By Jackie Sheehan.

Veteran Wuhan activist Qin Yongmin and Wang Qifeng celebrated their wedding on 13 May 2012 – or at least, they tried to. Older readers will remember Qin from Democracy Wall (1978-81), as one of those who offered outspoken support to Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernizations” economic reform programme, but parted company from Deng in insisting on democratization as, in Wei Jingsheng’s term, the essential “Fifth Modernization”.

Emerging in 1991 from a 10-year sentence for his Democracy Wall involvement, Qin continued to target official corruption and promote human rights and social justice in unofficial groups and publications, serving two years’ Re-education through Labour (RETL) for it. He inevitably joined the 1998 effort to establish the China Democracy Party as the PRC’s first legal opposition party, and was one of three leading CDP activists jailed in December 1998, this time for 12 years. He was prevented from seeing his daughter during those 12 years, and on his release, all his prison writings and family letters were confiscated, even including a copy of his own 1998 court judgement.

In the relatively few years since 1981 that he has not been in some sort of custody, Qin has remained under constant surveillance, so it should be no surprise that for their wedding ceremony in May this year, police prevented a hundred of Qin’s and Wang’s guests from travelling to Wuhan, though some, like Professor Sun Wenguang in Guangzhou, did get the cost of their train tickets refunded. Dozens of police officers were on duty at the wedding venue, preventing yet more guests from attending and beating some, and another 20 police had moved in to surround and detain revellers after the pre-wedding dinner. It’s easy to see how China manages to spend more combating domestic “instability” than it does on national defence, when this country-wide police operation to disrupt a middle-aged couple’s wedding banquet must have cost at least 30,000 (£3,000). The bride wore white, but I suspect the groom wore the expression of a man who has seen it all before.

Since May, events have taken a much darker turn for the couple, who have repeatedly been blocked from applying for legal registration of their marriage. Without that piece of paper, they are not legally married, and because unmarried couples may not give birth under the PRC’s strict family-planning regulations, Wang Qifeng has had to abort a pregnancy. Police in her home province of Shanxi are investigating her first marriage and even her late parents’ marriage, harassing her family, and attempting to force her to return there with threats to confiscate her household registration booklet, while Qin Yongmin cannot leave Wuhan. The couple are both divorced from their previous spouses and have met all requirements for a legal marriage, so it is pure victimization to prevent them from legally becoming husband and wife and being able to have a child together.

Qin is well aware of the real dangers facing persistent activists in China. He was a long-time friend and supporter of the 1989 democracy movement’s Li Wangyang, whom the police claim committed suicide in hospital on 6 June 2012, a claim which hardly anyone outside Chinese officialdom believes; tens of thousands marched in Hong Kong in June to demand a proper investigation into Li’s death. Qin has even taken the precaution of publicly announcing that he will never commit suicide, while Wang Qifeng has appealed to the UN for assistance.[1] It’s hard to see what the UN can do to help, but publicity for the couple’s plight does highlight that, three months after Chen Guangcheng’s family made it to safety abroad, for activists still in the PRC, even falling in love is something the authorities can use against them.

[1] Her open letter is available at

Jackie Sheehan is Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute and Associate Professor of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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