Beijing police arrested and detained billionaire venture capitalist Wang Gongquan on September 13, 2013 on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb social order”, another disturbing move in the latest crackdown that targets opinion leaders, intellectuals and activists online and offline.
Wang Gongquan [zh] was once a Chinese Communist Party propaganda official in Jilin province. He left the office and decided to go south to Hainan province for trade in 1988. Arrested and detained for one year after the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown, he returned to the business sector and become the vice chairperson of Vantone corporation, a property development corporation, in 1993. He entered the venture business field in 2005 and become a billionaire because of a number of successful investments in early 2000.
Different from other business people, Wang has been an active member of civil society. In 2005 he joined Xu Zhiyong's Open Constitution Initiative, known as Gongmeng, and started advocating for citizens’ rights and promoting the development of mainland Chinese civil society through online signature campaigns and publications. In 2010, Wang Gongquan, together with a number of citizens’ rights activists issued a joint statement called “citizen engagement”, which sets the principles and parameters for citizen's social and political engagement as protected by their constitutional right. The action is consider a public launch of the New Citizens’ Movement.
In July 2013, Xu Zhiyong was arrested and detained on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb social order” because of the new movement. Wang was among a number of activists to plead for the release of Xu through a petition that gathered a few thousand signatures.
Now Wang himself was arrested, and a signature campaign has been launched by his friends urging for his release. The joint letter has been signed by more than 200 intellectuals as of September 14, 2013:
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.
Let Wang Gongquan go, let compassion, freedom, justice and peaceful transformation go. Dear fellows, when the nest is upside-down, all the eggs will be broken. Don't let our country go against modern civilization and fall into the abyss of barbarianism. We have to defend civil society with action so as to protect everybody, including ourselves.
Many microbloggers spoke out in support of Wang. Even though popular microblogging site Sina Weibo turned his name into “sensitive” term for censorship on September 15, 2013, many supportive messages can still be found. “Southern weekend's investigative report” (@南周深度) praised Wang for the choice he made:
A person who gave up his billionaire business empire to speak for the minorities. He chose to be an ordinary but upright citizen rather than a servant with billionaire property. He walked to the prison with simile in his face. This is his choice, a choice of freedom. Although his body is in prison, his heart is free… When more and more people choose to become citizens, more and more people choose to go to prison rather than be a servant. China will then change. Bless you.
“Poet knife brother” reposted Wang's profile on his microblog:
Wang Gongguan is a poet, citizen and entrepreneur. He has nurtured 360 [an IT software company], Hanting [a hotel business], Minsheng Bank, SouthBeauty [a restaurant business]. He could have enjoyed a luxurious life. But he ate minced pork rice for lunch. He stands by the side of the weak, sheds tears with them, speaks up for them and serves them. Once in a cold winter night, he went to a black jail [illegal jail for detaining petitioners without trial], hit the iron gate with other petitioners, called the guard to release the illegally detained people. He has done so much, please just do something to speak up for him.
Human right lawyer Tengbiao spoke out for Wang on Twitter:
— 滕彪 (@tengbiao) September 13, 2013
Among the Chinese billionaires, less than a handful are not corrupt. I have known and worked with Wang for many years. I believe in him. Not only is he clean, he is very active in citizens’ rights activities. He advocates for equal education rights between rural and urban students, he is concerned about unjust legal cases, he promotes the rule of law. These are courageous choices.