Yu Jianrong, one of China’s most influential anti-graft activist scholars, has swapped his daily routine at the Chinese Social Academy of Sciences in Beijing for a more active grassroots role as the assistant head of an almost deserted village in remote Guizhou province.
Yu arrived in Anju village on Sunday along with a small group of volunteers from a rural development society he founded, the Suishou Public Welfare Fund. He is expected to officially serve in his function for two years starting in October, he told the Beijing Times in an interview published on Monday.
The scholar has gained international prominence as an outspoken advocate of governance reform and rights for underprivileged groups such as farmers and migrant workers.
In 2011, he launched a social media campaign asking followers of his blog and microblog to post pictures of child beggars so as to help abducted children find their parents. Thousands of photos flooded in. Yu later set up a nursing institution for child beggars.
At the beginning of this year he launched a similar campaign shaming military officials or their families for driving luxury vehicles. Every day, Weibo users sent him photos of limousines and SUVs with military licence plates, which he occasionally shares with his 1.8 million followers on Weibo.
Wang Peng, a well-known human rights defence lawyer accompanying Yu to Guizhou, said the group of 17 or 18 volunteers would work on rejuvenating the village to prevent it from dying out. Only several dozen people from the Bouyei ethnic minority are left living in the village. Most houses are deserted. He said they wanted to rebuild the village and make it part of Yu’s wider research on how to make rural life more sustainable.
Yu, in one of several microblog posts from Guizhou, wrote he did not “flee” the capital from the ongoing crackdown against “Big-Vs”, influential commentators on Sina Weibo, refuting many online rumours. Hundreds of people have been detained in China, including several well-known Big-Vs, in a concerted effort to rein in online debate.
“Absolute nonsense,” said Wang. “We will be staying here only occasionally, but will regularly go back to Beijing.”
Yu could not be reached for comment on Monday.