Police in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have detained a left-wing sociology researcher from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on suspicion of “subversion.”
Fang Ran, a HKU doctoral student who studies labor movements, was detained by state security police in Guangxi’s Nanning city on Aug. 26, 2021 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.” according to an unconfirmed social media post.
The message, apparently from Fang’s father, said he was “shocked” at his son’s detention, saying Fang Ran is a loyal member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“To my mind, Fang Ran is the kind of ambitious young person who can aid the party’s cause, definitely not a criminal seeking to harm it,” the post said.
Fang is currently being held incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL)” under the guard of Nanning state security police, meaning that he will be denied visits from lawyers or family on grounds that the case involves matters of national security.
According to his profile page on the HKU sociology department website, Fang Ran is a full-time PhD student who received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Tsinghua University, and who has worked as an intern at a non-government organization and social media focusing on labor issues in China.
His research interests include labor relations, and labor organization as well as labor movements, the profile page said.
“His current research focuses on the analysis and comparison of various approaches of labor empowerment in mainland China,” it said.
Classic Marxist analyses
While at Tsinghua, Fang was among the founding members of a group called the Modern Capitalism Research Association, which tended to favor classic Marxist analyses of labor issues.
Fang had also interviewed pneumoconiosis sufferers from the central province of Hunan after hundreds of former workers petitioned the authorities in Shenzhen over workplace-related diseases.
An employee who answered the phone at HKU on Sept. 1 said the university is aware of Fang’s detention.
“[We are] in the process of finding out more about the situation,” the employee said. “The university will provide assistance to Fang and his family when necessary.”
While many commentators have noted an apparent shift towards political practises and ideological tropes that echo the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) under late supreme leader Mao Zedong in recent years, it appears that CCP leader Xi Jinping is unwilling to allow actual Maoists free rein under his rule.
Leftists, including dozens of young labor activists who tried to set up an independent labor union at the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen in 2018, have been detained, placed under house arrest, and silenced as part of the CCP’s “stability maintenance” regime.
A human rights lawyer who gave only the pseudonym Chen said any form of organized labor is intolerable to the CCP.
“Organized action is the thing they fear the most,” Chen said. “Once the workers get organized, they will be much stronger, and a threat to CCP rule.”
“In the 1920s, the CCP itself was involved in organizing workers and peasants against the [then ruling] Kuomintang and to fight for their rights,” he said. “So they fear that someone else will use the same methods against them.”
Tough on labor activism
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia agreed.
“Even if you are a student still in school or a fresh graduate, they will consider you to be anti-government if you get involved in labor movements or use your knowledge to help people,” Hu said. “[It means you are] challenging the existing system.”
A Hong Kong-based graduate student who gave only the pseudonym Mary said she had been checked by Chinese police when she crossed the border into mainland China to do fieldwork.
“We all know that there is a red line, but we don’t know exactly where it is,” Mary said. “This means that we are fearful of going to mainland China at all, whether it’s for academic research or for some other reason.”
“That doesn’t mean we won’t keep doing it, though,” she said. “Of course, there will always be students or scholars who set their own red lines [in the hope of staying safe].”
Fang’s detention comes after authorities in the eastern province of Shandong detained large numbers of Maoist activists around the country, ahead of the CCP centenary celebrations on July 1.
Police in Shandong’s Jining city ran a nationwide operation targeting leftwingers in a bid to “maintain stability” ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary, Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) quoted sources as saying at the time.
The operation, which began on May 12, was largely carried out in secret, with no information given to detainees’ families after going incommunicado.
Among them was Maoist dissident Ma Houzhi, 77, who was released from a 10-year jail term in 2019 for defying a ban on the registration of new political parties under the CCP.
The report came after the CCP canceled a conference of prominent Maoist ideologists slated for May 16, the anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).