On Friday, the police came for him.
More than 20 police officers arrived at Wang’s house at 11:30 a.m. with a warrant accusing him of “organizing a mob to disturb public order.” He was led off to criminal detention as his wife looked on, she later told fellow activist and columnist Chen Min. The police searched his house for two hours and seized his computer, according to Chen, who had co-written the petition.
Since Xi Jinping took over as president in March, China has launched a crackdown on political activists and critics, whether they have been organizing street protests or merely commenting online. Wang, as one of a small band of Chinese entrepreneurs calling for political reform and a leading member of a new group campaigning for citizens’ rights, knew he was sailing close to the wind.
“It is people’s natural instinct to pursue freedom, but you have to decide how big a price you are prepared to pay for it,” he said during a series of interviews over the past two months.
Wang, 51, says he is not like other businessmen: Instead of spending time at banquets, on yachts or playing golf, he reads books. He says he has missed many business opportunities because he was not prepared to “collude with power.”
But in July, he went a step further, setting himself up in what he calls “constructive opposition” to China’s political system. In their petition for Xu’s release, Wang and Chen vowed never to “yield in the face of despotic power.”
“We believe we stand on the right side of history,” they wrote. “There is no amount of intimidation or bribery that can divide us.”
Usually dressed in a Chinese silk shirt, with rimless spectacles and a Tissot watch, Wang cuts an elegant figure. Lining his office in Beijing’s central business district are shelves of books he has commissioned or published to preserve the poetry of the turbulent period between the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and the advent of communist rule in 1949, a cultural era long neglected for political reasons.
As a promising engineering student in the early 1980s, Wang was recruited by the Communist Party and later served in the propaganda department of the Jilin provincial government. But he became disillusioned, he said, after studying the history of the global communist movement and being granted access to books banned for ordinary citizens. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, he was detained for six months, because, he said, some of his friends had taken part in the demonstrations.