Sep 252013


This op-ed by Ed Riffle was published in the San Jose Mercury News.  Harry Wu (right) is a famed Chinese human rights activist.  I remember campaigning for his freedom back in the 90’s.  Repression of human rights activists has only intensified since then.  Marga

In September 1999, for the 50th anniversary of the communist takeover of China, with great ceremony and with Chinese diplomats in attendance, the flag of the People’s Republic of China was raised next to the American flag in front of the old Milpitas City Hall. The PRC flag that was used for the ceremony was considerably larger than the American flag, appeared to be raised higher than the American flag and both flags remained locked in place for an entire weekend. Myself and several others had tried to stop this whole event from ever happening but were unsuccessful. A city council majority approved it on the mayor’s recommendation. When it finally happened people became furious.

Because I had written to the Milpitas Post and had spoken out at the city council against this event, I found myself at the center of the controversy. Many people contacted me and told me stories of their families’ experiences with the communists in China. In tears, one local restaurant owner told me of his grandmother’s decision to commit suicide rather than submit to the communist thugs. A neighbor told me of she and her mother’s seven-year long and very dangerous journey to flee China. Others told me of the retribution that the communists inflicted on U.S. citizens for offenses committed by their family members in China and vice versa. Through these people I received a rather vivid impression of the brutality represented by that flag.

While (for obvious reasons) these people were not comfortable speaking or writing in opposition to the PRC flag raising they continued encouraging me to do so. This was not a short-lived controversy. It continued for many months. Eventually, the size and placement of flagpoles at the new city hall were all as a result of the citizens’ desires to never give their politicians the ability to hold such a ceremony ever again.

What I did not know at the time of the “flag incident” was why the PRC flag was raised in Milpitas in the first place.ÊAs it turned out, in 1995 the government of the PRC had arrested a nationalized American citizen by the name of Harry Wu for “spying” but had been forced to release him under the threat that Hillary Clinton would boycott a United Nations Women’s Conference to be held in Beijing.

Releasing Wu was a major embarrassment to the PRC government. And, where in the world did Wu live? You guessed it: Milpitas. In fact, a very big deal was made to welcome Harry Wu home to Milpitas when he returned to the United States. You’ve perhaps heard the term, “saving face”? Flying that flag in Wu’s hometown was simply a little symbolic retaliation by the communists.

Wu’s two books, “Laogai: The Chinese Gulag” and “Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in a Chinese Gulag” detail the brutality of the communist regime in China. He moved out of Milpitas to the Washington, D.C. area in the fall of 2000.

Recently, San Leandro City Council voted to raise the PRC flag in front of their city hall. Their mayor had the good sense to suspend the implementation of their vote.

* * *

Ed Riffle ran for mayor of Milpitas in 2000 and was active in politics here before moving to Sunnyvale.


Benny LeeThis post comes to you thanks to San Leandro Council Member Benny Lee

Sep 252013

by Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch

Zhang Jing got the call this morning: the execution of her husband, street vendor Xia Junfeng, was imminent.  By day’s end, the sentence had been carried out.

That he had acted in self-defense while being severely beaten in custody by a notoriously violent para-police force, that his two trials were riddled with all of the pathologies that plague the Chinese judicialsystem, and that the death penalty is a fundamentally cruel punishment all seem absolutely immaterial to the authorities.

Convicted in November 2009 for “intentional homicide” and sentenced to death – a sentence upheld by a higher court in May 2011– Xia’s case stemmed from an incident disturbingly common in China today. Xia, who worked in Shenyang, was selling food from his cart in May 2009 when he was approached by at least ten chengguan, para-police officers responsible for “urban management.” Thechengguan proceeded to beat him on the spot, then took him to a detention center to continue the beating. While being beaten, Xia produced a knife and stabbed to death two of the officers and injured a third.

It’s not surprising that none of the chengguan involved in the incident appear to have been investigated or prosecuted for their conduct. It’s not even clear how these officers legally justified using force – a problem inherent in the establishment of this part of the security apparatus. To the extent they have a mandate to discipline people, it is to issue fines or tell unlicensed vendors to relocate. But hundreds of well-publicized cases of violent abuses by chengguan in recent years don’t seem to have brought about a commensurate effort to discipline them, and they have quickly become a focus of popular ire.

The chengguan’s lack of accountability is one issue in Xia’s case. But the far grimmer problem is China’s use of the death penalty.

In recent years the Chinese government has trumpeted reforms to how it applies the death penalty. It has reduced the number of crimes that permit this ultimate punishment, and mandates that higher courts review death sentences before they are carried out. But Xia Junfeng’s case shows that such reforms mean very little when parts of the domestic security apparatus operate with near-total impunity for violent abuses, and when the chronic failures of justice in courts go uncorrected. The  only real road to reform requires the abolition of the death penalty.

Original article

Benny LeeThis post comes to you thanks to San Leandro Council Member Benny Lee

Sep 122013

chinaflagSan Leandro Actually Considering Honoring Repressive Chinese Government

If City Council member Benny Lee has his way, on October 1st San Leandro will awaken under the red banner of the People’s Republic of China.  October 1st, “National Day”, will be the 64th anniversary of Mao Zedong‘s proclamation that the communists had won the civil war and that China was now a communist republic.   No word yet on whether Lee will propose to adorn City Hall with pictures of Mao as well.

Item 10.B on the September 16th agenda is pretty straightforward:

10.B. 13-458 Consideration of Request to Raise the Flag of the People’s Republic of  China on October 1st

It comes with no accompanying materials to explain the reason for giving such an honor to the PRC state.   No similar honor is requested for the flags of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao or Tibet – or any of the multitude of nations from which San Leandro citizens come.

But it makes little difference.  The People’s Republic of China was established as a dictatorship and, 64 years later, it continues to be one.   Until it becomes a democratic nation and its citizens can enjoy full civil and political rights, the PRC’s flag can only be said to represent the Chinese state.   We don’t honor the Chinese people as a whole, much less the Chinese-Americans who live in San Leandro, by honoring that flag, we honor a dictatorial, communist government and its political allies.  That is not a position that the City of San Leandro should be taking.

Honoring the PRC state is spits on the face of all the people who live and have lived under its dictatorial rule, including the citizens of the countries mentioned above, some of whom are among our neighbors.  The honor confers a nod of approval to the horrible actions by the PRC government – from the arrests of pro-democracy and pro-human rights activists, to police brutality, the use of forced labor and torture and the generalized repression of Tibetans.

It is so incredible that a city in the Bay Area would be thinking of honoring the PRC in such a way, that when I first posted it one of my readers said he thought I was trying to be “The Onion“.

Unfortunately I’m not.  This is a real proposal, and if the San Leandro City Council does not hear from people who believe honoring the PRC in such a way is harmful to democracy and human rights, they probably will.

You can e-mail them at the following addresses (please copy and paste):,,,,,,

You can also sign the petition below.

You can also attend the City Council meeting and be heard: The meeting is at City Hall, 835 East 14th St. in San Leandro.  The meeting starts at 7, though this item will most likely not be heard until 8 or 9 PM. That is, unless the Mayor changes the order of items in the agenda.

Thank you.


An Open Letter to the San Leandro City Council Members – by the Tibetan National Congress

An Open Appeal To The Mayor of San Leandro, California – by Tibettruth