (Has­sard: 156). The "private" labor market was sup­posed to absorb many unemployed, and the reem­ployment programs were supposed to channel the xiagang into new jobs in the state and the private sector - neither did really happen. Liquidation laws were not followed - due to corruption and embezzlement of company property by cadres and managers, and the laid-off workers could not find new jobs because of their lack of education, age and gender. The funds provided were too small or simply embezzled, and there were not enough jobs available for the xiagang. Sometimes the laid-off workers did not get the required documents (xiagangzheng), so they could not claim their benefits.

At the end of the 1990s, the government intro­duced the "three guarantees" for making up for the omitted danwei-services and benefits: "subsis­tence payments" for the xiagang (only until 2002), "unemployment benefits" for all unemployed in­cluding those whose danwei declared bankruptcy or was taken over by another company, and a "minimal living cost guarantee" of the local ad­ministration for the urban poor. Payments re­quired advance public controls of the personal in­come, something a lot of people did not want. In the end, those forms were ineffective and only a few people got the benefits. Only a small fraction of the laid-off workers got compensation pay­ments or benefits at all, and those benefits were small and only paid for a short period.

The regime's long-term goal was to establish an insurance system with four columns: retirement, health care, work accidents and unemployment. But the replacement of the danwei-based social se­curity system through one financed by public and private funds was getting of the ground very slowly, despite the implementation some kind of retirement and unemployment insurances in the mid-1980s. The whole procedure reminds one rather of the motto: "Draining the water before the tunnel is ready" (Cai 2002: 329).

Preparation and development of struggles
The loss of material resources and social security constitutes a break of the old "social contract" be­tween the urban working class and the Commu­nist Party and led to a crisis of the CP's legitimacy. Since the 1990s the regime was trying to find a new basis for legitimacy, which they found in the new (old) urban middle class and the capitalist cadres. For many urban workers unrest seemed the only option. Even before the reforms, urban workers were not as tame and silent, as one could as­sume considering the strict organization and so­cial control of the danwei (see Sheehan). In 1984, when the reformers turned towards urban indus­try, workers had big expectations. They wanted a clear improvement of their situation but were afraid of a return to the conditions before 1949 with precarious jobs and unemployment. Most of the workers were not against the reforms, they considered them necessary in order to end the standstill and get rid of poverty. But they turned against corruption which followed the reforms - as in the "democracy" movements 1978 until 1981 and then 1989 -, against injustice during the exe­cution of the reforms, against growing inequality and the new material hardships. While the regime and the party saw the "Iron Rice-Bowl" as the ori­gin of the problems, for the workers it was the only achievement of socialism which was worth defending.

Although in the beginning the new labor con­tract law from 1985/6 did only affect few workers, some kind of "job security panic" broke out (Shee­han: 207). The feeling of insecurity, the corruption, the new power of the factory directors, the loss of forms of worker participation - which did not work well before either - and the inflation were reasons for a lot of workers to support the "democracy" movement in 1989. A lot of them had participated in protests earlier, and in spring and summer 1989 some founded independent workers organizations, not only to represent their interests in the companies but also to become active on the political level later on.

The protests in the 1990s, especially after 1997, were a continuation of these movements. At the beginning, most workers were "quiescent, passive, and powerless" (Chen: 238). Although the number of social struggles increased between 1992 and 1997, in the years 1995 and 1996, at the beginning of this new phase of industrial restructuring, not much happened because the workers hoped it would not affect them and the problems were tem­porary. But the occasional suffering lead to con­stant pain. Since 1997 the number of social con­flicts has increased continuously. There were pri­marily three different kinds of resistance: 1. Strug­gles against the non-payment of wages and pen­sions; 2. Community-struggles against bad accom­modation and disintegrating infrastructure; 3. Protests against bankruptcies and connected compensation payments, illegal sales or restructuring of state-owned companies and corruption of cadres. Most of the time these protests followed the same pattern: First, the workers went directly to the responsible danwei-leader or local authorities and made their demands. Usually they were about money or other concrete conditions, rarely political demands like the dismissal of a corrupt official or cadre. In case they did not get the reaction they expected, they went up the state hierarchy, most of the time by writing a petition, and demanded the abidance of the existing laws. Government petitions (and auditions) have a long tradition in China and are being accepted as long as the petitioners follow the rules and do not create chaos. When the authorities ignored the petition, the situation often escalated into street actions (Lee 2007: 112). So far the people involved usually avoid coordinated actions with other workers from other plants or regions or from different social groups because they know that the state would react with repression.

Divided actors
The regime's calculation that the creation of differ­ent "categories" of gongren could prevent them form getting together and resist has worked out so far. During the conflicts the gongren themselves made the distinction between retirees, laid-off workers (xiagang), unemployed and workers, who all fought their own struggles. The old danwei communities still function somehow, because many gongren bought their apartments in the 1990s, and these old quar­ters are the place where information circulates and where people discuss possible resistance. But since the different groups each have their own conditions and demands (about pensions, wages or social benefits, or keeping the jobs) the strug­gles are mostly separated. In this context, Lee uses the term "cellular activism" (Lee 2007: 5).

Each group has its own form of struggle. The xia­gang, or unemployed, can not go on strike, just like the retirees. They are already out of the plant and their struggles against the measures that put them in a precarious position come "too late". We­ston sees this as the weak point of the struggles: "Because most of those who are participating in the protests are either laid-off (xiagang) or formal­ly employed workers, they have little ability to disrupt their factories' production schedules." (Weston: 70). Often they were fighting months and years after lay-offs or shut-downs because they did not get financial support. They had to use other forms of "disruptive power", like rioting, camping outside of government buildings and blocking traffic junctions to force the authorities to act.

The danwei workers who were still in the plants fought against restructuring measures that threat­ened their interests. Their struggles were often "spontaneous" because of sudden grievances, against restructuring programs or planned lay-offs. "Spontaneous" does not mean that there was no preparation or cohesion, but indicates the ab­sence of formal organization or leadership (Lee 2007: 80). They fought the program and demand­ed participation or ownership. Starting points for the struggles of the danwei workers were labor contracts, wages, bonuses, pensions and compen­sation payments, but above all planned lay-offs, bad working conditions, a despotic management, corruption and embezzlement. In the early 1990s some workers were still forced to buy shares of their ailing plants. A few years later the plants were closed and stripped by the managers, one reason for the tremendous rage against the factory directors and local cadres.

Here it is important to note that the danwei were officially still public property. Even though work­ers only ever spoke cynically about their ownership as "masters of enterprises", they are very much aware of their part in building up the factories. They had job security, but often also low wages. But then they faced losing their jobs and their pen­sion rights - and also their social networks which were organized within the danwei. They saw their resistance against the restructuring as "rightful" (Chen: 248) and wanted participation in the execu­tion of the reforms.5 Workers, who were threat­ened to be laid off used slogans like "Give the Fac­tory Back to Me! (huan wo gongchang)" (Chen: 248). Sometimes they occupied the factory to prevent the restructuring.6 Strikes were no alternative, be­cause plants were not producing according to their capacity during the restructuring. Sometimes the struggles had the form of "collective bargain­ing by riots" (Chen: 251), where the workers at­tacked administration buildings, city halls or those people responsible for their misery.

The disruptive power of the gongren
Many dissatisfied workers, still working or al­ready unemployed, were "using the proletarian rhetoric of the Maoist period to press for social justice in the new economic environment, phras­ing their demands in class terms that the authori­ties find uncomfortable to deal with." (Hassard: 138) The resistance of the danwei-workers against the lay-offs was often also motivated by a form of "moral economy". They referred to rights of the past, and compared the suffered injustice with the standards of socialism or even the Cultural Revo­lution. They developed something like a collective action-frame, as they used the old "communist" rhetoric to fight illegitimate inequality and injus­tice. Sometimes there was a kind of illusionary Maoism, distorting the past into a period where the workers were happy and content. This was the case especially with older and already retired state workers. Some referred to the position of the cul­tural-revolutionary "rebels": "During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the idea of the CCP as a new, exploitative ruling class extracting surplus value from the working classes and passing on its privileges to its descendants became a common one among the more radical participants in the movement, and it was an idea that many of them carried over into the first stirrings of China's democracy movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s." (Hassard: 161/2) An image of the Polish Solidarnosz-movement of the early 1980s that cir­culated among the state workers underlined the idea of exploitation through the a socialist bour­geoisie.

From the outside the struggles seemed to be "un­organized and leaderless" (Chen: 251). In fact, col­lective protests and demonstrations against local authorities were (and are) often coordinated by (former) foremen and cadres, which played their "traditional" leading role and demanded their "le­gitimate" rights. They functioned as workers mili­tants and decided how to intervene. Sometimes they played the role of consultants because open or covered organization was too risky. Only a few people dared to organize actions that involved more than one plant.

Even if protests and forms of self-organization of workers were only regional and short-lived, their impact and power was a result of their frequent appearance and because of the regime which was afraid of the potential spread of the movement and that it would turn against the state or the role of the Communist Party as the only dominant po­litical force. These concerns are justified, since the number of conflicts between the state and the workers' movements have increased for a long time. "The working class is turning from a stabiliz­ing force into a potentially disruptive force in Chi­nese society" (Cai 2006: 185). There are a number of reasons: Because of the lack of a functioning so­cial system, the poor put their demands for social securities and benefits to the government; the lo­cal governments are directly involved in the re­forms and the plant shut-downs; and the obvious corruption, embezzlement and theft of state prop­erty through CP-cadres, factory directors and gov­ernment officials provokes people to ask for state intervention - or they attack the responsible peo­ple and institutions on their own.

Most of the mobilizations stayed rather small, with a few prominent exceptions. This is due to the fact that many big danwei were spared (and not closed) or had enough cash to pay of the workers. But when peaceful and moderate methods did not help, the protests radicalized and lead to militant encounters. The struggles in 1997 slowed down the lay-offs of 20 to 50 million surplus workers so the restructuring could not proceed as quickly as planned. But if the lay-offs in some industries were delayed, the reforms were still carried out.

The carrot and the stick
Soon after 1997, during the restructuring of the state owned industries and the lay-offs, the regime had to take measures against the struggles. It used the decentralization of the political and economi­cal decision-making, which gave local authorities more influence and power. The local authorities were the first target of farmers', migrant workers' and urban proletarians' attacks. The central gov­ernment in Beijing intervened only when the re­gional conflicts got out of control or became explo­sive. Even today, the central government or­ders the local authorities to deescalate "unex­pected events" (tufa shijian). In private companies the influence of the local government is usually small. There they can only intervene through unions and the local labor bureaus. But in state owned companies they play a big role and can put the management under pressure (if they want to). But nothing happens unless the workers take the initiative, stage open resistance and thereby raise the pressure.

So far the state used a "carrot and stick" strategy during the struggles. On one hand it tries to calm the workers down through compensation and so­cial security payments to soften the effects of lay-offs and work releases.7 In this context, Lee talks about "safety valves", to enable the people in­volved in struggles to "let off steam" (Lee 2003: 83). After 1987 newly founded commissions for mediation have played a role in preventing an es­calation of conflicts. The commissions are formed by labor bureau officials, union and employer rep­resentatives. Whether there is a chance to quickly pacify the situation also depends on the financial resources of the local state and the danwei that can be used to soften the social effects of lay-offs or to pay back wages. Local authorities and danwei in the prosperous coastal regions had enough finan­cial means, but not those at the "third front", the provinces of the South West and North East. And of course, only the big danwei were able to pay, the middle and small danwei had no money and the majority of the struggles happened there.

The strategy to pay out only those workers who staged militant struggles also created problems. "Setting the precedent of only meeting the de­mands of those involved in the most severe out­breaks of unrest risks providing workers with the perfect excuse for disorder." (Hassard: 150) It is in­teresting to note that this is similar to what hap­pened in the 1950s, when workers went on strike against the danwei managements, because they knew the managers "bullied the good, but feared the bad." (Sheehan: 74).

The "stick" was mainly used against the "orga­nizers" of the protests. Insubordinate workers and reputed "ring-leaders" were arrested (and still get arrested) and sent to jail or labor camps for a long time as a threat to the other workers who participate in strikes and demonstrations - in other words: "Kill the chicken to scare the monkey" (Weston: 78). The authorities' repression is particularly hard against mobilizations across several plants or re­gions and against independent unions.

The state propaganda continues, asking workers to accept the hardships so that the reforms turn out successful: They should sacrifice themselves for the collective, for the state, and they should put aside their own interests. But the regime also reacted to the struggles: It slowed down the re-structuring, extended the envisioned periods for lay-offs (from 2000 to 2003), and started new wel­fare programs. In 2002/3, the new government fi­nally put social stability center stage. The re­form of the state unions and the (formal) establish­ment of a system of collective bargaining is sup­posed to help avoid an explosion of social strug­gles - similar to the Central European "Social Part­nership". The party slogan of the setup of a "Har­monious Society" has to be understood as a threat against all who dare to use "disharmonious" means to fight for their interests. The state tries to avoid bigger confrontations and bloodletting. But how long will this work? The re-structuring of the unprofitable danwei is not finished yet, and will continue to ignite social explosives.

Cai Yongshun (2002): The Resistance of Chinese Laid-off Workers in the Reform Period. China Quarterly, No. 170, 2002

Cai Yongshun (2006): The weakening of workers' power in China. In: Brodsgaard, Kjeld Erik; Zheng Yongnian (eds.): The Chinese Communist Party in Reform. London

Feng Chen (2003): Industrial Restructuring and Workers' Resistance in China. In: Modern China, Vol. 29, No. 2, April 2003

Hassard, John / Sheehan, Jackie / Zhou Meixiang / Terpstra-Tong, Jane / Morris, Jonathan (2007): China's State Enterprise Reform. From Marx to the market. London/New York

Lee Ching Kwan (2003): Pathways of labour in­surgency. In: Perry, Elizabeth J./Selden, Mark: Chinese Society, Second Edition. Change, con­flict an resistance. London/New York

Lee Ching Kwan (2007): Against the Law. Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt. Berke­ley/London

Sheehan, Jackie (1998): Chinese Workers: A New History. London

Solinger, Dorothy J. (2002): Labour Market Re­form and the Plight of the Laid-off Proletariat. In: China Quarterly, No. 170, 2002

Solinger, Dorothy J. (2004): The new crowd of the dispossessed. The shift on the urban proletariat from master to mendicant. In: Gries, Peter Hays/Rosen, Stanley: State and Society in 21st Century China. Crisis, contention and legitimation. Lon­don/New York

Walder, Andrew G. / Gong Xiaoxia (1993): Work­ers in the Tiananmen Protests: The Politics of the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation. In: The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 29, January 1993 (now known as The China Jour­nal; online:

Weston, Timothy B. (2004): The Iron Man weeps. Joblessness and political legitimacy in the Chi­nese rust belt. In: Gries, Peter Hays/Rosen, Stan­ley: State and Society in 21st Century China. Cri­sis, contention and legitimation. London/New York

Ya Ping Wang (2004): Urban Poverty, Housing and Social Change in China. London/New York


The Protests in 2002
The North-East of China used to be the center of heavy industries and is known today as the Chi­nese "rust-belt". In 2002 the towns of Liaoyang (province of Liaoning) and Daqing (Heilongjiang) were shaken by a series of workers' revolts, probably the biggest independent workers' actions in the history of the People's Republic of China.

Nearly the nation's entire oil- and gas produc­tion is in the hands of the state-owned company PetroChina. End of 2000 the oil fields of Daqing were re-structured. The workers were told that the company is close to bankruptcy and that they have to face the threat of mass redundancies without being paid compensation. After this announcement about 50,000 workers (out of 260,000) agreed on taking the offered compensation and left the job. Only a minority of them later found new jobs, and having taken the compensation they were subsequently excluded from the social security benefits provided by the oil administration. At least the company continued to pay for heating the workers' homes. But the trigger of the 2002 protests was the announcement to stop paying for that, too. In Heilongjiang the winters are long and cold.

The demonstrations started on the 1st of March, with only a few thousand people participating in the beginning. Their number increased to 50,000 during the following days. People demonstrated on every working-day, and sit-downs were orga­nized in front of the oil administration. Supposed­ly some workers who had kept their jobs joined in because the administration had asked them to pay higher dues into the pension fund, while at the same time managers cashed in horrendously high compensation payments. Production was not obstructed.

The protests were organized by the "Provisional Union Committee of Workers sacked by the Oil Administration". At the beginning they were mostly peaceful. Then the administration changed tactics, because - amongst other reasons - they felt threatened by the possible spreading of the unrest.

On the 19th of March 19 several demonstrators were injured during clashes with the police. On the 22nd of March a large armada of police and army occupied the protest's meeting points; dozens of activists were arrested. Nevertheless the actions continued. The demonstrators ceased to shout slogans, though, because everyone who started to do so ran the risk of getting arrested or disappearing. The oil administration promised a wage increase to those workers who were still em­ployed. On the 27th of May, thirteen weeks after the first protest, more than 10,000 people gathered again.

Lioyang is hit particularly hard by the reform of state-owned companies: up to 80 percent of the work-force are said to be "released from work". Alleged­ly there had been an informal underground orga­nization running for a long time before the protests started. The core of this organization is formed by workers from the FerroAlloy plant. They had organized bigger actions in 2000 and 2001, targeting delayed wages and plant closures.

The reason for the first demonstration on the 11th of March was this: The town mayor had an­nounced on television that there are no unem­ployed people living in his town. Responding to his speech several thousand workers from several - partly from bankrupt - companies demonstrated and demanded his dismissal. In the following days these demonstrations gained in size, and up to 30,000 people took part. Again, the administra­tion reacted by applying the "carrot and stick"-strategy: Some delayed wages were paid, some people were promised that their unemployment benefit would be paid soon, an inquiry following the corruption charges against managers of the metal plant was announced.

On th 17th of March Yao Fuxin, a worker of the metal plant, was arrested. This incident further fueled the protests, which then had only one de­mand: "Free Yao Fuxin!". Later on more arrests followed.

As in Daqing, two tactics of repression were used: Firstly, a strong visible presence of security forces in town in order to intimidate the workers, and secondly, the hunt for the "ring-leaders", the activists of the underground organization.

The movements of Daqing and Lioyang inspired the miners in the coal areas of Fushun and Fuxin (Liaoning). In mid-March thousands of them blocked railway-lines in order to protest against announced conditions of mass lay-offs. To hinder the arrest of activists - like in Daqing and Liao­yang - banners and signs were put up, an­noun­cing the time and place of the upcoming ac­tions. On the demonstrations themselves there were neither signs nor slogans.

In 2002 the government implemented a new wel­fare program to boost domestic demand and soft­en the worst impacts of the xiagang-problem: By fostering the establishment of state-controlled job centers (these centers are supposed to pay out the wages of the employees who are "released from work" and to find new jobs for unemployed), by increasing the wages of employees in the state sec­tor, etc..

In 2007 the wife of Yao Fuxin, who had been sen­tenced to seven years imprisonment, addressed a petition to the National People's Congress, asking for the release of her husband. His conditions in jail are extraordinary hard, his health has been de­stroyed. The petition has been signed by more than 900 of his former workmates.


Struggles in (former) state owned companies
Source: - German website on social struggles in Asia

Textile factory: Since mid-September 2004, thou­sands of textile workers (most of them women) went on a 7-week-strike and blocked the factory in Xianyang. Although the former state owned cot­ton factory was the property of the employees - the workers had to buy shares - it was sold to a company from Hong Kong. This company de­manded that the workers sign a redundancy agreement with a small compensation payment, and wanted to treat them as newly hired after­wards, with a probation time, limited work con­tracts and lower wages. The strikers did not ap­point any speakers in order to avoid state repression against "ring-leaders". Hence the authorities could not find anybody to negotiate with. The strike ended when the management announced to skip the probation time and extend the limited con­tracts. After months, 20 arrested strikers were re­leased without prosecution.

Steelworks: In August and October 2005, laid-off workers protested in Chongqing for a few weeks. The plant had declared bankruptcy in July. The workers held the management responsible for the crash and demanded a modest compensation pay­ment. When the workers staged a sit-in in front of the city hall, some men attacked the cops - proba­bly agent provocateurs of the police. During the following struggle two women died.

Military factory: In January 2006, workers of a military factory fought against the police for three days in Chengdu. The factory was bankrupt and was supposed to be sold below value. The work­ers did not get the announced compensation payment. Hence they occupied the factory and took the director hostage. When military police tried to free the manager, a struggle broke out and people got injured.

Public transportation: Since 2001, the city administration of Qingyang had tried to privatize public transportation, but the workers council had denied it five times. In September 2006, the company was sold to a private enterprise after the workers council was forcefully closed by the city authorities. The administration coerced 1448 workers to sign a cancellation agreement. It was a payment of roughly 80 Euros per year of staff membership. But some workers did not get it, because there was not enough money on the company's bank-account to cover the pay-out. Hereupon the workers went to the responsible board and demanded a solution within two days. When they did not get an answer, the workers besieged the company's administration building and took the management hostage, until the police stopped the action. After January 2007, there had been constant protests in front of the administration building, but in August 2007 they were stopped by the riot police.

Bank: For years there were occasional protests by hundreds of former employees of the Industry and Trade Bank of China (ICBC). When the ICBC was privatized, 100,000 employees were laid off with a low compensation payment and without pension or health insurance. The bank said they had voluntarily abstained from the job and therefore no legitimate entitlement to full legal compensation. The demonstrations mostly took place in Beijing, especially in front of the bank headquarters and the central union office. People from other cities involved in this conflict also came to Beijing, despite police attempts to prevent them from doing so.

Coal mine: In August 2007, workers of the Tan­jiashan coal mine went on strike against planned lay-offs and small compensation payments. They had also discovered that the management had stolen money which had been provided by the government to pay compensations. The management hired 200 private security agents to quell the strike.

1 Formally there were three different kinds of danwei: those in industrial sectors, those in service sectors and administrative in­stitutions.

2 The reforms had more reasons, economic, political and geo-po­litical: At the end of the 1970s the Asian Tigers were already making big advances and showed that a "national" economic de­velopment under an authoritarian regime could be possible. For China it was important that three out of four tigers were Chinese: Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore (the forth was South Korea). Especially the rise of Taiwan challenged the People's Republic. Whereas Japanese capital above all had invested in the Asian Tigers to use their cheap labor, at the end of the 1970s traders, bankers and enterprises of Chinese descent living in the tiger-states started pumping capital into the new industries of the Peo­ples Republic. China's adjustment to the world-market started during the internationalization of capital in the mid-70s, the be­ginning of the new phase of the so called "globalization".

3 According to Lee one reason for relative social stability despite the dramatic results of the restructuring in the rust-belts was the fact that many gongren were able to buy their apartments or rent them cheaply (Lee 2007: 125).

4 "Officially, a xiagang worker is one who meets all of these conditions: (1) s/he began working before the contract system was instituted in 1986 and had a formal, permanent job in the state sector (plus those contract laborers whose contract term is not yet concluded); (2) because of his/her firm's problems in business and operations, has been let go, but has not yet cut off relations with the original firm; and (3) has not yet found other work in society." (Solinger 2004: 63, footnote 16)

5 A difference between the workers in the private companies, which have no entitlement to "property".

6 Here, too, they could draw on historical parallels, namely the establishment of "workers guard teams" (gongren jiuchadui) against sabotage acts by the Guomindang shortly before the "lib­eration"in 1949.

7 Compensation and retirement payments to danwei-workers have cost the state hundreds of millions of Euros, financed through the state-owned banks.



14 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by soylentgreen on June 1, 2010

Let's not forget the imprisoned workers in China :b:

Over the last two decades of economic reform, millions of workers have been laid off without due compensation, while millions of others continue to be exploited, working long hours in hazardous conditions. Many legitimate workers’ protests seeking redress for these rights violations have been branded as “illegal demonstrations.” And, as a result, many ordinary workers have been arrested, detained and sentenced to long prison terms. :rb:

The past year was characterized by several high-profile releases including, Yao Fuxin, the leader of the Liaoyang workers movement who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for “subversion of state power” in 2002. Hu Shigen, founder of the Free Labour Union of China, was released in August 2008 after 17 years in prison. And Zhang Shanguang, an advocate for laid-off workers, was released in July 2008 after serving a ten year sentence for “endangering state security.” :b:

As far as we can tell, very few worker activists were sentenced to long jail terms in this period. Rather the authorities used short-term detentions, intimidation and harassment to suppress workers protests, or turned a blind eye to beatings carried out by thugs hired by factory bosses.



Chen Yuping 陳玉平
Hu Mingjun 胡明君
Jiang Cunde 蔣存德
Kong Youping 孔佑平
Li Shuchun 李淑春
Li Wangyang 李旺陽
Li Xintao 李信濤
Liu Jian 劉健
Ning Xianhua 寧先華
She Wanbao 酓萬寶
Wang Miaogen 王妙根
Wang Sen 王森


Ding Xiulan 丁秀蘭and Liu Meifeng 劉美鳳
Zhu Fangming 朱芳鳴

Du Hongqi 杜紅旗
Gao Hongming 高洪明
He Chaohui 何朝輝
Hu Jing 胡敬
Hu Shigen 胡石根
Kong Jun 孔君
Li Guohong 李國宏
Liao Shihua 廖實華
Liu Zhihua 劉智華
Luo Mingzhong 羅明忠
Luo Huiquan 駱惠全
Miao Jinhong 苗金紅
Ni Xiafei倪顯飛
Shao Liangchen 邵良臣
Xiao Yunliang 肖雲良
Yang Jianli 楊建利
Yao Fuxin 姚福信
Yue Tianxiang 岳天祥
Zha Jianguo 查建國
Zhang Shanguang 張善光
Zhao Changqing 趙常青
Zhou Yuanwu 周遠武


Chen Yuping 陳玉平

•Sentenced to re-education through labour, for “disturbing social order” for one and a half years in 2008

Chen Yuping was sentenced to re-education through labour, for organizing an independent trade union. In 2004 the Jilin state-owned petroleum corporation started to lay off workers. One of those laid off, Chen Yuping, was elected as a workers’ representative. In February 2008 Chen and other workers applied to the Songyuan city ACFTU to set up a trade union but the application was rejected. Workers’ representatives also circulated a report on the company’s lay off plan and the union application amongst employees. As a result, Chen was threatened and was put under surveillance by the Songyuan public security bureau. In April 2008, Chen released the report to several overseas media organizations. On 10 April 2008, Chen was detained and on 6 May 2008 he was sentenced to one and a half years of re-education through labour, for "disturbing social order".

Two other workers Zhang Fuhui and Huang Jingzhe were detained for ten days for talking to overseas media.

Hu Mingjun 胡明君

•Political activist

•Sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in 2002 for “subversion of state power”

Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen, both leaders of the Sichuan provincial branch of the banned China Democratic Party (CDP), were detained by police in 2001 after they communicated with striking workers at the Dazhou Steel Mill. On 18 December 2000, about 1000 workers at the factory had organised a public demonstration demanding payment of overdue wages, and Hu and Wang subsequently made contact with the demonstrating workers. Wang, a resident of Dazhou, was arrested on 30 April 2001 and Hu, a resident of Chengdu, was arrested on 30 May. The two men were initially charged with "incitement to subvert state power" but the charges were subsequently increased to actual "subversion". On May 2002, at the Dazhou Intermediate People's Court, Hu was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment and Wang received a 10-year sentence. Hu is currently being held at Chuanzhong Prison in Gaoping District, Nanchong City, Sichuan. Wang Sen is reportedly in very poor health and has severe diabetes; he has applied for release on medical parole, so far without success.

Jiang Cunde 蔣存德

•Worker, political activist

•Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1999 for "crimes of counter-revolutionary"(commuted to 20 years in 2004)

•Due for release in August 2024

Jiang, a Shanghai native, was a worker at the Dong Xin Tool Repair Works when, in 1985 and 1986, according to the authorities, he began to advocate “imitating the model of Poland’s Solidarity Trade Union to overthrow the present political powers.” He reportedly also planned to establish a “China Human Rights Committee.” In May 1987, Jiang and two others were convicted on charges of planning to hijack an airplane, and he was sentenced to life in prison for counterrevolution. In January 1993, Jiang was released from Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison on medical parole. Six years later, however, he was rearrested for having allegedly “joined a reactionary organization, written reactionary articles and sent them to news agencies, and used the occasion of the US bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade in 1999 to stir up trouble.” Jiang was returned to Tilanqiao Prison in June 1999 to continue serving his life sentence. In August 2004, his sentence was commuted to 20 years’ imprisonment, and he is currently due for release in August 2024.

Although Jiang Cunde was convicted of an internationally recognized criminal offence, CLB has included him on this list of non-violent detained worker activists for three reasons: 1) according to a recently published account by a released fellow prisoner from Tilanqiao, the original charge against Jiang of "hijacking an airplane" was a complete fabrication by the police; 2) the grounds officially given for Jiang's re-imprisonment in 1999 related solely to his exercise of the right to freedom of association and expression; and 3) because he has been an advocate of independent trade unionism in China since 1985.

Kong Youping 孔佑平


•Writer, political activist
•Sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment in 1999 for “incitement to subvert state power”
•Sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2004 for “subversion of state power”
Kong, 54 years old, was originally a former official trade union chairman at a state-owned enterprise in Liaoning province, but his support for protests by laid-off workers and his sharp criticism of government corruption and suppression led to his dismissal from both the factory and the union. In the late 1990s, a group of political dissidents, including Kong Youping, were working to establish a branch of the China Democracy Party (CDP) in Liaoning Province, and in 1999 Kong was detained and imprisoned for a year on charges of "incitement to subvert state power". Prior to his recent arrest and trial, Kong was reportedly involved in planning the establishment of an independent union and had posted articles on the Internet criticizing official corruption and calling for a reassessment of the 4 June Massacre. Kong Youping was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for “subversion of state power” on 16 September 2004 by the Shenyang Intermediate People's Court.

Li Shuchun 李淑春

•Sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment for "gathering a mob to disrupt traffic" on 20 August 2008
Li was a former worker at a stock-breeding centre at the Red Flag Farm, Yilan county, Heilongjiang. On the morning of 15 August 2007, Li and more than 50 fellow workers went to the provincial capital Harbin to present a petition concerning social insurance rights and alleged management corruption at the livestock centre. Turning into a suburban highway in the main town of Yilan County, a disturbance broke out as traffic police and government officials arrived to thwart the petitioners. Li was placed under administrative detention by Yilan County on 15 January 2008, and was formally arrested for “mass disruption of traffic” on 4 March. Li was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for “gathering a mob to disrupt traffic” on 20 August 2008.

Li Wangyang 李旺陽

1950 –

•Labour rights activist
•Sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in 1989 for “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" (released in 2000)
•Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2001 for “incitement to subvert state power”
Li was first arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment the following year on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" for founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and leading workers' strikes during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement. He was released in June 2000, but in February 2001, he staged a 22-day hunger strike in an attempt to obtain medical compensation for injuries to his back, heart and lungs that he had sustained while in prison, and which reportedly left him unable to walk unaided. His eyesight is also seriously impaired. For staging the hunger-strike protest, Li was again arrested by the police. On 5 September 2001, he was tried in secret by the People's Intermediate Court of Shaoyang on the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a further 10 years' imprisonment

Li Xintao 李信濤

•Sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment in 2005 for “disrupting government institutions" and "disturbing social order"
Li Xintao male, aged 53, and Kong Jun, female, aged 43, two labour rights activists from Shandong Province, were tried on May 11 2005 by the Mouping District Court in Yantai City, Shandong. They were found guilty of "disrupting government institutions" and "disturbing social order" and Kong and Li were sentenced to two and five years' imprisonment respectively. (Li was reportedly detained in November 2004; the date of Kong's detention is not known.) They had organized public protests against the bankruptcy of their factory, the Huamei Garment Company, and had sent official complaints to Shandong provincial officials. According to Li and Kong, managers at the company, which declared bankruptcy in August 2002, had failed to pay the workers' wages or social insurance benefits from March 2001 onwards. Both worker activists expressed the wish to appeal against their sentences but were reportedly unable to find lawyers willing to represent them. Kong Jun was released from prison after completing her sentence.

Liu Jian 劉健
•Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989 for “hooliganism” and “intentional injury”
Liu Jian, now in his early forties, and Liu Zhihua, age unknown, were both workers at the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Plant, Hunan Province, prior to June 1989 and participated in a rowdy demonstration by over 1,000 workers from the factory just after June 4 that year to protest the government's violent suppression of the pro-democracy movement. After one of their fellow workers had his arm broken by the factory’s security guards, the demonstrators then allegedly ransacked the home of the security section chief. Arrested shortly afterwards, the two workers were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in either August or October 1989 on charges of "hooliganism" and "intentional injury." However, the government has not publicly produced any evidence linking either Liu Jian or Liu Zhihua to specific acts of violence or other genuine crime. Two other workers from the same factory, (Chen Gang and Peng Shi, also received life sentences for their involvement in the same protest action, but the sentences were later reduced and both men were reportedly released in 2004.) Liu Jian is apparently the only one of the four detained Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Plant workers who has still not had his life prison term reduced to a fixed-term sentence. He was formerly held at the Hunan Provincial No.6 Prison (Longxi Prison), but that prison is believed to have been closed down, and his current place of detention is unknown.

Ning Xianhua 寧先華

1961 -

•Sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in 2004 for “subversion”
Ning was a construction worker in Shenyang, Liaoning province. On 16 September 2004, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” for his attempt to organizing an independent trade union. For details, see case of Kong Youping.

She Wanbao 酓萬寶
1958 -

•Sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment in 1989 for “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement
•Sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in 1999 for “subversion” (reduced by 6 months in 2005)
•Due for release on 6 January 2011
She, a labour organizer and a member of the China Democratic Party (CDP), was originally a bank employee in Sichuan. On 3 November 1989, She was convicted of counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement by the Guangyuan intermediate People’s court in Sichuan province and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. He was released in July 1993, but was rearrested around five years later on 10 July 1999 for organizing the Chinese Democratic Party. On 4 August 1999, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for subversion of state power by the Guangyuan Intermediate People’s Court, and suspension of political rights for three years. She appealed to the Sichuan Higher People’s Court but was his appeal was overturned. On 9 September 2005, She’s sentence was reduced by six months. He has been holding at the Chuanzhong Prison since April 2000 and will be due for release on 6 January 2011.

Wang Miaogen 王妙根

•Sentenced to two and half years detention without trial in 1989
•Detained in a psychiatry institute since 1993
Wang was born in 1950 in Shenyang, Liaoning province and was a manual worker in Shanghai. At the time of the May 1989 pro-democracy movement, Wang organized the Shanghai Workers Autonomous Federation, and was sent to “re-education through labour” for two and a half years for his active participation into the pro-democracy movement. In April 1993, Wang, committed an act of self-mutilation in front of a Shanghai police station in public protest against having recently been severely beaten up by the police, he was detained and then forcibly incarcerated in the Shanghai Ankang Mental Hospital, a facility run by the Public Security Bureau to detain and treat “dangerously mentally ill criminals”. Wang has been held incommunicado at Shanghai Ankang for more than 15 years.

Wang Sen 王森

1966 –

•Political activist
•Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2002 for “subversion of state power”
Wang was one of the leaders of the banned China Democratic Party in Sichuan. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for organizing a public demonstration demanding payment of unpaid wages for the workers at the Dazhou Steel Mill. For details, see case of Hu Mingjun.


Ding Xiulan 丁秀蘭 and Liu Meifeng 劉美鳳

•Arrested on 20 Oct 2004 for “assembling to disturb social order.”
Ding and Liu, both workers at the Zhongheng Textile Factory in Funing County, Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, reportedly led laid-off factory workers to stage protests at the factory’s entrance and demand reasonable compensation following the privatization of the former state-owned enterprise. After receiving no response from the company, on 2 October 2004 Ding and Liu then led several hundred workers to demonstrate outside the Yancheng City government building in an attempt to get the local government to intervene with the company on the workers’ behalf. On 20 October, both Ding and Liu were arrested for “assembling to disturb social order.” There has been no further news of their fate since then.

Zhu Fangming 朱芳鳴

•Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989 for “hooliganism” (current status unclear but is believed to be in prison)
In May 1989, Zhu, a 28-year-old worker at the Hengyang City (Hunan Province) Flour Factory and vice-chairman of the Hengyang City Workers Autonomous Federation, organized demonstrations and took part in a sit-in protest in front of the municipal government offices. After the June 4 crackdown that year, he allegedly led workers to the municipal Public Security Bureau to denounce the repression and demand justice. According to a report in the Hunan Daily, Zhu was arrested and then sentenced in December 1989 by the Hengyang City Intermediate People's Court to life imprisonment on a charge of "hooliganism". He is currently believed to be held in Hengyang Prison (Hunan Provincial No.2 Prison). In October 2005, the Chinese government maintained that Zhu “was never punished” for his activities in 1989 and it stated that he is once again working at Hengyang’s Xihu Flour Factory. This information is at total variance, however, with the original report in Hunan Daily.


Du Hongqi 杜紅旗

•3 years’ imprisonment in 2004 for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”
•Presumed to have been released in November 2006 after having served his full prison term)
Presumed released in November 2006, following completion of a three-year prison sentence on the charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order." Du Hongqi and his wife, Li Tingying, both workers at an armaments factory in Chongqing, Sichuan, run by the South China Industries Group, were detained for independent trade-union organizing activities on 24 November 2003. The Chongqing No. 338 Factory was going bankrupt and had been taken over by another enterprise, and 700 of the 1500 factory workers were then laid off. Du and Li had founded an unofficial trade union in September 2003 to fight for better working conditions and had organized their fellow workers to carry out several petition and protest actions. Du was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment on 18 October 2004. (Li Tingying was also detained by police in late 2003, but she was subsequently released without being tried or sentenced.)

Gao Hongming 高洪明
1950 –

•Sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment in 1999 for “subversion of state power”
•Released on 28 June 2007
In January 1998, Gao Hongming, a veteran of China's 1978-79 Democracy Wall dissident movement, and his fellow activist Zha Jianguo, wrote to the head of the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), Wei Jianxing, and applied for permission to form an autonomous labour group called the China Free Workers Union. In a statement faxed to the National People's Congress at that time, Gao said: "China's trade unions at all levels have become bureaucracies, and their officials bureaucrats. This has resulted in the workers becoming alienated [from the official union]."In early 1999, after also playing a leading role in the formation of the now-banned China Democratic Party (CDP), both Gao Hongming and Zha Jianguo were arrested for organizing memorial activities for the June 4 Incident. On August 2, Gao was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment and Zha to nine years for “subversion of state power”. On September 17, 1999 the Beijing High People's Court rejected the appeals of both men. Gao was released from Beijing No. 2 Prison on 28 June 2007.

He Chaohui 何朝輝

1961 -

•Sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment in 1990 for organizing a strike by railway workers
•Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1999 for “"endangering national security and illegally providing information to foreign organizations” (reduced by one year in 2004)
•Presumed to have been released on 10 October 2007 after having served his full prison term)
He Chaohui, a former railway worker at the Chenzhou Railway Bureau, and vice-chairperson of the Hunan Workers Autonomous Federation during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in 1990 for organizing a strike by railway workers in May 1989. In 1997 and 1998, He reportedly took part in several more strikes and demonstrations and gave information on the protests to overseas human rights groups. He was also said to have been active at that time in forming a group to support the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In April 1998, the police detained He after finding a US$300 cheque sent to him by an American university professor. This was seen as confirmation that he had provided overseas groups with information about the recent workers' protests in Hunan. He was later released due to a lack of evidence, but was then rearrested May 1999 on the charge of "endangering national security (illegally providing information to foreign organizations." After a three-hour trial the following month, He was sentenced on 24 August 1999 to 10 years' imprisonment. In December 2004, He Chaohui received a one-year sentence reduction, and he was due for release from Hunan Province’s Chishan Prison on 10 October 2007.

Hu Jing 胡敬

•Discharged from a psychiatric institution on 10 January 2008
A laid-off workers’ representative from the bankrupt Jianshe Motorcycle Corporation in Chongqing. In 2005, after petitioning on behalf of workers' rights in Beijing, Hu was sent by Chongqing Police to a local psychiatric institution where he was reportedly mistreated. After release, Hu obtained an independent diagnosis from another hospital that pronounced him mentally healthy. Allegedly being unhappy about Hu getting an independent mental assessment, the Chongqing Police sent him back to the local psychiatric institution in November 2007. Hu was subsequently released on 10 January 2008.

Hu Shigen 胡石根

1954 –

•Political activist
•Sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 1994 after two years’ detention for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group”, and “engaging in counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” (reduced by 7 months in 2005; reduced by another 17 months in 2007, and another 21 months on 1 April 2008)
•Released on 26 August 2008
A former academic at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, Hu Shigen (also known as Hu Shenglun) was a founder in 1991 and 1992 of both the Free Labour Union of China (FLUC) and the China Liberal Democratic Party (CLDP). Arrested in May 1992 along with fifteen other unofficial trade union and party activists from the two groups, he was charged on twin counts of "organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group" and "engaging in counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement." After two years of detention, Hu Shigen and the other members of the "Beijing Sixteen" were brought to trial in Beijing. Hu received the heaviest sentence of all - 20 years' imprisonment, and suspension of political rights for five years. He received a seven-month sentence reduction in December 2005. He was given an additional 17-month sentence reduction in 2007, and another reduction by 21 months on 1 April 2008, and is now due for release on 26 August 2008. He is serving his sentence in Beijing No.2 Prison.

Kong Jun 孔君

•Labour rights activist
•Sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment in 2005 for “disrupting government institutions” and “disturbing social order”
•Presumed to have been released in late 2006 or early 2007 after having served her full prison term)
Kong Jun, female, aged 42, and Li Xintao male, aged 52, two labour rights activists from Shandong Province, were tried on May 11 2005 by the Mouping District Court in Yantai City, Shandong. They were found guilty of "disrupting government institutions" and "disturbing social order" and Kong and Li were sentenced to two and five years' imprisonment respectively. (Li was reportedly detained in November 2004; the date of Kong's detention is not known.) They had organised public protests against the bankruptcy of their factory, the Huamei Garment Company, and had sent official complaints to Shandong provincial officials. According to Li and Kong, managers at the company, which declared bankruptcy in August 2002, had failed to pay the workers' wages or social insurance benefits from March 2001 onwards. Both worker activists expressed the wish to appeal against their sentences but were reportedly unable to find lawyers willing to represent them. Released on medical parole in late 2006 or early 2007.

Li Guohong 李國宏


•Sent to Re-education through labour for one and a half years in November 2007
•Released on medical parole in October 2008
Li Guohong was a laid-off workers’ representative of the Zhongyuan Oil Field, owned by China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec). Since 2001, Zhongyuan Oil Field has laid-off 10,000 workers without adequate compensation. In 2006, representatives of the dismissed workers petitioned the higher authorities, and in 2007 planned to bring their case to court. Because of this, many suffered beatings and detention. On October 31, Li went to the headquarters of the Zhongyuan Oil Field in Puyang, Henan province, to learn about workers in detention, but was placed in administrative detention for 15 days. When he was due to be released on 16 November, the Zhongyuan Oil Field Public Security Bureau sent him to the Henan Puyang Work Camp for Re-education Through Labour for one and a half years. While in detention, Li was deprived of visitation rights until in January 2008 when he staged a hunger strike that attracted intense local and overseas concern. Forced labour, physical and psychological abuse seriously damaged his eyesight and mental health. He has applied for medical parole but without success.

Liao Shihua 廖實華


•Sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment in 1999 for "subversion of state power" and "assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic"
•Released in June 2005
Liao Shihua, a native of Changsha, Hunan province, was worker at the Changsha Automobile Electronics Factory. In October 1998 Liao led a mass protest action against corruption at the factory and calling for proper health care coverage and housing benefits for the factory's retired and laid-off workers. In June 1999, Liao joined with more than 100 laid-off workers to stage a demonstration in front of the Hunan provincial government headquarters, demanding a resolution to the area's unemployment problems. After addressing the crowd, Liao was escorted away by an unknown person and then officially detained on grounds of "inciting the masses to attack a government office." On 7 July 1999, he was formally charged with "subversion of state power" and "assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic," and he was subsequently tried and sentenced to six years' imprisonment, and suspension of political rights for one year. He was released from the Hunan No. 1 Prison in June 2005 after completing a six-year prison sentence

Liu Zhihua 劉智華

•Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989 for “hooliganism” and “injury with intent” (reduced to 15 years in 1993)
•Another 5 years for “injury with intent” ( reduced by 2 years in 2001, and further reduced by 2 years in December 2008)
•Total sentence: 20 years
•Released in January 2009 from Loudi Prison in Hunan province
Formerly a worker at the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Plant, Liu Zhihua was sentenced to life imprisonment in October 1989 for taking part in a mass protest against the government's June 4 crackdown that year on the pro-democracy movement. (For further details of this incident and of the specific charges brought against Liu, see above: the case of Liu Jian). In September 1993, his sentence was reduced to 15 years' imprisonment with five years' subsequent deprivation of political rights, but in 1997 his sentence was extended by five years after he allegedly committed "injury with intent" in prison. His effective combined sentence then became 16 years' imprisonment (sentence to run from January 1997 to January 2013). In June 2001, Lui Zhihua's sentence was again reduced by two years, and he is now due to be released on 16 January 2011. He was formerly held at the Hunan Provincial No.6 Prison (Longxi Prison), but that prison is believed to have been closed down, and his current place of detention is unknown.

Luo Mingzhong 羅明忠

1953 –

•Sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment in 2006 for “assembling a crowd to disturb public order”
•Presumed to have been released in August 2007 after having served his full prison term
Born in 1953 in Sichuan province, Luo was laid off from his job at the Taiyuan Chemical Factory (part of Taiyuan Holdings), in Yibin, Sichuan Province in 2004. He led his fellow workers in the fight for proper compensation when the factory was privatized in 2003. On March 22, 2004, he was placed under administrative detention for ten days for blocking the road and obstructing traffic. In July 2005, Luo, together with fellow laid-off workers Zhan Xianfu, Zhou Shaofen and Luo Huiquan led other workers to block the main factory gate in protest at the insufficient compensation offered for their loss of livelihood. Yibin Public Security officers arrested the four leaders for allegedly “assembling to disturb public order.” On 26 July 2005.

In April 2006, the Cuiping District Court in Yibin convicted all four defendants on the charge of “assembling to disturb public order.” Luo Mingzhong and Luo Huiquan were sentenced to two years imprisonment. Zhan Xianfu was given a one and a half year prison sentence, suspended for two years. Zhou Shaofen was given a one year sentence, suspended for one year. Luo Mingzhong and Luo Huiquan filed appeals, but the Yibin Intermediate People’s Court’s ruling rejected their appeals and upheld the original sentences. The two imprisoned workers were presumed to be released in August 2007 after completing their sentence.

Luo Huiquan 駱惠全

1957 –

•Sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment in 2006 for “assembling a crowd to disturb public order”
•Presumed to have been released in August 2007 after having served his full prison term)
Born in 1957 in Sichuan province, Luo was arrested for his participation in defending workers rights at the Taiyuan Chemical Factory during the privatization of the enterprise. For details, refer to case of Luo Mingzhong.

Miao Jinhong 苗金紅

•Sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment in 2000 (charges unknown)
•Presumed to have been released in October 2008
Miao Jinhong and Ni Xiafei led a group of migrant workers in Zhejiang Province in blocking a railway line and attacking a police station to protest unpaid wages. Both men were detained in October 2000 and were subsequently tried and sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment (charges unknown.)

Ni Xianfei 倪顯飛

•Sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment in 2000 (charges unknown)
•Scheduled to be released in October 2008
Ni Xianfei is also referred to in some media reports as Ni Xiafei 倪夏飛. For details, refer to case of Miao Jinhong.

Shao Liangchen 邵良臣

•Political activist
•Sentenced to death in 1989, and later commuted to life imprisonment (eventually reduced to 17 years)
•Died in prison in 2006
Originally a driver in Shangdong province, Shao becaome one of the leading member of the Jinan Workers Autonomous Federation, which was formed in Shandong Province during the May 1989 nationwide pro-democracy movement. He had been serving a 17-year prison sentence for allegedly having resisted the military crackdown on 4 June 1989. He sentenced to death by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, and was later reduced to life imprisonment, and then eventually to 17 years' imprisonment. He was reportedly died of leukemia in late 2004 shortly after being released on medical parole from Weihu Prison, Shangdong.His death has not been officially confirmed and CLB only learned of Shao's death in 2007.

Xiao Yunliang 肖雲良


•Sentenced to 4 years in 2003 for “subversion of state power”
•Presumed to have been released on 23 Feb 2006 after having served his full prison term)
Xiao, a native of Liaoning, was sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment and suspension of political rights for 2 years, for leading a mass worker protest in March 2002 in Liaoyuang city, Liaoning province. He was presumed to have been released on 23 February 2006, just 24 days before his prison sentence was due to end. Like his fellow detained labour leader, Yao Fuxin, he suffered serious health problems throughout his imprisonment, and his health situation has remained poor since his release. Xiao is partially blind and is suffering from various illnesses including chronic respiratory disease. For details, see case of Yao Fuxin, above.

Yang Jianli 楊建利

1963 –

•Held in incommunicado detention for 15 months in 2002
•5 years’ imprisonment for espionage and illegal entry in 2004
•Released in April 2007
A US-based research scholar and political dissident, Yang participated in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989; his name was on a 1994 PRC police blacklist of 49 Chinese pro-democracy activists who were barred from re-entering China. Yang Jianli entered China in April 2002 by using a friend's passport, as part of a plan to try and investigate the rapidly growing labour unrest situation in the cities of Shenyang, Liaoyang and Daqing in northeastern China. He was detained on 26 April 2002 and officially arrested by the Beijing State Security Bureau on 28 April 2002. He was then held in incommunicado detention for the next 15 months – well beyond the legally permitted maximum period for pre-trial detention. On 13 May 2004, Yang was tried in a closed court hearing on charges of "espionage" and "illegal entry," and was sentenced to a term of five years' imprisonment. He was released in April 2007.

Yao Fuxin 姚福信

1950 –

•Sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment in 2003 for “subversion of state power”
•Released on 16 March 2009
In March 2002, Yao Fuxin, a worker at the Liaoyang Steel Rolling Factory, Liaoning Province, and Xiao Yunliang, a former worker at the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory, led around 2,000 workers from the latter factory, along with a further 15,000 workers from five other factories in Liaoyang, in a series of major public demonstrations. The workers were protesting against alleged corrupt activities by managers at the Ferroalloy Factory – activities that they argued had directly caused its recent bankruptcy – and calling for unpaid wages and other owed benefits, including pensions, to be paid to the laid-off workers. After the factory was declared bankrupt in early 2002, local workers had founded the "All-Liaoyang Bankrupt and Unemployed Workers' Provisional Union" and elected Yao Fuxin as their spokesperson to conduct negotiations with the local government.

In late March 2002, Yao Fuxin and Xiao were secretly detained and formally charged with the crime of "illegal assembly and demonstration." Subsequently, on account of their alleged involvement in the banned China Democracy Party (CDP) – Yao and Xiao themselves have consistently denied any such involvement – the much more serious charge of "subversion" was brought against them. Tried at the Liaoyang Intermediate People's Court on 15 January 2003, Yao was sentenced to seven years in prison and will be due for release in March 2009. Xiao received a four-year sentence, and was released from prison on 23 February 2006. Both men had been plagued by serious health problems throughout their imprisonment, and according to Yao Fuxin’s family, who visit him regularly, his current health situation at Lingyuan No. 2 Prison remains very poor.

Yue Tianxiang 岳天祥

•Political activist
•Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 1999 for “subversion of state power” (reduced by one year in 2005)
•Released on January 8, 2008
In 1995, Yue Tianxiang, a driver at the state-owned Tianshui City Transport Company, Gansu Province, was laid off from his job despite being owed three months' back pay. When the company refused to negotiate a settlement regarding their wage arrears and to provide them with a legally-entitled living allowance, Yue and another laid-off driver, Guo Xinmin, decided to take their case to the Tianshui Labour Disputes Arbitration Committee. The Committee ruled that the company should find new positions for the two workers as soon as possible, but the company manager refused to implement this decision. When Yue and Guo learned that many of their fellow drivers in Tianshui faced the same kind of treatment, they set up a journal called China Labour Monitor and used it to publish articles on various labour rights-related issues, including reports of corruption at their former company. They also wrote an open letter to then President Jiang Zemin asking for the central government to take action on these issues. In late 1998, after receiving no response from the authorities, they distributed their letter to the international news media.

A few weeks later, in January 1999, they were detained by the Tianshui police and were eventually charged with "subversion of state power". On 5 July 1999, Yue Tianxiang was tried and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Yue received a one-year sentence reduction in March 2005 and was released on January 8, 2008. (His fellow activist Guo Xinmin was also sentenced at the same time, but he was freed from prison around one year later.)

Zha Jianguo 查建國

1951 -

•Political activist
•Sentenced to 9 years in 1999 for ”subversion of state power”
•Released on 27 June 2008
Zha, a native of Yiqing, Jiangsu province, was the head of a cultural magazine. He was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment for “subversion of state power” for his attempt to organize a tenth anniversary memorial for the June 4 Incident in 1999. Zha is serving his term in the Beijing No. 2 Prison. For details, see Gao Hongming’s entry above.

Zhang Shanguang 張善光

•Teacher / Labour rights activist
•Sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in 1989
•Sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1998 for "endangering national security”
•Released on 19 July 2008
Labour activist Zhang Shanguang, formerly a secondary school teacher, was first sentenced to seven years imprisonment after the June 4, 1989 government crackdown for his role in organizing the Hunan Workers' Autonomous Federation in May of that year. While in prison, he contracted severe tuberculosis. After his release, in early 1998, Zhang was interviewed by several overseas radio stations about widespread labor and peasant unrest in his home county of Xupu. He also gathered supporters for, and attempted to officially register with the authorities, a labour rights group that he had recently founded - the Association to Protect the Rights and Interests of Laid-Off Workers (APRILW). By July 1998, this association had attracted more than 300 members from all walks of life, including workers, peasants, intellectuals and cadres, and even some local officials were initially supportive of the group's aims.

On July 21, 1998, the police detained Zhang, searched his home and confiscated all documents and correspondence relating to APRILW. Zhang's wife, He Xuezhu, was questioned and threatened by the police, who also urged her to divorce her husband. His many supporters in Xupu County rose swiftly to his defense, writing numerous appeals and even staging hunger strikes demanding his release. According to one such appeal letter, "The work of Zhang Shanguang will surely encourage the people of Hunan and the whole country to wage an even wider-scale struggle to win democracy and freedom." Subsequently charged on the twin counts of "passing intelligence to hostile overseas organizations" and "incitement to subvert state power," On 27 December 1998, Zhang was tried close door and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for “endangering national security.” His tuberculosis has continued to worsen and he is reportedly now in very poor medical condition. In December 2002 he was transferred to the hospital of Hunan Jinshi Prison. Current status unknown.

Zhao Changqing 趙常青


•Sentenced to 3 years in 1998 for “incitement to subvert state power” in 1998
•Sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment in 2002 for "incitement to subvert state power”
•Released on 27 November 2007
Zhao, a native of Shaanxi province, was first arrested in June 1989 and detained for four months at Qincheng Prison, Beijing, for having organized a Students' Autonomous Committee at the Shaanxi Normal University during the pro-democracy movement in May that year. He was arrested again in 1998 while teaching at a school affiliated with the Shaanxi Hanzhong Nuclear Industry Factory 813, after attempting to stand for election as a factory representative to the National People's Congress and publicly criticizing the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) for failing to defend workers interests. In an open letter to his fellow factory workers, dated 11 January 1998, Zhao wrote: "You should treasure your democratic rights. Even if I cannot run as a formal candidate, if you believe I am capable of representing you and of struggling for your interests, then I ask you to write in my name on the ballot. If elected, I will be worthy of your trust and will demonstrate my loyalty to you through my actions."

Before the workers' ballots could be cast on January 14, Zhao was secretly detained by the police on suspicion of "endangering national security." In July that year, he was tried at the Hanzhong City Intermediate People's Court on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. After his release, in early November 2002 Zhao drafted and circulated an open letter to the National People's Congress demanding, among other things, an official reassessment of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and the release of all political prisoners. In due course, 192 other political dissidents signed the letter, thereby attracting widespread international attention to what was the most significant political action by Chinese dissidents in recent years. In December 2002, Zhao Changqing was arrested by police for the third time and was later sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power". Zhao has reportedly been held in solitary confinement for refusing to take part in military training and having contact with detained Falun Gong practitioners. He was released on 27 November 2007 after completing his full term of his sentence.

*Zhou Yuanwu 周遠武


•Sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment in 2007 for "obstructing public officers in the execution of their duties”.
•Assumed to be released on 17 February 2009.
Zhou Yuanwu was a workers' representative at the Jingchu Brewery in Jingzhou, Hubei. When the Jingchu Brewery declared bankrupt in 2002, workers found that the company had not paid the old age and the medical insurance for them. Neither were they compensated according to the law. Zhou led several protests in defense of the factory workers' rights and petitioned to the municipal and the provincial governments. In June 2006, Zhou was forcibly detained and instructed to stop petitioning. After repeated protests, Zhou was released. On 18 August 2006, without formally issuing a subpoena, the Jingzhou District police attempted to arrest Zhou. When he refused, he was beaten up and arrested on the grounds of assaulting a police officer. His case was heard by the Jingzhou District court on 6 April 2007, but Zhou was deprived of his advocate, Chen Xiongyan, after Chen was detained for violating court discipline. On 25 April, workers at the Jingchu Brewery organized a petition in support of Zhou Yuanwu, claiming his face was covered in blood after being beaten by the police and refuting his alleged attack on the police. On 15 May 2007, Zhou was sentenced to two and a half years in prison by the Jingzhou district court for “obstructing public officers in the execution of their duties.

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