By Eva Cheng
On November 9, activists who failed in their recent attempts to have the newly formed Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) registered, defied the authorities and launched CDP branches in Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin.
In response, the police the next day arrested key CDP activist Zhang Hui and warned his collaborator, Wang Zhixin, against further involvement in the CDP. Two other CDP activists, Cha Jianguo and Lu Honglai, went missing.
Veteran activist Xu Wenli, who is a CDP branch organiser and had been under police surveillance in recent months, has experienced much closer scrutiny, being stalked by more than 10 police personnel.
The temporary charter of the CDP urged the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to end its "one-party dictatorship" and take serious steps to safeguard human rights and freedom of speech. While a handful of token political parties exist in China, they all toe the CCP line obediently.
The November 9 CDP launch followed another bold step just a week earlier by more than 100 activists from 12 provinces who urged Beijing to release imprisoned activist Wang Youcai, who was taken from his home in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in late October.
For his mid-year attempt to register a CDP branch in Hangzhou, Wang was imprisoned for "incitement to overthrow state power" and, since August, put under house arrest.
On November 2, in Chongqing, Sichuan province, in China's west, six CDP activists were arrested for planning to stage a protest against the arrest in October of four CDP colleagues — Lei Yuanhai, Tan Zhiguo, Yan Jiaxin and He Bing — for trying to register a local CDP branch.
The November 9 launch seemed calculated to challenge the authorities, as it followed repeated rejection of the CDP's attempts to register in 11 cities or provinces.
The first attempt was made in Hangzhou in June, filed by Wang Youcai, who was briefly detained then rearrested in October.
In September, the CDP tried to register in Beijing and in the provinces of Shandong, Hubei, Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. Attempts were also made in Shanghai and the provinces of Sichuan, Henan and Guizhou.
Nine of the CDP branches issued a joint statement in late October in support of Taiwan's recent reaffirmation of its official aspiration to "unify" with China by peaceful means.
However, this statement, and other CDP statements, are too sketchy to gauge the party's positions, political aspirations and action program. The size of the CDP's membership and its social character are also unclear.
A few key CDP activists were active in the pro-democracy movement in the late 1970s. Ren Wanding, a central leader, was in hard labour camps from 1979-82 and in jail from 1989-95 for his pro-democracy activities. Xu Wenli, also active since the late 1970s, is another CDP leader.
Although it is officially a new formation, the CDP's national network and its bold moves to challenge the authorities suggest it has a reasonable level of political experience.
Another opposition group, the Beijing-based Development Association of China (DAC), has also shown considerable skill, boldness and growth despite its short history.
Reportedly comprising mainly of intellectuals, the DAC aspires to democratise China's constitution and improve human rights. Though operating mainly in China, the DAC was registered in Hong Kong, apparently a move to gain extra room for manoeuvre.
With a declared membership of more than 4000, the DAC has been hosting weekly seminars on "touchy" political issues.
In September, one month after its formation, it openly declared solidarity with the CDP when its attempt to obtain legal registration was rejected. In early October, the DAC held its first national congress which elected a 21-member national executive.
This was too much for Beijing which in late October ordered the DAC to disband, raided its Beijing office, confiscated its equipment and documents, and briefly detained three of its key organisers. One of them, Peng Min, told a Hong Kong newspaper soon after his release that the group would continue to hold political seminars under other auspices.
Meanwhile, another group, Corruption Monitor, also recently sought official registration in various parts of China. The group has branches in seven provinces and "monitor stations" in 14 regions. It seeks to expose corrupt activities of CCP bureaucrats in the rural areas.