Woman keeps on petitioning after serving jail term for forming ‘fake government’

By Li Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/12 5:03:40

Zhang Haixin talks with her lawyer while in detention on May 4, 2014. Photo: Liu Shuqing

Rural woman Zhang Haixin, 48, returned to her dilapidated rented home in the small city of Dengzhou, after finishing a two-year prison term.

Located just 200 meters from the city government, in Central China's Henan Province, it was in this very room that Zhang announced the establishment of a parallel "Dengzhou People's Government" in a bid to resolve local farmers' grievances. The move landed her two years in jail.

She was detained in November 2013 and later jailed for "the forgery of official documents." She admitted to everything she had done but insists she is not guilty of any crime. She believes that the fabrication of official seals and materials was a legitimate, last-ditch attempt to protect farmers' land from being seized by corrupt officials and property developers.

"If I didn't do so, when will they stop building on the farmland?" she told the Global Times.

In the half year since her release in November 2015, Zhang has continued writing petition letters for farmers whose land has been seized.

Her assertiveness and firm belief in solving problems using the established system had won the trust of farmers who pinned their hopes on Zhang's ability to take a top-down approach to solving their problems. Even after she was jailed, some people in her home village still believed she had the "connections with the central government," which she had claimed to possess, and continued to seek her help.

False reports

One evening at the end of July, farmer Chen Fuzhi, from the same village as Zhang, came to her place. Chen's five mu (0.33 hectares) of farm land had been requisitioned by the village committee. She had demanded in vain that the land be returned to her.

"I have reported the case to the central authorities," Zhang Haixin said firmly, reported The Beijing News. "Then we shall keep waiting," Chen replied, reassured by the prospect.

In fact, Zhang had only mailed material related to Chen's case to the Beijing Office of Letters and Calls, just like thousands of petitioners do every year.

In the meantime, many of her former followers started doubting her "connections" and have kept their distance from her, while her "enemies" despise her.

"The village Party chief tells everyone in the village that if they support me, they will be jailed just like I was," Zhang told the Global Times.

Born in Jiangzhuang village in Dengzhou, Zhang grew up in a poor home, with no furniture except a couple of beds. She got married in 1987 and has three children, but her husband went to work in Guangdong Province and has seldom been back in the past two decades. Zhang is tough and enterprising, and opened an eatery in the village beside a highway to serve passing truck drivers. When her daughter began attending school in Dengzhou, she closed the eatery and rented a room in the city to serve as a home and shop selling dried fruit.

Had her eight mu of farmland not been requisitioned by the village committee to build a factory, she would probably never have taken the path of activism. The village committee took over the land in 2009 from a subcommittee, of which Zhang was a member. The subcommittee had been raising pigs on the land, and they believed that the village did not have right to change its usage.

Zhang agreed to "fight till the end" and began leading the group. She bought a book of Regulations of Letters and Calls and began teaching herself the rules. She and other villagers went to Dengzhou, and then to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, and then to Beijing to petition.

Villager Chen Fuzhi said Zhang paid all of their travel and boarding fees every time they went to Beijing. When Zhang was detained, she was 200,000 yuan ($30,130) in debt.

Their efforts paid off. Construction on the pig farm land never started, and Zhang won the trust of people beyond her own village. Ever since then, many villagers with land dispute problems have sought her help. At its peak, she received more than a dozen people seeking justice in her rented home in one day.

Filling a vacuum

More than half of the men from the village of Jiangzhuang have left to work in big cities, leaving women and the elderly to farm the land. Local women don't know how to protect their rights and handle disputes, and don't even know where to petition. That's where Zhang stood out.

In September 2011, Zhang organized a village meeting and proposed the establishment of the "Jiang Collective Economic Organization of the People's Republic of China." Zhang said they aimed to use this organization to circumvent the Jiangzhuang village committee to protect the land rights of villagers.

In order to confirm these rights, they had to get approval from the township, county and city governments and obtain official seals. However, despite petitioning for years, they were unsuccessful in acquiring any official support.

In October 2011, Zhang returned from a petition in Beijing with a seal, engraved with the characters "Seal of the Jiang Collective Economic Organization of the People's Republic of China." She told villagers it had been given to her by the central government. Zhang and the villagers all treated the seal with reverence and care. After serving the jail term, Zhang admitted the seal had been made by a seal forger.

In order to garner more legitimacy, Zhang even tried to connect herself with the United Nations. Once during a meeting, Zhang told villagers they would report the corrupt officials to the global body, but in fact she only posted the materials on the website of Singapore-based newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, or literally "Union Morning Post," mistakenly believing the two were the same organization.

In 2013, unsuccessful despite repeated petitioning, she took a new route to safeguard land rights, declaring the establishment of a "Dengzhou People's Government" and carving more than a dozen fake official seals.

She sent "official" notices stamped with the seal ordering an end to construction to the potential tenant of the pig farm land, and accepted materials for a total of 274 land cases from neighboring villagers, until a property developer noticed the fake seals on the "construction halt notice" and reported Zhang to the police.

Even during her trial, Zhang did not think she had broken the law. "What crime did I commit by serving the people?" she asked.

Ren Yaoti contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: Seal of disapproval

Posted in: Profile

blog comments powered by Disqus