iLabour Three – investigate the reality of working people in China

“iLabour” is an independent online media created in 2013. Its core values include “promoting economic democracy, safeguarding labor value, and building a just society”. It targets the working class people in China, covers worker-related stories and shares workers’ rights defense experiences. “iLabour” also provides workers with a platform for labour rights consultation; silicosis workers’ struggle is one of the cases they have reported on, helped out since 2018, and also led to the arrest of the three editors. 

‘Baozi’ who devoted ten untiring years to investigate the reality inside factories

Mr Yang Zhengjun, ‘Baozi’

Mr Yang Zhengjun, nickname ‘Baozi’ on the internet, was born in 1986 in Chongqing, China. He is a senior defender of the labour rights in China, and one of the three editors of Xinshengdai (ILabour.net, a blog, or ‘self-media’ dedicated to labour rights) who were arrested in early 2019.

Mr Yang has long been concerned about Silicosis Workers from Hunan Province. He has been continuously posting news on the Internet about the rights-defending (weiquan) movements of the workers. Yang also offers consulting services including labour laws and regulations and petitioning (shangfang) for the workers. On January 8, 2019, Yang Zhengjun was arrested by Pingshan police of Shenzhen in Guangzhou. Yang’s family received a notice of criminal detention on January 10 and learned Yang was accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and was detained at Shenzhen Second Detention Centre. On February 6, Yang was transferred to a place for ‘designated residential surveillance’,  an unknown location in Dapeng area, Shenzhen. After that, he was sent back to Shenzhen Second Detention Centre, and later placed under designated residential surveillance again. During the period, Yang was denied the right to legal counsel. Yang has been detained for more than three months, but his family and attorney have not seen him since then. They have no idea Yang’s whereabouts, if he has been tortured and if is he safe or not. The situation is worrying.

Mr Yang holds a bachelor’s degree from The School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering of Beihang University, Beijing and a master’s degree of political economy from The Minzu University of China, Beijing. During his college years, he joined a nationwide activity in which college students went to the countryside to support farmers and conduct research. This experience affected his quest for the well-being of the workers and farmers and making changes upon facing social injustice.

Yang initiated his very first action for workers rights in 2008. In the first year of his graduate studies, he established and organised ‘Coke Concerned Student Group’, with which he investigated the labour situations of the bottling factories and suppliers in China under the multinational corporation Coca-cola and published a report based on the investigations. The report revealed how Coca-cola’s exploitative use of the contract workers, and requested the company to conform to the requirements of the Labour Contract Law and improve the treatment of the working conditions of the contract workers.  Coca-cola responded to the report and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions also expressed grave concern. The research conducted by Yang and ‘Coke Concerned Student Group’ was the first action in China which focused on the contract workers and requested the implementation of Labour Contract Law.

After two years, in 2010, a total of thirteen workers committed suicides at Foxconn Shenzhen, the biggest supplier of Apple, shocked the world. Yang was furious about the incidents and convened a group of college students who cared about labour rights. They went to Shenzhen to investigate the working situations of the workers in Foxconn. He also called for people who were concerned about the incident and the situation to ‘take a stroll’ at Zhongguancun as a way of mourning.

After Yang graduated from his master’s programme, he has started to take part in the operation of a labour rights ‘self-media’ named ‘Xinshengdai’. He continually followed the issues concerning the rights of workers and spoke out for the workers in different sectors. Eventually, in January 2019, Yang was arrested for the Labour Law and ‘Petitioning  (shangfang) Regulation’ assistance he provided to the workers and help posting the news about Silicosis workers from Hunan Province. Yang who was arrested in Guangzhou by Pingshan police of Shenzhen who crossed the city’s border for the arrest. He was detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and has not been released to date.

Ke Chengbing, the man who quietly supports the workers

Mr Ke Chengbing, ‘Laomu’

‘Let us keep each other company in the dark’, his girlfriend Ma Lan wrote.

Mr Ke Chengbing, or nickname ‘Laomu’ on the internet, born in Hubei in 1989, is a senior Chinese labour rights defender. He was also one of the three editors of Xinshengdai (ILabour.net) who were arrested in early 2019. He was arrested on March 20, 2019, for helping Silicosis Workers from Hunan Province to seek compensation. On that date he was taken away by Pingshan police of Shenzhen from a rented house in Guangzhou, and has been detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ at the Shenzhen Second Detention Center.

On April 20, Ke Chengbing’s family received a notice and learned that Ke, like the other two Xinshengdai editors, was placed under ‘designated residential surveillance’. ‘Designated residential surveillance’ is a highly controversial form of imprisonment implemented in China since 2013. During the imprisonment, the government can conceal the whereabouts of the detainee, deny his right to legal counsel and to meet with his family members. As there is no camera and supervision, the police possess the supreme power and torture and forced confession occurred frequently. According to a number of human rights lawyers who were placed under ‘designated residential surveillance’ in the past, they have been forcibly deprived of sleep for several days and suffered extreme physical and psychological torture. The situation of the recently detained three editors of Xinshengdai is also very worrying.

Ke Chengbing graduated from Jinan University in 2012. During his college years, he joined students groups which focused on the ‘Three Rural Issues (Sannong)’ and took part in various agricultural experience in the countryside and conducting social researches. Those activities not only enriched his knowledge in the Sannong sector but also enhanced his sensitivity to social issues. Owing to this, Ke was very much loved and trusted by his schoolmates.  

After graduation, Ke committed himself to serve the workers from a younger generation in the Pearl River Delta. He participated in the investigations of the working conditions in Foxconn. In 2013, he became a news editor of a ‘self-media’ outlet Xinshengdai, intended to dedicate himself to speaking out for workers. Xinshengdai was forced to close in 2016 due to its coverage of the miners’ labour movement in Shuangyashan, Heilongjiang Province. Ke then set up a new ‘self-media’ named ‘Weigonghui’ in the same year and continued his work to care for the Chinese labour situation.  Weigonghui was forced to close twice. Ke and other editors thus re-used the initial name Xinshengdai when they re-launched the webpage in December 2018. Under such difficult circumstances, Ke did not give up and has insisted on speaking out for workers.

On March 20, 2019, Ke was taken away by Pingshan police of Shenzhen in a rented house in Guangzhou for helping several Silicosis Workers from Hunan Province to seek compensation. He was detained at the Shenzhen Second Detention Center for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, later transferred to a place for ‘designated residential surveillance’ and has not been released to date. In a letter from Ke’s girlfriend Ma Lan to Ke, she wrote, ‘Let us keep each other company in the dark. Walking along, we will see the dawn gradually comes.’

An uncompromising boy Xiao Wei ‘I could not turn a blind eye to workers seeking help’

Mr Wei Zhili

Mr Wei Zhili, born in 1988, from Guangzhou, is a senior Chinese labour rights defender and the husband of Zheng Churan (also known as ‘Da Tu’), a famous feminist activist in China. Mr Wei was also one of the three editors of Xinshengdai (ILabour.net) who were arrested in early 2019.  He was arrested on March 20, 2019 for helping Silicosis Workers from Hunan Province to seek compensation. He was taken away by Pingshan police of Shenzhen in a rented house in Guangzhou, and detained at the Shenzhen Second Detention Center for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’. On April 20, Wei Zhili’s family received a notice and learned that Ke, like the other two Xinshengdai editors, was placed under ‘designated residential surveillance’. Wei was denied the right to legal counsel and to meet with his family.

Mr Wei graduated from the School of Journalism and Communication at Guangzhou University in 2011. He started to follow the workers who struggle for survival at the bottom of society in China since he was in high school. One time when he went for a blood donation during his college years, he read a booklet on the deplorable conditions of Silicosis Workers, and he learned that there are tens of thousands of workers suffering from pneumoconiosis. Those workers contracted the occupational disease due to adverse working conditions and have long been hard pressed by poverty or illness. Filled with indignant for the grass-roots workers, Wei was aspired to devote himself to improve the living conditions of workers in China. He conducted researches on the labour situation and gradually familiarised himself with the situation the local workers faced, which strengthened his determination to serve the labourers.

After graduation, Wei worked at ‘Hand in Hand Workers Center’ (Shou qian shou gong you huo dong shi) in Shenzhen, to serve the workers and community. His sincerity and willingness to take action won the hearts and trust of workers. Wei has solved plenty of problems for the workers. After the Center was forced to gradually close down by the government, Wei became an editor of the ‘self-media’ named ‘Xinshengdai’, in which he discussed and published information on labour rights. After Xinshengdai was shut down in 2016 due to its coverage of the miners’ labour movement in Shuangyashan, Heilongjiang Province, Wei continued his editor career in another ‘self-media’ named ‘Weigonghui’. Weigonghui was forced to close twice. Ke and other editors thus re-used the initial name Xinshengdai when they re-launched the webpage in December 2018.

On March 20, 2019, Wei was taken away by Pingshan Police of Shenzhen from a rented house in Guangzhou for helping several Silicosis workers from Hunan Province to seek compensation, and has been detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ at the Shenzhen Second Detention Centre. Now he is placed under ‘designated residential surveillance’ and has not been released to date.