China Detains a Billionaire for Activism

wanggongquan4BEIJING —Edward Wong writes: A Chinese billionaire venture capitalist who has strongly advocated more liberal political and social policies was detained Friday by Beijing police officers, friends of the businessman said.

The businessman, Wang Gongquan, 51, is a close friend of Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer who was formally arrested last month on a charge of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Mr. Wang was detained on the same charge, according to a photograph of the warrant that circulated online on Friday. One human rights group said Mr. Wang was in Beijing No. 3 Detention Center, where more than a dozen others with ties to the New Citizens’ Movement, led by Mr. Xu, are being held.

Mr. Wang was taken from his home by more than 20 police officers around 11:30 a.m., said Chen Min, another well-known rights advocate, who goes by the pen name Xiao Shu. The police searched the home for more than two hours and took away a computer, two framed pictures and small “citizen pins” that Mr. Wang presumably had made at some point, Mr. Chen said.

The pins might have been collected by the police as potential evidence in a case against Mr. Wang. They appear to be similar to “citizen stamps” that Mr. Wang ordered made years ago. Caixin, an investigative business magazine, reported in 2011 that Mr. Wang had commissioned 100 of the stamps, which were the same size as a one renminbi coin and bore the engraved images of the Chinese flag, an open book with the title “Constitution,” and the phrase “Chinese Citizen.”

Few businessmen who have amassed as much wealth as Mr. Wang are as outspoken about their liberal political views. Mr. Wang began building his fortune as a real estate investor in the Vantone enterprise on Hainan Island in the 1990s, which became a springboard for other businessmen who grew affluent from the property business. Mr. Wang joined a venture capital firm and later founded his own investment company.

In 2005, Mr. Wang began attending meetings held by Mr. Xu and working with Mr. Xu’s advocacy group, the Open Constitution Initiative. The Caixin profile said Mr. Wang became involved in a wide range of social issues, like condemning “black jails” where security officers secretly detained aggrieved petitioners, and supporting rights for the children of migrant workers, who are usually barred from studying in public schools in the cities where their parents work.

Since a Communist Party leadership transition last November, advocates of more liberal policies have urged the new leaders to follow and enforce the Chinese Constitution, which is routinely ignored by the party. Senior officials have pushed back against those calls, and editorials in official party publications in recent months have criticized supporters of constitutionalism.

That attack on liberal ideas has coincided with a security crackdown on dissent. Many liberal Chinese have been detained by the police. The crackdown has extended to prominent Internet personalities who often discuss social issues on Twitter-like microblog accounts, which can have millions of followers. Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an international advocacy group, has estimated that nearly 60 Chinese involved in political activism have been detained.

Mr. Xu was arrested this summer against that backdrop. At the time, Mr. Wang spoke with journalists about his plight. Reporters also contacted Mr. Wang when Mr. Chen was detained temporarily last month. Mr. Wang said in an interview: “A lot of people have asked me, after Xu Zhiyong and Xiao Shu, are you worried? I don’t know. Up to now, state security hasn’t contacted me. But on the day I decided to work with Xu Zhiyong, I had already prepared for the worst.”

Mr. Chen and Mr. Wang have helped circulate an online petition calling for Mr. Xu’s release.

In 2011, Mr. Wang was thrust into prominence for an entirely different reason. He posted a message on his microblog saying he was leaving his wife because he had fallen in love with another woman, Wang Qin. “I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin,” he wrote. “I feel ashamed and so am leaving without saying goodbye. I kneel down and beg forgiveness!”

Patrick Zuo and Shi Da contributed research. – Edward Wong


One Comment on “China Detains a Billionaire for Activism”

  1. agent provocateur says:

    Reblogged this on Nevada State Personnel Watch.

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