The US government has expressed deep concern over the sentencing of Xu Zhiyong, a human rights lawyer, to four years in jail. Western public opinion has shown enormous support for him, invisibly increasing his influence among many Chinese dissidents. The number of dissidents in China is on the rise in recent years, but few of them could become "well-known."
The Internet has immensely facilitated these dissidents in expressing their views and establishing their own circles. Given the diversification that is a feature of China's society today, they have filled up the so-called "absence of anti-establishment." Active in the margins between legal and illegal realms, they have formed complex relations with China's reform task. Though generally serving as advocators of specific reforms, they have been straining every nerve to "put ahead reform" in a radical and sometimes illicit way, consequently sabotaging the overall environment.
Most of the ultimate expectations of dissidents run counter to the Constitution because they stand for a multi-party political system by depriving the Communist Party of China of its leadership and changing the socialist system. Nevertheless they underline the guarantee of the Constitution for freedom of speech, claiming that all political propositions are justified to be disseminated across the country.
Dissidents often violate laws by "action." For instance, Xu Zhiyong was convicted by the court as "instigating a number of demonstrations" and "disrupting public order." Those holding more radical views avoid being sued for not resorting to action.
Usually they will not become celebrities until they stir up fierce friction with mainstream society and thus come to public attention. However, there are existing prerequisites as to whether they can become "famous dissidents."
And a key condition is the support of public opinion and in particular the governments of Western countries. Whether the Western world treats them as critical figures amid the debate on human rights also constitutes an essential factor.
There is no denying that backing up China's dissidents has long been a stable policy of the Western world toward China. On the other hand, these dissidents have also gradually recognized the importance of winning Western support.
Therefore it is more appropriate to say that the West is planning an "overt scheme" rather than a "conspiracy" to stand by the dissidents.
These foreign states are eager to shape up such "assistance" as one rule of the game they play with China. As long as Beijing remains backward in soft power compared with Western countries, dissidents who tend to ally with these nations in values and even actions will keep popping up.
China is confronted with the protracted conundrum of how to deal with dissidents especially in a diversified society.
Now that confrontation has become the means of many dissidents to realize their personal interests, how to integrate them into a force consolidating China's unity is indeed a challenge.