In This Review

To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey
To Build a Free China: A Citizen’s Journey
By Xu Zhiyong. Translated by Joshua Rosenzweig and Yaxue Cao
Lynne Rienner, 2017, 297 pp.

Xu is one of many Chinese who have imagined a better political future for his country and one of the few sent to prison for working toward this goal as a legal advocate. While awaiting his release, scheduled for later this year, a number of his friends have published this accomplished, engaging translation of his writing. The book provides fascinating details about Xu’s life, his ideas, and his civic campaigns and sheds light on the experience of the disadvantaged and exploited in China. Xu’s most recent and boldest initiative invited people to envision themselves as free citizens in a legal system that uses “rights talk” but often treats them as subjects, denying them the protection of the law. Using social media and techniques inspired by movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Xu’s New Citizens Movement called out the Chinese Communist Party for corruption that enriches elites and for denying equal access to education for rural and migrant children. “Revolution,” Xu predicted in 2013, “will break out in the blink of an eye.” But when he is released, he will find China an even more repressive country and the world a darker, more uncertain place.