In January 2021, Xu Zhangrun, perhaps China’s most famous dissident legal scholar, released a letter addressed not only to China’s censors but also to the editors and publishers with whom he had worked for decades. That essay, translated below, is Letter Eight in his Ten Letters from a Year of Plague (庚子十劄), a collection that, read as a whole, is an account of the persecution he has suffered since he published a fierce point-by-point appraisal of the Xi Jinping era and warned of the calamities that lay ahead. The letters also comprise an agonized farewell both to his former life and to China’s short-lived era of progressive reform.
In the weeks following the appearance of Xu’s jeremiad in late July 2018, all evidence of his existence was gradually and meticulously scrubbed from the Chinese Internet. In response to what amounted to an official act of damnatio memoriae, Xu issued another critique in which he asked, “do you honestly believe you can simply make me evaporate and disappear entirely from the ranks of humanity?” Despite being reduced to the status of what in the Soviet Union was known as a “former person,” Xu has continued to circulate his writings as best he can in China as well as in the international Chinese media. A bilingual archive of his “rebellion in writing” is also available.