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Censorship in China

Chinese scholars sign open letter calling for release of Maoist intellectual

Peking University graduate Zhang Yunfan was arrested at reading session in November, given six months’ detention

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 10:19pm

More than 100 people have signed an open letter calling for the release of a Chinese Maoist intellectual who was arrested last month.

Zhang Yunfan, a 24-year-old philosophy graduate of Peking University, was arrested during a reading group session on November 15, according to the letter, which was verified by the South China Morning Post.

He was charged with “assembling a crowd to disrupt public order”, after expressing his views on “certain historical events”, the letter said, adding that he had been detained at an unspecified location and would be held for six months.

One of the signatories of the letter, which was circulated on Maoist websites, was Qian Liqun, an expert on post-Mao literary and cultural criticism, and a retired Peking University professor.

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Others included prominent Maoist intellectuals Kong Qingdong, who also teaches at the university, and Fan Jinggang, the founder of the Wuyou Bookstore, a popular resource for Maoist supporters.

While Zhang, according to some internet sources, led a group of students from Peking University on a visit to Shaoshan – Mao Zedong’s birthplace – in 2014, and was known to have paid tribute to the controversial founding father of the People’s Republic of China, it is not immediately clear what triggered his arrest.

A friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Zhang cared a lot about China’s migrant workers and had in the past volunteered to teach children in deprived areas.

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“Regardless of his political views, a citizen with a decent job and a Peking University graduate like him was arrested purely because he attended a reading group session. It saddens me,” the person said.

“He thinks there are lots of social problems now and people at the bottom are hit the worst.”

Maoists are critical of China’s current political and economic systems, which they believe betray Mao Zedong’s vision of a planned economy. They also blame the country’s market reforms for a growing wealth gap and corruption.

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Support for the movement has grown in recent years and as a result, their gatherings are closely watched by the authorities. However, supporters are less likely to be arrested than activists or intellectuals who push for Western-style democracy.