29 June 2009

The New Youth Study Society Case and the Saga of Li Yuzhou

In 2004 Phil Pan, former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post and author of the award-winning Out of Mao's Shadow, wrote a masterfully moving article about the case of the New Youth Study Society, an informal group of young people in Beijing who met to discuss subjects concerning social and political reform. Four key members of the group, Xu Wei, Jin Haike, Yang Zili, and Zhang Honghai, were sentenced in 2003 to seven to ten years on charges of subversion. As Pan revealed, one of the key sources for the prosecution in the New Youth case was Li Yuzhou, a police informant who had infiltrated the group for the Ministry of State Security. When he discovered what his reports on the group had resulted in, Li tried unsuccessfully to recant his testimony and ultimately fled to Thailand, where he sought refugee status.

This weekend, the AP put out an excellent piece by Alexa Olesen that updates the case to the present day. Li Yuzhou, it seems, has lost his refugee status and is in danger of being deported to China, where he fears retribution for his efforts to derail the New Youth prosecution and his pro-democracy organizing activity inside of Thailand. Meanwhile, two of the four New Youth Study Society members he helped imprison have been released at the end of their terms. While they still puzzle over Li's motivation for ratting them out, they express some sympathy for his current plight and don't wish to see him imprisoned in China.

The details of this story are so rich, they would make a good basis for a novel, with themes of youthful idealism betrayed, the weight of guilt and efforts to seek absolution, and the fate of individuals who dare to challenge the authoritarian system.

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